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ENVIRIONMENTAL PERCEPTION IN PUBLIC SPACES

posted Feb 10, 2011, 2:26 PM by Patricia Martin   [ updated Feb 10, 2011, 2:48 PM ]
Dome over Manhattan, Buckminster Fuller 1960

As the urbanization process continues, cities become the specific physical context of the most important 
challenges of humanity: environmental threats, social justice, and economic development. In that context, 
public spaces play a fundamental role in addressing these challenges as the democratic arena where social 
interactions take place. Since early history, public spaces have been centres for the exchange of ideas, 
diversity, and everyday experiences. Today, public spaces are considered key in order to enhance social 
cohesion and improve quality of life within cities. Therefore, on this era or growing urbanization, the study 
of public spaces acquires special importance.

Among other factors, the way people use public spaces is highly influenced by their environmental conditions. 
Therefore, the study of urban microclimates becomes particularly significant in order to design successful 
public spaces that promote social activities. Light, wind, temperature, acoustic comfort, pollution, etc. are 
factors that should be considered when designing a public space. 

“Proposing a broader view of the environment, the human body and health are once again
 at the centre of debates concerning the city, because the improvement of the quality of
 urban environment is now more than ever a necessity.”[1] 

Blur Building. Diller and Scofidio 2002

The continuous urbanization process has changed not only the environmental properties of our surroundings, 
but also our relationship and interactions with it. As the sensorial characteristics of urban environments 
change (temperature, light, humidity, sound, odours, textures, pollution, wind speed...), people adapt their 
behaviour outdoors to it. In addition, the perception of the surrounding space depends on physiological, 
psychological, and socio-cultural conditions. As Charlie Moore stated, “we do not live in a generic body, but 
in bodies that differ widely in their perceptual culture and capacities.”[2] Moreover, its dynamic condition, as 
it changes during the day and the year, makes it more complex to predict and study. These characteristics 
imply that urban spaces should be designed for a variety of people and situations, where diversity should be 
studied as a fundamental characteristic of these spaces.

Notes:

1- Mirko Zardini, Sense of the City, (Canadian Centre for Architecture and Lars Müller Publishers, 2005).
2- Kent C. Bloomer and Charles Moore, Body, Memory, and Architecture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977).
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