A Complexity-Cognitive View on Urban Design

Stolk, E. H., & Portugali, J. (2016). A complexity-cognitive view on scale in urban design. In J. Portugali & E. H. Stolk (Eds.), Complexity, Cognition, Urban Planning and Design (pp. 217-236). Heidelberg: Springer.

Urban designers ‘design across scales’, moving between streetscapes, neighborhoods and entire cities or regions. In contrast to product design, focusing on relatively small-scale objects, urban design objects are relatively big compared to the human body. In the domain of design cognition, design is commonly understood as small scale design. In the paper ‘A Complexity-Cognitive View on Urban Design’, we explore the relations between the scale of the design object, the design medium and the design process. First, we present five ’embodied levels of scale’, which describe the relation between the scale of the body and the design object. Second, we show that large scale design objects are complex in nature, compared to small simple design objects. Third, we show how with scale, the psychological distance increases. This has implications for both the design medium and the design process. An example from the domain of urban design is given to illustrate this view.

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Embodied levels of scale: a the manipulable object space—objects rotatable by our body; b the non manipulable object space—objects we need to move around to get a full impression; c environmental space—which can be explored completely in time; d environmental space/geographic space—which cannot be explored completely because of its scale; and e geographic space, which is not explored at all. Additionally, the grey zone represents the panoramic space or isovist space, visually linking different types of spaces and scales.

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