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


Anonymous David Miet said...

Hi Michael, Stephen, John and Daniel,

It was great being in London last week, and I really enjoyed all the
discussions and the people I met there.

I'll be happy to post some notes in engish on the way we are working
here in France with the pattern languages. I am in the process of
translating some patterns in english and also the research reports I
have been writing on this topic ; all of this should come by january
2007 (or perhaps even before..) and I'll be very happy to share this
work with you so to participate to the discussion. I'am also
experimenting to teach the "writing of patterns" in a civil
engeneering school in Paris, and finding it quite difficult!

There are some specific points on which I would want to collaborate
with the ESRG team :

* I would like to have a more comprehensive discussion with Stephen
Marshall about our respective works on the specific subject of streets
design and the documentation of this activity ; specifically on the
possibilty of conceiving large scale design patterns, which are
particularly hard to find today, excepts in the field of traffic
* I would like to have also a more comprehensive discussion on the
patterns themselves, their logical form and format, and on a possible
collaborative and open process for making new pattern languages. This
may interest Michael, John, Daniel and Stephen.
* I would like to discuss on more theoretical subjects such as
patterns theory, linking patterns with processes of morphogenesis,
getting from analytical and scientific results to practice through
patterns languages, ... and this may also interest all of you.

Practically, and concerning myself, I see three kinds of opportunities :

1. It may be usefull that we build a collaborative interface based on
a wiki system that would be specifically oriented to the linking
between theory and practice ; It could look like a pattern repository
which would include:
- "patterns of theory" : bits of theory, perhaps not always presented
in the format of an academic article, which is the current way to do
in science, but in a more "concept-oriented" or "relation between
concepts-oriented" format. Maybe we could think about this format ?
- "design patterns" : i.e. the alexandrian form of patterns, that are
oriented on spatial configurations and design practices.
- "patterns of processes": i.e. generative codes, recipes, and all that stuff.

For all of this there is already a lot of work that has been done by
all of the ESRG members ; this would really be a great job to simply
put it in a common and clear database so that the links between all of
these patterns and the emergence of new ones can be implemented
gradually. We need a good infrastructure. And I'd be willingfull to
participate in its creation, even though I have no qualification in
computer programms (we already use here the mediawiki to document the
patterns, and without this tool, I still wonder how we could be
doing..). Problems of copyrights for already published materials
(scientific articles and patterns) may be solved if the access to this
collaborative infrastructure is restricted?

2. As Paris is not so far from London, I may be able to come sometimes
to have more time of "real" discussion on these subjects. I really
believe "human contacts" are of great importance especially in the
begening of collaborations. This is how comprehension comes. I'll be
willingfull to come to London to discuss with Stephen about streets,
with John, Daniel and Michael about the wiki-infrastructure, the
theory of patterns, etc.

3. I am currently prospecting here in France for using the material
I've been producing on street patterns and the theory of patterns to
initiate a PhD work, that I would like to do in parrallel of my
current work for the french ministry of public works. As research on
these kind of subjects are not well-developped in France, the
opportunities I found are not so numerous and may not be dierctly
centered on street patterns and the theory of patterns... I am not
especially looking for fundings (as I am already paid for my current
work as a civil engeneer), but more for an institutional structure and
a thesis director that would be well qualified and proficient in these
subjects. If I would find such an environment in english institutions,
this may constitue another "practical" mean of collaboration...

Best regards,
David Miet

Anonymous Howard Davis said...

Dear Michael,

I read the notes of the meeting with great interest, and I'm very pleased that it seems to have gone so well. The idea of a book is an excellent one, and I'd like to imagine that I could make a contribution to it. To be most effective in continuing to catalyze the new group, I think the book should come out relatively quickly ( I have a chapter in a book that's about to be published, based on a conference paper that was delivered a little over a year ago) and should have a format that somehow conveys timeliness and authority at the same time.

I'd be interested in writing something that follows on the conversation we had in Portland--what is the relationship between the existing building culture and its own transformation; how is contemporary practice already reflecting new ideas of complexity, and where does it fall short; if we talk about sequence and incrementalism in design and building process, what about in the transformation of the building culture itself?

What do you think?--let's talk more...

all the best

Anonymous Andres Duany said...

Magnificent work on reporting an interesting discussion.

However, Did anybody mention that if you do not code complexity IN--the organic urban process over time disaggregates the city into monocultures? Look around at older cities. Poor shopping streets and rich shopping streets. Working areas and sleeping areas. Cultural areas. Tourist areas. Yuppie areas. Hippie areas. Etc.

Did anybody OBSERVE this phenomenon--in London or Oslo, or Houston? Diversity must be imposed--as the SC attempts to do. The walking disciopline destroyed by the automobile has destroyed complexity in proximity.

This seminar suffered from too few practitioners. Why did not Paul say more?

You do not need to reinvent from the fundamentals. Lots of things work well. And lots of others that work badly are more intractable than the theories espoused can engage. What about connecting to power grids?


Anonymous Yodan Rofe said...

Hello Michael,

Wanted to thank you for the effort of organizing the seminar. It was very fruitful and interesting.

I also want to say, that thinking about it afterwards, I felt that I would actually be very interested in helping you compile and edit the "textbook" project. So perhaps we can start working on this as soon as possible.

I also think that it's worthwhile pursuing the patten language update project - since Stephen was quite keen on it why not try to entice him to take responsibility for it, with some of the computing guys to help out on the technical aspects.

See you soon in Israel.


Anonymous Marcel Vellinga said...

Dear Michael,

Just to let you know I very much enjoyed yesterday and look forward to reading more of the other particpants' work, as well as exploring the way in which our work here may relate or contribute to it. I am very sorry I can't be there today but hope it will be as stimulating a session as it was yesterday.

Best wishes for now,


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