Polis: Design for Democracy

The Google map of Aix-en-Provence shows curving lines merging in concentric circles that look not all that different from regular streets. On the ground, however, the medieval streets are almost impassable: traffic moves very slowly through a tangle of pedestrians and cyclists. This brings to light the issue of how old European cities remake themselves to suit the current demands of their denizens to be greener and more habitable. Sometimes, as they move from ancient to updated, they also have to revise modern botches that have left voids, areas that divide the city, or spaces that ignore diversity or natural resources.

The Center for Architecture’s opening of “Polis: 7 Lessons from the European Prize for Public Urban Space [2000-2012]” celebrates these transformations, these applications of the democratic conception of the city. The prize has gathered 1,300 projects from cities across Europe, and the Center’s exhibition highlights 35 works from the first seven editions of the prize. The exhibition, of course, derives its name, polis, from the idealized Greek city-state, reminding us that the city is ours to take ownership over and shape to our will. As grandiose and bold as this goal is, “Polis” shows how the remaking of public space occurs in nested moments as easily as through large-scale moves. The show is organized around seven precepts that dynamically embody the AIANY President Lance Jay Brown’s, FAIA, theme for this year, “Civic Spirit: Civic Vision.” Continue reading “Polis: Design for Democracy”