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Chris Takacs '05 Examining Social Space Dynamics

What Elements Make Successful Public Spaces?

By Emily Lemanczyk  |  Contact Sharon Rippey 315-859-4672
Posted July 30, 2004
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Within the last few years, social spaces have become a hot topic at Hamilton. Students and faculty alike have discussed social spaces; what makes certain social spaces work and other social spaces fail? What constitutes a social space, and should there be more social spaces on campus? Chris Takacs '05 will likely help settle this on-campus debate by looking at social spaces through history as a Levitt fellow. The overall goal of Takacs' project, titled "The Architecture of Democracy: Key Structural Elements of Successful Public Spaces," is to develop a better understanding of how public spaces are designated to successfully accommodate a range of social and physical interaction, specifically examining the urban sidewalk, the urban park and the virtual spaces of online role-playing games. Professor of Sociology Dan Chambliss will serve as Takacs' primary advisor. A sociology-philosophy double major, Takacs will continue to work on this project through the academic year as a senior fellow.

How exactly does Takacs plan to examine social spaces? First, he will examine how the physical structure of public spaces, such as parks, squares and urban sidewalks, affect social interaction within those spaces. "I've been looking at anthropological studies of how humans in different cultures prefer to arrange themselves in spaces, depending upon the social situation, how the physical layout of a space can alter, disrupt or amplify everyday social interaction rituals and how power, class and status issues are built into the architecture of a space," Takacs explains. He has also outlined the key structural and architectural elements of successful public spaces. Takacs hopes that he will be able to make a number of suggestions for civic planners as to what elements are necessary for "a well-functioning, freedom-preserving and interaction-encouraging democratic space."

Takacs has made some early discoveries in his project. "Any kind of successful space requires mediums of interaction—objects that serve as ritual focuses of social exchange. The best spaces are ones that provide numerous mediums of interaction for both large and small groups, and based on this, I propose that civic planners should design public spaces with an eye towards which amenities can both attract participants and store social energy," Takacs explains. His project focuses on the physical layout of social spaces, including an examination of seating, tables, pathways and walls, and how these various elements affect interactions between users of those spaces. "The goal of the project is to basically identify those key elements of public spaces that encourage interaction, and determine why they do so," according to Takacs.

Summer Research 2004

Takacs' summer research has not been easy, as finding good literature on the subject has been very difficult. "My project sits at the intersection of a number of different fields—sociology, architecture, anthropology, civic planning, proxemics, phenomenology — and so I've found quite a bit of material that only barely touches on the topic, but little that directly focuses on it. In this way, it is both exciting—since it's largely unexplored territory—and very difficult to research."

Regardless of any issues Takacs has faced, he has truly enjoyed working as a Levitt scholar and is confident he will enjoy his time as a senior fellow.  "Professor Chambliss has been really helpful in motivating and me and inspiring me to look at new materials in different lights," Takacs says.

--by Emily Lemanczyk '05

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