Urban Codes as Implicit Project for the City

A Retroactive Analysis of Zürich

Sanna Kattenbeck

Zurich is characterised by a high quality of life and liveability. This research project hypothesises that much of this urban quality is directly attributable to the urban codes used in the construction of the city since the nineteenth century. Urban codes that can be understood as a project for the city. The city and its historical development are studied through an examination of urban codes that contain a specific vision for the city. Thus, its focus is not on plans and projects, as conventional historiographies would do, but rather on the relation between urban codes and the form of the city. The primary objective of this thesis is decoding this implicit project through the analysis of legal texts, legislative enactments, ordinances and standards—in other words, the urban codes—that have significantly regulated the architectural production of Zurich since the nineteenth century. Political manifestos, ideas about living together or economic intentions are given a measurable dimension through codification in the municipal norms, enacted at various levels of government, and reflect in the architecture of the city. This research asserts that the regulative framework codifies a project for the city. That is, before the architectural form appears in the urban fabric, the concept is already defined in the shape of laws, strategies and conventions.

The doctoral thesis is divided into three sections. The first part, codes as implicit project for the city, is about a theoretical understanding on the principles and systems of regulation through codification. It explores the relationship between urban codes and the form of the city from a theoretical and historical perspective. The core message here is that: The project for the city results not only from the plan, the perspective, or the model, but also through the urban codes. The second part deals with the history of urban codes in Zurich. The focus here is on the city as a socio-political artefact. It deals specifically with questions about what constituted the emerging building regulations, at what level were they formulated and how do they formally manifest themselves in the urban fabric?—interwoven with changing ideas of ‘the good life’, the urban and urbanity as well as ideas of the collective and public spheres. The last part is about the qualities of an continuous urban project for Zurich, focussing on two main criteria: the emblematic and non-emblematic. This means considering both the direct consequences of intended qualities and the unintended, the unforeseen qualities of implementing the urban regulations. Here, in the context of the overarching research subject of urban densification, Zurich’s hybrid urban morphologies and complex configurations are of particular interest.

Image: Zürich 1903, Photography by Eduard Spelterini, Baugeschichtliches Archiv der Stadt Zürich

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete and Dr. Irina Davidovici

This research project is funded by the The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) from 2021 to 2025.

Sanna Kattenbeck

Part of research project: Codes and Conventions for Future Zurich