Comparative Urbanism

Design in translation

Authored by: Fran Tonkiss

The New Companion to Urban Design

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138302129
eBook ISBN: 9780203731932
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores how approaches to urban design travel across different contexts. It departs from a focus on “globalizing” trends in design and development that organize urban spaces in homogenized ways, and instead considers more partial translations and colloquial strategies for making space in the city. It suggests several ways of thinking about urban design in a comparative frame, centering on issues of design practice rather than on physical forms. Such practices often involve processes of translation across and between low-income and high-income cities, disrupting a standard export model that generalizes ideas, techniques, expertise, and formats conceived in the design centers of the Global North. These tactics in translation have less to do with how built forms and spaces look than with the conditions of their production and use. The discussion sets out five modes for thinking about ordinary practices of urban design across diverse settings: informality, incrementalism, improvisation, impermanence, and insurgency.

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