Global challenges related to urbanization call for the sustainable development of cities. To accommodate the intensely growing urban population, urban areas will have to be transformed and built to be compact, mixed-use, and socially integrative to minimize the negative socio-economic, and environmental consequences. Creating sustainable compact cities on multiple dimensions is a complex task, that requires multidisciplinary efforts, including architecture. This study is concerned with the underexposed social dimension of sustainability, focusing on the interrelations between the design of the built environment and practice, primarily from a user perspective. The study posits that tectonic theory provides an opportunity to critically discuss this relation, through the articulation and interpretation of gestures as a form of a spatial dialogue between architects and users. In this paper, public life is studied in relation to the urban public space created by a mixed-use building complex, as part of the large-scale re-development of Aarhus Bay in Denmark. Spatial gestures are investigated through a mix of interviews and urban life records, using direct observation methods (counting, mapping, tracing) to better understand how urban public spaces in densely built neighbourhoods are used and the role of architecture in creating them. Findings reveal the dynamic flow of mixed-use neighbourhoods, through the quantitative data on traffic and activities combined with qualitative data on perceived space, traffic, and urban life. The study contributes to closing the gap between subjective and objective interpretations of urban spaces, by focusing on both the construction of the built environment and the vibrant complex flows running through them. The paper taps into the discussion on inclusion and exclusion, both regarding the mixed-use concept itself and democracy in planning processes, highlighting the different needs of different user groups. Thus, providing input to the multidisciplinary efforts needed to create functional and liveable compact cities in the future.
Eszter Sántha is an Industrial PhD student at the Department of Architecture, Design & Media Technology (CREATE), Aalborg University, and employed by the architectural studio AART architects, in Denmark. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture (2015) from Corvinus University, Budapest, and a master’s degree in Forest and Nature Management (2018) from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. As part of a multidisciplinary research team, she is currently carrying out a 3-year long research project entitled “Architecture as a catalyst for social and socio-economic value creation”. The project is a collaboration between Aalborg University, AART architects and the University of Copenhagen. It explores the relation between architectural quality and socio-economic value for different user groups in the context of sustainable urban development. By studying the choices and trade-offs made by architects and users on architectural design, the research project intends to describe architectural quality based on the social value it potentially creates. Eszter Sántha’s broader research interests lie in understanding the value of the built and natural environment and thereby contribute to creating high quality living space for both people and nature.