Social responsivity

In times of a renaissance for urban life and public space it becomes necessary to examine new modes of action and to review existing ideas and ways of understanding regarding the city.

Gerard, the protagonist of Ernst Jünger’s book A Dangerous Encounter, is enchanted by a city that vibrates of the lives of generations, a power mysteriously absorbed by its walls.[1] His experience is a striking example of what Johan Asplund calls social responsivity (Sw: responsivitet). According to his definition, social responsivity is not delimited to direct interaction between individuals but also involves the mediation via material artefacts and structures.[2] For Asplund, a “true place” responds. He describes the experience of a visit to Friluftsmuséet, the open air museum in Copenhagen. Inside a cow-house originating from Schleswig-Holstein, its former inhabitants become vivid for him. He hears the cows moving in their boxes and smells the dung and straw.
When Finn Werne writes about the response of place (Sw: platsernas respons)[3], he makes a reference to Asplund. For Werne, the meaning of place – the knowledge, emotions and experiences we attach to a room or a building – is crucial. Thus the memories of the users are just as important for place as the material and spatial properties of the built environment. It seems that responsivity presupposes an engaged interaction – and thus exists between people and buildings. The preconditions for such interaction are transformed through time along with the changes of architecture and urban culture. What does social responsivity mean in today’s urban landscapes? What knowledge processes can support building the responsive city?

[1] Jünger 1987

[2] Asplund 1987

[3] Werne 1987