Which Rules: Cities of Culture or the Culture of Cities?

If you visit the Sydney Opera House, you will find an international cultural repertoire such the Paris Ballet or the Mozart Festival. You will also find contemporary artists and art in the Australian bush, or in the avant-guarde Darling Harbor in Sydney. The issue of current versus established culture is a modern phenomenon worldwide, and subject of recent debate between Magdy Youssef, director and the senior planner of the Maroochy Shire Council, and this author.

Culture can stagnate within traditional institutions, and contemporary art is often found in fragments hidden within cities. Of course, prominent art institutions play a role within the contemporary city fabric — the Museum of Modern Art demonstrated a commitment to new art when it acquired PS 1 in Queens, for example — but architects and urban designers can take the lead in creating small, more modest places for new, experimental art. Renzo Piano Building Workshop designed Aurora Place, a mixed-use office and residential tower overlooking the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor. The building’s plaza opens to a neglected alleyway with shops and warehouses, instead of the nearby botanical garden with access to the opera house. As a result, space is provided for contemporary art that will not be overshadowed or polarized by the institutions.

In Europe, such phenomena can also be observed. Current art can be found in Percy, the old wine port of Paris — more so than the institutionalized French outlets dedicated to the same purpose. The Berlin-NewYork Dialogues exhibition at the Center for Architecture sheds some additional light on this phenomenon.

The current dynamics of cultural generation and renewal is critical to the process of urban design and architecture. Our Australian colleagues are demonstrating meticulous efforts to observe the process of renewal by integrating art, architecture, and planning under one umbrella, and their cities are benefiting as a result.