Damascus Dialogues

Tala Sameh, Walaa Al_Khateeb

By the People, for the People?

Architects and planners traditionally tend to categorize and operate under the binary relationship of private and public - and spatial practices therefore fall under the rules of these categories and relationships. In actuality, what defines private and public is more blurred, complex and subject to factors that are beyond the spatial and procedural, factors that are embedded in the culture and traditions, the dos and don’ts in a public space, the inherited attitude towards gender, etc. . In Damascus, we find an assortment of ‘public’ spaces available to its people, ranging from large city parks, public squares, religious forecourts and courtyards, souks, the streetscape itself, as well as small domestic areas where the public has been granted access such as the courtyard of a traditional Damascus home or the salon of a contemporary house or apartment. These spaces can be evaluated according to certain quantitative measures such as scale, capacity or availability. Scale naturally portrays how big or small the space is; capacity tells us whether the space caters to large or small groups, or both; availability reveals if the space is democratic and inclusive or exclusive and segregated to a certain audience. The quality of a space, however, is more difficult to assess and is for that reason at the heart of the research, for it deals with the subjective perceptions of intimacy and identity.