The European Prize for Urban Public Space is an initiative by the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB), set up after its 1999 exhibition The Reconquest of Europe. The prize was established ‘in order to offer testimony to the process of rehabilitation of public spaces that has been occurring in many European cities,’ and aims specifically to recognise the public or civic character of spaces – ‘urbanistic interventions that promote the public dimension of urban space and its role in social integration’ – rather than their purely aesthetic qualities. Consequently, the prize is given not only to the design professionals responsible for the urban intervention, but also to the institutions that develop it.
The first award was made in 2000, and is now given biannually by a collection of organisations representing seven European countries – including the UK’s Architecture Foundation, the Netherlands Architecture Institute, and the Austrian, Finnish and German architecture museums. The institutions supply the jurors, who are advised by an extensive panel of experts – including architects, academics and critics – from across Europe.
‘With ideas of equality, plurality and progress constituting part of its very foundations, the European city is today facing new challenges arising from its exponential growth and increasing social and cultural complexity,’ says the explanatory statement. ‘Some of society’s main problems are radically expressed in the city’s public spaces. Segregation, rampant construction, homogenisation and privatisation of urban space are some of the phenomena that are putting into jeopardy the ideal of the open, plural and democratic community that has always been so distinctive of the European city.’
In 2000, 81 projects from 14 countries were entered for the prize; in 2012, 347 projects from 36 countries were submitted. From these, the jury selected two joint first prize-winners – a large-scale coherent yet dispersed transformation of the riverbank in the centre of Ljubljana by several architectural practices, and improvements to a Civil War lookout above Barcelona – and gave special mentions to three: Dixon Jones’ shared surface repaving of Exhibition Road in London, a walkway and slavery memorial in a former river wharf in Nantes and a moving image projection that enlivens a railway station in Malmö, Sweden. After much discussion – the jury was evenly split – it was decided to give a special award to the occupation of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid by a demonstration similar to that seen in cities around the world in the last year. Among the issues raised in the discussion was that of public space as ‘physical container and as an arena for social and civic expression’. The intervention ‘also gave rise to debate about basic issues of understanding the parameters of architecture,’ notes the jury.
The prizes will be awarded at a ceremony hosted by the CCCB in Barcelona on 29 June.
The 2012 winners, along with most of the projects that have been presented since the Prize was first offered, can be viewed today in the European Archive of Urban Public Space at www.publicspace.org