World Cities Summit 2012
The 20th century has produced more urban fabric than millennia before. After half a century of explosive growth, however, urban design has hardly looked back and studied how well different design solutions that are now in use actually work. There is even less knowledge about the workings of city environments that have emerged on their own, with little or no planning and professional guidance. Yet the latter often constitute the most interesting, and in many rapidly urbanizing regions, the most pervasive qualities of a city.
The City Form Lab uses empirical spatial analysis as a technique for discovering these urbanistic qualities of the contemporary city. All cities contain volumes of information about their physical form – the two and three-dimensional pattern of buildings, public spaces and paths that connect them – as well as the dynamic interactions of people, goods and information that take place therein. These data can allow us to better understand how cities work, how people use them, and how the human interactions they facilitate may turn into social, economic, and environmental rewards. Combined with focused questions and analytic methods, analysis can turn into potentially operational knowledge and help address fundamental questions of good city design. Can the form of the built environment facilitate equitable access to the city’s resources? Does the spatial configuration of a neighborhood affect the economic performance of it enterprises? How does the layout of a city affect our perception of its quality, its livability?
A meaningful analysis of a contemporary city demands a multi-scalar approach, where buildings can be understood with respect to the activities and institutions they accommodate on the one hand, and linked to a broader neighborhood- or city-wide system of interrelationships on the other. Single buildings are now as complex as entire districts of the past, and neighborhoods connected through digital infrastructure as much as physical infrastructure. Developing a better understanding of how such urban conditions operate, and how physical changes can affect their workings, is the new frontier that the urban designer of the 21st century will have to confront.
The works of the City Form Lab shown at the exhibit explore this quest by using new spatial data and analytic methods that can help cities and their stakeholders make better-informed decisions in their planning.
Site and location plan: Pico / Thomas Schroepfer.