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2013 Conference



First International Conference
Re-Imaging the City after the Knowledge-Based Turn
Politecnico di Milano  I School of Architecture 
Department of Architecture and Urban Studies DAStU
19th-21st  June 2013

The current proliferation of urban identities is followed, almost inevitably, by a fragmentation of the languages, codes and metaphors used to describe, represent and interpret cities. Urban studies are now faced with a double challenge. On the one hand, they have to consider the new collective agents who create a dissonant choir of micro-descriptions of and about the city, as well as the ways in which these representations are shared through multiple geo-spatial frameworks and locating systems (both online and offline). On the other hand, they have to revolutionize their specialist language in order to analyze the contradictory images of an urban world where networks of agents, tensions and latent transformations are harder and harder to decode.

The heterogeneous nature of urban geographies thus requires scholars and specialists of the field to experiment with new interpretive instruments. These new forms of assessment should be able to overcome the functional and formal simplifications that belong to an old-fashioned understanding of urban studies and risk to limit its analytical efficacy.

This conference aims at exploring the multiple, innovative ways which are and can used to describe and analyze contemporary cities, with peculiar attention granted to the role of new media (web 3.0, geo-social networks, etc…). These virtual environments, in fact, generate collective, self-organized and informal sources of knowledge which cover international urban networks and highly impact on our understanding of urban spatiality in the 21st century. The different languages used to describe cities have become, in this perspective, interpretive instruments, meta-projectual tools and, at the same time, vehicles to share images of urban landscapes.

The main questions we would like to consider in this international conference are: How can we give visibility to the new forms of interactions between citizens and urban spaces? How do we interpret the extensive quantity of random data coming from the virtual traces we leave on a daily basis through cities? How can we create a dialogue between opposed physical and geographical identities belonging to the same metropolitan region?

This event will allow us to show samples of how the major contemporary cities are studied, analyzed and represented, through a highly interdisciplinary perspective, fostering the dialogue between geography, architecture, spatial semiotics and urban studies.

Organized by:
Rossella Salerno, Camilla Casonato, Daniele Villa with Mattia Bertin
Department of Architecture and Urban Studies – DAStU

Scientific committee

  • Matteo Bolocan Goldstein, Politecnico di Milano
  • Bertrando Bonfantini, Politecnico di Milano
  • Malvina Borgherini, Università IUAV di Venezia
  • Antonella Contin, Politecnico di Milano
  • Andrea Giordano, Università di Padova
  • Sofia Morgado, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa
  • Paola Pucci, Politecnico di Milano
  • Rossella Salerno, Politecnico di Milano
  • Daniele Villa, Politecnico di Milano
  • Katharine Willis, Plymouth Univerity


1. Representation and Perceptions of the Changing City

Rethinking the relationship between perception and representation can mean re-examine the fundamentals that bind urban landscapes with the universe of images created to interpret, understand, communicate cities. In an era dominated by the overabundance of images, the analytical strength of visual languages ​​does not seem to be able to master the complexity of transformations acting in and around the city. On the other hand the artistic languages ​​continue to wonder about urban subjects fostering the proliferation of endless imaginary.

2. Visualizing the Past, Imagining the Future

Try to interpret the urban phenomenon means, first of all, facing with the times of the past and projections of the future. The everyday life in the city has to deal with continuous reconstructions and stories of the urban past as much as with imaginary and scenarios of many possible times to come: the future of the expected changes, the future of urban decline, the future of the loss of identity in the large metropolitan regions. Visions and imaginary thus become indispensable tools for connecting the course of fragmented time inside cities.

3. ICT: Sharing Visions of the City

This theme explores the relationship and role that digital media can have in the representation and experience of urban spaces and places. Web-based and geo-social applications are transforming our understanding and interactions that can occur in contemporary urban spaces. We continue to discover opportunities for integrating physical and digital places in ways that connect and enable meaningful engagement between the variety of spaces/places in which we live today.

4. New Urban Metaphors

As pointed out by some of the most interesting contemporary studies define urban complexity and make it visible and clear means trying new epistemological strategies.  Among these the metaphor appears as one of the most common cognitive attitudes and, at the same time, one of the most contradictory and problematic. Using P.Healey words (In Search of the “Strategic” in Spatial Strategy Making, 2010) “Meaning making often gets explored not just through defining alternative designs and options, but by the use of metaphor and analogy. Framing work, like the process of probing the available knowledge about situations and issues, requires an expansive yet integrative, pluralistic yet synthetic, collective imagination.”

Keynote speakers

The Conference will count upon the participation of the following keynote speakers:

  • Franck Eckardt,
    Professor for urban sociology at the Insitute for European Urban Studies, 

    Bauhaus-University Weimar/Germany

” Many voices but no plan? Planning the city in a field of diverse narratives “

Urban planning is based on principal assumptions. Most strikingly, the planning includes an idea for the future society. Planning permanently produces pictures of that foresight on the future. In this it is also narrating the role of planning itself. The Great Narrative of the modern planning embodies in its imaginary world the role of the master planer, the democratic planer represents a well understood “volunté general” (Rousseau).

Today, it seems that most of these planning narratives have been disturbed and are exhausted. Planning fails to regenerate democracy under the siege of omnipresent crisis. In the “post-democracy” (Couch), the fantasy of the people seems to leave out the role of the planer. Does that necessary mean the end of “planning” as such?

In the contribution, the author will work out the hypothesis that planning is intrinsically part of urban life and that planning is a constant co-production of any local society.  Grass rotes movements, individuals, social networks, economic innovators and many others are permantely stating their vision of the city development by using certain narratives. Looking on the available narratives, the discussion on the meaning of planning however has different impacts.

  • Roberto Rocco
    Professor  at the Chair of Spatial Planning and Strategy, TU Delft

” What’s governance and what’s it for. The communicative turn in planning ”

The communicative turn in planning and designing represents a unique opportunity to rethink our activity’s paradigms. From a supercilious position where planners and designers are the owners of ready-made solutions, we now have the opportunity to understand urban planning and designing as knowledge-creation activities, where professionals and non-professionals are both simultaneously teachers and learners.
But this is not all. Communicative planning and designing are also democracy-building activities. Radical democracy means that stakeholders must interact and communicate not only to learn from each other, but also as a means to invent new roles for themselves, to formulate visions for the future and to shape the city to their needs and desires. Harvey has called this “the right to the city”: the ability to shape the built environment to one’s needs and desires and to participate in the public realm.
In order for effective communication and decision-making to happen, we need to understand the governance of places and projects. In this seminar, I will explain what governance is and what it is for in planning and designing activities. I will explore its potentials for knowledge-building and effective decision-making and I will reflect on the challenges it presents us with.
  • Livio Sacchi

   Professor at the School of Architecture in Pescara “G. D’Annunzio,” University Chieti.
   He also teaches at the School of Architecture “Valle Giulia,” University of Rome “la Sapienza.”Università di Pescara

” Survey and Regeneration of the Historic District Jeddah, KSA “

An agreement between the al Thurat Foundation and Tecturae srl, in cooperation with the Municipal Administration of Al Balad in Jeddah and the Department of Architecture of the Università degli Studi “G. d’Annunzio” of Chieti-Pescara, Italy, has made possible the survey and a design proposal for a significant part of the historic district of Jeddah and for some outstanding buildings that deserve a special attention.

  • Ola Söderström 

   Professor of social and cultural geography at the University of Neuchâtel

” Revisiting old metaphors: the discursive making of the smart city model “

On November 4 2011, the trademark ‘smarter cities’ was officially registered as belonging to IBM. This was an important milestone in a struggle between IT companies over visibility and legitimacy in the smart city market. Part of a research that explores the discursive, technological and spatial construction of the smart city model, this paper looks at the role of discourse in the making of smart cities. Drawing on Actor-Network-Theory, I claim that this discourse is mainly produced by the software industry and determined by attempts to define ‘obligatory passage points’ in the implementation of technologies aiming at the optimisation of urban flows. I then show that this discourse constructs a general solution to urban development by revisiting two long-standing metaphors in the history of urban politics: utopianism and systemism. My presentation is in three parts. I first trace the origin and diffusion of the term ‘smart cities’ and examine how a series of main actors try to position themselves through discourse in the smart city business. Second, I focus on IBM’s smarter cities campaign in order to identify the imaginaries and persuasive strategies developed by the company to market its version of smart cities. Third, I move beyond the buzz-word ‘smart city’ as defined in the official discourse of large corporations to briefly explore how this discourse is appropriated ‘on the ground’ and made (or not) operational in specific municipalities.

Conference Program


Conference Proceedings



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