Diffusionary Urbanism

Department: Landscape Architecture
Research Centre: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative
Active Dates: April 2016 – October 2019

Project Title: Diffusionary Urbanism 

Principal Investigator:  Andrea Palmioli, (DLA-HKU)

Project Funding: Pending


The research program focuses on the study of systems of urban diffusion, which are an emergent mode of urbanization in mega urban regions. Differently from terms such as “sprawl”, which is commonly understood in the urban field as the spreading-out of urban elements to contexts with a lower gradient of urbanity, “diffusion” refers to varied, uneven concentrations of different urban and natural elements that are themselves tied to a complex mosaic of (eco)systems.  In other words, diffusion in mega urban regions entails tangled interactions between different systems that are intrinsically dynamic, open and interconnected.Contemporary urban figures such as Città Diffusa in Northeast Italy or Desakota in Asia, fine grained settlements of dispersion in Flanders or Zwischenstadt in Germany are just some of the examples able to effectively describe this emergent urban condition, increasingly related to the dispersion of the urban fabric within the agricultural landscape. Reflections on diffusion must consider these figures beyond a simplistic center/periphery opposition, revealing the dispersed condition as a potential asset, rather than a limit to the construction of a sustainable and innovative urban dimension (Viganò 2015).

It is assumed that the development of water networks in delta regions have implications on land and irrigation rights, which can in turn influence types of cultivations, in particular rice or cotton and density of human labor. In addition, land and water rights can also generate frictions in urban development of delta regions through progressive expansion and densification over rural land.

The aim of this research is to explore forms of diffusion across the world and its contemporary relevance as ecological and social design framework.  By grounding questions and theories arising from different urban contexts, the study aims to develop interdisciplinary approaches. The ultimate goal is to show that the concept of urban diffusion can provide an integrated framework for understanding the complex entanglements between different infrastructures associated with the natural and man-made environments.

Enlarge Photo: © Image: Andrea Palmioli