Text by Aleksandra Litorowicz, Bogna Świątkowska
By looking at urban squares, we are able to construct a narrative about the entire city – not just in spatial categories, but we can also find out more about the urban ‘software’, above all the social life of its inhabitants. For us, squares have become the ‘keystones of urbanity’ that bind the urban structure together, but can also act as spaces of concentration and exchange of information, matter and citizen energy.
Squares have a greater evolutionary dynamics than buildings – they can react faster to changing needs, trends and accelerated urban lifestyles, including, among others, changes in ways of working, mobility and identity.
We defined our approach to researching squares as ‘action research’. Apart from using traditional research techniques (such as questionnaires, observation, queries, analysis of existing materials), selected areas were exposed to various actions and interventions, so that the resulting knowledge would lead to the emergence of artistic or social situations. These included three performances created by artists who interpreted selected research results, walks meant to uncover knowledge as well as interventions and research conducted by students of architecture and landscape architecture. Both the research and the undertaken activities were aimed not so much at describing and exhaustively characterizing an existing resource, but at continuously activating reflection on the resource we are researching.
 We refer to the tradition of action research, oriented towards the collection of data from everyday practice, the participatory dimension of the researchers’ presence in their environment and the undertaking of activities (artistic, cultural, meetings, discussions, etc.) in order to co-create knowledge and diagnosis of the given issue.
Recommendations for urban squares have been developed for those who are not indifferent to the fate of these spaces and those who are responsible for shaping them in the city: students, researchers, experts, residents, artists, architects and designers, officials and investors, as well as Local Landlords. The following list contains selected recommendations that should help to shape a good square, assisting both investors, designers, local governments and residents in articulating their expectations of a good square – a square that would function effectively not only within the spatial landscape of the city, but also in social life.
Click HERE to get the recomendations and read the detailed article about city squares
The research results, recommendations as well as a description of activities undertaken as part of the “Squares of Warsaw (to be reclaimed)” project are available online at placewarszawy.pl and facebook.com/placewawy,
The project was realized in 2017–19 thanks to a grant from the city of Warsaw.
Aleksandra Litorowicz is the president of Puszka Foundation, cultural studies scholar, researcher, author and editor-in-chief of PUSZKA, a website about Warsaw’s street and public art, FUTUWAWA, a competition for Warsaw of the future, and an educational website about Polish public art www.sztukapubliczna.pl. She is the co-author of many research projects (including a nationwide study of monumental painting) and lecturer at the School of Ideas, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw. She coordinated the three-year research project “Squares of Warsaw (to be reclaimed)” and is the editor of the “Orientuj się!” section of the NN6T cultural magazine.
Bogna Świątkowska is the originator, founder and president of the board of the Bęz Zmiana Foundation, with which she realized several dozen projects devoted to public space, architecture and design as well as competitions addressed to young architects and designers. She is the initiator and editor-in-chief of the Notes na 6 tygodni magazine. Before that, she was the editor-in-chief of the first popcultural magazine Machina (1998–2001) and the author of numerous texts, interviews, radio and TV shows on contemporary popular culture. Świątkowska received a scholarship from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (2014) and was a member of the Social Board for Culture at the Mayor of Warsaw (2012–15), the Board of Architecture and Public Space of Warsaw (2015–18), as well as the Expert Team on Local Culture at the National Centre for Culture (2015–17).