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Title: Designing from context : a place focused, ecophilic and integrated approach to urbanism by design
Author: Evans, Brian Mark
ISNI:       0000 0004 6353 3410
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: Glasgow School of Art
Date of Award: 2017
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Urbanism is the pursuit of urbanity. The work described in this submission contends that urbanity can be achieved by design through the application of three meta-principles. The fundamental aim underlying the published work concerns the (re-)introduction of design methods and practice into urbanism. A series of research questions examine methods, test these in practice, evidence trends, and document the contribution of the work. The work represents a systematic enquiry by design. The critical synthesis is concerned with narrating an enquiry into designbased urbanism documented in a series of publications. It is a reflective review that discerns patterns and a convergence of thought and intent around the three meta-principles. The research described is longitudinal extending over a period of 25 years. It is also situational and scalar and has been undertaken in different contexts and across different scales from the singular designed artifact (a public space) through to city-regional planning. In the 1950s, the cities of Western Europe and North America required extensive redevelopment. In general, the theories and principles of modernism were deployed to bring this about with the benefits of a systemic, readily replicable and relatively inexpensive process. By the 1960s there was disquiet that this approach led to the unacceptable loss of heritage and community. Drawing on the extensive literature, emphasis is placed on the establishment of methods to translate the conceptual understanding of city building into practice in order to re-purpose the processes of urbanism. Eight propositions were used to inform methods for application in practice, testing in the studio and refinement in research for national agencies. The propositions are applied and tested in a range of case studies documented in the publications and considered in the light of thinking in empiricism, rationalism and pragmatism. The publications examine casework in Glasgow, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sheffield and Moscow; a range of smaller towns and cities; public spaces and the creation of new urban contexts internationally. The work in practice is shadowed by pedagogic examination in the studio of the architectural academy. Two principal conclusions are drawn: the tools and techniques have proved sufficiently robust to endure over time and in different contexts; and they have proved flexible and able to adapt as their relative importance has changed to reflect society’s demands. The design practice described in the publications has acted as the laboratory for developing and testing methods for carrying out urbanism by design. It is concluded that whereas approaches based on empirical, rational and pragmatic thought are necessary for intervention in the city, none is by itself sufficient. The search for a comprehensive approach requires a balanced and integrated approach where the weight afforded to different methods is contingent on the circumstances and the context of their application and can be guided by a small number of overarching meta-principles providing unifying themes expressed as: (1) Learning from place (physical, cultural and human – combining the historical evolution of place and the evolution of the culture); (2) Designing with nature (ensuring the aesthetics and ecology of the ecosystem are a fundamental aspect of city design); and (3) Integrating research and practice through design (recognising the pedagogic cycle of research, practice and education and unifying application through design, including the comparative value of precedent). These three meta-principles provide an integrated basis for practice and help express pre-conditions for purposed intervention in the city and in the creation of new contexts. The empirical evidence and enquiry described in the publications demonstrates the opportunity for an integrated method for studying and practicing design-based urbanism. Its implementation has demonstrated impact through: recognition in national and international awards; winning international competitions; and the adoption and dissemination of findings as policy by cities and national agencies. In turn this has guided investment in work on the ground and been used by public authorities to evaluate the design quality of proposed development. The work has provided intellectual support for a new national academy (the Academy of Urbanism) and underpinned the policy base of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in its contribution to the ‘New Urban Agenda’. In so doing, the work has established a number of propositions concerning urbanism in the 21st century: firstly, there is a pronounced trend to urban concentration in clusters of successful cities in the developed north, expressed as ‘super-cities’; secondly that the renewed attention to ecology in response to environmental risk and climate change has brought about a new aesthetic in landscape design expressed as ‘ecophilic’; and thirdly that trends in urban development can create urban entropy (e.g. urban sprawl, urban shrinking, urban concentration) or can, through intervention, create urbanity (e.g. the compact city, the resilient city).
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available