Thursday, October 26, 2006

What are the ESRG research priorities?

A proposition for discussion: we want to help to transform what it is to design, by developing (or further developing) new kinds of analytic and generative tools. We want to help shift the emphasis from the expressive intentions of the designer, to the adaptive processes that make a design most successful, and the tools needed to do that. Progress has already been made (and in some cases can be extended further in our work) on evidence-based design, generative codes, Space Syntax, pattern languages and related tools.

The expressive intentions of the designer will of course continue to play a major role. But I suggest the ex cathedra pronouncements of what constitutes "good design" are finally beginning to give way to more reliable diagnostic and prescriptive tools to achieve much greater success, from a human point of view. As Bill Hillier notes, the 20th century is not likely to be remembered as a golden age for urban design, but it may be remembered as an era in which some of the core elements of the discipline were established through innovation and experimentation. The same is probably true for other fields of design. Perhaps these scientific benefits are only coming to fruition now, in an age where complex systems are beginning to be much more clearly understood and more successfully acted upon. So that is our opportunity, to push this ball forward.

Bill Hillier (in The Golden Age for Cities? How We Design Cities is How We Understand Them) lists four priorities for research along these lines:

* Understanding and managing the processes of self-organisation (we are beginning to examine this in the context of informal settlements and social housing)
* Developing tools to interrelate scales, and to link parts and wholes (this is a major emphasis in Chris Alexander's work)
* Developing a clearer understanding of the interdependence of movement and place
* Developing an understanding of the relationship between vitality and security

I would add, after Emily

* Developing an understanding of the strategies needed to achieve socially desirable adjacencies and diversities

Please give comments, challenges, additions, further thoughts.


Anonymous Yodan Rofe said...

Dear Michael,

I spent some time going over the pages of participants in the group. A very formidable group indeed. There is a danger of discussion being all over the place, on the other hand there is a danger of structuring it too much, and suppressing possible connections.

I think there are two possible ways that the group can work. One is as a place to present and discuss our ideas, and then each goes back to his own research - it will be interesting and stimulating, but rather standard.

Another possibility is to undertake a common research goal together, and see how each may be contributing to it through his/her work. This is a riskier, but much more exciting (to me) undertaking. I think some time should be devoted to a discussion of this issue.

If the group will tend to opt for the second goal, than I think there should be a discussion of what are the projects worth pursuing. I think the projects you mention below are all worthwhile, but they are too diffuse - in the end each person will continue doing what he has been doing anyway, although in a somewhat changed context. One possible project, that may fire up the imagination, but also create more focus can be: The re-writing of A Pattern Language.

Why? because in many ways it is dated, and includes many recommendations that we may not agree with today. On the other hand the format has stood the test of time, and multi-disciplinarity. It also includes within it a particular social and political stance and outlook which seems a little archaic, and it would be interesting to see how that will change. On the other hand it embodies a "culture" of planning and design completely different from the current one, but of great appeal to the general public, and of course it is very lacking in the formal geometrical information which was later developed by Chris.

It lends itself to web based cooperation, and openness, and with time the language may develop different dialects and idioms based on culture and location - but I think it has a great potential as a unifying force.

I know that the latest thing is generative codes, but I still have a hard time relating to them and I also think they may run into the thousands whereas the power of A Pattern Language was its capability of describing a whole world and culture in 253 statements, a picture so strong that it gave the whole architectural establishment a fright.

Imagine Bill Hillier reducing all his theories to a few simple statements on how to design a street network and how to relate buildings to streets?

Take care and good luck to us all.

Yodan Rofe

Anonymous Besim Hakim said...

Here are a few items that come to mind. They are listed randomly:

1- Identify built environment types for intervention purposes, particularly housing sectors, and develop generic strategies for each type within its societal and cultural context. For example:
Europe and Mid-East:
- Historic traditional districts
- Existing modern subdivision: low and high density areas
- To be built new developments for low, medium and high densities
- Squatter settlements in and around Mid-East cities
North and South America:
- Determination of what constitutes historic districts, and identify types according to historical time-lines.
- Suburban developments
- High density areas
- Social housing in South America
- Squatter settlements in South America

2- I have attempted to identify and extract specific lessons such as: power sharing, control, decision-making processes, codes, and morphology. For examples of such an attempt see my two attached articles in Cities. The first on Recycling Successes was published in November 1991, and the second on Reviving the Rule System published in April 2001.
I would like to collaborate with members of ESRG, who are experts in other areas, to further flush out the possibilities.

3- The role of the developer in the US context: how can this role be modified and changed for the purpose of enhancing quality, such as through methods for actively involving citizens and future users and other related actors in the development process. With particular attention to housing developments.

4- Houses before Streets: we need to develop the methodologies and codes for how this can happen successfully. Needs to be researched and worked out with individuals, such as engineers with expertise in street design, who are either members of ESRG or from outside this group.

5- New design codes (e.g. generative codes) or assessments of/improvements to existing codes (e.g. the SmartCode, Alexander's Generative Code etc). Suggested by Mike Mehaffy.

This is what comes to mind now. Other ideas can be further identified later.

Best wishes,



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