Resilience and urban design : a systems approach to the study of resilience in urban form : learning from the case of the Gorbals

  • Alessandra Feliciotti

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


As cities grow in scale and complexity, their social, economic and institutional organisation, as well as their physical structure will be increasingly exposed to pressures for change. Contextually, the form of cities will also be called to fulfil new emerging needs, which might be considerably - when not completely - different from those it was originally designed to respond to. Indeed, the extent to which the form of cities can resist to, adapt to or co-evolve with context will affect the ability of urban systems to survive. The design, management and transformation of urban forms is a central theme in Urban Design both as an academic discipline and as a professional practice. However, if urban design is to be part of the solution, it must reconsider several fundamentals of its conventional way of seeing the world and identify new theoretical and operational tools to create places that are adaptable, durable and desirable in the long term for generations to come. The current thesis suggests that the notion of "evolutionary resilience", here intended as the capacity of the interacting social, economic, environmental and physical sub-systems in cities to endure and even thrive in the face of external challenges and internal transformations "can provide some theoretical perspectives for addressing design challenges for built environments" (Anderies, 2014: 130) and offer "a new vocabulary for thinking about place-making based on evolutionary change" (Scott, 2013: 430). However, at present, in the vocabulary of urban designers, resilience is a very immature concept and is far from reaching a solid and operational status. Part of the reason for this is that whilst urban design, both as a discipline and as a profession, relies on the medium of urban form to act in the urban system, the resilience of cities is rarely discussed as a matter of urban form and resilience scholarship pays little attention to the role of the micro-scale morphological structure of cities in building resilience. Consequently, the concept of resilience in urban design lacks both a clear understanding of what are the spatial qualities contributing to the resilience of places and specific assessment tools to address properties of urban form in relation to resilience. This represents a remarkable impediment for urban designers and a wide gap in current resilience scholarship. To address this gap, the present research aims at: a) building a common ground between urban resilience and urban form; b) formalising new evidence-based principles for urban design resilience and c) provide new analytical tools to assess urban form resilience. To meet these aims, the current research sets to a) review, consolidate and combine existing knowledge on urban form and resilience theory; b) formulate an original theoretical framework that stresses the role of urban form in building resilience; and c) operationalise the proposed theoretical framework through a series of practical assessment tools aimed at measuring the resilience capacity of the urban form in real-world case studies. In this work, the selected case study is the district of Gorbals, in Glasgow, an example of twice-cleared community with a long and intense development history, which will offer a pretext to test the proposed framework and to generate some new, albeit preliminary, knowledge on the resilience potential of different types [sic] urban forms. According to the proposed assessment framework, the case study will be assessed over time through a combination of qualitative and quantitative metrics. In trying to address these three fundamental gap areas, throughout the chapters of this thesis, the research makes several theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions to existing knowledge in urban design. More specifically, the current
Date of Award11 Sep 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorOmbretta Romice (Supervisor) & Sergio Porta (Supervisor)

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