Propagative Urbanism: (re)searching the living city
Graduate Design Research Studio
Situated Technologies Research Group
Assistant Professor Mark Shepard

Propagative Urbanism is a way of thinking about shaping the architecture of urban space in terms of a bottom-up, participatory approach to the evolution of cities. In place of the grand schemes and master plans of modern urban design and planning, Propagative Urbanism explores the aggregation of locally inflected, incremental modulations that have the potential to evolve into larger urban organizations. In some respects, this simply reflects how cities have always evolved. It also extends a line of thinking introduced by architects in the 1960s (Archigram, Cedric Price, Yona Friedman, the Metabolists, et. al.) that looked toward biological and cybernetic systems for a way out of the oppressive, top-down planning strategies of orthodox modernism. Yet rather than proposing material interventions that are open, extendable and adaptable to changing patterns of use and activity, Propagative Urbanism shifts the locus of practice from the architectural “hardware” of what effectively became modular space frame structures to be infilled by their inhabitants, to the immaterial architecture of “software” infrastructures and their ability to inform, perform and enact new urban organizations and experiences.

Located at the intersection between culture, technology and urban space, this design research studio will embark on a search for the living city. Taking the 1963 exhibition Living City at the ICA in London (organized by Archigram) as a point of departure / return, we will ask what/where/how is the “living” city today? As exploratory research, our aim is less to propose solutions to known problems than to arrive at precise questions that help us better identify and structure new problems. We will take as our method an iterative process of analysis, projection and testing, employing both digital and physical techniques of diagramming, modeling and prototyping. We will work at both full-scale (1:1) and multiple part-scales (1:many). We won’t begin with the assumption we know what an architecture of the living city is – rather, we’ll be searching for it: parsing each experiment we conduct along the way for clues where it may reside. With a little luck-and a lot of persistence-we might just catch a glimpse of what an architecture of the living city could yet become.

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