Challenge and studio focus 2020/21

Urban Fabrics graduation studio challenge & studio focus

As pressure on land is increasing in many cities worldwide, densification is high on the agenda of many urban agglomerations. The suggested numbers of population densities by UN Habitat (2014) are very high, equaling those of Mexico City or Singapore and more than double the number of inhabitants per km2 in European cities, with Paris being one of the densest, showing 6,600/km2 within its ‘peripherique’, and around 20,000/km2 in its most dense neighbourhoods. Considering the high degree of urbanisation of most continents, the challenge is retrofitting cities. Forming strategies of transformation has to be an integral process that mitigates the effects of climate change, provides spaces for communities, gives equal access to services and amenities and is promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting urban ecology. 

How urban areas can be transformed, challenges urban designers to rethink the current types and processes of the built environment. Where currently often numbers of inhabitants/m2, m2 of commercial space, dwellings, as part of real-estate driven area development (Dunham 2010) drive the discussion and decision-making processes, urban development has to consider and rethink the spatial qualities created that provide high quality living environments. Circularity is relevant in achieving more energy and resource-efficient environments. Livability addresses how to keep our urban environments suitable to live in, putting the needs of people central, contextualized by the physical, geographical characteristics of the urban environment.

This studio will challenge the core elements of the built environment (urban blocks, streets, buildings, squares, larger networks and local centres), critically reflecting on and further developing current typical urban fabrics, using also experimental settings to think out of the box. Densification of urban areas has thereby to consider the short- and long-term effects, local and global effects and more tangible and intangible effects. For instance, what is locally liveable, might be unsustainable on a global scale (e.g. Howley et al 2009). The graduation projects developed have to balance on the one hand the need for more dwellings and the conditions for connected local centres, while considering demands on the urban fabric to accommodate healthy lifestyles, promoting walking and a liveable microclimate in order to achieve sustainable neighbourhoods for different communities.

Giving attention to the requirements of the future, it is also key to increase the adaptive capacity of urban environments in order to be prepared for unforeseen changes and extreme events. Such events can require more open spaces that can buffer extreme weather events, but also effects of the recent pandemic of Covid19 that require a rethinking of how we can live in high-density environments while keeping more distance to each other.