In recent years, architects are more than ever involved in the design and building of new cities. Although this continuing urban growth has prompted elaborate arguments on economic policies, new organisational models, environmental strategies and sustainable development patterns, there seems to be a lack of reflection on the fundamental question of the city as a composite environment and political space.
If the troubled progress of over-planned urbanisation has been repetitively argued, debate about the futures of cities have a tendency to mythologize a transformation (post-industrial, electronic, eco-city, sustainable, parametric, etc) that in relatively is far less complete or apparent than might be imaged. Seen in this way, the built city, as a set of infrastructures and services, not unlike the vision of the city as a set of objects in space, is only one aspect of the complex entity called the city. The terminology arises partly out of an attempt to name conditions that are novel, have assumed novel forms, or have become visible because of the unsettlement of older realities. But the processes which produce a city are very diverse and change in time. Furthermore, while several 'new cities' emerge around the world, old cities and spaces also remain. It may even be that a single category is no longer adequate to characterise and assimilate the diversity of settlements, conditions and design investigations.
Many of the emerging urban formations and forms of urbanity are partially or completely novel institutional orders or systems of relations. What is it, then, that we are trying to name with the term 'city'? "The Greek polis (both a community and a sense of community)," Hannah Arendt wrote fifty years ago, "will continue to exist at the bottom of our political existence - that is at the bottom of the sea - as long as we use the word 'politics'." However, new processes of economic and cultural activity and new processes of identity formation may engender different notions of community and citizenship. Would that mean that the emerging spaces are also spaces for a new politics, one going beyond the politics of culture and identity, though at least partly likely to be embedded in it?
Constructing the object of study in this type of effort often means operating at the intersection of multiple disciplinary forms of knowledge and techniques for research. However, the question of the ways in which architectural design can formulate a judgement about these theoretical and methodological challenges is more relevant than ever. The object here is to approach the question of the city through a diversity of design practices and organisational forms seeking to interrogate typical representations of the 'living in community' and experiment with laws and procedures of urban formation which are distinct from the regulations of urbanism. Is it possible to proceed through a critical body of architectural references, existing or to be constituted, in order to rethink urban space against a background of a recent political philosophy that has questioned the communal? Though current design research often resembles an investigation into biological system analysis and genetic mechanisms, is it possible that the various regimes of the architectural project might still engage conceptions of space, conflicts of appropriation and norms of use nearing the juridical delimitation of public and private domains?
Every time brings specific conditions to the manner in which the claims on the city are made; this call for 'positions' aims to assemble contemporary thoughts and types of architectural research. City Cultures seeks to develop new conceptual frameworks to redefine what historically has been constructed and institutionalised as the 'city'.
-Marina Lathouri, AACity Cultures Director © 2009