Sunday, December 07, 2014

Proposed ESRG Meeting, London, February 2015?

Dear ESRG colleagues and associates,

We are discussing the possibility of a meeting in London in February 16-17, 2015.  The proposed topic is "Horizons of Pattern Languages."  (We will discuss a number of related collaborations, including the new Federated Wiki and WikiPLACE software model; for more info see Please let us know if you are interested and able to attend.  Write to Michael Mehaffy at the Gmail domain (name with a dot in the middle.)


Michael Mehaffy, Coordinator
Executive Director, Sustasis

ESRG Symposium Update, October 2013

ESRG Research Coordination Network

Meeting Notes (MM)

1PM, October 10, 2013

Room 01 West 060
School of Architecture
Delft University of Technology
Julianalaan 134, 2628 BL Delft

Summary of key emergent issues of discussion:

  1. We need a more rigorous, perhaps more “scientific” approach to urbanism (depending on what we mean by that term). It is evidence-based, but not mechanical or functional.
  2. We need to be clear what is our normative theory of urbanism. If it isn't to facilitate exchange (why we build cities at all?) what is it?
  3. We need to confront the massive challenges of implementation issues, and the obstructions from complex interactions of the design and construction “operating system”.
  4. In particular we need to recognize and deal with the economic forces that shape design and building, and account for them.
  5. The ESRG and its colleagues can play a role in advancing these issues, and finding additional ways to collaborate. (Perhaps with other partners – universities, funding sources, CEU, et al.)

Notes from the discussion:

MM gave a welcome introduction and brief history of the network – formed in 2006, events at UCL, Oregon, Arizona State et al. Strong influence from the software pattern community (represented in the network) – inspiration from cross-disciplinary research and development (e.g. pattern languages of programming, wiki). Can we take a useful lesson from them for urban designers?

MM mentioned various related projects by colleagues – new approaches to coding, network theory, new work in wiki and pattern languages applied to urban planning and design, work on greenhouse gas emissions and urban form, etc. MM noted there are several potential funded projects and initiatives that may be relevant, including a proposed CEU research initiative, the just-announced AMS research center project (Delft, MIT and Wageningen, funded by the City of Amsterdam for 50 million Euros) and two others proposed by Stephen Marshall.

Attendees gave short introductions and description of their work and interest areas. Attendees represented institutions in Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, UK and US. Common interest in new developments in urban design, strategic issues of implementation, cities as spatial networks, dynamics of self-organization, dynamics of process in design and construction. Overlap between practitioners and researchers, and key synergy between the two. Key issue learned from the software community – feedback cycles need to be tight.

MM introduced Stephen Marshall's paper on “planning pseudo-science” in Urban Design International, and coverage in Scientific American. MM noted the paper talks positively about Jacobs, Lynch, Cullen and Alexander, but notes that their initial insights were not followed up by a rigorous process of evaluation and learning, i.e. science by any other name. SM commented that this was a chronic problem for urban design – suggesting the need for a more empirical framework. MM drew an analogy to medicine, where practitioners apply the best science and do so as craft practitioners, working from inductive clues, and seeking to take steps that improve the qualitative health of the patient. The science is not the end, but a tool in that process – the process of applying an “evidence-based urbanism.” MM cited Bill Hillier's reference to “crap theories” that dominate. As a profession, we need to dispel these, and appeal to a more rigorous basis. Perhaps ESRG colleagues can play useful roles in this process.

Paul Murrain said there is a need to ask the fundamental question, what is it we are seeking to do when we build cities? To put it simply, we are providing for exchange, through spatial configurations. This is a goal and we need to be clear on it, so that we can define a normative standard. MM agreed, pointed out Lynch's argument on the need for a clear “theory of good city form” – lest unclear theories conflict with one another and cause dysfunctional cities (as they do).

MM noted Emily Talen's proposal for a paper on the various ill-defined theories, and a normative conclusion about them (and about a way forward). She is at MIT this year and that would be a fitting “Lynchian” project.

Peter Drijver pointed out the economic dimensions of city-building, and the limitations that it imposed. We need to deal with the socio-economic dimension as much as any other dimension. Kobus Mainz agreed, and pointed out how projects get derailed by political constraints. PM pointed out how safety regulations actually do not promote living but prevent dying – with the unintended consequence that the quality of living is degraded. Others agreed that this is a fundamental problem in planning and design”: various silos interact and create untended consequences.

MM noted the software community has faced a similar problem (in a field that is prone to clutter and unintended consequences) and has developed “agile methodology” – finding simple essential rules and/or tight feedback methods that are able to minimize the unintended consequences. Ward Cunningham speaks of “maximizing the work that isn't done” and “not just seeking to specify behaviors, but instead, generating behaviors.” SM pointed out this is a classic part-whole problem, and we need more global methods for determining outcomes and their normative performance.

Carlotta Fontana described work to identify “performance-based” approaches, similar to Agile methodology. A need to identify outcomes (post-occupancy etc), draw lessons, more than at present.

The group discussed potential collaborations and next steps. MM mentioned the previous work on a book project. Andy van den Dobbelsteen pointed out that what is urgently needed is to provide education and outreach to urban residents – for example in the AMS project. A book project, especially one just targeted to professionals, will be of limited use unless tied to this kind of outreach. MM agreed, pointed out how “companion websites” can work together with publications. (Especially in e-book format.)

SM discussed his proposal for a funded network. He noted that often in academia, there is an artificial network (and project) created to secure the funding – the ESRG already has a remarkably diverse network, spanning research and practice. This rare asset can be put to effective use.

AD agreed, mentioned the upcoming work with the AMS project and the potential value of inter-disciplinary networks focused on implementation issues. PM argued the need to take on regulatory complexity. PD and KM also argued the need to integrate economic factors.

MM also described a possible funded event as a next step, e.g. at UCL (as discussed with SM). This could also be part of a larger network funding. The paper idea (e.g. with Emily Talen, or related) would be a way to focus an agenda (and “agenda-statement”) for the upcoming work to identify needed new approaches toward an “evidence-based urbanism.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

ESRG Update - July 2012


Work continues with Ward Cunningham, Yodan Rofe' and other colleagues on new developments of pattern languages, through our host NGO, Sustasis Foundation.  Yodan and other colleagues are working now on a repository for existing patterns in the built environment, modeled after the successful ones in software, with Ward advising.  We are also exploring new platforms for patterns, including Ward's exciting new "Smallest Federated Wiki" project -- a new generation of wiki that is based on the Git open source model of Linus Torvalds (architect of the Linux system).  (By coincidence they are both here in Portland.) 

I also presented some of this work briefly at the CNU congress in Florida with Bruce Donnelly and others on Friday.  (In partnership with Sandy Sorlien and her work on new modules for Andres Duany's SmartCode, which is open-source.)  My presentation was actually done remotely, since I had a conflict here in Portland - I understand this was a first for the CNU!  It seemed to go well.  This included work on the "generative module" for the SmartCode, which has developed to the point that we feel the next step is an actual project somewhere -- we are working on that.


Colleague Dick Jackson was also at the CNU in Florida (as were Audun Engh, Emily Talen and others) and Dick will be here in Portland in June -- we will do a symposium together, and he will speak at several venues.  There are also plans for us to meet with Steve Kellert and Renato Troncon at Yale in the fall, for the launch of Steve's new initiative, a biophilia institute based there.  This will be in part a follow-up of our meeting last fall in Rome and Cesena, to develop new work at the intersection of biophilia, evidence-based design and pattern languages. (Renato is developing a parallel European funding application also.) I think these are very promising developments.

Related to their work is work I have been doing on "metabolic networks" and the possible relationship between Jacobs' "knowledge spillovers" and what might be called "resource spillovers" - and I am exploring this with Strathclyde colleagues in relation to pedestrian networks, and others.  See e.g. (working paper presented at ASU/SFI/UCL symposium last fall) and a version for more popular consumption in The Atlantic online magazine, 

Though the connection might not be as obvious, I think there is a connection to pattern languages, morphogenetic processes, self-organizing networks and scaling or power law phenomena, which are all common themes of ESRG collaborators' work.


Speaking of our colleagues at Strathclyde, they will be hosting a conference of the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS) June 24-29 - we hope some can attend!  (The website is at  Collaborative work there also continues in walkable urban networks and plot-based urbanism, led by colleague Sergio Porta.  This also has a growing collaborative link with Chris Alexander's work.


Speaking of Chris, he and Colleague Hajo Neis are just about to finish a several-decades book project on the development process, calling attention to some fundamental distinctions in what we might think of as the "operating system" for growth (the "Battle" project).   Chris argues that the current "operating system" is fundamentally different from another, older one, from which we must now learn some crucial lessons.  The immediate subject is a case study of a project that Chris and Hajo did together (the Eishin School in Japan), but the argument is that the lessons are much wider.

We have also been discussing our Sustasis and ESRG work, and we developed a draft proposal for resuming work on morphogenetic software algorithms (a project Chris was involved in a few years back, when I was working with him in England).  Following that, I contacted our old colleague Koen Steemers at Cambridge, who confirmed he is very interested in exploring this.  It would probably be an EPSRC application (which I have been told would be a strong candidate).  We hope Ward will be able to advise, and other colleagues might be involved.  More as this develops...

We are pushing hard to use Sustasis Foundation as a  better platform for these collaborations, we hope with some more funding (it is increasing modestly) , and possibly a stronger institutional affiliation somewhere.  We will keep working on this, and on a number of pretty exciting possibilities now in development.  More on this too as it develops.  Again, there are some great synergies between the subjects of development, and the key people in this remarkable group, so I will continue to facilitate as best I can. 


Several conferences, symposia and workshops are in the early stages of organization -- I will share them when ready.  (And please let me know any you would like to share.)

Several publications are also in the works.  In addition to Chris Alexander's and Hajo Neis' previously mentioned book, Sergio Porta's book on "Alterations in Scale" is continuing in development (the radical change of the last century, and its consequences for pedestrian network structure and urban evolution).  Paul Murrain is developing a book on connective urban patterns, which sounds terrific.  Sustasis Foundation is organizing its own in-house publication capability, with several publications planned (including previous publications with Nikos Salingaros and others). Colleagues Stephen Marshall and Olgu Caliskan published a special edition of Built Environment a few months ago, on "urban morphology and design" - I contributed a paper on morphogenetic design processes, and a distinction between those strategies that are used for mere aesthetic expressions, and those that are used to engage deeper process of morphology -- with implications for the generated structure that I compared to Chris Alexander's argument in City is Not a Tree.

One last note, somewhat related  -- the architect Peter Buchanan wrote a high-profile essay recently in Architectural Review (UK), which discussed Chris Alexander's work, and other concepts of what we might call "natural morphogenesis" - it's nice to see these ideas reflected in a more mainstream architectural discourse, where, among "gee-whiz" ideas of morphogenesis as aesthetic adventures, deeper questions have been mostly ignored.

Please email me if you have any other things to share with colleagues!  Michael Mehaffy - at the gmail domain.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Symposium on Cities and Evolution: July 24-25, 2008

A report with notes will be posted here shortly. We apologise for the delay. Thanks for your patience!

Meanwhile, here is a BBC report on the discussion, for Radio 4:

Monday, October 29, 2007

2007 Symposium: Self-Organization and the Recovering City


Environmental Structure Research Group
Neighborhood Centers Development Project


David Brain, Sociologist, New College Florida
Phil Costa, Chair, Neighborhoods Partnership Network (NO)
Stuart Cowan, Physicist/Ecologist, Autopoeisis Llc.
Bruce Donnelly, Planner
Andres Duany, DPZ Planning Team
Audun Engh, INTBAU Scandinavia
Milton Grenfell, Architect
Quintus Jett, Organization Theorist, Center for Digital Strategies, Dartmouth
Gersil Kay, Conservator, Building Conservation International
Michelle Kimball, Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans
Philip Lund, Design+Construction Inc.
Michael Mehaffy, Chair, INTBAU USA, and coordinator, ESRG
Nikki Najiola, Gentilly Civic Improvement Association
Kyriakos Pontikis, Associate Professor, California State University Northridge
Mary Rowe, Program Manager, Blue Moon Fund
Timolynn Sams, Executive Director, Neighborhoods Partnership Network (NO)
Krupali Uplekar, University of Notre Dame
Scott Ball, Director, Professional Rebuilding Registry, Road Home Program

Notes by Michael Mehaffy


This year’s seminar was an experiment: a mix of two participant groups, one more focused on academic research, albeit project-based (the “Environmental Structure Research Group”) and one more focused on practical issues of rebuilding in New Orleans (the “Neighborhood Centers Development Project”). There were individuals who straddled both realms, and individuals who knew more about one realm than the other. Therefore the discussion was occasionally elementary and, in the case of the introductory presentation, somewhat recapitulative. But as I think these notes will show, useful progress was made in both realms.

* * *

At last year’s seminar at University College London, biologist Brian Goodwin spoke about the power of self-organization to produce “maximum coherence at the global level, while simultaneously maintaining maximum freedom at the local level”. This is only an apparent contradiction: the “maximum freedom” is not a freedom to do anything, but to do what is appropriate at the local scale. Thus self-organization implies, in some fundamental sense, a coordination of scales, from the local to the global. That theme returned conspicuously at this year’s seminar.

A key point of discussion at this year’s seminar was, can self-organization be created by design? (Or, as Mary Rowe put it, is that an oxymoron?) Can it be facilitated, or obstructed? (The latter would seem self-evident given the recent lessons of New Orleans.) Is it enough in some cases to simply remove obstructions, such as restrictive and costly codes, as Andres Duany has argued? If it can be facilitated, what are the tools for doing so, in a real environment of complexity like New Orleans?

A fundamental theme that emerged over the two days was that facilitating self-organization would seem to be largely a matter of changing the scale of a given problem – more specifically, breaking it up so that it is a smaller scale than the local resources for the solution. The “grain” of the problem is thus critical --- as is the grain of the operation. One may not be able to “rebuild all of New Orleans” – but one may be able to rebuild a house, and then another, and then another. In time, with adaptive and self-organizing processes, a solution can emerge at the larger scale as well. This solution is not so much “designed” as facilitated.

This year’s seminar took a particular project as its subject, and sought to draw both general research conclusions and specific next steps in that project. It is the so-called “Neighborhood Centers Development Project”, a partnership of ESRG members and key partners in New Orleans, including the Neighborhoods Partnership Network (which has emerged as the “go-to” NGO for city-wide grassroots coordination); the Preservation Resource Center (the most prominent conservation NGO in the region, also active in the wider debate about rebuilding coherent neighborhoods that respect local identity); the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association (an umbrella of neighborhood associations and a promising model for neighborhood-based civic building and planning); and others. Other partners include Quintus Jett, an organization theorist from Dartmouth’s Center for Digital Strategies, who has worked on local mapping strategies and other resources.

The partners believe such a resource is still very badly needed. Current efforts to provide such a resource are laudable but should be helped with substantial resources. At the same time, it will not be enough to orchestrate from on high, or to “throw resources at the problem”. This is a very real example of how to provide resources catalytically, to foster the development of additional resources that are locally relevant.

* * *


MM began on Thursday with an overview presentation of the ESRG and its history. He discussed the work of various colleagues including Christopher Alexander, and various collaborations already under way including work on social housing in Latin America, the subject of a paper by DB, AD, MM and other colleagues. AD also has done work in Jamaica and in Louisiana.

MM also explained the work to date in New Orleans, focusing on the neighborhood centers development project. He gave a short presentation on this work and its specific elements, and also updated colleagues on a number of discussions with key government representatives. MM noted there is a “deer in the headlights” quality to government leadership – afraid to do anything too radical, cut down barriers between departments, sectors and specialties. This fragmentation was exactly the problem, however.

MM described a meeting with the executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority the previous week. (attended by TS, PC, MK and MM). He and PC discussed the tone of that meeting, whether the ED understood the issues of “bottom-up” organization, whether there was too much emphasis on the notion of relocation to Baton Rouge, and otherwise "leapfrogging out", starting over with big top-down, blank-slate projects. A discussion ensued.

AD noted the problem is not the technical issues, levees, etc., but the trust in government, which has been eroded. How to rebuild that? He discussed work of Vale and Campanella on “resilient cities” – in all cases they were up and running much sooner. Why was that? Government here promised, then failed to deliver – left people in limbo. Better to be frank, let people self-organize early on and find resources by whatever means. Even meager resources would be better than promises not delivered.

MG noted that government by its nature operates in too much a command and control mode, and can’t let enough happen “bottom up” – this is another realm of social activity. Therefore the challenge is simply to constrain government.

DB disagreed, noted that “government” is not just regulations, but also resources and facilitation of things – commerce, mobility, etc. It is collective action to provide a healthy commons and establish a playing field in which the bottom-up actions can occur – therefore it’s important to specify its role correctly. This is what’s failing.

MM agreed, noted the links are not getting made to move the information as needed. Parts of the network are not talking to one another. Therefore the system is not functioning intelligently, but in a state of ignorance. There is little adaptation, no small grain of growth. All is focused on the large scale catalytic projects and “magic bullets”.

MR questioned whether self-organization could be in any sense “designed” – wasn’t that an oxymoron? MM commented that it can’t be “designed” in the old command-and-control sense, but it can be facilitated or obstructed, in the sense of organized complexity described by Jacobs. It can be “cultivated” not unlike a garden – fertilized, pruned back, seeded, etc.

AD argued that it is important to be realists about power and who holds it – not pretend you can do things without it. MM agreed, noted it’s about the holders of power coming to understand how they can dovetail with these processes, rather than ignoring them and therefore creating failures of information flow – exactly what was happening.

MR said what is important in their work is that the entities get connected and can talk to one another – that is a key.

An animated discussion followed, with KU, BD, DB, AD and others making strong points about process and power. MM said this was useful, but it might be better to turn back to a presentation format, and called on QJ to make a presentation on his mapping work.

QJ, an organization theorist and researcher, noted his work to do community mapping using distributed teams, not unlike a multi-level marketing system. This was important on several levels – it gave feedback on who is coming back where, facilitating patterns of self-organization; it got people talking to each other and collaborating; it identified patterns of process and interruption; and it provided feedback to agencies trying to monitor response to their own work.

He noted the need to balance between “too much chaos and not enough chaos”, and the need to achieve a kind of modularity, to break the problem down to a simpler level.

We discussed this work, and other existing work to create centers. At times this discussion grew heated. Some argued “the centers are already being created, what can we add?” Others argued “nothing is happening, what can we do? We don’t have the power.” MM argued both (contradictory) perspectives miss the point, which is that things are indeed happening, but not at the level needed; what we need to do is look at the problem as one of organization theory and how to kick the process up into a much higher gear. This is what the top-down can do, not with a lot of top-down action, but with strategic catalytic actions – e.g. providing agency data to be integrated, resources to distribute for the bottom-up, publication of materials, guidelines, pattern books, web resources, etc.

AD noted that the programming is critical, and expertise is needed: “garbage in, garbage out.” DB noted that it is critical for residents to do their own mapping, and build capacity.

We discussed the resources that would be helpful for such centers. All agreed that pattern books, contractor lists, the other things listed in the prospectus are critical. KP noted there are other needs besides houses – public buildings, and neighborhood infrastructure. MM agreed there need to be resources to allow participation on these things also. It has always been a goal that the centers could ultimately become neighborhood planning centers, with devolved planning functions.

TS noted that resources vary greatly by neighborhood, and it is important to let them develop and adapt their own.

MR noted it is important for centers to talk to each other, and swap resources. They need to be able to watch the self-organization process.

DB noted it may be backward to start with the resources, may be better to start with the centers, and then develop resources bottom-up. TS agreed, noted greatly varying conditions in different neighborhoods. DB noted perhaps what is needed is a kind of infrastructure.

MR suggested the Neighborhoods Partnership Network (in lead role for this partnership) might serve as a broker for those from outside coming in to provide resources –a coordinating point.

KU noted what the partnership can do is serve as a “squeaky wheel” to give a louder voice to residents and to ensure that their needs are heard and the right resources are delivered.

TS noted that while the LRA is emphasizing “safer, smarter” etc., people are jnot doing well.

AD noted that people are being punished for trying to rebuild; a key need now is to “suspend the punishment.” Noted many people did not have debt, cannot afford new houses up to code. If we want to help them we should consider innovative suspensions of the usual code – explore a self-build ordinance.

MM noted it is not enough to suspend codes, and helpful resources are also needed for rebuilding. KP asked if actual building resources would be provided – a builders’ yard, etc? Apprenticeships with trained carpenters, etc? NPN has been working along these lines – a “Rebuilding Together” program. All agreed this is a promising avenue to develop.

* * *


We began the day with a recap of the previous day, a discussion of the emerging themes, and a goal for the day’s outcome: to set next steps for development of the centers.

BD proposed an emerging theme as follows:

“Bottom-up processes can work when the problem is smaller than the scale of the community.”

We followed with a discussion of this notion, and the following points were discussed:

  • Central authority is not used to impose a new order, but to change the scale of the problem (break it into smaller and more manageable problems).
  • The GRAIN is critical. The size of the elements that are to be managed and adapted. (The “grain of adaptation”.)

But you can’t just say “let them eat self-organization” – you need distributed resources:

design resources
Analytical tools
Information resources
Forum for peer-to-peer and expert interaction

Coding is critical – both suspending the current onerous and overly prescriptive codes, and providing more “generative” codes, and codes that provide coherence with minimal intrusion.

Also needed:

“Diagnosis” of technical, economic and legal feasibility for the specific structure
Analytical tools for understanding the social context and its trends
Technical support in the actual process
Stability for self-organization, minimal ambiguity
* The centers should advocate for owning and developing the plan

We discussed workshops (“charrettes?”) that the partnership would provide to existing centers, to provide info and get feedback, and further develop better resources.

These workshops would plan the implementation, diagnose each place, and so on.

They would facilitate a learning network for the local neighborhood leaders/facilitators, along the model “teach a man to fish”.

Design-build issues:

volunteer work – insurance, minimal skill levels?
Lack of skills – need for training
Need for reliable self-help guides

What is needed:

Assessment and diagnosis
Design and construction documentation ability (basic drawing)
Plan of action – permits, self-help, contractor assistance etc
Building workshop – materials, tools, learning sessions etc

Can we call on Restore Media for partnership/assistance?

We followed with a series of presentations. (These had been planned for the previous day, but were suspended when the discussion with New Orleans residents began to dominate the format.)

David Bain discussed his work studying the Vietnamese Catholic neighborhood of New Orleans East and its lessons. He noted it is not just a “strong leader” model as the mythology would have it – or a strong hierarchy, e.g. the Catholic Church. Rather there was a lot of individual one-on-one support for families, providing security, information, resources. There was a lot of contact and communication. David discussed the role of relationship bonds and various kinds of ties – strong versus weak community ties. Both are needed, and the weak ties actually serve to bridge groups.

Kyriakos Pontikis presented his work with design-build systems, and his use of custom, low-cost forming methods. He discussed its relation to Chris Alexander’s methods and the desire for generativity and community participation in design. This dimension is crucial for the centers.

Audun Engh discussed his work with the Council for European Urbanism, INTBAU Scandinavia, and the planned 2008 climate change conference in Oslo. He also discussed the European School for Urbanism and Architecture, an EU-funded initiative for development of an architecture curriculum focused more squarely on timely issues such as climate change, sustainability, etc. He discussed some of the lessons that could be exchanged with New Orleans, including local building crafts, sustainable local employment, sustainable building practices based on regional patterns, and the like.

Stuart Cowan discussed his work with Autopoiesis and his background as a physicist and ecologist. He discussed his hopes for the ESRG and its agenda, and in particular the role it could play in sustainable and climate-neutral building.

MM noted a number of emerging activities on this topic: the CEU Oslo Conference on climate change and urban form in 2008, a proposed California charrette, a CNU “Green Council”, etc.

David Brain discussed his involvement in the Florida House Institute for Sustainable Development on similar themes.

Stuart discussed opportunities for sustainable infrastructure and retrofit – venture capital is now flowing, opportunities are available – but how to integrate? A key issue is monetizing ecosystem services – integrating externalities into the economic exchange.

New Orleans is a case in point – the ecosystem services of restored wetlands have not been accounted for. They amount to billions per year – yet no mechanisms are there to represent their value.

What are the enabling policies, what are the best practices? There is an urgent need to document this and draw the lessons from here.

“Al of this comes together in New Orleans” – Audun Engh

What are the new mechanisms – self-organization, monetizing, market mechanisms? This must be a priority of research. (e.g. the Nobel prize for economics was in “mechanism design theory” in this very area.)

We need to confront issues of anti-urbanism in green thinking.

We need to tackle the scale of the problem – ways to break it down to a finer and more manageable scale (suitable for treatment by local governments, for example – a topic in the planned upcoming California charrette.)

Bruce Donnelly described his work. He noted he is deeply worried about cascading failures – perhaps there are key catalytic nodes that get more results than others? Is it possible that NO may be too far gone, that it passed a point of intractable urban failure in the 70s? But maybe other systems can be restored. Where are the key points to hit? Catalytic processes? CDCs?

Maybe the goal is not to replicate centers endlessly – but let them spread as rhizomes, and cut the tendrils to form individuals later (or let them fracture of their own accord)

There is an issue of trust – building up trust in small cycles. Model of Grameen Bank – gradually build up the system.

Grow existing networks
Engender them with small trickles - do not "flood" them
Let them disconnect naturally
Let one kind of trust trickle into another kind of trust, build up bandwidth

As David B said, the challenge is to build up resilience through the existing network… conserve the existing network. “When things are disrupted in a conservative system, many of the biggest innovations occur in response.”

“NO will get rebuilt, is getting rebuilt – the question is, how to do it fairly, with quality, and sustainably.” – David Brain

The group developed the concept of a workshop that could be exported to any of the existing centers – almost like a “SWAT Team” to mobilize quickly, come in to existing centers, listen to needs and concerns, provide resources, develop resources further, and thereby grow the resources through direct contact.

MM will develop a draft proposal for such teams, along with the resources they might carry initially. He will circulate these to the partners and symposium members for discussion, and then the group can decide how to implement (through NPN, through a partnership, with other funding NGOs, etc.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Notes from the Symposium, Nov. 7-8

Attendees (Name, Affiliation, Primary Discipline):

Mike Batty, UCL (Planning)
Bill Hillier, UCL (Architecture and Planning)
Lucas Figueiredo, UCL (Planning)
Stephen Marshall, UCL (Engineering)
Linda Mitchell, UCL (Planning)
John Bywater, Appropriate Software Foundation (Computer Science)
Sarah Cary, Practitioner/Consultant, London (Sustainability)
Brian Goodwin, Schumacher College (Biology)
Richard Hayward, University of Greenwich (Architecture and Construction)
Michael Mehaffy, Centre for Environmental Structure – Europe (Design Theory)
David Miet, Ministry of Public Works, France (Engineering)
Paul Murrain, Practitioner/Consultant, London (Urban Design)
Emily Talen, University of Illinois (Planning)
Yodan Rofe, Ben Gurion University of the Negev (Architecture, Urban Design)
Daniel Scott, Appropriate Software Foundation (Computer Science)
Marcel Vellinga, IVAU, Oxford Brookes University (Anthropology)


The discussion was wide-ranging and animated, covering current topics in planning and design, complexity science, collaborative methods, and particular research and development opportunities for the group, of which a number were evident. Key ideas that emerged:

  • There are strong parallels and notable convergences in many fields, centering on a new set of methodologies incorporating qualitative and emergent aspects;
  • These are nonetheless non-mysterious, useful and sharable;
  • Members are working in parallel on many points, and are keen to explore further collaborative development and application;
  • The topics addressed are key to the current goals and rhetoric of sustainability;
  • There is keen interest within the group in formulating synergies and shared communications to practitioners and the public.

Each day we began with a broad overview of the current research environment; opportunities coming from complexity science, computer science and related disciplines; implications for urban and architectural design research and practice, and related fields.

We proceeded to exchange current work and issues. We concluded with specific operational topics, including organizational issues. We ended each day with a proposed list of collaborative projects, with a more refined list on the second day. (See conclusion for list.)

Day One - Tuesday

Prior to formal start, there was an interesting informal discussion of comparative differences between urban patterns – differences between the UK, France and other countries, and the resulting social and political consequences. Bill Hillier noted how different cultures handled socio-economic organization with distinct geometric configurations – front to back in Italy, changing by turn of block in the UK, enclaves in France. It was noted the latter very likely contributed to the “sink” conditions and riots in Paris.

MM made some informal introductory remarks about the history of the formation of the group, growing out of the work of Chris Alexander and CES, and related areas of investigation – the growth of pattern languages in architecture, the surprisingly strong growth in software, the perceived need for “patterns of process” beyond patterns of configurations – hence his work on generativity, “unfolding”, et al. (He presented CA and related work in more detail later.) He noted that Chris Alexander would try to join us but in any case was following the events with great interest. He also gave apologies of other members who could not be with us, and conveyed their hopes to continue collaboration in absentia.

He noted that there seem to be remarkable opportunities emerging from other disciplines, particularly the biological sciences and other complexity sciences, e.g. the ideas on “structural attractors” developed by Brian Goodwin, and that such cross-pollination would seem to be just what the doctor ordered for current urban challenges. He noted the emphasis on inter-disciplinary, cross-sector and international collaborations just like this one, but noted the challenges to keeping the right balance between too much structure – prejudging the subject and limiting its possibilities – and too much open-endedness, leading to a problem-definition that is too vague and offers only inconclusive results. We hope that the discussion over the next two days will help identify real opportunities and clarify next steps.

Stephen Marshall gave a welcome from UCL and covered housekeeping; then he presented a discussion of UCL history and Patrick Geddes, who was at UCL for a time, and whose own career set a good precedent for just the sort of interdisciplinary exploration by the group. SM showed a metaphorical “evolutionary tree” of thought within the field, and posited a history from Geddes to Mumford, Jacobs, Alexander et al., and on to some of the schools of thought represented within the group.

He proposed some issues that design needs to consider more comprehensively: the environment; the user; environmental justice; learning from science and nature; representation and analysis; abstraction and reality; structure and morphology; scale; growth and form; urban change; adaptation; context; traditional and modern; top-down and bottom-up; the developing world; and the hot topic, though poorly defined, of “sustainability”.

We then exchanged introductions and brief remarks about backgrounds.

Mike Batty spoke about his work, current issues of interest, and areas that might be suitable for exploration by the group. He noted we should perhaps include shape grammars and Lionel March in the map of thought and areas of investigation. His team is working on agent-based models and simulation, with a keen interest in emerging topics of morphology, design and complexity. They have been involved in land use transport modeling, with interests in navigation and way-finding. They are keen to develop design systems and design tools. They have been particularly involved in developing pedestrian models, e.g. Christian Castle developed a pedestrian model for King’s Cross.

Particular topics of interest include neural nets and cellular automata models.

Mike noted the scale-free nature of city geometry – a fractal pattern. He showed a simulation program that models agents coming from the periphery to the centre, just as farmers and traders did in the formation of cities – when the agents bump into each other they form a stable point. The resulting morphology is very close to actual cities – it is also emergent and generative. There are certain regularities that are not planned top-down, but emerge from the process – e.g. radial city-country fingers, etc.

Bill Hillier spoke about his work, and his feeling that we need to develop a “design-level theory” - what he seeks in Space Syntax. He noted that we have made complex, competent buildings throughout history without really thinking about it. Anthropologist compared vernacular architecture to a kind of language – an abstract structure of ideas and patterns that allows the transmission of rich, abstract cultural ideas. The crucial thing about vernacular architecture is that it takes the non-discursive and raises it to conscious thought. In the last century we suffered from what he calls “crap theories” – simplistic ideas about how architecture works, that architects could tell their clients when neither really understood the issues. Social housing projects, public agencies, had to have a story – hence an over-preoccupation with enclosure and related fictions.

But local enclosures broke the city up from linear forms into overly concave forms.

Bill wants to study the micro-structure of cities as well as the larger -scale structure – the relation of scales, from the local to the global. He is worried about pre-given solutions closing things down – he hopes architecture will engage in a rich discourse with other thinking as an aid to opening up design possibilities. He thinks it must first have a valid scientific theory of how cities actually work, which is what they aim to provide. Space Syntax is about one thing: trying to extract patterns from reality without prejudging what they are. It allows the City to explain its patterns back to us… Mining the patterns from the reality by a methodology. What they find is that organic cities have profound geometrical regularities - certain generic things, such as long roads. These emerge from the process, and from certain simple rules or local geometries. They can be thought of as attractors. For example, a rule allowing a new building to block a short road but not allowing it to block a longer road of set length tends to produce a gradient of road lengths, including some very long central roads, as an emergent pattern.

Paul Murrain spoke about his fascination with these topics, but also his own frustrations in working at the “tip of the spear” in his own consultancy – stifling well-intentioned bureaucracy, box-ticking assessments. How do we deal with this stifling hyper-specialism? Seems to be the problem of our time. This needs to be a focus of research.

Mike Batty noted that we can at least establish a clearer understanding of the real structure of cities – we can make models of geometrical principles, fractal structure, network structure and so on. We can bring together different models (as was done in the 1970s with a seminar between Shape Grammars and Space Syntax). Among these schools of thought, scaling, networks et al., he sees a broader constituency for research and best practice developing.

MM gave a presentation on the work of Chris Alexander and associates, focusing on generative codes and related concepts from Alexander’s newest work The Nature of Order. He covered key concepts including “structure-preserving transformations”, or transformations of wholes into other wholes, with articulations of various parts, in 15 characteristic morphologies. He discussed the analytical understanding of “centers” as contextual regions in space, related to other regions and defined by that relationship. He discussed the limitations of the pattern language as a language of configurations, without the information about the way to produce the configurations. Again it focused upon form instead of process. Therefore Alexander has been focusing upon steps of process that he calls “unfoldings” – like recipes, or medical procedures, that guide users in the steps to be taken. For him this is the unfinished aspect of his opus, which he has been working on for several decades.

Yodan Rofe noted that Alexander is working on changing the rules – that bad rules produce bad outcomes (of the sort that Paul M refers to). We discussed this – very much the idea behind a “generative code”, to replace the mechanical sorts of rules and box-ticking that Paul noted, with a more performance-based process. This is how vernacular buildings of the past have apparently developed their stable attributes.

Marcel Vellinga spoke of his work on vernacular architecture at the International Vernacular Architecture Unit of Oxford Brookes University. Their goal is to de-romanticise, and de-mystify vernacular design. Is it more unconscious? If so, what processes does it obey? Is it somehow more organic? And is vernacular architecture in some sense more sustainable?

There are many stereotypes, not necessarily founded on evidence… They want to address the issues, and deal with debilitating architecture. Vernacular architecture is not part of a typical curriculum, but probably should be.

They have completed an encyclopedia of vernacular architecture, and an atlas.

Now they are using geographical visualization, comparing sets of data. They are part of the Oxford Institute of Sustainable Design, and therefore are strongly encouraged to look at sustainability – and the role of vernacular architecture in sustainable architecture. They see vernacular architecture more as a process than a product.

They are grappling with issues of tradition and change, and the dynamic transmission of tradition. The vernacular is distinguished from the contemporary in its stronger reliance or larger trust in traditional knowledge. But a key research issue is that we don’t really fully understand the methods of transfer of knowledge. Henry Glasier has noted that what is different from a contemporary context is that the local users are more involved in shaping the work.

More work is needed to test the performance of vernacular buildings. For example, the wind catchers that are particularly common in parts of the Middle East – do they have advantages? Are they more “sustainable”?

And this begs the question of sustainability in architecture – what is it, exactly??

MM noted that there is a danger in defining the scope of benefits of vernacular architecture too narrowly – a particular technology or design feature. Perhaps more important lessons come from how various variables are optimized, how the process works to produce stability and integration overall, etc. MV agreed. Much remains to be done here, at a time when the conventional schools do not take the subject seriously enough.

John Bywater spoke about the Appropriate Software Foundation, which seeks to offer appropriate technology in the computing field, particularly in the developing world. They too are very interested in how people can collaborate using computers as tools, particularly in ways that relate to local environment and culture. He describes a post-structuralist approach to issues of control and dominance, and the possibility of “treaties of indulgence” between people collaborating at the local level, maximizing freedom of operation. We discussed the dangers of the current “$100 Laptop” idea, which could easily erase local culture and replace it with a Western-style model of technology. We discussed an alternative that might include a Pattern Language system for documenting and re-using local traditional patterns, perhaps including Wiki collaborative technology.

MM discussed the relevance and importance of work of members not present (much of which can be found on the member web pages), including the work on computer-based collaboration by Cunningham; the important work on generative codes in historical contexts by Hakim; the cognitive and health evaluations of Jackson and Ulrich; the mathematical and theoretical work of Salingaros (and the paper on social housing); the economic assessments of Lietaer; the work on public spaces by Gehl; the work on “transversal connectivity” by Philibert; the work on changing protocols and liberalizing codes by Duany; the work on urban ecology by Girardet; the work on user participation and social factors by Brain; and others. He noted that these all relate directly to the topics we have been discussing, and all will be important pieces of the research collaboration.

We concluded the day with a discussion of organisation and possible topics of research. Currently MM noted that the group is simply a collection of individuals and institutions they represent, but we will need an institutional structure to receive funding – or else we can use existing funding with existing research projects, and simply collaborate within that framework, though this would likely be limited. MM described a possible umbrella NGO structure that might provide the institutional structure necessary – suggested by member Stuart Cowan. He also described a possible relationship with a “sustainability hub” in Portland, with which we might be affiliated and given an office and meeting space.

We then discussed possible projects and next steps. Stephen Marshall suggested one or more ongoing projects, not dependent on any particular conditions, and available for collaboration whenever members had time. We developed a list of candidates as follows:

  • The Pattern Language Extension Project
  • Generative Coding Approaches
  • The “Attractor” Project – are Structural Attractors in the Built Environment a useful phenomenon for investigation and development of new methodologies?
  • New Orleans – the “Neighborhood Planning Centers”
  • A theoretical framework – an urban “theory of everything” representing a synthesis or common area of theories represented by the members

Day Two - Wednesday

We began with a recap of the first day, and a brief discussion of the key issues that emerged. Bill Hillier noted that there is a paradox about cities: that they evolve bottom-up but they work top-down, simultaneously.

Brian Goodwin then gave his observations as a biologist and a complexity scientist. He sees a convergence between many fields, and among the perspectives represented within the group. He noted that biology has recently gone through a crisis: the sequencing of the genome, which held out great promise, has collapsed. The code by itself doesn’t really explain what is going on. The analytical reductive methods are not showing us the full story, because information only makes sense in a context. The real question seems to be, how does an organism make sense of DNA? His hypothesis is that “meaning” is a phenomenon deeply embedded in biology, not just a cultural phenomenon. What we learned was that there are only 28,000 genes to generate the vast complexity of an organism – this produced a crisis in the field. It seems that so-called “junk DNA” actually has a very important role to play in coordination of the process, and in producing the whole. As Bill Hillier said (and as Alexander’s work emphasizes too) we are recognizing that the whole co-exists with the parts in an important way.

He sees elements now emerging, that point the way to identifying the processes of creating organic wholes in the built environment. What is now emerging in biology is that networks of molecules are organizing the wholes and making meaning of it. This is an ongoing and irreducible process – there is no “definitive story”, and there never will be – it’s always more mysterious and complex than we thought. But there are similar principles operating in different contexts. For example, self-organizing networks in cells have a particular property of self-similarity or fractal or power laws which describe their structure – the same structural property can be observed in the World Wide Web (and in cities, as Hillier, Batty et al. have shown). Transcription factors made by genes and targeting other genes, causing differentiating, also follow a power law.

The same structure can be observed in language – it too obeys a power law, between the most common word, the next most common, and so on. Is this a statistical artifact, or a deeper issue? Nucleotides in DNA obey a power law also, and forms a scale-free network. This is now a target of investigation. The implication of this is that organisms are using something very much like a language in order to make sense of the DNA.

This takes us beyond complexity as a pure structural phenomenon, and into the realm of language, in which every sentence is ambiguous, and can have multiple meanings. Yet we understand one another, because we hold open these multiple meanings, and let the process flow. The genetic process too seems to work like this.

Thus ambiguity is an essential part of the story. It seems ambiguity and creativity go together. Machine languages are completely deterministic – extremely good for deterministic computation. But you need the creative, context-sensitive, adaptive aspects that depend upon ambiguity. Too much order is a sign of danger – in fibrillations, in arrhythmias, other fatal conditions. Ambiguity is also a fundamental part of quantum mechanics theory – built into Schrodinger’s wave equation, which includes superposition of possibilities. The system holds open multiple possibilities until there is a kind of convergence on an appropriate solution.

This is how coherence seems to emerge in the organism. This is not an easy concept to grasp. Where is this ambiguity? The networks are not in any one particular state – they are dynamically moving. Different combinations of genes can give rise to the same phenotype – the organism holds them superposed because one may be more important than another.

There is a relationship between ambiguity and self-reference, and the way self-referential networks function. A system that refers to itself can be ambiguous (“I am lying to you now”). But there is a principle of least effort coupling the effort of the speaker and the effort of hearer. (cf. Ricard Solé.) A child makes a noise about something distressing, but does not give enough information. Speakers learn to provide just enough information that with least effort they can understand and make choices.

In a sense all organisms use language. There is a deeper structure at work.

So the relationship to planning? We want tools to produce a coherent organic order – a kind of conversation with the stakeholders… and with the natural world.

There is a historic process under way in the sciences, going back several centuries, with implications for planners (as Jacobs noted 4 decades ago). Kant proposed that science exclude quality. This was a momentous change. Goethe proposed that we let quality back in. Quality has been regarded as subjective and not reliable – therefore it can’t be used. But quality is returning to science, and to environmental management. In the UK the Environment Agency is very interested in engaging local stakeholders to evaluate a river – it turns out to be a very useful and reliable way of getting broad knowledge about environmental health.

When engaging the rhetoric of sustainability we must remember that nature is energy-efficient – it eliminates toxins, its forms are functional and beautiful. These are all “natural” products. Beauty is fundamental to health and coherence, not a mere psychological attribute. Functionality is dominant in culture, defined in quantitative terms, and we need to re-balance the quantitative with the qualitative.

Bill Hillier commented on Brian’s remarks. “It’s not often you hear something that changes the direction of your thought – this was beautiful and changes the direction of my thought.” Bill noted he showed material yesterday that demonstrate how settlement patterns self-organize, how micro-structure becomes the macro-structure. Self-correction results in emergent characteristics. The great puzzle is, how does this happen? The last thing that Brian said about engaging stakeholders as free agents, evaluating qualitative aspects – he suspects this is how cities become what they are.

Brian noted that the system simultaneously needs maximum freedom of the parts, and maximum coherence of the whole. These are not in conflict, and in fact are interdependent. They are characteristic of health, and likewise of a quantum mechanical state. There is lots of freedom within the system and its superpositions – it’s not locked into a predetermined order. Somehow there is both freedom and coherence. We need to understand this better.

Bill says they grow form a restricted random process – if you don’t have randomness you don’t get the emergence. Without randomness there is no evolution. How is randomness involved? This is the key question.

In a sense the problems we are dealing with now from the 20th century come from being over-ordered. There is a relation to anarchy as a natural form of government – not no government, but no hierarchy, and maximum self-organisation. On the 21st of Dec 7 MPs will propose a bill in the House of Commons, encouraging local communities, localization, self-organization etc. – very interesting.

Stephen said he was very interested in coherence. The disciplines of the natural world seem to want to know how to create coherence from outside. But he’s wary of this – it works from the inside. Brian answered that it’s the systemic quality of langaage, rather than the words themselves. Stephen asked, do we know what is the good city? Brian answered, we know it when we see it – in this common recognition of what we call “quality of life”. It’s meaning that we’re after – validating the processes of common sense that give rise to organic qualities that we see.

MM noted that in biology, it has been recognized (by Goodwin et al.) that DNA doesn’t only assemble structure directly, but more accurately channels and steers natural processes already under way. That’s what we need to do with cities.

Brian noted, how do you have a conversation with a tree? Seriously, in a real sense that’s what must be done. We need to recover a “science of qualities”. We need to separate the analytical, the logos, from the mythos. We have very accurate and good ways of communicating logos, mathematics, abstractions – but what we don’t have at the moment is a strong cultural tradition of mythos, of sharable, qualitative global truths.

“Galileo had a hell of a good idea in the 16th century – a reductive scientific system - but it landed us in the shit.” Metaphor used to be dominant – wise people spoke in parables and stories.

Yodan commented that he found this very rich, but he felt that death, violence and destruction were left out of the account. Transformation comes from death. Brian agreed, but noted that the over-emphasis is usually the other way: competition has been exaggerated, cooperation excluded from the picture. There needs to be a balanced understanding of the dynamic.

Bill Hillier noted the powerful ability of language to describe spatial relationships. For example, three powerful ideas - between, through, inside, describing basic topological relationships. It’s quite remarkable that there’s no precise terminology for more complex relationships. So we need ideas to think with. The whole idea with Space Syntax was to do this – to be able to quantify an emergent structure – built on a generalization of these elementary terms.

He noted the problem of “crap theories” - architects talking intuitive crap to communicate with ignorant clients, and so on. At worst it’s giving an account of what we’re doing to be understandable by other idiots. For example, making all buildings around courtyard forms – which reinforces the kind of spatial disconnection that has severely damaged cities.

Richard Hayward described his work with government and educational institutions, including the new Urban Renaissance Institute – what he calls the “blundering crude end” of things – practice, funding etc. In that world, theory scarcely registers. It’s difficult to engage – the best way is with conversation. This world is quite happy with creative dialogue, quantitative dialogue – questionnaires, etc. They get quite worried with a qualitative dialogue. The appealing thing about Space Syntax is that it’s acceptable visually, therefore you can have conversations about it -- it’s discussable and sharable. We need that as the coin of the realm.

They work with private development agencies, students etc. They often use very simple, even crude tools – conversations, tissue studies, etc., to understand what’s going on there. They do use qualitative surveys and so on. But the output of what the group does needs to be quantifiable, and discussable.

Yodan Rofe described his work with cognitive and evaluative maps that he calls “feeling-maps.” His Ph.D work was in the Bay Area - they gave people maps of neighborhoods, didn’t tell them where to go, some systematically toured, some looked at their own block, and simply marked a 4-stage scale, very good to very bad.

The correlation with designers was not high (as others including Ulrich have shown too). Local people also saw dynamic improvements in time, whereas designers tended to look at static situations, as well as objects rather than contexts. One issue of feeling that became clear - we as urban designers and architects concentrate very much on space – people react much more to other people inhabiting a space. Group conflict, ethnic and economic divisions, etc., come into play. Feelings change based on perceived threat.

Mike Batty commented that stability and order in cities also displays power laws at different scales -- again the signature of self-organisation in many systems at many scales. He and his group are interested in more aggregate scales – city size distribution, and its discernible relation to human behaviour, economic activity et al. The understanding of scaling laws is taking off – it has been in the works for some 15 years, involving lots of work on lots of different systems looking at how order is preserved overall even in the presence of dramatic change. For example, in city size distribution over time in the US, the Census from 1790 to 2000 shows a consistent pattern in largest to smallest, a very regular relationship. The size of any city can be tied to the size of the largest city scaled down by the rank of the city. Within cities there is much volatility and change, but overall the configuration is surprisingly stable.

So how do you build dynamic structures at the local level that create the desired stability (e.g. ecological) at the global level?

Bill Hillier noted that these emergent generic properties are able to absorb change. Overall they change very little. MM noted that some top-down structures are more resilient than others, can act as “scaffolding” or armatures for growth, whereas others cause great damage. We need to understand this better, and the theoretical work under discussion aims to do so.

Brian noted that freedom is fundamental to design, and to the way stability is maintained.

Bill noted that trading and exchanging were the micro-patterns that originally created the large-scale morphology of the city. Today we have a very different micro-pattern – a leisure culture, more people able to choose based on quality of life and living where they choose, tourism, etc. – but this spatial culture exploits the same street network just as well. The large-scale pattern is stable, in spite of the local dynamics.

Mike noted that Space Syntax identifies streets as important determinants or roots of structure and movement – historically they are the public places. But building and land plots are also important determinants, though less noticed. Today in London a big percentage of the city is being rebuilt, with major change in local morphology – perhaps 10%?

Stephen noted that we made mistakes in street patterns and are now making improvements. Many of the same patterns are stable and work well, even though they fell out of fashion, e.g. boulevards.

Yodan noted that the morphology is not all stability – for example the dynamic between the city and country has changed dramatically since the advent of the automobile. We need to understand how large-scale instability arises too. Yes, more cities are growing, but also many cities are declining and going through disastrous morphological changes – e.g. Detroit and the other “doughnut cities”.

Stephen noted that the lesson may be that we should follow the power laws instead of fighting them and cause problems. MM agreed, noting that much of what is needed is to understand the natural tendency of the system and how to maximize it with minimal intervention, rather than trying to “engineer” in a linear way.

Mike noted that many natural processes create the kind of order we are discussing – random sequences can produce a power law formation (e.g. repeatedly flipping a coin gets results in a power law pattern, etc.)

Brian agreed that the challenge is to let people take their own seemingly random actions, and let the desired pattern emerge form that.

Richard sounded a note of caution that government planners aren’t planning so much and making the mistakes they made in years past -- but others are, e.g. developers, “masterplanner” consultants, economic entities, etc. He wants to make an impassioned plea to feed in however imperfectly to the Jacobsian warning about making top-down mistakes.

Bill agreed, and said that there was already very good evidence to direct practice in more sensible ways, but many of the same mistakes are still being made. A compendium of lessons would be very valuable.

MM suggested a compendium of chapters or papers by each member (perhaps versions of existing papers) might be very valuable as an early joint project. Others agreed. MM will propose an overall structure, contact possible publishers, and work with other members on possible contributions.

David Miet then made a presentation on his work to develop street patterns for the Ministry of Public Works in France, as an extension of Alexander’s work on pattern languages. He discussed patterns as logical structures that are combinable, and that can be extended using categorical classifications. He presented a detailed epistemological and ontological argument going back to Aristotle.

Brian expressed fascination with the approach and its logical possibilities, in line with the earlier discussion of language. He sounded a note of caution about relying too much upon the ontological soundness of categories – they are useful, but we now know, do not necessarily correspond very well to the structure of reality. “Even Plato was not a Platonist.”

John noted that intentionality is not necessarily covered by patterns – to him they seem too reliant on emergence.

Yodan noted that the intention comes in the choice of patterns. You need to have defined choices, not limitless choices. Then you can express intentions, but only within a finite set of choice possibilities. Infinite choice is no choice.

Stephen expressed great interest and wants to explore collaboration. He does feel the system needs more choices, more typological combinations. But he thinks there is great potential for further development.

Yodan noted that pattern languages in general are more limited, but the tradeoff is that they allow people to implement quickly.

The group then returned to issues of educational theory and methodology. Audun Engh presented a new EC initiative for a European School of Architecture and Urbanism – an international, inter-disciplinary school based in several existing institutions, and offering a well-grounded education in a number of sub-specialties, focusing upon vernacular and traditional architecture of Europe. Audun’s background is Oslo Law School - he then worked with tenant groups. He heard about Alexander’s work in the 1960’s and was impressed. He was later hired by the City to work with residents to organize resident communities. He found it very interesting working with architects – he became a project manager for traditional architects. He found some architects very ideological and biased. For example the Dean of the Oslo University declared unilaterally that Space Syntax is of no interest.

The School of Architecture and Urbanism includes the University of Bologna, A Vision Of Europe, The Prince’s Foundation and others. They are trying to establish a traditional alternative. Currently they are seeking funding, and have enough for a two-year startup period. The EC believes that architectural education with an international perspective is something that is needed. The Leonardo da Vinci program in particular seeks to make education more market-oriented. The proposal is for a modular program that allows students to travel to other countries, and study and practice. This includes the UK, Berlin, Rumania, Norway, Italy and others.

Emily Talen then discussed her work, and in particular her efforts to improve practice in US New Urbanism – in some respects “the only game in town”, but still needing significant advancement. For example, she discussed the critique that NU charrettes are too “wired” – too set up to get consent without enough real collaborative involvement – and that there isn’t enough meaningful follow-through. On the other hand, other forms of “workshop” that include post-it notes etc. are far too open-ended. NU could do a lot better in trying to make its work more genuine or authentic, by engaging local people more through these kinds of tools…

Emily’s work focuses on social diversity… In a sense it’s backwards Jane Jacobs – who looked at the criteria of diversity, whereas Emily is looking at where diversity is and why. She has examined Chicago in particular, which actually has many diverse areas that are “non-Jacobsian”.

We discussed ways to improve the practice of New Urbanism, adding more meaningful engagement with local people, and more effective tools to achieve diversity. The problem is a difficulty one, given the deep economic factors that are hardly unique to New Urbanism. But a number of promising tools and approaches exist, and could be given the “acid test” of development in New Orleans.

Final Outputs

The group identified the following projects for continued collaborative development:

  • Subsequent inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional symposia following on this one, and allowing other members to participate (e.g. North Americans) – the next in the spring or summer, perhaps in Portland, OR or Philadelphia, PA.
  • A “Clarion Call” book project, advising practitioners and policymakers on best practice and current danger areas, and identifying the state of current knowledge and areas of follow-up research. Each member might contribute a chapter, perhaps based on a current piece of writing, to make it more feasible and more rapid. The project might be titled something like “Cities in the Age of Complexity.” MM will develop a prospectus and contact members in follow-up.
  • The Pattern Language Extension Project – additional applications of pattern languages and related collaborative platforms.
  • Generative Coding Approaches – continued development of generative coding ideas, and exploration of Alexander’s work with an eye to testing and implementation.
  • The “Attractor” Project – are Structural Attractors in the Built Environment a useful phenomenon for investigation and development of new methodologies?
  • New Orleans – the “Neighborhood Planning Centers” as bottom-up agencies for self-organisation

MM will write these up and communicate with members about the following points:

  • Organisation and funding – follow-up alternatives
  • Next meeting venue
  • Exploration of project collaboration format, e.g. wiki
  • Follow-up on projects, and growth of specific proposals