Ambient power: Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz and the seductive logic of public spaces

Allen, John (2006). Ambient power: Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz and the seductive logic of public spaces. Urban Studies, 43(2) pp. 441–455.



In privatised public spaces where people mill around and cross over one another's paths in largely unforeseen ways, one could be forgiven for thinking that power is largely about guards and gates or that it is present through surveillance techniques. This paper puts forward a rather different view of power in public spaces that highlights its unmarked presence. It argues that closure in some of the more recent privatised public spaces is achieved in decidedly modest ways through a logic of seduction. Using the example of a privatised public space at the heart of Berlin's Potsdamer Platz redevelopment, it is suggested that the layout and design of the complex represent a seductive presence that effectively closes down options, enticing visitors to circulate and interact in ways that they might not otherwise have chosen. The suggestive practices, experiences and spaces are laid out for temptation in such a way that closure is achieved by degree, through inclusion rather than exclusion. Power in this instance works through the ambient qualities of the space, where the experience of it is itself the expression of power.

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