JBU (2014) 1/2 | A LETTER FROM JBU

The Journal of Biourbanism is pleased to share with you our new issue.

This latest issue compiles works and experiments by researcher, focusing on commons and participation as the core of contemporary planning.

In this frame, we selected a sharp paper on Self-organization and the Potential of a Commons Place by Iris Kühnlein, Loan Diep and Maya Ganesh that examines an experimental project led in Maastricht. The highlighted Landhuis project—a self-organized neighborhood center—is studied in the frame of Christian Fuchs’ theories on agency in societies, and strikes the importance of place in the imaginary structure of a community.

Human experimentation is also at the core of Biophilic Design Triggers Fascination and Enhances Psychological Restoration in the Urban Environment, written by Rita Berto, Giuseppe Barbiero, Margherita Pasini and Pieter Unema. Their work based on Rachel and Stephen Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART), stresses the importance of cognitive design in urban environments.

This question of place or urban place is also investigated by Rachel Singer and Renanit Avitan Fein in their research led in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel. Rings and Pulses analyzes urban layouts through the principles of urban acupuncture to understand and regenerate the complex urban area where historic and modern patterns are interwoven.

Monuments are also part of a community’s commons. In this frame, Jaap Dawson invites us to discover the deep spatial explorations of the Dutch architect Dom Hans van der Laan in his paper Building to Sustain Body and Soul. The architect’s research on patterns and measures structuring space by methods based on human perception is still very contemporary.

Sara Bissen invites us to meditation and poetry through the use of our senses to explore the city in her text The City Smells of Decay.

With his singular approach, Gökhan Karakuş invites us to rediscover the mastery of ancient geometric patterns as a community’s common heritage, and their reinterpretation through technological tools in his paper Hyperarchaic Tectonics: Looking Back to Move Forward in the Making of Form and Space.

Sinan Logie
Editor In Chief
Istanbul Bilgi University
Faculty of Architecture
Istanbul, Turkey

JBU (2014) 1/2 | Review | The Form Strikes Back

Michael W. Mehaffy and Nikos A. Salingaros. (2015). Design for a Living Planet: Settlement, Science, and the Human Future. Portland: Sustasis Press. ISBN 10: 098-934-695-1 (also: Kathmandu: Vajra Books. ISBN 978-9937-623-34-6).

Review by Stefano Serafini

Acknowledgements about the relevance of form in physics, chemistry, biology, ecology and other domains have been steadily gaining momentum since the ’90s.1 In fact, the focus on underlying processes—like biochemical interactions or selection pressure in biology, for example—have overshadowed the scientific study of morphology in several fields during the last 150 years. However, several scholars are continuing to collect evidence about form’s role in triggering and governing dramatic chains of physicochemical effects. Epigenetics and systems biology applied to cancer research are among the most striking examples of such a shift of paradigm.2
The idea (inspired by Galilei and previously by Democritus) that forms are incidental phenomena, irrelevant to scientific objectivity, has been overcome. Relations, intentionality, networks and systems are on stage—and they over and over show off as visible and measurable forms.
Galileo Galilei fought the hylomorphism of the Aristotelians in the 16th century, and put the basis for a science rooted in physical measurement of objects. Galilean science focused on mathematical measures of space, time and impulse (like velocity, acceleration, mass, inertia, magnitude, weight, force).3 Newtonian physics contributed to transform the quantitative abstraction of time and space in metaphysical boundaries of the World, and Immanuel Kant transferred such boundaries into gnoseology. The limits of such an approach became evident already with the impossibility of determining the dynamics of three interacting bodies in movement, a problem that Henry Poincaré faced at the end of the 19th century, preparing the forthcoming science of chaos.4
Physics, chemistry and biology attempted to conform themselves to the challenges of coherent complex systems by the means of a superior level of abstraction, i.e. statistics. Robert Brown didn’t care about the momentum of each molecule of the gas he wanted to study. He rather considered each molecule as an abstract point into a general flow whose behavior follows a coherent pattern. Hence Mendelism got rid of the biological mythology that Charles Darwin had carried on from the English breeders (the idea, for example, that the whole genetic information passes entirely from generation to generation), and thanks to the synthetic work by Julian Huxley, Evolution opened its doors to statistics.5
Science of chaos and laws of form belong to the third revolutionary shift towards a better understanding of the complexity of real phenomena. The fundamental works of Authors like René

Thom and Antonio Lima-de-Faria have contributed new ways of looking at form in mathematics, physics, and biology.6
Within urban studies, Nikos Salingaros and Michael Mehaffy seem to belong to such an interdisciplinary movement; and it is not by chance that they often refer to the sciences of life in their new book Design for a Living Planet. The Authors introduce the reader to understanding how forms are key to change the word by means of design, and come to state that “the core conclusion of the findings reported in this book is revolutionary: sustainability depends upon the geometry of design” (p. 12).
The readers of Christopher Alexander are familiar with several concepts presented in the book,7 and so are those who have been following the previous works of the Authors.8 Salingaros especially—a mathematician with a background in nuclear physics—is since long stressing how the external features of objects and the forms of space influence directly the general structure that objects and space share with their context and their users.
Vittorio Ingegnoli has marked a lifelong work devoted to Bionomics with his last book.9 Likewise Salingaros and Mehaffy acknowledge that the design issues at stake in their work encompass the separateness of disciplines and refers to the wholeness of human activity and the planet’s ecology. Design is not about aesthetics—it is about real effects on the real world and on our lives. A special attention is thus brought to the role that this approach must have on economics, and this seems to be one of the most noteworthy aspects of the book.
One cannot think of changing design without addressing the economic basis from which design stems. This is possibly the first self-critical step designers should make in order to innovate. Several works by Salingaros have already enlightened the role of industrialism against the dramatic quality drop of urban and architecture design during modernity.10 Design for a Living Planet goes further. It points out that design goes beyond the creation of objects. Nowadays design rather deals with services, society, ecology and economics. Economies of scale, of standardization, of place, and of differentiation are thus among the topics of this book.
From such a perspective the following observation sounds very interesting: redundancy is a fundamental quality of living systems, and it makes them especially resilient. As we know, redundancy has been severely banned by contemporary “efficientist” design. Loos considered “decoration” to be a “crime”. Yet, the consequent sanitized design of the 20th century has resulted to be a failure when built structures had to face disruptive events. Urban examples are given, like the effects of the Hurricane Katrina, and the nuclear disaster of Fukushima. In the words of Salingaros and Mehaffy, redundancy is the natural output of a new design of abundance, that not by chance seems such at odds with the economics of scarcity in which we live. Rethinking design thus involves a radical critique about the frames of our very culture and society. Such a rethinking affects aesthetics as long as aesthetics is an effect of more fundamental decisions.

The other parts of the book deal with the history of Modern School, the fake fashion of “green” design, and relevant topics like agility in design, biophilia, evidence-based design, and networks. A full chapter is devoted to the work of Christopher Alexander, presented as the author of a new design “technology” in the sense of disruptive, conceptual tools offered to a new generation of architects and urban planners.
The book is short and light, aimed at inspiring the readers and at making them aware of new possibilities in the practice of design. These “new possibilities” have nothing to do with fashion and market success. They rather deal with a radical choice in order to give meaning to one’s own work, and make our built world more keen to life than it is today.

1 See for instance Piattelli-Palmarini, M. (2006). The return of the laws of form. In C. P. Manzù (Ed.), Life on the Edge (La Vita in Bilico) (pp. 45–57). Roma: Centro Pio Manzù.
2 Bizzarri, M. (2014). Systems biology for understanding cancer biology. Current Synthetic and Systems Biology, 2, 103.
3 For an overview: Drake, S. (1978). Galileo at work: His scientific biography. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
4 Barrow-Green, J. (1997). Poincaré and the three body problem. London: American Mathematical Society and London Mathematical Society.
5 Depew, D. J. & Weber, B. H. (1995). Darwinism evolving: Systems dynamics and the genealogy of natural selection. Cambridge–London: MIT Press.
6 Thom, R. (1988). Esquisse d’une semiophysique: Physique aristotelicienne et theorie des catastrophes. Paris: Intereditions. Lima-de-Faria, A. (1988). Evolution without selection: Form and function by autoevolution. New York–London: Elsevier.
7 See Alexander, C. (2002–2005). The Nature of Order (Vols. 1–4). Berkeley: Center for Environmental Structure.
8 See for example Salingaros, N. A. (2010). Twelve lectures on architecture: Algorithmic sustainable design. Solingen: Umbau Verlag; Idem. (2006). A theory of architecture. Solingen: Umbau Verlag; Idem. (2005). Principles of urban structure. Amsterdam: Techne Press. Mehaffy, M. W., & Salingaros, N. A. (2002). Geometrical fundamentalism. Plan Net Online Architectural Resources.
9 Ingegnoli, V. (2015). Landscape Bionomics, Biological-integrated Landscape Ecology. Springer.
10 Especially Salingaros, N. A. A theory of architecture, op. cit.

JBU (2014) 1/2 | Review | We See Only What Has Been Produced for Us To See

Sara Bissen. (2015). Topsoil. Defiance-San Andrés Itzapa-Newark-Istanbul: Artena Anarchist Press. ISBN 978-88-940505-0-9.

Review by Kelly Nosari

Tacit acceptance of the commodities and information that inundate our urban lives promises control over the chaos. In reality, it prevents us from seeing beyond the surface of things to understand our complicity in the world we inhabit. In this hall of mirrors, we are removed from the reality that we are all actors, whatever role we play in the hierarchy of exchange. Sara Bissen’s Topsoil deliberately challenges such inertia by revealing the global commodity chain of capital that underpins our lives.

Topsoilis at once essay, book, critique, and artist manifesto. It is also none of these things. It is most certainly a dense read—in content and in structure. Introduced as a play, sources are given as a list of characters, names scrambled and removed from their context. It follows the story of cotton from the farmer planting the seed in the soil in India to the all-powerful urban marketplace in New York City—revealing the urban dweller’s separation from actual global systems. At the same time, the text is not linear and its visual structure reflects the opaque, circuitous, and disconnected routes and exchanges of capital’s commodity chain. Footnotes in Roman numerals carry visual weight and emphasize certain words or ideas, but do not serve their traditional purpose. They grow larger as the text progresses, seemingly laden down with meaning.

Written in its final stages standing up over a sleepless three days, Topsoilis a work born of process. In a manner reminiscent of performance artists such as Marina Abramović, Bissen subjected her body and mind to immense strain. Her physicality served as the conduit for her intellectual outpouring, figuratively walking her from New York City back to her former home in the Guatemalan countryside as she wrote. The resulting text continues to evolve as an online commentary that invites critique and response—essentially extending Topsoilinto new directions. 1

Bissen, a ruralist, cites artists and theorists such as Abramović, David Harvey, Henri Lefebvre, and Hans Haacke in her discussion of contemporary economic systems of exchange. Conversations with her father, a farmer, were also an important source of inspiration made evident in the text’s central focus on soil. Bissen’s overarching concern with representation—one of the most resonating themes in Topsoil—also positions her work in relation to Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1967) and Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation(1981)—each of which share a similar fundamental assertion that human experience is now merely the simulation of reality.

For Bissen, “the eyes are passive. But labor is active.” 2 Moving beyond the topsoil or the “surface layer” to the substantive soil below is potentially agentive. 3

However, if we are merely looking at the symbols and messages contained in the commodities prescribed for us, then we are not seeing at all. In other words, we have to challenge capital—and the flow of information in the media—on a fundamental level by taking on the very symbols it employs to order our lives.

Topsoil’s next phase is in the transition from theory to practice. The work and its growing online commentaries seek out what Bissen refers to as “the spaces of contradiction [that] expose the cracks in the surface.” 4

She charts a collective approach to the creation of new meaning within the commodity chain: “1. Start from a representation 2. Find what is [hidden] 3. Represent in a new way what we found.” 5


1 See http://topsoillxiii.com/.

2 Bissen, S. (2015). Topsoil. Defiance-San Andrés Itzapa-Newark-Istanbul: Artena Anarchist Press, 4, cxxxii and ccxv (after Lefebvre).

3 Ibid. 4, i.

4 Ibid. 3, lxxii.

5 Ibid. 4, xxix.

JBU (2014) 1/2 | Review | Working With/In

Marina Mihaila. (2012). Office Architecture + Technology. Bucharest: Ion Mincu University Press. ISBN 978-606-638-020-1.
Review by Maria Bostenaru Dan

This book is a bilingual volume (Romanian and English) based in part on the doctoral work entitled “Working with/in New Office—Concepts & Technology”, submitted by the Author at Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urban Planning in Bucharest. The study includes two parts. The first is entitled “From Idea to Demarche”, and has an introductory character. The second bears the title of the book. A general bibliography, plus some data and illustrations conclude the work. The first chapter offers a summary of the doctoral thesis.
“Working with/in” is the name of the author’s theory on how to approach architectural issues and challenges. The office building is seen in the broad context of the city, “working with” the office space. However, both the indoor architecture and climate—influenced by artistic and technological means—are important, and these relate to the detailed conformations given by the architectural programme of the office with the “working in” approach. If “working with” the mineral dimension of the city as conglomerate of buildings in a cityscape is important, “working in”—the human dimension of the users to whom the building adapts—is also important. Beyond lines drawn in an architectural plan is the detailed appearance of the finishing, the architectural interior, and the building’s physical comfort and safety on a detailed scale.
Thus, “Working with” represents a first step of design work. Current development in cities was marked by the rise of towers in some low rise neighborhoods, and many of these are office buildings. Hence, the research focused on the problem of density in the urban landscape. Density is seen either as vertical or extensive mass growth, but in both cases it involves the addition of new functions and activities. This way the city fights against the functional segregation from post-WWII. Textures define zones that get a central character through the addition of office buildings. This is an advanced approach to urban structure; to urban form and function. Work and residence are not always separated anymore. This is one of the aspects covered: the way contemporary office buildings play a role for the public space and the cityscape. However, the investigation continues in more detail on the spatial conformation of the building itself, including interior architecture and the technical conformations which lead to better indoor climate as well as general structural security. The meanings and the role of office space are spanning thus from urban scale to building scale, at the latter, up to the dimension of the office room.
Many of the issues raised are in close connection with the contemporary challenge of sustainability. On the urban scale, one can look at office towers as a landmark to follow the legibility of the city, and question the influence on the urban landscape in competition with historical landmarks and neighborhood characteristics. The study reviewed such new office towers in the cities, built by star architecture studios. As the author is both a practicing architect and a design studio lecturer at the university, she has a great interest in both creating and teaching contemporary architecture. The work reviewed here has thus a double focus on theoretical and applied research: lessons are learned from theory for practice and from practice for theory.ù

The architecture project is seen in need of a conceptual underpinning as a response to issues such as sustainable urban development and appropriate density for historical neighborhoods in which office buildings have to be contextually integrated. In this regard, the work responds to the “museum dimension” of the city—the whole city as museum, not only its buildings. Heritage neighborhoods do not have to become museums, but be open to development as they were throughout history. Contemporary architecture has to adapt to the context, through integration or contrast. The “museum dimension” contributes to legibility by creating traces. The concept is seen on both the urban integration and architectural conformation dimension, up to detailed technology and finishing.
Going into the detail of the office room, at “working in”, daylight and a good thermal and visual comfort are assured by the latest technologies. These are connected with a current challenge of sustainable environment, namely that of energy. In current international research, attention is paid to energy research and the low carbon society. In office buildings, numerous forefront approaches to assure this have been tried—for example, intelligent façades. Since Le Corbusier, daylight has also been assured by the vertical challenge of the building itself. Le Corbusier’s utopia in providing contested alternatives to historical neighborhoods was not the only one in designing towers, which always challenged architects since the dream of Icarus to fly, and the Bible story of the stairs to heaven. From the concept there has been just one step to utopia, and sometimes to manifestos. Some of the ideas in history that were utopia or manifesto, such as Sant’ Elia’s or F.L.Wright’s dreams, became possible with later technology. Also in this work and within the doctoral thesis, utopia has thus been proposed as a study model.
A continuation of the book promises to offer a dictionary of terms related to the topic, and a description of the proposed utopia.
Architecture theory books are rare in the publishing landscape. Mihaila’s work offers an appreciated contribution to contemporary architecture. Office buildings are an architectural program that responds through the current building typology (the tower) to the technological possibilities in structures of the 20th and 21st centuries. At the same time, current environmental challenges pose requirements on their integration from both an urban development and a climatic point of view. The work extensively analyzes these issues from the dual viewpoint of “working with” and “working in” office building space. For this content, the book is recommended to both theoreticians and practitioners of architecture, and for practitioners and those who want to be practitioners (students) to learn the concepts behind design and how to design in a conceptual way after knowing the theory behind. This is also for theoreticians to analyze the development of these emblematic and often preservationist-contested landmarks of the contemporary city—from utopia to reality. The curriculum of the Author is guarantee of both aspects.

JBU (2014) 1/2 | Papers

Self-Organization and the Potential of a Commons Place
Iris Kühnlein
Independent Researcher, Brazil
Loan Diep
Independent Researcher, United Kingdom
Maya Ganesh
Independent Researcher, India

In the light of various socio-environmental issues faced today, there is an urgent need for a holistic form of sustainable development that focuses not just on economic growth, but also on social and environmental aspects. This paper advocates for self-organization within communities through the notion of place to successfully transition towards sustainability. The concept of self-organization offers an insightful understanding of ways by which innovation can be fostered to support such transition. Social self-organization is analyzed through Fuchs’ theory on agency in societies. The concept is also explored through its relationship with the idea of place. The Landhuis, a social center located in Maastricht, is used as a working example. The case highlights the opportunities and limits of social self-organization in the broader context of sustainable development. The analysis of the Landhuis leads to the idea of what the authors refer to as a ‘commons place’—a shared spatial configuration managed by those who created it.

Keywords: Social Self-organization; Sustainable Development; Place; Commons Place; Social Change; Top-down; Bottom-up; Social Movements; Social Center.

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Biophilic Design Triggers Fascination and Enhances Psychological Restoration in the Urban Environment

Rita Berto
Department of Philosophy, Pedagogy and Psychology, University of Verona, Italy

Giuseppe Barbiero
Laboratory of Affective Ecology, Department of Social and Human Sciences, University of Valle d’Aosta, Italy
Department of Psychology, Cognitive and Neural Science, University of Utah, United States of America

Margherita Pasini
Department of Philosophy, Pedagogy and Psychology, University of Verona, Italy

Pieter Unema
Department of Psychology, Cognitive and Neural Science,
University of Utah, United States of America

This brief communication wants to draw greater attention to the role of physical environment in the psychological restoration process. Given the benefits deriving from contact with Nature, urban designers should also attend the human need for psychological restoration. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, performance, mood and well-being benefit from exposure to environments attracting effortless involuntary attention and demanding little voluntary attention; this process called fascination, mostly occurs in natural environments though our exploratory studies showed that also urban settings/buildings can be high on fascination. Using knowledge of our affinity for Nature, experiences of well-being can also be generated through the environments we create (biophilic architecture). Fascination with Nature is derived not only from natural elements, but also from the qualities and attributes of Nature people find appealing and aesthetically pleasing when reproduced in the built environment as well. “Cognitive comfort” resides primarily in the relationship among natural and built landscape elements rather than intrinsically in the elements themselves. To know that also urban settings may be highly fascinating can be of great help to city planners to promote psychological well-being as one aspect of public health. Urban environments should not compromise people’s need for psychological restoration whereas contribute to providing an opportunity for physical, cognitive and emotional restoration from environmental stress.

Keywords: Attention Restoration Theory; Biophilic Design; Lempel-Ziv Welch Lossless Compression Algorithm; Perceived Restoration Scale.

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Rings and Pulses: The Route to Regenerating the Jerusalem Neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel

Rachel Singer
Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Israel

Renanit Avitan Fein
Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Israel

A Graduate Design Studio served as a platform to explore potential applications of ideas associated with Biourbanism to revitalize the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel. These ideas served as a conceptual guide for the development of a design approach and strategy to trigger a process of regeneration. Relying on analysis of both a top-down and a bottom-up hybrid approach to activities that create urban place, as well as utilizing urban acupuncture methods, the city was mapped as a means to understand the neighborhood’s context in the larger framework of modern-day Jerusalem. The historical background was also taken into account as it has shaped the present day situation, from which a proposal for a site intervention based on the findings was generated.

Keywords: Urban Acupuncture, Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem, Top-down, Bottom-up, Urban Place, Urban Organisms, Pulses, Rings.

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Building to Sustain Body and Soul

Jaap Dawson
Delft University, The Netherlands

In recent years approaches to sustainability have mainly focused on technological performances and neglected human soul as a major factor in the process of architectural creation. Space, defined by boundaries interacts directly with the mind through the body. Dom Hans van der Laan researches on the thickness of walls and their relations with the spaces that they are defining are certainly a precious field to explore in order to define our relationship with our built world and inner world. In that sense, the example of the Roosenberg Abbey designed by the architect in 1975 is certainly a perfect case study.

Keywords: Dom Hans van der Laan; Christopher Alexander; Léon Krier; Jean-François Gabriel; Patterns; Space; Measure.

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The City Smells of Decay

Sara Bissen
The Ruralist Body, United States of America

The re-conquering of the imaginary within assemblages of practice involves time spent in the physical, and the rise of new conditions from the full body. We are temporary rural spaces in the city, but temporal rural spaces in the city are less ephemeral than they appear. In fact, this temporality embodies a rural quality, which is that of staying power—rooted in time and space. We are the site. The rural is to be defined by communal social relations and as a place absent of dominant control, where the logic moves in a direction opposite of capital growth and the urban simulacra.

Keywords: Rural; Body; Resistance; Soil; Urban Decay; Simulacra.

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On The City Smells of Decay by Sara Bissen – An Epilogue

Stefano Serafini
International Society of Biourbanism, Italy

On the meaning of Bissen’s work for biourbanism studies.

Keywords: Ruralism; Epistemology.

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Hyperarchaic Tectonics: Looking Back to Move Forward in the Making of Form and Space

Gökhan Karakus
EMedya Design, Turkey

Traditional Eastern attitude towards abstraction, geometry, handmade work and computation share similarities with the increasing data/software-based coordination that is happening among designers, builders and owners. Hyperarchaic Tectonics points at merging art, computation and social organization. It is a tool for ecological design thinking that plays with geometrical tiling in order to interface the patterns of human and nature.

Keywords: Topkapi Scroll; Tessellation; Geometry; Hyperarchaic Tectonics; 3D Tiling.

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JBU (2014) 1/2



Iris Kühnlein, Loan Diep, Maya Ganesh

Rita Berto, Giuseppe Barbiero, Margherita Pasini, Pieter Unema

Rachel Singer, Renanit Avitan Fein

Jaap Dawson

Sara Bissen

Stefano Serafini

Gökhan Karakuş



Stefano Serafini

Kelly Nosari

Maria Bostenaru Dan