What is it
The European Prize for Urban Public Space is an initiative of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB). It was established following the exhibition “The Reconquest of Europe”, which was held in the CCCB in 1999, in order to offer testimony to the process of rehabilitation of public spaces that has been occurring in many European cities.
The aim of the Prize is to recognise and foster the public character of urban spaces and their capacity for fostering social cohesion. While acknowledging the ambiguities inherent in the notion of public space, this Prize – the only one of its kind in Europe – is distinctive in both recognising and promoting a public space that is at once public (open and universally accessible) and urban. The Prize, in highlighting the relational and civic aspects of the typically urban space, thus differs from other initiatives that are focused on the figure of the architect, and from awards given for landscape-centred projects.
In the years since its inception, a number of European institutions have joined the project, which is presently co-organised by The Architecture Foundation (London), the Architekturzentrum Wien (Vienna), the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Paris), the Nederlands Architectuurinstituut (Rotterdam) and the Museum of Finnish Architecture (Helsinki) and the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (Frankfurt). Over the last five occasions on which the Prize has been offered, it has consolidated in institutional terms and this has enabled it to expand its geographic scope. In 2008, 197 projects from 26 European countries (in comparison with the 81 projects from 14 countries in 2000) were entered for the Prize, which might therefore be seen as a window on to the transformation of public spaces in Europe, and a gauge of the main concerns of European cities.
The Prize has many distinguishing features. First, it is conceded to both the architect and the branch of public administration (council or political representative) that has taken the political decision to effectuate the intervention and, frequently, to guarantee its funding as well. Second, is the honorific nature of the Prize. Third, the Prize is not so much concerned, at least not uniquely or as a priority, with large-scale urban planning operations, as with interventions – great or small – of what might be called urban surgery that aims, above all, to improve the lives of citizens. Priority is given, then, to architecture with a social vocation rather than to that with an aesthetic or spectacular accent. This enables us to situate architects who are as yet unknown, or just starting to be known, alongside the great names of the world of architecture. Fourth, the Prize is distinctive in its clearly European vocation. While respecting local particularities, it is concerned to pay tribute to the common features of urban planning interventions throughout the geographic space of Europe, and to endorse and make known a certain European identity in the domain of architecture.
The majority of the projects that have been presented since the Prize was first offered may be viewed today in the European Archive of Urban Public Space. They are complemented with the Urban Library, which consists of a collection of texts on the city and urban issues that the CCCB has been engaged with through lectures and exhibitions since its very beginnings. The Prize is organised within the framework of the CCCB’s larger, permanent and multidisciplinary programme on cities and public space