Spaces by People: An Urban Design Approach to Everyday Life

The creative and transformative interaction between people and urban space is one of the foremost features of history. Along this path, urban design and designers necessarily take the responsibility to anticipate preferable living environments for the general public. However, within an urban context that is initially shaped by making-by-designing processes, people (re)transform their living environments by altering the premeditated built environment. This interaction exhibits concrete yet subtle examples of lived configurations together with the designed physical environment. The urban contexts limit, force or hide these configurations in many ways. Hence, there is an urgent need to understand these spontaneous details that are so evident in urban space, yet still overlooked or controlled by the one-sided urbanism perspectives that emphasize the making-by-designing operations of spatialization over making-by-living processes. Therefore, this research aims to provide an updated look at the theory of social production of space from a designerly perspective which offers a novel approach on everyday life in relation to urban design. The main theoretical approach that is the spatial triad conceptualization helps to dialectically link the designed and lived spaces. This triad bringstogether the moments of conceived, perceived and lived to explain the spatialization process discussed by Lefebvre (1991). In order to present an urbanist emphasis to this sociological notion, these moments have been reformulated as spaces that are designed for people (conceived), the spaces that are transformed with the existence and use of people (perceived), and finally spaces made by the initiatives of people (lived). To further evaluate the lived spaces, a unique methodological approach called spatial design ethnography is defined. This approach integrates the descriptive nature of ethnography with urban studies, in which the ordinary ways of makingby-living are gathered and studied as the main data. The observations in different urban contexts are gathered under the making-by-living frame to understand their modes and variables. Following a set of varying actors, scale and time-frames, these modes are categorized under the titles of formation, repetition, and composition. These categories will help to unveil the nature of seemingly scattered examples that, in fact, display similar spatial configurations independently from the urban context from which they originate without overlooking the existence of contextualized socio-economic, political and cultural traits. This paper argues that there is a need to include them into the urban design thinking for a more insightful and human-centered analysis. That is, despite the hardships of grasping human nature that spontaneously interacts and alters its physical environment; the article’s final argument brings forward a new approach for urban design valuing the space madeby-living as well as the spaces made-by-design. The study attempts to understand this spontaneous nature through the lens of urban design and not to use it to tame spontaneity through toolkits or guidelines. In the theoretical stance, the sociologic concepts of spatial dialectics and everyday life interpreted with an urbanism perspective; in methodological stance, the spatial design ethnography aims at contributing to the future humancentered urban design studies.


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Citation Formats
D. Cihanger Medeıros Rıbeıro, “Spaces by People: An Urban Design Approach to Everyday Life,” ODTÜ Mimarlık Fakültesi Dergisi, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 55–76, 2018, Accessed: 00, 2020. [Online]. Available: