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An interdisciplinary project on the role of relationality in urban transformation processes



Maggi R.


Mengis J.


Brandberg Realini L.


Petani F. J.



In the last decade relationality has become a growing issue of urban transformation processes, both in practice and in research. Whilst the concept has been mainly understood in spatial terms (geographical connectivity) we propose that an interdisciplinary investigation on the subject will help us to identify how urban transformation projects also rearrange relationships in time and between different user groups and stakeholders. The proposed project thus aims to inquire into three dimensions of relationality – spatio-temporal, stakeholder, and user relationality – and asks what makes an architectural project ‘relational’ from an economic, organizational and urban planning point of view. It thereby embeds urban design into the very process of its generation and shows how both the coordination processes of its development and the means by which the architectural object is perceived and appropriated by users, define the architectural project in its relation to the urban space.
For a better understanding of this idea we draw on three disciplinary fields: urban design and architecture (design processes), organizational communication (coordination across professional boundaries), and economics (user behavior).
Through these perspectives relationality can be understood as 1) the ways in which projects make connections with other urban transformation projects and with the physical urban reality more in general as well as the ways in which urban projects enact linkages between past-present-future, 2) the ways in which projects connect and actively engage a variety of stakeholders, 3) the ways in which projects attract and actively involve a variety of end users or population groups, such as citizens and tourists.
The empirical context of the proposed study is a small city (Lugano) that undergoes a considerable transformation process re-orientating itself nationally and internationally. For this purpose the city seems to have embraced an urban strategy frequently discussed under the term ‘Guggenheim effect’, hoping to achieve a catalytic effect with one large investment, e.g. LAC project. We will take this iconic project and interrogate it in regards of its relationality.
We will apply a sequential explorative strategy and combine in-depth case studies with a survey and an experimental design. In the first phase, we will analyse three urban projects in the cultural domain of Lugano and, in a second, design and conduct an experiment of two hypothetical relational projects. This allows us to explore how relationality plays out in its three dimensions and examine how these specific aspects of relationality interact.
The overall contribution of the proposed study is to develop in the urban discourse an empirically based framework for relationality that gives equal weight to the architectural object, its spatio-temporal context, its development process, and its use.

Additional information

Start date
End date
35 Months
Funding sources
Swiss National Science Foundation / Interdisciplinary projects