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THE FORM OF CITIES: POLITICAL ECONOMY AND URBAN DESIGN

By Alexander Cuthbert. Oxford: Blackwell. 2006. [pounds sterling]19.99

This is the second volume in Cuthbert's challenging assault on the conventional wisdom on urban design and the physical determinism that still shapes most designers' approaches to the subject. Cuthbert argues that, after over a century of 'glacial' progress, the architectural thinking that has dominated the field from Camillo Sitte through Gordon Cullen to David Gosling has yet to yield a satisfactory body of either explanatory or prescriptive theory of urban form. By contrast, '... more significant theoretical paradigms about the shape and form of urban space are originating from outside the discipline of urban design rather than from the inside'. Cuthbert himself stops short of offering a comprehensive theory, but chooses instead to delineate the diverse nature and sources of knowledge upon which an effective explanation and set of guiding principles must be based. In the first book, Designing Cities, by the same publishers, Cuthbert grouped a list of essential readings from both old and new related disciplines into 10 sections: Theory; History; Philosophy; Politics; Culture; Gender; Environment; Aesthetics; Typologies, and Pragmatics. The new book follows an identical structure to facilitate cross-referencing between the two volumes but offers a more personal evaluation of the key ideas and ideologies which Cuthbert believes show the way forward. Underpinning these, and indeed the whole book, is a socio-economic perspective--spatial political economy--the most influential spokesmen for which include the radical sociologist Manuel Castells. Like Castells, Cuthbert is primarily concerned with the 'social production of space', in all 'its material and symbolic dimensions'. In place of heroic fantasies of omnipotent individual designers shaping cities, Cuthbert presents an infinitely more complex and realistic picture of multiple urban players and interest groups competing over the same territory for different motives. Dense and scrupulously researched, Cuthbert's work provides a vital and readable overview of the emergent new insights into urban form and culture.

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Title Annotation:The Form of Cities: Political Economy and Urban Design
Author:Abel, Chris
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:352
Previous Article:Architecture today.
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