Urban Dynamics

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Studio Instructor

Trevor Ryan Patt


This studio launches from two points of departure: the near-constant transformation of the urban village through direct intervention and bottom-up processes; the possibilities opened up for the design process to also develop dynamically through agent-based modelling.

Agents / Agency
The quotations from Kwinter and de Certeau address different topics—the (proposed) built form of the city and the pedestrian practices of occupying the city—but both put forward challenges to the conventional modes of planning that operate through a detached point-of-view from which the whole is visible all-at-once.

Instead of a single, global diagram, these counterexamples are driven by a large number of individual logics that are embedded in the flow of time: the procedural routing and networking of La Citta Nuova, or the literal embodiment of de Certeau’s walkers.

Computational agent-based models offer an analogue to these processes, whereby the organizational diagram can be broken down into unit operations, diffused throughout the model (spatially and also temporally), and react to developing conditions.

What defines an agent is the ability to make an independent decision and what sets agent-based modelling apart from other computational design practices (parametric design, associative geometry, etc…) is the condition that design decisions are not dictated from a central, coordinating process. IN fact, there may not be any single entity that has a complete picture of the whole.

This makes the approach an appealing one for informal urban contexts where a complete, thorough understanding of the current situation is difficult to obtain due to the lack of construction registration, the rapid pace of transformation, and the difficulty obtaining a consensus on macro-scaled projects.

The Urban Village
The phenomenon of the urban village is a by-product of a rigid classification system that distinguishes between rural and urban land (as well as rural and urban hukou).

These categories are not descriptive, but categorical. The massive and rapid urbanization of China’s major cities has produced frequent mismatch between the assigned land-use and the facts on-the-ground as formerly rural villages were swallowed up by the growth of their adjacent megalopoleis. No longer suited to agricultural production, most family plots have been converted to multistory rental housing.

Each building stands apart from its neighbours but otherwise presses out to maximize its size, leaving the minimum of space for ad hoc infrastructure (plumbing, electric, circulation) to connect.

As the rural land is not properly within the city’s planning jurisdiction, efforts to impose any sort of coordinated, top-down planning or even enforce minimal building codes is largely ineffectual.

However, because the development of the villages is based in the property rights to established family plots, the overall morphology of the village layout does tend to persist through the complete transformation of the village.

The studio will focus on a unique cluster of urban villages on Haizhu Island in Guangzhou, which—although geographically located at the centre of the megalopolis—are still ringed by formerly productive orchards, now pressed into service as the “Green Lung” of Guangzhou.

Design Brief
The goal of the studio will be to produce punctual interventions (meant in both the spatial sense, inserted as points in a network, as well as a temporal one, programmatically tuned to moments in time) that support new potentials or new ways of conceiving the organization of the village.
The studio brief proposes to think especially about the way that architectural design and form participate in the urban realm and give shape to it in ways that extend beyond the strict limits of the building. At the same time, architecture intensifies urban qualities when it creates a place for public activity.

The studio will develop, in parallel, two trajectories: the analysis of existing urban fabric in order to comprehend, discover, and communicate the unique characteristics of the site; and the projection into that urban fabric of an architectural intervention that produces a new urban quality. Both trajectories will produce design artefacts at various intervals throughout the semester, rather than leading linearly to a single project.
In particular, we will have a focus on temporal modes of representation: animation, video, sequential frames, plotter drawings, etc…

Site Visit
During the recess week we will visit Guangzhou and Shenzhen. We will visit a variety of different urban villages to observe the range of social, economic, and urban activity. In particular, we will spend time on the selected sites to collect data (photo, video, photogrammetry, mapping).
In Shenzhen we will visit the office of Urbanus, which has proposed and realized a number of projects within urban villages and similar contexts and coordinated the 2017 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture on the topic.

The cost of the trip is estimated at ~S$1400, of which S$850 should be reimbursed through the course budget and the Short Immersion Trips Grant.