A research on Urban Transformation

Urban Transformation Research

ETH Studio Basel is an institute of urban research set up by architects Roger Diener, Jacques Herzog, Marcel Meili, and Pierre de Meuron in Basel in 1999, as part of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) – Department of Architecture, Network City and Landscape.

What is a city? What determines its specificity? What shapes its quality? How do human activities interact with its material processes? The evolution of the contemporary city does not follow a linear movement. It is shaped by transformation processes that are directed towards often distant and conflicting goals, promoted by a multitude of actors that interact without knowledge of the overall situation. How can architecture and urbanism interact with the contemporary city’s internal form-generating capabilities? How can they relate to evolution by drift that is the hallmark of the contemporary city, and to its inertia?

After the four-year study “Switzerland – An Urban Portrait” that investigated the urban condition of Switzerland as a thoroughly urbanized country, ETH Studio Basel started a research program on processes of transformation in the urban domain on an international scale, focusing on the urbanization process on the seven Canary Islands, in the development of the tri-national region of MetroBasel, and in cities such as Belgrade, Havana, Nairobi, Casablanca, or Hong Kong.

The research activity of the institute uncovers traces of urban change in the material space of the inhabited landscape. The research engages issues of contemporary urban condition by meticulously describing the modalities of physical transformation in different environments and contexts. The particular modality is developed in the work with the students in Basel and makes no distinction between teaching, fieldwork, design, and research.

Studio Basel investigates regions that are often ambiguous in their development and that are embedded in the globalization process, both shaping it to some extent and being affected by its adverse repercussions. They are places that maintain a constant momentum without ever exploding or collapsing onto themselves, since they are connected to international energy flows that continue to evolve. These investigations are based on the assumption that contemporary cities do not develop towards a common vanishing point, but rather consolidate, transform, or adapt their specific traits. These processes are not only shaped by through their local specificity or historical tradition, but also by the development of new modalities of transformation and novel forms of differentiation in the wake of the contemporary global networks. Cities are hence drawn back to their own material configuration through the processes of globalization. This implies that such developments do not only affect the exploding “global cities”: on the contrary, we are interested in the study of different urban conditions – core or peripheral, dynamic or stagnant, traditional or without history, anonymous or famous – on the basis of the diverse transformation devices that underlie their specific situations. How are cities developing, changing, and adapting their bodies, their physical configurations, when they are connected to the international energy flows? How are they reconfiguring their specific physiognomy? What makes them special?