There is an interesting parallel between urban design and the design of rooms in housing. In western housing design, rooms are designed for a specific use. Rooms get a function and are named after it. Bed room, study, kitchen, living room, etcetera. This segregation leaves many rooms unused for most of the time, much unlike the traditional Japanese house in which the function of the room changes during the day. By changing futons and furniture, the room is adapted to what is needed. The key to traditional Japanese design is the creation of an open plan. Everything can change as no elements are fixed, even walls can move by means of sliding partitions. When everything is moved to the side, a smooth, obstacle free floor is all that remains.
On a more detailed scale, furniture is a similar institutionalisation of use. The introduction of chairs and a table reduces the use of a room to sitting around a table. The absence of furniture makes it possible to use a room for whatever comes up. Especially chairs are indicative for this phenomenon. In smaller homes, chairs are often the first item no longer to be found. Sitting can be done on the floor or on a bed doubling as a sofa.
It is exactly this concept of a smooth obstacle free floor that is the most successful formula for multipurpose use of public space. Activities and the number of people involved in them change throughout the day, as do the areas occupied by them. By leaving the boundaries between activities unmarked, these boundaries can freely move to an optimum.