Sonic Commons Project: Sound and Memory

For the Sonic Commons project, students should analyze a sonic phenomena from observations and experiences in the space at Ruggles Station.

“What does it mean to explore a phenomenon? An explanation is never the phenomenon itself, but only a refracted image of it, like looking at a scene through a prism.” — Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter, in Spaces speak, are you listening? : experiencing aural architecture

Ruggles Station – aerial view from the south

While visiting the site, we passed an escalator that connected the domed tunnel passageway and the below-ground bus bay (seen on the right side of the station in the picture above). This escalator, operating normally, emitted a distinct tone from some part of the motor, I’m assuming. While not a pure tone, it was an observable standing wave amongst the clamor of socialization and transit. After experiencing the area outside the station and coming back to the same place, I could hear the escalator’s unique standing wave from a greater distance and with more clarity, despite the dynamic sonic environment attempting to mask it. This lead to a fascination with a psychological understanding of sonic memory and it’s relation to architecture.

Psychology of Sonic Sensation, Perception, and Memory

Human Memory (2003), 2nd Ed.
Ian Neath & Aimée M. Surprenant

Chapter 4: Working Memory

Baddeley & Hitch (1974) Working Memory Model

Working Memory Model: A Central Executive function controls attention (voluntary processing of stimuli), learning, and retrieval functions.

  • Phonological Loop: Back and forth between Phonological Store and Articulatory Control Process.
  • Phonological Store: Short-term aural memory, said to only keep information for ~2 seconds without rehearsal
  • Articulatory Control Process: A repetition or refreshing process that rehearses/refreshes phonological store
  • Episodic Buffer: A theoretical addition to the Working Memory model; a system that may utilize multiple sensory inputs to support learning and recall.

theorized to help create hierarchy and meaningfulness in stimuli perception and memory recall

Chapter 5: Perspectives on Processing

Context-Dependent Memory: Recall of long-term memory occurs more accurately when context of rehearsal matches context of recall.

  • Context can be any environmental factor (light, volume, location) or additional stimuli.

State-/Mood-Dependent Memory: matching states (pharmological, stress) or matching moods both support accuracy in recall of long-term memory.

Chapter 12: Reconstructive Processes in Memory

Schema: an organized knowledge structure that reflects an individuals knowledge, experience and expectations about some aspect of the world. These are parts that define schemas:

  • Schemas represent experiential knowledge, and are dynamic with additional experiences.
  • Schemas can represent multiple knowledge levels, from concrete objects to complex social situations
  • Schemas can be nested and/or related, such as a schema about ice cream within a schema about commercial transactions (to buy ice cream)
  • Schemas information is very general, so they also have variables. A coffee schema temperature variable is usually hot, but it is not uncommon to experience iced coffee.

Sensation and Perception (2010), 8th ed.
E. Bruce Goldstein

Chapter 11: The Sound Stimulus

sound can have two definitions: a physical definition of sound is a pressure change in a medium; a perceptual definition of an experience when hearing stimuli

Sound as Pressure Changes

  • A movement of a speaker’s diaphragm causes rapid changes in volume. Outward motion pushes air together (higher pressure, or condensation); inward motion creates new space for air molecules to spread to (lower pressure, or rarefaction).
  • It’s the systems of pressure that move away from the speakers, not the air particles themselves

Perceiving Sound

  • A Decibel (dB) describes a physical measure of sound; Loudness describes a physiological sensation of sound. Loudness is a combination of both pressure changes and frequency.
  • Pitch (perceptual ranking of sound on a musical scale) is closely related to a wave’s frequency.
  • Timbre (or quality of sound) depends on relative strength of harmonics (various pure tones that overlap in a complex tone) as well as attack/decay of sound.
  • Aperiodic tones, those that do not repeat pressure changes (unlike musical tones), are even more complex yet.

Central Auditory Process in Brain

  • More areas of your brain are activated by aperiodic complex sounds than by pure tones, suggesting different areas of the brain aid in perception of different qualities of sound (decay rate, pitch, frequency, etc).
  • Different neuron pathways are activated depending on the perceptual usage of sound (what pathway identifying sounds is a separate neuron chain from where pathway spatially locating sound).

The Auditory Cortex is Shaped By Experience

  • Training of any kind (music, active listening, etc) can shape neuron connectivity within brain in two ways: formation of more connections, and more sensitive connections. Musicians use more of auditory cortex to perceive piano notes than non-musicians. Effects can be seen in as few as seven “learning” encounters with a stimuli of choice.

Chapter 12: Sound Localization and Auditory Scene

Auditory Localization: perceiving objects that emit sound at different spatial locations

Auditory Space: the perception of volume/space/architecture from sound information

Three dimensions of sound localization

  • azimuth: left/right sound dichotomy
  • elevation: up/down sound dichotomy
  • distance: near/far sound dichotomy

The cochlea (inner ear location of sound receptors) transmits information on pitch and timbre; localization requires location cues from sound interacting with the head and ears.

Binaural cues

  • Inter-aural Time Difference: time differs for sound to reach each ear (unless directly in front or behind listener). Helpful for low-frequency sound localization.
  • Inter-aural Level Difference: Head acts like a buffer and pressure perceived differently in each ear. Helpful for high-frequency sound localization. (See diagram)
An acoustic shadow is created by higher frequency sounds, not so much with lower frequency sounds.

Monaural cues

  • ITD and ILD still create a cone of confusion, or localization ambiguity, for the elevation dimension of sound. Monaural cues help establish elevation.
  • The shape of your pinna and ear canal (outer ear) reflect sound (and thus change frequency of stimuli) in unique ways depending on elevation.

Perceptual Organization of Sound

  • Auditory Scene Analysis: Separating perceptions of stimuli into being emitted by unique sources
  • Auditory Grouping: Peceptual organizing of sounds based on similarity or distinctiveness or dynamically of location, timbre, pitch, etc
  • Experience and memory can shape perception. If a melody is split between various octaves, those with a familiarity of the melody can still pick it out.

Sound and Architecture

Spaces speak, are you listening? : experiencing aural architecture
by Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter

1 Introduction to Aural Architecture

  • acoustical awareness is a skill everyone possesses, but often isn’t aware of it’s role in our lives
  • when we clap our hands (sonic event) a wall reflects an echo (passive acoustic object, the wall)
    • The distance to the wall determines the delay for the arrival of the echo, the area of the wall determines the intensity, and the material of the wall’s surface determines the frequency content. These physical facts relate only indirectly to perception. Our auditory cortex converts these physical attributes into perceptual cues, which we then use to synthesize an experience of the external world.
  • architecture can cue emotions, associations or social meaning
    • like dampening drapes for a reading room, or marble floors in a lobby for announcing arrival of guests
  • sensory anthropology studies how sense-usage results in meaning of perceptions across cultures and despite biology
  • aural architects focus on the space changing the physical properties of sound waves; acoustic architect focus on the way that listeners experience the space (subjective, dynamic).
    • it is for this reason that aural architects are often not people, but sociocultural forces influencing design and perception


  • Aural experiences are fleeting
  • Language for describing sound is weak and inadequate
  • Modern culture places little value on the importance of hearing/art of auditory awareness
  • Aural architecture is not generally recognized in intellectual inquiries, nor taught in academia

“ When fused together into a single concept, however, the marriage of aural architecture and auditory spatial awareness provides a way to explore our aural connection to the spaces built by humans and to those provided us by nature.

Within my research, I discovered that publications that connect sound and architecture are few and far in between. The two types of buildings that have information concerning their intersection are auditoriums for concerts and churches. Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter suggest that churches are constructed to permit sonic reflection and resonance to symbolically reference a higher power.

For the purposes of my research, I continued to treat the sonic phenomena from religious architecture as a explanation of the space, and to further study how sonic phenomena gives rise to the programming of the space. Below is a concept map connecting sound to religion.

Concept Map concerning Sound and Religion
Concept Map concerning Sound and Religion

From a variety of academic, philosophical, theological and fact-weary sources, I discovered many religions describe their higher power(s) in a sonic capacity, and some even constrict or ban its visual imagery. Similarly, science (if that is your religion) begins to have difficulty identifying the building blocks of the universe. Many phenomena are not physically observable, but it is changes from one state to another let us know things/matter exists. And after all, sound is by definition changes in pressure.

My research suggests the following be taken into account when developing a sonic understanding of architecture:

  • What makes an architectural space religious, sonically?
  • Is Ruggles Station a sonically religious space, and if so, what are the tenants of its religion?
  • Does architectural space dictate acoustic phenomena or does acoustic phenomena give rise to our perception of architectural space?

To gain a better understanding of sonic information processing within architectural spaces, my data collection methodology will begin with interviews. Subjects will be divided into two groups: (1) active stimuli experience, or those sonically near Ruggles Station and (2) reconstructed stimuli experience, or those sonically removed from Ruggles Station.

From there, the subject matter brought up by both groups will be explored with binaural microphone recordings of Ruggles Station. Discrepancies between sonic information and location of listening (or reconstructing sonic memory) will be the focus of my analyzation.


Mapping Public Spaces: South Station Part 2


After two assignments considering the mapping of South Station, this capstone project is both a summary of research and critique of mapping methodology.

The first visualization observes activity of patrons of South Station in the ticketing and food court atrium. Dots are placed on a plan view of the atrium to show different activity by location. While this visual is helpful to show where different types of activity occur, it is often easily observable: food transactions happen close to food kiosks, etc.

The second iteration of our data concerned perspective mapping. This visualization takes into account a specific user, and to what degree the public sphere can add to his/her experience in Station. The traditional plan view is colored by areas of unique programming. From there a distortion map is created for a user that favors way-finding, noise, visual distractions, and other patrons doing similar actions. While the distortion method is not programmed to be dynamic or algorithmically precise, a series of these maps could help show areas that most alter or add to the urban public sphere.

The third iteration creates a network diagram out of the plan view, considering that area is irrelevant in programming. Programming zones are replaced by nodes, that vary in size by the average population that inhabit those spaces. Connections between nodes are shortened and lengthened according to the similarity of adjacent spaces and strength of their sonic and visual stimuli from the user’s perspective (outlined in blue) and detailed in the circular narrative (blue wedge).

Sound Workshop: Ruggles Station

On October 8th, 2015, representatives from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the MBTA’s department of Architecture, and the MBTA’s department of System-Wide Accessibility were in conversation with Sam Auinger and Bruce Odland (O+A, in addition to students from Northeastern University’s Architecture Program, Northeaster University’s Information Design and Visualization Program, and Harvard University’s GSD.  The conversations between these groups will help O+A’s upcoming installation in the Ruggles Station as part of an exhibition sponsored by the Gardner museum and Northeastern Univeristy.

Notes from the Meeting:

The Office of System-Wide Accessibility

  • identifies issues of disability services on MBTA transit
    • trains front-line handling of situations where patrons need assistance
    • oversees maintenance of accessibility technology and tools (speakers, signs, elevators, etc)
  • publishes a quarterly report on accessibility functionality
  • works with both fixed-route and para-transit services
  • recent improvements:
    • wayfinding for the blind
    • audible countdowns for the trains arriving next
  • Information Equivalency
    • how can information many people take in visually be translated to sound and tactile sensations?
    • with non-consistent train station layouts, how can acoustic localization be upheld?
    • how can various sound information remain distinct? how can sound information be withheld in efforts to direct the flow of information release?
    • when is sound puddling effective communication in happenstance events, such as maintenance or repair of accessibility technology?
  • Accessibility needs call for consistency; they aim to clarify information with a lack of cacophony.
  • Sounds perceived as “ambient” or “noise” by most can actually be sonic information for the blind.
  • With the many competing sounds of transit, commerce, and socialization, sonic information competes with masking forces.

Department of Architecture

  • internal department of the MBTA
  • focuses on repairs and additions of current train stations as well as construction of new facilities
  • Art in train stations has always be in policy, but never has it been standardized
    • Temporary Art in train stations has recently had a policy clarified. Artists must suggest space and idea to be reviewed by architecture and accessibility departments. The cost to produce and install will be on the artist.
    • Integral Art is an enhancement to the underlying structure of the train station is partially funded by the US government. Artists/designers will work directly with architecture firms and their work will be incorporated into the construction bids. A fabrication company will then be hired to create the art and install it.
  • Policy is now in place to make sure both types of art in train stations is decided on fairly and with open procurement.
  • Art needs to consider the fundamental use of the space, how it affects accessibility of the space, and safety of materials.

Guest Speakers: Mapping and Sound

A collection of guest speakers, artists, and designers spoke with our Mapping Strategy class on their work with sound, maps and/or both.

Sven Anderson – Dublin, Ireland

Anderson is working with the city of Dublin, in effort to create a new position Urban Acoustic Planner. His efforts are best described as a “year-long public art commission for Dublin City Council, titled MAP or Manual for Acoustic Planning and Urban Sound Design”

Continuous Drift (2015)

Temple Bar’s Meeting House Square – Dublin, Ireland

The above is the site for an interactive, public sound installation (Continuous Drift). The square is populated by shops and bars and the four retractable canopies protected the open square from harsh elements. The architect originally built speakers into these canopies without any discernible use. Anderson commissioned 21 artists to compose/create sound to be controlled by the democratic nature of a singular remote accessible on the web. Users of the square can start, stop, change the volume, or change the track entirely at the press of a button on their smartphones.

“Generally we walk around the city and we have no say in what we hear, and a lot of people have different opinions about what’s noisy, what isn’t noisy, what should be there and shouldn’t be there.” – Sven Anderson, on Continuous Drift

Glass House (2015)

Smithfield Plaza + Torches – Dublin, Ireland

Pictured above is Smithfield Plaza of Dublin, Ireland, and the torches that line its perimeter. The plaza, an uncommon sight of open-space in the dense urban city of Dublin, was originally created to be an active neighborhood center, with open space to hold outdoor rock-concerts and markets. Noise complaints about various activities in the space has rendered it barren, and rarely-used.

Glass House, a sound installation, uses the torches (which no longer run because gas is expensive) as speakers to pipe ambient sound, a fragmented version of the audio from the theatre below the square, into the square. Named after composer John Cage’s analogy relating experimental music to glass architecture, the sonic environment transforms the above ground square from the already-present data from the theatre below.

Peter Cusack – London/Berlin

Favourite Sounds (1998-ongoing)

Peter Cusack, recording sounds at Chernobyl in 2007.

Cusack’s ongoing, crowd-sourced project began in his hometown of London, England by asking people not only what their favorite sound was, but also why. The sounds themselves weren’t the interesting part, it was the reasoning behind the sounds and how subjective pleasing sounds are because of differences in sonic perception and memory.

“It [Favourite Sounds project] was trying to get people talking about the way they hear everyday sounds and how they react to them, or what they think and feel about them, and how important (or not important) they are. And to a certain extent, that project has been successful in that. Because when you ask questions, then people will always talk about other things.” – Peter Cusack, for

Sarah Williams – Cambridge, MA

digitalMatatus (2014)

Mutatus (multi-passenger, fixed-route taxis) popular in Nairobi, Kenya and many other African urban centers

Sarah Williams, director of MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab, engaged with the favored transportation of Nairobi, Kenya: matatus. Matatu (or Matatus) are privately owned minibuses, often decorated vibrantly and play loud music, which offer the only wide-scale transportation needs of inner city Nairobi. Williams, in collaboration with the University of Nairobi, sent out GPS-equipped devices with students to track over 200 matatu routes in the greater area of Niarobi.

A digital map of the many matatu route in Nairobi, Kenya designed by Williams’ team

Upon creation of the digital map, city officials adopted this map as the official matatu map of Nairobi, began a large paper distribution, made it available for download, and have recognized the need for a more-organized public transit. When matatus drivers first saw the map, discussion quickly turned to the creation of new routes where gaps in the map exist. The data collected by Williams and her team has also been added to the Google Maps data base, and can proudly boast it’s inclusion as the first non-formal transit system to be searchable on Google Maps’ direction services.

Sam Auinger + Bruce Odland (O+A) – Berlin/New York

Hearing Perspective

O+A’s work has a foundation in discovering a hearing perspective, much like visual perspective, for a culture which has let its sonic awareness wither. With active listening and sonic thinking, this artist team creates large scale, public sound installations as well as gives lectures and workshops worldwide. With the rapid rise of technology/architecture and lack of sonic consideration, there often arises a disparity between what we see and what we hear. Auinger and Odland suggest “we will not understand ourselves until we understand our noise.” Our noise is our culture. Listening is also a perception of present/dynamic powers mediated by past powers, in that active stimuli are reflected and manipulated by our built environments and spaces.

Harmonic Bridge (1998-ongoing)

A sonic intervention near Mass MOCA in North Adams, MA, Harmonic Bridge connects the town and the museum despite the noise of a highway overpass. Resonating tubes placed under strategic parts of the highway bridge take data from the passing traffic and creates ambient chords that color the space that was once frequently unused.

Design History: Mappamundi

3 Map Mundi / Kingdom / City

The Catalan Atlas

  • Abraham Cresques, 1375
  • vellum, 9ft +
  • 3 Parts: Introduction, Portolan Chart (Mediterranean & black sea), Expansion
  • Aragon royalty commissioned nautical charts to be presented to Charles V, King of France
  • Portolano: a collection of sailing directions
    • rhumbline grid: straight lines of sailing paths
  • 300 years ahead of time in terms of accuracy of coast lines
  • First use of compass rose
  • mappamundi: “image of the words, of its different periods, of the different regions over the weather and the different races that live on it.” —Cresques
  • Why is the Atlas special?
    • extended range beyond Mediterranean and Black seas, to Asia and North Africa
    • emphasis on political geography, flag icons for rule and religion, etc.
    • introductory pages: astrological, astrophysical, cosmological, navigational, elemental, historical, narrative information
  • Design choices
    • subjective descriptions
    • iconography
    • multiple intended users (traders, sailors, pilgrimages, etc)
    • graphic distortion/enhancement of Majorca (Cresque home island), Corsica, Sardinia, & Cyprus
    • text orientation suggests viewing from tabletop, walking around

Turgot Map

  • 1739, Paris
  • Isometric view
  • Michel Turgot (commissioned), to promote reputation of Paris for resident and foreign elites
  • Louis Bretez (designer), ~2 years to survey, ~2 years from image to engravings to print
  • France
    • 17th century: Henry IV launches new city planning, architecture projects
    • 18th century: Paris expands westward, large population boom from immigrants, “age of enlightenment” —call for scientifically accuracy
  • Hills represented flat, rather than isometric, to prevent cover-up of roads
  • Selective shadowing, to show sun position
  • perspective goes against “port view”
    • most maps of the city were based on ships coming in from the top of the Seine, this map orients itself ~45 away from this traditional perspective.
  • All building details shown: doors, courtyards, windows
    • Property tax was determined (at this time) by street-facing windows, so not unheard of

American Bird’s Eye View Maps

  • European: reference, geography
  • American: self-serving, city-pride
  • Why so popular? Immigration & Transportation
    • Allowed for many cities to spring up
    • map served as best light to show cities in to grow population
    • Includes: factories/jobs, bridges, railroads, ports, public parks, schools
    • Excludes: slums, trash, weather, conditions of public works
  • Map as an Advertisement
    • commissioned and vetted by chambers of commerce
    • companies and stores paid to be on map
  • Not made from hot-air balloon views
    • surveyed lands to determine view that had most potential
    • distance fairly accurate, while building/commodity size is enhanced
    • surrounding land was generally inaccurate, adding green space and forestry to frame the city in a good light
    • if no vignettes were sold to large companies or city buildings, the space was still completed with nature
    • if extra space was sold, more vignettes would be added to the sky region
  • 1800s crowd funded
    • artists would collect subscriptions to meet quota to produce

VizTech: OOCSS, DOM Trees

readings 2 Object-Oriented CSS, DOM

Louis Lazaris’s “An Introduction To Object Oriented CSS (OOCSS)”

Haverbeke, Marijn. Eloquent Javascript. Ch 13 The Document Object Model.

The Principles of OOCSS

  • the purpose of OOCSS (object-oriented CSS) is to encourage code reuse and, ultimately, faster and more efficient stylesheets that are easier to add to and maintain.

Separation of Structure from Skin

  • using ID selectors when you could use class selectors is inefficient.

Separation of Containers and Content

  • when we use structural selectors, it limits where the values can apply. Consider identifying classes for each grouping of areas that need common formatting.
  • a .globalwidth class can be set up for many elements of a web page. Now instead of writing new CSS rules, you just need to add class descriptors to your HTML.
    • Benefits include: faster websites (smaller file size and faster download), maintainable stylesheets (cascading easier to recognize)

You Can Still Use IDs

  • IDs can be more helpful for selecting in JavaScript hooks and fragment identifiers

Some Guidelines For Implementation

Ch13: The Document Object Model


  • You can imagine an HTML document as a nested set of boxes. For each box, there is an object, which we can interact with to find out things such as what HTML tag it represents and which boxes and text it contains. This representation is called the Document Object Model, or DOM for short.
  • The global variable document gives us access to these objects. Its documentElement property refers to the object representing the <html> tag. It also provides the properties head and body, which hold the objects for those elements.


  • We call a data structure a tree when it has a branching structure, has no cycles, and has a single, well-defined “root”.
    • document.documentElement serves as the root
  • Trees are often used to maintain sorted sets of data because elements can usually be found or inserted more efficiently in a sorted tree than in a sorted flat array.
  • Each DOM node object has a nodeType property, which contains a numeric code that identifies the type of node. Regular elements have the value 1, which is also defined as the constant property document.ELEMENT_NODE. Text nodes, representing a section of text in the document, have the value 3 (document.TEXT_NODE). Comments have the value 8 (document.COMMENT_NODE).


  • the DOM is a language-neutral interface that can be used to describe other systems that just JavaScript: like HTML, XML, etc.
  • Code that interacts with the DOM is usually long, repetitive, and of poor design.


  • DOM nodes contain a wealth of links to other nearby nodes. The following diagram illustrates these:

  • each of these nodes have a parentNode property. Each of these element nodes has a childNodes property that points out it’s place in an array-like object holding all of it’s siblings.
  • you could use these elements to which functions/if/for() loops to make a search parameter for the document
  • The nodeValue property of a text node refers to the string of text that it represents.


  • getElementsByTagName(“ /*insert element here, like a or p*/)[0]; console.log(link.href);
  • All element nodes have a getElementsByTagName method, which collects all elements with the given tag name that are descendants of a given node and returns an array-like object.
  • to return a specific node, give it an ID attribute and use document.getElementById instead.

<p>My ostrich Gertrude:</p>
<p><img id=”gertrude” src=”img/ostrich.png”></p>

var ostrich = document.getElementById(“gertrude”);

  • similarly, getElementsByClassName, searches contents of element node and retrieves elements that have a given string in their class attribute.


  • the DOM tree can be changed by a number of methods
  • removeChild and appendChild, remove and add children (to end of parent’s list of children).
  • insertBefore inserts a node give as the first argument before the node given as the second argument. document.body.insertBefore(paragraphs[2], paragraphs[0]); array[0), array [1], array[2] becomes array[2], array[0], array[1] — new argument first, old argument second…
  • replaceChild does just that: two arguments , the first replaces the second.

… more to come

Small Urban Spaces: Chapter 4 + Chapter 5 + Chapter 6

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces
William H. Whyte

  • Chapter 4: Food
  • Chapter 5: The Street
  • Chapter 6: The “Undesirables”

4 Food

  • Every New York plaza you find socially agreeable, you will also find food.
  • Vendors have a good nose for where to set up for business.
  • Confrontations to remove vendors should be discouraged, and often draw crowds.
    • Often the crowds are on the side of the vendors
  • These vendors are meeting a demand that regular commercial establishments are not meeting.
  • When shooed away, the void the vendors leave is noticeable.
  • Food attracts people who, in turn, attract more people.
  • After a new plaza had success with food carts, building management permitted a cafe in the plaza.
    • Outdoor cafes take very little architecture or organization, just some chairs and umbrellas.
    • In addition to the traffic from the outdoor cafe, the numbers of people using the plaza beyond the cafe increased as well.
    • Successful cafes often put chairs and tables in close proximity to each other to promote the social atmosphere of the cafe.

5 The Street

  • “A good plaza starts at the street corner.”
  • If it’s a busy corner, it has a brisk social life of its own.
  • Traffic along the street, to and from the plaza will be two-way and amidst obstacles of conversations and other pedestrians
Corner of 49th St and Avenue of the Americas
  • Traffic near the street corner is a great show and should not be blocked by walls or railings.
  • New office buildings have been eliminating ground-floor retail businesses in exchange for glass front office space.
    • These are dull and offer little traffic and socialization opportunity; vulgar cement street scape is of equal value in terms of socialization.
  • The area where the street stops and the plaza begins should be blurred; the threshold between the two promotes the open space.
  • Secondary use is also important; knowing something is there, such as views of the open space from the street, is half the battle with open spaces.
    • Often secondary use turns into impromptu or impulse use of the space by an opportunistic passerby.
  • Low steps up or down to a part are important. It shouldn’t be arduous to enter an open space.
    • Too many steps up or down can also affect sight-lines into the open space.
    • Unless a sunken plaza is an entrance to a subway, why would anyone use it?

6 The “Undesirables”

  • There are not more felicitous open urban spaces because of the measures taken to ward off the “undesirables”
    • it is often the practices in place to prevent use (built into architectural design and management behaviors alike) and not the individuals themselves that are the problem
  • Plazas and open spaces built to promote security are not enjoyed by people, and thus attract “undesirables”
  • Build the plaza so that people want to inhabit it, and the problem rids itself
    • It seems unnatural, but a lack of policies (like sticking feet in water features) often lead to self-policing and safe places, as was the case with Seagram’s plaza.
    • Security infractions of Paley Park in NYC average to one instance of vandalism or theft a year, even though the chairs and tables are unbolted and free to move around.
  • Some plazas will have “mayors” or a regular attendant from the building; these mayors will be better at policing the area in case anything is out of the ordinary, more so than camera will.
    • Generally, the more a guard or mayor has to do, the more successful they are at it.
mayor/guard Joe Hardy of the Exxon Plaza (left) and a bronze plaque (right) restating ownership of the plaza sending different messages to those who use the plaza
mayor/guard Joe Hardy of the Exxon Plaza (left) and a bronze plaque (right) restating ownership of the plaza sending different messages to those who use the plaza

Property Rights

  • Who owns the public plaza built by the companies under the new zoning laws?
    • The property owns the physical space under the plaza; it is in their boundaries. Bronze plaques often remind us of that.
  • The zoning ordinance made it so the plaza must be universally “accessible” to the public.
  • It should mean that the publics have the freedoms they do elsewhere in the city. However, barring for people for speeches, leaflet handing out, entertainment is technically illegal, despite the management’s ownership of the square space of the plaza.