urban prototypes A Research Cluster of the Architectural Association

urban prototypes
David Grahame Shane interview

An extract from an interview we conducted with David Grahame Shane during his most recent visit to the AA:

Grahame Shane:  The ‘urban prototype’ is really interesting. Is it a block? Is it a megablock? Is it a superblock? Or is it a model of the city? We’re all very critical of the idea of the urban model, but it is a useful conceit.

For me prototypes are part of industrial production, and I guess I would read them in terms of Tafuri, and the type inside the production cycle, and the way in which it always is always evolving.  So I don’t see it as a set ‘type’. Though there are other people who have Platonic typologies, and those are more like archetypes. I’m not such a believer in that, although I think that we have basic patterns in our brain structuring that predispose us towards reading things in certain ways, so that for me, in Recombinant Urbanism, the enclave and the centring device was a very basic organisational system, a mental construct, and a social organisation as well. Then the linear system was another one, and then the mixings of those two were the heterotopic elements. So I suppose those would be the closest I get to archetypes. I think that there are structures in our brain, but I don’t believe in them as being religious, Platonic elements that relate to some greater idea.

Doug Spencer: So they don’t relate to any metaphysical ideal that we should aspire to?

Grahame Shane:  Not for me, no. I think they are social constructs and they evolve…I suppose, that I’m following Tafuri. He saw in the Renaissance a kind of Western typomorphology of space emerge that had to do with how you made new cities, around perspective, around public space, and around streets, which Rossi also shared. So there is a kind of ‘European tradition’ in morphology that is very convenient, and that can be abused at many different scales and in many different ways. But Tafuri was very precise about it, that it was always a social construct and always different. Wherever it was built it would be different. The agents and the actors would change the shared conceit that was somehow inside the perspective mechanism, the visualisation process. So there was a kind perspective experiment in the lab, he called it “the perspective laboratory of Urbino”.


David Grahame Shane trained at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in the 1960’s during the Archigram years. He completed an M.Arch in Urban Design and a Phd in Architectural and Urban History at Cornell with Colin Rowe. He taught at the A.A. School under Alvin Boyarsky before joining Columbia University in 1985 (and the Urban Design Program in 1991). He now also lectures at Cooper Union and City College in New York. Over the past 20 years he has taught Urban Design master-classes and lectured internationally, as well as being published widely.

One Response to David Grahame Shane interview

  1. Your blog is very interesting! I am studying a masters degree in urbanism, in particular about regenerating intermediate landscapes in UIC (Barcelona), and all your articles are very interesting for me.

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