Personal Urbanities: Domesticating the Public Domain

  • Abstract:

    City and personality have never been easily associated. Historically, since classical antiquity, urban space has always been the reflection of a collective identity representing the natural inclination of human beings to live in group. However, according to Lewis Mumford, the city has been the context in which another ideal arose ‒ the concept of personality. An ideal that, according to the official history of urban design, seems to have had a very marginal role, if not as a formal or functional analogous structure. However, looking at the physical consistence of built space ‒ as well as its ideal formulation ‒ it is not difficult to find some evidence of Mumford’s theory. Therefore, the paper, through an architectural analysis ranging from classical street-side benches to contemporary digital cities, aims at outlining the progressive change in the representation of urban identities from a collective to a more personal dimension. It describes how public space design, especially during the last thirty years, has redefined its strategies in order to increase the possibilities of personal intervention for users, and it focuses on the gradual shift of this discipline towards other scales, instruments and objectives, in a sudden disciplinary convergence with interior architecture and industrial design. Thus, showing how a pervasive process of domestication is nowadays transforming not only the use, but also the symbolic meaning that public domain has traditionally had.