Richard Sennett and “The Open City”

About two weeks ago, I had the chance to take advantage of the double lecture series condition we happen to have at MIT – thanks to that other school up on Mass Ave – and went to see the Richard Sennett lecture at Harvard GSD, titled ‘The Open City”.

The lecture was quite an experience both in terms of form and content: Richard Sennett presented ongoing work which views (and proposes) urbanity through a lens inspired by the systems theory, and the presentation was a thoughtfully structured lecture, true to the essential meaning of the word.

The urban theorist criticizes the ‘closed city’ for its strictly master-planned static character, its absolute and immutable ‘fit’ between urban form and function, and the consequent lack of accommodating change and development over time. In response, the ‘open city’ departs from lessons learned from informal urban conditions that generated communities around them through higher density and unexpected or spontaneous adjacencies.

A critical argument of Sennett is that the open city is associated with certain formal and spatial conditions, and thus, can be designed. He goes on to propose three strategies, accompanied by precedents: street forms – where many things happen at once, such as in the case of an East London parking lot that becomes a beach during the summer; incomplete objects – when  user intervention continues the project, as in the housing projects of Alejandro Aravena’s company Elemental; and finally seed planning – when major, publicly oriented programs are placed in locations to grow community around them, as in the case of the libraries in the city of Medellin, Colombia.

Richard Sennett will be back soon, and this time around, he will be much closer to MIT, since he is one of the lecturers for this year’s SMArchS colloquium. His presentation will take place at 10:00 am, Friday, November 15 at Room 3-133.

Alejandro Aravena and Elemental - Housing in Chile

Alejandro Aravena and Elemental – Housing in Chile

Gianfranco Mazzanti - Parque Biblioteca España, Medellin

Gianfranco Mazzanti – Parque Biblioteca España, Medellin

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