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Institutionalised free time has left us all feeling bored

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Imagine a supermarket with one aisle. The idea of shopping and its typology is immediately challenged. Is it a route or destination? Is it a street?

Today, using the term leisure in an urban context evokes stereotypes which, from an architectural point of view, are undesirable.

Leisure, and its provision, has become the domain of the large leisure company focused on mass appeal or the lowest common denominator. They are places designed to take the maximum amount of money from a great number of people in the least possible time. They are often sited in places only accessible by car, helping to empty town and city centres.

Like the supermarket, the idea of leisure needs to be reinvented to celebrate the ambience that makes one comfortable simply sitting and doing nothing.

Leisure, or free time, has become institutionalised and, as such, numbs the brain and actually creates a sense of boredom.Time is at the root of this problem, or, more accurately, our mismanagement of time. Generally, people spend less time working than they used to, which, by implication, suggests we have more time to use as we please. Unfortunately, in spite of flexi-hours and other management inventions, work has remained firmly placed in daylight hours where opportunities to pursue many interests are at their highest. It would be perfectly possible, assuming a seven-hour day, to start work at 7.30am and finish at 2.30pm, leaving the afternoon for fishing, gardening, bowls or pigeon racing, which in turn would leave the evening for socialising or simply relaxing. Some people might like to start at 2.30pm and finish at 9.30pm. Yet there is still an assumption that the world is more efficient if everyone is doing broadly the same activity at the same time.

I noticed that retired people in Perth, Western Australia, prefer to do their gambling - usually associated with an evening economy - at 10am in the casino, The nature of the place is important. If there is a focused part of the earth's surface which is beautiful, the idea of appropriate times of use becomes redundant.

Today, in my capacity as a professor in Vienna, I attended a final presentation of two students, Eva and Maria.They chose not to show their work in the university, but in the 7th District of Vienna, Podium. Many locals dropped by for their usual glass of something at 6pm. The work, which showed still images plus a film, managed to get under the skin of Berliners and revealed how none of them felt that the newly developed areas belonged to them. The discussion afterwards involved students, professors and bystanders, all accompanied by drinks from the bar.

I was interested in how both the film and the debate managed to unearth a genuine feeling that what we might call traditional block masterplanning fails. It fails to engage the people who prefer those parts of the city untouched by urbanists' hands because they were not engaged in endless debates regarding Potsdammer and Leipziger Platz.

This failure exposes the planners'preferences as an old-fashioned academic exercise, often at odds with the secret desires of the politician.

For two hours the bar became the university and the people enjoyed the 'show'.

I suddenly realised that education should be more public. There could be hundreds of events providing entertainment in bars, halls and cafes. It is the new leisure centre. Now, how can we improve the supermarket?

WA, from my office at the University of Vienna

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