Public spaces cannot be categorized as homogeneous spaces as they depend on different functions like social, cultural, economic as well as symbolic and also on the meanings which are given by the different public. Hence, the meaning and form of public space are not fixed as they change with the change in the dynamics of society. 

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Moreover, public spaces are the spaces that lead to the making of a city as the availability of admirable public space defines the character of the city. Likewise, it also represents the evolution and development of the urban fabric. 

So, let’s get to know more about the evolution of public spaces throughout the history of architecture:

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1. The Greek Agora

The Greek Agora was the beginning of the public space which was located in the center of the polis and was also the focal point of the town which functioned as a market as well as gathering space for the political assembly. Thus, it had social, political as well as economic importance. It also acted as a formal and informal meeting space for the citizens. In the beginning, the Agora was surrounded by private houses but temples and sanctuaries were later built bordering it along with the stoas, porticoes, and covered walkways. Open-air gymnasia and theatres were also developed later in the Greek civilization. 

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2. The Roman Forum

The functions of the Greek acropolis and agora were brought together in “forum” during the Roman Empire. It was a contained, semi-enclosed, and open space where commerce, religious and political activities, athletics, and informal meetings were carried out. The forum was a public space dominated by the citizens in the same way as Agora. Forums were rectangular in shape, in the proportion of 2 to 3, which was surrounded by Porticoes. The forums contained temples, basilicas, shops, and markets which resulted in the blend of civic as well as religious fabric. It also housed other significant recreational areas like the theatre, public baths. Also, it was home to curia as well as comitium, meaning the city council meetings and political meetings respectively. 

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3. The Medieval Market Square

The marketplace was first evolved around the 11th century and became a crucial public space during medieval times. It was mainly located in the center of the town, in front of the castle or cathedral, and also at the intersection of the two main roads. The work activities like workshop and storage facilities as well as business places like inns, taverns were situated. Inhabitants of the city often came together along with the visitors which were attracted to the place.  

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4. The Renaissance Plaza

The Renaissance Plaza contained important buildings like the cathedral, the town hall, etc. It was a place where people gathered and public celebrations took place. Also, plays and stage proceedings were carried out in Plazas. The local social order where ethnic, religious, and political identities were revealed in the renaissance plaza. It was mostly planned in a symmetrical geometry. The buildings surrounding the Plaza and squares had a uniform facade that showcased the importance of proportion and harmony in the design. Further, this design feature evolved into residential quarters, generally of the upper class, around the squares, making a way for an innovative semi-public character. Also, this new way of designing and restricting public access to the square became more popular among developers of new residential areas.

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5. Public Space in Modern Era

The modern era witnessed a drastic evolution since the renaissance Plazas. The priority being the fast movement in the urban space guided the planning of the city and developed a close relationship between open space and the surrounding build area. But, there was also an increase in the new public spaces for leisure and public entertainment. Also, during the 19th century, new consumption places emerged which were considered important social as well as public spaces, like shopping arcade, shopping street, bazaar, and department store. Generally, the shopping arcades had linear planning with multiple floors, and the exclusively pedestrian spaces were weather protected with glazed roofs. 

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6. Contemporary Public Spaces

Due to globalization, a lot of changes happened around the world resulting in a different characteristic and definition of public space. Also, due to privatization and the pressure of capital along with technological advancements have a greater impact on the form, use, and control of the public spaces. Thus, a new form of public space emerged, i.e., the shopping malls which we see today. These shopping malls are privately owned and managed. Furthermore, they are fully enclosed as well as totally pedestrian in a controlled environment with adequate parking facilities and multi-functions. It helps in providing a secure shopping and leisure environment separated from the rest of the busy world. So we can say that the arcades and department stores of the 19th century evolved in a more user-friendly way to become the shopping malls of today. 

 

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Author

Arundhati Chitnis is an architect and a writer based in Dubai. She believes in the architecture which can cater the needs of the users and hence apply user centric approach in her designs. Also, she believes every structure has a story to tell, we just have to give it a voice.

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