The Imaginable City
The latter half of the 20th century saw rapid urban development, implemented to meet rapid growth and changing infrastructural needs. Cities around the world became designed homogeneously. In the early decades of the 21st century, the re-inhabitation of the post-industrial city has brought opportunities to bring new ideas to this homogeneity; yet templates and formulas still seem to gain ground: cities are losing their identity, as well as their imaginability. Within this problematic context, New Plymouth Central Area is a representative urban space. New Plymouth District Council has proposed a banally universal design framework, that promises only to continue burying the unique identity of its urban space, rather than liberating it to the imagination. The contemporary discipline still tends to design directly for universal human needs; an approach that ends up suggesting a city’s identity to its citizens, rather than empowering citizens to imagine, and then create, that identity.
This design-led research proposes that landscape design and urban planning can recover the identity of the New Plymouth Central Area by enhancing its legibility and imaginability. It explores techniques for coordinating mental recognition with visual perceptions, to evoke human imagination of a large-scale urban landscape. It argues that imaginable space can be achieved by creating a mentally identifiable system, with urban patterns, for human physical experimentation and mental recognition to navigate; through agency of this urban system to allow those same dynamics to permeate the history and cultural value of the site; to strengthen the citizen’s recognition of self-identity, which always relates to, and measures itself by, the identity of the land.
The outcomes of this research are: an abstract design method that communicates the mental recognition of landscape and its relation to the designed environment; and a physical design solution, testing the abstract method, for a legible and imaginable New Plymouth City.