Previous Calls for Papers
Issue 20: "New in-sights?"
Expected publication date: June 2023
A search for the term “new in-sight” or in the plural “new in-sights” returns thousands of results from the Google Scholar and Dialnet databases and hundreds from Worldcat and Rebiun. If “researching” is etymologically related to “finding”, “uncovering” or “discovering”, these quantitative data suggest that advances in knowledge remain metaphorically linked to the very act of looking, of shedding light on something. The term in-sight refers us directly to vision, perception and perspective and, implicitly, to discernment, understanding, perspicacity and keen-sightedness.
Indeed, the Latin root ‘mir’ from the verb ‘miror’ makes reference to the act of marvelling at or being amazed by something new. As it is a deponent verb, the act of looking emphasises the subject’s implication in the action as responsible for this admiration, irrespective of the value of what is being observed. As John Berger notes “we only see what we look at” and “we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves” . Vision, thus understood, is part of a constant movement that shapes our relationship with things and fuels our interest in exploring the world around us.
Just as looking is based on the retina capturing light, photography consists in pouring exposure to light onto a sensor or film. It is a rebound effect. Looking implies opening up, without prejudices, to what is around us. Does this “new in-sight”—in terms of research—has more to do with the subject’s renewed intentionality or the newness of the selected object? If light needs to be shed, based on the Platonian myth, there would be an inevitable contrast between illuminating and dazzling. In the first action, light settles on the object showing what it is and what it consists of; in the second, light is projected not onto the object but onto the subject, onto the gaze that attempts to decipher what it looks at. It involves a twofold action orchestrated out of wonder, in order to shed light and search through the shadows.
Within this network of etymological relationships we also find ‘miraculum’ (miracle), that which is perceived in a marvellous and admirable manner. In fact, the prefix ‘ad’ indicates a selective way of looking: with vision as the starting point, we use our gaze to select what we consider to be relevant, worthy of admiration and wonder. In the mirror, we do not only look (‘speculum’), we also admire: there is an implicit search to discover what we find attractive or useful. The term ‘anagnorisis’, introduced by Aristotle, is likewise related to this idea of discovery and the act of recognition, thus demonstrating that discoveries are also reencounters that “reveal what is right before us yet hidden, as if forgotten” .
Research and critical thinking understood as discovery and recognition of what is hidden, latent or forgotten is essential to arouse curiosity about looking again, about a theory connected to the act of looking itself. In fact, theory comes from the Greek ‘theoria’. ‘Thea’ is view and ‘Theoros’ is the spectator, the person who consults the oracle. In this sense, researching is a change of viewpoint, the use of new ways of looking. To what extent does looking mean recognising what exists or discovering something new? What, then, does the idea of something new bring to this topic? How should the time of a gaze be interpreted? Do gazes have an expiry date?
It could be argued that vision establishes our place in the world, hence the importance of connecting what we see with what we know. However, to what extent does knowledge adjust to vision? In that respect, what is visible keeps getting mixed into the sum of images created by the eye in the act of looking, while reality becomes visible when it is perceived, being closely tied to the sense of experience. Walter Benjamin notes that, in the age of the image, it does not aim so much to please and evoke as to offer an experience and a lesson. But this cannot be understood as a one-way process, since our previous experiences and knowledge shape the way we look. In the end, what is visible, which may equally remain either illuminated or hidden, is part of a process of discovery and recognition. This explains the interest in finding new in-sights, understood according to their capacity to broaden the horizons of a specific area of knowledge.
This issue of ZARCH sets out to provide and open up a space for reflection about these “new in-sights” with the aim of discovering or recognising alternative spaces for research which we had not noticed before or which we had not paid enough attention to. Based on a miscellaneous and multidisciplinary approach, the aim is for the very topic of looking to become a stimulating debate of theoretical reflection on architecture and urbanism.
 John Berger, Modos de Ver (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2000), p. 14.
 Luis Martínez Santa-María, Intersecciones (Madrid: Editorial Rueda, 2004), p. 14.
Issue 19: "Form and behaviour: modelling urbanity"
Publication date: December 2022
The second volume of Ildefons Cerdà’s Teoría General de la Urbanización —a work that defines urban planning as a science for the first time— includes an extensive set of statistics and property registers of Barcelona that served as a basis for the design of the city extension plan and made it possible to establish relationships between urban conditions and their impact on mortality and to argue and justify the need to expropriate a generous amount of land to make new roads. Years later, under the motto ‘survey before planning,’ Patrick Geddes introduced in Cities in Evolution the need for observation and profound knowledge of the city and the territory prior to any urban planning action. This view accepting urban planning as scientific knowledge was conditioned by the method. Later, in 1970, Manuel de Solà-Morales emphasised in La ciudad y los juegos that ‘urban planning, as a social science, suffers from the difficulties of working with an ambiguously defined body with minimal testing capacity’. The aim of this statement was to establish the need to build abstract city models based on logical and mathematical formulations that would act as laboratories of reality where acting principles would be validated and not just the result of ideological apriorisms. Although this line of work was clearly identified by Solà-Morales, he did not continue it; instead he focused his activity on the knowledge of city morphology.
These models —based on visionary concepts— required being data fed, at that time very limited, and processed by statistical methodologies yet to be developed that could only work thanks to today’s information technologies. In the same year, 1970, Tobler published his law on ‘spatial correlation.’ Years later, in the same decade, the first satellite networks for geolocalisation were launched and the first GIS programmes began to be developed. These would later lead to today’s land management tools. Nowadays, 50 years later, we wear GPS sensors in our pockets (mobile phones), we have developed a high computational processing capacity that is also the basis for new statistical methodologies (spatial clustering techniques or predictive statistics), and we have a multitude of high-precision and easily accessible data that allow us to systematically model the planet urban continuum. These include, among others, Open Street Maps, Global Human Settlement Layer, daily satellite images of the entire planet with 30 cm. per pixel resolution or casual data obtained by social networks, real estate portals or others, which are collected through the internet by robots that track them.
Nowadays, several research groups explore the use of these data and methodologies for developing models that serve as laboratories of reality for describing, discovering, predicting or simulating our urban environment. These laboratories offer the possibility of answering questions that urban planning has been trying to answer for years and formulating new ones as a result of the expansion of the discipline that redefines its limits when observing and measuring a reality that is increasingly complex. As Sennett states in Building and Dwelling, we need to understand this complexity not only from the form of the city, but also from the behaviour of its citizens. This is how today’s urban analysis enriches traditional morphological approaches with so many other non-visible variables of the city, characterises infrastructures through their use and not only through their size, provides the city plan with temporal features, explains mobility flows and also economic and knowledge-related flows, and outlines social organisation forms that go beyond administrative delimitations. A new look at the urban environment resulting from the knowledge and infrastructures developed in recent years.
This new look is a valuable description in the current historical context in which we must reorder cities to meet the challenge of climate adaptation. This implies a radical change with consequences also for social justice, health and care, emerging economies or new participatory mechanisms, as reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the international and national urban agendas that support them. These transdisciplinary issues will require diagnoses, simulations and evaluations capable of generating complex urban knowledge that, for the first time, can be globally reproduced and replicated.
This issue is an invitation to:
- show what these new methodologies can explain to our cities: case studies of the use of data for urban diagnosis at several scales, with documentation of their methodologies;
- discuss the different methodological approaches outlining the evolution of the research line in this framework;
- study cases that apply this new knowledge to urban development practice: either in planning or in managing urban services;
- reflect on how the cities resulting from all these processes can be better than the cities we know today: the challenges, dangers and opportunities guiding their use.
This is not a new paradigm but rather a glimpse of the changes that the discipline of urban planning has fostered for years.