Towrards Acupuncture Urbanism

Negotiating Top-down Planning and Bottom-up Tactics
MArch Advanced Introduction to Geography, Landscape and Cities
project status: Taught in Winter of 2014/2015

Be it the saturated European city or shrinking post-industrial regions, ever sprawling suburbia or fast growing slums, most common urban conditions render traditional top-down planning instruments like the master plan unproductive. And especially with the ongoing financial crisis, dwindling energy resources and frail governance, Big Plans seems no longer adequate to respond to the challenges of today’s urbanization. In times of accelerated transformation and limited predictability, the timeframe in which cities can be planned or act responsively is further becoming ever narrower. As a consequence, contemporary urban strategies have to act fast, react and adapt effectively to the change of conditions, constraints and stakeholders. In response to these developments this lecture course will introduce examples of alternative urban strategies and explore instruments for negotiating top-down planning and bottom-up tactics in contemporary urbanism. It will attempt to illustrate how alternative, topological strategies may, at times, be more appropriate and effective in dealing with upcoming issues within the contemporary city. 

The course will debate how actors can be involved in urban processes in a more immediate way. It will ask how we may forecast and speculate about future urban developments in a less determinate, more fluid way, and how urban complexity can emerge from very simple rules. It will also touch upon the question whether we have to re-think the role of the planner.  Here practices in geography, landscape and the arts provide valuable insights on process oriented and participation based design.

Thus based on an inductive reading of an urban milieu and a situative approach to engaging the city the proposed methodology of Acupuncture Urbanism explores neuralgic points of focused interventions that promise to add-up to more than the infamous sum of their parts. It aims at tapping into the self-organizing behavior of cities and shifting architects’ attention to instigating processes rather than obsessing about singular objects and final products. It investigates relational thinking across multiple scales ranging from the territory to micro-public situations and promotes an incremental approach accomodating feed-back and constant re-adjustments, thus negotiating top-down regulation and bottom-up developments. Ultimately the course emphasizes urbanism as a practice of negotiations between the multiple forces at play in shaping our built environment.

The first five sessions provide a methodological introduction on principals of self-organization, relational thinking, designing with contigencies and inductive readings of the built environment. The following nine session are based on urban case studies chosen from a particular moment in history often linked to a phase of political transition or economic stagnation. Curitiba in the 70’s during the military regime, Vienna of the 30’s and 80’s in period of demographic and economic decline, Tokyo of the 90’s with the burst of Japan’s bubble economy, Berlin at the beginning of the millennium after a decade of excessive real estate speculation amongst others. The selected case studies demonstrate how scarcity can lead to profound design innovation. Together they offer an array of probes from different continents, their respective cultures and distinct contemporary forms of urbanization. While the focus is on contemporary urbanism, each case study is placed in a genealogy of historic projects.