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REPROGRAMMING EUROPEAN MODERN SUBURBIA NEW URBAN DESIGN STRATEGIES IN LOW-DENSE SPACES Authors: Dr. Cristian Suau, Lecturer in Architecture, WSA, Stephanie Tunka, Architect and independent researcher,

ABSTRACT Sprawl is the most significant and urgent issue in Europe. Suburban sprawl’s public transportation is a need in many places. Yet most Europeans persist in their desire to live farther and farther away from urban centers, moving to exurbs made up almost entirely of single-family residential houses and stand-alone retail zones. This research study analyses the phenomenon of urbanity in suburban spaces and specific suburban patterns. It is focused on the reflection of urbanity (or anti-urbanity) in sprawl areas, based on the case study of two awarded proposals carried out at Europan 8 and 9. On one hand, this comparative study shows new techniques of sustainable urban design in sprawls; on other hand, stimulate the debate on sustainable urban systems and new models of transformation of dysfunctional spaces by formulating new suburban configurations and types.

Inverted Suburbia The City Center becomes Suburbia

Classical Suburbia Cities surrounded by Suburbia

Idealization of Suburban Life Variable Densities


different countries - different densities

European suburbia is faced with the sprawl phenomenon. This move away from the centralized city leads to splits and fragmentations. An increased desire for a new sense of individuality and a move away from the collective urban pattern has led to a more spread out city. This has been intensified by the easiness and speed of communication. Sprawl and its by-products, which includes suburbs, gated communities, urban fringes, outof-town developments and satellite settlements, have generally received less attention in spatial planning and urban design research. However, these areas are where most people live and where most new development is taking place. An increased desire for a new sense of individuality and a move away from the collective urban pattern has led to a more spread out cities. Nevertheless, what is happening with suburbia after the legacy of rational cities? After CIAM and TEAM X’s avant-garde manifestoes sprawls emerge not just as a territory of urban neglectfulness but an open-air laboratory emphasizing the dysfunctionality of public domain and transportation in sprawls zones. One of the most significant problems associated with these cases is the over-dependence on the private vehicle and the lack of diversification of communication network such as walking, cycling, and driving.

suburban housing configurations

Garden City

Our failure to understand the speed as factor of urban life today – condition that so far differ from Taylorist economies- results in an imbalanced situation between the expectations of new dwellers and the obsolete schemes of public infrastructure. Therefore, by avoiding the analysis of new strategies of urban renewal in suburban spaces, their physical and social deterioration still becomes inevitable.

detached dwellings

movable dwellings

attached dwellings

office parks


additional functions

The existing periphery of large cities undergoes discontinuity and carelessness than zones located in the city centre or new developments. The effect is an increase in spatial fragmentation and segregation, inside the suburbs and in relationship with the urban centrality. Rapid declining of sprawl boom Economic prosperity after the European Postwar Reconstruction caused a huge “housing boom”, which rapidly spread. As a consequence, many European countries as well as American ones were burdened with the problem of large amount of junk spaces in suburban housing areas mainly due to road infrastructure. For instance, the housing plan implemented in Sweden during the 60’s and 70’s were the result of an ambitious policy of the Ministry of Housing. Nowadays these residential zones like Tensta in Stockholm or Angared in Gothenburg are segregated zones, Nordic ghettos, where only low-income dwellers remain. In the case of the UK, similar cases are found like Park Hill in Sheffield (1961). A part-privatisation scheme to turn the complex into up-market apartments, business units and social housing with better public amenities is now under way in the UK, trying to re-shape urban dysfunctions.

No fuel - No Suburbia


Density Studies

Test configurations for Super Suburbia

According to Europan board, these suburban areas are perceived as “lifeless” and unattractive. The public space’s quality between buildings is stumpy. The Europan board affirms that the inhabitants of sprawl areas often feel without possibilities to influence their own marginal situation because of the reductive urban policies. DYSFUNCTIONAL SPOTS IN SUBURBIA Free space without programmes City and public space are two concepts that are inevitably entwined and dependent upon one another. Yet they describe different circumstances of modern urban life. The spatial and symbolic characteristics of public spaces inevitable define the urban model. No public space, no urbanity. Examples of classical urban configurations can be found in the organization of medieval towns or a Renaissance citadel.



The Modern Movement introduced a new way of constructing cities, underpinning social and functional issues of the new industrialized society. The method applied was abstraction and repetition, creating an efficient and mass-manufacturing building process that allowed a fast multiplication of sprawls. A great example is the Modern Home by Sears in Chicago.

Strategy for detached dwellings

This residential pattern also brought a new kind of public space -the free space- an open and ambiguous green spot, fully empty of urbanity. Sizing and shape of free spaces in suburban areas are merely geometrical diagrams or abstract compositions. Recreation in suburbia mostly takes place outdoor. The idea of free space or ‘green lung’ in suburbia still represents the cliché of healthy life. But these areas are also expensive spaces to maintain where the density is low. When these spaces are abandoned and become insecure, suburbites prefer to spend more and more time in indoor spaces, such as in front of the TV, gyms, shopping malls, or petrol stations. Europan Cases: New suburban housing configuration Few attempts have been made to change the architectural palette of suburban housing configuration. We recognize 3 main existing types: detached, attached and mobile houses. Based on these types, we have investigated alternative housing and urban designs in two cities: Stoke-on-Trent in the UK and Hamar in Norway. The first case explores the combination of detached and attached housing configurations and the second case looks at mobile houses on the disused railway infrastructure. These cases are envisioning different ways to re-qualify free spaces in suburbia. Instead of following conservative trends like New Urbanism, those cases are mainly focused in the activation of potential social networks and remapping new urban polarities by the inclusion of mixed-use and public transport.

Lifted units

Case study 1 Hamar Norway Railway Town

Learning from Yona Friedman

DESIGN HYPOTHESES AND METHODS From the industralisation until our present time, new typologies have emerged, expressly in the periphery of cities. Nevertheless, what new spaces might represent and trigger the notion of “public life” in the European suburbia? How can designers and planners inject new urbanity in obsolete suburban tissues? This study refers to the notion of urban congestion versus suburban one in relation to the occupancy of public spaces and its urbanity. These are the main assumptions: 1. The notion of ‘Culture of Congestion’ by superimposing of different densities and land-uses allows more urban negotiations and re-qualification of public domain. 2. The insertion of temporary uses rather than recreational ones in public spaces increases the sense of appropriation. Then suburbites become cultural consumers of their own public spaces. The design analysis of the chosen areas is based on a retrospective and prospective urban design vision. The retrospective vision is an urban reflection based on existing and potential activities. The prospective vision is mainly an environmental urban approach based on strategic models and simulations that might improve the quality of suburban tissues. So, the base cases had considered the following aspects: A. Local Design. It deals with producing options of new suburban forms and travel networks at scales of neighbourhood. B. Suburban Patterns. It refers to the developing of various suburban forms and social networks and their interrelationship, at both urban and local scales. C. Strategic Design. It deals with producing combinations of urban forms and social clusters for testing its application on site. It shows how the existing suburban frames are affecting sustainability of new urban forms across the different scales. D. Social Accessibility. It refers to undertaking empirical investigations on-site to examine the behaviour of outer city residents in accessing local facilities, their propensity to gather and circulate, and the identification of communities that use the public spaces. E. Suburban Structure. It investigates the application of generative social systems to urban design layouts, by exploring Europan awarded cases. FINALE Open spaces within suburbs and landscape amenities related to low-density urban development have significant influence on residential location choice. Therefore, dense and compact suburban forms seem to constrain strongly the living quality of households, while they have not proven ability to reduce car-dependence or, more generally, to be less demanding in energy use. The location choice of a household depends on its ability to pay for neighbourhood qualities (local amenities and accessibility) and whether the household is dependent on public transport for city-orientated travel. The chosen cases of mobile suburbia in Hamar in Norway and the hybrid configuration in Stoke-on-Trent in the UK are very distinctive labs for suburban investigation. They contribute to the implementation of new methods for urban design in suburban scenarios that could be put into practice. Each urban structure offers its own story of heroism and failures. New models in favor of public spaces can be found by intensifying temporary occupation. These are places where a multitude of urban life can interplay and overlap together. It produces different variation of uses within free spaces. Therefore, the abandonment and degradation of suburban public spaces in European cities is not merely a design factor, but ethical one. It derives from a lack of vision between density factors, intensity of uses and

social diversity to create more compact, mixed-use communities. REFERENCES

Hajer, M. & Reijndorp, A. (2001), In Search of New Public Domain, Rotterdam: NAI Publishers Friedman, J. (2005), Yona Friedman – Pro Domo, Barcelona: Actar Saunders, W. (2005), Sprawl and Suburbia, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press Duany, A; Plater-Zyberk, E. & Speck, E. (2001), Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, New York: North Point Press Hall, P. (1988), Cities of Tomorrow, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

Example for movable dwellings

Case study 2 Stoke-on-Trent United Kingdom Urban Village

+ Example for Hybrid of detached and attached dwellings

Intensifying to achieve suburban Urbanity

Intensifying = Super Suburbia