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Adriana Cobo

Published date
29 May 2019

Taste Untold: Critical performance practice for contemporary public space

College: Central Saint Martins
Supervisors: Professor Jeremy TillDr Melanie Dodd


This thesis is an investigation into the field of architecture, which focuses on the codes and practices characteristic of contemporary public space. The project sets out to test and question political and ideological structures at play within the public realm, through performance practice.

The research is consolidated through a critical approach to prototypical public realm designs, which are produced as extensions and representations of specific dominant power structures, and sustained through specific aesthetic codes. The thesis is driven by asking: How could performance practice engage critically, with the codes and practices of public space today?

Context and background

Core constituting categories of public space such as representations of power, the unfolding of civic life and maintenance structures, will be researched to inform the general framework for both the building of theory and the design of research-practice.

The processes through which the physical structure of contemporary public space is produced will be analysed by observing relevant planning regulations, urban design principles and manifestos, as well as dominant aesthetic systems regulating its design. By-laws specific to the public realm, along with controlled urban etiquettes, curated cultural programmes and maintenance strategies will be analysed, as they sustain the social structure of public space over time. Through the analysis of these codes and practices, the research aims to understand and contest naturalised political, social and aesthetic narratives, which appear legitimised as they become structural to the public realm.

Proposing performance as methodology, the thesis aims to engage critically and negotiate more open and civic practices, intended to test the potential visibility of suppressed activities, performed by individuals displaced from and/or under-represented in chosen locations. The proposed methodology develops as a series of interventions tailored for Granary Square, a privately owned public space (POPS) in London’s King’s Cross.

Granary Square is the flagship civic space within the King’s Cross redevelopment project, and the most ambitious of its kind within the UK in the last decades. Going beyond the controversial debate stirred by the concept of privately owned public space, the project focuses on the codes and practices characteristic of the chosen case study, as the background against which to propose temporary interventions that question the establishment of such models of contemporary public space.

The approach to performance in terms of research-practice is set against the cultural industries’ curated programmes of events. It focuses on re-enacting common actions, characterised by necessity and legitimised by routine. Everyday practices such as washing, cleaning, reading, speaking, sleeping, playing, drawing or knitting, will be re-enacted as public performances, and given temporary visibility and meaning when set against the dominant physical, cultural, and political narratives structural to Granary Square.

Although largely unspoken of today, architectural taste is considered here as an essential regulatory system for designing, making, experiencing and maintaining contemporary public spaces through both aesthetic (physical) and functional (social) codes. Understood as modus operandi internalised by architects, and based on professionally legitimised aesthetic narratives, taste is structural to the production and communication of architecture, and specifically of public space. It provides the conceptual background for this investigation, and supports its critical stance. As a practice PhD, the thesis aims to devise strategies which might allow architects and spatial practitioners – professional or not – to imagine, construct, experience and speak about more open, negotiated and heterogeneous narratives, codes and practices of public space.