GAM 08

Editorial

Hans Gangoly

When the word “density” is brought up to architects, district planners, politicians, and occupants, their initial reactions will frequently be similar in that density is usually understood as pertaining to quantity—somewhere between “population density” and “building density”—and the replies will usually reflect consensus or opposition in equal measure. Consensus when it comes to the idea that new forms of coexistence must be contemplated in view of the increasing scarcity of resources in all respects. And opposition based upon the idea that this reconceptualized coexistence means shifting closer together. Similar to Roland Barthes’s lecture “Comment vivre ensemble” (How to Live Together), where he articulates the phantasm of “wanting to live alone while simultaneously, without an inherent contradiction, wanting to live together,”[1] various lines of action seem to concurrently exist side by side in the realm of urban togetherness. They, however, necessitate completely different readings and interpretations of density than those offered by an urban-planning potential determined by ratios and parameters. What is missing is an exploration of the qualitative aspects of density that draw their legitimacy from more than just the mere circumstance of providing an easy alternative to urban sprawl.

The point of departure for the current issue of GAM is therefore the notion of seeing the concept of “density” programmatically unfold through multifarious texts on “dense cities.” Taking the form of theoretical manifestos, historical analyses, urban development concepts, and architectural design approaches, these contributions are those deemed appropriate for newly fostering discussion—between architects, district planners, and residents—about new forms of urban togetherness above and beyond set parameters.

There is beyond doubt a need to move closer together. Not only for economic reasons, being that the infrastructure of sprawling landscapes cannot be weathered in the long term in these times of insufficient spending power within states and municipalities, but also for ecological reasons. More than half of energy consumption results from living space and motorized private transport. If we try to envision how more energy is expended for the current production of new living space than for fifty years of upholding these living quarters, then it is no wonder that the only decisive criterion to be taken into account is the location of real estate. Initially, this is the most important decision to be made. Since the year 2007 more than half of the world’s population has been living in cities, and by the year 2050 this number will have risen to upward of 70 percent. All the same, the city of the future will not be a smart, super-efficient artificial city in a green zone but, more likely, an existing European city that has been revamped, that experiences adaptation to modified societal needs and altered occupant-related structures, and that is densified in the process in ways that make sense. Therefore, the issue of spatial conditions in a densified city must be associated with urban design approaches that define forms which make us want to move closer together.

In this respect, the functional and also social blending within a city that has predominately manifested in ground-level zones and public space represents a pivotal qualitative aspect of urban density. This is because public space, its configuration, and the possibilities it presents for appropriation prove decisive for the acceptance of density. The more dense a city becomes, the more important is the quality of life within these public spaces, which in their role as spaces of agency offer an opportunity for atmospheric density to emerge as an expression of an urban lifeworld. So it follows that a vital architectural task consists in appropriately designing the transitions at the juncture of public and private space. For the design quality of plazas, street expanses, and green spaces cannot be separated from the building developments that define, delineate, and influence them. Public space requires an architectural framework; the role of architecture here moves far beyond the design of structural shells and also beyond the development of new, intelligent typologies.

GAM.08 Dense Cities fields the question as to how this active role played by architecture might look when planning and manifesting a state of “living closer together.” Which options might be developed in order to create a highly qualitative, multifaceted, and adaptable urban living environment for society’s different groups?

The contributions to the first section of this issue—“Manifestos”—introduce different positions in the architectural exploration of the topic “density,” ranging from design concepts, ecological factors, and new technologies to the sociopolitical dimension of urban planning. Thus it becomes clear within the first section of GAM.08 Dense Cities that urban density in the scope of mid-sized European cities can in no way be equated with the negatively connoted hyperdensity of megacities within Asia or South America. Instead, this urban density fosters potential, protects resources, and facilitates sustainable coexistence.

Helmut Tezak’s photo series signalizes the transition from architectural manifestos to more concrete and localizable principles or, more precisely, to historical and analytical configurations of spatial proximity. Just as Tezak illustrates the concept of density in a photographic essay on the City of Graz, the text contributions in the second section—“Configurations”—are likewise concerned with the question of the de facto constitution or fabric of dense cities, here through concrete case studies and analyses that specifically focus on the creation of European city centers and related densification processes, as well as on their sociopolitical ramifications.

The third section of GAM.08—“Contexts”—is in turn dedicated to those multilayered contexts that are taken as reference points in discourse on urban density and its spatial configurations: urbanist models of theory and planning, conceptual history, the sustainability debate, research on crowding, filmic documentaries about cities. Here density manifests as a relative reference value that renders possible open concepts of architectural design.

Finally, the fourth section—“Potentials”—establishes an outlook on the issue of what density may effectuate within urban- spatial development, and on the extent to which we can invoke urban expansion or retrospective densification as a quality feature within urban planning. Compiled through the related contributions are various different architectural strategies which, by means of an increase in density, not only “repair” sprawling areas but also create new networks, mixed utilizations, dialogues, and thus also a sustainable urban landscape.

On this note, GAM.08 goes beyond simply mirroring the complexity and multifacetedness of dense cities. It moreover thematically explores a rich, elaborate myriad of designs that, based upon a historically and analytically substantiated framework, establish clear positions on the elaboration of urban densification.

Translation: Dawn Michelle d’Atri


[1] See Roland Barthes, Comment vivre ensemble: Cours et s.minaires au Coll.ge de France (1976–1977) (Paris, 2002).