Every act of design is an act of advocacy. It is an advocacy of the ideals, beliefs, frameworks of the social being that is the designer, and advocacy of what he/she wants others to embody, especially in urban domains. This metaphorical translation of being and expressing the voice exhibits pertinent spatial configurations. And hence, the question – for whom? 

The asking of this question and its address has led to discourses regarding reinstating humans in the city spaces and has given pre-eminence to designing and advocating the cause of experience-based-lived urbanism as extensions to the living entity that is the human being.

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The Human in our city spaces_© 2020 Price Tags Media Society

The advent of modernism and the planning principles leading to the zonal coding of live-work-play of this living entity every day has created compartmentalization of his life. The deterministic approach undertaken by the modernist designers has ignored the complexities of everyday social engagement. The neat tri-part functional division has instated the need for traversing across these zones daily and so, the experience of city spaces is through an automobile instead of the living entity himself. 

The Human in our city spaces_©Gehl Architects

This need has generated underlying city frameworks, advocating the automobile-based experience at an unprecedented scale in our ever-growing urban regions. The abstraction and distant human perspective of the modernist design approach have been contested by the advocacy of Jane Jacobs, and visibly reflected in the works of Jan Gehl and the New Urbanism proponents.

The spatiality of the Human-Centric Approach

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The Human in our city spaces_ ©Gehl Architects

The anthropometric discourse primarily exhibits itself into the rethinking of the operational scale using which design is perceived and ideated. Optimization of the occupied space to the basic configurations of a human and the collective has to find expression, physically, socially, and psychologically. What is perceived and experienced? All of these are tangible and spatial discussions. The city experienced on the ground is collectively by the functional disposition and the built form configuration. The ground floor of the buildings plays an important role in perceiving the city as a live participant. 

The edge redefinition by creating interactive zones of blurred public-private domains is the simplest but most crucial factor when spatially reinstating the human in urban spaces. This simple act has been an inherent character of Indian traditional city space production. Why is it so that this gets ignored? 

The creation of built forms as special places and the succumbing of architecture to modernist principles of abstract and devoid of context artifacts is a major contributor to this phenomenon. The approach of an inward-looking design and nonchalance to edge condition creates architecture as objects in space within defined boundaries. Architecture has to be reoriented, as an urban act, and part of a larger assemblage creating the public realm for human beings, both in and out of buildings.

Sub-Categorization of the Human

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The Human in our city spaces_©2012 The Human Scale

The human being as a dynamic living entity is not a homogenous collective grouping, and it embodies a vast diversity of genders, age groups, ethnicities, etc. The socio-spatial dialects concerning the occupation of public space by women, children, and elderly have emerged as a distinct study field, and appropriations according to society and culture have seen varied implementation strategies. 

The Way She Moves: Mapping the Everyday Production of Gender-Space, by Shilpa Ranade is a detailed study about women’s everyday negotiation in public space, about the Indian context. Strong advocacy at individual categorization is exhibited, but the lack of strategic moves into the mainstream planning and design process limits the initial intent to get spatially exhibited. 

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The Human in our city spaces_ ©Gehl Architects

A multi-layered socio-spatial discourse as an inherent determinant of our city spaces would reinstate the human in the urban realms. The conscious unraveling of our deepest fears and aspirations as human beings and user-designers would foster an environment of spatial distributive justice for ourselves. It is through experience and empathy that social beings can be the voice of others. The question remains – For whom? For Whom are we advocating in our city spaces? And subsequently, our advocacy is creating what kinds of city spaces? 


Shiza Christie is a Masters in Urban Design student at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She is an observer of the phenomenon of time and forever enchanted by the power of words. These days she spends her time deliberating on urban complexities, its constituents and place making.

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