Design Action Studio for Research, Architecture, and Urbanism
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The Real New Urbanism

The Real New Urbanism: Engaging Developing World Cities

by Gabriel Fuentes 

While the developing world is projected to urbanise rapidly during the next 40 years, canonical social and architectural/urban theory positions western modernisation as an ideal model for development. Yet modernity in the developing world is complex and operates at a wide range of physical and temporal scales; it resists the total homogenising processes of ‘western’ modernisation even as it absorbs them into its development patterns and spatial practices. This provides an opportunity to rethink normative architectural and urban design practices, to pursue new forms of expanded critical practices capable of engaging developing world cities intelligently and productively. In order to theorise such practices, this article investigates developing world modernity, redefines traditional notions of ‘site’, ’criticality’ and ‘context’ through an anthropological theory of locality, and challenges post-criticality as a viable response to the complexity of global economic, political, and environmental crisis.


With the global population growing by about 7 billion by 2050—95 % of which will live in the developing world—architects and urban designers must strategise new ways to address the rapidly changing socio-cultural, economic, environmental, political, technological, and aesthetic contexts that inform both the terms and territories of practice. Much like previous waves of modernity, the unrelenting growth of the developing world sets the ground to rethink normative modes of practice and provides opportunities to engage new forms of expanded critical practices framed by unprecedented changes in the physical and non-physical systems that structure and (in/de)form the city. The emerging urbanisms of the developing world—simultaneously set within and positioned against an emerging hybrid modernity—will push architecture and urban design to new intellectual, disciplinary, and professional limits.

Within the (frame/net)work of a hybrid modernity is an inherent tension between top-down and bottom-up processes of modernisation. The established canons of western social theory assume that any process of modernisation hinges on assimilating western ideals; a homogeneous process of rationalisation and industrialisation centred in the west (particularly the U.S) that radiates outward to “other” parts of the world. This singular view of modernity, however, negates the complex socio-cultural and spatial particularities of the developing world and absorbs them into a universal system of western development.

In reality, modernity in the developing world is a synergetic condition that challenges territorial boundaries and operates at a wide range of scales; a complex negotiation between established local traditions and imposed ideological programmes within a fluid and globalised world. These negotiations, in turn, produce multiple grounded yet transformed modernities that simultaneously absorb and critically resist the patterns and practices of the developed world, particularly the social, economic, and ecological inequalities triggered by conventional free-market capitalism. Contemporary architects and urban designers operating in these expanded territories must establish flexible ecological frameworks for synthesising, conceptualising, and spatialising these multiple hybrid modernities.

This article positions the modernity of the developing world as a hybrid, synergetic construct operating in tension between local practices and global flows, redefines traditional notions of “site,” “criticality,” and “context” through an anthropological theory of locality grounded in slum dynamics, and challenges post-criticality as a viable response to the complexity of global economic, political, and environmental crisis. In doing so, it argues for expanded critical practices that strategically yet critically engage the city’s multiple physical and temporal scales and theorises how such practices might engage the  complexity of developing world cities intelligently and productively.    


During the 20th century, the western world sought to solidify its modernity by establishing centralised institutions that would trigger a transition from traditional to legal-bureaucratic power (Lee, 2005). Fuelled by industrial capitalism, the Fordist mode of mass-production set in place a homogenous, standardised, and regulated manufacturing process that transcended the factory to inform the political, economic, and cultural structures of modern society—a relentless rationalisation project aimed at world systemisation and order. As mechanisms of social and urban order, architecture and urban design were complicit in formalising these cultural and political ambitions; that is, they were ideological instruments of change for a socio-political project centred on constructing a new society that “broke with the past,” one that shed the “old” and “irrational” baggage of tradition in favour of the “new.”  

Using geometric and mass-production logics, early 20th architects and urban planners idealised rationalisation as an opportunity to correct the social ills (both real and perceived) and the “irrational” haphazardness of pre-modern cultures and cities. In pursuing this new moral imperative, many architects assumed that starting over tabula rasa was the only effective way “clean up” the city. Increasingly frustrated with the squalor of Parisian slums, for example, Le Corbusier proclaimed,

WE MUST BUILD ON A CLEAR SITE. The city of today is dying because it is not constructed geometrically. To build on a clear site is to replace the “accidental” layout of the ground, the only one that exists today, by the formal layout.  Otherwise, nothing can save us. And the consequence of geometrical plans is Repetition and Mass-production (Taylor, 2001).

Hence Modernist architects and urban planners sought homogeneity by imposing a physical and spatial order that would “rationalise” all aspects of life. An organisational tool for rationalisation, the unidirectional Cartesian grid came to symbolise universal order and dominance.

According to social theorist Raymond L. M. Lee, however, this solid modernity is “subject to the ‘softening’ effects of charisma” (Lee, 2005). Citing Anthony Giddens, he states,

Modernity is solid in the sense that the combined power of these interlocking institutions overwhelms any individual effort to keep tradition in place, and makes ‘Western expansion seemingly irresistible’.  However, he construed the reflexive process inherent in modernity to have a ‘softening’ effect on institutional structures.  Thus, new knowledge generated by modernity can be applied reflexively to undermine its apparent solidity (Lee, 2005).

Operating reflexively, modernity’s top-down project produced opportunities for bottom-up resistance and transformation grounded in the contradictions between its own ideo-political programme and established practices on the ground. In other words, bound by the very socio-cultural systems it attempts to idealise, modernity transforms from within in response to an internal critique of itself.  While this internal critique took a postmodern turn between the 1960s-1990s, postmodernism’s anti-foundational project reduced the social to a system of differences divorced from the ideologies and institutions set in place by modernity. Hence despite intense critical resistance, postmodernism failed to foster collective agency for long-term institutional change.

In the 21st century, however, globalisation has radically complicated the construction, meaning, and diffusion of modernity as the hard dialectical other of the  traditional (or of non-modernity). According to social theorist Zygmunt Bauman, today’s world denies the solidity that the modern project fought to establish. In a world of global markets, ubiquitous computing, endless access to information, and mass migration, the world has liquefied into a fluid, mutating, and borderless space that promotes an all-permeating “ethic of consumerism” (Lee, 2005).

Symptomatic of a global liquid modernity, this “ethic” reinforces capitalism’s stronghold--that is, its global ideological, political, and economic supremacy--by permeating and consuming the site specificities of material production. Deeply rooted in colonial development practices, the global market triggers production and consumption practices that exploit both the natural and human resources of the developing world in order to sustain a capitalist ambition for limitless economic growth.

Ecologies of Exploitation

As implied by its etymology, the term “resource” (in Latin ‘sugere’) implies continual regeneration. Evoking the image of a spring, resources rise up upon consumption as long as natural ecosystems remain intact. For centuries, pre-modern societies evolved in reciprocity to nature. Small, diverse, and self-sufficient communities balanced their need for sustenance with the earth’s ecosystems. Nature was valued relative to its regenerative abilities and natural, agricultural, and social ecologies harmoniously intertwined.

By the sixteenth century—and well into the nineteenth—colonialism had radically altered this synergistic relationship. Increasingly dependent on raw natural resources, cheap labour, and financial capital for its industrialising empire, Europe led a relentless crusade of privatisation, commodification, and homogenisation of “primitive” cultures. What were once local, diverse, and autonomous agricultural communities were now assimilated into an interconnected and hierarchical world market. Their landscapes were transformed into large single cash-crop producing mills and plantations. In the process, territorial boundaries were redrawn, traditional cultures were eradicated, and the earth was rapaciously exploited for profit.

Typical of capitalist monopolies, the growing dependency on natural resources turned traditional societies into thriving labour markets. As Europe exploited these markets, human trade and slavery reconfigured the demographic texture of the “new world” (now known as the Third World) and hybrid cultures evolved in tension between oppressive colonial rule and local tradition. In short, the first world developed into a rich and powerful empire by first developing third world slaves “from their primitive, backward states of embeddedness in nature” (Shiva, 1998).

Despite “liberation,” post-colonial independence did not soften the inequalities between developed and developing worlds. By the 20th century, the political and economic structures of colonial rule were “well established and there were strong forces, both internal and external, opposing change” (Ponting, 1991).  Consequently, the developing world inherited the same patterns and practices of western development designed to exploit them. Historian Clive Ponting explains that,

Once an economy had been set in a certain mould by a colonial government, and when the western countries retained overwhelming economic and financial power and the terms of trade were in their favour, it was very difficult to change course. Given the difficulty of diversifying their economies many of the countries simply tried to increase their export earnings by producing more of the commodities introduced by colonial powers (Ponting, 1991)

Left beaten and bruised, the post-colonial developing world continued to serve a global market economy, using their human and natural resources to produce more goods for industrialising nations than for themselves despite severe poverty, hunger, and malnutrition--political resistance on both sides of centre notwithstanding.

If the political Left’s resistance to the hierarchical and oppressive “world system” in the 1960s (via Dependency Theory, for example) failed in its revolutionary ambitions, the political Right failed equally in absorbing these countries into the system as equal players in the global economy in subsequent decades. A form of neo-colonialism, Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) are a case in point. Since the 1970s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have imposed neoliberal agendas on developing countries through conditional loans designed to restructure (i.e. modernise) their economies toward the free-market. In order to “shock the system into compliance” (Ponting, 1991), SAP conditionalities handicap political and economic autonomy by reducing government spending, liberalising trade, devaluing currency, and extracting and privatising resources. As conventional capitalism runs its course, SAPs turn developing urban economies into “steady state suppliers of raw commodities to the world” (Ponting, 1991). Meanwhile, unable to sustain their local economies, developing world cities ferociously compete for international capital, often at the expense of social and environmental justice. The result has been a perverse loss of diversity, pollution, economic instability, inequality, mass migration, massive resource depletion, and the rapid urbanisation of poverty—“an inevitable recipe for the mass production of slums” (Davis, 2006).


Figure 1:  Developing world urbanisation prospects. Source: United Nations,World Population Prospects,The 2008 Revision Population Database.

Figure 1: Developing world urbanisation prospects. Source: United Nations,World Population Prospects,The 2008 Revision Population Database.

As a result of western rationalisation, globalisation, and neo-colonisation, the world is urbanising quickly into a planet of slums (Davis, 2006). According to the United Nations, over 7 billion people will live in developing world cities by 2050 as they leave the countryside searching for income and opportunity (United Nations, 2008). Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia will accommodate most of them followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania and, Eastern Europe (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Excluded socially and economically, these slum dwellers will engage informal “survival strategies” of living and working; “squatting” under the shadows of law in unhealthy densities, abject poverty, and deplorable spatial-physical conditions. Currently the largest producers of housing in the world, they will continue to trigger radically new urbanisms that challenge classic western conventions of American and European (sub)urbanism.

Figure 2:  Mumbai Slum. Photograph by Travis M. Bunt, 2010.

Figure 2: Mumbai Slum. Photograph by Travis M. Bunt, 2010.

Resisting clear definition, slums are complex and multifaceted. The Challenge of Slums frames them as a product of oppressive political and economic forces materialised through rapid urbanisation and the urbanisation of poverty. While the former quantifies explosive population growth in the city, the latter qualifies their socio-cultural, economic, and physical/spatial conditions: a lack of basic services, substandard and/or illegal housing, extreme overcrowding, unsanitary living conditions, hazardous sites of development, social inequality and exclusion, insecure tenure, and minimum dwelling dimensions (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Their typologies range from classic inner-city tenements to hybrid rural-urban megaslums on the social and geographical fringe.   

Typology notwithstanding, slums operate at the interstitial and the peripheral—socially, physically, spatially, and/or geographically—and radically redefine traditional notions of site, context, and programme, As the influx of rural migrants sprawl into the urban periphery, urbanisation increasingly impacts rural settlements. Conversely, the infiltration of rural poverty into the city gives urban slums a “rural imprint that gives them their unique, lively character without the separations between home, work place, and recreation that is the hallmark of ‘modern’ and middle-class society” (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Both scenarios blur the rural-urban continuum by converging rural and urban patterns, practices, and identities. The urban edge is also the rural edge.       

Given their spatial and programmatic complexity, architects and urban designers must engage slums at multiple scales ranging from local socio-cultural, economic, and political traditions on the ground to the institutional systems that regulate global flows and policy. Often in conflict, this polarity opens up opportunities to (re)theorise the city and how we engage it through design.          

Theorising Site and Context

Figure 3:  Static and kinetic urbanism in Mumbai. Photograph by Travis M. Bunt, 2010.

Figure 3: Static and kinetic urbanism in Mumbai. Photograph by Travis M. Bunt, 2010.

Set within western bias, canonical architectural and urban theory fails to engage the emerging urbanisms of the developing world, positioning European and American cities as models for all cities. Yet developing world urbanism resists the structured, rational, and homogeneous control of a top-down singular modernity, characterised instead by conflicting political, socio-cultural, and economic identities. In other words, such cities are sites of critical negotiations between the urban elite and the subaltern in unfolding cultural and economic struggles. Rahul Mehrotra--architect, Harvard University urban design and planning professor, and Department of Urban Design and Planning chair--calls these two urbanites static and kinetic (Mehrotra, 2008).   

In “Negotiating the Static and Kinetic Cities: The Emergent Urbanism of Mumbai,” Mehrotra describes the urbanism of the static city as 2-dimensional (i.e. planned) and formal; that is, as one regulated by legality, permanence, and physicality. He contrasts the formal static city with the 3-dimensional (i.e. unplanned) informal kinetic city, whose ”pirate” urbanism inhabits the formal city’s interstitial spaces, slipping “under the laws of the city simply to survive, without any conscious attempt at constructing a counterculture” (Mehrotra, 2008). This kind of urbanism operates both within and against the modern grid of rationality, becoming a “city in motion” that “consumes, reinterprets, and recycles” (Mehrotra, 2008) its formal urban spaces. He sees Mumbai, India as a case in point.

A British colony from 1857-1947, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) has historically been a tale of two cities—simultaneously hosting and framing the contrasting social, cultural, and economic worlds of Indian locals (read: producers) and British occupiers (read: consumers). In today’s post-industrial service economy, new relationships between and among the social classes has blurred—even overturned—the clear boundaries once imposed by the state-controlled economy, resulting in a bazaar-like urbanism that weaves itself throughout the urban landscape. Mumbai’s urbanity, in other words, unfolds within a matrix of local spaces and global flows. The “agencies of globalisation” (Banerjee and Pizarro, 2003)—capital, people, culture, and information—act upon and transform against the multiplex dimensions of its local urban form, challenging traditional notions of “site” and “context.”

Viewed as such, “site” and “context” have distinct yet overlapping characteristics. In “Defining Urban Sites,” Andrea Kahn describes urban sites as having “multiple boundary conditions and multiple scales” (Kahn, 2005). Contrasting the Palmanouva plan of 1783 with a sixteenth-century sketch of Milan by Leonardo da Vinci, Kahn depicts two ways of understanding, constructing, and representing site: 1) as a fixed and rigidly bound place, and 2) as an active, unbounded, and porous set of overlapping relations. Whereas the former is geographic and locational, the latter is systemic and dynamic. Taken together, architects and urban designers can engage a fuller and more operative construction of “site,” contextualising unbounded flows and networks within specific geographic boundaries and/or vice versa.

To view site this way is to produce (i.e. to theorise and construct) “locality,” a term that anthropologist Arjun Appadurai uses to situate “place” and “culture” within a broader contextual field. Positing “context” as simultaneously driven by and generators for other contexts, Appadurai claims that the cultural and site specificities of urbanity unfold within a network of what they were “produced from, against, in spite of, and in relation to” (Appadurai, 1996). He states, these local subjects engage in the social activities of production, representation, and reproduction (as in the work of culture), they contribute, generally unwittingly, to the creation of contexts that might exceed the existing material and conceptual boundaries of the neighborhood (Appadurai, 1996).  

Transcending scale and geography, Appadurai theorises “locality” as a both a synchronic and diachronic construct in which “localization, quotidian interaction, and social scale are not always isomorphic” (Appadurai, 1996) but rather relational and transgenerational.  

Taken together, both Kahn’s operative definition of “site” and Appadurai’s anthropological theory of “locality” (two conceptions that architects and urban designers might consider to be an expanded definition of “place”) provide a foundation for design practices concerned with engaging the complexities of developing world cities. For in order to engage these cities intelligently and ecologically, architects and urban designers must construct “locality” by synthesising, conceptualising, and spatialising their static and kinetic identities within their “glocal” matrix in order to construct sites (systemic and/or geographic) and programmes  for transdisciplinary and multi-scalar design action. A complex and uniquely twenty-first century design problem, this requires new forms of expanded critical practices, practices that aren’t afraid to engage critically on the ground, practices that question the passive pragmatism of the post-critical.  


In the late 1990s, architectural culture began to feel the effects of a “post-critical” turn in its social and philosophical underpinnings. Nearly a decade and a half into the 21st century, so-called “post-critical” theorists have pronounced the end of architecture’s “critical project.” But, as with any paradigm shift, there is more danger in misconstruing the shift than in the shift itself. To be sure, architectural post-criticality is not, as is often and mistakenly thought, anti-critical but—and perhaps paradoxically—critical of particular kind of criticality, namely, the kind that was so obsessed with the failures of Modernism (real and/or perceived) that it turned on itself, retreating so deep into its own disciplinarity that it lost its ability (and its desire) to affect intentional, meaningful change in the city. Known as architecture’s Autonomy Project, this strand of Marxian neo-avant garde critical practice, the post-critics claim, has lost ground; it has become intellectually and programmatically exhausted.

But if post-criticality risks superficial engagement with the city, to misconstrue it as anti-criticality only exacerbates the problem. For while the retrospective, narrow, and exclusive critical project of the 1970s is indeed exhausted, the rapid urbanisation of developing world cities command a revived critical agenda that is at once expansive and flexible enough to engage their “glocal” matrix, yet grounded enough in its own disciplinarity to operate rigorously in the face of overwhelming economic, political, and environmental crisis. In other words, while architecture and urban design must not be afraid to engage, it must also not be afraid to negate or critique productively; that is, it must be critical not merely as an end in itself but as a will toward intelligent design action capable of (or at least with the desire for) producing positive social and urban change. If not, we are simply left with “just another way of doing things, and little or no formal, ethical, or intellectual guidance to help us choose a path” (Gamez and Rodgers, 2008).

In “An Architecture of Change,” Jose L.S. Gamez and Susan Rodgers argue that post-criticality is not properly Pragmatic (with a capital “P”) but rather symptomatic of an expedient, market-driven apolitical project that is fundamentally disinterested in engaging socio-cultural, political, and environmental issues. Whereas philosophical pragmatism challenged (read: critiqued) theory and criticism as an end in itself, post-criticality, they claim, reduces pragmatism to empty instrumentality for selfish gain. They write:  

The postcritical is not pragmatic; it is symptomatic. It is symptomatic of a profession that has benefited from an economy that limps ever forward. It is symptomatic of an academy that has been seduced by fashionable theoretical projects, only to reproduce them in bastardized form. Not only have American architectural efforts in the last fifty years been largely aesthetic exercises, but they also have flirted only briefly with the political—and then only in symbolic form (Gamez and Rodgers, 2008).

If Modernism stands accused of merely (an)aestheticising true social change and industrial progress within a “form follows function” trope, and the neo-avant garde’s self-referential Autonomy Project merely (an)aestheticised architecture for its own sake as form follows form, then post-critical architecture and urban design risks merely (an)aestheticising true pragmatism within a form follows profit logic of uncontrolled market capitalism. To clarify, the problem is not engaging market forces but rather blindly submitting to any capitalist agenda that subverts any tendency for architecture and urban design to operate critically within the expanded contextual field of the city—masking deep socio-cultural, political, and global environmental crisis behind a shallow façade of profitable cliché. Accepting the corporate marketing of “sustainable” and “green” design as a truly “critical” response to ecological crisis is a case in point.

Expanding Practice

While increasingly profitable in the developed world, shallow market-driven “green” design falls radically short of addressing the rapidly urbanising, poverty stricken, and environmentally damaged cities of the developing world. In order to truly engage these emerging urbanisms sustainably, expanded critical practices must operate eco-logically; that is, they must develop tools and strategies for designing both physical and nonphysical objects (forms and relations as well as the forms of relations). Doing so requires a paradigmatic shift in their terms and territories of engagement—namely, the definition of architecture and its relationship to building and city—in order to establish conceptual and ecological frameworks for productively critical agendas that look deeply “at the way things are in terms of what they could or should be” (Gamez and Rodgers, 2008).

Whereas architecture and building are often accepted synonymously as things (building as architecture), they may more productively serve as epistemological frames and platforms that enable strategic intervention into a constellation of urban (and/or socio-cultural, political, and environmental) systems. In other words, rather than see them strictly as nouns, we might also think of them (or think through them) as verbs. For example, building—commonly defined as a built product—is also the process of constructing, or the methodical act of assemblage and the systematic fitting of parts. It is both means and end; process and product. The “parts” that architects and urban designers “fit” together compose the physical and non-physical systems that structure and (in/de)form urban fabrics, issues, and conditions as well as the formulated questions and constructed arguments framed against them.

Architecture, on the other hand, is the methodically composed organisational structure of those systems and objects against which architects and urban designers operate constructively; that is, an ecology of things. To architect, then, is to build things and (their) relations intentionally and methodically. Because cities are composed (physically and non-physically) of various overlapping and intertwining architecture(s), expanded critical practices must strategise ways of building within the architecture(s) of the city while resisting a total submission to those same systems—productively oscillating between reflexive engagement and strategic negation.      

Given these definitions, a productive criticality does not accept a simplistic theory/practice split. Rather, it lodges itself in-between the ideal and the actual, actively measuring the way conditions are against what they could, should, or should not be in order to exploit opportunities to impact community and initiate change. It diagnoses mere symptomatic facts in order to uncover deep underlying causes. Economic markets, for example, provide profit opportunities precisely because they operate imperfectly; that is, they rely on internal crises to reinvent themselves and satiate the desires of the masses (for new product, new services, etc.). If leveraged, expanded and productively critical design practices can use capitalism against itself opportunistically, strategically triggering the very crisis it needs to survive.   

In “The Next Industrial Revolution,” for example, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins argue for a “new type of industrialism” that would synergise natural, social, and market ecologies (Hawken, Lovins and Lovins, 2008). Because limitless economic growth is limited by natural resource abuse and depletion, a second Industrial Revolution (i.e. a new modernity) provides opportunities to simultaneously leverage and redesign conventional capitalism into a “natural capitalism” that is both profitable and ethical, a new capitalism that, while perhaps still self-serving, at least recognises human and nature as equally valuable resources on par with financial and material capital. Without nature, Lovins argues, there is no life. And without life, there is no economy (Hawken, Lovins and Lovins, 2008). Healthy economic, environmental, and social development—particularly of the developing world—depends on critically engaging both market and environmental architecture(s).

An example of such engagement can seen in Mumbai:SHIFT - a speculative urban design project that explores possibilities for dynamic urban development.1 The project uses Mumbai’s privately owned and underused Eastern Waterfront as the site for a paradigmatic shift of current unsustainable development practices. It is grounded in three specific urban conditions: 1) a lack of East-West urban transit connections triggered by inequalities in urban development that favor north-south expansion, 2) a lack of public open space and, 3) the projected population growth (from 19 million in 2005 to 28 million by 2020) on Mumbai’s already saturated and dilapidated urban/social fabric. These concerns intertwine at multiple scales to provide opportunities for new models of dynamic urban development that leverage existing policies (specifically, the transfer of development rights or TDR) toward both social and market inclusion.

Figure 4:  TDR transfer strategy. As transit connections physically link the Eastern Waterfront with the inner city, a development linkage policy links them financially and programmatically, triggering a development ecology that is both social and marketdriven. Drawn by author in collaboration with Travis M. Bunt, Manas Vanwari, and Nidhi Bhatnagar, 2010.

Figure 4: TDR transfer strategy. As transit connections physically link the Eastern Waterfront with the inner city, a development linkage policy links them financially and programmatically, triggering a development ecology that is both social and marketdriven. Drawn by author in collaboration with Travis M. Bunt, Manas Vanwari, and Nidhi Bhatnagar, 2010.

Figure 5:  Eastern Waterfront development scenario with linkages. Drawn and rendered by author in collaboration with Travis M. Bunt, Manas Vanwari, and Nidhi Bhatnagar, 2010.

Figure 5: Eastern Waterfront development scenario with linkages. Drawn and rendered by author in collaboration with Travis M. Bunt, Manas Vanwari, and Nidhi Bhatnagar, 2010.

The process is set in motion by the strategic implementation of bus rapid transit systems that draw east-west connections between major transportation nodes into the site—weaving the island city laterally and raising property values along both the new transit spines and the Eastern Waterfront. This creates opportunities to rezone (with higher FAR) and develop urban land. Any new development would be contingent upon a linkage policy that binds new developable Eastern Waterfront properties (new TDR receiver sites) to specific inner city parcels of land containing dilapidated buildings (new TDR sending sites). Thus concurrent with new development is both the opportunity and incentive to reprogram dilapidated sites in the city (approx. 16,000 sites) for public uses. The Eastern Waterfront acquires both social and market value

The vast, complex, and interconnecting architecture(s) of developing world cities offer a plethora of opportunities for critical engagement at multiple scales. From grassroots activism, educational agendas (including pedagogical practices), informal economies and local politics to top-down political, economic, and environmental policy, twenty-first century architects and urban designers must strategise new forms of ecological thinking and practice in order to engage the expanded territories of these emerging urbanisms.  


The emerging urbanisms of the developing world, materialised through rapid population growth and urban poverty, are triggering hybrid forms of modernity in tension between established local traditions and the global flows and programmes of modernisation. As with previous periods of modernisation, the unprecedented changes in the socio-cultural, economic, political, and environmental systems of developing world cities require rethinking normative design practice. In an interconnected and globalised world, architects and urban designers must engage new forms of expanded critical practices capable of synthesising, conceptualising, and spatialising the multiple ecologies of these emerging urbanisms at multiple scales.

In engaging these urban challenges, we must theorise new forms of architectural and urban design practices that move beyond the tired tropes of Modernism, the resistant Post-Modern Autonomy project, and the overly permissive pragmatism (little ‘p’) of post-criticality. Engaging these urbanisms ecologically requires a revived and productive critical agenda - one that is hesitant to sit comfortably on either side of the political centre, is radically open toward yet cautious of the physical and non-physical forces at play, and is equally concerned with both the physical objects and systemic relations of the city. Such an agenda positions the designer ‘not as the critic who debunks, but one who assembles’, (Graafland, 2010, p.409) positing criticality as a form of inquiry aimed at exploiting opportunities to leverage urban systems and tectonics. Expanded critical practices mine opportunities to strategically build within the architecture(s) of the city.

The developing world, and the architects and urban designers engaging their cities, can learn from both the successes and failures of western industrialisation and modernisation. In turn, the lessons learned will inform architectural and urban practices concerned with western cities. Indeed, the best thing about engaging the ‘other’ is learning to engage your home.

Written for The Journal of Space Syntax, 4:2 (2013). Click here for PDF.


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