Alessandro Porotto

PhD ・ Academic Researcher ・ Architect

NEW RESEARCH: 21st Century Urban Block: Hybridization and Sustainability

Funded by the 18-month Postdoc.Mobility fellowship of the Swiss National Science Foundation, from February 2022 I will be working on the research 21st Century Urban Block: Hybridization and Sustainability in the Faculty of architecture at Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.

The urban block, in its relation to the public domain and typo-morphological features, has oriented the study of transformations that have occurred in the built environment and in social practices. Today’s urban densification, demographic growth, increasing housing demand, economic crisis, and social changes have to negotiate with a transition process towards the 21st-century city. The hypothesis of the proposed project is that such specific process of urban transition can be traced back to the most common spatial forms of the city: its residential spaces. The concept of referential housing type, defined as the archetypal and most ordinary residential type in a specific place throughout urban history, is the most suitable tool to disclose the identity of the city. Firstly, it aids the identification of spatial changes to dwellings in a place. Secondly, it can accommodate a series of socio-cultural codes. Thirdly, it makes the interpretation of new housing forms possible. With the ‘referential housing type’ serving as a foundation, this investigation focuses specifically on the urban area of Amsterdam. The city’s urban blocks have been at the core of key typo-morphological studies and, due to their ability to explicitly convey elements of the transition towards the 21st century, present a remarkable opportunity for further exploration. This research project aims to develop a rigorous methodology in order to explore the urban block pattern according to two topics:

a) Hybridization: Hybrid urban blocks are presently asked to integrate companies, setting out working and residential spaces according to innovative arrangements. Mixed-use buildings are designed to foster variety within the urban fabric and accommodate new ways of life and social mix.

b) Sustainability: From a spatial point of view, sustainability can be understood as a means to produce resilient spaces that are able to meet present and future needs. From a social point of view, it has a complex relationship with socio-cultural factors related to social practices and local uses.

Correspondingly, this project will seek to answer the following interrelated research questions: How does the urban block contribute to urban resilience and catalyse the process of 21st-century transition? How can current tendencies in housing design enhance the understanding of contemporary issues and face future challenges? And can the architectural and socio-cultural identity of the city persist in a time of transition?
From a methodological point of view, new CAD documents based on raw material will be produced to support the project’s hypothesis. A comparative analysis and between the standardised housing types of selected case studies from Amsterdam will shed light on the spatial characteristics and uses of the urban block. Finally, a typological genealogy will display trends of urban dynamics according to variations from traditional to the more innovative housing types. Thus, the study of the Amsterdam urban block will establish a systematic relation between the hybridization of spatial forms and sustainability in terms of social practices. The outcomes will provide both scholars and policymakers with valuable information, allowing their positions to be grounded in an effective understanding of the built environment. In addition, the knowledge to be developed aspires to provide key suggestions to political strategies and housing design, playing an important role in architecture practice to design future transitions.