Soft Infrastructures for a Neo-Metabolism

Thomas Mical
University of South Australia
Associate Professor of Architecture

Designers’ universal impulse to naturalization deals today with reframing new approaches towards soft vs. hard biourban structures. Operative infrastructures generate organic creative futures, and oppose informal, serendipitous, innovative, and risky soft systems urbanism to hard design determinism. The emergency of a Biourbanism soft systems approach contrasts several Metabolist principles and practices, especially those favouring hard infrastructural platforms as fixed systemic cores and conduits. Biourbanism – a conceptual process of creative assemblage generating soft infrastructures – think of the hard-soft and risk-innovation couples, as ecologies. In this way, Biourbanism flourishes between multiple forces, modernities, and ecologies, by retrofitting urban situations where hard infrastructures are incomplete, ruined, or even lacking. It can integrate hardware, software, freeware, and wetware creatively through a thinking design of landscape, architecture, and urbanism, that has to operate also methodologically on multidisciplinary networks, and that can be called neo-Metabolism. Among its unconventional potentialities there are biourban acupuncture, nomadism, multi-effect linkages, biopolitical tactics.

Finally, Biourbanism has a revolutionary capacity within the biopolitical issues of identity and control, as soft systems can still bind and cage; and this challenges with responsibility its idealism and optimism.

Keywords: Biourbanism, Neo-Metabolism, Ecologies, Architecture, Soft Infrastructure, Soft Natural Systems, Informal Urbanism, Risk, Biopolitics.

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ICT+PartecipazioneAntonio Caperna, Alessandro Giangrande, Paolo Mirabelli & Elena Mortola (2013) Partecipazione e ICT. Per una città vivibile, Rome: Gangemi editore

Review by Eleni Tracada

The main purpose to select and connect together these chapters, papers and case studies is to link the concept of participatory urban and architectural designs to human oriented design processes, during which participants and citizens play a main role, no matter which rules and regulations have been followed and/or adopted. The book mainly supports recent developments in theories and practices and with brief and sound support from Prof. Elena Mortola on providing indexes of available materials and secondary sources to help scholars understand especially the importance of co-existence of both natural and built environments in New Urbanism and Urban Renaissance theories and practices, which mainly marked the second half of the 20th century.

In this book, although it is available to Italian speaking and reading scholars at the moment, some chapters are so vital to make us understand how Urbanism developed in Italy and how long it was until urban laws and regulations could start affecting community participatory projects. For instance, in his Integrazione delle pratiche di partecipazione nei processsi di pianificazione sostenibile (=Integration of participatory practices in the processes of sustainable urban planning), Alessandro Giangrande points us correctly to the political trends in Italy, in which precarietà (=precariousness) in employment and posts in institutions and public offices has been always a main issue; citizens have been influenced in such a way that they often reject community coordination in order to act as individual and selfish job hunters. The author of this chapter promotes literature in favour of Town Planning Laws, advocating a new paradigm of Strategic Choices (also explained in detail with very relevant information in Appendix B). To my opinion appendices A, B, and C are very important for this book; it might have been useful to see them following this chapter as one main chapter of case studies. These case studies could have been strong advocates of chapters, such as, for instance, Antonio Caperna’s Urbanistica Peer-to-Peer (=p2p Urbanism).

Antonio Caperna in his abovementioned chapter makes a detailed overview on the importance of open sources, such as free software availability in order to guarantee free distribution of materials, integrity of authorship, non-discriminatory applications, open free licencing of software, licencing which is not affecting the integrity of all co-operating IT programmes. The author explains with clarity the models of peer-to-peer design processes and makes reference to pioneer professionals and authors involved, like Michel Bauwens. In his discussion on topology, Caperna explains how effectively distribution networks function to help communities to be self-organised through collective intelligence efforts. The author explains that, current economic crisis could only suggest that, teaching in the schools of architecture should be re-designed in order to favour professional changes, which may help swiftly global communities to exchange useful data on either new urban developments or regeneration projects. The author especially affirms that, human beings should have the right to choose in which environment they want to live (p. 69) and peer-to-peer practices can only guarantee such a selection. It is also good to see some thoughts and recommendations for the future at the end of this chapter.

And I wish to conclude with some comments on the final article of this book, written by Antonio Caperna and Stefano Serafini on Biourbanistica come nuovo modello epistemologico (=Biourbanism as epistemological model). This is a well-structured chapter which includes all the information in brief that you need to understand Biourbanism’s aim and objectives. According to the authors epistemological reform in Urbanism was indispensable, as we can see in its developments, good or bad, especially in the second half of the 20th century and in the first decade of the 21st century. The authors explain with clarity why professionals and societies should adopt Biophilic architecture and design, which are the main benefits which are historically passed from antiquity to modernity; they also discuss about various scales of Biophilia and justly conclude that, today many authors and professionals could promote different shapes and forms for cities, far away from some disturbing current tumour sprawl models.

Antonio Caperna is an architect and PhD in Urban Sustainable design; he is President of the International Society of Biourbanism. Stefano Serafini is a philosopher and Director of Studies in Biourbanism. Alessandro Giangrande has a long career as a University teacher and also directed TIPUS laboratory in the Department of Urban Studies in University Tre Rome. Paolo Mirabelli, another author in this book, works for the Institute of Construction Technology, in Milan. And last, but, not least, Prof. Elena Mortola has a very long career in CAAD between the two Universities of Rome, La Sapienza and Tre.


BiourbanAcopunctureMarco Casagrande, Biourban Acupuncture. Treasure Hill of Taipei to Artena, Rome: International Society of Biourbanism 2013

Review by Angelo Abbate

Science fiction has always confronted artificial and natural reality. Most of it has envisioned a future that is going to corner and minimize nature, echoing social and philosophical treatises, art, and a diffuse anxiety about mature capitalism, with visions of inhuman cities, robots-like men, and life downgraded to slavery by an impersonal power system.

Perhaps that is not just fiction anymore, the leap into a paradoxical parallel-world having happened already, and we unknowingly living in it – living into the “second generation cities”, as Marco Casagrande says. These cities are ruled by intangible, unreal, and not-human purposes, and grow by systematically destroying those natural geometric patterns and sub-codes that scholars like Christopher Alexander, Nikos Salingaros, Stephen Kellert, and others working in the fields of Evidence Based Design and Biourbanism, are pointing out.

As human beings seem to be educated to feed destruction, exploitation, pollution, and waste of their own habitat, they are dehumanizing themselves.

The metropolis of Taipei, as many Italian dull suburbs, is no exception to this trend. The ones who live and work in accordance with life, such as urban nomads or indigenous communities, are a threat to the system. It wants to “save them from themselves”, checking and adjusting their activities.

Marco Casagrande offers a way out, a therapy for the sickness of our cities, a path to achieve what he calls the Third Generation City.

Cities, to be the fall of the machine, where “the ruin” is the reality produced by nature, that reclaims the artefact. Cities where the nature force takes the initiative, affects the design of industrial society, and becomes co- architect.

The treatment is described by Casagrande as “biourban acupuncture”, reviving the traditional Chinese medicine practice on city scale, in order to trigger purifying and healing processes in the urban organism

Marco mentions several “needles” of Biourbanism. All of them aim at establishing a contact between the urban collective consciousness and the vital systems of nature. Illegal community gardens in Taipei, and weed growing from cracks in the concrete, are examples of similar needles. Nature can restore wholeness from a single point or node – even the wholeness of our human condition.


Eleni Tracada
University of Derby
Faculty of Arts, Design and Technology

We are very pleased that we have been able to reach our purpose to publish a new series of very interesting papers that are relevant to our principles and practices of Biourbanism.
The contributions of the authors for the second issue have been conscientiously selected in order to initiate discussions on themes or issues that do not only relate to urban growth, but also to technological advancements enabling several contemporary cities to achieve almost full sustainable status (or, at least, assisting modern societies and local communities in their struggle to prevail against current rapid and volatile climate changes globally).

In his paper Towards sustainability: Self-organising communities, Juan Diego Pérez Téllez, a new researcher, introduces self-organising processes of urban communities in Spain supported by a variety of functional elements in micro scale through physical interactive elements for social collaboration. The author looks at proactive involvement of self-organised communities in the dynamic development of the socio-cultural heritage as controlled context for the evolution of modern urban systems. His approach is based on the geometrical linkage through permeable membranes of neighbourhoods, fractal interfaces of urban fabric and structures that support a hierarchical organisation of geometrically arranged urban components able to provide large scale coherence. A case study on Andalusia’s so-called casa de vecinos and patio town housing, given the distinctive morphological aspects and social development from past to present times and its relevant contribution to the contemporary urban fabric within a city, shows that still common uses of patio spaces shared by more than one neighbours may perform as fractal elements favouring complexity in human interactions and thus guaranteeing long-lasting urban coherence.

In the second paper with the title Studying Ten Principles of the Wholeness Theory Established By Christopher Alexander in Jamshidieh Park Design in Tehran, Iran, Aida Jadidi, an independent scholar, tries to understand re-uses of green areas for public use according to long-established formation of important nodal points/centres within natural environment; these important core areas may still support and complement each other to form wholeness (a self-balanced system). If some of these elements disappear during redesigning processes of green park areas, as it happened in Jamshidieh Park, a failure occurs, so that users should find themselves alienated. Thus, unbalanced core parts of a green park become unfavourable places to be, in spite the efforts to imitate nature in design.

In their paper Performance of underground dams as a solution for sustainable management of drought, Mir Masoud Kheirkhah Zarkesh, Delnaz Ata & Azadeh Jamshidi present the advantages of underground dams as valuable resources to provide not only water in rural agricultural areas, but also drinking water in costal urban areas. Their paper offers the opportunity for us to consider that, even the simplest technology to preserve water supplies nowadays can be proved an invaluable one and especially in costal areas that are so close to sea water or in areas with high temperatures in which water supplies may dry out very fast.

In his Sustainable Architecture: Utopia or Feasible Reality?, Dr. Zaheer Allam reflects upon issues relate on Sustainable Architecture as a contemporary discipline to be taught in order to train architects who will be brave enough to face the idea of acquiring a common view about sustainability; they should act as human beings to deliver more, when they share a common view to work for the greater good for an organization and have a common goal to serve communities of people. Dr. Allam proposes that a shared set of norms and values on sustainability may provide architects involved with a common language to understand events. Thus, they should be able to communicate easily with experts and communities at the same time to develop a desirable sustainable future for all.

In their Application of compensatory methods in industrial development site selection, Besat Emami, Farzad Taghizadeh & Elnaz Neinavaz discuss Site selection of industrial developments for establishment of coke making plant, using one of the relatively new compensatory decision-making methods; spatial analytical hierarchy process (S-AHP); the obtained results suggested that the application of compensatory methods used can be considered an appropriate powerful tool in decision making in practical and scientific terms. It could be considered as a very useful tool today where trends suggest that industrial development sites are often situated in wrong areas in proximity of urban areas or far away from them by spoiling green belts.

In Joseph Akinlabi Fadamiro’s paper with the title Affective correlates of landscapes for passive recreation in institutional campuses, Ogbomoso, Nigeria, the author suggests that statistical results of the data obtained and analysed have showed that landscape elements for passive recreation have physical qualities that are attractable to human beings to evoke affective responses and also the two groups of variables are positively correlated. In this study the author argues in favour of passive recreation through the outdoor landscape design of work environments and in conclusion suggests an approach to selecting elements for built landscape that will enhance suitable effects for passive recreation of human beings/users of institutional campuses.

Once again it has been a great pleasure to act as Editor in Chief of this issue and I should like to thank all the authors who have taken the time and effort to produce the published papers. However, I should also like to thank those authors who submitted papers, which did not attain the review process before the publication deadline. We are looking forward to seeing also these papers published in one of our next issues in which the papers should be considered as relevant to the specific theme proposed and discussed accordingly by our scientific committee.
I am also convinced that all issues raised by the papers included in this current issue will create a fruitful and interesting debate again. Therefore, I should encourage all readers and scholars to participate in additional discussions and contribute actively by writing their thoughts and findings in more papers in the near future. We are strongly encouraging research developments in the discipline of Biourbanism and we believe that this could only take place whenever constructive scientific and philosophical debates appear at any time worldwide.