Imbedded Spatial Intelligence

There is something intelligent in the geometrical logic of space that is imbedded in its very fabric. If this quality is recognized it can be reconstituted as an advantage and redeployed as a performative property.

This paper will put forward theoretical reasoning and practical example of how to deal with existing urban organizations through understanding the systems and processes in space, and hence rethinking the way existing material organizations are used. By looking at peri-urban areas in China, the paper first explains the inherent potential of these tightly packed, varied, and mixed landscapes and proposes new ways of how to employ them as design instruments for future development.

Dongguang sub-urban basin in Pearl River delta – one of the economic powerhouses of China – is a mono-functional redevelopment of rural area geared toward labor intensive manufacturing, which proliferates a completely new type of landscape. This landscape consists of kilometers upon kilometers of fragmented elements i.e. interlocking low-end housing with industry assembling plants and agriculture.

Although the physical reality of these areas is rather grim, the pure formal and morphological organization speaks a completely different story. The inherit potential of this spatial form can be understood as a main design quality for next generation of flexible urban developments. This quality, although not yet properly explained, is lurking just beneath the everyday exterior of peri-urban areas inhabited mainly by the lowest social strata.

The unplanned development and interlocking character of this landscape gives rise to a unique spatial logic that is completely different from the historical zoning reasoning found in Europe and elsewhere in developed West. When looked at peri-urban areas closely, it reveals a staggering propensity to accommodate change and flexibility – these are two of the main qualities that the contemporary urban landscape needs. Furthermore, although being of a peri-urban character, the paper will show that industrial and agrarian areas can become integral parts of a new urban experience.

Even contemporary urban design practices acknowledge the spatial shift from rigid urban design of controlled urban form – disseminating contextualism, equilibrium and stagnation – to open unfinished built form. The latter advocates for a spatial state where each urban (unstable) fragment is intrinsically connected to the other and woven into a tapestry of perpetual change. While the West is struggling to define and engineer this elusive spatial quality, the Chinese peri-urban areas have it ingrained as an intrinsic quality that enables them to survive.