Cities, Architecture and the Everyday


This piece of junk is part of a dry dock that belonged to the Öresund Wharf. Here it represents the city — as a place of production and sedimentation, commerce and trade, the steel architecture of shipbuilding and the everyday of generations of wharf workers in Landskrona.

Expressed separately, city, architecture and everyday are general, all encompassing and almost trivial terms. Together, the three terms suggest a more distinctive field of surveys and interpretations that will be my workspace and playground, digitally plotted as the domain


These pages will be the workshop — rather than the home — for speculations and intellectual endeavours regarding what me and my colleagues used to call “people and the built environment” (I will come back to that term).


The City of pedestrian tactics: Footpaths and shortcuts of the urban landscape of Flemingsberg, south of Stockholm. The shortcomings of modernist planning become distinctly evident! (from one of my chapters in Periferin i centrum, ed. Katarina Nylund, Daidalos 2007)


City here is not just the mere context for architecture and daily life. It represents specific ways of organising society — spatially and temporally — that change through history and geography but that in every circumstance, and in quite demanding ways, define how life can be led. There are elements of life in urban society that are difficult to avoid. To take an example: the choice to become a car owner is just for some part related to the desire for cars. Living in one suburb and working in another may be a situation that more or less forces you buy a car because public transportation is planned for travelling between centre and periphery and not between peripheries.

The city implicates a world of already made decisions which delimit “freedom of choice” to lifestyle nuances. Leaving the countryside for the city often means saying good bye to a range of practises that — while improving the conditions of living — can absorb surplus time and energy, and typically replace them with the consumption of material and cultural merchandise. So the city implies urban lifestyles, urban public life, urban moods and ambiences but more important: the dependence upon strong networks of humans and artefacts involving propped up practises.


Open air architecture of Vancouver and Queen Elisabeth Park: Taichi Arbours by Henriquez Partners, sculpture by Henry Moore and Bloedel Floral Conservatory (the dome) by Thorson and Thorson.


Architecture is a term that can be understood in a broader or narrower sense. For some, architecture equals built environment whereas for others it represents the works of distinguished artists. If one accepts “architecture without architects” as a legitimate category, then architecture is seen as part of broad traditions of building. If architecture is related to the emergence of a certain profession, then it is something other than tradition, it belongs to the transgressive activities of modernism.

My own explication takes its starting point in the latter idea but adds an important stipulation: Architecture can have the dimension of idea, sketch and drawing, it can be fully concretized materially, but it does achieve full magnitude until it is taken into use. Architecture is not “realized” until it becomes part of the taskscape of those who have reasons to employ its potential. Thus, as Jeremy Till writes, architecture is a messy and risky business: “Architecture depends”. As an architect, one could just as well give up the deceptive notion of the autonomous work of art — and play along with the appropriative practises that buildings always become involved in.


Few architectural elements are so determining for daily movements as bridges. Thus, a new bridge introduces completely new opportunities of moving in the city and so changes interrelationships between its parts. Millenium Bridge, London. 

Everyday Life

Everyday life, the third term, is important firstly in the sense that it acknowledges certain silent/invisible dimensions of life: all those practises that have become routines — and that would be extremely tiresome if they weren’t. When buildings enable the activities we immerse in, our relations to architecture are mainly of that routinely nature. It is when something does not work as it should and the sequence of activities breaks down that we become aware of aspects of architecture. In this sense, good architecture has the potential of becoming invisible. Thus I often feel the urge to make clear that the practises of appreciating and enjoying architecture favoured by architects (think: the study trip) do not uncover the broader potentials of a building. When sometimes we have the opportunity of experiencing architecture that one way or the other has become part of people’s practises it can be a confusing experience.

The everyday, secondly, points at dimensions of domination and pacification in society and the tendency of modern society to make its subjects to users, consumers and shoppers. The modernist undercurrent of situationism has been successful in drastically uncovering the boring encasement of capitalist/welfare society. Today, the spirit of situationism lives on in plentiful practises that challenge the rigidities of urban structure. Practises like parkour, skating etc not only offer exiting examples of transgression, they also expose the lack of bodily challenges and excitement of urban everyday life.


The complexity of the urban texture, here expressed by the exiting flat-iron form of the building in the centre. Paris 2004.

From dichtomies to complexities

Those where some of the interrelated connotations that Cities, Architecture and the Everyday will involve when I work or play with them. This may be the right moment to comment upon the dichotomy of people and the built environment that has dominated the field of research on the use and performance of buildings since the seventies, when I became part of it. The explicit — but sometimes unspoken — idea was that science should serve the progress of welfare state by producing useful knowledge about people’s needs and demands of buildings and urban settings, predominantly in the field of housing.

My own department, formally a university subdivision, started as something that in practise functioned as a branch of central government administration. The main role of research and development was to produce knowledge applicable when writing new rules and regulations. During the days of student rebellion, the liberation from a dominant “legalist” ideology went through revolutionary excitement which, however, soon was channelled back into reformist ambition. Later, the ideals of academic autonomy and quality were stronger incitements of decentring research and teaching from the government perspective. The researchers’ involvement with the abundance of other disciplines dealing with similar or neighbouring subjects has been a powerful factor of change.

Since the seventies, however, also the sporadic influence from grassroots’ movements has diminished the risks of disciplinary grandiosity, for instance in the theories and practises of user driven planning and design. The world of people and buildings as lived, rather than as ideal procedure or rationalistic system, has now and then managed to remind the researchers of its existence. The questioning of social urban order, presented for instance in the proclamations of the situationists in the 50ies and 60ies and through the actions of thousands of young people today is still a vital strand of constructive undermining that hopefully keeps the researchers vital and awake. The dichotomy of humans (or “man” as it used to be) and built environment is too simplistic to contain the controversies and potentials at stake in my field of research. So far, the triad of city, architecture and daily life does the job much better.