The notion of public space or of public spaces as cultural artifact is bound to numerous problems, and evokes questions. Connotations of the cultural artifact as passed on throughout societies have lost their consensual viability. Let me list a few questions originating in that particular field of challenges: Is the artifact necessarily determined by one leading culture or is equal multi-culturalism possible or desirable? How can differing groups of a society, with their various potentials of exercising power, present themselves in public spaces? What are possible causes for the shrinking of public spaces? How can the artifact be put in relation to explicit public/private and spatial/non-spatial aspects? Though interaction and communication have become essential dimensions of these basic questions, still during almost all times new media appeared as a threat to the artifact. By criticizing a rather traditional notion on one hand, and indicating specific areas

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of conflict on the other hand, I try to enrich the current public space discourse. Additional relations and symmetries that allow bottom-up design and bring in the transformative impact of media will be brought to attention in order to approach the necessary and desirable qualities of the design of the artifact. In the German liguistic tradition the definition for audience (Publikum) and the one for public space (Öffentlichkeit) share the same etymologic origin as both stem from Mediaeval Latin »publicum«, meaning »common people« or »bystanders«. Jürgen Habermas talks about potential appearance and action in -public either as means of self-presentation or actual participation in discourse. This basic contrast is necessary for Habermas’ project of the The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere for the resurrection of a critical public after World War II. The participants either qualify as the audience of a presentation or as the public of discursive relations between speakers and addressees.[1+2] However, in either way a performative-media dimension is being inscribed. According to Habermas the political public of a society, and even more general its whole public sphere, indicate symptoms of existing abilities to integrate. These abilities to integrate differences rests on the »abstract and legally imparted solidarity« among its citizens, as a democratic community is only reproduced by publicly formed opinion.[3] This communication includes the level of becoming active. The materialization of the citizens’ interrelated actions creates public space. For Habermas the loss of passed on philosophies, that used to give meaning to life and provided orientation for action, provides the base for the actual relevance of these inter-twinings. In the course of the modernist age these were more and more replaced by the process of »self-foundation« in which societies »draw normativity from themselves«.[4] But Habermas states that this process of self-foundation should not be grounded on subject-centered reasoning as enhanced in the modernist age but rather on »communicative reason«.[5] Habermas’ model of commitment of giving meaning and providing orientation for action should activate the integrative structures of a society. In this way a high level of social homogeneity is achieved. Integration and homogeneity proved to be important civic values in the fragmented societies of post-war Europe struggling for democratic identity after World War II. But social differences were made visible in public sphere and in public space by reform- and counter-cultures, workers’, women’s and youth movements and by the development of consumer and leisure society. Due to the lasting manifestations of aspects of non-integration, homogeneity as civic connotation of public space became eroded. Although such manifestations are strictly public as they call upon collective attributes of a society, but at the same time they are rooted in the realm of private concern. Habermas emphasizes that privacy and public, and private space and public space, are positioned complementarily via an inhibition.[6] In his model they complement one another by competing for the size of the respective parts of public space as a whole. But apart from its opposition to private affairs the concept of public space does neither express conditions of dominance and opposition nor the possibility of a society’s unity in spite of social breaks and possible ways of creating links in social networks. By now one of the resulting effects is known as the shrinking of public space. Hannah Arendt discusses manifested public action as opposed to private activities serving mainly individual existential needs. These were derived from the ancient polarization

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of household and politics. Whereas in ancient and medieval times of distinction between public and private was clear, the former private issue of sustaining life became a communal matter as through history communal infrastructures more and more took care of provisions for life-processes and in this way extended private issues into the public sphere.[7] By exporting means of high differentiation of formerly private affairs the private moved out to public space. Intensely correlated actions of citizens like appearing, presenting, contributing, claiming and so forth turned public space into a stage for the presentation of power and influence within a society. The

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a a society to present itself as a proper healthy entity implies to design the public stage as a social space with cultural homogeneously spread qualities for social integration. Thus a homogeneous social whole created in the public sphere can now also be homogeneously represented in public space; one of the classic tasks of architecture therefore still is to serve the concept of a dominant social class or a dominant social concept. In Arendt’s model of reciprocal charging of representation and reproduction public also stands for a place of emancipation in which private issues become of public interest as well as the place of self-fulfillment that allows the individual to develop beyond private constraints. But at the same time privacy provides the place of autonomy over individual regeneration and reproduction. Following Arendt’s model one can state that nowadays, private space transforms into a safe place of self-fulfillment of an autonomous life. In the public as well as in the private realm various kinds of self-realization are possible and legitimate. For both, Habermas and Arendt, public space is the cultural artifact of a kind of materialization of the public sphere for inducing certain places that only together form the entity of a society’s space. The homogeneous structure of public space guarantees its integrative ability. Daily shifts between public society and private community, between representation and autonomy, thus represent main sources for a civic self-conception. Individuality, community and society mutually create each other, they are co-constitutive. On the one hand infrastructures pump essential resources from the performative medial space of mutually related actions into the private sphere, on the other hand the variety of appearance of the private flows back into the homogeneous public and forms it by means of discursive communication. In his analysis of the historic development of public space Jean-Luc Nancy concludes a transforming means of representation in public space. The spatialization of an elitist narration in aristocratic or dictatorial systems became partially replaced by a discursive narration in democratic systems. Similar to Habermas, Nancy notes a shift from representation to communication. But he comes to different conclusions in stating that the sum of society’s discourses can not be understood as a a recognizable entity.[8] Because the concept of representation in the public allows presentations only as far as a concern, a person, a group is able to overcome margins of the private. Following this observation, either the conjured homogeneity of the post-war era turns out to be an ideal out of reach and rather impractical, or this particular sort of homogeneity has been dissolved. Less the conceptual shrinking of public space but rather the alteration of its structures and at the same time its social ideal seems to be the extract of current contemporary developments. The homogeneity itself, which guarantees a society’s ability to integrate, is at question.[9] This increase of reduced homogeneous representation was enhanced by the fact that only recently communicative functions have been absorbed by various kinds of media and for the first time by digital media. Latest since the mid 1990ies, new kinds of public space were recognized in digital media. Right away a discussion started whether built -public spaces would now be replaced by online forums and chat rooms, and these questions became even more urgent along with the widespread use of social media and its mobile applications.[10] Although the discursive aspect of public space developed during the bourgeois revolution in relation to the introduction of the newspaper, thus ever since new media was criticized. Media is examined critically in regard to its transformative power to either allow for a public to participate in common discourses or not. This repeated structural change of medial public constituted the basis for the media ethics of Rafael Capurro, as in 2005 he declared this change as »state of increased media complexity«, mainly due to the fact that everyone could be sender or receiver at the same time.[11] But mass media are still committed to a classic sender-receiver-model, which is why networked communication remains as the big challenge for the mass media industry. Various forms of medial interactions between mass media, governance, public and private sphere were and are still being developed and produced. New systems for medial production of integrative public spheres are therefore spreading quickly. On the premise of public

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space as the place for social integration we may ask again about desirable qualities that can be put anew. What media conception

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might be able to enhance and realize the public sphere’s ability to integrate? Or, to put it in another way, as public space is no more to be sustained as cultural artifact: which qualities may a cultural situation provide, that would equally enable social integration under

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heterogenous circumstances and allow for further medial development?


Traditionally the notion of territory responds to questions of power relationships, to structures of property, to issues of dominance and control which all have a certain impact on space. Territory is based on the existence of passive resources that are to be actively administered in order to make them accessible, measurable and exploitable. The territory’s boundaries are to be found where various forms of administrative interest meet; that is why territories are able to overlap each other without conflict. In an analysis from the perspective of the history of architecture, Antoine Picon describes the development of territory from being an administrative term to becoming a notion of the enlightenment, in the radius of action of which lay the foundations for -engineering sciences and architecture in its modern sense.[12] In the course of this process the administrative ideal of simple modes of exchange between people and goods included the exchange of social models and intellectual challenges. Social mobility became one of the most important ideals of the enlightenment that had its equivalent in the physical exploitation of a territory, made accessible through the engineering sciences. Meanwhile the territory itself became a new category of resource. Following steps included measures for mechanized exploitation of mines, fields, people and their abilities evoked a unified market for goods and services. Due to its currency, its language, its systems of transport and communication and many other media, territory not only represents a market but also provides meaning and identity. Many interactions between resources, administration and market unfold medial effect on the basis of their material conditions. If we project the concept of territory onto public space potential cultural configurations throughout media layers and networks can be preserved: a territory can neither be constituted nor exploited or controlled without infrastructures that access it, keep it together and create its society. Currently digital media count as the novices of all existing media but they also provide technical and social infrastructures. Media-territories like these are then prerequisites for communications. Due to the heterogeneous overlapping and networking of media, the notion of media-territory encourages individual choice for modes of self-presentation or discoursive participation. Media-territories do not represent administrability but concern, not distance but involvement, not the setting of a boundary but the reference, not dominance but visibility – altogether paradigms of social integration.


[1] Habermas, Jürgen, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. Neuwied: Luchterhand. 1962

[2] Habermas, Jürgen, »Öffentlicher Raum und politische Öffentlichkeit« in

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NZZ (Online), (last updated: 11 December 2004) Available at: (Accessed on: 13 April 2012)

[3] »Öffentlicher Raum und politische Öffentlichkeit«, 2004

[4] Habermas, Jürgen, Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne. Zwölf Vorlesungen, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Taschenbuch, 1988. p. 105

[5] Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne, 1988

[6] »Öffentlicher Raum und politische Öffentlichkeit«, 2004

[7] Arendt, Hannah, Vita activa oder Vom tätigen Leben, München: Piper. 1967

[8] Nancy, Jean-Luc – The Inoperative Community.pdf.

[9] For a long time the idea of the city as a homogenous unit has been exchanged for the imagination of its fragmentation. But the myth of unity itself talks out of this diagnosis; even so the name of fragmentation refers to the being fragmented of a formerly whole. Touraine, The City – An Antiquated Bluepint, 1996. Koolhaas, Generic City, 1997. Sieverts, City Without Cities, 1999. Augé, Non-Places, 1998.

[10] Maar, Christa, Rötzer, Florian (ed.), Virtual Cities. Die Neuerfindung der Stadt im Zeitalter der globalen Vernetzung, Basel: Birkhäuser. 1997

[11] Capurro, Rafael, »Thesen zum Strukturwandel der medialen Öffentlichkeit und zur Medienethik«, available at: (Accessed on: February 12, 2012)

[12] Picon, Antoine, »What Has Happened to Territory?« in Gissen, David (ed.), Territory: Architecture Beyond Environment: Architectural Design, Wiley London. 2010. p. 95

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