How can Urban Design Bring Strangers Together?

By Patricia Simoes Aelbrecht.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The contemporary city seems to be facing a problem concerning the relation between urban environment and public socialization. The public spaces of the city as social centers are being destroyed, abandoned or replaced by suburban living rooms, to become only places to move, not to be in, for observation and passive participation. They no longer seem to provide the framework for a significant public and informal social life. This problem poses new challenges for the urban designers today. If we are to create new designed spaces that can work as public realms, we need a design practice more informed and aware of the ‘sociology of the city’, in particular of the experiential dimension of the informal social life in the contemporary city.
This problem provides the impetus for this research paper: to provide a robust research design to study and acknowledge the role of urban design in framing informal and unplanned social interactions among strangers in the contemporary city. Methodologically, it adopts a microsociological approach, i.e., empirical and behavior-centered, based on the observation of people’s perception, patterns of use and social behavior. People are critical in what they do and where, above all are very selective in social encounters, where and how to meet. The observation of social encounters among strangers seems to offer good criteria for evaluating the spatial and behavioural potential of the design of public spaces, in particular to understand, how can urban design encourage sudden unplanned social encounters? How can it bring together strangers?
Hence, with this paper, it is expected not only to bring together the knowledge of the ‘Sociology of the city’ and the urban design discourse but also and more importantly to provide a significant and alternative design method for the future design practices.

Keywords: Public Life, Public Space, Social Encounters, Microsociology, ‘Sociology of the City’

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.191-206. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.469MB).

Patricia Simoes Aelbrecht

PhD Researcher, Planning and Architecture departments, Bartlett School, University College London, London, UK

Patricia is since 2007 a PhD researcher and student at the Bartlett school of Architecture and Planning, University College of London. Her PhD focuses on the role of urban design in framing public social life and behaviour in the contemporary European city. Previously, she worked as an architect and urban designer at a European scale in cities like: Rotterdam (2000-03), Barcelona (2003), Lisbon (2004), Ghent and Brussels (2004-2007). As background education, Patricia holds an MA in Architecture from the Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade Técnica de Lisboa (FAUTL) of Portugal and an Msc in International/ Comparative Planning from the Bartlett School (UCL) of London.


There are currently no reviews of this product.

Write a Review