The focus of Urban Asymmetries research is placed on the relationship that contemporary cities hold to their geopolitical position, contextualizing them as part of larger systems beyond the merely spatial. It considers political economy as the determinant force behind contemporary urban development; a force that without a doubt is largely responsible for the generation and intensification of urban (and other) asymmetries, differential growth, and other forms of unequal or uneven development.
The Urban Asymmetries program has two primary research projects: Studies in Uneven Urban Development & Mapping Urban Complexity
Studies in Uneven Urban Development
This research project considers political economy as the determinant force behind contemporary urban development; a force that without a doubt is largely responsible for the generation and intensification of urban (and other) asymmetries, differential growth, and other forms of unequal or uneven development. Hence, its object of critique -late capitalism, neoliberal globalization, the complex mesh of contemporary technocratic policies, the de-regularization of traditional market sectors, and the dissolution of the State as a politically enabling entity-, will be the point of intersection of the diverse research projects involved in this research project, as well as a series of architectural and urban design projects in several cities in Latin America & the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.
In general, these studies will analyze the impact that these transformations have on disciplines that ultimately are forced to react to these forces and configurations, addressing the challenge posed by uniform and non-formal over-urbanization in these regions, questioning the role of the spatial disciplines in these processes, analyzing the association between our practice and the practice of other political, social and economic instances. In particular, however, each individual research contribution will focus on independent themes and topics, which nevertheless touch upon the inter-relationships between habitat/dwelling/housing under advanced capitalism, the transformations of housing policies and urban governance, the questions of public space in a ‘post-civil' society, the interpenetration of the market and commercialism / consumerism into domains formerly considered purely ‘public', ‘social', or ‘political', as well as the diverse approaches and possibilities offered by urban and architectural practices beyond a Eurocentric perspective.
We believe that bringing different levels of expertise and knowledge -graduate design with postgraduate research, academic perspectives and institutional approaches, multi-disciplinary and specific environments- into contact may produce crossovers and innovative multi-level proposals that are endowed with the possibility of transforming and reshaping the spaces, practices and relationships that configure contemporary (and future) urbanity. This project has been designed to branch out in several different research directions. Firstly, the work of the involved researchers will be framed and organized collectively to serve the purposes of the general research project on the challenge posed by non-formal urbanization, slums and the informal city, on the one hand, and on the other, on the shifting role of the State as the organ responsible for the provision of urban infrastructure, social housing, and welfare, more generally. Individually, however, this research will address specific concerns from diverse fields of inquiry ranging from political economy, urban sociology, human geography, cultural analysis, politico-aesthetic issues, ‘postmodern' theories and philosophies.
Mapping Urban Complexity
A theoretical and practice-oriented research project that aims at the development of experimental methods and techniques of mapping that depart from the necessity of comprehending, surveying and representing complex urban environments and specific urban and spatial phenomena, while generating possibilities for their theorization from a non-conventional perspective.
Of special interest in this research are the role of agency as a defining factor within the creative process, the significance of ethics, aesthetics and their relationships in the realms of the public, the political, and inter-subjectivity, -of mapping as an enabling practice-, as well as the development of new paradigms for the spatial and projective disciplines. Theoretically, this research focuses on the various (historical) precedents of radically alternative forms and methods of mapping that emerged during the post-war period from various disciplinary backgrounds, all of which aimed at the ignition of political practice within urban environments, and traces the trajectories and transformations that these practices suffered or have undergone since then. In particular, the researchers involved in this project will deal with the implications of diverse academic ‘attitudes' that claim that the potencies of mapping have been neutralized in the present climate, and thus have lost their transformative power, investigating the possibilities of understanding mapping as a practice that not only controls, regulates, describes or duplicates spatial (and other) realities, but which on the contrary, may be useful to envision and construct alternative realities, contributing to the production of a meaningful lived space, unfolding potential, remaking of territory, as well as uncovering previously unseen or unimagined realities. In other words, this research will attempt to regain and rethink a discourse that lends a renewed potential and significance to the role of the architect, the artist, the urban planner/designer, etc as an agent capable of participating in the construction and ‘making' of the city, of lived space, and of reality.
Practically, this research will explore these theorizations and discourses (narratives) on the agency of mapping from a ‘hands-on' attitude in the form of a series of projects and exercises that take mapping as their central thematic, and which involve the participation of Master students of the DSD program and its educational curriculum. In particular, the DSD MSc3 course "The Agency of Mapping" will deal with these questions from a double perspective: on the one hand, students will follow a theoretical seminar on mapping, while on the other, they will participate in an extensive and intense multimedia workshop course in which experts in the fields of audio-visual techniques and filmmaking will assist them in exploring different techniques and methodologies of urban and architectural ‘mapping', which ultimately will result in a set of tools and products that result from the theorization of mapping as a creative practice.
Conceptual issues Urban mapping
In the conclusion of his article The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention, James Corner directs our attention to the failure of the bureaucratic regime of city and landscape planning with its traditional focus on objects and functions, which has failed to embrace the full complexity and fluidity of urbanism, and of culture generally. In authority and closure, current techniques have failed to embrace the contingency, improvisation, error and uncertainty that inevitably circulate in urbanism. Given the complex nature of late capitalist culture, together with the increased array of competing interest groups and forces, it is becoming more difficult for urban designers and planners to play a role in the development of cities and regions beyond scenographic or environmental amelioration, he writes. (Mappings Edited by Denis Cosgrove, p 251). There is no shortage of theories and ideas however, the problem is with the ‘translation' from these theories into meaningful practices and new operational techniques. The difficulty today is less a crisis of what to do than of how to do anything at all, he argues. In that sense his contribution is interesting, and a very relevant opening for the problems we are facing in urbanism and architecture alike. (A. Graafland).
PhD Research Projects: Examples
G. Bracken: Thinking Shanghai: A Foucauldian Interrogation of the Postsocialist Metropolis. Promotor: Professor A. Graafland
This work is an investigation of Shanghai's role in the twenty-first century as it rejoins the global city network, and what effect this move is having on the city, its people, and its public spaces. Part I, Shanghai and colonialism, looks at the city now, in light of China's recent resurgence; the city's place in the global city network, paying particular attention to the new public spaces of Pudong, as well as the disappearing spaces of the ‘alleyway house'. Part II deals with the spatial theories of French philosopher Michel Foucault, exploring how power relations are inscribed in the built environment; it also examines the role Foucault's philosophy played in Edward Said's Orientalism. Part III, China and culture, looks at China's history, language and philosophy in an effort to understand the Chinese mentalité as part of the cultural construction of perception, particularly in the understanding, definition and usage of what constitutes public space in Shanghai.
Defense: Autumn 2009
M. Robles-Durán: Principles for an Architecture without Future. Promotor: Professor Arie Graafland
Principles for an Architecture Without Future acts upon a present era of illusive novelty and stylistic prejudice. An era represented by its incapacity to transcend the alienating stasis of a historical surface, made by plundered, non-representative images - of capital - and by the lack of a feasible projection beyond the traditional cultural accumulations of the capitalist ecology.
The manifestation of an architecture without future directs a profession toward the acceptance of the operative moment without the dimension of time. In this moment, time no longer produces erasures of the past in order to permit representations of unseen paradigms, but simply allows an infinite cumulative collision of all past expressions, a perpetual historicism of the image. Postmodernism and the impossibility of its temporal transgression, a fixed era where everything existent, and about to exist, is contemporary and any past values are equalized by the old novelty of the representations of capital.
The Principles aim to define an ‘outside' in their capacity to speculate on an architecture detached from its historical logic and beyond the tradition of its language, a language that ceased to represent the political-collective ideals that established the progression of architecture's order through time. The city, along with its architecture, was changed by a timeless and abstract system whose only possible representation is capital; capitalism and its material impermanence, its consumption and the consequential individualization of every aspect of life that exposed the futility of a classic architectural practice. In this present, the critical relevance of architectural language is disarmed by a spectacle of the images, redundant manifestations of individual style, competing like any product on the free market and whose fashionable consumption affirms the uncritical and apolitical incapacity of a zombie profession. Beyond resistance, which only further validates the common language of architecture, the Principles layout a praxis that confronts the postmodern assemblage by strategizing its operation inside the space between the accumulated novelties that represent the contemporary city. Acting from the in-between space that defines the tension among the additive surplus of architectural objects. A space, that without the help of time, must be defined by an architecture that seeks to determine how all of us, and the everything around us, will coexist, a hope for an architecture after capital; projecting the future space of cohabitation.
Defense projected 2011
- IIAS (International Institute for Asian Studies) Leiden University - The Netherlands
- Faculty of Architecture, Cape Town University - Cape Town, South Africa
- Architecture and Urbanism Department, Universidad Iberoamericana - Mexico City, Mexico
- Faculty of Architecture, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico - Mexico City, Mexico
- Metropolitan Studies, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana - Mexico City, Mexico
- Faculty of Urbanism and Architecture, Universidad Catolica de Chile - Santiago de Chile, Chile
- HKU SPACE, Hong Kong University - Hong Kong, China
- Faculty of Architecture, Singapore University - Singapore
- Graduate Center for Frontier Sciences, Tokyo University - Tokyo, Japan
- Faculty of Architecture, Kyushu University - Fukuoka, Japan
DSD Faculty and Research Staff currently involved in Urban Asymmetries are:
A. Graafland, H. Sohn, M. Robles-Durán, G. Bruyns & G. Bracken