Public Works is a London-based non-profit which designs for a more democratic use of the public realm. They have worked at all scales, from furniture to urban planning, with the unified goal of stimulating new thought about how public space can be claimed.
Public Works operates without a specific goal, but derives its programmatic direction from a strong ideology of public space. Public space is a convener, and the way in which its organized can give rise to new and more productive forms of social interaction.
Public Works was originally founded in 1999, by Kathrin Böhm, Sandra Denicke-Polcher, Torange Khonsari, Andreas Lang and Stefan Saffer. The current members are Andreas Lang, Torange Khonsari, Andrew Belfield, Tom Dobson, Carlotta Novella, and Hester Buck, although the group works with a wide network of collaborators.
Public Works has completed dozens of projects over twenty years, and their portfolio is notable for its incredible diversity. There is no typical Public Works project, but a typical ethos can be shown through the Granville Cube. The Cube is a simple metal frame structure which travels to various locations on and around the Granville New Homes site. Modest in its construction, the structure still stimulates community communication and serves as a place for small scale local events. Residents have used it for caroling, flower planting, fish tanks and other esoteric functions. With simple add-ons, the Cube turns into an exhibition space, a small stage, an outdoor screen, a workshop space, etc. The Cube, while small in scale, is meant as a provocation. It shows how designers’ simple interventions can often catalyze entirely new forms of community interaction. Communities want to interact – often the built environment serves as a deliberate inhibitor.
At the other end of the spectrum, Public Works has also launched The Public(s) Land Grab: a program which looks to alternatives to capital-led urban development. The project asks “if residents can build the capacity to develop without developers and use regeneration as an opportunity to level social inequalities rather than extenuate them.” They began with a garden, and used building workshops and legislation to build local capacity. The initiative intends to eventually produce a handbook of citizen strategies that can be used against capitalistic development.
Like many of our honorees, Public Works delves deep into the challenges posed by contemporary urbanism – and seeks new ways that communities can reassert control over their own futures.