committed my life constituted an existential part of society rather than a random product of the market mechanism and the eureka factor. It now had meaning. Political economy at its most basic states that every economic decision is simultaneously political, due to the class structure of the global capitalist system. It maintains that there is no such thing as a purely economic decision that stands outside the political allocation of resources and spatial formation in the form of fixed investment (the built environment). David Harvey called this ‘the landscape of capital’ or what for me constitutes Urban Design. All design projects contribute to this landscape. So spatial political economy forms the intellectual base for what I have termed the New Urban Design. For the first time we have a unifying conceptual system– our theoretical object being the public sphere (social process), and the real object being the public realm (social space). Methods flow from their interaction. But these methods do not constitute design strategies. They frame the reality of the urban design process within the social formation. The method of spatial political economy is not an inert or dead process to be applied when the time is right. It is an event doubly alive. First on the basis of dynamic social processes. Second in using a matrix of theoretical principles interacting with your own imagination. You remain the most important design integral. Ultimately political economy is a way of being. So there are no recognisable formulae to this equation. One dimension is however critical, namely Lefebvre’s spaces of representation that are indeed the core ideational project of urban design. To conclude, the adopted method of the New Urban Design is by way of spatial political economy, in order to integrate the material and the symbolic dimensions of urban life through spatial formation and design intervention. New Urban Design is thus based on the presence of theory: Absence of theory > denial of responsibility > method > formula > linear process > product. Presence of theory > acceptance of responsibility > method > understanding > creativity > design.
these objects be understood? The consequence of these questions is to place us firmly in the space of social science, a place most urban designers fear to tread, preferring instead the marshy ground of a design vocabulary. Political economy itself has a history. Given that these masters of sociological thought had no interest in space, it was only relatively recently (1972) that Urban Geography, Economics and Sociology, became welded together into what we may call spatial political economy. This development allowed urban design to engage for the first time in its short history with substantial social theory instead of the largely content free trivia emanating from the design professions for over a century (Cuthbert 2007). This has great relevance for urban designers. For how can we design space without understanding the rules that structure it? Such structures are historically designated, and one of the greatest problems in producing satisfactory design outcomes is a substantial engagement with history, and to appreciate that in everything we do, consciously or otherwise, history is being transformed in line with prevailing ideological structures. Problematically, since history has no theory of its own, we must once again rely on social science for answers. All ideological systems tend towards oppression in some form in order to maintain social control and avoid the descent into anarchy (the law, religion, education, class structures, etc). The built environment expresses both the dominance of, and resistance to these systems, a process from which conscious urban designers cannot escape. Within contemporary capitalism, space is politically bounded, owned, allocated, and transformed by the rules of capitalist society. All space is representational of power, and in creating space we both express and further such interests. Urban design is the manifestation of these processes in fixed capital formation, the built environment. Cuthbert, A. 2007, ‘Urban design: requiem for an era – review and critique of the past fifty years,’ Urban Design International, vol.12 no.4, December, pp.177-233.
If you want to own any urban design problem you must accept that you are part of it yourself – but how is your own belief system messing up your capacity to think clearly? You cannot absolve yourself from the vital dimension of critical thinking. We then need to ask ‘what is the object of our work’ followed by ‘so what is the method of engaging with it?’ The thing that distinguishes urban design from the other environmental disciplines is that it has a clear answer to the former – the theoretical object of urban design is the public sphere. The real object is the public realm. Once this is accepted we can ask, on the basis of which principles can
Master of Urban Development
Published on Apr 26, 2016
Published on Apr 26, 2016
City Visions: Method & Design Chicago | Berlin | Sydney International Studio workshops from the Masters of Urban Development & Design degree...