Codes and Conventions for Future Zurich

Prof. Tom Avermaete
Prof. Jonathan Sergison
Dr. Irina Davidovic

A Propositional Planning Approach to Qualitative Densification

Over the next few decades, the city of Zurich expects its population to increase by 25%. Finding the requisite housing, public services capacity, public facilities, recreational spaces, and mobility strategies to accommodate a growing population are only some of the city’s challenges. Changing dwelling patterns, patterns of mobility, and mitigating climate change require a new, integrated perspective on urban development, addressing how Zurich’s densification can be achieved without a loss of urban quality. This collaborative research focuses on the relationship between the urban tissue and urban codes, which can be understood as building regulations and plans and policies generated at the principal levels of urban governance (state, canton, city). The project benefits from a unique combination of historical and design research with the Chair for the History and Theory of Urban Design ETH and Accademia di Architettura Mendrisio (AAM) offering ‘retroactive analysis’ and ‘propositional planning’, respectively, interrelated through a set of common research foci. The ETH team uses retroactive analysis of Zurich’s urban tissue, starting with the current condition to understand the generating logic of its codes. At AAM, propositional planning is developed through urban design projects related to the critical analysis of urban codes. These investigations aim to reveal the hidden project for the city that is embedded in urban codes, and how the different assumptions (social, environmental, economic and mobility) implied in the urban codes have affected Zurich’s urban fabric from the 19th century to today.

This project is undertaken collaboratively with ISUP, AAM and gta, ETH Zurich. Prof. Sergison and Prof. Avermaete will be working with Dr. Irina Davidovici as project partner, and with two doctoral students and a postdoctoral project coordinator:
Doctoral project A: a retroactive analysis
Doctoral project B: a propositional planning
Post-doctoral project C: a public dialogue

In addition to the envisaged doctoral theses and scientific articles, the ETH and AAM teams will each produce a substantial synthetic outcome, respectively the historical Zurich Retroactive Atlas and the prospective Propositional Planning Primer, both addressing policy makers, planning experts and architectural practitioners, as well as stakeholders and the wider public.

This project was made possible through SNSF Project funding in humanities and social sciences (Division I)

September 2021–August 2025

Doctoral Project A: Codes And Conventions As Implicit Project For The City