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Publicness in middle-class large housing complexes as a new way to examine the premises of cultural encounters and social integration


Marie Glaser

Ellen Braae


Large-scale postwar housing estates are traditionally considered peripheral, not only to European cities but also as loci for cultural encounters and social integration. These estates are icons of postwar welfare society, form part of collective middle-class memory, and today are home to millions of Europeans.

This session reevaluates these estates from the perspective of “publicness.” Publicness is here understood as an interaction between people and places, highlighting both autonomous communities and specific spatial settings. Many of the estates were originally designed as spatial entities to foster collectivity among residents—in shared spaces, laundries, parks, playgrounds, etc. However, publicness happens both in places designed as public spaces and in more informal ways. Rather than searching for “public spaces”—which are too often seen as stable containers for desirable social activities—we aim to study the relational and situational interactions between materialities and ways of living together that take place in middle-class large-scale housing complexes.

Publicness can be studied from various perspectives: informal use, heritage, democracy, governance, and communication about collective concerns. Conceptualizing publicness as future-oriented socio-material processes, we explore agency in the performance of publicness in specific sites—the agency not only of people and social structures, but also of physical materials and spatial figures. The papers explore new ways of reconsidering, analyzing, and conceptualizing the lived heritage futures of these middle-class large housing complexes. Of special interest are studies of publicness related to COVID-19 and how we live together in specific spatial contexts, as well as relationships between public and private, privacy and surveillance, etc.

Short bio

Marie Glaser

Director of the ETH Wohnforum at the ETH Department of Architecture. She has studied European cultural anthropology and literature. Her research focus on social and cultural history of housing up to present, housing in large scale typologies, inequality and strategies towards inclusivity and social innovations in housing. Currently PI of the international project on “Geographies of Age” in collaboration with KTH Stockholm and TU Vienna (2017-2020) and co-PI in the European HERA research project Public Space in European Social Housing (PUSH) (2019-2022).

Ellen Braae

Professor of Landscape Architecture Theory and Method at UC, Denmark, since 2009, heading the research group ‘Landscape Architecture and Urbanism’. She is currently chairing the Danish Art Council | Architecture (2018–2021) and is Visiting Professor at AHO, N (2010), TU Delft, NL (2018). Bridging design and humanities, she is the project leader of Reconfiguring Welfare Landscapes (2017-2020), funded by The Danish Council for Independent Research, and of the HERA-funded project PuSH, Public Space in European Social Housing (2019-2021).

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