SPS Seminar 11 June 2015

Carlo Pisano  

(University of Cagliari) 

The Patchwork Metropolis. A Dutch case study towards the end of the compact city.

ABSTRACT:

The patchwork, as a metaphor, is opposed to the idea of fragmentation[4], it is instead a composition of a series of entities arranged together, in which a superior unity or comprehensive plan is missing. The patchwork does not contemplate any explicit syntax, but just a vocabulary of patches. The parataxis technique in  literature, the “note by note” organisation of pieces of musical syntax and the collages of the Dadaists and Robert Rauschenberg art works seem prolific fields of analyses, and comparison of the patchwork metaphor in urbanism.


FULL TEXT:

In 1989 the young Dutch architect Jan Neutelings, who had just left the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, was called to develop a project for the area in between Rotterdam and the Hague that was going to face, in the next years, a huge increment of population and activities.

This part of the Dutch territory is located in between two urban areas but, on the same time, it is located in the middle of another construction kwon as the Randstad, in which the explosive growth of urban or suburban phenomena has led to a singular blurring of the distinction between the city and the countryside.

In this context Jan Neutelings proposed his reinterpretation of the urban form called De Tapijtmetropool or “Patchwork Metropolis”[1].

The fortune of this proposal was immediately very large, able to influence a generation of young Dutch designers, especially for the capacity of the patchwork model to give a structure to what was thought as a just fragmented condition, turning the Randstad’s lack of coherence – in contrast to what official planners though the existing structure of the Randstad looked like – into its planning solution, into a breeding ground of prospective projects. Moreover, contrary to the doctrine of the compact city that became fashionable at that time, the model started to embrace the underlying premises of neoliberalism, decentralisation and deregulation in favour of the public-private cooperation, central themes of the Forth Report on Physical Planning Extra, better known as Vinex[2].

The Patchwork Metropolis was published in 1991, in a small monograph in a series that the 010 Publishers[3] dedicated each year to the winner of the Maaskant prize for the young Dutch architect of the year. In this publication the southern part of the Randstad is shown as a continuous field of patches reaching from the North Sea to the Nieuwe Maas river. Each patch represents a place with a specific functional program and a specific physical structure. If we take a close look at the images we can notice that not only the ‘periphery’ (the area usually labelled as such) is a composition of patches but also inner cities and agricultural areas ranging from rural to greenhouse complexes are transformed into a series of patterns. The maps present a drastic new interpretation of territory, in which the juxtaposition of shifting fragments seems the structure’s single element of consistency.

If we want to understand the patchwork as a theoretical metaphor, we have to start from the Appalachian woman that sew the patchworks starting their work without a real pre-set plan, but just with a set of guidelines that have to be followed according to the raw material that they have. The work is guided by their own taste in juxtaposing patches of different sizes and colours. In the urban field we can compare this process with the attribute of compatibility of visual, functional and scalar characters of the patches.

The patchwork, as a metaphor, is opposed to the idea of fragmentation[4], it is instead a composition of a series of entities arranged together, in which a superior unity or comprehensive plan is missing. The patchwork does not contemplate any explicit syntax, but just a vocabulary of patches. The parataxis technique in  literature, the “note by note” organisation of pieces of musical syntax and the collages of the Dadaists and Robert Rauschenberg art works seem prolific fields of analyses, and comparison of the patchwork metaphor in urbanism.

 

 


[1] The project has been published with a double title, De Tapijtmetropool in dutch and Patchwork Metropolis in english, which literally means The Carpet Metropolis.

[2] In Dutch Vierde Nota over de Ruimtelijke Ordening Extra published in 1991 as a completion of the Fourth Memorandum on Physical Planning published in 1988.

[3] Neutelings, WJ 1991, Willem Jan Neutelings Architect, Uitgeverij 010, Rotterdam.

[4] See Secchi, B 2007, Prima lezione di urbanistica, Laterza, Bari. or Viganò, P 2000, La città elementare, Skira, Milan.

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