Public space is a fascinating place. I wrote my MSc dissertation on an urban town square and the ways people use it. The space in question was Peckham Square, originally designed to create a new civic heart for Peckham, that scruffy, maligned bit of south-east London that I call home. The square is currently undergoing a ‘co-design process’ to ‘envision a better future for the square‘, according to the architects, and I decided to revisit my thoughts about the square from my masters research project.
I look at how a public space is made not only of designed elements, but of patterns of movement, sociability, and sensory experience (sound, light, smell, for instance), with layers of history, aspirations, social psychology and collective local identity all overlaid. How do we make these places better, so that they become somewhere everyone values and enjoys? By understanding these elements and working with them – which requires immersion and imagination.
Peckham as a deprived, run-down, highly diverse area with no strong collective voice is becoming a sandbox for inexperienced architects and designers. Poor areas like this are constantly fobbed off with hit-and-run jokey design that would never make it past the drawing board anywhere else. We deserve better than attention-seeking experiments.
If you want to skip the obligatory academic bits and get straight into the Peckham stuff, read the introduction then head to chapters 4 and 5.