/ USA – DDeS Conference

USA – DDeS Conference

Matt Ball on February 4, 2014 - in
December 31, 1969 all-day
Harvard School of Design

During the last two decades, the concept of urban metabolism, has been subject to both extensive empirical research and, increasingly, critical discussion within the natural and social sciences. Aiming to grasp the continuous processes of energy, material and population exchange within and between cities and their extensive hinterlands, urban metabolism promises a systematic assessment of the complex socio-environmental interdependencies associated with the continuous human occupation of the earth.

At the same time, the design disciplines have often realized the potentials emerging from a projective understanding of urban metabolism in shaping spatial strategies. From Geddes’ Valley Section and its postwar interpretation by Team X, to Fuller’s regenerative techoscientific utopias, or the megastructures of the Japanese Metabolists, concepts, models and designs have attempted to formalize the links between socioeconomic processes and environmental attributes responding to their respective contexts.

However this task is becoming extremely challenging: On the one hand, the contemporary condition of generalized urbanization is characterized by an unprecedented complexity and planetary up-scaling of metabolic relations, which were historically confined at the regional scale. On the other hand, while more and more geographically detached and absorbed into a global logistical system of exchange, metabolic relations are still deeply interwoven with territorial transformations in land use systems, settlement typologies, operational infrastructures, and ecological regimes.

At the same time contemporary discussions on urban metabolism have been largely biased between technoscientific approaches, limited to a performative interpretation of flows and more critical attempts to interrogate the sociopolitical embeddedness of metabolic processes. Within this context, design disciplines, fascinated by a need to grasp and reorganize the fluidity of metabolic processes, have privileged notions of elasticity and adaptability ignoring the often-sclerotic nature of settlements, landscapes and infrastructures.

A Projective approach to Urban Metabolism could offer a more elaborate understanding of the relation between organizational models of processes and the formal, physical and material specificities of spatial structures across scales. Alternative and synthetic routes to design –through concepts, models, visualizations, interventions- could expand its agency while enriching the contemporary discussions on Urban Metabolism.

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