City as Laboratory for Alternative Urban Research and Practice | This Big City
By William Hunter - an architect, urban designer and Teaching Fellow at University College London’s Bartlett Development Planning Unit where he leads studio modules in urban practice in the developing world, critical case study analysis, and investigative design strategies.
The current landscape of cities is that of contested processes, interdependencies and relations which are dominated to various degrees by diverse actors with contrasting voices and agendas. These complex relations emerge from historical and material dialectics of the territory, linking diverse activities with the environment in a time-based evolving process, connecting action sequences that may happen simultaneously both locally and globally. To appropriately engage in this arena, a critical re-appraisal is required concerning a new paradigmatic shift in the cultural discipline and practice of Architecture and Urban Design, one that views design as an interpretive and open form of action.
Arguably a re-appraisal of this nature needs to start in education. The notion of sleepless nights spent toiling over the design of a hypothetical museum or even the genuine article of a micro design-build project does little to enliven an understanding of the underlying and surface complexities that run constant in the shaping of the urban realm. As well as in practice, there is necessary movement to re-engage with the ground, the real, as it unfolds in front of us. Pre-dated by learned theory and methodology, the act of research, especially field-based investigation, becomes paramount to the exposure of a reality that offers higher stakes, higher return value and unparalleled informed experience. As Jeremy Till suggests, there are other ways of doing architecture.
In a move to align with any emerging shift in an alternative or renewed critical design practice, the Bartlett’s Development Planning Unit has launched its 2nd annualsummerLab series. Drawing on extensive internal resources and established departmental ethos, these workshops are an intended extension of academic and professional pursuits seeking to leverage the reality of the city as a laboratory for developing socially responsive design measures that provoke, stimulate, strategize, and reconsider the role of designers and practitioners in promoting spatial justice.