City Visions Europe: New Vocabularies for the European City

23 - 24 aprile 2009, Mechelen (Belgium)
On the occasion of the launch of the European exchange program City Visions Europe, the conference “New Vocabularies for the European City” discusses the challenges of contemporary architecture in building the mid-scale European City. The cities that are the contexts of this European exchange—Mechelen, Bordeaux, Kosice and Plzen—are not the large European metropolises or capital cities, but they are typical mid-s European cities. There are more than 500 of such cities with a population between 100,000 and 500,000 inhabitants. These accommodate more than 15% of the European population and are an essential component of the European urban history and of the contemporary urbanized territory of its continent. While reflecting upon their specific qualities and challenges, the mid-scale European city forms an ideal framework to question the relation between the contemporary practices of architecture and planning on their capacity to ‘make city’. The conference therefore departs from the observation that, over the past two decades, the “urban project” or the “acupunctural intervention,” often as part of a strategic project to restructure the city’s territory, has become the predominant framework for the production of contemporary architecture. While the ‘urban project’ is often the engine of urban restructuring, it has also become the vehicle for city-marketing strategies and the pursuit of a ‘Bilbao-effect’ in both large and small cities. The implicit architectural idea that speaks from this popular tendency of ‘exceptional’ architectural realizations condenses the city in specific city-parts and, even more often, in public buildings—often with a cultural or leisure program. This global phenomenon that deploys architecture and architects mainly for their iconic contribution to cities could be summarized as the proliferation of a generic form of architecture that in turn contributes to a generic development of cities worldwide. […]