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Evolutionary Master Planning

Part 1 Project 2010
Simon James
Cardiff University, UK

The site lies in an area of Birmingham which is particularly affected by the abandonment of the industrial identity that is stitched well into the urban fabric, resulting in a strong edge condition between its inhabitants and the adjacent derelict buildings. This proximity between both typologies clearly portrays the historic relationship between industrial workers and their workplace. Evidently, this link no longer exists leaving an ambiguous identity to both the community and its environment. There is no reason or choice to live in this area which leaves a community perpetually in flux. This broken link is further emphasised through the canal system, a strong historical image of the city that binds the edges of the site and provides a direct link to the city centre.



Inspired by Colin Rowe’s Collage City, this explores the idea of an event governed by a collage of urban grain. It suggests a city should be able to grow and change through complex heterogeneous objects, supported by a nucleus or an event. It also refers to the sustainable concept of the ‘Bricoleur’; using the resources of the area to grow and develop as well as an opportunity to reintroduce the abandoned industrial image. This evolutionary notion of growth aims to respond very closely to the context of a site; not only physically but also socially, environmentally and economically. Dependant on the situation at the given time, the urban development should respond to this.


This evolutionary master planning model is a growing community dependant on economic, social and physical resources of its context. Inspired by John Fraser’s ‘Evolutionary Architecture’, growth is governed by the idea of seeds and cells, of which the later contain functions decided by its people, and the cells are housing modules that are borrowed and exchanged. It has the capacity to accommodate from one to seven people in specific module configurations, and can reach a density of 3 in full growth. The aim is to support the fluctuating nature of today’s culture, be self sufficient and sustainable whilst establishing a sense of worth and pride.

Simon James

Side stepping the usual directions of contemporary architecture, this project is about architecture as a living and evolving entity.

Architecture is often the manifestation of one mind and is notoriously time laden. It regularly finds itself out of sync with the very culture or circumstances it is developed for.

However this confident and rational approach to urban development in Birmingham is approached as a natural state of growth rather than a preordained rigid proposal. It sees the architect as facilitator, simply providing a beginning rather than director.

The project seeks to address the assumptions on form generating processes in architecture; paralleling a wider scientific theory of order and progress in the natural world. The work happily lends insight from John Frazer’s work on Evolutionary Architecture and proposes nature as the generating force of architectural form.

The strategy presented is clearly not about copying the organic, yet it carefully uses scientific and biological analogies to define a social polemic.

The proposal feels aware of the writings of Rowe, Koetter, Gehl, and Lynch, yet it avoids a stereotypical response by simultaneously embracing Frazer’s ideas of replication and selection, challenging preconceived notions of space making.

The immediate urban field is disrupted by ‘cores’ or ‘seeds’ which themselves displace space within the public realm, creating a conscious dualism between figure and ground. Seeds are then organized according to the practical and pragmatic routes that connect to existing socio-physical nodes surrounding the site.

All this allows for the future evolution of ‘cells’ or ‘units of habitation’ decided by the evolving needs of the occupants and wholly dependent on their social, economical and physical resources; all in an attempt to foster a communal sense of ownership in a severely deprived inner-city area.

The presentation work and drawings demonstrates a rare graphical ability in collecting and presenting data, reinforcing the depth of thought and evident toil that lay behind this work.

With regards to its overall ambition, with its carefully acknowledged utopian undertones - the work feels alive and evolutionary, with a potential only bounded by the limits of communities working together in unison toward a common goal.

Kristian Alexander Hyde


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