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Why Urban Design Today? Ep.6

Updated: Sep 19, 2021

Here at UDDI we consider our topics as a practice and a discipline aimed to improve the quality of the life of the people in the built environment.

In this column we intend to orient, to inform and to say why we need Urban Design today - from different points of view. Here's Aj. Adrian's one!

Born in Hong Kong and a citizen of New Zealand, Adrian Lo (Ph.D. in Architecture, University of Auckland) has held teaching positions in Australia, New Zealand, and Nepal. He has taught various subjects in architecture and urban design at both undergraduate and graduate levels. He also has professional experience in architectural firms in Hong Kong and Australia working on local and international projects.

Adrian’s research interests primarily focus on the theme of ‘positive spaces negative volumes’ in both architecture and urbanism. He is the Chief Editor of City Outlook and has exhibited at UN-Habitat’s Tenth Session of the World Urban Forum held in Abu Dhabi in 2020, as well as published in peer-reviewed international journals and books, including Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts, The Journal of Public Space, and Urban Corporis.

“One of the main roles of urban design is to define, shape, and energize public spaces of the city. As the world moves to more than two-thirds of the population living in urban areas by 2050, public open spaces - likened to the lungs of the city - become ever more important, as they act as outdoor living rooms for social, political, and cultural events. But what does it mean to design and shape the experiences of public space?

Giambattista Nolli's influential technique of mapping, commonly termed figure-ground mapping, as seen in his La Pianta Grande di Roma of 1748 has been adopted by architects and urban designers alike to graphically show black figures, generally buildings, within a white ground of public open spaces, which generally include the streets, squares, and even interiors of public buildings.

In ‘From Object to Field: Field Conditions in Architecture and Urbanism’, a seminal text by architectural theorist Stan Allen, he writes, “Form matters, but not so much the forms of things as the forms between things” (Allen, 2009). This indicates the primacy and importance of public spaces, as the forms between things (buildings). The potency of the Nolli map is in its capacity to communicate above all else how positive open spaces are framed by the negative volumes of the buildings.

How the in-between or interstitial space both within a building as well as between buildings, and indeed, the intersection between architecture and the city, is designed, managed, and perceived is a critical issue of today’s cities, with implications on urban equality, diversity, and environments. Urban public spaces can provide, not only a strong sense of place, belonging, and identity, but also a common ground whereby citizens can exchange ideas and celebrate their differences in exercising the ‘right to the city’.

Adrian’s work, research, and teaching explores different tactics and strategies of the in-between and challenges conventional interpretations about architectural and urban space in suggesting alternative understandings of public-private, exterior-interior dichotomies.”

Aj. Adrian Lo, Ph.D.,

Thammasat Design School International Expert


Image credits: Image credits: Previous Design studio teaching: projects by Eliza Shrestha (Newari Cultural Center), Conor Tselepis (Social Platforms), Annalise White (Amorphous Void), Youyang Niu (Dematerialization of Volume), and Manjil Bista (Newari Cultural Center), and Exhibition at UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum 10.

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