Therme Art Program

The Social Culture of Cities – Shaping a Participatory Reality

Architects and city planners shape how we live together. Their buildings, as shells, shape human bodily awareness and habitual cultural practices. Streets and transport routes channel flows of humans and set the pace of everyday life. Urban squares continue to shape the consciousness of public life, harking back to the ancient world’s concept of the agora or meeting place. Facades can both dwarf people and provide powerful backdrops and frameworks, as well as providing niches for animals to nest. Streets give rhythm to our gaze and shape our perspectives.


The degree of separation between different forms of construction in urban planning determines the permeability of different social strata. Access to light and green space, essential for health and wellbeing, is increasingly a luxury, especially in northern climes. Parks, vacant lots, verges and other green patches shape the degree of interweaving between the urban organism and animal and plant systems.

Today, the architect has little practical possibility to take these complex networks into account as architecture, planning and design are dominated by specific and powerful interests. Squeezed by building codes, economic efficiency, and the client’s wishes, the architect has very little scope for invention. We are now used to architecture that is broadly insensitive to the human, animal and plant realms––an urban architecture of barriers and standardisation. These structures and spaces affect social behaviour and our consciousness of living together. Meanwhile, museums, theatres and concert halls are constructed to protect them from urban noise and natural influences and to create an energetic free space if they remain mostly closed off from the living organism, the city, and from the possibility of contributing to shape this organism as social sculpture.

The talk addressed the consequences of these paradoxes for individual and collective well-being in urban populations. It aimed to synchronise art, architecture, and everyday life anew, and questioned what could be gained by art and artists playing a central role in defining how we live.


ISLAND at the British Pavilion

ISLAND at the British Pavilion: aerial view of the back of the British Pavilion © British Council photo by Cultureshock Media

Sonia Boyce, In the Castle of My Skin (2020). © Sonia Boyce. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2020. Photo: Stuart Whipps


Key Questions

1. What unique qualities can artists bring to urban and social planning? What other disciplines need to be engaged as part of the process?
2. How can we create new synergies between art and urban architecture so that they do not cancel, but enhance each other? How can we rethink our cities to meet the challenges of climate change?
3. How can we design art spaces with greater visibility and resonance within a city’s everyday life?
4. Should urban architecture steer the populace? Or does it create free spaces for minimally controlled, spontaneous, and direct communication? What dangers do the two extremes pose in relation to today’s demographic development?
5. What structures foster a feeling of solidarity and collective identity amongst inhabitants or workers?
6. What can we learn from existing art in public space, such as carnival, music festivals, demonstrations or graffiti. What approaches should be taken up and how?
7. Where does artistic thinking inspire architecture today? Apart from beacon projects, what everyday forms are we familiar with? How does architecture inspire and vitalise social interaction?
8. What historical precedents can we look to for inspiration?
9. Experts warn that nature is indispensable for the urban organism’s healthy life and that we urgently need a new way of thinking. Where do we see short-term and long-term solutions that can inspire real interactions between human, animal, and trees in the city?



Sonia Boyce RA OBE (Artist, representing the UK at La Biennale d’Arte Venezia 2022)
Elvira Dyangani Ose (Curator and Director, The Showroom, London)
David Kohn (Architect, David Kohn Architects Ltd.)
Cedar Lewisohn (Curator, The Southbank Centre)
Gavin Wade (Artist-Curator and Director, Eastside Projects)
Suzy Willson (Artistic Director, Clod Ensemble)


Emma Dexter (Director, Visual Arts, British Council)
Mikolaj Sekutowicz (CEO and Curator, Therme Art)


Wellbeing Culture Forum

The Wellbeing Culture Forum is a series of discussions in virtual environments catalysed by the present pandemic. Gathering experts from diverse fields, the series fosters the necessary collaboration and knowledge transfer to realise a vision of the city and its cultural activity in symbiosis with the natural world, generating a holistic approach towards the health of humanity. The series was initiated by Therme Art and curated by Mikolaj Sekutowicz, who is co-hosting each panel discussion together with various partners and partner institutions from the private and public sector.

The Wellbeing Culture Forum hosts diverse conversations about culture which are designed to create ‘insights for action’ culminating in the creation of a Wellbeing City Manifesto. This will be made freely available worldwide, for individuals and organisations to implement and influence positive cultural change.


In collaboration with