All Our Cities

Under a variety of concepts – "neo-liberal", "gentrification" and "master-planning" architects observe the transformations of traditional cities and the commercial, superficial qualities of contemporary ones (for which another concept – "public space" – is inevitably the response). Similar conceptual simplifications can be found in "ecology", where, more often than not a generalization called "nature" is portrayed as being exploited and misused by human agency. A good example is the codified abstracted representation in which nature is depicted in urban plans – green for plants, blue for water, grey for buildings. Maps and bird's-eye views are important mechanisms that support one of the most pervasive abstractions – "space".

Such generalizations (space, ecology) simplify the difficult concrete circumstances of particular situations and flatten the problem, making it easier to manipulate through design (where transformations are necessarily visual and typically concerned with form). This practice of abstraction (design through drawing of form) leads to remediation ideas such as for example "sustainable design" – a conceptual answer that is supposed to help rid the world of problems ranging from the ecological to the social.

In all these practices, the important terminology and ideas needed to understand the phenomena under examination come with multiple, sometimes divergent meanings (what is sustainable design for a developer? What is sustainable design for local community?). The inadequacy of much terminology arises from imprecise, abstract conceptual over-simplifications that allow for a plurality of meanings that refer only to themselves, suppressing the actual conditions and problems of the city. In other words, with referring to these concepts we refer only to them and not to actual conditions in the city!

Therefore, instead of research into generic "space" and the meaning of "form", this seminar explored urban life and how architecture supports it (what kind of life it enables or disables) Our approach did not raise all of urban life to the level of concepts, but rather examined it in terms of concrete situations and the conditions by which they are made / created / perpetuated.

How this is done? Higher order, more articulate registers of life (language, geometry, concepts) depend upon the embodying or concrete registers (like location, history, culture, everyday tasks). This we call representation of urban life as "stratified levels of involvement" and is analogous to "practice" of everyday life. Therefore, instead of using abstract place-holders like "space", to make the concrete problems and complexity of the city disappear, this seminar aimed to describe the city through "stratified levels of involvement" in order to preserve its significance for comparison, analysis / interpretation and ultimately design.


Final Book of Essays


Final Book of Essays


Final Book of Essays


Final Book of Essays


Final Book of Essays


Final Book of Essays


Emily Presenting


Thibault Presenting


Sascha Presenting

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Question of Nature (Sascha)


City and its Life (Emily)

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Limits of Gardening (Thibault)