SIBF 2022 panel calls for a rethink on urban planning in contemporary cities

Distinguished panel of architecture professionals discuss urgent need to avoid homogenisation in urban planning at SIBF 2022    

Sharjah, November 10, 2022

The 41st Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) discussed the evolving landscape of high-rise developments and some of the challenges faced by the industry in creating unique architecture to create stand-out cityscapes at a panel discussion dedicated to Dr. Davide Ponzini’s book, Transnational Architecture and Urbanism.

Dr. Davide Ponzini, Professor of Urban Planning at Politecnico di Milano opened the forum by presenting his acclaimed book which combines urban planning, design, policy, and geography studies to offer insights into relevant transnational case studies of urban transformation around the globe as well as covering his 15 plus years of experience in the Middle East as an urban planner.

Ponzini said: “I look at buildings, the large scale development projects, central business districts as well as other aspects and connect different cities, arguing that we should shift our attention from individual buildings to cities as a whole, and how they transform. In the academic debate there is an explanation about why cities tend to be more like each other and this is normally boiled down to the simple statement that, it’s globalisation and what does one expect?”

He went on to add that he had problems with this explanation as it traps cities in a box of homogenisation especially when the same architects and investors are being used to create the buildings that are meant to stand out globally.

Dr. Paolo Caratelli, Professor of Architecture, Abu Dhabi University, stated that there is often a misunderstanding when famous architects are tasked to create iconic buildings, thinking that there is a “blank canvas” to fill.

He said: “There is always a context in which buildings should be added to a city, there is always something that should represent the “real” city. Too often these large scale projects only allow a select group of architects to emerge and produce things that are not always contextualised or integrated into the cities they are built in. Just like in an orchestra, if you have one instrument that is suddenly much louder it can overwhelm all the others and instead of creating beautiful music our contemporary cities can become a noise.”

Commenting on the connection made in Ponzini’s book regarding architecture and urban planning, Dr. Roberto Castillo Melo, Assistant Professor, American University of Sharjah, said:  “One of the most valuable lessons we have learned from this book is the need to remember that there is a great connection between urban and architectural environments and that our objective is to enhance and improve the urban setting and not only focus on the aesthetic or surface level requirements.”

Using the example of the architectural influence of the Roman Empire, he added that urban planning, globalisation and identity architecture is not a new concept and has been happening throughout history.

Commenting on how urban planning research should have an impact on practice, Dr. Sami Ibrahim, Policy & Strategy Advisor for The Executive Council of Dubai, affirmed his belief in the combination of research and practice when it comes to development.

He said: “It can be difficult at times to convince those in charge of developments the value of research and the benefits that can be made from giving researchers the time to learn from previous projects and apply those lessons to future developments. Cities such as Copenhagen, Barcelona and Vancouver are good examples of urban planning today but they were essentially laboratories or experimental spaces at one time until they reached this high level of maturity or what we refer to as ‘best practices’ or ‘benchmarks’.”     

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