As someone who is interested in the job of managing projects in Urban Design, you will most likely be aware of the differentiation between the urban as a passive and controllable matter – the closed form – and the urban as the contemporary-future urban society in the practice(d) forms of its co- and constant re-production – an approach towards the urban as an open form.
As this differentiation has far-reaching consequences, but is easily overlooked and misinterpreted, let me illustrate this key aspect of project management in Urban Design as a regime of practices of a life with and in projects.
We begin with the relation between epistemology vs. ontology. Epistemology of space at a general level is concerned with the nature and scope of knowing about space. This concern is closely intertwined with the ontology of space, as the “what” – vision on occurrence and definition of something – may be difficult to separate from the “how” – the way we get to know about the “what” (Hollis 1994). This relationship between the “what” and the “how” of space is not fixed but continuously evolving (Massey 2005).
The open form
The epistemological potentialities of the open form are encountered in the engagement with form. The source of knowing-how and knowing-why is not to be found in the pure aesthetic of form, but in the relations between form and material. The aesthetic of the open form is what undermines the reduction of form to its bare product when it mobilises and supports a process concerned with its potential values. These are assembled of material constellations of a situation and thus give appearance to form. We are only to call form an open form when we can assure the mobilisation and ongoing support of a process. Project management in Urban Design sets out to re-assemble knowing-how and knowing-why in the relations of actors and situations in process.
Project work must address the issue of the vanishing of the process behind the product. Therefore research, as an integral part of project management in Urban Design, pursues not only the purpose of elucidating the designer about the urban, but is a reflexive confrontation with our very own perspectivations, lenses and membranes that construct the urban as a subject of research and design. This entails to not discredit urban processes such as DIY building efforts, urban social movements or organisational improvisation as informal, but to address their ontological principle from another angle. The earlier we are to open forms, the easier it is to address the potential values of the urban. This ultimately opens up political aspects of project management in Urban Design: The issue of value in urban development projects is structurally significant, as the epistemology and ontology of form constitute a hegemonic order of things. The process of opening forms through project management in Urban Design enables the de-naturalisation and re-negotiation of this order.
Hollis, M., 1994. The Philosophy of Social Science: An Introduction. Cambridge England ; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Massey, D., 2005. For Space. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications Ltd.
What is the ubiquitous pitfall in project management practices currently employed in Urban Design?
Project management is typically employed as a purity apostle, meaning reductions in the scope of a project's outcome are favored over complex problematisations with uncertain outcomes. However, efficiency is a trap, and all too often project management does produce falls securities in order to cater to a myopic understanding of what the project's outcome might actually be. A safe and sound fire protection concept might actually contradict a building's programme, negatively influence its livability and dramatically increase renovation costs in the process. The perspectivation of a project's process through the concept of open form aims at representing the processes of knowledge production that lead to decision making and problematize them in alternative ways.
Oskar Hansen has done some work on the concept of open form. See a talk on his works from a symposium HERE.