Exploring Urban Scale Models

The Projets Urbains and the Public Performance of the “Maquette”, 1960s – 1990s

Maxime Zaugg

Very little research exists on urban-scale models. In existing scholarship, they are often lumped together with architectural models. Although urban models certainly possess characteristics that are similar to those of architectural models, they also differ. The key difference, this research project hypothesises, is that in urban-scale models, the performative capacity of the model takes precedence over its semiotic and compositional functions. The research project furthermore posits that this performative capacity of urban-scale models – i.e., their ability to negotiate between various actors, regulatory requirements, functional demands, political ambitions, etc., over longer periods of time – intensified from the 1960s with the paradigm shift in urban planning and during the 1980s, when the Projets Urbains grew in popularity. Derived from participative urban strategies and structural changes in urban development, the Projets Urbains offered an alternative to top-down master planning, by favouring more timely and strategic urban interventions. The strong cooperative character of this type of urban development heavily influenced contemporary planning and design methods and led to a ‘golden age’ for urban-scale models – an age when their performative capacities were used to their full potential.

Maxime Zaugg

Image: The urban model of the project of Les Halles, Paris, 1968. (© Getty Images, Photo by Georges Melet/Paris Match)

Ph.D. project at the Chair of the History and Theory of Urban Design, gta, ETH Zurich under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete, Prof Dr. Thea Brejzek and Prof. Dr. Janina Gosseye