Ruud Kaulingfreks, Femke Kaulingfreks


Squares are a distinctive fixture of a city. They form the centre of gravity of urban live and have been of paramount importance for social interaction through all cultures and in all centuries. The square is the centre of attention of every urban agglomeration. It's the spot where people gather and where commonality takes place. Squares are important as a place where the social is geographically embodied, as the space of the commons. They are the spot for sense, the space where sense making take place and where the social is constituted. Democracy was born on the square and they still are the place of politics. They are literally a place. In order to be the place of sense making, squares have to be empty; they are an expanse without artefacts. It's the emptiness of the square that makes them so suitable for social meaning. A plain surrounded by a maze of street and alleys so that the difference between the environment and the place enhance the openness of the square. In order to support meaning the square has certain specific features. One of them is the light. Everyone is in the same light in a square and therefore can see each other. The emptiness of the square makes a horizontal gaze possible where everyone is equal. There are no vantage points to observe the crowd. Architectural elements underline the equality and safety of the place. A square needs to be a safe place where one feels at home and not be disoriented by the emptiness. This essentially equalitarian and meaningfulness of the square has made the place also a place for contestation. All kind of different powers have colonized the square; the church, the king, the merchants, the state, the corporations. They all have changed the design of the square and tried to impose themselves on the openness. As a place of meaning the square is also a place of contestation between the commons and the powers. It has a long tradition of riots and occupation. It is the place where the people rise against the powerful. Of course it has also a long history of repression. Specific design aids to make sure the square can’t be used as a meaningful and common place. Squares embody communality and meaning by allowing multiplicity and what Nancy calls being singular plural. They are the space of the multitude. Attempts to design, organize, plan the square close the multiplicity down to singularities with specific functions and deny the square of its meaningfulness. The square is then the geographical space for meaningful politics and for the commons.

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