Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brief Concepts About Urban Morphology and Culture

Urban fractal simulation for Labbezanga settlement, Africa. The morphology shows the roots of the African culture. By Myriam Mahiques

The theoretical support of regionalism in urbanism was developed by Christian Norberg-Schultz in 1964, and it was based on the psychological evidence that all the forms, including the urban ones are culturally perceived, that is to say through outlines learned in a culture. Therefore, this coming back and forward between the culture and the object of perception implied that the form would be never free of meanings.

Kenneth Frampton, used the term critical regionalism from phenomenology –a method to return to things- to supplement his arguments. Frampton’s “critical regionalism” is not the same as regionalism; the last is related to vernacular architecture in a conscious way. He emphasized the topography, climate, light, tectonic form rather than scenography and the tactile sense than the visual.
In 1965, the attack to the exacerbated regionalism, criticized as "infantile regression", opens the way to the technopolis, since more and more, the society moved away from the cosmologies of the closed societies; the society was already changing thanks to the communications, of which it depended.
The new urban system was superimposed to the previous one, without destroying it. The city was considered as a group of many separate subcultures, each one with its mythology and its identity, beginning with the tribalism and concluding in the anonimity. The physical place had less and less importance, since the flexibility of the communications was increasing. The concept of community of place was then substituted by that of community of interests: a person chose a work more for its interests and accessibility than for its physical localization. It no longer cared the space distribution with their Euclidian territorial divisions, but the interaction among the inhabitants, living in a discontinuous, pluralistic, complex and dynamic space.
We are here before a statement of the theory of chaos.
By the end of the decade of the ´60, the urban designers already understood that the city was an organized complex such as a biological organism that could only be analized by means of new conceptual tools. In this context, Christopher Alexander writes "A City is not a Tree" that was published in the entire world, influencing especially in Italy, France, England and Japan. Alexander substituted the ramified form by a reticular complexity (lattice), and so he demonstrated that this was the only appropriate way to solve the complex problems. He affirmed that all the historical –“natural”- cities have many overlappings or subsets that imply their diversity. When using the graphos theory, Alexander took the design process to a high level of abstraction.

Urban fractal simulation for Labbezanga settlement, Africa. By Myriam Mahiques
Urban fractal simulation for Labbezanga settlement, Africa. By Myriam Mahiques

Lately, in architecture and urbanism, the epistemological physicalism and the organicism are studied through the theory of complex systems, under the Chaos theory. In this context, urban morphology concepts have strictly geometrical meaning where words like Euclidean, Isotropic, infinite could be applied. “The idea it evoked was simply that of an empty area”. (Lefevre, 1999).

The relationship between mathematics and reality (physical or social reality) was not so obvious, and the mathematicians released the problems to the philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists, each one with different superimposed theories for neighborhoods and –let’s say- people living near each other.
Epistemology has the notion that the status of space is that of the “mental place”, complementary –if not opposed- to the notion of territory and locality; sociologists have neglected territorial groups in favor of structural ones; anthropological studies focus upon social groupings defined by distribution in areas; linguistic studies is also important in territorial groupings. “As a rule, linguistists have approached separate language groupings as spatial units irrespective of the structural differences that obtain within them. In fact, one of the common methods of determining the time at which two groups separated themselves in physical space is a measure of changes in their language usage”. (Suttles, p. 7, 1973)
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