Pedro Oliveira

A new reality
It is quite clear that the urban landscape has significantly changed in the last years. The verified complexity has been nominated in many different ways, but to the vast and polycentric shape that we call city (?) there are always three explicative phenomenon associated: tertiarization, globalization of the economy and culture and, proliferation of the information and communication networks. In fact, the technologies of the Information Era have changed irreversibly and transversely our notions of space-time. They were exemplary manipulated by the market logic, that, hungry of growth and change, potentiated all this events. Once that we are in a period of crisis, ideal to re-think paradigms, let's focus on the natural frustration with the market-driven architecture and urbanism. The concepts of reintegration/recycling/revolution at the spatial, objectual, functional, social, disciplinary levels, synthesize a reaction to this frustration. The obsolesced less is more and of the more is more gave place to the more from less. The tendency to a bigger social solidarity, to the intensification of the Human-Nature relationship and the approximation of natural (Ecology) and artificial models (material and immaterial networks of the Informational Era) starts to emerge, at the beginning of the XXI century.
Dots in the field of the Metapolis (1)
The contemporary theories of the most variate disciplines converge to the vision of a network-based existence, fill of interdependencies, in which all is interrelated. At the urban scale, this vision is easily visible in the definition of the Metapolis, polycentric. This new definition supposes a large-scale space where different centers, usually near an older city, are created, giving a response to the new needs. The attractiveness of a determined City-Region or Metropolitan Area is dependent not only of their physical mobility (material) but also from the social, economic and knowledge mobility (immaterial) - that allow us to "surf in the flows of fashion, happenings and environments." (2) If we make the experience of mapping the intensity of the social, economical and cultural relations and superposed it on the infrastructural urban network (in its formal vision) we would easily verify how they establish networks that are superposing and juxtaposing and creating nodes or dots of convergence. The bigger the intensity of the crossing is, the bigger is its attractiveness. In this formalization, a bit abstract, of the physical and metaphysical movements/flows, it's curious to see how the dots are the spaces of greater dynamism and intensity, contrarily to their usual definition of staticity. As a matter of fact, the concepts of constant movement and dynamism are fundamental in the contemporary society - "In the end the urban truth is in the flow". (3).
Old Conditions, new constructions
It matters, therefore, to think about what defines and characterizes each dot. Accessibility is the first and primordial condition to the appearing of a certain setting - it's valid in old cities as in new centers, this search for a location near a natural or artificial infrastructure that allows them to establish relationships with each other. Functional Diversity constitutes the second condition, defining itself as the possibility of a series of relations and synergies of great intensity in a short space (of time). And, at last, Symbolism, or the integration of forms and signs that build the support to orientation, fruition and construction of collective memory. The three vertices comprehend a great ability to transfigure from case to case, assuming different degrees of importance in each node or dot - exemplifying, symbolism, in its conventional and more memory-present shapes, is much more present in an older center than in a new centrality (that uses the aestheticization of architecture and of the day-to-day life, filling us with information and superficial stimulation).
The new paradigm is built up on the concepts of dynamism (the passage between dots or urban zapping) and of complementarity (the existence of a macro-logic, that gathers the needs of a large amount of population), as something associated to these dots or nodes. Towards a better knowledge in the way of building our cities, there's a third concept that deserves our attention: limit. The new centralities that appeared in the second half of the XXth Century share the fact they used the architectural materials of postmodern architecture, from which one can distinguish the aggressive way of closing on themselves. These enclaves impose to/on the territory, generating situations of great artificiality and perverting the spatial relations - being near no longer means that there are significant relationships.(4) Their relation to context don't translate, at all, the ideas of dynamic networks of interdependence between people, nature and technologies. It seems obvious, as well, that a radical opposition to this model (ie the total abolition of frontiers) doesn't constitute a reasonable solution. The porosity in urban tissues or the utilization of permeable membranes (in substitution of the post-modern walls and fences) are a possible solution and start to appear in some recent architectures.
A possible way out
Given the complex reality that was reviewed along the text, it's important to point a recent theory (that surely will be followed up by others who diverge in form but not in content), - Integral Urbanism, by Nan Ellin. It suggests methodology and attitudes that are able to give a more capable and complete answer to the contemporary problematic, focusing in five points: connectivity, hybridization, porosity, authenticity and vulnerability. This text ends with the beginning of Ellin's book, that explains the multiple sense of Integral Urbanism:
Integral - Essential to completeness, lacking nothing essential, formed as a unit with another part.
Integrate - To form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole (...)
Integrity - adherence to artistic or moral values; incorruptibility; soundness; the quality or state of being complete and undivided; completeness. (5)        

(1) Ascher, François, Metapolis, ou, L'avenir des villes, 1995. The idea of Metapolis appeals to  the definition of “a group of spaces where the totality or part of the inhabitants, of economical activities, or the territories, is integrated in the daily functioning of a metropolis. It constitutes generally one set of job, residence and other activities, and the spaces that compose it are deeply heterogeneous and not necessarily contiguous. A metapolis has, at least, some hundred thousand of inhabitants.”
(2) Gadanho, Pedro, A arquitectura como performance, article in Magazine DIF 70. Also see Graham, Stephen and Marvin, Simon, Splintering Urbanism, 2001.
(3) Ellin, Nan, Integral Urbanism, 2006.
(4) Graham, Stephen and Marvin, Simon, Splintering Urbanism, 2001.        
(5) Ellin, Nan, Integral Urbanism, 2006.

- Illustrated  from: Kempf, Petra, You Are The City – Observation and Transformation of Urban Settings, Lars Muller Publishers - 
Pedro Oliveira
Architect. Porto

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