Enhancing the adaptable capacity of urban fragments

Pieter Herthogs, Niels De Temmerman

Research Architectural Engineering (ARCH)

VITO - Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek, 2011-2015

Sustainable urban development is increasingly studied using dynamic theories such as resilience, adaptation or transition – theories based on the acknowledgement of a complex, uncertain and changing future. However, these dynamic approaches to development are still materialised into buildings, infrastructure and public spaces that have not been designed for change, resulting a built environment that specifically caters to the needs and requirements of today. Could a built environment that is purposefully designed for change better support the future goals and evolutions of urban neighbourhoods?

This trans-disciplinary, explorative and theoretical doctoral thesis presents a methodological framework developed as a guide to study the effects of adaptable materialisation on the development of urban neighbourhoods. It aims to address theoretical, methodological and practical gaps separating dynamic theories of urban development from concepts of adaptable materialisation. An explorative and trans-disciplinary analysis of literature led to the selection of four mandatory components for the methodological framework: modelling urban change, assessing adaptability, testing planning hypotheses, and evaluating results. This thesis introduces two research methods as a proof of concept for the methodological framework.

SAGA (Spatial Assessment of Generality and Adaptability) is an assessment method and accompanying software tool that uses graph analysis to quantify the generality and adaptability of building layouts in a fast and non-predictive way. The indicators represent the permeability and room size distribution of the existing and possible plan layouts. SAGA reinterprets, adapts and extends Space Syntax’s j-graph method.

Materialised Futures (MF) is a guided participative design exercise to study the benefits and drawbacks of adaptability on the neighbourhood level, to formulate theory, develop guidelines, and explore planning principles. The participants subject an existing urban project to a hypothetical shift in the needs and requirements of the project’s inhabitants in order to explore to which extent buildings and infrastructure will need to be adapted; they do the same for variants of the urban project that include more adaptable materialisations, and compare the results. Materialised Futures can help policy makers, designers and other stakeholders of urban development to understand the impact of change on sustainable urban projects, to demonstrate the potential of adaptable materialisation in reaching long-term sustainability goals, and to identify opportunities for in-depth quantitative or qualitative analysis.

In cooperation with Yves De Weerdt