Urban Strings

November 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

The urban life on this globe forms a vastly diverse and

heterogeneous universe. How could one ever expect to understand it in its entirety ? And isn’t some sort of understanding required to deal with all the challenges offered by the complexity of urban environments that we are faced with? Such, or similar, is the despair of the urbanist. Some say, urbanism is dead, has disappeared, at least as far as urbanism is said to be concerned about kind of a theory about the city or urban life. Whatever happened to urbanism [1], Herzog & deMeuron are convinced [2] that “There are no theories of cities; there are only cities.” No manifestos any more, please!

Should we dismiss the despair of our putative urbanist? Or should we take the expressed concerns serious? Is it reasonable at all to strive for an understanding? And what could “understanding“ mean in light of the complexity of large urban arrangements? The Newton of urban affairs is quite unlikely to appear, the globally unified formula about urban affairs is certainly a delusion. For what purpose should we aim for insights, as most planning initiatives don’t hit their targets anyway? Why not just dropping the distanced attitude that seems to be implied by theory and planning and just act, on the local or even micro-level, to deal with the challenges? At least urbanists of any shade have already many toolboxes for any kind of problem, haven’t they? Well, the outcome of the “just acting,” the collection of works contributed by swarm architects, results, according to Koolhaas, in nothing else than Junkspace.

The matter is not of least relevance, as there have been more than 50% of all humans living in urban environments by 2011, with a projected 75% by 2050, and even today the conditions for inhabitants of cities as well as for cities themselves are often threatening, to say the least. In many urban aggregations in the South, slums are more something common than an exception.

Behind the scenes, and on a quite general level, any discourse about the city and its theory is about the dynamics of urban culture, or simply the concept of change and its political actualization. Upfront it does not matter whether we talk about succeeding whole-sale plans as in the case of Singapore, or similarly perhaps Masdar, failing planning like in case of Mumbai whether we talk about the effects of the mobilization of people, with positive net total as in the case of Shanghai, or a negative net total as in the case of Leipzig (at least up to 2010), whether we talk about self-organized changes or any mixture of those. Given the enormous diversity of the “cultural actual” we have to find a structure for any argument about urban change that is both general enough to include all of those aspects and, most important, that could be bound to the operational level. Otherwise we simply would neither be able to compare them at all, or to “learn” from it. Note that it is not appropriate to “define” change, as this would obscure any theoretical notion. And the generality of this structure should not be burdened by a neglect of the realm of individual personality. The “operational” comprises the political, of course, and thus also issues of ethics and morality.

This Essay

This essay is proposed to be a further step into the direction of Urban Reason. Urban Reason could be circumscribed as human reason that is unfolding, emerging etc. under the condition of the Urban1. In this piece we will try to elucidate the link between some foundational, that is, more conceptual issues and the possibility for active practice.

As one of the pillars of that endeavor we follow the grand or omni-cultural hypotheses of urbanism: Nowadays, human culture is largely identical with urban culture, and through the influence of the cities even in seemingly non-urbanized areas.

The grand cultural hypothesis is b no means a new one. As early as 1966, Aldo Rossi formulated one of its first more complete versions in his “The architecture of the City” (p.51):

In other words, on the most general level, it must be understood that the city represents the progress of human reason, is a human creation par excellence; and this statement has meaning only when the fundamental point is emphasized that the city and every urban artifact are by nature collective.

Yet, Rossi remains largely on the rationalist track (as we will discuss in a later essay about time and architecture). Even as he departs from “classical modernism” in stressing the importance of history, time and (collective) memory with regard to the understanding of the city, the city still remains an artifact, something produced. As a “skeleton,” any existing architecture informs any subsequent architecture, which is beyond mere cause and effect, but for Rossi this influence also remains neutral regarding the possibility of conceptual schemes of thinking. Additionally, the urban remains constructed, there is no autonomy in it.

Despite Rossi’s concepts certainly provide a valuable starting point, it does not push the issue far enough. Even as he realizes that human reason is involved in the subject of the city, as a rationalist he fails to recognize the self-referentiality in such an arrangement.

The grand cultural hypothesis thus not only provokes the serious issue of how to speak about2 the Urban (see footnote 1). With respect to the realms of thoughts and taughts, the Urban takes a role that is quite similar to that of language: everything we (as humans) can think already takes place within language. We can’t step out of it. Likewise we may say that really everything we think and do relates to the Urban, at least nowadays. Thus, the omni-cultural hypotheses also relieves the thinking about the Urban from the monopolistic claims of science(s), relocating the issue of theory from control and pushing it towards design and play. The secondary claim thus is simply that a theory of the Urban is impossible without a strong and serious appropriation of philosophy.3

Such, our grand cultural hypothesis is markedly different from the early and almost classic opening of Henri Lefebvre in his “The Urban Revolution” :

I’ll begin with the following hypothesis: Society has been completely urbanized. This hypothesis implies a definition: An urban society is a society that results from a process of complete urbanization. This urbanization is virtual today, but will become real in the future. (p.1)

Lefebvre still treats the Urban (capital “U”) as something external, from the perspective of a science study, in this case “urbanism” being the target. After all, Lefebvre holds a strong materialist (-marxist) position throughout his work, rejecting even the idea that epistemology could play a role in dealing with the Urban. So, indeed, markedly different from ours.

Another “eternal” issue to be addressed in the context of the Urban is the question about the role of theory. Just throwing around some neologisms, importing exotic concepts from largely unrelated domains, expressing a demand for ethics or morality or doing historical studies does not constitute a theory. Not quite astonishingly, neither modernism in general nor positivism/scientism in particular have been able to develop an appropriate concept of theory. We will also see, for instance, that it is highly unreasonable to conceive “theory” somehow as the antipode of practice or practical concerns.

The refined and appropriately positioned concept of theory directly raises another, almost always overlooked topic. In the “negotiations” about the reasonability of some common ground there is neither a final justification for anything, nor is it reasonable to refer to “values”. Both abolish any possibility for open evolution and lead directly into narrow ideology and dictatorship. Instead, when talking about and engaging e.g. in urban design affairs, we firstly have to make visible our metaphysical stances. Without such exposition any single move or opinion is either rendered into blind—ultimately technocratic—activism or arbitrariness. Secondly, the metaphysics has to rely on a strictly processual approach, which is cleaned from any thinking that refers to origins, centers or axioms.

Both, theory and metaphysics limit effectively what can be expressed, hence what could be recognized, measured and done, both directly limit the achievable ethics, and both constrain the space of possible methods and means that could be applied in any practical case. There are some striking examples for that, as we will see later.

Another important pillar thus is the exploration and adjustment of the conceptual vocabulary. We propose to drop realism and existentialism as the structural basis of urbanism and to switch to a foundation that speaks “informational,” that embraces probabilism in a reflected manner, of course without sliding into the technocratic abyss and also without dropping aspects of empathy. This requires a proper methodological setup that consists of rather clearly identified methodological domains. We will propose a layered structure for that.

The effects of this re-orientation of Urban Theory and its two-sided, bi-lateral binding to both abstract philosophy and practical policy are not limited to the considerations of the Urban. It will also exert a significant force onto philosophy. What (for us) is particularly at stake philosophically is a reconciliation of transcendence with material aspects of the world. Which transposes in less spherical wording to the transitions between concepts and operations, which in turn regards the issue of methods and planning.

The remainder of this essay comprises the following sections (active links):

1. Rendering “Theory”

There are indeed a lot challenges, as even a short visit of the site The Global Urbanist may proof. The variety and scale of the problems is enormous—staggering would be probably a more appropriate description from the perspective of the putatively rational urbanist. The editors of the Global Urbanist site distinguish 7 major regions for this globe, they identify 6 top-level domains and for each of them 10 sub-domains. Any of these 60 areas could be assigned a couple of scientific domains. Taking into account the definition of science as a domain with a particular vocabulary, urbanism is probably well comparable to the attempt of building the tower of Babel.

All of this is indeed, I already mentioned it, impressive. Yet, what is completely missing on that site is a section for theory. Some kind of bottom-line, a frame is missing. The whole site provides reports on conferences about case studies and other so-called hands-on approaches, close to the factual conditions. At least for the Global Urbanist, which certainly provides a representative sample, HdM’s forecasting proposal from 2008 turned true as a matter of fact, it seems.

If we take the modernist conceptualization of theory into consideration, HdM have been completely right in expressing their doubts about the reasonability of theory in urbanism. From within modernism, the concept of theory has achieved a very clear definition, displayed extensively in Stegmüller’s series [3], which continues the legacy of Popper, Carnap, and Sneed, accompanied and extended by the work by Salmon Wesley and van Fraassen. Well, at least the late van Fraassen stumbled into some doubts about the analyticity of theories. For our concerns here it is important to see that the concept of theory is a matter of the philosophy of science, not of the sciences themselves.

Well, domain-specific theories not only introduce dedicated terms and rules that allow the derivation of models. The first important claim of the modernist notion of theory is that this derivation of models from a theory can be formalized. The second important claim about theories is that they have to be falsifiable, which implies and presupposes that any two theories could be separated in a clear-cut manner. The result of the these claims is devastating. Theories couldn’t be distinguished from models anymore, since any model also introduces theoretical terms. Since falsifiability and uniqueness are also required, both the difference to models as well as the value of the concept “theory” vanishes. Thus, analytic theories indeed don’t exist. They are not even possible. In some sense, modernism is an attitude free from any theory, just as HdM claimed. And HdM would be also right in rejecting another idea about theory that can be met often in architecture, namely, that theory ought to deal with that which is permanent and always valid, notably the rules of art and law of statics. In their exclamation that we cited in the beginning HdM did not deplore, of course, the missing of theories with regard to urbanism… they praised it.

Yet, the failure of modernism and positivism to provide an appropriate concept of theory does not mean at all that we have to drop theoreticity completely and once and for all. We just have to revoke the modernist conceptualization of “theory”. This gap we are now going to fill.

As we have argued in a previous essay about theory in general, theories are orthoregulative milieus for the invention of models. It is the models that we use for anticipation. This notion of theory relates modeling with the Form of Life in which said modeling takes place. As a consequence, it is clear that the subject of theories are models and the process of creating models. The subject of theory is not empirical issues, quite contrary to the modernist (positivist) attempt. Inversely, we can see that any anticipation, even any model that has some utility, whether it is a formalizable one or a de-facto model, implies a theory, since nothing could be done outside of any condition. There is no rule-based activity without at least one theory. The true conceptual antipode of theory is therefore not practice, but rather performance. This conception solves a number of riddles about theories. For instance, different theories may well overlap, even producing a common sub-set of models that are hardly separable when directly compared as such. It also opens a much more appropriate perspective onto the fuzzy evolutionary network of theories than Kuhn [4] has been able to conceive it. Revolutions, whether scientific or not, are a matter of underdevelopment, symptoms of the possibility of disconnected singularities, hence not any more appropriate for our current techno-scientific, globalized societies today. (Though there is no guarantee for the ability to prevent underdevelopment.)

What does this concept of theory mean for the practice of urbanism, for the practice of building within a city, whether it expands the city or differentiate it? Why is it justified to commiserate the missing of theory on the Global Urbanist website?

As a first hint we may take Frank Lloyd Wright’s frequently cited credo about the relation of principles and form:

“Do not try to teach design. Teach principles.”

Certainly, Wright did not provide an architectural theory that could have been understood easily. Despite he himself provided 9 principles, these principles can’t count as a reflected theory, albeit Wright’s approach is clearly heading towards the concept of theory as we understand it. Think for instance about his insisting on the aspect of instantiation as actualization, even as he didn’t use such wording. The required philosophy (Deleuze) was to be written down only years later. Doubtless Wright’s approach was an early one, and one that has to be developed much further. But his message is quite clear: Theory precedes form, or in philosophical terms, potentiality precedes actuality, and concepts precede representation. Well, what applies to architecture fits also to the affairs around urbanism.

Yet, principles are a weak foundation. They remain axiomatic, messing representations and values, hence remaining completely within naïve realism or phenomenology. This holds for other “principled” theoretical approaches as well, e.g. that of Christopher Alexander, LeCorbusier, or those of Bernhard Tschumi, notwithstanding their respective appeal. On the other hand, praising some philosophical stance, let us say, the deconstructivism as unfolded by Derrida, and trying to coin it more or less directly into architecture is just as deficient. Jumping on some ism-bandwagon doesn’t qualify as theory, neither in architecture, nor in urbanism or any other domain.

Let me highlight the issue with a small anecdote. Recently, Sam Mendes, the celebrated director of the latest James Bond 007 movie, reflected about the use of action elements in an interview regarding the making-of of the movie. After a few weeks of taking more and more action shots, perfecting them eventually, he said, you will arrive at a point where you have ask yourself: What is it that you actually want to do and show?

Obviously, Mendes relates a particular action to the dynamics of the whole story, and that “wholeness” is quite extensive in the case of the 007 series, after 22 other James Bond movies. Previously, and as an extension to the Austin/Searle speech-act-theory [5], we called this aspect the delocutionary aspect of an utterance. It concerns the story-telling—through which is also actualizes—and the play whose subject is the playing itself. Taking this delocutionary aspect into consideration, formally and content-wise, implies precisely the conceptualization of theory as an orthoregulative milieu. In contrast to that, the Austin/Searle theory remains completely compatible with a modernist, i.e. positivistic and reductionist approach, since its top-most level relates just to a strategy, that is to a predefined or at least a predefinable purpose, but fails to relate to the openness of social intercourse. Delocutionary aspects, in contrast, resist any kind of apriori assignment, since they precisely declare to play with the potential of assignment, thereby abolishing any actual apriori assignment.

Well, the same scheme applies—and I think quite well so—to the presentation of topics on the Global Urbanist site. A lot of activities, undisputably interesting, but no framing. More clearly: mostly like a herd of chickens running wildly across the limited ground within a well-defined cage. That does not mean that the reports could not be inspiring. Yet, they could be inspiring only before the background of a suitable theory. Otherwise, case reports can count just as kind of soulful portrays which hardly can provide any kind of “lesson learnt” whatsoever.

Let us take a brief view onto an example of activism devoid of theory (in our sense). Kerwin Datu, editor-in-chief of The Global Urbanist, reported about the World Urban Forum in Naples in the beginning of September 2012. He distils four key elements of spatial planning of expanding cities (emphasis by Datu).

The first is the inevitable expansion proposition: that urbanization is a process that cannot be stopped, only shaped, by effective spatial planning.

The second is the sustainable densities proposition: that in place of the commonplace mantra that cities need to densify, Angel argues that it needs only to be optimised. Cities should be dense enough to sustain a public transport system, but not so dense that they generate health risks for their inhabitants.

Third is the decent housing proposition. ‘Adequate housing is possible only when land is in ample supply,’ a situation that many local authorities must do a lot more to create. In many cities there is an effective coalition that restricts land supply to generate superprofits for landowners, with severe impacts on the affordability of housing for all.

And fourth is the public works proposition: ‘as a city expands, space for public works must be secured in advance of development,’ […].

For once, it appears that the basic principles of planning for urbanization have been identified, and packaged in a form simple enough for laypeople (which most politicians are when it comes to spatial planning) can understand. Of course, in a conference as large and fragmented as the World Urban Forum, it remains to be seen whether any urban leaders are willing to listen.

As Datu emphasizes, a lot of ministers and mayors have been attending, thus politically important people who indeed could make the difference. Yet, the results are just depressing, aren’t they? If these four points indeed would be taken as the “basic principles of planning for urbanization”, well, then no wonder the conditions in many cities are simply bad. These results of the World Urban Forum are obviously almost nil, precisely because there are no design commitments regarding the social quality. It represents the effect of misplaced, physicalist reductionism. Doing spatial planning just from the perspective of almost physical elements is nothing but deficient. A further reason for the irrelevance of these “results” is that there is not the slightest reference to even a simple theory of differentiation, well, to any theory. Obviously, politically important people are confused and disoriented. What a dark age…

Given that we again would like to drop a remark about the parentage of theory in a field concerning the topic of the Urban. Approaching the problems from a meta-perspective, from some distance so-to-speak, by applying some particular domain science, for instance sociology, statistics, geography, fluid physics, engineering of control, etc. is not sufficient for calling the approach a “theory”. Imposing the implied theoretical stances of any particular science onto the field of the Urban and so importing those stances reverses the roles. This way, one does not achieve anything that is related to the Urban. One just creates a kind of sub-species of the respective science, that is sociology about urban populations, geography about spatial pattern dynamics, etc. Clearly, that does not solve the problem of how to address the Urban itself. Sticking to this hope may well be called scientism. And that is clearly misplaced with regard to the Urban.

Quite interestingly, a few recent articles published on the Global Urbanist site argue in favor of bottom-up approaches4, emphasizing that large-scale projects inevitably fail in most cases, and stretching the point of planning-with instead of a planning-for attitude. This bottom-up attitude is running contrary to—the fallacious—modernist scientism. We will return to this issue later. Yet, the respective articles are case-studies that hardly could be generalized, hence their value is quite limited. This is even true for AMO’s and Koolhaas’ investigation of Lagos, Nigeria [6]. What we would need is—again—a proper theory of differentiation. Koolhaas and his AMO/OMA obviously recognized that. As we argued recently, they approached that problematic field practically through their buildings, and more theoretical through their delocutionary essays (Generic City, Junkspace, the first an alleged movie script, the second kind of text for staged play). This engagement continued with their recently published work about the Japanese Metabolists and their concepts [7], provided as a collection of interviews and reviews [8].

2. Clearance for Take-Off

From all of that it should be clear that we would like to suggest to reject the attitude that denies the relevance of theory for dealing with the Urban, whether it is suggested explicitly—as in the case of Herzog&deMeuron—or implicitly—as the Global Urbanists prefer.

The whole endeavor of theorizing about the Urban must respect the role of theory: theory is NOT concerned about those empirical facts or material arrangements that we can observe in any particular city. As soon as we are engaged in observing we have been moving into the realm of modeling.5

Our conceptualization of “theory” renders the task of creating—or at least that of approaching—a theory more easy. We can set the empirical manifold of the Urban apart, at least for the time being. Later we will see that the treatment of the vast and almost infinite body of empirical facts concerning the Urban can be structured neatly before the background of the theoretical move. Anyway, leaving the particularity of the Urban behind allows us to focus on methodological as well as delocutionary issues.

One of these issues concerns the pervasiveness of the Urban. As we have been deriving this in a previous article, nowadays the Urban is synonymic with human culture at large. There is no single aspect on this globe anymore that would not be significantly affected by human culture and that is, human urban culture. “ More than ever, the city is all we have.” [1] Anything that we could say about the Urban is already enclosed by the Urban, it always takes place with respect to and even within the Urban.

The situation is thus much like it is the case for language. Any investigation not only presupposes language, it takes place within it, especially however any investigation of language itself. This insight, first recognized by Wittgenstein, paved the way for a (small?) revolution in philosophy, eventually called the Linguistic Turn in the 1970ies.

Language, Reason, Concept, the Urban, or culture are examples for performable conceptual entities for which an objectifying externalization is impossible.6 Whenever we refer to them we already need them to express them. It is meaningless and methodologically silly to try to objectify them, say as we usually pretend to do for concepts like chair, table ball etc. Yet, even in those cases the explication could never be finitized, i.e. finally closed. This setting corrodes any attempt for a “closed”, i.e. formal analysis of the Urban, much like it does in the case of language. In other words, we find a strong self-referentiality. Wittgenstein phrased it as the “paradox of rule-following” in §201 in his Philosophical Investigations [9].

For Wittgenstein the consequence has been clear: Language, as form, as a performance as well as with regard to the conveyed meaning has to be anchored in the form of life. It is not possible to establish an investigation, whether about language or anything other, that would be complete by itself. In philosophical terms: No investigation about some observable can provide sufficient reason, which quickly amounts to the fact that there is no such thing as self-sufficient sufficient reason at all.

Hence, the attempt of a “scientific language” (Carnap) is nonsense. Language is performed much like a game or a play, where the rules are quite volatile and in themselves subject of the play. There are some rules that we follow, yet the rules are neither complete, nor fully determinable, neither stable nor “justifiable” at all.

In written German for instance, we find clearly separated sentences and each word has a clear positional value and a distinct grammatical type. Yet, the borders of a sentence, or a few of them, is almost never a representative of a proposal. And what is going to be said is almost never representable as a proposal. While this aspect is present in written language, writing can be conceived as a means to limit this effect—or to play explicitly with it. In spoken language, however, the situation aggravates dramatically, as even sentences appear almost never as a complete(d) unit. Instead, what is created by talking together, on any side of the discourse, is much more a probabilistic field of densities and potentials that is only usable = understandable as a multi-channel diachronically organized braid of possible stories, from which we as participants agree on focusing to a particular one. Yet, this focus certainly does not remove any of the other threads. I am absolutely sure that this “structure” applies to any other language, at least Indo-European language as well. I mean, that’s the whole issue of rhetoric.

Hence Wittgenstein came up with the idea that language always comes as a language game [9]. Meaning is nothing else than usage, which in case of language refers to the couple of “interpretation” and the “prompt to interpret”. Thus, meaning is neither a private affair, nor a mental one, nor could it be determined by somebody or apriori.

Why do I anatomize the language process with such an emphasis, despite our main topic is the Urban, and the particular form of reason(s) that spring out from it?

Well, there are two reasons for that. Firstly, I want to demonstrate that the grammatical rules and all the rules that we actually could talk about with respect to language games do not, by no means, tell us anything about the nature of the play. Even in chess, which is a strictly determinable game, we find different styles in the way the players contribute to the individuation of the game. Secondly, it should have become clear that language can’t be conceived in any way as a process that contains precisely determinable entities, or that even would be itself determinable. The impression of clarity is an illusion triggered by the habits around its usage. Language and its usage is essentially is a probabilistic process, despite the school grammars, and despite the positivist propaganda of contemporary linguistics.

Language games can be instantiated in extremely different ways, of course. Ultimately, we even could not claim that there is a determinable content in practiced speech. Content appears only upon a bag of retrograde interpretations, each spanning across a different time span, each of them with different resolution, each of them with different intensity. Language games and the putative content change with context, such that there won’t be a ever such a thing like an repeated utterance. Everything we say, we say it for the first time, despite and because we practice a certain style, caring thereby for our grown and growing habits.

We now can ask for the consequences of all of that for a theory of the Urban. I think, we just could perform the analogous move, that is, we may introduce the concept of the “Urban Game”. Everything we said above about language games applies to Urban Games as well.

We will discuss this concept of the Urban Game in more detail in a later piece. For the time being, we just would like to touch two issues. Firstly, we may say that the “Urban Game” takes the role of the Wittgensteinian “showing”. They are not only shaped by the urban environment, many of them would not even take place at all. While they could be described, of course, with respect to their visible parts, such descriptions would not catch up with their consequences, their sense and meaning. There is no single, crisp effect associated to them, they just release kind of “excitation” into the probabilistic network of the urban fabric. Essentially, we can’t describe the effect without pointing to the entirety of the city, its whole becoming. In this way, Urban Games work as kind of media, conveying the amorphous, unspecific showing (up) of the culture (reflexively: “es zeigt sich”), and also as a means to show the expectation of this mediated excitation (transitively). This refers to quite different activities and moves, as the category of Urban Games comprises the whole spectrum between legislation and installation. Secondly, the concept of “Urban Game” certainly allows to respect the aforementioned self-referentiality. And as we have seen, it demands for probabilistic concepts when describing them, like it is the case for language games. Probably even more important, it also provides a stable conceptual bridge between the individual and the communal level of urban affairs.

Regarding architecture, a typical Urban Game is the semiosical (!) play with styles. Semiosis is the spreading and branched and “culturally embedded” probabilistic process of creating new (Peircean) signs, i.e. to establish a new sign-practice. Venturi and his collaborators have been the first (and since then seriously neglected ones) that emphasized the importance of the dimension of the sign. While Koolhaas in his Junkspace [10] pejoratively lamented about the fact that

Through our ancient evolutionary equipment, our irrepressible attention span, we helplessly register, provide insight, squeeze meaning, read intention; we cannot stop making sense out of the utterly senseless… (p.188)

it is also certainly true that the city is a quite special breeding site for new signs, demanding ever for more interpretation, despite all the habituation [11]. And equally certainly, a term like “architectural incongruence” isn’t helpful to any extent, particularly when used in combination with the idea of a “mature streetscape”. For Michael Conzen, proponent of the British school of urban morphologists and who coined these terms, the semiotic dimension is simply irrelevant, calling them “linguistic problems” [12]. One has to know that Conzen beliefs in the reasonability to investigate the layout of the town map as a separate subject, albeit influenced by culture at large, while (as a geographer) at the same time he rejects the outbound attempt to benefit from other disciplines like biology. In his attempt to stay aware of the need of theory, he readily adopts phenomenological patterns, pimped by leaning towards Cassirer. Yet, Conzen not only completely fails to understand the role of theory, by means of that orientation he also remains entirely within the modernist tradition, even in its raw version, that is, not understanding the importance of the linguistic turn. In the next essay we will discuss this issue further.

It is important to see that in the context of the Urban neither language games nor of course Urban Games are necessarily bound to a particular speaker in a particular situation. Urban arrangements transform everything into probabilistic affairs.

The “Urban Game” always comprises language games, of course. Else, it provides a bridge between issues of matter, power and language. The language-driven perspective, which is also a semiotically7 driven perspective, includes the speech-act, which in our case includes the extension of the delocutionary act, that is, the open play that goes beyond mere rule-following.8

There are important consequences for any theory about Urban, for a critique of Urban Reason, but also for any kind of practice. We can refer only to the most important ones here:

  • 1. The Urban can’t be addressed analytically, hence it is also impossible to implement any kind of representational top-down control or planning without annihilating the Urban.
  • 2. The Urban Game is a potentially rule-changing social performance.
  • 3. There is no “complete” empirical description of the Urban, that is, any anticipatory model will fail at least partially. This failure has to be covered by an appropriate treatment of and attitude towards risk.
  • 4. The Urban can’t be constructed.
  • 5. The Urban may appear in an unlimited diversity.

Note that these items are not based on “values” or “attitudes”. They are the result of a rigorous philosophical argument.

There is still another issue that we can derive from language philosophy. With regard to language it is misguided to ask about some kind of absolute, global or stable meaning. Instead we have to ask: Which (kind of) language game she or he is playing? Since we are interested in theory here, this transforms immediately into a methodological issue. Regarding the Urban, we have to be clear about the relation between actions and concepts.

3. Schemata of a Critique of Urban Reason

For our purposes it is sufficient to distinguish two aspects of actions. Firstly, there is the aspect of rule-following. The rules implied by an action are chosen either due to some anticipatory “calculation” or due to the influence of the form of life. It is reasonable to expect that in most cases both sources are active. Whether the actions are based on free will or not is not relevant for us here.

The second aspect of actions that we’d like to distinguish concerns about what often is considered as “unintended effects”. Of course, the issues around acting upon the external world are much larger than just that. Actions unfold into material re-arrangements, they are a major component of irreversibility, hence they provoke what we previously called the “existential resistance”. The changes “then” are subject of further interpretation.

These two aspects, rule-following and the couple of acting and interpreting that are tied together through irreversibility, make clear that there is no direct link between concepts and actions. From a quite different perspective we achieved the same result earlier when introducing the choreostemic space. There we argued that in any move besides modeling and concepts also mediality and virtuality have to be taken into consideration, notably all of them conceived as transcendent entities (not: transcendental!). Also related to this issue is what the philosopher John McDowell called the unboundedness of concepts, according to him an inevitable consequence of the Myth of the Given. [13]

From this we can now proceed to the basic structure of theory building. Yet, insofar as we don’t want to just provide some rules, seemingly out of the blue, we‘d like to stress the point that we propose a “conscious,” that is a critical approach. A critical approach concerns about the conditions that are implied by setting it up. One of these concerns, and probably the major one, is language, regarded as a transcendent condition. Another one is the transcendentality itself, which causes the concept of Concept to be not only transcendent, but also virtual. A critical approach to theory building can’t stop, however, here, just stating that there are transcendent aspects. We also need to explicate the (abstract) mechanisms that are in charge in the field made from theory, structural models, predictive models and the organization of operations.

In a first and rather coarse step we can distinguish three layers that are important for theory building regarding the Urban:

  • – The operational level, including politics, legislation, immaterial and material logistics, the construction of infrastructure and all individual activities as well;
  • – The categorical work, providing the concepts that determine what could be expressed at all concerning the Urban;
  • – The model layer between the first two areas, providing concepts that enable us to describe the dynamics of the Urban on the structural level.

Here, a small remark about the operational level is probably indicated. Operations have to be distinguished from actions. We conceive of operations here indeed as the application of operators to the material world, whether physical or social. Actions comprise, in contrast to that, much more, e.g. models and concepts. Yet, precisely those we tried to make visible, including their relations among each other. The concept of action is hiding that inner structure. Operations can’t be regarded just as rule-following. To operate means to flexibly adapt to unforeseen contextual influences in order to actualize the respective model(s). It is clear that matter will exert some “resistance” to that, existential resistance. The world can’t be mapped to analytical descriptions by principle, hence operations always have to deal with some gap and ignorance.

This may be depicted as shown in the following figure 1. The brackets here should not be understood as objective borders, of course, it just reflects a particular focus. On both sides, regarding the conceptual area, i.e. philosophy, and the operational area, i.e. largely politics, are manifolds by themselves. Actually, there is no clear border between the fields, just “gravitational” spots. Additionally, one should resist analytical habits that would imply a certain directionality in this field. The field may be entered from either side, and any kind of sequence is possible, given the actual context and the individuality of persons engaging in the process. Yet, the scheme allows to organize that sequence, or to simply talk about it. That is, the process of theory building as well as its application are critical also insofar as the externalization may trigger a secondary symbolization.

Figure 1: Generalized methodological layering for the binding of abstract thought to operations.

The scheme is a projection of the choreostemic space, both simplifying and extending it. The “concept” area is subject of philosophy. Note that the three layers are mutually dependent; the dependency of these layers works in either direction. More exactly we may say that these fields are dependent on each other in a particular way. They build a high-dimensional fluid moebius fractal.

Let us briefly visit the two conceptual components, the moebioid and the fractal. A fractal can be created in several ways, which however are all traceable to a procedure called self-affine mapping. An example for a simple self-affine mapping in 2-dimensional space with 2 surfaces is the leaf of the fern (see figure 2a), by the Peano-curve, the Sierpinski triangle, or the Koch snowflake curve. Inversely, fractals are created also recursive sub-division procedures.

A moebioid is a n-dimensional body with a topological “defect”. Despite a 3-dimensional moebioid exists in 3 dimensions, it has only 1 topological surface, instead of the usual 2 surfaces. There is no “inside” or “outside” with it, as you can observe if draw a closed circle. (Astonishingly, you can even fill water “into” a Moebius bottle despite their is no “inside”.) A moebioid is also conceivable as a knot, though not built from threads but from surfaces. As it is the case for trivial, that is smooth knots, moebioids become flat = unknotted in higher dimensions. A fractal moebioid, however, can’t be unknotted in higher dimensions. (I have no proof for this, it is just a conjecture)

Just as a small remark: This concept about theory work (and the potential working of theory) has been deeply inspired by Deleuze&Guattari’s “What is Philosophy”[14], particularly the sections about concepts and the “Plane of Immanence”. You will find a strong resemblance, for instance concerning the fractal structure, the distinction between the concept and the field they generate, etc.. Nevertheless, what we propose here is an extension of Deleuze’s work, so to speak, down-stream towards politics and logistics. Deleuze himself always refused to approach these areas, focusing on philosophical aspects. [15] Actually, I regard the binding between theory and politics, mediated through models, as one of the most interesting ones, not just with regard to architecture and urbanism, and for sure I will prepare a dedicated essay about it (working title so far: “Braidings between Immanence and Politics: The Case of Urban Tales.”).

Back to our scheme from figure 1. Our requirement is that any of the three fields contains any sequence from the three fields. Fortunately, the sequences do not grow very much due to pragmatic reasons. In other words, it needs to be treated by a self-affine mapping in order to approximate the actual arrangements in socio-mental settings, while at the same time the actual form of the “embedding” or framing is only a matter of relative phase, i.e. pseudo-location on the surface of the moebioid. Additionally, the resulting figure should not be expected to be a fixed geometrical entity. Rather, it is fluid, pruning some sequences, bringing any of the field-like components to the surface through foldings, etc. A distantly approximating impression is provided by figure 2b, just click to to see the projections moving.

Operations can not do without deeply integrated models, as it is the case for concepts. There are no “pure” models, or concepts, either, of course. Which compartment is surrounded by the others is dependent on the respective purpose, i.e. context and style, I suppose. in the following we will try to develop this scheme into an abstract space that could be used to trace the dynamics of the Urban.

Figure 2a: The fern leaf as a simple example for a self-affine mapping.

The next two images provide visualizations of projections of objects (not of fractals!) in high-dimensional spaces, the first in figure 2b more “conventional” (it is different aspects of a Calabi-Yau-manifold, which takes an important role in String theory, found here), the second in figure 2c more artistic and moebioid (found here).

Figure 2b: A grid of projections of the 6-dimensional Calabi-Yau-manifolds into 3-dimensional space. Note that a projection from higher to lower dimensionality not only creates knots and moebius figures, there is also no single definite projection, hence the grid.

Figure 2c: This image actually has been produced by weaving a lightstick, capturing it with long exposure times, not by any kind of digital rendering of numericals.

Despite the scheme from figure 1 is still quite coarse, we nevertheless can say that the most important part of this scheme is the one referring to theory, the categorical work. This includes all the modes that are being used to apply abstract concepts for the derivation of the concepts assignable to the intermediate layer. Hence, the categorical work fully constrains what could be expressed about the Urban, but also what could be recognized, modeled, anticipated and integrated into the symbolic constitution of a particular urban instance, whether it is by means of population dynamics or of more or less centrally organized activities. It constrains entirely what can be thought and said, whether on the level of the generic model, on the level of actual models, or with respect or logistic or political actions.

From that we can conclude three things. (1) The conceptual part has to be abstract enough. Reasoning about geometric forms, generative grammars and other forms of “automated” (or state-bound) methods to generate forms, the “origin of the pictorial” following Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky, all of such approaches are certainly not abstract enough, neither for doing theory work in architecture nor in the context of the Urban. (2) We need appropriate concepts and techniques to derive such concepts for creating structural models. (3) Both together have to allow for the derivation of political actions that are compatible with basic philosophical insights, with appropriate ethical and political positions. This would include, for instance, the discourse about sustainability, which is definitely neither a trivial nor a eco-technical issue.

Anyway, we may propose that the methodological layering shown above is indeed a generalizable scheme for the binding of abstract thought to operations. We just have to add that it should be conceived more as a high-dimensional methodological field with blurred borders between the components. As we already mentioned, there are many proposals that suffer from a considerable methodological “binding problem”, from either side. This causes critical developments particularly in those domains where we can find self-referentiality, for instance in linguistics or urbanism through their subjects “language” and/or “culture”. Examples for such critical developments are the whole movement of idealism, or, somehow as its pretended counterpart, the denial of theory. As a further abundant methodological fault we may count representationalism and the closely related believe in the dominance of common sense, as Deleuze has been pointing out (for details see this previous essay).

Of course, we have to explicate the model layer. Yet, before that we first have to take the thread up again that is put down by the importance and the guiding role of the concepts.

It is quite important to understand that concepts are transcendent, but neither universal nor eternal. They are not transcendental either, which would mean that they represent the demand for some kind of ultimate origin. There is also nothing with them that could be called “truth”. Concepts act more like hubs for semiotic processes that allow for and organize certain kinds of “vectorial traffic”, yet without maintaining any kind of materiality—even not a symbolic one—on their own. This position of the concepts inherits towards language.

Precisely here we can exclude any philosophical framework as a proper candidate that does not respect the primacy of concepts and language in the genealogy of a theory.9 Among the rejected attitudes we comprise phenomenology, external realism, existentialism, positivism, structuralism, and deconstructivism.

So, we can ask now: What else?

4. The Core

Actually, it is quite simple. The core of any Urban Theory, as well as its critique, must necessarily comprise the following two questions:

  • 1.How to speak about the Urban?
  • 2.How to actualize the Urban Games?

These questions are far from being “only of theoretical” significance, “theoretical” used here in the inappropriate, common sense way. It is for instance simply meaningless to address questions of sustainability without first answering those, as it is superfluous to engage in research about planning without a proper answer to those. What we also meet here is the eternal (and internal) tension of conservatism: what to conserve, the status quo, the dynamics or the potential? In order not to demolish itself, it must stick to the conservation status quo, which on the other hand abolishes any reasonability. We certainly have to care not to trap the concept of sustainability in the same dilemma.

Another area where the dominance of language and the conceptual may appear surprising is public services, particularly concerning the essential flows, i.e. energy and water. We will discuss this in more detail in the application section below.

What we find here is nothing else than a very practical consequence of Wittgenstein’s famous, almost proverbial, proposal: The borders of one’s language constitute the borders of one’s world. Inversely, we always can conclude that in case these questions will not be addressed explicitly they necessarily are answered implicitly. Yet, this also means that the answers will be most likely inconsistent, arbitrary, and contingent, without any possibility to set up a reasonable discourse about the urgent local issues.

It is of utmost importance to understand that these important questions can’t be answered without reference to two rather divergent areas, albeit they are also deeply and strongly linked to each other: (1) the predominant Form of Life that is practiced in a community, and (2) the metaphysical setup on the level of the individuals.

It is precisely here that we find the entrance point for “modernism”, whether the “original”, i.e. European version, or in its segregated form in the case of Singapore. Across the decades and centuries there is of course a co-evolution of the Form of Life and its accompanying metaphysics.

5. Metaphysics

As we have described earlier, modernism can be described by a characteristic set of beliefs. The dominant component of this set, however, is the strong belief in the necessity of metaphysical independence. Note that the idea of identity builds just the other side of the coin, essentially, independence and identity are almost synonymic from the philosophical perspective. In our essays about the role of logic and our add-on to the Deleuzean dual concept of Difference & Repetition, the choreostemic space, we discussed the alternative to identity and independence: transcendental difference.

Though historically comprehensible, independence is as little justifiable as any other metaphysical belief. The fact is simply that you can tell different and different kind of stories, some being more extensible and more fruitful than others. Anyway, this belief into independence informed everything in Western societies at least for several hundred years up to present times, with origins deep in classic Greek thought and with a particular blossoming at the end of the 19th century and the 1950ies/1960ies. Even Descartes and a whole series of scientists from Newton to Helmholtz would not have been thinking the way they did without it.

This independence has a range of strong correlates. One of the most influential is the belief in the indispensability of centralized control. A more abstract companion is the belief in centers and middle points itself [16], together with the cosmology of the sphere [17]. Traces of that can be found in architecture—from Boullée to Buckminster—as well as in urbanism, particularly as the phantasm of the “ideal city” that has been prevailing throughout the centuries.

Figure 3a: Etienne L. Boullée, Kenotaph for Newton (1784)

Figure 3b: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, Dwelling for the Gardener in an utopian ideal city, ~1800.

The sphere and the implied importance of the concept of the center-point did not only show up as utopian buildings. It was also used, and is still being used, for the layout of cities. The phantasm of the “ideal city” has been poisoning the discourse about the Urban up to our days.

Figure 4a: Nowa Huta, a Polish city built to praise the heroism of the mine workers in former communist Poland.

Figure 4b: Palma Nova, near Venice, Italy. Note, that in former times the costs for the fortification caused a drive for circular layouts for geometrical reasons. Palma Nova still exists. Yet, in former times people didn’t want to live there.

.

Even today density is often misunderstood as a center of a radial symmetrical arrangement, with Manhattan being the great and pleasant exception.

With regard to methodology, statistics as it is practiced since the mid of the 19th century up today, is deeply structured by the independence assumption, which, as a matter of fact, renders it incapable to deal with patterns. In urban environments, the deep modernistic belief in independence led to forms reflecting crystalline growth, that is, the most primitive form of growth, which also is the least adaptive one.

Fortunately, things are changing. Well, they change slowly, but steady. The first incentive stems from biology, of course. In biology, nothing makes sense under the assumption of independence. Everything is meaningful only if conceived as a historically constrained processual manifold, called evolution, yet which also includes complexity. The second incentive comes—astonishingly—from physics, yet from the “non-classical” area of physics, in particular the physics on sub-atomic scales.

Changing the metaphysical setup in order to pave the way for a more appropriate understanding of the Urban means to drop the addiction to the sphere, of independence, of the object, of the territory, to leave behind the strive for identity as a constant as well as the representational attitude in (“explicit”) controlling and planning. Maybe you already detected the remote reference to the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze here.10 It is rather important to understand that all these items are not “universal” in any respect. They just follow from certain methodological considerations, influenced for instance by the insight into the primacy of language. Yet, even if language and concepts can be considered to play a transcendent role, universality does not follow from that.

6. Dropping the Spheres

The revolution that started to erode the deterministic scientific cosmogony towards a de-centered metaphysical cosmology is still running at high rates. In many areas its main messages are still not assimilated. Modernism and its detrimental offspring prevail.

The first “step” into that revolution was the discovery of in-computability. In-computability is a principle barrier that could not be overcome by more accurate measures. Actually, on the level of the sub-atomic world accuracy does not make much sense. Basically, there are three contributions:

  • 1. Poincaré’s investigation of the three-body-problem (~1900), leading to the first description of chaotic systems.
  • 2. The invention of Quantum physics from Planck (~1890) to Schrödinger (~1950), including the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
  • 3. The investigation of dissipative processes by Prigogine (~1975).

The second “step”, which also stretches across several decades, derives from the paradoxical situation of quantum physics. On the one hand, the so-called “Standard Model” is quite successful. For instance, a simple principle has been deduced that allowed the prediction of the existence of formerly unknown sub-nuclear particles. There is some kind of order for the set of particles.

Figure 5. The “periodic System” of elementary particles according to the Standard Model. Despite the usual graphical depiction conveys seemingly a certain degree of simplicity, it is neither not that simple, nor does it display the open issues. In other words, it is some kind of propaganda.

On the other hand, it fails completely, as it does not allow to create a super-symmetric theory, that is, a theory that combines all of the four fundamental forces in nature.

As a result, some—if not many—basic observations are still unexplained, on the mesocosmic, rather small scales as well as on the cosmic scales (cf. [23]). Let us just pick three of the most salient gaps. First, there is no explanation of electro-magnetism that goes beyond its phenomenal description. In other words, physicists still don’t understand exactly what a “charge” is, say of an electron. Secondly, the “condensation” of elementary particles from “clouds” of extremely high “temperature”, e.g. sub-nuclear gluon plasma, is not understood. All physicists can say is simply: it happens. One of the gaps, according to the physicist Quigg, of the Standard Model concerns what makes a top quark a top quark and an electron an electron. Both seemingly don’t have further internal structure, both have electrical charge, though the quark only 1/3 of an elementary charge owned by the electron. Thirdly, now on the cosmic scale, there is complete ignorance in physics about the so-called “dark matter”. Would the “Standard Model” be indeed applicable and accurate, neither of the three phenomena should remain inexplicable.11

This situation gave rise to a still heavily disputed theoretical framework that is completely different from the “Standard Model” (SM). It is the so-called String Theory, more recently extended into M-Theory (MST).

The difference between those two frameworks is tremendous. In fact, they follow different and incommensurable metaphysical belief sets, which provides the reason that their case is particularly interesting for us.

Aspect

Standard Model

String Theory

conventional Space-Time

presupposes it

induces it

Basic Form

spherical particles or sections of space with 3-d rotational symmetry

1-dimensional strings of energy of approximately defined, positive length, the Planck length (10-33m)

Sub-atomic Particles

extremely concentrated energy, but the mechanism of creating inertial as well as rest mass is unknown

amplitude of vibration

Type of Particles

existential, produce of condensation frThere are many fundamental differences between the two frameworks, yet, the basic ones that are interesting for us here are the following:om gluon plasma, but mechanisms/rules are unknown

modes of vibration

Particle-Wave Dualism

phenomenal existent

irrelevant

4 Basic Forces

gravitation remains incommensurable (even if the Higgs Boson would be confirmed)

gravitation is a consequence, a unified theory is possible

Structure of Space

3 spatial dimensions+1 temporal dimension, presupposed

~10 abstract dimensions, from which the mesocosmic space derives through “overlapping” of low-dimensional (2d) projections

Basic Characteristics of the Framework

existential, claims desperately a “God”-particle, the Higgs-boson

generative, existence is not a central concept

Philosophical Status of the implied Image of Thought

based on identity and representation, with energy as an onto-realistic fact

based on difference and form (information), with energy as a mediator

Conceptual Status

it is a model (indeed)

it is a theory, i.e. an orthoregulative set of rules about how to generate a model

Note that it does not make sense to think of the strings as kind of objects. It is not possible to draw them, despite there are many artistic interpretations around. The basic architectonic difference between the frameworks is their relation to the concept of mechanism. The Standard Model is based on 19th century attitudes, expressing the initial claim that logic is imprinted to nature. There is no place for incorporating information as a separate entity. Causality and information are not distinguished, which ultimately leads to pseudo- paradoxes12. There is even the claim of perfect analyticity, that is, calculability, despite quantum physics itself proposes the uncertainty principle. It is precisely this architectonic flaw of trying contradictory things that lead to the “paradoxes” of current mainstream interpretations of the Quantum world.

The String Theory, in contrast, comprises a proposal of a mechanism that creates kinds of matter based on different information. String Theory describes the form of energy, where different forms—in this case different modes of “vibration”—lead to different kinds of matter. It concerns all particles, even photons, i.e. electromagnetic waves.

Both models, however, share an extremely important property: in some way or another, the describe a probabilistic, yet quantized world.

The sub-atomic world is not a continuous one. That means that it is impossible to have a smooth transition from a “natural law”, expressed in an analytic formula, and the observation of the behavior of those tiny “objects”. At some point we thus need an abstract transition that creates a quantum. Despite physics can only state that there is the quantum, incapable to “explain” the why, we may well say that this transition is induced by a transfer of information, e.g. by a measurement. In other words, the objects and their phenomenal appearance is dependent on the measurement, whether this is imposed by another particle without an experimenter or by the apparatus and the actions of the experimenter. Before measurement, however, particles are not particles at all. There are only waves of probability. That transition is called decoherence. The whole arrangement is thus one of information. The quantum introduces one of the conditions of identifiability: discontinuity. The other condition is memory, which we find only in the String Theory. As we already said above, the greatest defect in Standard Theory is the architectonic flaw that it conflates causality and information, which in turn is a consequence of its representational characteristic.

Nevertheless, from all of that it should be clear that quantum physics developed a strikingly different tool-set as compared to that of statistical mechanics. There, particles—atoms or molecules in this case—are conceived as tiny billiard balls, almost without spatial extension. Initially, statistical mechanics did not know anything about information. Yet, statistical mechanics introduced another important perspective into the realm of potential expressions: the population. In some way, we may conceive the whole 19th century as the century of the discovery or invention of the population, from the French Revolution to Darwin to Helmholtz.

In quantum physics, particularly in String Theory, the modernist assumptions collapse.

  • 1. There are no objects independent of measurement, quite to the contrary, measurement is a form of information transfer that induces the way how the microscopic world transits=transforms=decoheres into a macro world.
  • 2. There is no independence at all.
  • 3. The basic mode of description is based on probability, that is information and risk.
  • 4. Induced generation and probabilistic relation supersede existential claims.
  • 5. Computability is a matter of context and performing interaction.
  • 6. There is no complete analytic, i.e. symbolic description for the transition from micro to macro.

So, if the modernist belief set has been already seriously corroded even in physics, why should we continue to stick to it in a field like urbanism? We’d suggest to drop existentialist attitudes completely, concerning both theoretical as well as performative and material aspects, and with it all the anti-cultural procedures like representational top-down planning.

Some important questions could be derived here. What else can we learn from the example of quantum physics, particularly for urbanism? Is there a “standard model” in urbanism, drawing mainly on existential claims like objecthood? How would a stringy theory of the Urban look like? How could we assimilate a probabilistic perspective into our methodological setup?

At least one aspect of those open issues could be addressed right now. We have seen that in quantum physics the separation between observer and the observed breaks down. The reason is that measurement takes place on the same scale, within the same actualization or form of matter. Measurement itself introduces indistinguishability. The result is known as wave-particle dualism, linked by decoherence. And it is probably not the last strangeness physicists are enforced to handle, just think about the yet unknown quality of what they call dark matter and dark energy.

Well, the similarity of scale and kind is not limited to physics. We find it everywhere in cultural studies. Unfortunately enough, it is rarely recognized at all. It is still to be unleashed what decoherence could mean for cultural and urban studies, but for sure there are similar kinds of processes, strictly limiting what can be measured. Probably, we could even say that the self-referentiality introduced by the sameness of measurement scales shows up as quantum effect as well. One of the possible candidates for a cultural “quantum” is nothing else than the sign as it is formulated by Peircean semiotics. For “quantum” just means that there is no countability, nor identifiability beyond it. Probably, we have to be aware of “quantum effects”, mediated by different “particles”, in any cultural study.

Indeed, the Peircean sign is fully compatible with probabilistic foundations, for it marks a continuous field of actional densities, from which eventually an actual vector or reference is taken. This way we could say that Peircean signs and the signs in the Urban are isomorph (at least). The urban quantum-sign raises the issue of the symbol, which is often treated in a rather unsuitable manner, mainly in the context of the question of identity or identification and the related issue of historical continuity. Yet, the topics of the symbol, there symbolicalness and symbolability we have to postpone to a later piece (without forgetting about the probabilistic foundations).

7. Revisiting the Core

After this small excursion into the world of physics, which allowed us to harvest some promising conceptual tools, we return to our starting point, the topic of approaching a theory about the Urban. This we sketched by the following two questions:

  • 1. How to speak about the Urban?
  • 2. How to actualize the Urban Games?

The first of those questions could be said to relate to the field between the conceptual and the performative13, while the second would link the performative with the story-telling and the political. Again, the two questions or perspectives do certainly not delineate ideally (geometrically) separated fields. We already mentioned that Urban Games comprise language games. Additionally, they work from different directions, creating a complex dynamics. As a suitable metaphor for this we may cite fluid dynamics, especially of free streams such like the Gulf stream.

Figure 6a: The Gulf stream in the North Atlantic, departing from the east coast of America westward towards Europe (source). Red color means high differential velocity. A lot of vortices can be seen in a highly complex dynamics, creating patterns of mutual embedding.

Figure 6b. Vortices in a turbulent stream. As in case of the Gulf steam, there is no clear border, i.e. no separability between two mixing streams.

Let us focus the first issue for now, the mode and the possibility of explications as it is constrained by conceptual tools on various levels.

From previous work and the results achieved here so far we can fix some basic requirements for the explication of the model layer from figure 1.

Table 2: Basic requirements for a theory about the Urban.

Aspect

Characteristics

type of processes

differentiation, behavior

methodological frame

probabilistic, generative

architectonic constraint

satisfying self-referentiality

internal structural dynamics

construction by elementarization

The four basic types of structural model perspectives that match these requirements are

Growth

establishing persistent form (“Gestalt”, morphos) by attachment (either positive or negative), or more general, by a change in magnitude in some property (or properties); we may call it morphodiny (grk. dino, abstractly: to give, provide)

Networks

describing the form of matter capable for re-arranging information;

Associativity

for the transition from probabilistic processes to propositional statements, i.e. the basis for symbolification and encoding/decoding;

Complexity

for pattern creation and morphogenesis, i.e. the transition from order to organization as a self-stabilizing process.14

All of them we introduced in previous essays, yet in a slightly different context, which means that in the future we will provide updates to them such to match better the wording of urbanism.

These structural models share four eminently important properties: (1) They are all relational. (2) They are all built from “elements”. (3) These elements in turn provide docking sites for the even more abstract conceptual layer and the metaphysical attitudes behind them. (4) They allow to derive anticipatory models that directly engage with operational issues.

It is crucial to understand that these four categories are simply different perspectives, or language games, useful for talking about differentiation. Whenever we find a process that produces something different, whether as novelty or as some kind of alteration, we may take one of these perspectives. Yet, we won’t be able to talk about form and the “becoming different” without those categories as a group. In general terms, these four categories are to be conceived again as elements that we can use to construct a space (an aspectional one!), or likewise a scale that allows to compare things

A second group of categories is needed to take the perspective of the process itself. We may distinguish the basic qualities in the arrangement of matter and information, which is nothing else than the orchestration of dynamical change.

The scale is actually being built along the differential weight of matter or information. If the weight of matter or plans (symbolic quasi-matter) is more pronounced than that of information, then we call it usually development, if the matter becomes less relevant, we find either evolution, or still further down in the same direction, learning;

Thus we can see that form (morphos), adaptation and behavior build an almost continuous space, and thus, quite important, also a subjectivating scale to describe the dynamics of things. In turn, talking about changing things by just referring to one of these perspectives, whether on the objectivating or on the subjectivating scale, always must be rated as a inadmissible reduction.

Note that the “Relational Turn” is completely incompatible with modernism and its belief set. From a modernist perspective, the particular role of the above mentioned four structural perspectives remains simply invisible, for it is even impossible to talk about the dynamic effects and emergences of relationality within the limits of modernist concepts. Interestingly, throughout the 20ieth century, more and more scientific disciplines discovered the necessity for  relational turn, from biology (Rashevsky, 1935, Rosen 1991 [28]) thru economics to architecture (Lorenzo-Hemmer [29]).

In order to support the transition into the are of anticipatory models, the structural models have to support some quite essential processes. Any of them has to…

  • — be formalizable,
  • — be capable to provide scales for different kinds of measurement ,
  • — be operationalizable for actual construction of measurements,
  • — allow for active comparatistics.

Without support for these constructive properties a structural model would be hardly of any value.

Figure 7: Three methodological layers. The model layer showing only the main types of structural models. The other component of the model layer, the anticipatory models are not shown.

All four types of structural models can be used also for describing the transition between the material and the informational. Interestingly, they apply both with respect to the empirically observable processes as well as the methodological concerns, where they serve the transfer from concepts to action.

Finally, we can fill the model layer with more concrete aspects, creating something like an associative field. Of course, and in striking contrast to the short list of structural models, this field is by far not complete. Actually, on the level of anticipatory modeling we find already the influence of the unlimited number of forms of life. This does not mean that a particular form of life would provide an infinite number of possible moves. Quite the contrary is true. However, it definitely does mean that the forms of life can’t be constrained, or limited in their number, apriori, or top-down. Anything else results directly in chauvinist or imperialist patterns.

Figure 8: A possible explication of the model layer, now showing a mixture of structural and anticipatory models as an associative field.

Concepts like the aspection, the choreosteme, or the theory of theory can be used as conceptual tools, but they are also conceptual categories.15 Some of its components are still quite abstract and strictly non-representative. Thus, the intermediate “model” layer in its entirety may be also conceived as a multinomial or multi-perspectival generic model.

Similar to the model layer the explication could be done for both the conceptual layer as well as the operational domain. Together they probably establish what Foucault once called the field of proposals and propositions. Since we here are interested in and arguing towards the Urban, this field also represents a possible instantiation of “Urban Reason”. We just should not forget that story-telling, the playful delocutionary speech-act, provides the nodes and strings and knots that will bind everything together.

Once we manage to be able to keep all three areas alive simultaneously, whether we are engaged in political operations or in philosophical concepts, we can expect to understand the schemata that can be used to perform a Critique of Urban Reason. From this vantage point, finally, again being conscious about delocution, the playful story-telling, we can start to think the construction of the city. Probably only from this perspective.

8. Tokens, Types

If we consider the four basic constituents of the model layer also as major mechanisms of actual differentiation processes, then an interesting issue appears. Given the enormous variety of urban forms, concerning morphology, material and immaterial organization, and cultural processes, we could address the question whether we could derive a classificatory scheme, or distinguish certain types.

One could think of at least two purposes of such a classification, albeit both are concerned with the topos of the “Urban in Time”. We may for instance ask about the evolution of Urban life forms, in a similar way as it is done in biology with respect to natural evolution. This purpose would be directed to the past, putatively allowing for a better understanding of the history of the city and of urban arrangements.

David Shane proposed an approach to the description of forms that could well be called a hermeneutical one, thus being closely related to this evolutionary attitude [29]. When describing the forms he derives abstract elements of construction, attaches empirical instances and distils an evolutionary sequence of the form of the city. He distinguishes Archi Città, Cine Città and Tele Città. Each of them is characterized by a particular cultural setup that precipitates in typical morphological structures. Thus, Shane is able to build a kind of metric for “measuring” by the distinguished elements of “citiness”. These elements comprise two morphological forms on the level of built matter: armatures and enclaves. Highly interesting, however, he also includes Foucaultian heterotopias as a third element of citiness. He even proceeds differentiates heterotopia induced by material crisis from heterotopia of immaterial illusion. The heterotopia comprises incommensurable components, hence it is nothing else than an instance of the opposing forces that is a major element of complexity. Shane’s approach clearly exceeds for instance Tom Mayne’s approach who distinguishes different kinds of armatures and maneuvers in order to build a morphological taxonomy. Mayne also invokes the concept of complexity, yet, he doesn’t arrive at a comparable level of generality. Not quite surprising, Mayne’s work tends to the figural and representational. One of his main clients is the federal government of the U.S.A.

Both, Shane and Mayne are heading for a taxonomy. Shane’s achievement in his “Recombinant Urbanism” [30] is more abstract and thus more general than Mayne’s “Combinatory urbanism” [31]. Mayne got caught by the primacy of aspects of form, to which he assigns behavior, rather than the opposite as it is the case in Shane’s approach. For Shane, behavior comes first. Thus, Shane is able to reflect about city theory while Mayne provides case studies. These are beautiful to look at, but there is no theory, even as Mayne tries to distil a “method” from it as common denominator.

Yet, even Shane does not arrive at a theory of differentiation. He just describes it, almost in a phenomenological manner. Underpinning the description with plausible arguments does not yield a theory of differentiation. Hence, Shane’s approach is still not suitable to derive a taxonomy of city-contexts. But his results are perfectly compatible with the abstract structure we propose here.

Another “problem” with the approach as proposed by Shane is its tendency towards global interpretations. An extension of his work would be needed focusing more on the dynamic mechanisms. Together then it would be possible to create a classification scheme for urban neighborhoods that would tell the urbanist which “species” he is dealing with.

The second purpose of a classification or a taxonomy is not directed to the past, but rather more to the future. The model of differentiation could provide a means to anticipate struggles and to organize precisely the differentiation in the desired manner, without getting caught by inherent limitations due to metaphysical blindness. The paradigmatic example for such a potential deadlock is provided by the case of Singapore, as we have discussed in the previous essay. Another example is Mumbai, where the city administration imposes embryological principles onto a self-organizing urban body. This creates a deep mismatch since the city itself is at least on the verge of developing the capability for learning, that is, a very dynamic form of differentiation (at least in some parts of it).

This brings us to the application perspective.

9. The Application Perspective

In this last section we will show some examples for the “binding problem” regarding the relation between theory and operation.

So far we have introduced the abstract structure that is necessary for binding theory, models and operations together. We are convinced that without this structure, that any neglect of this structure leads to pathological consequences, particularly with respect to all those domains that deal with observations from the social or cultural realm. These consequences could be labelled the “binding problem”. Note that there is no particular addressee, since it concerns any concept and any operation, whether on the level of urban politics or on the level of implementing urban infrastructure.

Philosophical stances develop their specific binding deficit, think for instance of analytical philosophy where one can find the dismissal of metaphysics, while political operations may induce likewise instances of another kind of typical binding deficit. Common to all these deficits is some structural inconsistency, or even internal contradiction concerning central issues of the respective stance, often appearing as kind of (pseudo-)paradox.

Metaphysics is involved in this binding whether one is aware of it or not. We have argued that metaphysical belief sets constrain what can be perceived, recognized, expressed and conceived. Now let us see how such belief unfolds in actual reality.

The examples we choose for this essay are the supply of water and energy, and the movement that called itself “Metabolism”.

Water

One of the most striking examples is provided by the challenge of providing clean water in urban areas of developing countries. The problem is usually rendered into terms of necessary investment and uncontrolled growth of slums, accompanied by corruption or other forms of weakness in government. Together, these factors seem to prevent the installation of a sufficiently stable system of water pipes. Well, the actual problem, however, is precisely this rendering. Why? 

If we resort to the results discussed above we immediately can ask about the theoretical conditions that lead to that rendering. These conditions have nothing to do with the living conditions or political conditions. It is the metaphysical belief in central control and the belief in the possibility of rationalist, if not even deterministic planning that is creating the visible part of the problem.16 Central control as well as the belief in rigorous planning are both top-down approaches, hence they are applicable only to development, yet not to open evolution. Development, on the other hand, requires a fixation of side-conditions, which results in a particular model of differentiation: the abstract embryo. (Again: note that the biological type serves as a structural sibling, not even as a model!) Actually, we all should stop talking exclusively about “urban development”. Concerning the differentiation processes it is quite urgently to be completed with “urban evolution” and “urban learning”.

Usually, in urban differentiation processes the fixation of side-conditions is not possible, whether due to ethical or practical reasons. The result is that the problem persists, and with it the suffering of the people, the examples are countless, particularly all around in Africa. It is both a scandal as well as it is ridiculous that provision of water has been declared to be the major problem of the urban areas in the South.

Dropping the belief in planning, control and development immediately directs the attention to local solutions. Any local solution for material resources need an identifiable source, available storage and the organization of flows. Everybody can see the material arrangements of that basic setup. It is not an anonymous flow anymore. Regarding water, all of that can be established—astonishingly enough—in a strictly local manner, even in less developed areas.

Recently, Najiyah Alwazir described a project called RAINS that was conducted in Sanaa, the capital of Jemen. The project designed a solution for the problem of water shortage, which is a quite pressing issue in the mostly arid climate of Jemen. As a developing or even “underdeveloped” country, Jemen does not provide a stable, pervasive and abundant infrastructure. According to RAINS, the core element of the solution is thus the installation of appropriate private=local storage capacities, since in Sanaa there is a short raining period two times a year. Storage devices can be made almost from everything, especially however from various sorts of plastic. Yet, storing water for months is not without problems. For instance, it needs to be heated which requires additional energy.

But where to take water from locally, when there is none, if the raining season doesn’t provide enough water, or huge storage devices can’t be realized? Well, it is not true that there is no water. There is almost always water around, even in arid areas of the tropical or subtropical latitudes. It is in the air. The respective technology is blastingly simple. Basically, it is a windmill that creates pressure in the closed circuit of a heat pump, in other contexts also known as refrigerator. (read the respective story here). Nicely enough, the technology can be scaled, from hi-tech to low-tech, from small to big. A mid-sized turbine produces up to 1000 liters per day. Yet, low-tech turbines would work as well, requiring only very little investment, besides the fact that it creates lots of workplaces.

Without any exaggeration we can say that if there will be (is?) any scarcity of water (or energy, as we will see in the next section), then exclusively due to modernist stupidity or cynical politics. Scenarios like that imagined in the projective documentation about the consequences of global warming, “Les temps changent,” [32] are complete nonsense, since they mechanically recite the catastrophe against which there is allegedly no measure that society, i.e. the centrally administered state could take.

Water is not only an essential resource for living beings. The principle “water from air” can be integrated into any kind of architecture in order to use it as the basis of passive cooling. It should be clear that such infrastructural solutions become thinkable only if the modernist belief set is left behind.

Energy

Not only in developing countries, or the urban areas in the South, problems prevail due to the addiction to modernist belief sets. In industrialized countries there is a quite similar issue.

Currently, countries like Germany or Switzerland are propagating the so-called “Energy Turn” (official grm.: “Energiewende”), meaning that the required energy supply should be organized through so-called “regenerative sources” (which actually is a mis-nomer), that is from wind energy and solar energy. The problem imposed by this change is that the individual source is both rather small and rather volatile regarding its output, as compared with large power plants.

The modernist “solution” has been propagated as the so-called “smart grid”. A lot of computers are thought to be needed to distribute the electricity from many small sources and to minimize the peak-capacities, using the existing grid. Yet, smart grids do not change the principle for distributing the electrical energy at all: it remains centralized.

Thinking locally leads to a completely different solution, quite analogous to the water story. We need local producers, which in this case is simply the solar panel on the roof. And we need some storage, in other words batteries. In fact, what can be forecasted is a whole new culture of energy storage, across many scales. Fortunately, the market already started to offer such storage devices. IBC Solar offers devices for individual buildings, and ABB is working on large scale storage devices. There is also a solution involving methane and fuel cells in a closed loop system. The most funny thing, however, is the possibility to create methane, the main component of mineral gas, directly from the CO2 from air and hydrolyzed water (descriptions in german, in engl.). The tendency is the same as in the case of water: decentralization, and democratization, emergence of local infrastructures for storage and distribution. Astonishingly, the involved chemical reaction is known for more than 100 years, and wind power is an equally traditional source of energy. It was modernist thinking preventing its appearance on the engineers’ (and investors) radar. And nowadays, they again think of it only in large, expensive, technically difficult to handle installations, which therefore would have to be administered and run following the paradigm of centralization.

It is clear that the result could be a completely different kind of organization for the grid and a completely different kind of differentiation processes. Bottom-up processes lead automatically to the emergence of cluster- or cell-like organization.17 Such an organization not only automatically provides redundancy. It also will create suitably designed and unforeseeable business opportunities on the fly, which in ecology is called niche creation. To large parts it will be privately owned (on the level of cells), just the overarching informational organization may be provided by institutions. Such, institutions become clients rather than remaining providers. It is clear, that only in such a bottom-up organized energy culture we will see a true market for usable energy differences, quite in contrast to the oligopolistic (at best) fake we have to deal with today.

Most important, however, replacing top-down with bottom-up ultimately results in a change of metaphysical attitudes. Away from the orientation towards the lithosphere, turning around towards the solar stream of usable energy. In one of the next essays we will discuss this in more details by means of reviewing an upcoming book about the issue.

Metabolism

As a third example for illustrating the binding problem regarding the relation between theory and operation we will briefly visit the idea of metabolism, or organicism in a wider perspective, with regard to architecture and urbanism.

Metabolism is a biological concept. It describes the capability of living cells or even whole organisms to grow, to differentiate and to maintain their structure. Etymologically, metabolism means “a change”, that is the observation of a particular change. Metabolic processes are observable as large variety of well-orchestrated changes, that form a dynamic “equilibrium”, i.e. a phenomenologically more or less stable macroscopic appearance, which however rests on myriads of changes on the microscopic level. Yet, it must be understood, that metabolic processes are dissipative processes, meaning that they create a surplus of entropy in order to build up structures, that is, negentropy. Creating a surplus of entropy requires quite excessive consumption of energy differences, turning them into heat radiation.

Above all, metabolism is not simply a particular change. Its orchestration requires a preceding structure, including the respective functional compartments. And this change is devised to a particular function, the synthesis of new morphological structures as well as their break-down and recycling. Such, biological metabolism denotes “change within structures that leads to change of morphology”. This does not mean, however, that the shortcut “metabolism is morpho-change” is allowed. Rather we have to consider that we have different levels of integration with respect to the changes, linked together by emergence and deposits—just as in any complex system.

The idea of metabolism was by no means revolutionary at that time in the beginnings of the 1960ies. It just extended a line of thinking that prevailed in architecture and urbanism at least for 30 years in advance. In architecture and urbanism, the idea of organicism appeared the first time in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, already in the first or second decade of the 20th century. Yet, his notion of organicism had only little to do with organisms, or the Kantian organon. Wright called himself a modernist, and such his assimilation aimed for things like “super-nature,” designs better than nature. He tried to extract principles that almost naturally would lead to good design. All of this is utterly naïve, of course.

A next important step was the adoption of the concept of the organism into the Charta of Athens in 1933. Planners obviously felt overwhelmed by the complexity and vitality of cities, and perhaps by their own ignorance about that, that the notion of “city as organism” has been quite popular. Additionally, corporeality has been subject of heroism all around the developed countries throughout the 1930ies. A bit later Sigfried Giedion (1941) referenced organisms explicitly as a template for built architecture in his famous “Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition”. Yet, growth is not developed as a concept there, and time is conceived just as “history”, but rather not as an intrinsic result of the Urban, something which had to wait until Aldo Rossi’s (1984) critique of modernist conceptions of cities and architecture.

Yet, a city is not an organism, of course. Despite both entities, cities as well as organisms, can be said to be complex entities, the actual mechanisms are quite different. Simply spoken, in a city, we do not find a Golgi-apparatus, and in the cell we don’t find  mayors or administration.

This topic appeared also in the discourse about urban morphology. In the recent two decades or so, the quarrel between the various schools on urban morphology happened to become really serious. The Italian school around Caniggia traditionally embraced the idea of the organism as kind of a template for thinking about urban form. Yet, they didn’t used it as a template for deriving a theoretical position, they approached it more in a sympathetic mood. This caused a fierce critique by Michael Conzen [12], one of the popes of the area:

In a recent issue of Urban Morphology, Nicola Marzot offered an interpretation of my approach to urban morphology as compared to that of Caniggia who ‘equated human history and natural history. Each entailed th processes of birth, development, maturity and death. And there was a clear implication of the products of human endeavours.’ If Caniggia really said that he would have committed an obvious absurdity, for the existence of an urban settlement is a fundamentally different thing from the life of a human individual. (p.78)

Yet, Conzen too has obviously been completely unable to derive a theoretical position himself from his almost infinite catalog of particulars. Of course, he is a pope, and as such he could not do without installing the need for exegesis.

What is needed is a suitable binding between predictive models that are used in operations and structural models that allow a transition or integration towards the conceptual level. In fact, and quite unfortunately, up today and with the exception of the approach we proposed earlier, even the concept of complexity wasn’t presented in a useful form so far. One of the dramatic effects of misunderstood organicism as envisioned by the Athens Charta was the program of de-densifying the core of the cities. Of course, the opposite, densification, can’t be limited to just the material aspects as for instance in case of the Banlieues of Paris (F), which additionally follows the crystalline growth model. In the context of the Urban, densification has to be understood always as an issue of mediality. Media in turn require densified semiosis, which will emerge only on the basis of sufficient diversity of life forms within the same physical space.

In both cases, with Wright and with the Athens Carta, we can observe a binding problem in the theory work, leading to a literal, representational adoption of concepts from another domain. As Girard puts it,

one should avoid allegory, which consists in replacing the object with its metaphor. ([33] p.136, his emphasis)

What is missing in both cases, in Wright’s writing as well as in the Athens Charta, is a proper concept of differentiation18 that could have been used as a binding element.

Before the background of the discourse about sustainability19 and regenerative cities20 the ideas of the Japanese Metabolists from the early 1960ies gain increasing attention. Koolhaas & Obrist are just the most recent ones publishing an anthology about them, though probably the most serious one, as it consists of lots of interviews with still living former proponents of the group and with sketches of drawings.

What is this Japanese “Metabolism” about? In a recent interview with a German newspaper about his book Koolhaas praises their intention [34]:

Kiyonori Kikutake explains why at that time they haven’t been satisfied by the time-honored laws about form and function any more, and they tried to transfer the life cycle of birth and growth to town planning and construction and architecture.21

If nothing else, then this citation definitely demonstrates Koolhaas’ interest in a theory of differentiation for urbanism and architecture. Yet, it also uncovers Koolhaas’ own deficits, which he shares with many other “experts” of the field. On his conscious radar only expansion appears, albeit in his practice he applied embryological principles several times, e.g. in case of Casa da Musica.

Kiyonori Kikutake [35] writes

Metabolism” is the name of the group […]. We regard human society as a vital process […]. The reason why we use such a biological word, the metabolism, is that, we believe, design and technology should be a denotation of human vitality.

And Kisho Kurokawa specifies (cited after [36] p.81):

…if spaces were composed on the basis of the theory of the metabolic cycle, it would be possible to replace only those parts that had lost their usefulness and in this way to contribute to the conservation of resources by using buildings longer.

Later, Kurokawa extended the Metabolists’ approach into a theory of “symbiosis” to be applied to urbanism, architecture and their relation to nature. Yet, despite their approach—as far it is conveyed in their writings—is certainly sympathetic, it is not so much more than that. It provides an early support of the idea of sustainability, but there are neither structural nor predictive models, there is no theory of differentiation and no reflection about metaphysical conditions. There is just a fluffy use of a biological metaphor and the operations, that is, building as operation and politics of building. Not quite surprisingly, they conceive of themselves also as modernists, publishing the “last manifesto” in urbanism. Looking to their built matter, it becomes clear that the Metabolists’ approach is deeply infected by cybernetics. The implied model of differentiation and morphogenesis that they applied is close to crystalline growth, as it is demonstrated by the Nagakin Capsule Tower from 1972. It looks like an unorderly grown crystal. Thus it fits to the overall impression that in case of the Capsule Tower (and its many replicates throughout Japan) the core idea of the Metabolists never got realized. Not a single capsule has been replaced. Crystals do not replace parts of themselves, dependent on the physical circumstances they either grow forever, fall into everlasting stasis or get destroyed. At least Kikutake’s private “Sky House” has been slightly modified throughout its life cycle ([37], p.17). But there is nothing particular “metabolizing” with it.

In both type of buildings, the communal as well as the solitary one, “metabolism” has been implemented on the physical level. We have to rate this just as an indication of missing abstraction. Above we said that the shortcut “metabolism is morpho-change” isn’t allowed at all, since this would neglect the emergence relation between morpho-structures and producer changes in the complex system “cell”, for which biologists developed a particular perspective of metabolism. The Metabolists neglect precisely this layering of the complex system. Such, however, the Metabolists’ theory is nothing else than a metaphor, victimized to flatness by modernist reduction.

In some way, this renders the Metabolists that always claimed to propose a “utopia” as late descendants of the idea of the “Ideal City”. As the label already conveys, it’s just idealism, which always suffers from the double illusion implied by all top-down approaches.

Japanese Metabolism headed for adaptivity. Such they have been years ahead of the mainstream. Yet, the honourable intention haven’t been backed by structural models, there are no predictive models present in their approach, no abstraction towards a theory of differentiation, no reflection about the conditionability. Well, okay, even philosophy wasn’t developed far enough, Deleuze still breeding on the foundations of his philosophy. And cell biology itself has been completely absorbed by cybernetics, as one can see in the works of Monod. It is not our intention to blame anybody here. But it must be clear, that the Japanese Metabolism could not be transferred into our times due to its structural deficiencies.

10. Urban Strings

In an interview about his S,M,L,XL, conducted in 2001, Koolhaas mentioned that

“Compared with the metropolises of the industrial nations, Lagos is 50 to 100 years ahead.“[38]22

Given the seemingly chaotic condition of Lagos, the failure of its official urban services and organizations, in other words, its immaterial infrastructures, that seems like a bold and weird statement. Yet, Koolhaas addresses nothing less than a change in the metaphysical setup.

“We have been interested in the fact that at the one hand all organizational systems fail, on the other hand, however, the city nevertheless is functioning. […] The reason for that being that the inhabitants organize themselves in micro-systems.”23

Bottom-up organizational processes are not compatible with the major claims of the modernist belief set, particularly the idea of independence. Self-organization starting on the micro-level requires the metaphysical primacy of relation.

As we mentioned already several times, here and in previous essay, our impression is that Koolhaas is clearly interested in the processual aspects of differentiation, where others not even got a grip to the fact that we are in need of a metaphysics of differentiation. As a guest editor of an issue of the “wired”, he mentioned [39]:

“Where space was considered permanent, it now feels transitory—on its way to becoming.”

In an earlier interview from 1994, he explicitly referred to a characteristic of complex systems, opposing forces, denying the economically and politically motivated”Taylorization” into defined fields of function. Regarding the central station in Lille, a mega-structure Koolhaas was engaged to generate, he relied on the “alchemia of mixed use”, something that he had been cherishing in his famous “Delirious New York”.

The understanding of complex, self-organizing entities differs dramatically from linear entities. Analytic and thus a comprehensive symbolic representation, e.g. as some kind of a “law” is possible only for the latter. Trying to do the same for the former usually ends in some kind of disaster. For in that case anticipation based on the assumption of linearity inevitably fail at any point in time for whatever reason, that is for no particular reason, despite the fact that for some time the model could have been working quite well. Complex entities can’t be controlled, as there is no law, there are just mechanisms, actualized in a manifold of mutually penetrating populations. The best one can try is to tune the side-conditions of the respective processes. Yet, there is no guarantee for a particular outcome.

In other words, if urbanism claims to respect the moral and ethical conditions of the inhabitants (see for instance this, then traditional attitudes to planning and development have to be dropped. Respect for people is incompatible to the mere concept of development. Implementing plans is always and necessarily accompanied by violence, even if that violence is not visible from within the plan.

Yet, if we talk about mechanisms, the question raises, which are the subjects of those mechanisms? Where to find them and how to talk about these mechanisms?

If we consider the case of models of complex systems, such as the Gray-Scott-model, we’d probably distinguish certain elementary species. In case of the Urban, these species can’t be representational or even material, I guess, as it is the case in those models, which assume them to be particular kinds of molecules.

So, we may adjust our question slightly. We now can ask, what are the elementary, abstract species that we need to build appropriate models of the Urban?

Approaching this question requires a framework, and a reasonable choice is that of differentiation, from the metaphysical level down to the operational and back. Previously we identified three levels of actualization for differentiation, which can be rendered into different forms. The basic form is certainly the trinity of development, evolution and learning. Yet, there are transpositions of this basic theme; any of those would be worthwhile to be subject for further investigation, yet, we just list them here:

  • – embryos, populations (or brains) and evolution (minds as hosts of ideas),
  • – plans, probabilization and mediatization,
  • – automation, participation and (abstract) creativity,
  • – form, process and virtualization,
  • – the particular, the species and the general (concepts).

These basic aspects all have to be thought of as principles that actualize exclusively in local contexts. The geographic space of a city could be consequently thought of as a highly dynamic and volatile patchwork of such actualizations, and each of those could be assigned to one of the three levels or types of differentiation. This patchwork is by no means randomly arranged, of course. We have to think of it more in terms of said complex system, built from several components. Yet, again, in contrast to the simulated models, we should defy the temptation of assuming any kind of global rules for the interaction of the respective “species”.

Any possible pairing within the trinity of differentiation is inherently contradictory, albeit this contradiction is not a mutual one, it is a directed one. Embryos neither evolve nor do they learn. Learning, however, definitely comprises “embryonic” as well as “evolutionary” phases, without exhausting them. Inversely, while there is quite some play in learning processes, there is only little of it in evolutionary and almost none in embryonic processes.

Building upon notions from biology, even if we use it in a quite abstract way as structural schemata, immediately relate us to a number of objections. The most thorough ones have been posed by Anthony Giddens in his “Constitution of Society” (1986) regarding evolution. Yet, albeit Giddens is certainly right in criticizing the direct application or transfer of the biological theory about evolution into the realm of the social, his critique commits the same mistake (p.228). His image of evolution remains by far too naive, and partially even severely misunderstood, as to justify his objections against evolutionary theory and his final rejection. Nevertheless, he correctly emphasizes that talking about the realm of the social involves processes of largely “immaterial” signification. While such processes imply learning, it also remains true that this does not imply an incompatibility with a generalized theory of evolution. The same holds for adapting the notion of the embryo, or of growth. We just have to be always aware that these are modes of talking.

It is clear, that we can speak about differentiation only by also invoking probabilistic concepts. On the other hand, differentiation not only concerns individuals in their life history, but also as subjects of those differentiation processes.

This highlights an interesting issue, as play is eminently social and development is not less distinct a matter of automation. We can read the whole period of unfolding modernism, starting with the end of the Middle Ages, as a continued battle between participation and automation. In some way, cities and the Urban form of life provide just a further, upfolded field for the eternal contest between control and play, between constraints and overturn, between automation and participation. Yet, it is also true that it is the Urban as a life form that transformed battlegrounds into playing fields, thereby rendering the aterritorial into a local as well as a global social practice. Hopefully, it is the Urban and the respective life form that renders the nation and the underlying detrimental ideas insignificant.

The patches in the urban patchwork of various kinds of differentiation processes certainly influence each other, but it is an issue of future research to determine whether and to which grade the interaction of those differentiation processes can be arranged in separate classes.

So, let’s return to the question of the species. Probably it is quite reasonable to assume the species being subject to the mechanisms of the Urban to be just the instances of those three types of differentiation processes. In figure 7 above we introduced 4 types of structural models as candidates for solving the binding problem in theory works, namely growth, networks, associativity and complexity.

Result 1

This assemblage we now can simplify by subsuming it to the concept of differentiation as we have discussed it so far, of course, without dropping those four components, as they are growth, networks, associativity and complexity. Yet, this differentiation still resides in the realm of models, hence we have to call it “generic differentiation”. The abstract (meta-)structure suitable to overcome the binding problem regarding theories about cultural processes as well as their political instantiation would look like so:

Figure 9: Generic Differentiation as key element for solving the binding problem of theory works. Three things are important here: (i) the charts depicts the elementary module of a fluid moebioid fractal, since there is no separability between the three parts. They are mutually embedded into each other. (ii) “Concept” is a transcendent entity (see this for the argument). (iii) The brackets need to be conceived as the “realm of method”, which is something that we still have to accomplish (in one of the next essays). A similar structure may be suitable for the foundation of a planning theory (also to be discussed in some future essay).

Note, that the basic metaphysical stance of this methodological structure builds upon the “probabilistic relational”, which directly derives from the (Deleuzean) transcendental difference as soon as we care about any kind of application, or rule following. Deleuze bound the repetition as sort of a still transcendental application closely to his concept of the transcendental difference.

The field of models can be summarized by the differential (in the Deleuzean sense) of the four basic types of designs, namely growth, networks, associativity and complexity. Any of them leads to some kind of “change,” whether as a horizontal difference or a vertical differential. Else, any of them is capable to “associate” or to “grow”, they all are kind of networks (just of various degree of fluidity), and they all refer to complexity, and last but not least they all are (basic) forms for the description of the transition from mainly material to mainly immaterial contexts (material/immaterial here used in the common sense as a first conceptual approach, yet, actually there is no categorical difference between them: just think about the quasi-materiality of symbols and the form of energy in String theory). We can’t delve further into this matter here, but I think it will be highly rewarding to develop a vocabulary and expressions in order to establish the respective space that then could be called the “Space of Generic Differentiation”.

Result 2

Above, in the context of figure 1, we already mentioned that this scheme as we have developed it starting with figure 1 up to here is only the atomic module of a fluid moebioid fractal. (not the city or any other empiric entity is meant to be a fractal here, but rather the dynamics of theory itself!) This very same module is part of any theory work, yet, both the weights of the three parts as well as the parameters for the mapping into the more mature forms must be expected to be very different.

Such, we finally arrived at a conceptualization for theory work that is applicable to any science, even to philosophy. One of the nice things is that it makes the categorical difference between hard and social sciences to vanish, without neglecting the actual differences. But we definitely removed the existentialist contamination or even intoxication from the socio-mental landscape.

Result 3

A small remark about the philosophical consequences shall be allowed here. We already mentioned, thru result 1 and result 2, that the structure shown in figure 9 above would represent the basic module for the category of change. Of course, we do not conceive change as something that could be objectively determined, because there is something in the outer world that cold be called “pure change”. We propose neither to follow Kant in his favor for physicalist aprioris, nor the external (=naive) realists.

Instead, our category of change “socializes” the Kantian approach. As such it complements the structure that we called the choreostemic space. That space describes the fundamental conditionability of becoming, without telling anything about the actual mechanisms to move around in this space. The category of change (as the moebioid fractal) focuses the individual and his actual moves, that is its use of concepts and its corporeal activities. After the linguistic turn there is no space for physics any more, regarding the realm of human affairs. The apriori is not space and time, it is generic differentiation, concepts and the political corporeality.

Note that time is a language game about the scale of measurement for changes. If there is no change, or if change is not determinable, then there is no time. Examples for that are the “life form” of the photon or black holes, where no signal can be transferred any more, because photons get fixed.

Result 4

Above, in the chapter about String Theory, we said that it describes the form of energy, where different forms lead to different kinds of matter. Could we assimilate or even transfer the structure of that theory into a critical theory about the Urban?

Well, the first thing for which we have to identify a parallel is the notion of energy. Probably the hottest candidate for a similar role with regard to the Urban, that is for culture, is mediality. Like in the case of energy, density plays a crucial role for it (cf. [40]). All of the four components of our generic differentiation are strongly dependent on mediality, induced by densification processes. Changing levels, this holds true even for generic differentiation itself, as part of the theoretical structure as shown in figure 9.

We certainly can say that the form of mediality, that is, the way it gets instantiated, is able to create very different urban styles. Think about the difference between a Maya city, with some 70’000 inhabitants, where most of the mediality is related to religious affairs, and then about a typical radio city (Berlin 1939?), a TV city (Los Angeles), and an internet city (Seoul?). Or about Manhattan, where mediality found a quite unique instantiation, comprising interpersonal contacts and high density of heterotopias. Or about Shanghai with its extreme neon density.

As mediality gets actualized in different ways, so the proportion of our four components of the Generic Differentiation. Without any doubt one can find the traces of the establishment of a particular proportion, that is, the location  of the Urban Game in a particular “region” in the (yet to be formulated) space of Generic Differentiation, in the built assemblage of urban neighborhoods, as well as in its individual and characteristic “urban look & feel”. Or in other word, the “quality” of a particular “city”. Generic differentiation is somehow the inverse or a n abstract consequence of mediality.

Result 5

Here in this figure 9, much like for the figures above, we don’t provide any detail about the conceptual and the operational side. Of course, both areas comprise their own rich structure. Yet, in order to avoid the binding problem, both the concepts and the operations need to be compatible to the model layer, at least insofar as the three components develop suitable docking sites.

Result 6

The structure in figure 9 above can be read in two very different ways. This is not  just due to the possibility of different vantage points, its more a kind of a principle duality.

The first one derives from a choreostemic perspective. In this case the structure describes the forces that lead to particular trajectories in the choreostemic space, representing a particular style to think about the city and to act within it, whether as an individual or as a population.

The second way to conceive of the structure is as the Urban itself, as the life form of the Urban, that is as the actualization of a Foucaultian field of proposals. In both cases the three areas of concept, differentiation and operation are not at all separated or separable. They form a field of simultaneous activity throughout, with varying degrees of overlapping and mutual infection.

In such a setting, story-telling takes an important role: it creates a dynamic fabric from all the relational elements, the tiny Urban Strings, of which myriads over myriads are produced all the time, released to float around in unpredictable yet beautifully arranged patterns, spanning from logistics to anticipation and metaphysics, providing the mere possibility for Urban meaning and Urban Reason.24

Notes

1. As in the preceding essays, we use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept, in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective that refers to common sense understanding.

2.The terminus “speaking about” is by no means a trivial one. First, it implies that language is used and in turn we have to respect the transcendental role of language (for more details see here, and here). This has been not only the center point of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, it also resulted in a “revolution” throughout philosophy—unfortunately largely only in philosophy so far, the so-called “Linguistic Turn.” Particularly scientists are often quite forgetful about that. Secondly, “speaking about” also means that concepts have to be used. As we discussed in the context of the choreostemic space, concepts are also transcendent.

3. Here, philosophy is not understood as a domain that creates rules of a good life. Instead, we conceive it as a technique of thinking; as such it is helpful to explore the rules and principles of human affairs as a social process. Philosophy has no representational content!

4. Case of Bombay, informal workers.

5. For more details please the essays about modeling.

6. Previously we called such concepts “Strongly Singular Terms”. For details please refer to “Formalization and Creativity as Strongly Singular Terms”.

7. Concerning semiotics as always: CS Peirce.

8. Umberto Eco (2002): Semiotik der Theateraufführung. In: Wirth, Uwe (Hrsg.): Performanz. Zwischen Sprachphilosophie und Kulturwissenschaft. Frankfurt/M. S.262-276.

9. This is even true for the “hardest science” of all, physics. Even as physics benefits from the luxury of a stable external referent, though that referent has to be recognized as an unknown. This stability allows for a closed and quite fast loop between building and testing anticipatory models on the one hand, and inventing concepts on the other. This stability is possible only if the subject of the respective investigations is strictly a-historic, a-contextual and an-individual. Nevertheless it remains true that even the concepts of physics are at least partially dependent on the respective form of life. In sciences that deal with historic contingency like biology and all of the human sciences including architecture and urbanism, this stability is not present in principle.

10. Gilles Deleuze developed a dedicated counterdraft to these concepts, mainly in Difference & Repetition [18], A Thousand Plateaus [19], and Logic of Sense [20].

11. Note that even the discovery of the putative Higgs-Boson wouldn’t change much with regard to these open issues.

12. Usually, paradoxes are just a consequence of contradictions either in the metaphysical setup or in the course of their instantiation. Pseudo-paradoxes can be provoked also by choosing to few dimensions for the description of a problem. (for details see Deleuzean Move, footnote 3, and Vagueness: The Structure of Non-Existence.)

13. In German language the book “Performanz” edited by the semiotician Uwe Wirth [21]; unfortunately, I don’t know of any comparable work in English language.

14. Talking about complexity and story-telling may remind inevitably to Charles Jencks’ “jumping universe”, where he, among other things invokes the science of complexity and post-modernism as kind of twin-siblings. We clearly disassociate from Jencks’ writings, for multiple reasons so. It is nothing else than esoterism. He not only fails to accurately use the concept of fractals and chaos, he also misses to describe the mechanisms through which that “chaos” gets actualized. He does not provide any model for growth and differentiation, just using fractals as the universal weaponry. It is not really surprising that he finally ends up with cosmogonic phantasies.

We not only reject this kind of poor “theorizing,” but also post-modernism as a valuable way of talking about architecture or urbanism. Both suffer seriously from the binding problem, ending in wild speculations. It is telling that Jencks tries to proof the existence of a battle between modernist and post-modernist thinking. Nothing could be more unmasking. Above all, his crusade seems to be politically motivated. What we try instead in this series of essays is to provide a sound abstract structure for a value-free theory, from which a rich scape of models can be derived.

The post-modernist attitude of “not only function, but also fiction” (H.Klotz, The history of postmodern architecture, 1986) remains flat and representationalist, such as Hollein’s Juweliergeschäft (Wien 1972-1974). As Venturi once demonstrated, any arbitrary facade is semiotically active. Yet, the interpretation is not on the side of the designer! Thus, the “fiction” of the post-modernists are misplaced, and miles away from the story-telling Koolhaas is organizing for us and into which we may embed and integrate ourselves. In a later piece we will discuss the metaphysics, the hidden resentment and the limitations of post-modernism in greater detail.

15. Most of the items of that layer that is mediating between theory and operations we already discussed in earlier essays. Note that the set of possible terms of that map is far from being complete, albeit it certainly provides a useful cross-section. Links : choreosteme, complexity, model, orthoregulation, learning, memory, evolution, theory, aspection, network, probabilism, adaptivity, associativity, behavioral coating, operationalization.

16. Note that these beliefs are not to be mixed up with values. Values themselves are anyway highly problematic. Values are quite effective to abolish any discourse, since—by definition—they are not justifiable. Hence it is dangerous to invoke them “too early”. Actually, values that purport some representational attitude about a moral “good(ness)”, should be dropped altogether, except some last solitary and transcendental principle. According to Wilhelm Vossenkuhl [26], a German philosopher (mainly Kant, Wittgenstein and Ethics) and political scientist, all the other claimed values should be replaced by the techné of organizing discourses about the difficult challenges.

17. For details about morphogenesis through self-organization and complexity see this essay.

18. Differentiation not only includes morphogenesis sensu strictu, that is with regard to “purely” material aspects. It is anyway not possible to separate the material from the immaterial as the modernists and positivists always claimed. Differentiation and growth apply to the immaterial as well. In our essay about Koolhaas and Singapore we explicated three perspectives onto differentiation, for which we find varying grades of materiality: development, evolution and learning. also note that Deleuze’s work may be conceived as a philosophy of differentiation, whether concerning development, evolution or learning.

19. Sustainability that is backed by the the idea of protection [24,25,26]

20. Recently, Anna Leidreiter proposed to change perspective from mere sustainability (see previous footnote) to regeneration and “circular metabolism”. Despite we certainly agree with the intention, her approach is still suffering from the binding problem. There is no theory of differentiation, just a more or less metaphorical use of the concept of metabolism. Metabolism anyway is always organized by many overlapping “cycles”. It is naïve or even wrong that natural ecosystems run without producing waste, as she claims. In natural ecosystems there is a lot of decay, debris and sedimentation. How would debris look like with respect to the Urban?

Fitting to these suggestions is another point. Earlier we already pointed out that sustainability requires persistent adaptivity, and this in turn can be achieved only by complexity, that is self-organization, transition from order to organization, and emergence. As such it can’t be directly implemented, of course. In other words, planning and sustainability exclude each other.

21. German original: „Kiyonori Kikutake erklärt, warum ihnen die altehrwürdigen Gesetze der Form und Funktion damals nicht mehr ausreichten und sie versuchten, den Lebenszyklus von Geburt und Wachstum auf Städtebau und Architektur zu übertragen.“

22. German original: „Lagos ist den Metropolen der Industrienationen um 50 bis 100 Jahre voraus.“

23. German original : „Wir haben uns dafür interessiert, wie einerseits alle Organisationssysteme versagen, die Stadt aber andererseits trotzdem funktioniert. Das liegt daran, dass die Einwohner sich in Mikrosystemen organisieren.“

24. We are well aware of the fact that a concept like “generic differentiation”, particularly if it comprises growth and networks as sub-concepts, relates to the discourse about urban form, or urban morphology. For 15 years now, this discourse gets more and more organized through the journal “Urban Morphology”, issued by the International Seminar on Urban Form ISUF. This discourse suffers considerably from the binding problem, hence, any kind of naivity can be found there. Typically for the underdeveloped stage of the field is the fact that there are (still) at least two “schools”, inherited from times long ago (the French, the Italian, the Anglo-Saxon schools). Of course, there are also the great pioneers (pope-eneers?), celebrated individuals like Caniggia or Conzen. Yet, identifying the more valuable contributions requires (and deserves) a dedicated treatment. This will be the topic our next piece: How to speak about (urban) forms?

References

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۞

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