Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
October 03, 2008

Architect Will Alsop on the Public Realm

Today the situation is more open and the opportunity exists for the artist to redefine the space itself rather than simply produce work to be sited by others. The role of the artist in determining our external experience is essential. Without
the artist, the role falls to the landscape architects and/or the urban designers. Current art practice goes way beyond the idea
of the object placed in space. Appropriately, the content of our “public realm” must reflect the people who use it by going way
beyond a town councillor’s view on what ART is.

The idea of public space as something other than a surface to connect two front doors is radical. The work of PUBLIC ART
through its rich and diverse activities sets out to question the nature of this space — that every town & city has in abundance —- and programme it as opposed to designing it. The distinction between these two activities is vital. One is about
beautification, which often degenerates into style or heritage. The other is about reclaiming the space for genuine public use.

If the street could be the city art gallery, then why not a school? No shops but markets? No theatre but a continuous
performance? The public realm has the ability to liberate many of our treasured institutions in such a way that they could be
redefined. This is the work of the artist and architect, alongside the rest of the community.

This extract from Will Alsop’s contribution to ‘People Making Places: Imagination in the Public Realm’ raises a distinction between programming the public space rather than designing it. This distinction is useful for a performance based artist like me but it also suggests that the engagement with the public realm needs to be dynamic and evolving rather than monumental and immutable. Of course that dynamism may not be only expressed in human bodies. I’m thinking of Sarah Browne’s wooden rainbow near Lurganboy as part of the New Sites, New Fields project for Leitrim sculpture Centre. The structure was erected in a field, an expression of the collective energy that created and assembled it. Having survived the Irish weather for a few weeks, it has collapsed. It’s rise and fall has an expressive dynamic that participates in the public realm rather than attempt to determine that space.

See Sarah’s account of the building and collapse of the rainbow at:

More of Will Alsop’s piece at

1 Comment on Architect Will Alsop on the Public Realm

  1. Fearghus I never noticed you had written about this work – thanks!
    It’s a tough one to talk about (always seems overly sentimental) so I appreciate this reading.

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