Contour Journal <p>Peer-reviewed journal for interdisicplinary research in architecture, urban design and planning</p> en-US (Editorial team) (Shin Alexandre Koseki) Wed, 02 Nov 2016 00:00:00 +0000 OJS 60 Urbanity: Looking into the Discourse of Researches <p>"Urbanity" has become a "fuzzy/unclear concept" (Bourdin, 2010) which is even polysemous in the discourses of researchers in urban studies. I have undertaken, in my PhD, a series of interviews with researchers in order to try to understand and to deconstruct the discourse about urbanity, aiming to surpass a classical and limited bibliographic approach. This series of interviews was held with geographers, urban sociologists, psychologists, architects and urban planners. Urban studies, today, require an interdisciplinary approach, which is especially the case with such a difficult concept like urbanity. This additional methodological approach helps us understand this polysemous terms and the paradigms underlying the concept of urbanity, so as to recognize the different theoretical approaches suggested by the researchers about this topic. At the crossroads of these approaches, this article proposes a theoretical typology to understand meanings of urbanity in the contemporary urban studies. It identifies four ways to tackle urbanity: Urbanity considered above all as an interaction; urbanity thought as an interaction in situation; urbanity thought in a critical and relative approach and urbanity as a key to reading contemporary urban realities. This categorization is not based on an existing line of thought but on specific ways to handle the topic of urbanity.</p> Brieuc Bisson Copyright (c) 2016 Contour Journal Mon, 10 Oct 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Connecting the Dots: How Digital Culture Is Changing Urban Design <p>The topic of agency in cities brings up a fundamental question that urban thinkers have been dealing with for a long time: to what extent does the physical form of the city influence the way people behave? How exactly, in other words, do urban forms act in themselves as agents of urbanity? We know that the relationship between people and their physical environments is not purely mechanical and could never be reduced to a simple functionalist explanation. A change in a city square's furniture, for example, will not deeply affect the way its users experience it. On the other hand, space is never neutral, and the discussion on "agents" as systems that are active, distinguished from their environment, and acting according to a predefined set of goals (Barandiaran, Di Paolo, Rohde, 2009) opens up the very possibility that urban forms might be considered agents themselves. Barandiaran et al. raised this issue when they asked if a niche could be regarded as an agent (Ibid, p.10). Although it is not a living system per se, it is the product of living agents (a colony of beavers, for example), and its capacity to provide its inhabitants the comfort and protection required to sustain the existence of the system (the colony itself) is the measure of its success. Urban forms act in a similar way in regards to urbanity. Created by numerous groups of agents following different sets of goals, visions and ideologies, they suggest a certain use that, even when faced with the possibility of normative rejection, makes them agents of change in the way people use and understand the city. The form of public spaces, in that sense, does impose certain barriers and openings that, for better or worse, affects the "life between buildings" as Jan Gehl (1987) would have put it.</p> Guillaume Ethier Copyright (c) 2016 Contour Journal Mon, 10 Oct 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Agency / Agents of Urbanity Edited Follow-Up to the Colloquium of the Same Name Held at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne <p>When Dario and I first extended the invitation to Nikos Salingaros, a professor of mathematics, urbanist and architectural theorist at the University of Texas, San Antonio, who has written extensively on architecture and urbanism, to give a keynote at the colloquium, we were specifically interested in his work on geometrical understandings of the relationships between people and the environment. Dr. Salingaros has worked extensively with Christopher Alexander, also a mathematician and architect, who is known for his work with colleagues in the 1970s on pattern languages in architecture and more recently on his theory of wholeness and harmony-seeking calculations for design in general. Through this body of work, the agency and agents of urbanity that factor in to the emergent quality of urbanity can be understood mathematically. The video lecture that Nikos Salingaros provided for us (link below) expanded on a number of themes that he has addressed in his work, notably A Unified Architectural Theory (2013, Vajra Books), Design for a Living Planet (2015, Vajra Books) and Principles of Urban Structure (2005, Techne). The current problematics facing architecture and urban design concern the scientific and philosophical grounds upon which person-environment relationships are investigated and modelled, upon which design decisions are made by architects and their clients (from scientific inquiry to seductive mysticism) and the role of the object (as self-referential or relational). As he could unfortunately not be present at the colloquium to engage with the questions inspired by his talk, Dr. Salingaros generously agreed to respond to a series of questions that attempt to situate the themes of the colloquium within the larger problematic to which he has devoted much of his scholarly work. Focusing on urbanity also allows us to avoid repeating the types of questions that have been asked in previous interviews of Nikos Salingaros (links below).</p> Michael Doyle Copyright (c) 2016 Contour Journal Wed, 02 Nov 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Urban Morphologies in Informal Settlements: A Case Study The emergence of urbanity is related to the ways in which urban informality, morphologies, activities, and temporality work in relation to sociality and spatiality. Informal settlements are predominantly self-organized and incrementally transformed out of the state control where the traditional approaches to urban theory and design practices have often failed to deal with the complex dynamism of such resilient forms of urbanism. The study aims to explore urban morphologies of informal settlements to unravel the capacities of these settlements as places of self-organization in which complex relations between sociality and spatiality contribute to the emergence of urbanity. Hence, the study focuses on the ways in which informal urbanism mediates urbanity. This conception is neither an attempt to aestheticize the concentration of poverty in informal settlements nor an attempt to undermine the role of the built environment professions in enabling or constraining the possibility of emergent urbanity in the city. On the contrary, the outcomes of the study give rise to the critical role of urban designers, architects, and planners in contributing effectively to the upgrading processes in a way to encourage the affordances for self-organization and incremental transformations over time. Drawing on empirical evidence from the neighbourhood of Khlong Toei in the city of Bangkok, the study seeks to understand the ways in which urban morphologies structure the emergence of urbanity in informal settlements. The research methods are observation, archival records, visual recording, mapping, and multi-scale analysis. In this way, the study contributes to the understanding of how informal settlements work in terms of urban morphologies and the ways in which emergence of street-life intensity can be enabled or constrained by the environmental design professionals. Hesam Kamalipour Copyright (c) 2016 Contour Journal Sun, 02 Oct 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Memory, Projection, and Imagination: On Challenges for Observation and Statistics Based Research <p>Various forms of material, empirical, or observation-based research has grown in importance over the last decade in both architecture and urban design research, in parallel to an increasingly data-driven research utilising an increasing amount and availability of GIS data, tracking technologies, GPS records, and ICT tools. Assemblage theory and Actor-Network Theory have grown strong in several fields, sometimes linked to 'flat ontology', as have empirically based fields such as space syntax and geoinformatics. While it is somewhat dubious to bundle these theories together, they there are tendencies in contemporary research in which they can be linked, with more or less explicit intents to cut past perceptions and conventions to look at the world 'as it is' and generate understanding from observed behaviours, actions, and the myriads of interactions going on. This has produced a rich body of research and significant advances in knowledge. However, there is also need for pause and reflection, to avoid risks of repeating the mistakes aimed to oust. This article offers a set of such reflections that will come about through a set of examples, leading onwards into a discussion of the role of memory, projection and imagination, as well as the need to consider how to integrate norms and structures into research that often intentionally leaves such concepts out.</p> Daniel Koch Copyright (c) 2016 Contour Journal Fri, 09 Dec 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Transit-Oriented Morphologies and Forms of Urban Life: A Case Study Cities are facing the challenges of climate change as they become more car-dependent and less compact. Tackling these challenges, transit-oriented development has become one of the key concepts of urban design in engaging with opportunities for transforming the car-dependent city. Such transformational change demands exploring capacities for future cities, which are geared to understanding the ways in which transit-oriented developments work at different scales within a city. The main challenge here is to understand how the synergies play out at different scales in relation to the transit-oriented problems and opportunities. Thus, this research aims to enrich an understanding of how urbanity emerges in relation to overlapping connections between socio-spatial networks within transit-oriented developments. In effect, the analysis of spatial structures in a city needs to be conjoined with the ways through which everyday urban life takes place. The study adopts a conceptual model of density, mix, and access, in which the permeability and pedestrian flows throughout the city are integrated with pools of use and different levels of concentration. The study documents the urban morphology associated with a transit-oriented development in the city of Tehran city, and explores the capacities within this transit pocket. Hence, through a series of mappings, the study will explore different morphological patterns as well as everyday street life within public spaces of transit‐oriented development. Nastaran Peimani Copyright (c) 2016 Contour Journal Wed, 02 Nov 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Isar Plan: The Wild As The New Urban? <p>In the eighteenth century, Rousseau praised the beauty of the wild and untamed, and twentieth century environmental movements celebrated the healing effects of wilderness on the human soul. But while Romantics and later Environmentalists sought salvation away from the city - 'into the wild' - it is now the wild that is conquering the city again, becoming a sign of urban elegance and "coolness". Improvised rather than planned, claimed rather than given, the contemporary urban open space seems to reverse the old antagonism that opposed the tamed, exploited and orderly (the "policé"), to the dangerous, purposeless and amorphous - the savage originating from the dark sylva and the northern wastes. In recent decades the gardens of Gilles Clément or Piet Oudolf brought at high costs the poetry of formal vagueness and apparent vegetal spontaneity into the wastelands of nineteenth century New York railways and Paris factories - two cities seen as ultimate temples of urbanity. With them, the urban garden has seen the return of grasses and annual flowers, occasionally rehabilitating indigenous, even toxic or invasive plants. More recently, with the transformation of the Isar River in Munich, the return of the wild has gone a step further in scale and meaning: About eight kilometers of channeled waters have been partially "set free" by a design that celebrates natural fluctuations and indigenous riparian vegetation in the heart of Bavaria's capital city. Each year after the spring floods, meadows and muddy river flats punctuated by young willows are again open to a growing public of urban hikers, picnickers, party-goers and beach lovers, becoming a much loved urban space and an iconic manifestation of the city's quality of life and individual freedom. For the recent design of the central segment of the river, however, a fierce quarrel has opposed the supporters of a sharp landscape design that accepted the urban and artificial character of the river, to the outspoken proponents of a nature-like design. New expectations and illusions had arisen with the dreams of regained wilderness that challenged the consensual tradition of the city, the adaptability of its urban infrastructure, and the ethics of the designers commissioned to reconcile the inherent contradictions of the brief. With its nature-like island and meandering banks stabilized by invisible stones and concrete foundations, has the Isar become merely a pastiche, being to riparian nature what Queen Marie-Antoinette's Hamlet was to actual countryside? The discussion is still ongoing, but beyond the controversy, the Isar Plan has so far succeeded in accommodating seasonal flooding, individual contemplation and mass-recreation, creating a flexible and unprogrammed space that is not a park, not a flood zone and not a nature reserve, and yet all these together. In this regard the Isar Plan might be the forerunner of a genuine trend that sees cities reinventing a form of wilderness that can answer the need to accommodate natural fluctuation, the disillusionment of suburban settlers and the expectations of Homo ludens, turning the wild into a new hybrid condition for urbanity.</p> Frédéric Rossano Copyright (c) 2016 Contour Journal Mon, 10 Oct 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Connectivity in Action / Form: Non-human Performativity of Wireless Communication and its implicit Architecturality Architecturality is a concept that emerged from research into the importance of infrastructures of wireless communication when experiencing and interacting with our surroundings. The concept affords a comprehensive perspective towards phenomena that occur in the environment and have a structural effect on the way organisations or systems operate. Architecturality is not concerned with how a structure or a system is, but what it does. It can be used to explain the effects of that system on its immediate surrounding, to register the interactions that are taking place. This discussion on spatial effects of wireless connectivity is based on the argument that architecturality of wireless communication infrastructures results from the fact that agency of wireless signals, like that of architecture, can be observed and qualified. Agency is not the most pronounced property of architecture - it is a contested feature and requires complicated argumentation. Nevertheless, I will demonstrate how it is precisely here that we should build foundations of a model for evaluating the effects of wireless communication on the experience of space. Infrastructures for wireless networking - built from scattered devices, base stations, repeaters, access points and 'a bouillon of waves' that connect them - have a prominent place in our interaction with the environment and with each other. Whether or not this new layer reconstitutes our experience of the 'real' world or recomposes social interactions - we have to recognize the difficulty in reading its effect on space and people. One way to address this problem is to examine waves as agents that deliver connectivity to people and devices across built environments. Wireless-communication signals partake in the production of urbanity as connectivity that is or not available to people and devices. Ultimately, they outline a binary spatial configuration: connected and disconnected places. In this respect, relying on the post-humanist and flat-ontological discussion on non-human agency, I regard waves as structural infrastructure. Architecturality refers to a property common to all architecture but it exceeds the limits of built artefacts and urban spaces. It is defined through the notions of performativity and form-giving action as a potential for affecting the experience of space in a significant way. This conceptual framework enables the comparison between physical architectures and information technology through an external lens - their effects on experience. I will demonstrate some possibilities for a meaningful experience of wireless communication signals. In these experiments, the materiality of connectivity - a phenomenon beyond mere functioning connection - takes the form given to wirelessness through action. Selena Savić Copyright (c) 2016 Contour Journal Sat, 21 Jan 2017 00:00:00 +0000