The City as Resource
The City as Resource is a record of the work of Professor Kees Christiaanse at ETH Zurich, an internationally known urban design practitioner and teacher; the individual contributions to this edited book, which include essays, graphic essays and student projects, are produced by his teaching collaborators.
The logic of the book may not initially be obvious. It takes as a loose structuring thought the city as resource, a concept whose systemic nature allows contributors to tap into the discourses of economics, of environmental sustainability and resilience, of urban culture and much else besides, set out in no particular order. This might frustrate those who seek a simple narrative throughout, yet this and the range of contributions closely reflect the way that urban designers and architects tend to work: like magpies, who pick from a wide array of sources, whatever ideas are useful for justifying the act and result of urban designing. Each topic is selected because it provides opportunities to discuss how and why we make particular urban shapes. Thus, the narrative of the book, like the process of designing, is non-linear and reflects the sort of search for form and its qualification.
This overall structure and the content of the individual contributions suggestively showcase an approach to urban design teaching that can be traced to traditions in radical architecture schools: the starting point of design is not the rule (design principles, policies) but the model, concepts, actions and ideas that provide the reasons for form generation, to make particular shapes, and not others. However, the students work shown, the results of this pedagogic process, are not flights of fancy, but apparently workable urban design solutions.
The value of this sort of book for a broader urban design audience than students and teachers depends on both its topical relevance and the insight or inspiration it might provide the reader. In both these regards, the City as Resource is successful. The contributions are relevant to practice today, dealing with issues such as value affected by design, the use of images in urban design, and re-use of the built environment. They are well and concisely written and illustrated, easy to read while providing insights about the urban condition and the practice of urban design. This is not just a monograph of student work, but draws on the research and reflections of the design teachers. Nevertheless, I suspect its primary readership will