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Responsive Interventions in the Contemporary City

Part 2 Dissertation 2010
Carlos Dos Santos
Kingston University Kingston | UK
In this dissertation I present a critique of contemporary attitudes to designing the urban realm, through an assessment of alternative approaches in the work of Caruso St John and the Office for Subversive Architecture. The attitude being criticised is the contemporary predicament, originating in early modernism, which in the absence of legitimate cultural imperatives, architecture merely is a process of transplanting forms driven by statistical analysis. In reaction to this prevalent attitude, I explore three possible approaches. The first is a consideration of issues related to the history of place and (collective) memory, as illustrated by Caruso St John’s Stortorget square renovation in Kalmar, Sweden. The second discusses the collaborative Europe-wide collective Office for Subversive Architecture, whose various small-scale projects are subvertive of convention and engage the public imagination. Finally, I look at Caruso St John’s contribution to the Walsall masterplan under the banner of reciprocity – between art and architecture, but also between the architectural artefact and the life it supports.

Disappointed with the abundant fruits of urban regeneration, this dissertation explores my interest in positive smaller scale projects that engage with existing urban fabric, and their potential for substantial transformation through responsiveness rather than imposition. I believe such projects offer legitimate means to intervene in the city of tomorrow more appropriately as they are able to resist over-determination, both of the city’s fabric and its social functions.

Carlos Dos Santos

This dissertation offers a timely rethinking of the ways the public realm is shaped in the contemporary city. It argues for the need to challenge established attitudes to architecture and urbanism, which undermine public space by prioritising short-term commercial interests and patronising interpretations of the social. Despite its critical stance, the work is positive and optimistic, discussing theoretical attitudes and actual projects that offer convincing alternatives to thinking and making the city. The discussion is historically situtated, intellectually informed and architecturally sophisticated, with the many strands of thought converging admirably, to produce a work of considerable maturity and relevance for our contemporary urban situation.

Dr Alexandra Stara
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