the end of the masterplan?

Learning from concocting informal uses of the formal city, legal loopholes, speculative visions and appropriations of public space, Berlin-based Ilka and Andreas Ruby launched Urban Transformation in 2008. Their cookbook for real action aims ideal cooperation and alliances between urban authorities and citizens towards a more socially sustainable future. As they point out: <the term “urban” […] represents a cosmos of extremely varied notions determined by geographical, cultural, and individual preferences. If we want to get a grip on what is “urban” today, we have to capture it in all its disguises, gradations, and transformations occurring simultaneously on a global scale.> The edition was initiated and extended after the Holcim Foundation Forum for sustainable construction held in Shanghai in 2007.

Transformation” is emphasized here as estate in-between unfinished realities: visualising urban failures and their implementation. In this ever-changing panorama, we are guided through a world of possibilities that deal with the role of consumption in configuring our current cities, and its perversion by means of witty tactics. The spatial and legal transformations compiled in the book are structured in 6 chapters of in-between contexts: Between ecology & economy, global & local, public & private, sanctioned & shadow order, permanent & transitory, standard & appropriation.  These confronted dualities determine a zone imaginaire with an incredibly high potential for spatial practices.

The right to urban mobility is one of the main challenges described. A wide-range series of thinkers, pioneers and visionaries, narrate the adventures and misfortunes of almost every megalopolis in its struggle with overpopulation; however, even if Urban Transformation does not try to cover city by city in a methodical analysis, it unveils an astonishing X-ray of the urban fractures that every society shares. Some of the highlights of  this “urbanism on the move” are RV practitioners in Arizona (Simpson), 21st century Mongolian nomads (Lippe), homeless men’s temporal houses in Seoul (Cho), refugees’ spatial negotiations in their temporary camps (Herz), trans-border flows (Cruz), the impact of gondola lift transportation systems in the slums of Caracas (U-TT) or even cycling initiatives in Quito and Bogotá (Ganchala).

Another relevant issue questioning conventional modes of urban planning is the invented typologies resulting from speculation and politics that are superseding past modes of real-estate housing. This new sort of hyper-real estates, where popular imagination and eager for fast profits make unexpected urban hybrids appear, include: Serbian turbo typologies (Jovanović Weiss), super-dense urban villages in Shenzhen (Du), Caribbean floating cities (Zapata & Supersudaca), model showroom houses with fake windows in Korea (Shin), restricted International Aid walled cities in Kabul for foreigners (Karakat & Hannurkar) or Singapore’s schizophrenic social mix (Zhang & Tan).

Urban Transformation also provides a series of informal spatial appropriations of the public realm such as the fantasy world Underneath a Highway in Guangzhou (Gutierrez & Portefaix). Furthermore, it also compiles projects that have enhanced users’ participation and supported civil disobedience in otherwise over-controlled environments: United Bottle (Hebel & Stollmann) and Elemental (Iacobelli & Aravena) are good examples. As Philippe Cabanne states in his essay, <The democratically constituted state, according to Habermas […], cannot be infallible. Neither can it demand from its citizens an unconditional obedience and remain, at the same time, open to development.>


Urban Transformation. Edited by Ilka & Andreas Ruby, Ruby Press, Berlin 2008 (pp. 400, s.i.p.)

[1> Family Home in UlaanBaatar_Mongolia_Florian Lippe][2> Ciclopaseo in Quito_Cycling Citizenship in the City_Ximena Ganchala][3> How To Buy an Apartment in Korea_Haewon Shin][4> Underneath the Highway_Gutierrez & Portefaix]

One Comment

  1. Pat Chan

    All is fine and dandy for streetless cities like Çatal Höyük a few thousand years ago… But how will the Çatal Höyükians deal with loading bays and grade-level parking??? Heheh!

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