City of Codes

A Historical Analysis of the Relation between Urban Codes and Urban Form in the Production of the City of Zurich, 1863–1946

Sanna Kattenbeck

This dissertation explores the complex relations between urban codes and urban form that have shaped the city of Zurich from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Urban codes have a long history of being one of the most proactive ways to govern urbanisation processes and are often presented as reactions to the practical challenges of urban growth or transformation. Rendered manifest in rules and regulations of various nature (building codes, fire regulations, material specifications, etc.) and while often highly technical in nature, urban codes are also the expression of cultural, social, and economic values and patterns.
Hence, urban codes not only contribute to the determination of the formal and technical charac-teristics of Zurich’s urban fabric but also convey specific cultural, social, and economic conceptions of how the city is understood, conceived and envisioned. This research project holds that urban codes, directly or indirectly, are the articulation of particular ideas about dwelling, mobility, the role of green space, the relation between public and private space, the combination of work and living space, etc. Out of this perspective, the accumulation of urban codes implicitly articulates an urban project for the city that interacts with the visions of the city as comprised in the projects and plans of architects and urban designers.
Although extensively discussed in the social sciences and law, the complex interconnections be-tween urban codes and urban form are until today considered largely external to the work of the architect and the urban designer and therefore overlooked in canonical urban and architectural history. Advancing architectural and urban historical scholarship, this project posits an alternative understanding that aims to shed light on the central role of urban codes in the production of the city. The processes of mutual influence between urban codes and urban forms will be primarily investigated through an historical analysis that focuses on five transitional moments in the defini-tion of urban codes between 1863 and 1946.
The aim of this dissertation is to write an alternative urban history of the city of Zurich over this period, focussing on the role of urban codes as one of the important determinants in the produc-tion of the city. The research will probe into the underpinning logics of urban codes and how they articulate notions of privacy, property, mobility, living together and urbanity. It will try to uncover how the technocratic accumulation of urban codes resulted in a hidden project for the city of Zurich.

Hover 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