Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Improvisation and Planning: Engaging With Unforeseen Encounters in Urban Public Space

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Abstract:  Despite the significant emphasis in Scandinavian cities on vital urban spaces and creative unfolding in urban development, there is a tendency towards designing for “finished” urban spaces with a pre-defined conclusion. The result is often standardised design and staged play, ignoring the diversity of lived experiences taking place in the here and now. How can urban spaces be generated to accommodate unforeseen encounters fostering moments of intensity, affect, and disorder? In this article, we explore the potential of improvisation in urban spaces by examining how urban public spaces facilitate improvisation in interactions between places, senses, materials, and participants. Improvisation is understood as a productive force in urban development that gives space to what occurs in urban encounters. The article draws on Richard Sennett’s concept of “disorder” and Jennifer Mason’s concept of “affinity.” By using design experiments and sensory and visual methods inspired by ethnographic methodology the article analyses two improvisational practices occurring in public spaces in Norway and Denmark, which emphasise the performative, affective, and sensory elements of urban life. The analysis brings forth a discussion of how improvisation unfolds in multimodal urban encounters, between order and disorder, and sensory and emotional connections. The authors argue for a more place-sensitive form of city-making and more improvisatorial urban designs that stimulate varied, spontaneous, and changeable use.

Keywords:  affect; affinities; diversity; encounter; improvisation; play; public space; Scandinavia



© Anne-Lene Sand, Anniken Førde, John Pløger, Mathias Poulsen. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.