Who Designs Public Space?

What does an urban designer do on his day off, when he’s halfway around the world? If he’s in Rabat, Morocco—as Dennis Pieprz was two years ago—he does what he’s hardwired to do: walk the city. The experience is exhilarating and humbling. Exhilarating, for an obvious reason: all cities are interesting, and Rabat was especially vivid and fresh. Humbling, for another reason, very specific to urban designers: planners and architects love to believe that they create public space, but the truth is, they merely sketch the stage. It’s time that shapes how we use our public spaces and it’s people, everyday people, making millions of unconscious decisions, who are ultimately both the authors and actors. Nowhere was this more apparent to Pieprz than on his walk along the waterfront, where the past and present, the designed, undesigned, and gloriously improvised, all converged. -Martin C. Pedersen





“From a terrace at the end of the old city, I could see this small beach community, a bit ramshackle but very active and alive, with a cemetery in the background,” says Pieprz, a principal designer at Sasaki Associates.




“A ramp led down towards a series of platforms and buildings at the edge of the beach. The soccer game—and especially the field that they’d created for it—is what drew me down to the water.”




“I love the elemental quality of it. It’s appropriated in the best possible way, a spontaneous state set, a platform in the sand reconceived as a soccer field.”




“I am fascinated by public spaces in different cultures. There are really no hard-and-fast ‘rules,’ because every culture and city is different.”




“When you travel and experience rich places, you realize that the ‘design’ of public space is never complete. Cities evolve over time, often in completely unexpected ways. I would never ‘propose’ a soccer field here, but clearly it works. It makes me reconsider what is possible.”



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