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Thoughts on urban planning, city design, architecture, the built environment, social issues, Seoul, Korea, and soon... London

11.6.04

A new conscience 

In The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities (1990), Richard Sennett outlines the history of the dominant conceptions of that conscience in the West and how it has been transposed into the physical and social realm of the city. Moreover, he problematises this history and its effect on the life and design of the city, while suggesting some ways to move toward a new conscience of the eye that will induce a more humane way of urban dwelling.

My only complaint is that Sennett offers few concrete examples of how this can be done through design (but then he is neither urban planner nor architect). His historical account suggests that more than design is required; huge philosophical, ethical and social shifts are needed. Though to have real strength and impact this shift would probably have to take place throughout Western culture, I think Sennett with this book is calling on planners, architects, developers and others involved in designing cities to make such a shift in conscience first, which will propagate itself through the built environment, or the urbs, to the civitas.

Cities should be designed for exposure, Sennett argues. Urban spaces/structures are to expose urbanites to contemplation, (a calm) contemplation of differences, and expose urbanites to each other (mutual exposure). Urban forms are to expose through differences, displacements and discontinuities. This, Sennett says, can be achieved through designing mutations, overlays of differences, weak boundaries (not walls) and spaces that are simply constructed to enable flexibility and permit alteration.

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