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Continual Fusion –- Blurring Lines Between Divergent Perspectives in the Development of Place: An Urban Regeneration Scenario for London’s Lower Lea Valley

Craig Anz

‘… We are in a tunnel, at the twilight of dogmatism and the dawn of real (authentic) dialogues.’ — Paul Ricoeur[1]

Urban design is affected by a fluxing array of forces and conventions. As society becomes evermore complex, urban designs emerge from pluralistic, interactive, and systemic processes that foster a productive and effective interchange of ideas from broad ranges to consequently respond with significant courses of action in the greater, immanent domain. At the same time, they are also are mandated to critically correspond and preserve the inter-subjectivity and localities of the individual in place. The idea of cosmopolitan and urbanity takes on global or universal notions, but it is important to also cultivate specificities of place. Architectural approaches to the urban fabric diversify to handle new situations, each of which mandate a dynamic, paradigmatic review of current knowledge bases and the processes effecting design reasoning. Since knowledge is accessed and interpretably incorporated in varying fashion, there is a tendency for fragmentation within the system that leads to disjunction and marginal relations with the greater domain. The issues are in part accelerated by recent changes and exponential increases in the complexity of such systemic forces mixed with escalating and un-tethered informational and technological advances, which has compounded in varying degrees of separation between the significant totalities of the life-space we reciprocally embody. Within this rift, it is important to maintain the intrinsic need for communication and thus mediation between disparate facets as the basic impetus for design.

This research documents a unique, experimental approach for urban design and architectural education implemented as a case-study and design scenario where normally divergent or conflicting points of view become linking factors which build emergent urban configurations. Our proposal emphasizes a critical construction of community and place, while attempting to converge multiple urban conditions in a comprehensive regeneration and redevelopment scheme for East London’s Lower Lea Valley without compromise to the local, urban fabric. This approach attempts to integrate in a systemically communicative manner the disparate components of ever more complex societal challenges with equally complex and dynamically integrative solutions. In an educative environment, as a foundation for future practice, it is important to foster significant connections with the complexities of very-real situations and to manage its multifaceted components in a meaningful way.

The studio-design scenario incorporated a process identified as a ‘hermeneutic dialectic’ (also referred to as ‘collaborative’ or ‘interactive inquiry’).[2] The process is ‘hermeneutic’ because it is (co)interpretive in nature and ‘dialectic’ because it ‘seeks a synthesis through comparison and contrast of divergent views,’ but also forms connections ‘between them that allows for mutual exploration by all parties.'[3] It promotes a divergent inquiry, “that is also in tune with the emerging thought of the time and significance for the world outside itself,” and allows for ‘other’ fields of inquiry to be drawn into the periphery of research. Dialog reveals varying points of view within a community, in this case the community of knowledge currently informing the urban fabric.

The method takes a constructivist view toward hermeneutic inquiry that allows knowledge bases to dialectically emerge from the cross-pollination of knowledge. The focus and content of the research methods is allowed to change or emerge in the process of discovery, rather than a set of predetermined outcomes, a flaw of many reductivist design solutions. The method intrinsically promotes a dialogic between a multitude of knowledge bases in order to interpretively generate a way of seeing the total picture.[4] Dialogical methods are ‘built on the idea that education is a continuum of dialogs between participants rather than monological’ (singular, reductivist approach) that ‘takes part in the collective enterprise of learning.’ Transactions between participants are conducted on the basis of exchange of experience, knowledge, and ideas between informed individuals on a particular facet of the design. The meeting process in the event-space of dialog sets stages for relationships to be reflected and then put into action (movement) through communicative processes to evaluate and assign values to unique circumstances in their milieu. Habermas proceeds to connect interactive communication, in which the norms of a community and the social roles of actors become important constraints of perceived socio-moral appropriateness of actions. Expressive communication focuses upon the fact that individual actors respectively constitute a public for each other, negotiating the truthfulness of communicative actions. Habermas states that a ‘decentered understanding of the world presupposes that relations to the world, claims to validity, and basic attitudes [including moral] have become differentiated’. De-centering draws attention to the structures of interaction themselves within the life-world as the context for embodied interaction and thus communal understanding about particulars of the objective world.[5]

Hermeneutics is by its nature initially subjective and transactional.[6] To Gadamer, there is no true universal other than the hermeneutic process of all ‘inter-human experience,’ in action, bound in the textual. He presents that critical understanding emerges through communicative interaction seeking a ‘fusion of horizons’ between participants, through which an ‘authority’ and applicability emerge.[7] Hermeneutics appropriates knowledge through iterative, interpretive processes that proceed to fine-tune the system, where the inquirer(s) can construct the world and in-turn allows for new unfoldings. Gadamer’s view of the hermeneutic processes entails circular reiteration of the three basic components: interpretation, understanding, and inevitable application. In this way, a practical hermeneutic is a viable proposal to serve social purposes as in urban design processes, in this case, the educative design processes of a community in productive action and its relation to an overall, expanding view toward knowledge integration into greater systems of thought. Understanding is interpretive and grounded in action (in situ) with the addedness of our rationale to organize action.[8] This rationality is further modified through phenomenological approaches, rooted in interpretation. Also to Merleau-Ponty, ‘To say that there exists rationality is to say that perspectives blend, perceptions confirm each other, a meaning emerges. But it should not be set in a realm apart, transposed into absolute Spirit, or into a world in the realist sense.’[9] This realization embraces the synthesis of the subject as part of an overall system. Knowledge is derived from the world, thus our constructions are immanently connected.

Case Instance: Creative production initiates with corresponding models that foster a productive and effective interchange of ideas from broad ranges. The design education process is viewed as an embedded case study of a certain community’s views on a particular subject at a particular point in time.[10] The urban design process incorporates a model case study method developed by the ETH-UNS Zentrum Zürich Nord whose ‘main objective has been to obtain an encompassing understanding of the genesis, dynamics, and impacts of the complex relationships between natural systems and social or technical systems,’ shaped by overall environmental issues for informed urban development.[11] The case study allowed students to gain a deeper insight into the complex problems of their site from objective and divergent points of view.

Similar the Gadamer’s model, the case study is organized in three basic phases. First, students gain basic knowledge about the case through research and data collection in the ‘learning and identification’ phase and then construct a working categorical list of critical aspects and principal interests for project organization. Rigorous documentation of the process is vital to the process. Second, in the ‘realization phase,’ interpretive understandings occur through dialogic cross-pollination (co-tutoring) between interest parties, as a process of mutual learning and shared interest, to develop connective modes between the complex relations of the ‘whole’ environmental context. Interpretative perspectives and findings are combined and collectively analyzed. Finally, ‘synthesis’ is performed between various interpretive data, composed into a multilayered working model for the design.[12] A collective vision becomes finalized as it is digitalized and mapped to a tangible ad applicable scale. Interpretation becomes literal thought-in-action as it is re-interpreted and transcribed into real substances.

East London’s Lower Lea Valley presents a complicated relationship consisting of marshland and small wooded areas, brown-fields, industrial sites, refuge dumps, railway and storage, transportation lines, septic lines, flood plain regions, dilapidated buildings, housing, sports and education facilities, historic and archeological sites, and conservation zones. Multi-cultural in aspects, the various boroughs engaged with the site have shared as well as disputed desires, each with their own agendas for their affective regions. The surrounding areas are typical English suburbs with low-income housing supported by local business and industry, which have to be maintained and connected at the perimeter of development. New, large-scale developments of the Strafford international train station and commercial developments encroach upon the local fabric and promote an immediate global connection and dramatic change in scale. In addition, the area is also being considered as the future site of 2012 Olympic facilities, which historically has paid little attention to the localities of place and its long-term effect for communities, but nonetheless is an essential component of the design problem.

The ciphers of critically understanding complex urban situations start with dialogically analyzing, mapping, and modeling a discursive and categorical component structure through an underlying rationale that seeks dialectic synthesis through comparison and contrast of divergent constructions while also forming connections for mutuality, finding shared impetuses contingent with place between varying facets of the epistemic and physical framework. Therefore, diverse historiographies, contextual and social patterns, cultural manifestations, socio-economic phenomenon, technological and physical constraints and needs, long-term sustainable and conservation issues, as well as connectivity to global, cosmopolitan concerns are filtered and then cross-pollinated to reveal new, collective re-readings of the localized urban space where all factors simultaneously come to bear. In addition, the development of the categories inevitably heads toward the periphery of other fields, as trans-disciplinary to what would otherwise be more centralized studies.

Learning and Identification Phase: In architectural design, as with many other disciplines involved in social interactions, it is virtually impossible to remove all individual biases that impact and influence interpretations of real situations and thus design solutions. The site is in effect the product of diverse communities and forces inhabiting it; therefore as a way to de-centralize the project, the students assumed divergent categorical positions affecting the urban design. Through these categorical units of spatial constructions, the students role-play as interest groups or stakeholders in order to promote a certain vested interest and focus in the site development, using the critical environment and the goal of comprehensive redevelopment as a common, unifying theme. The point of which is to maximize the stock of distinctly divergent constructions and points of view so that as many as possible stakeholders can affectively contribute, thus increasing complexity as well as specific focus on particular contents. This promotes a bricolage or ‘magpie’ type appropriation of divergent (and sometimes conflicting) ideas-at-hand to be integrated into a new collective work. It helps develop a thicker or broader view as well as developing the possibilities of connection with the complex greater domain.[13]

For management purposes, the coding categories were generalized into typical categories, but open for subcategories depending on varying levels of engagement. The initial categorical stances included: historic contexts; mobility and transportation patterns; building density, type, and use patterns; public & private space relationships; parks, open- and green space; environmental impact and waterways; socio-economics and cultural aspects. Sub-categories included significant connections and nodes, suitability, conservation, landscaping types, names of places, boroughs and neighborhoods needs, as well as others.[14] In addition, students were also encouraged to address these issues with sub-categories in terms of ‘Place’ studies. In Maintaining the Spirit of Place, Harry Garnham recognizes three basic information systems that help to ‘understand, record, and communicate the basic sense of the region.’ These include: Natural (landforms, vegetation, water); Cultural (open space, land development, utility systems, public infrastructure, landmarks, circulation); Visual (viewpoints, unique areas, places of interaction, sequence of views, outdoor activities, visual clues).[15] Since the cultural context is found to be diverse, extending beyond English descendents to distinct areas of Bengal, Indian, Pakistani, and others, the cultural and visual aspects become increasingly significant and viable to design interpretation. How the local inhabitants view their life-space is incorporated as an interpretive design generator.

Within the historical context, the research included urban plans of John Evelyn, Christopher Wren, and the later extreme Sir Ebenezer Howard. Studies also discussed and documented London’s Olympics dating back to 1908 and 1948 as a way of placing the Olympic notion to components already in place within the overall city context. Further research also included researching names of places, historical areas of significance as well as archeological considerations. Transportation patterns research consisted of studying types and modes of transportation including railways, main access roads, secondary roads, pedestrian walkways and walking distances, bicycle paths and water transportation and then mapping them across the site. Research also found historic pathways and nodal connections. Documentation of built structures and patterns identified an array of residential, educational, religious, governmental, industrial as well as medical on site and at the perimeters. Figure ground studies were completed as well as the study of building typologies. The relationship between public and private spaces included private and public courtyards, green spaces, public spaces that emanate a specific degree of privacy, typified London spaces, plazas, gathering areas, events-spaces, retail, mixed use buildings, multiuse spaces, combination rental and owned housing, combination business retail and housing, and visual and physical spatial transitions. Environmental impact studies pertained to sustainability and landscape and included green spaces, natural links, pathways, parks, wooded areas, environmental hazards, swamp and water run-off, climate, biological habitat, and electricity and waste management. The socio-economical and cultural viewpoint concentrated on studying the social, cultural, demographical and economical factors pertaining to the site and the surrounding areas of impact.

In the early stages, the data is gathered and compiled using both digital and analog means in ranging from literature review, census and environmental reports, web-logs and conversations, downloaded site information from associated agencies, political websites, local concerned citizen groups, city web pages, site photos and maps, etc. During site reconnaissance, students photographed and measured to empirically document aspects of the site. They were also asked to qualitatively evaluate aspects of the site and to talk with firms and local residents in regard to their positions. The observers discuss and diagram key aspects to their categorical stance, becoming experts in certain aspects in relation to the site that can then be conveyed to others. The computer now plays an extraordinary role in the ease of management and transfer of the multitude and variety of data resources. Multiple materials can be brought in, digitized, and mixed with other sources and interpreted collectively.

The work is complied into both analog and digital montages to promote multiple and even abstract readings within each category. Some of the initial dialog involves interpretive mental/memory mapping, diagramming, eidetic drawings and analysis to evaluate the discursive nature within the categories themselves. The students begin through typical sketching, collaging, mapping, modeling, and interpreting in terms of their specific interest, but through their readings also begin to find external connections to adjacent categories and other world issues. The interpretations are deliberately kept loose to promote generalized approaches and idealized viewpoints. The students draw into the scene qualitative imagery, poetic notions, site sketches, and photos, while identifying relations to associated site conditions.

The groups rigorously studied their respected viewpoints and were then asked to interpretively design specific site schemes by method of large-scale sketches and diagrams based solely upon to their primary categorical viewpoint. They then draw in these sub-categorical positions into a collective, singular format. Ideological solutions, while rough in nature, are then digitized and brought into a collective scaled CAD file to be re-filtered and mapped through other points of view in the subsequent realization phase.

Realization Phase: Upon developing categories within the environment, the students work at developing common or shared threads between varying facets where the playing field can be integrated (‘meeting of horizons’).[16] They identify a common goal and motivating title for the project, ‘Continuous Fusion, Blurring the Lines between Divergent Perspectives.’ By identifying the complex and unforeseen nature of the site, they also identify the need to bring together the disparate facets of the environment into a systemically connective model, one that allows for future synthesis beyond their initial analysis and design and away from preconceived shape, geometry, or formal structure. Knowledge integration was intrinsically motivated by a common goal of sustainable development in the connecting medium of exchange, the urban environment as shared, ideal life-space. During this phase, participants identify others respondents that support or show consistency to their view. The validity of the design approach is grounded in the belief that a contextual reading of the site inevitably involves social agreement between various disparate facets affecting the site.

The categorical responses and subsequent master plans sketches were overlaid and merged into a collective field of spatial connectivity using two separate but connected ‘round-table’ approaches: a scaled physical site model with an overlay and a CAD modeled 3d site plan. Both analog and digital composite overlays were created to simulate, forecast and interpret direct patterns and connections between various site locations and divergent viewpoints. From this, the students visualize and discover emerging patterns as well as diversions and consistencies between conditions.

During the realization phase, a physical model was constructed of the site with a transparent graphic overlay mounted directly over the model as a shared plane of synthesis. This plane not only fostered the collection of multiple layers into direct contact with the city fabric, but emulated a process developed by London’s Space Syntax to create computer-generated spatial models and to subsequently analyze physical attributes.[17] This allowed comparison and contrast to the existing site model emulating the real, physical context. Lines were drawn unto the overlay that allowed for malleability and change, where lines could be easily identified and articulated in order to merge or avoid conflict. For example, a new roadway emerged that had to be accommodated and merged with other features and was easily conformed along the lines of other components. By mixing the approaches, the design process is open to on-the-fly refining as new information is brought to the table.

The computer is used as a mediating device to even the playing field between divergent points of view and in turn promotes an increased ‘meeting of horizons.’ The use of the computer aids in a gradual but rigorous understanding of the system, but also becomes the primary mode of intercommunicative exchange. In addition, once brought into the multilayered field of the computer space, new collective readings are derived and as such promote a closer view of the complex realities of the site. Each participant now has a collective model, which allows all learners to see it as a single, scaled site and literal relation to real entities, and thus fosters the ability to neutralize primacy of one system over another. Commonalities are identified between facets as immediate ways to solve conflicts within the scheme not otherwise as easily identifiable.

While interpretation was loose in the previous phase, the realization phase leads to literal interpretation and application of the data. For instance, the historic analysis, if taken literally, could simply be transcribed directly onto the site. However this interpretation changes during the realization phase, with aspects of the linear connections and spatial public nodes playing an effective role when mixed with new transportation and public space analysis. In addition, an analysis of green space from London’s Architectural Association promoted a similar nodal and ‘fuzzy network’ of ‘emergent public space,’ which was overlaid into the overall spatial scenario with multiple connections.[18]

Synthesis Phase: Through mutual inquiry, discursive perspectives of realities are initially discovered as divergent constructions of reality, which the evaluating participants themselves present, compare or contrast, evaluate and/or integrate with other views presented in the dialog. These build up into co-constructions, then re-constructions, as they are articulated and evaluated by all involved, while ‘progressively documented’ into a single connective space leading to a finalized design. Preconceived notions are also under bi-mutual scrutiny and subject to critique by all participants. This dialogic process enables individuals to act as experts to elucidate underlying ideas, issues, and theoretical perspectives (even those that are not shared) and to understand the context within which work is made. Individual constructions are re-read through others perspectives –- they set conditions that dialectically generate new ideas, images, processes, and are part of new constructions that have to be integrated into an ever changing context as new ideas are merged.[19] Interpretively mapping a rich, self-deriving context, they inevitably let a framework for their final design emerge.

Beyond analog means, the computer fosters the ability to generate the comprehensive storage of the material and leads toward rigorous and disciplined documentation. The layering system in both photo rendering and CAD programs allows for layers to be named and separated for comparative or singular analysis and clear coding will aid in the understanding of the various, multifaceted components, as seen in emerging information management software. In essence, combining both analog and digital technologies cultivates effective cross-pollination of ideas and modes through communicative and participatory interaction. Since the digital technology creates a collective space as a medium of exchange and a mock full-scaled version of the site, the preliminary interpretive sketches can become ‘scaled’ and possess the possibility of actuality. For instance, a line sketch delineating an abstract connection can now be traced onto the CAD drawing ‘as-is’ and then altered to meet specific site restraints, while maintaining the initial gestured idea. It has the potential to collectively overlay or montage complex patterns and thoughts seamlessly and to then merge a multitude of corresponding design configurations simultaneously. In this, the design can retain thick descriptions and deep cultural connotations in denotative forms.

Fieldwork, analysis, web publications, preliminary hand sketches, interviews and presentations, photography and imagery, material and product research, consultant work, GIS data sets as well as working CAD and digital 3D models can be merged and synthesized into a single database and finalized scheme, readily accessible and presentable to all participants, including those outside the immediate design setting. Collected work was then easily converted to transfer exchange formats for correspondence with others, as in this case international groups of architects in London that can now perform spatial analyses and assess the actual applicability, thus increasing potential understanding of real-world scenarios.

Conclusion: The goal of this process was to build a preliminary set of tools for learning about the complexities of urban situations based on hermeneutic approaches. Epistemic systems exist mentally and spatially as meaningful constructions of social interactions. Therefore, an interactive approach attempts to view the context from many different points of view in order to correspondingly promote a multitude of affections in lieu of presupposed forms or universalistic approaches. Reciprocally, the positive transformation of the structural framework for the communicative exchange of knowledge in turn transforms the corresponding social structure and thus critical human consciousness where knowledge constructions occur.

There is an increasing need to foster ways in which architectural thought and thus practice (thought-in-action) can more effectively and holistically deal with complex environmental and urban concerns. The process promotes a synthesis of communicative approaches that strengthen the central role of architects in the systemically participatory and interdisciplinary, social environment. Integration of common knowledge bases and distinct interdisciplinary methodologies can address the discursive concerns and their correlation with application in the community, thus developing a positive and meaningful effect with its context.

‘One result of formal education is that students graduate without knowing how to think in whole systems, how to find connections, how to ask big questions, and how to separate the trivial from the important. Now more than ever…we need people who can think broadly and who understand systems, connections, patterns, and root causes.’
David Orr[20]


[1] Quoted and referred to from Paul Ricoeur’s Universal Civilization and National Cultures, 1961, in Kenneth Frampton’s ‘Critical Regionalism: Modern Architecture and Cultural Identity’ in Modern Architecture (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992): pp314-327.

[2] Erlandson et al, 1993 and Guba and Lincoln, 1989. See G&L’s diagram (p152) and text from chapter 5, (pp142-155) and Erlandson (p124). ‘… which is ”constructivist in nature,” outlined in Guba and Lincoln’s Fourth Generation (FG) and Erlandson’s Doing Naturalistic Research (NR)

[3] Ibid. Erlandson et al, 1989.

[4] From Ricoeur, 1961, in Frampton’s “Critical Regionalism: Modern Architecture and Cultural Identity” in Modern Architecture, 1992): pp314-327.

[5] Jurgen Habermas. Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. Trans. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholson. MIT press: Cambridge, 1990. 116-188.

[6] World Press Review v49, no, 6, June 2002, p47; Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method. Crossroad: New York, 1989.

[7] From Richard E. Palmer, “Gadamer’s Recent Work on Language and Philosophy: On ‘Zur Phänomenolgie von Ritual und Sprach.’” in Continental Philosophical Review 33: 381-393. See also Guba and Lincoln, 1989 and source material in Gadamer’s Truth and Method.

[8] Ibid. Gadamer’s Truth and Method

[9] From Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, quoted by Dorothea Olkowski In “Merleau-Ponty and Bergson: The Character of the Phenomenal Field.” In Merleau-Ponty –- Difference, Materiality, Painting, p. 27. To Merleau-Ponti, human perception is in itself a creative process of ‘handling the world’ (grasping) –- making meanings and making ourselves through transactions with the world and with other beings.”

[10] Linda Groat, and David Wang. Architectural Research Methods. John Wiley and Sons: New York, 2002; Stake, Robert E. “Case Studies” in Handbook of Qualitative Research. Ed. Denzin, Norman K. and Lincoln, Yvonna S. Sage: Thousand Oaks, 2000; Stake, Robert E. The Art of case study research. Sage: Thousand Oaks. 1995; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research – Design and Methods. Applied Social Research Methods Series, Vol V. Sage: London, 1994.

[11] Roland W. Scholz, and Olaf Tietje, Embedded Case Study Methods -– Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Knowledge. Sage: Thousand Oaks, 2002. The Department of Environmental Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology was founded in 1987 in response to environmental disasters.

[12] Ibid. Scholz, Roland W. and Tietje, Olaf. Embedded Case Study Methods.

[13] Collin Rowe also discusses the bricolage approach to urban design in Collage City, a model for posrtmodern studies in architecture and urban studies.

[14] A reference for these categories was Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City. MIT Press: Cambridge, 1960.

[15] Harry Garnham, Maintaining the Spirit of Place. Arizona: PDA, 1985.

[16] Michael Burawoy. [Et al.]. Ethnography Unbound: Power and Resistance in the Modern Metropolis.

[17] William Hillier, Space is the Machine- A Configurational Theory of Architecture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 1996.

[18] Mohsen Mostafavi, “Landscapes of Urbanism” in Landscape Urbanism – A Manual for the Machinic Landscape. AA Print Studio: London, 2003.

[19] John Danvers. “Towards a Radical Pedagogy: Provisional Notes on Learning and Teaching in Art & Design.” International Journal of Art & Design Education 22 (1) February 2003, 56.

[20] Orr, David. Ecological Literacy. Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992; see also David Orr’s Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. 1994.

To Cite This Article:

Craig Anz, ‘Continual Fusion –- Blurring Lines Between Divergent Perspectives in the Development of Place: An Urban Regeneration Scenario for London’s Lower Lea Valley’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 4 Number 1 (March 2006). Online at Accessed on [date of access].