Theoretical perspectives

We can approach these themes from various theoretical perspectives. If you’re interested in theory, you can contribute to the research group by contributing to these perspectives.

General areas of concentration

If we look from at Moudon’s areas of concentration the research group focusses on (Moudon, 1992) typo- and space-morphological studies; urban history studies; and place studies. Several researchers are extending these theoretical perspectives by developing new areas of concentration.

Perspective 1. Environmental cognition

This perspective focusses on the interplay between individuals, groups and their environment. It is closely related to the environment-behaviour studies as described by Moudon (1992). Studying environment-behaviour interactions are an intrinsic part of the American school on environmental design, see for example the works of Lynch, Alexander and Habraken. Topics like wayfinding, legibility, and (social) control are core themes in this approach. There’s a scientific challenge to enrich these classical approaches with more recent insights in for example, cognitive mapping, group dynamics, well-being, stress-reduction, emotions and values, and to make these insights applicable for design purposes.

Here, the term Environmental Cognition is used as an umbrella term for Environmental Psychology and Environmental Sociology, indicating the intricate relation between psychology, sociology and the urban environment.

Perspective 2. Urban design thinking

Design thinking is a domain that focusses mainly on the design of small scale objects. Urban design differs in several ways. It focusses on small to large-scale environments, and on designing across scales. Urban design processes are the result collaborative design processes, with various stakeholders and other designers. In these design processes, they apply both top-down and bottom-up design strategies, and respond to changing environmental conditions. There’s a scientific challenge to describe these processes by enriching the domain of design thinking with the specific characteristics of urban design, striving towards a theory on urban design thinking.

Perspective 3. A complex systems view on the urban fabric

This perspective focusses on how we can understand the urban fabric as a system of systems. It is closely related to the (systems thinking led) nature-ecology studies as described by Moudon (1992). The origins of the use of complexity theories in urbanism can be traced back to the works of Geddes, Jacobs and Alexander (Marshall and Batty, 2012). In recent decades, studies in urbanism have started to merge insights from complexity theory, as originally developed in physics, with insights from social sciences, geography and urban planning and design – out of which the domain of Complexity Theories of Cities  has emerged (see Portugali et al, 2012). There’re two big scientific challenges. First, enriching these studies with studies on cognition (see perspectives 1 and 2), and developing planning and design approaches that explicitly anticipate on the complexity of the urban environment. Second, enriching and updating Moudon’s areas of concentration using this perspective.

  • Vernez Moudon, A. (1992). A Catholic Approach to Organizing What Urban Designers Should Know. Journal of Planning Literature, 6(5), 331-349.
  • Batty, M., & Marshall, S. (2012). The Origins of Complexity Theory in Cities and Planning. In J. Portugali, V. J. Meyer, E. H. Stolk, & E. Tan (Eds.), Complexity Theories of Cities Have Come of Age (pp. 21-45). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.
  • Portugali, J., Meyer, H., Stolk, E., & Tan, E. (2012). Complexity Theories of Cities have come of age. Heidelberg: Springer.