Research

This study dissects one of the most pressing issues confronting the post-industrial society – the increasingly complex relationship between production and place through exploring the development of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the periphery of the city of Plovdiv Bulgaria. SEZs are service territories that, while designed to provide cities with commodities, are also significant drivers behind the urban and social transformation. The research proposes looking into how the particular case of the Trakia economic zone (TEZ) in Plovdiv developed from hosting one cherry processing factory into the most significant investment project of the country with numerous global manufacturing companies. In doing so, it aims to question our understanding of capital-led developments by examining the underlying processes and practices that produce socio-economic space. The proposed examination departs from spatial production to reveal (dis)connections of global production networks and the local environment and the tensions which those processes cause in the socio-spatial reality of a post-communist special economic zone.Furthermore, the research focuses on understanding the local capacity for transformation of TEZ from an extractive operation into a project of added value to the local community. The dissertation adopts Action Research as an approach to trigger a collaborative process with the zone’s various stakeholders, aiming to explore their reaction to tensions and instabilities and define points for transformative interventions. The main objective of the research is to understand in detail the spaces of negotiation and possibilities to re-describe and re-imagine new productive infrastructure spaces and the values that they bring.

The irrigation network of Canton Valais (Switzerland)—also called ‘bisses’, ’Suonen’, or ‘Wasserleitungen’—constitutes a multi-secular cultural landscape. Current challenges related to a diversified economy, increasing water demands, and climate change risk disrupting the bisses as a long-standing commons. The research project aims to understand the relation between the resilience of the bisses as enduring landscape commons and the adaptive capacity of their material culture. Does material culture in its ‘traditional’ communal form promote the adaptive capacity of the bisses? Do changes to this communal model—particularly in terms of construction techniques, building materials, and related use practices—threaten the resilience of the bisses? This research tracks changes in construction techniques, materials, and practices against transformations in the communal governance model. The life histories of irrigation artefacts are described and analysed through the phases of procurement, manufacture, use, maintenance, and discard. The broader ambition of this research is to contribute insights from the case study of the bisses to sustain and construct resilient landscape commons today.

This dissertation examines hydraulic infrastructures in the city and hinterland of Meknes during the French protectorate (1912-1956). While studies on French colonial architecture and urbanism in Morocco are numerous, studies focusing on rural modernization are gaining momentum. However, spatial and material research on hydraulic infrastructures connecting both urban and rural landscapes remains largely unexamined. I argue that the spatial and material form of these hydraulic interventions was not merely a technical matter. Yet, the ways in which water was either revealed or concealed – at various strategic sites – served a specific symbolic, social, cultural, and political purpose conducive to alter everyday life and reconfigure vast rural and urban territories. The colonial water regime enabled the transformation of power relations, disrupt communal networks, and expropriate water resources thus playing a critical role in the process of pacification and urban-rural modernization. Furthermore, scientific innovation advancing various water-related expertise, engineering, knowledge, and tools, along with environmental imaginaries provided the impetus for a host of hydraulic projects. The region of Meknes constitutes a prime example to scrutinize the confluence of these processes, due to its strategic geographical location. This research, therefore, focuses on a series of case studies at three interrelated levels: domestic, urban, and regional scale and conceived by military surveyors, engineers, architects, and settlers. In order to question how various visions were negotiated within the design process, and in relation to the implementation and the socio-ecological effects. The relationship between water, modernity, colonial policies, and the production of space is addressed with the notion of water domestication. It attempts to extend the discourse on French colonial architecture by linking it to the spatial and material dimensions of hydraulic infrastructures. This subsequently problematizes the urban-rural divide. The overall aim is to offer an alternative architectural reading of the French Protectorate, by shedding light onto a neglected region of singular importance in modern Moroccan history.

This research investigates human and non-human entanglements with anthropogenic landscapes in a Central European context, using the Upper Rhine Plain as an example. It aims to test and establish an earthly approach to spatial practice, by exploring how narrative and representation can challenge established human-centric relationships with nature and account for non-human perspectives. Recent literature in political ecology and ecogeography describes various interactions between humans, non-humans and the environment in the Anthropocene, but the implications of these narratives are not reflected in landscape design projects. Spatial practices have not acknowledged landscape as a living system of multispecies communities and therefore failed to develop a language that comprehensively represents this complexity and allows for considerations in the design process. A large fundus of work on the Upper Rhine Plain offers a rich source to reveal previously unconsidered entanglements across species, time and space and provides an ideal starting point for this project. Unpacking the living milieu of the region, this research links narrative with drawing to introduce a new representation method for landscape. Literature from political ecology, landscape theory and the history of landscape representation will serve as a framework to situate the project. Archival research will help to understand the narratives, techniques and artefacts that fostered the transformation of the landscape on the Upper Rhine but might also reveal alternate perspectives. Engagement with local experts will allow identifying species that are indivisibly linked with the extractive processes that shaped the region. Attuning to their worlds will make it possible to document unique spatial, ecological and social conditions. This investigation into the living milieu might enable more sustainable and inclusive landscapes practices.nce in modern Moroccan history.

What is the future of peripheral landscapes and radically depopulating mountainous regions and how do we, as architects and urban researchers, address the challenges of those regions? This research aims to shift the focus of urban studies beyond the traditional city-boundaries and explore processes of urbanisation that occur at peripheral landscapes, seemingly intact areas of nature and uninhabited land. Challenging the western rural myth of bucolic Arcadia, the research revisits the mythicised arcadian landscapes in Greece to frame a contemporary, radically depopulating mountainous region at the southern outpost of the Balkan peninsula. Through the study of four distinct socio-ecological configurations–the forest, grazing lands, olive-grove landscapes and craft-villages– which unfold along a territorial section through the mountainous core, I explore emerging urban patterns, pressures and forces of urban transformation. Further, I map latent socio-ecological potential and counternarratives seeking for alternatives in governance of the mountainous region and peripheral lands. The findings will be employed for a critical understanding of the formation of peripheral landscapes in relation to broader political, economic and geographic contexts, with the scope to examine “peripheralization” as a process of urban transformation and as an ongoing territorial project in multiple scales. The research follows the territorial approach developed at ETH Studio Basel. It is grounded on qualitative exploratory field-work and synthetic cartographic representation. It draws perspective from critical urban theory and political ecology, introducing a novel de-centred, ecological perspective for urban studies. This investigation is motivated by the radical, yet invisible transformations that have occurred at Greek peripheral landscapes, especially at the aftermath of the “Greek economic crisis”. It contributes to the documentation and urban analysis of the scarcely explored territory of peripheral landscapes. The research might potentially trigger visions, projects and alternative modes of governance for those regions.

This research project explores the relationship between hydroelectric infrastructures and landscape in the Alps, by analysing the ways in which the landscape is constructed within the infrastructural project. While hydropower rose in the late industrial era, becoming a key source of energy and a major geomorphic factor in the Alps, its relation to the Alpine landscape has remained a marginal topic of research. Extensive and radical spatial interventions have been undertaken for hydroelectric systems, yet their impact on landscape has remained viewed as a somewhat incidental phenomenon, something passively impacted. Proceeding from the field of landscape history, this dissertation aims to question this understanding through an in-depth case study of Lake Sihl in the Swiss Prealps (planned 1897-1932, built and impounded 1932-37), as an emblematic case of inhabited reservoirs in the Alps. The study starts from the infrastructural project and its political-economic context, and reviews the different works of spatial design and planning that were carried out. From there on, it proceeds to examine the role that landscape played as a central component in this project, regarding the reservoir of Lake Sihl. It pays particular attention to two ways in which landscape was constructed: firstly through discourses and depictions that shaped the idea of landscape, and secondly through material interventions, which shaped the landscape as an artefact. Through this process, the study identifies and analyses several strategies that actively involved landscape in the hydroelectric project of Lake Sihl. These strategies show how, in the infrastructural project, landscape held a much larger significance than something that was passively impacted. The case of Lake Sihl reveals an active, albeit implicit project for the construction of a new material and cultural landscape, which was used to legitimise the infrastructural project and thus reduce possible resistance to its implementation. With these outcomes, the study hopes to bridge a research gap between the histories of hydropower, of the Alpine landscape and of landscape architecture.

Stalker is a collective initiative that emerged in 1990 from the Italian student movement La Pantera and the associated occupation of the Roman Faculty of Architecture. Until today, it engages with neglected urban spaces, under-represented populations and their repressed histories. Its practice is characterised by direct intervention in situ, based on reciprocal interactions with the site. Such interventions can take the form of performative explorations of the urban periphery, inclusive bottom-up urbanism with marginalised groups, or rituals and objects to transcend physical and social boundaries. Stalker—later also with the addition ‘Osservatorio Nomade’ (Nomadic Observatory)—is at the same time an activist group, artist collective, laboratory for alternative architecture, research network, and educational programme. The dissertation examines the traces of the elusive group from its origins to the present day and discusses and contextualises its practice, revealing not only its potentials but also its contradictions and anachronisms. In so doing, the question of a ‘good’ education is central. It arises both in relation to the architectural education of Stalker’s founding members in the 1980s and the pedagogical formats they developed themselves. Furthermore, the possibilities and limits of collective action concerning interdisciplinary collaborations and questions of authorship are addressed. A guiding concept is that of dissidence: transgressive moments, anarchist principles and direct action are identified and discussed as instrumental in Stalker’s work. Methodological tools include research of the Stalker archives and private ones, oral history with various contributors, and participant observation regarding current projects.

This research wants to contribute to a deeper understanding of processes of urban transformation. The ambition of the research is to expand the repertoire of urban transformation practitioners (architects, planners, designers, civil society activists, citizens) in attending to transition processes in complex systems, particularly with a bearing on communities in relationship with the built environment in urban settings. Hence, the research is more specifically focused on the challenge of how to conceptualise and support purposeful, meso-scale, second-order] change in processes of urban transformation.
Starting from an emerging concept of urban transformation that articulates an ambition to break down the barriers between urban planning, urban design and architecture, and to do so explicitly against the background of the great social challenges of today and tomorrow. Methodologically, the research reflects the spirit of post-disciplinary research (research as search/me-search/we-search). Fieldwork is guided by non-representational methods, artistic and action research. Philippe Vandenbroeck immerses myself in concrete urban contexts (notably in the Belgian city of Genk) and tries to read and understand what is happening there by zooming in on background features and barely perceptible movements and moods. In doing so, he makes use of a conceptual framework – rooted in notions from constructivist systems science, cross-cultural management research, cultural studies and spatial studies – that allows him to think about transformation processes in space in a distinctive way. By continuously triangulating action research between the raw data and the still fluid conceptual frameworks around urban transformation, Philippe aims to be able to develop a new narrative about what urban transformation processes are about. The ambition, however, is not to come up with a new methodology but rather to articulate action-oriented effectiveness principles and patterns that could inform situated approaches that are deployed in the spirit of urban transformation.rs, and participant observation regarding current projects.

The production of palm oil has radically altered the environmental and socio-spatial configurations of Peninsular Malaysia by transforming tropical forests and agrarian land into territories of agro-industrial production. The emerging palm oil territories are spatial, ecological and economic monocultures subjected to global consumption habits and governed by the logic of supply chain operations. In this context, operationalisation is understood as the utilisation of processes and practices of industrial agriculture across the territory.

The proposed research seeks to analyse the histories and present forms of palm oil production in Johor State, Malaysia and asks how territories of palm oil production emerge, how they transform in the future, and how architects, urban designers and landscape architects can address the challenges arising from agro-industrial production.

The research will provide a qualitative analysis of the socio-spatial transformation of palm oil territories to uncover potentials for critical design thinking and to integrate agro-industrial territories into the field of architecture and urban and landscape design. 

This thesis focuses on the re-discovery of on-site  design using GNSS technology and virtual and augmented reality  applications. The digital tools developed in this research are aimed to  help designers to better and more accurately respond to local and  site-specific conditions with their landscape architectural  interventions.  

The work builds on the “Landscape Topologies for Robotic Construction” project and is embedded in the NCCR Digital Fabrication, Research Stream Construction Robotics framework.

The on-site design approach fundamentally  challenges current design methods and seeks to identify promising  alternatives. The focus of this work is on digital design and robotic  execution of topographic interventions. The possibility of being able to  plan and realize topographic interventions completely digitally from  planning to execution questions previous design methods using  two-dimensional and analog media. In order to ensure a congruent  workflow from design to execution using digitally driven methods, this  work is developed in collaboration with Prof. Marco Hutter’s Robotic  Systems Lab (RSL) and its research on an autonomously operating, fully  automated Menzi Muck walking excavator (HEAP).

The roles of design and designer need to be  thoroughly renegotiated against the backdrop of autonomous robotic  landscape fabrication as developed by the RSL. The design tools  developed as part of this work seek to help identify and strengthen  these roles in the interplay of natural processes, human interventions,  and robotic processes. Finally, the collaboration with the RSL should  enable a seamless integration of the developed design tools into the  simultaneously developed robotic processes of the HEAP.

The research project is intended to demonstrate  that in the age of digital fabrication, abstract design tools such as  plan drawings might become increasingly less important, and that new  design methods and tools will be required due to the direct  communication between designers and executing machines. It also wants to  provide an outlook on what these tools and methods could look like.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Swiss alpine landscape served likewise as an economically essential tourist destination and as a protective fortress. Thus, it was an important projection surface for national identity and the Helvetic image abroad. In this context, the pass roads served as a stage for the sublime mountain landscape and as a reference for the art of engineering. A traditional iconography, strongly influenced by 19th century road construction, shaped the collective idea of the alpine roadscape at that time. In contrast, visionary representatives of tourism and road building envisioned the Swiss Alps to be a scenery with roads formed of flowing lines tailored to motoring travel. Another central component of the research is to identify transnational impulses. Since an essential aspect of the transnational references in the neighbouring alpine states was the synchrony in the discourse linking symbols of national identity to the motorization of the alpine roads. Consequently, the modernization of alpine roads grew to high cultural and political significance. The research project aims to trace and analyze the interrelation between the perception of the mountain landscape and the design of the Swiss pass roads in this context.

This dissertation project traces the transregional and transmaterial journey of the quatre fleurs, four of the most popular flowers featured in Ottoman decorative arts – the tulip, rose, carnation, and hyacinth – as they made their way from the wild desert landscapes of Central Asia to the ornamental flower parterres of European baroque gardens. The project presupposes that until the advent of a large-scale globalized market for luxury goods in the 18th century, decorative floral motifs still reflected not only local traditions in the arts and crafts but also the botanical legacy of an entire region. As such, parallel developments in horticulture and visual culture at the Ottoman court in the sixteenth century led to a new floral style, which reflected the empire’s unique geographic convergence of aesthetics and flora. Through an investigation into both the cultivation and woven representation of the tulip, rose, carnation, and hyacinth along this westward journey, the dissertation suggests that the parterre de fleurs in France has its roots in Ottoman decorative arts.

With fast population growth and urban densification in some cities, the urban space in the high-density environment has a tendency towards “ verticalization.” The complexity of verticalized urban space reflected not only in the physical perspective, but also expressed by how people use these urban spaces. This research tries to offer a three-dimensional point of view to describe the geographical morphology and further more to analyzing the urban spatial structure and human behavior in the so-called “Vertical City” by both qualitative and quantitative methods.

The basic methodology of this research is to develop an appropriate graph-based accessibility evaluation model by adopting the method from spatial network analysis firstly. Then validate and improve the model by pedestrian data collection and observations through the case study.

The evaluation results from the network analysis above demonstrate a spatial hierarchy of publicity in the tridimensional urban space system theoretically. The Wi-Fi detecting devices will be used to gather the pedestrian movement data in corresponding case studies. The expected results of this research will be an accessibility evaluation and simulation method, which can support the verticalized urban space design, and the design strategies derive from the theory and tool.

This research project explores contemporary urban design education models through the studio culture perspective at four leading urban design programs: ETHZ Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture; Delft University of Technology, the Berlage Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture and Urban; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture, Department of Urban Studies and Planning; and Harvard University, Graduate School of Design. Gaining greater insight into urban design education and its pedagogical and didactic strategies would yield useful information about the emerging teaching paradigms and knowledge creation, with applications at many scales. Focusing on urban design studio teaching can help develop adaptive theories and pedagogical methods and potentially inform future policy objectives. New concepts, roles, and tools for emerging urban design practice, research, and teaching require changes and experimentation in its educational principles. Schools need to be prepared to address global urban ecological issues in the built environment and disseminate these practices in pedagogical development. The intention is to develop novel approaches within the methods and forms of pedagogy through the element of the design studio.

This research project investigates the role of the construction of La Grande Dixence, the world’s largest dam, on the transformation of the Alpine landscape. It was built between 1950 and 1967, in response to the rapidly increasing demand for electricity in Switzerland in the post-war decades. The remoteness of the building sites, and the need to concentrate work within the summer months, resulted in the construction of temporary housing settlements for the workers, directly by the building sites, going up to sometimes 2800 meters in altitude. With their disappearing, at the completion of the Dixence complex, these witnesses of the contribution of the workers have been erased. Building on Tim Ingold’s notion of “taskscape”, this thesis reconstructs the array of activities necessary to achieve this dam, and reconstitutes its spatiality. Even if this phase was temporary, it constitutes an example of dwelling in a high alpine environment, and contributed to shaping the landscape we can see today. The tools used, such as dynamite, trucks or cable-cranes have marked the land in a particular manner. Likewise, roads, paravalanches, earthwork or foundations remain as testimonies of these past activities. The description of the taskscape puts in relation past and present. It allows to question why some traces have been wilfully obliterated, simply abandoned or highlighted, and shows how the image of the Alps have been disconnected from its true, physical materiality, and become a discursive construction.

The design of the urban landscape begins underground. The soil is the breeding ground for development on the surface. The supply infrastructure of fluids, energy and telecommunications of a city lies below the surface and provides like a cardiovascular system for the inflow and outflow of the incoming and outgoing entities. The constant supply leads to a permanent and essential exchange between these worlds. In the future, the demands on the underground will increase. The changing environment, population growth, and ongoing urbanization require its more intensive use of the subsurface. In this context, the subsurface is seen as a resource that may be consumed and thus becomes more scarce.

The three-dimensional point cloud representation based on geodata marks a paradigm shift: it not only allows a more detailed representation of the complex urban landscape including its vegetation, but also gives the surface texture of the model an almost haptic quality. The point cloud model resembles a multidimensional ‘x-ray’ of the landscape, in which the spatial staggering of layers can be made visible at any time.

For the urban landscape of the future, the subsurface needs to be more involved and its potentials anchored in the general consciousness. If it is not thought about, a bottleneck in the ground can develop, affecting urban planning, costs, environmental impacts, carbon footprint, traffic, and subsequently the quality of life in the city. Therefore, the urban landscape and its soil should be read and planned as a unit. To achieve this, the subsoil must be made visible and legible, its perception must advance into the third dimension.

This work, in cooperation with the city of Zurich, investigates the subsurface using a new method to develop a tool for urban analysis. The research method creates a new perception of the city: The city as one space, with underground and surface.

Everyday life in ‘informal settlements’ in Cape Town and across the globe is challenging, not to mention everynight life. Darkness is an everyday feature contributing to and exacerbating daily struggles in informal settlements, and the role that public lighting infrastructure could play in combating darkness and the associated struggles is where the heart of this research lies. What does it mean to confront darkness daily in informal settlements, and how could co-producing public lighting change everynight life? While a large and vital body of research and policy focuses on improving everyday lived experiences in informal settlements, nighttime experiences have thus far been neglected. Calls to study everyday lived experiences of infrastructure and the associations to citizenship has highlights the connection between infrastructure, citizenship and everyday life experiences. However, the impact that darkness has on infrastructural citizenship; and everynight experiences of light or darkness is a topic that is currently absent in the discourse of infrastructure and everyday life, particularly in informal settlements. Therefore, this research utilizes an action research approach to investigate light and darkness in Khayelitsha’s informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa. The research takes on a transdisciplinary and ethnographic approach to co-produce public light with informal settlement residents, where wall-mounted solar lighting is implemented as an alternative public lighting solution.  The study deals simultaneously with empirical work on everynight life in informal settlements, the theoretical discourse on infrastructural citizenship, and practical policy recommendations on public lighting infrastructure in informal settlements.