This studio works typologically. It approaches the problem of the city through the investigation and redefinition of its persistent architectures – its dominant types. Any attempt to define type is an attempt to define what is typical; and what is most typical is common to all. As such, type lends itself as an effective heuristic device to locate commonalities. This search for what is common in architecture is not to locate formal or tectonic similitude, but a search for what is the idea that can be commonly held so as to invest architecture with a social and political role.
As the first of a three-year long sponsored research on China, the studio will begin with the city of Xiamen, followed by Macao and Shenyang. The premise of this investigation rests on the rethinking of the developmental city, defined as the city conceived and constructed through mega-plots, and used primarily as a developmental tool, instigated primarily by speculative capital. The urbanization of these mega-plots result in the dissolution of the city as a legible artifact, bereft of a civic dimension and public sphere. This dissolution into a sea of enclave urbanism does not constitute the idea of the city; either in the European tradition as a space of partnership or coexistence, or in the Chinese sense, where the city is a seen as an accommodative framework with a clear and legible deep structure that regulates its spaces and social structure. Therefore, the task for the studio is to conceive of and design a common framework for the city, accommodating housing, nature and another associative civic functions.
Besides their present developmental nature, these cities are chosen precisely for their propensity towards an accommodative urbanism due to their position on the frontier of Chinese territory. The history of these cities demonstrates a high degree of pliability that engendered an inclusive plurality prior to the rapid urbanization of recent years. Xiamen, as an island city, grew through the infusion of colonial settlements, overseas Chinese investment and its strategic proximity to Taiwan. The conjecture of this studio is that the ability of these cities to be accommodative can be found in the very nature of the city as a common framework. Thus these cities offer the possibility to re-conceive the developmental city as a space of cooperation and partnership – the idea of the city as a common space par excellence.
The studio will travel to Xiamen and Shanghai in September 2012. The historical and theoretical underpinnings of this studio will be offered by Course 09123: The Fourth Typology. The outcome of the option studio and course seminars will be subject to a publication.
Teaching Associate: Simon Whittle