The psychological perception of the city | Ignacio Grávalos – Patrizia Di Monte

In 2007, and for the first time in history, the world’s urban population was already more numerous than the rural population.1 According to the forecasts of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in 2050 75% of the population Population will live in cities.

The situation was very different at the end of the 19th century, when only 10% of the population was urban. At that time, the incipient industrial city was already a fact. A new urban society was adapting to a new scenario and began to undergo a transformation in its main structures. One of the topics mainly addressed by urban sociologists in the thirties of the twentieth century, is the loss of primary relationships (face to face) in the face of the immense network of contacts (secondary ties) that drove the metropolitan reality. In those years there is a metamorphosis, for certain theorists bathed in nostalgia, of the modes of relationship of agricultural societies.

How does man react with the fading of this type of intimate and closed relationship in the face of the explosion of multiple and diverse interactions that the great city now offered him?

To what extent does the city determine the behavior of individuals and social life?

Chicago, 1909 | Fuente:
Chicago, 1909 | Source:

The multitude of the sensory impacts of the metropolis demanded an over-tension from the citizen, an impossible implication that he could not bear and that Simmel,2 at the beginning of the twentieth century, called the

“increase in nervous life”.

Something similar happened with the proliferation of the many interpersonal relationships of urban life that tended to saturate the emotional capacity of the individual. This one, was forced to select concrete facets in which to relate with the rest of individuals; Each citizen was a polyhedral being who showed some of his faces while hiding others. In a way, the individual was forced to rank, to focus their implications on those aspects that he considered a priority. And establishing, as a defense, a series of automatisms that freed him from the fatigue of certain emotional choices.

On the one hand there was the loss of the family nucleus, while, on the other, the citizen was inserted into a large group. Their decisions, increasingly, were influenced by a kind of social consensus, where individual choice in favor of a certain conformitywith respect to the behavior established by the social mass lost strength. At the same time, the urban being was camouflaging his way of feeling in order to play a role in the urban scene. And the set of all these representations is what constituted his personality. In the words of E. Goffman,4

“Life is a theatrical performance”.

Various sociologists at the Chicago School analyzed the relationship between the city and society, at a time when both were in continuous transformation. Robert E. Park,5 one of the founding members, posed the city as a laboratory, a

“state of mind”,

as a field of study of human behavior and psychology, a platform on which a new form was developed to live.

“Future city”, Corbett (Popular Science, 1925). (
“Future city”, Corbett (Popular Science, 1925) | Source:

Issues such as emotional distancing, the loss of family nuclei, the dissolution of religious groups and the alteration of social classes, were replacing the ties that once united people with the territory with more diffuse and relocated ones. This situation caused a reconfiguration of the feelings of identity and, likewise, a transposition of what Halbwachs6 called the

“collective memory”.

This memory, as the author explains, is a production that requires social frameworks (we are never alone), and is only built to the extent that it is able to establish benchmarks with the rest of society. However, those points were no longer the same. Those memories anchored in the tradition and customs of the agricultural society were those that ensured an intimate and necessary link with the territory which, in turn, was its own livelihood. With the new urban reality, a displacement begins, a relocation of the concrete referents that the city tends to disperse preventing the reconstruction of memories, of psychic representations.

But it is not only an emotional issue, it also begins a constant journey towards the disappearance of the “place”, increasingly unpredictable, or better, increasingly determined by the undetermined. Issues related to the loss of the anthropological site alter the symbolic ability of individuals to recognize themselves in the territory. In those years there was a tendency towards the study of urban artifact, most often considered harmful, as an element that interfered with social life.

Louis Wirth,7 another member of the aforementioned Chicago School, claimed that citizen behavior is determined by social structures and environmental factors. It is the scenario that defines the behavior of society. The emergence of the big city entails the emergence of a new emotional behavior, conditioned by the city itself, which presents a wide range of possibilities: from finding a specific identification for each particular obsession, traveling between strangers or the ability to dissolve in the anonymity. In all this, the city offers an indispensable element in urban life: the emergence of the unexpected, of surprise and what John F. Lofland8 calls

“the presence of a stranger”.

Fotograma de Wonderland, de Michael Winterbottom
“Wonderland”, by Michael Winterbottom

Already in the sixties, Kevin Lynch9 conducted studies on the city trying to systematize those environmental images that transmit an emotional security to the individual. He articulates them around readings on the path, the landmark, the edge, the node and the neighborhood. However, despite requiring a very well organized, poetic and symbolic urban environment, it does not lose sight of the fundamental capital of urban reality: citizens and their daily flows that give meaning to the metropolitan scene.

So there are a number of physical dimensions or digital urban condition behavior. And there is, likewise, an attempt to humanize and rebalance both trends. David Harvey called it

“The urbanization of consciousness”,

Saskia Sassen refers to the

“Urbanization of technology”.

Psychosocial care studies on the city begins in the early seventies. There is special attention to the psychological changes of urban society. In parallel, in those same years, a new way of regulating the foundations of urban planning is experienced, in which the figure of the planner becomes more permeable through citizen participation processes, and becomes an element of balance, a facilitator among the various agents involved.

These studies derive in a special consideration about urban spaces as a privileged scenario to articulate social relations. Based on the study of several authors Proshansky y Fabian, Gehl), Corraliza10 summarizes the quality criteria of these spaces in the following points:

· The need for contact control and social interaction.
· The need for security and maintenance responsibility.
· The need for varied social activities.
· The need for aesthetic satisfaction.

These criteria give us the key to the success and failure of public spaces. And it is no accident that it is precisely on these arguments on which the issues (and frictions) of the public and private sphere are articulated. Based on these criteria, a diagnosis could be made as to why some authors have called the

“privatization of public space” and,

in the same way, the

“social massification of private spaces”.

One might ask, therefore, what has failed, what we have forgotten in the conception of public spaces.

Ignacio Grávalos – Patrizia Di Monte. Architects (estonoesunsolar)
Zaragoza-Venezia. Noviembre 2019.

According to the World Bank’s development indicators, in 2013 the urban population was set at 53% of the total.
Simmel, Georg. El individuo y la libertad. Barcelona: Península. (1911)
The conformity trend was studied by Solomon Asch in “Studies fo Independence and Conformity” (1956)
Goffman, Erving. La presentación de la persona en la vida cotidiana, 1959
Park, Robert E., La ciudad y la ecología urbana y otros ensayos, 1952
Halbwachs, Maurice. La memoria colectiva, 1950
Wirth, Louis. El urbanismo como modo de vida, 1938
Lofland, John. Analyzing social settings, 1976
Lynch, Kevin. La imagen de la ciudad, 1960
10 Corraliza, José Antonio. Ciudad, arquitectura y calidad de vida: notas para una discusión. En R. de Castro(comp.), Psicología ambiental: intervención y evaluación del entorno, 1991.

Article originally published in The Living City in April 2015.

Ignacio Grávalos – Patrizia di Monte

Ignacio Grávalos y Patrizia Di Monte fundan gravalosdimonte arquitectos en 1998, un estudio que trabaja en los diversos ámbitos de la arquitectura y del paisaje, participando en proyectos de actividad cultural, estudios de regeneración urbana, trabajos de arquitectura participativa y estudios experimentales sobre urbanismo de no conformidad. En la actualidad alternan la actividad profesional con la docente, así como la presencia en numerosos procesos de investigación en ámbito europeo.

Ignacio Grávalos es arquitecto por la ETSAB (Barcelona, 1994). Es profesor titular de Expresión Arquitectónica de la Escuela de Arquitectura de la Universidad San Jorge de Zaragoza.
Patrizia Di Monte es arquitecta por el IUAV (Venecia, 1995). En 1998 consiguió el título de máster (La Gran Escala) por la UPC y la suficiencia investigadora (tesis doctoral en curso). Ha sido arquitecta colaboradora Fund. Peggy Guggenheim en Venecia de 95-97, miembro de la comisión de cultura del COAA de 2003-06, miembro del comité cientifico Capitalidad Cultural Zaragoza 2016, profesora de Proyectos III de la Escuela de Arquitectura de la USJ de Zaragoza y actualmente es profesora de Urbanismo I. Obtienen el 1er premio concurso paseo marítimo en Torre Mileto, 1er premio concurso de ideas reforma C.O.A.A., 1er premio concurso bloque de viviendas en torre en Zaragoza, 1er premio concurso bloque de viviendas en el Canal Imperial Zaragoza, 3er premio concurso ideas internacional “Oficinas Expo 2008”, adjudicatarios de numerosos concursos de estudio sobre el Casco Histórico de Zaragoza.

Creadores del programa “estonoesunosolar”, iniciativa experimental de intervenciones temporales en vacíos urbanos para uso público, reconocida con 1er premio Saie Urban regeneration and development 2012, 1er premio Eurocities 2011 Participation, 1er premio Innovazione e Qualitá Urbana 2010, mención de investigación XI Bienal Española Arquitectura y Urbanismo, 2º premio SAIE Selection 10, 3er premio SMART Future Minds 2010, finalista premios FAD 2011, finalista City to City FAD awards 2012, finalista Future Cities awards 2012, ganadores convocatoria internacional “Architecture of Consequence” del NAI (ND) , obra seleccionada 6ª y 7ª Bienal Europea de Paisaje, mención XXII y XXVI premios de Arquitectura García Mercadal.

Entre sus últimas obras construidas se encuentra la escuela infantil del Casco Histórico de Zaragoza (en colaboración con S. Carroquino), que ha recibido el accésit premio Children in Scotland’s Making Space Awards 2010.

Han sido arquitectos invitados a: Congreso Eurocities Culture Forum 2009, Congreso Caceres Ciudades Creativas 2009, Congreso Ciudades Creativas 2010 (Kreanta), XIX Congreso Centro Iberoamericano Desarrollo estratégico Urbano en Mérida (Méjico), Reunión Agenda 21 para la Cultura en Belo Horizonte (Brasil), Xunta de Galicia, Ayto. de Sevilla, Ayto. de Vitoria, COAC, COAG, Master Arquitectura Medioambiental y Urbanismo Sostenible PAMUS de Univ. La Salle, Universidad Internacional de Andalucia, Universidad de País Vasco, Master Progettazione Interattiva Sostenibile e Multimedialità de Roma3, Master in Paesaggistica-Unifi/AIAPP/LUS Univ. di Firenze, Univ. Di Trento, Ayto. de Turín, Ayto. De Napoles, Milano Made Expo 12, SAIE 12 Bologna, Politecnico de Milán, Cité de l’ Architecture de París, DAZ de Berlín, Master Public Space Berlage Institute de Rótterdam entre otros.

follow me

Filed under: articles, Ignacio Grávalos - Patrizia di Monte

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,