Option Improvisation: Why It Is Critical to Conceptualize Improvisation in Architecture and Urban Design

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New urbanist fields of work?! Influencing urban development purposefully and positively can only be accomplished productively if one goes beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. What is required therefore is a rethinking within urbanist practice. New Urban Professions - A Journey through Practice and Theory provides exploratory discussions of phenomena, reflections and professionalisation possibilities in the various fields of work.


This article tackles the conceptualization of improvisation in the context of urban design. It suggests improvisation as a programmatic notion that offers the possibility to think of the city differently. It argues that the key aspect that renders the concept of improvisation useful in architecture and urban design is its option to approach contingency in urban situations constructively. I will outline what it takes to access this option, beginning with an understanding of the city as contingent and improvisational relations of actors, actions, things, and sites. The integration of the concept of improvisation in architecture and urban design seeks to overcome an understanding of the city occupied with the production of the city, which, I argue, falls short in architecture’s and urban design’s modes of being propositional about the future. A logical progression of such an approach lies in the notion of representation. Representations of improvisation cannot be understood as isolated denoting signs, but representations themselves constitute a practice of improvisational writings and readings of the city. Its topology depicts the structure of the relationally between actors, actions, things, and sites in specific urban situations. Given the fact that one might be surprised to see improvisation connected with planning disciplines, this text should not only be seen as the supposition of a paradox but it can also itself be seen as an exemplification of improvisation. Not only by form but also by content, the motifs of this article take their departure from improvisation as compositional strategy in music. This strategy can be generally defined as the constant rearranging and reconfiguring of motific structures in relation to a form-making process during a musical performance. This process is conditioned, determined by, and transformed under the specific material, social, and spatial conditions of each performance, thereby serially adding structural constellations in the making.

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Information

Dell, C., 2018. Spatial Agency: Option Improvisation: Why It Is Critical to Conceptualize Improvisation in Architecture and Urban Design. In: Koch, M., Rost, A., Siegmund, Y., Tribble, R., and Werner, Y. (eds.) New Urban Professions: A Journey through Practice and Theory. Changing Perspectives in Metropolitan Research. Berlin: Jovis, 255-263.