The Anatomy Lesson by Rembrandt (1632)

Editing Urbanism
By Bernd Upmeyer

These days, the need for new buildings or entire city quarters is decreasing or even ceasing to exist altogether – at least in the Western world – due to the demographic changes and financially difficult times. Ever since, architects and urban designers, who were trained by schools that focused their education first of all on the past and mainly taught urban and architectural restoration, preservation, renovation, redevelopment, or adaptive reuse of old structures might be best prepared for a future, in which cities will be edited rather than extended or even newly designed.

In such a future, which has become reality in most Western cities of this day and age, architects and urban planners will become urban editors. But it will probably become reality, too, in emerging and developing economies such as China, Brasil, or India in the far future, where historical city parts are currently being bulldozered out of existence by uncontrolled developments. Urban editors will be released from the modernistic burden to constantly replace the old world with a new one. But they will be involved in processes of selecting, correcting, condensating, organizing, or modifying the exitisting urban material. The process of urban editing will originate from an idea for the existing urban structures itself and will continue in a relationship between the users and producers of the city and the urban editors. Urban editing, therefore, will be also a practice that includes creative skills, human relations, and a precise set of methods.

But the question is: what kind of methods will the urban editors use? What will be their exact tasks? What will the process of urban editing look like exactly? With what kind of urban challenges will urban editors be confronted and how will they solve them? How will they judge how to deal with the existing structures, and with preserved and protected parts of the city? Will it be the job of the urban editors to define the value of existing urban structures? Which structures will they keep an which will they destroy? How will they deal with urban nostalgia towards history, and how with memory? What will be their criteria for action, their values, their moral issues? Will urban editors perhaps only occupy an advanced version of an already existing profession: the interior architect, re-designing, re-programming and renovating the interiors of the existing urban fabric according to the changing needs? Or will urban editors be merely the mediators between the old and the new in general?

Title: Editing Urbanism
Author: Bernd Upmeyer
Date: November 2010
Type: Call For Submissions for MONU
Publications: MONU – Magazine on Urbanism
Location: Rotterdam, The Netherlands