About the program

 (i) In brief

 Fusion Point Gothenburg is a practice-based research program run as a collaboration between Älvstranden Utveckling AB (a municipal development company owned by the City of Gothenburg) and Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering. Yale School of Architecture and the Department of Law at the School of Business at Gothenburg University participate as external partners.

The broad ambition of the program is to strengthen the interchange between research and practice in architecture and urban design. The strategy is to to develop an active design process where different theoretical and practical perspectives can fuse in more productive ways. Hence the name of the program: Fusion Point Gothenburg.

The goal of the program is to develop a design methodology for urban development where academic insights are more effectively integrated in the various decision-making processes public institutions are facing.

This, in turn, requires both new theoretical supporting documents and new practical working methods that are relevant primarily for the public actors, but also for other stakeholders in the urban development process.

The first phase of the program, and its current funding, extends to autumn 2019. The ambition is to develop the program beyond 2019.

(ii) Who we are

The program is run by a working group consisting of Lars Marcus, Professor of Urban Design, Chalmers; Carl Mossfeldt, Yale World Fellow; Åsa Swan, Head of Urban planning, Älvstranden Utveckling AB; and Fredrik Nilsson, Professor of Architectural Theory, Chalmers, and Head of the Faculty for Architecture and Civic Engineering at Chalmers University.

The steering committee for the program consists of: Lena Andersson, CEO, Älvstranden Utveckling AB; Anna Dubois, Vice-president, Chalmers; and Magnus Sigfusson, Director of Urban development, City of Gothenburg.

Our ambition

(i) Aim

The broad aim of the program is to strengthen the interchange between research and practice in architecture and urban design so as to support a more professionally managed urban development process.

More specifically, the ambition is to contribute to more clear and precise strategies for both public and private actors. The hope, thereby, is to increase the efficiency, transparency and accountability of public efforts in urban development.

Such a more professionally managed urban development process does however presuppose deeper rational underpinnings and more research based knowledge support, not least for the public efforts made.

Choices made, both of ends and means, must be possible to define clearly and justify in the face of possible alternatives.

The program aims to make both practical and theoretical contributions that will help realise such a vision where different actors interact efficiently based on a clear and shared knowledge base.

 

(ii) Problem description

The ambition of the program pushes our theoretical understanding and requires us to consciously reassess our practice with regard to two central questions: how different kinds of goals on different levels should be defined in the decision-making process; and what different means are available to public institutions in seeking to realize these goals.

The attempt to bring clarity here must not, however, lead to a distortion of the democratic process and of the different values this process serves to protect. Nor must it lead to overly narrow economic arguments taking center stage. Rather, the kind of rational underpinning sought for must reflect the complexities and ambiguities which the democratic process inevitably has to deal with.

In the program, a distinction is made between available knowledge and usable knowledge. A starting assumption is that a vast amount of research-based knowledge about architecture and urban design is available and of great relevance for the public efforts made. But all too often this knowledge is not practically usable for the various public actors in the city.

The hypothesis is that this is only partly due to limited practical interaction between academia and practice, or between different kinds of actors. Instead, is it assumed that the problem largely stems from difficulties in bringing together the different languages, world views and methods that characterise communities.

Hence what is missing in the work of the city is not primarily more meeting points or platforms for collaboration. Indeed, in the worst case scenario, this only risks generating more arenas to manage and more examples of contexts where the coveted meeting between theory and practice will fail to get off the ground.

Rather, what is missing is an actor who actively works to translate between theory and practice and thereby helps weave together the two domains more effectively,.

The ambition of the program is to develop a theoretical foundation and practical understanding of how to do exactly this.

 

(iii) The broader context

The ambition to create more precise and rationally underpinned public strategies is obviously not new. However, both the challenges and opportunities to do so have changed considerably in recent decades.

First, market developments now put new demands on public strategies for urban development.

To a much greater extent than before, public strategies must today be sensitive and adaptive to public, private and civil initiatives and trends. This is a consequence of the broader decentralisation of power that has taken place in society.

Consequently, public strategies for urban development must increasingly be understood and evaluated in terms of the indirect and catalytic impact that have on the broader interplay between private and civic forces. This implies a new level of complexity, and leads to new demands on clarity, precision and transparency.

Second, theoretical advances in academia open up new opportunities.

This includes new findings and theories in architecture and urban design. Particularly interesting here is new research on how the properties of different physical urban forms at different scales, help shape broader urban processes.

Additionally, it includes new theories in institutional theory and law that offer more precise descriptions of both the interplay between institutions, as well as of the different tools public actors have at their disposal when seeking to influence this interplay.

All in all, this means that there is both the need and the opportunity to push both the theoretical understanding and the practical know-how around how to create and manage a more rationally underpinned urban development process.

In a wider sense, the core challenge is how to exercise public power both effectively and transparently in the increasingly opaque and unpredictable world we currently live in.

 

Our approach

(i) Overall approach

The focus of the program is to develop a design methodology and to provide theoretically grounded knowledge support, so as to allow academic research to underpin more effectively the various decisions public actors must take in the urban development process.

The program is thereby not limited to specific themes, nor formulated from the perspective of specific expert areas. Focus is instead on the more overarching question of how to bridge more effectively theory and practice in the broad areas of architecture, urban design and planning.

The different practical challenges the public actors of the city are facing, serve as the points of departure for this ambition. The intention is thereby to continually secure the practical relevance of the program for the actors engaged on the ground.

Based in these concrete and practical situations, promising approaches are identified that are academically underpinned and likely to shed light on and help deal with the challenges at hand. These approaches are then tested in working sessions with actors who are practically engaged with the issues.

In parallel with these practical working sessions, a more theoretical exploration is conducted to build the academic foundation required to underpin the practical working sessions.

The overall work is structured so the practical and theoretical parts interplay in a way that gives the practical work a driving and testing role in the broader knowledge generation. The research program is in this sense strongly practice-based and has the character of a research-by-design process.
(ii) Practical working sessions

The main methodology of the research program consists of recurrent practical working sessions arranged with actors of the city and focusing on challenges around which these actors feel the need for support.

These session may, e.g. focus on the design of city plans, the formulation and evaluation of architectural competitions, briefs for procurement of consultants, economic calculations, formulation of goals, etc.

The role of the working group before and during these working sessions is to:

– analyse the challenges based on established academic research.
– propose frameworks and methods to use in approaching the identified problems.
– moderate the discussions to jointly develop more well-founded decision support.
– document and analyse the process and conclusions to secure continuous learning.

The ambition is that these working sessions should give participating actors a deeper understanding of the broader context they are acting within and also contribute to the formulation of more precise decision making support. The hope, furthermore, is that this helps these actors identify their specific role with greater clarity and to direct their efforts with greater precision.

 

(iii) Theoretical sub-projects

Within the program there is also four theoretically exploring research tracks. These should result in scientific output and reflections, e.g. in the form of scientific articles and reports.

Research project A [“The physical form of cities”] compile the current state-of-the-art research on urban built form. New research in this area has developed at Chalmers during recent years, both on the level of the dwelling and the city as a whole. This new understanding of the qualities of different built forms is integrated in the broader discussions of the impact different kinds of built form can have on other urban processes of social, economic and ecological kinds.

Research project B [“The institutional dynamics of cities”] compiles the current state-of-the-art research on the characteristic dynamics of institutional systems linked to urban development, and on the different “tools” at the disposal for public institutions in their ambition to proactively influence these dynamics. The research project also studies how this institutional dynamic has developed more specifically in Gothenburg.

Research project C [“Knowledge exchange in practice”] aims to create a theoretical and methodological underpinning for the practical working sessions of the program, as well as more generally for the development of working methods that generate and transfer knowledge in practice. The project thereby has its focus on design theory and how these theories can be applied practically and developed in the practical working sessions of the program.

Research project D [“The future urban development process”] focuses on the formulation of an idea or vision of what a more rationally underpinned urban development process could look like in the contemporary new context. The project thereby builds on insights from the other projects, but takes yet another step by formulating a hypothesis on how the insights from these projects could be united in a coherent institutional model.

Each project furthermore contains additional sub-tracks that go deeper into aspects of each research track.
(iv) Network and international anchoring

The program’s primary focus on a general methodology rather than on research within specific disciplines makes it necessary for the program to liaise with centers of excellence in a broad range of areas.

The orientation and structure of the program are designed to promote a network-based way of working so as to allow for top competence from different knowledge centers around the world to e integrated into the program.

As a first step in this direction, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between Chalmers and Yale School of Architecture, one of the world-leading institutions in architecture and urban design, is a first step in building an international network of excellence.

In this sense, the ambition of the program is to offer a locally anchored interface with the ultimate purpose to make globally available knowledge useful for local actors. The ambition of the program is from this perspective not only to bridge the gap between practice and theory, but also between local challenges and global knowledge networks.

The program, both in spirit and structure, thereby reflects the idea that local sustainable values only can be created with an openness to the World.


Åsa Swan

Chef Urban Planering