Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Book - Cities of Change

A truly nice book worth having. Well, yes I know it is odd to start the review with the conclusion, but there is not much more needed to be said. A Birkhauser publication usually would not let you down and this one is no exception. But however, a good publication also needs some good substance to it and only if the two meet up it will be a truly nice book. Probably the only thing irritating is the preface, which you'd better skip because this puts you definitely in the wrong mind set.
'Cities of Change Addis Ababa - Transformation Strategies for Urban Territories in the 21st Century' by Marc Angelil and Dirk Hebel is, as mentioned above by Birkhauser. The book reports on the progress of an ongoing research at the ETH under Professor Marc Angelil (His practice is AGPS). The work published here is the result of three years of student work dating from the years 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2008/09. The introduction summarizes: "The research investigates the performance of cities in view of resource fluxes - the interplay and transformation of stocks and flows of recourses according to changing parameters in time." The reoccurring 'awareness' here really is "...that the only constant is change, ..."

Image by urbanTick / Cities of Change Addis Ababa book cover.

Since this is research conducted in the learning environment with students it has adopted a rather strict and structured approach. This makes perfect sense, in the light of changing groups of students over the duration of the investigation, but especially to allow for a structured leaning environment, while still keeping an open mind for the research. This is a very challenging setup, but I believe this publication demonstrates that any academic research short comings are definitely made up by the quality of the students learning output. It is to some extend a catalogue of student work produced, but the integration as research work is so clever that you wont necessarily notice.
The investigation is structured in two trajectories: "The first ... follows the principle of conducting in-depht academic work in specific fields of inquiry, highlighting particular themes and integrating input from supporting disciplines. THe second trajectory, on questions of urban design, situates the work in the context of design research studio, a workshop setting in which concepts are tested through specific design propositions, aiming for the synthesis of findings from an array of fields." Clearly the publication explores the intersection of the two trajectories. This is organised in seven topics called the 'flux model'. These areas of change are: Stocks and flow of 'people', 'space', 'material', 'capital', 'information' and 'energy'. Each chapter is introduced with a theoretical text, outlining and extending on the explanations given in the introduction part. Mixed with the design projects each chapter also contains theoretical, subject or contextual text pieces.
The surprising element here probably is that the publication does not close with a summary or conclusion. But probably this has to be looked for in the introduction, like in this review, the important things can be said up front without sliming away any of the interest for the further content.
To open the debate here, one of the points I believe to be important to discuss is the structure chosen for such a research project. As outlined before, the context of design studio work clearly has its requirements, but for a truly 'in flux' practice the static outline of the seven chapters can probably not sustain itself over a longer period, since "...that the only constant is change, ..."

Image taken from Google Maps / Addis Ababa aerial view of the city centre.

Angelil, M.M. & Hebel, D., 2009. Cities of Change: Addis Ababa: Transformation Strategies for Urban Territories in the 21st Century, Birkhauser Verlag AG.

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