If we think about how we use urban spaces, we tend to have the best experiences in messy conditions where the line between public realm and private space blurs.  The vibrancy that comes with spontaneous city life provides context and character for the private spaces that augment the city.  

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time with Michelle Delk, Director of Landscape Architecture for Snohetta.  Working for such a well-respected design firm known for it's architectural solutions, it was interesting to hear Michelle talk about there work in a way that seemed to describe it simultaneously as building and landscape.  The firm's best known project, the Oslo Opera House is possibly the clearest example of this open-minded philosophy.  What is at once a tradtionally formal pasttime becomes a center of everyday city life as the roof of the opera becomes a massive plaza/amphitheatre for everyone.  

Images Courtesy of Snohetta

This isn't a one-off design solution either.  Upcoming work in Calgary and Lasceaux, France show a sensitivity to what happens if a building does't just sit within a site, but rather if the building becomes part of the site.  The powerful part of these designs is that it takes what would have been perhaps simply a landmark in the city fabric and makes it a node of public activity.  In doing so, the architecture becomes more subtle - less an expression of ego.

The conversation about Snohetta reminded me of Wolf Prix's description of Coophimmelbl(a)u's Ufa Cinema Center in Dresden, Germany, as an Urban Transistor.  In approaching the project through the lens of urban design, Prix fixated on the fact that European cities were experiencing a shrinkage of public spaces due to "monofunctional" private development.  

By disintegrating the monofunctionality of these structures and adding urban functions to them, a new urbanity can arise in the city. This character of urbanity would not only be determined by functional differentiation and the creation of new spatial sequences thereby, but also by the injection of media events.

Ufa Cinema Center, through providing passageways within the architecture as well as public spaces at the ground floor and public plazas within the site, creates a piece of architecture that, according to Prix, is a "juncture between urban vectors" and it is at those junctures that urban life exists.  "Thereby the Cinema itself is transformed into a public space."

Image courtesy of  Coophimmelbl(a)u

Image courtesy of Coophimmelbl(a)u