Module 3, “Interior urbanism – Outline of a research milieu”

The main purpose of my thesis project is to investigate the role of three buildings as interior components in ongoing neoliberal redevelopment processes of three cities. Looking at these buildings in their current condition, the project investigates the lobby as a stage where notions of urbanism are produced and consumed. As an external driving force behind this process I identify neoliberal urbanism, here defined as an unfinished project of restructuring the city’s public institutions, services and physical environment.[1] Analyzing the three lobbies as thresholds between building and city, where issues of space, time, and labor are at stake, I point to the entanglement and fragility of architecture’s relation to neoliberal urbanism.

I situate my thesis project in an architectural research body that within the last decade has attempted to add nuances to the relationship between building interiors and urban environment.[2] Laid into this project of nuancing, I see three themes that together constitute the outline of a research milieu: Attempts to question the existing conceptual apparatus for analyzing the relationship between interior and exterior; a focus on the materiality, form, and geometry of interiors; consideration of building interiors as spaces for the production of ideologically underpinned notions about the city. This milieu can be described as research on interior aspects of urbanism, either from a historical or contemporary point of view.[3] At the outset, this research addresses a shared problem – what can the analysis of building interiors say about historical or ongoing social, economic, and political changes to the city? In this short text, I want to sketch the outline of this milieu by elaborating on the three characteristics mentioned above, and highlight the contribution I see with my own work in relation to existing research.

A first common denominator of this research milieu is that it questions established theoretical concepts for building interiors in relation to city – inside/outside, closed/open, surveilled/free, private/public – by introducing terms such as “environment”, “atmosphere”, and “public interiors”. This is evident in David Gissen’s book Manhattan Atmospheres: Architecture, the Interior Environment and Urban Crisis.[4] Combining geographical theory on the integration of social and natural processes with an architecture historical approach, Gissen outlines an environmental history of architectural responses to the urban transformation of New York City during the second half of the 20th century.[5] The emergence of late-modernist large-scale interiors, in which the atmosphere could be regulated, controlled and cultivated signifies for Gissen the social and cultural construction of an urban nature. What is at stake in Gissen’s case studies – the Washington Bridge Apartments, the Ford Foundation Garden, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the World Financial Center – is not only privatization or gentrification, but how these interior environments functioned as a stage to alter, distance from, or reconstruct the city outside. In other words, the interior environment of these buildings constituted and shaped the experience of the city. Gissen argues that these projects, at the time of completion conceived as solutions to specific urban problems (pollution, heat, humidity, lack of green space, etc), often consolidated prevailing notions about the city as contaminated, eroded and unsafe. Gissen’s research demonstrates how the links between large-scale corporate building interiors, the surrounding city of New York, and the global market was part of an architectural idea of expanding “maintenance environments”. Such environment, he notes “suggests a pervasive refashioning of space, labor, and culture both within and outside its literal interiors.”

A second identifiable feature in the research on interior urbanism is an attention to the role of architectural form, geometry, and materiality when considering interiors. This is illustrated in the work of artist, designer, and architectural teacher Mark Pimlott, primarily in his book The Public Interior as Idea and Project.[6] Based on a transcript from lectures given within the course “The Architecture of the Interior” at TU Delft, Pimlott considers six themes on public dimension of interior spaces in architectural history: The Garden, The Palace, The Ruin, The Shed, The Machine, and The Network. Each chapter suggests a formal and geometrical genealogy between projects distributed over a large span of time. For example, Pimlott identifies a continuation of the idea of the enclosed garden between biblical renderings of the Paradise, the 19th century Crystal Palace, and Roche’s and Dinkeloo’s Ford Foundation Building, completed in 1968. In associative sequences like these – often driven by images and drawings instead of conceptual coherence – Pimlott identifies the recurring idea of “public interior”. Defined as interior spaces that – despite being privately owned – can be appropriated to produce a sense of freedom among its visitors, Pimlott argues that public interiors form an undercurrent to external public space through history. The public interior is envisaged as a stage for people to “appear, move, act, associate, and become conscious of themselves and their place in the world as individuals, as selves, as others, as selves among other selves, together and distinct in public.”[7] With this claim, Pimlott wants to sidestep the issue of building interiors as private or public, and consider instead the momentary effect of emancipation that the experience of being in such a space can have.

Although there is much relevance in Pimlott’s work, with its encyclopedic approach to how interior form relates to notions of publicness and city, the concept of “public interior” remains unclear. “Public interiors” are identified in fundamentally different social and historical contexts. Moving through both built and unbuilt examples, Pimlott in many instances omits the historical, socio-economic circumstances under which these interiors existed. Freed from the burden of contextual considerations, the public interior appears trans-historical, as the effect of spatial and formal arrangements only. Lifted out of context, the examples of public interior are presented as readily available formal instruments for architects to design “environments of genuine richness and freedom.”[8] But this kind of celebration neglects the economic pretexts in which the experience of the discussed buildings exists. In that sense, the most conspicuous absence in Pimlott’s study, is the consideration of these interiors in relation to the economic and ideological force of neoliberalism. Pimlott’s ambition to exculpate the profession from the logic of neoliberalism, in order to argue for the emancipatory possibility of public interiors, makes his analysis ambiguous.[9]

A third characteristic of the discussed research milieu is a rethinking of how the concept of interior has been projected onto an urban scale, as spaces for the production of the city as an ideological project. This is apparent in the architectural theorist Charles Rice’s research on the atrium spaces of John Portman, most notably in his book Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman and Downtown America.[10] Composed as a series of chapters analyzing several of Portman’s buildings and their discourse, the book considers the interdependency between the interior environments and ideological, institutional, and economic forces behind the redevelopment of many North American cities in the post-war decades. Analyzing what he calls the “interior urbanism” of Portman’s design, by considering the historical context, the dynamics between architect and real estate market, and the geometry often repeated from project to project, Rice argues that the large-scale interior space of the atrium suggested a new approach to how the city should be understood and constructed.[11] Rice traces the geometrical logic of Portman’s architecture to the design of his private villa, a small-scale prototype of what later became larger interior atriums. In doing so, he locates the roots of interior urbanism to the domestic sphere, an interpretation that opens up for a range of possible critical perspectives on Portman’s work, not the least considering issues of gender and class. Unfortunately, such critical topics remain unexplored in the book, as identifying the formal and geometrical continuity between Portman’s different projects is given priority.

How do I position my thesis within the discussed milieu? At the center of my investigation is the present-day implications of neoliberal urbanism mirrored in three buildings. Unlike Rice and Gissen, I do not analyze the lobby in order to write a history of urban transformations of North Americans cities during the postwar years, or to rethink the environmental history of late-modernist architecture. The case studies in this thesis are considered as they are today, and are analyzed primarily by surveys, drawings, observations, and descriptions on-site. The historical record of the projects, such as publications, official statements, archive materials etc., form a reference frame rather than an empirical source in themselves. By visiting and writing about the buildings and their sites in their current state, I want to underscore the unstable nature of architecture, and show how seemingly minor changes (the adding of exterior benches, a stanchion belt closing off part of the lobby, or the constant rearrangement of plants and flowers) reveal linkages between the building’s interiors and ongoing processes of neoliberal redevelopment. A first contribution is therefore to move away from architectural history as the main focal point of “interior urbanism”, and place the reading of the interior within a critical analysis of ongoing urban transformations.

I see the second contribution of my thesis related to the first, as all of the case studies point to the often-overlooked fragility of interior environments. The continuous refurbishment, refitting, and maintenance of the lobby challenges the notion of architecture as solid and autonomous from its surroundings. There are clear parallels between on the one hand Pier Vittorio Aureli’s call for an autonomous architecture, and on the other hand, Charles Rice’s identification of a stable geometry in the interiors of Portman’s architecture, or Mark Pimlott’s belief in architecture’s capacity to resurrect a trans-historical and non-contextual “public interior”. By moving away from the notion of architecture as defined by stable matters of form and geometry, and instead consider the multiple material and immaterial agencies that shape interiors in relation to the city, my project points to the open-ended character of architecture over time.

A third contribution is in the development of a transversal research method for studying interior urbanism, a research milieu hitherto characterized by analysis of historical sources. My thesis project explores writing as a method that can transgress the borders between different academic traditions, and essayistic forms of text production in the study of architecture. Each case study-chapter undulates between site-close experiential accounts, observations of humans and objects in and around the building, architectural theory, isometric drawings of the lobby, and quantitative data from external sources or from site surveys. I want to juxtapose several different ways of thinking about the lobby’s entanglement with the outside world: Descriptions of immersions into space needs to be placed against theory on labor; accounts of hyperspace with observations from the lobby early on a Tuesday morning; the slowness of ethnography with the high-speed investigations of journalism; and the hasty attempt of the essay with detailed descriptions of elements like doors, stairs and floors. Writing in this sense constitutes not the summary of empirical data, but an investigative process in itself, where the interrelationships between topics, ideas and sources are exposed that would otherwise remain unseen.[12] With this transversal approach, I hope that the project can find a broader audience, and be relevant for architectural practitioners as well as researchers.

Hannes Frykholm


Gabrielsson, Catharina, and Hélène Frichot. “Transversal Writing Course Pm.” KTH Architecture and the Built Environment 2015.

Gissen, David. Manhattan Atmospheres: Architecture, the Interior Environment, and Urban Crisis.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Peck, Jamie, Nik Theodore, and Neil Brenner. “Neoliberal Urbanism: Models, Moments, Mutations.” SAIS Review XXIX, no. 1 (Winter-Spring 2009).

Pimlott, Mark. “Interiority and the Conditions of Interior.” Interiority 1, no. 1 (2018): 5-20.

———. The Public Interior as Idea and Project.  Heijningen: Jap Sam Books, 2016.

Rice, Charles. Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman and Downtown America.  London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.


[1] Jamie Peck, Nik Theodore, and Neil Brenner, “Neoliberal Urbanism: Models, Moments, Mutations,” SAIS Review XXIX, no. 1 (Winter-Spring 2009).

[2] David Gissen, Manhattan Atmospheres: Architecture, the Interior Environment, and Urban Crisis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014). Charles Rice, Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman and Downtown America (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016). Mark Pimlott, The Public Interior as Idea and Project (Heijningen: Jap Sam Books, 2016).

[3] I borrow the term interior urbanism form Charles Rice. Cf. Rice, Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman and Downtown America

[4] Gissen, Manhattan Atmospheres: Architecture, the Interior Environment, and Urban Crisis.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Pimlott, The Public Interior as Idea and Project. See also more recent publications, where the same argument is continued: “Interiority and the Conditions of Interior,” Interiority 1, no. 1 (2018).

[7] “Interiority and the Conditions of Interior,” 16. p 16.

[8] Ibid. 10

[9] An obvious example of this is the distinction Pimlott insists on between Cedric Price’s “Fun Palace” and Jon Jerde’s “Mall of America”.[9] Price’s project is presented as a “good” example of public interiors because it implies the active and uncontrolled engagement of the visitor, whereas Jerde’s is a malign version, existing only to encourage consumption. However, the distinction does not recognize the most fundamental difference: Unlike Jerde’s “Mall of America”, Cedric Price’s “Fun Palace”, as influential as it has been, was never built.

[10] Rice, Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman and Downtown America.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Part of this method was developed in discussions and exercises with the teachers and students of the Resarc course “Transversal Writing”, given by Catharina Gabrielsson and Hélène Frichot at KTH Architecture and the Built Environment in 2015. Catharina Gabrielsson and Hélène Frichot, “Transversal Writing Course Pm,” (KTH Architecture and the Built Environment 2015).

Situating the design act of planning directives

The message from the profession of architects is that urban design is a key to the local implementation of global and national sustainability goals as it anchors them in geography and make them agreeable and practical to people.

The researcher Dana Cuff who studied the architect profession question this proposition by observing that it doesn’t change the organization of the profession and its relation to society, which she maintain is necessary to meet the challenges. Criticizing the post-critical reading of Guattari and Deleuze as superficial Daniel Barber question the notion of a singular architect subject in history, but still argue that architecture can be an actor in history if it embraces the complexity of the contemporary flux of digitalization, environmental depletion and symbolic strength of architecture and by connecting it to the political project of Guattari to connect the registers of the social, psychological and environmental. Not only emphasizing the aesthetic as such.

However neither Cuff nor Barber discusses on what terms individuals can be part of such acts if they are not introduced to a position from which they can be responsible subjects and act in history by professional formation, cooperation, organization and legislation. The construction of legitimacy to make propositions for changes of the built environment by political leaders, managers and other representatives of collectivities. Architecture is about collectivities and a product of institutional settings, while the discourse is more interested in individual creation and reception or use. Me, not we.

My position as a researcher cannot be disconnected from my membership of the Swedish Association of Architects and my work for the objectives of the association for about 20 years, which according to the ethical standard for members is to:

Promote and work for good architecture.

Take care of longterm and public interests.

Respect the common person from the holistic point of view.

This ios related to but not equal to my personal drivers of:

• Holistic concern for both humans and the eco-systems that support us.

• Caring and pedagogic approach to others and a sense of social obligation to include everybody in the discourse.

• Belief that complexity is necessary to achieve a high social and ecological value output both for private and public interests. (at the waldoerf school I studied in we were in class together with mentally handicapped children and we learnt many practical things like mending trees).

• A management system that gives agency and autonomy to individuals to act directly on information and their own patterns of interpretation.

• A fascination with talent and individual performance, i.e. heterogenity as a fundament of democracy and productive communities.

My practical question based on this perspective is about how urban design facilitates the implementation of sustainability goals in municipal urban development projects? Or put in a more general fashion:

How can we diminish our dependency on digital differentiations of reality that result in un-sustainable monocultures and inability to account for the diversity of ecological as well as social realities?

Indigenuous tribes in the forests of Borneo
Meanwhile: Palm oil plantation on Borneo

The monotony of anthropocene – is it a consequence of the hegemony of the subject-object dichotomy and profit maximizing utilitarianism?

• Can a more analogue mode of thinking and representation of reality give a better account for the diversity of a sustainable socio-ecological system?

• Can it help to change the way we manage planet earth in anthropocene with a more respectful and attentive approach to detail and the specific?

My scientific question then becomes: What is the role of design acts to develop project specific knowledge about sustainable solutions?

I want to develop my argument along to basic hypotheses:

• A more analogue and bodily mode of thinking and representation of reality can give a better account for the diversity of a sustainable socio-ecological system. 

• A more sensible use of design competency can help to change the way we manage planet earth in anthropocene with a more respectful and attentive approach to detail and the specific.

It is often presumed that the design acts of professional architects should be based in qualified information about the consequences of different alternatives for people. The methods used by architects should support a value driven production of living environments for the planet and future generations, not only short term profit and momentary consumption desires.

But how can we qualify the information used for the design act given the complex and contradictory sense of reality we live in?

The designer must deal with multiple uncertainties (the planning theorist Horst Ritter called them the ’wicked problems’ of social planning already in 1972):

• Redundancy of information

• Contradictory information

• Missing information

• Different value systems

• Different epistemic foundations of the information, both as paradigms and syntagms (the different ’doxa’ of the actors signifcation and interpretation – double contingency of meaning and sense making)

• Multiple parallell developments that interact in unpredictable ways in the future

Some preliminary observations in deisgn research concerning the cognitive capacities of the mind as a matrix for human design strategies:

• Introspective search for patterns for framing and naming of the expert (conceptualization as a ’dialogue with the problem situation’) (Schön 1983, Molander 1996)

• The limited capacity of the human brain to process and operate maximum 5-7 thinks at a time to satisfice more than optimize solutions. (Herbert Simon 1995)

• Abduction as a cognitive process of qualified guessing by association (Cross 2002, Peirce 1890 ca)

• Umberto Eco (1962) describes the aesthetic experience as an openness to knowledge in a psychological sense.

• George Lakoff (1978?) has introduced metaphor and tropes as a cognitive tools that expand understanding. (Ref. Embodied mind.)

• Collective creation by sharing and analyzing the flux of the minds of several experts in small groups of maximum 7 people. (Rudolfsson 2018)

• Consultation of proposal with peers and governors, stakeholders and user representatives.

… while recognizing human values and rights whether particular or universal.

… while recognizing universal human values and rights.

The abductive or associative thinking act according a few different models of thinking in terms of signs according to logician Charles S Peirce (1890 ca).

C.S. Peirce differentiated between symbolic, iconic and indexical signs and defined them as constituted by a tripartite relation between the representation, the represented concept and the interpretation of that relation by the mind.

Symbols are arbitrary representations based on conventions or regulated codes for interpretation such as street signs.

Icons are analogous representations based on resemblance and can be metaphorical.

Indexes are inferential representations that indicate a referent by pointing at them, e.g. by using their symptom such as smoke for fire.

These concept are similar to the concepts developed within the ehory of rhetoric of Gianbattista Vico in Nuova Scienzia 1726, which he described as tropes of stylistic ornament in speech:


– exchange of concepts that are alike each other in a specific context.


– using a different term to represent the same phenomenon.


– describing the part to represent the whole.


– saying the opposite of what is meant.

Two main drivers exist in parallell in the design process: The objective rational decision process and the subjective will to universal right livelihood. Philosophers believe that rational decisions are only concerned with means and the definition of the desire that produce the demand is not its concern. The end is not a concern for the rational. (Searle 2001 p.11)
Problem situations are vague and the ’thick ends’ of our human values must be deliberated by planners together with the electorate and the public. (Nussbaum 1995 p. 196 ff).
Planning decisions requires subjective political action based on the specific situation, not only objective engineering of generalized desires in terms of material properties. (Spivak 1984)
It takes the will of people and their freedom to act to control their future in their interest even though the consequences are not fully understood. When people enter the discourse of the public good and act on their conviction the public domain emerges and with tio the ability to decide. The private cannot do that. But in a society based on production ends are taken for means and means become an end in themselves when the public domain is taken over by production (fabrication) (Arendt 1958).

Rational decisions are only concerned with means and the definition of the desire that produce the demand is not its concern. The end is not a concern for the rational. (Searle 2001 p.11)

Problem situations are vague and the ’thick ends’ of our human values must be deliberated by planners together with the electorate and the public. (Nussbaum 1995 p. 196 ff).

Planning decisions requires subjective political action based on the specific situation, not only objective engineering of generalized desires in terms of material properties. (Spivak 1984)

It takes the will of people and their freedom to act to control their future in their interest even though the consequences are not fully understood. When people enter the discourse of the public good and act on their conviction the public domain emerges and with tio the ability to decide. The private cannot do that. But in a society based on production ends are taken for means and means become an end in themselves when the public domain is taken over by production (fabrication) (Arendt 1958).

Art is defined as a holistic experience of being part of something greater, a totality, which is produced by the openness to different interpretations found in art works.
Artists makes conscious use of the connotative potential of vague and ambiguous analogue signs. In that sense their work can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the time, place and references of the audience.
The pragmatic context of the performance of the art work define its meaning, which is therefore transient and constantly in change. Not its denotation.
In that way the modern open event art of the 1960’s was an appropriate symbol of the modern condition. (Umberto Eco, Open Work 1962)

The contradictory theory of management by objectives in urban management

According to the theory of management by objectives, to incentivize high efficiency goals shall be (Edvardson & Hansson 2004):

• Precise

• Evaluable

• Approachable

• Motivating

In general political goals seldom follow these requirements, as they belong to the order of Action, which is different from Fabrication (Arendt 1958). •

In urban planning political goals for architecture and environment are often vague, utopian, ambiguous and dislocated (Johansson 2008).

According to the literature some of the general reasons for the vagueness of political directives are:

1) Knowledge
It is very difficult to predict the future and what knowledge and competency it will take to realize the vision. (Sahlin-Andersson 1989)

2) Democracy
Political decision require agreements based on inclusive concepts and deliberation (Nussbaum 1995).

3) Participation
The city government wants to invite many actors to contribute to the vision and inspire broad action in society. (Johansson 2008)

4) Innovation
The solutions must consult up-to-date knowledge and be able to include unexpected perspectives and quality concerns that arise from new knowledge on sustainability. (Sahlin-Andersson 1989)

The specific reasons for vague directives is that the role of planning directives is to monitor urban design processes which are characterized by:

1. Specific expressions and material representations of thoughts and ideas with models and images that establish a sign to communicate a future change of the environment. (Linn 1998, Eco 1989)

2.Pragmatic use of information that satisfy the program to establish first principles that guide priorities of the decision process. (Cross 2006, Simon 1969)

3.Absorption of uncertainty and facilitation of alignment of frames of understanding among the actors in complex urban development projects without previous similar cases. (Sahlin-Andersson 1989)

In her critique of hegemonic generality in de-colonization theory Gayatri Spivak says in a recent interview that:

”The subaltern is not generalizable. If they were generalizable then they would not be subaltern. It is, as a concept, a position without identity. But it has to be filled with various examples. Gramscis concept is that they are small social groups on the fringes of history. They have no citizenship. Citizenship would generalize them, and that is our effort, but all of the examples of subalternity which fill the position without identity are not generalizable. The concept changes as conjunctions change. Gramsci wrote in a very particular time and place at a very specific state. I am in the border of West Bengal and Jharkhand in India. I have to work with Gramscis ungeneralizable intellectual position to fill it with something that’s changeful.”

Interview with Gayatri Spivak about her use of the subaltern as concept

University of Coimbra 2018, answer to the second question within 3,5 minutes from start on: 

The functioning of the specific ’descriptor’ according to the theory of rhetoric:

Descriptio is the pattern of narrative development that aims to make vivid a place, object, character, or group. It is a rhetoric tool used to inform the audience of a decision and its consequences  in one sentence. The purpose is to cause indignation or compassion in the decision maker by presenting the consequences in a short and distinct way. (Source: Wikipedia)

I svensk retorisk handbok kallas det ‘Konkretion’: “Att konkretisera är psykologiskt riktigt. Skälet är det åskådliga tänkandets, bildseendets, stora betydelse för oss. Det är känsloladdat och kroppsnära. Och det är handlingens inre representation. Det engagerar hela vårt jag, inte minst dess djupaste och minst medvetna

Hanna Arendt also elaborate on the problems of reduction of the concrete experience in mathematics and the alienation that it creates between humans and their environment (Arendt 1958). The De-colonization project to re-invent a universal episteme on an equal basis (Spivak 1988) illustrates the problem of reduction of reality into abstract concepts that hide the significance of the origin. It has been used to support certain interests and establish oppression of the conquered people’s in the colonies. It works by denying the ’doxa’ of the aboriginal people: their frame of understanding and their indigenous episteme arising from their traditions.

Francois Jullien discusses an ontological strategy of de-colonization based on his comparative studies of chinese and western philosophy which he uses to return to the foundation of philosophy around 500 BC. by that exercise he shows that it can be possible to de-ontologize the conventions of thinking in terms of objects by walking upstreams in the history of philosophy (Jullien 2009):

• Indifferentation in Chinese thought compared to the process of determination of ontology in Greek by dichotomic differentation.

• The ability of a no-form to connote everything and nothing and remain open and observant to the flux of life. A philosophy for observation of changes in the fluxes of nature, such as clouds or streams in the mountains or wind in the forests.

• A taxonomy of vagueness in chinese painting theory, atmosphere as concept.

• Greek demand for clarity (Socrate) resulted in a split of philosophy as a rational discourse of clarity and literature as ambiguous obscurity.

Umberto Eco (1962) describes the aesthetic experience as an openness to knowledge in a psychological sense.

George Lakoff (1978) has introduced metaphor and tropes as a cognitive tools that expand understanding. (Ref. Embodied mind.)

Charles Sanders Peirce defined a logic of vagueness where the indeterminate proposition is qualified, as for its degree of generality, by a negotiation of parties. Vagueness is in between the ultimate generality of everything and the most specific of the atomic particles. (In Claudine Engel-Tiercelin, 1991)

C.S. Peirce argue that the degree of determination of a proposition is decided in a negotiation between the parties that have an interest in the proposition.

This line of thought have been developed in game theory. But that theory is based on the condition that the agents are selfish (which is often called ’rational’).

Sociologist Niklas Luhmann observes that individuals and organisations act according to different logics. -Organisations can only act according to their autopoietic mechanism by which they define their task as a binary differentiator. In the end decisions must be aligned to their mission. -Individuals decide on basis of their epistemic frame of understanding and the conventions of interpretation they have adopted during their learning. They can be convinced by arguments.

The planning directives represent organisational acts, but on the level of program contains much argument as if acting on a personal level.

Negotiation of priorities between the parties:

• In the individual expert deliberation with herself when interpreting the representation and the represented into a memorable signified concept.

• In the design team between individuals

• In the multi-disciplinary planning team between individuals, and sometimes as representatives of their different disciplinary organisational identity.

• In the implementation with market and municipal agencies between organisations with different epistemic contexts.

In terms of written language acts I propose that when the written act of a planning directive is linguistically open in terms of generality and even vagueness, the counterpart is invited to make a more specific interpretation on the next level of decision.

When the act is closed there is no space for alternative interpretations.

Ambiguous acts are preserving a space of freedom for the parties.

An analysis of the relative proportion of Open, Ambiguous and Closed directives on the different levels of decision indicate that they are relatively more open on the intermediate decision level of the Planning program and the Amended comprehensive plan.

This imply that the willingness to negotiate directives are at their highest in the Planning program.

A deeper analysis of the differences among the actors imply that the they are more open on different levels of decision.

Each expert group follow different conventions for the syntagmatic ordering of information (Chandler 2002).

Each expert group use different terms and gives different meaning to the same words, which implies that they are based on different epistemic theories and assumptions, so called epistemic paradigms or regimes of knowledge (Foucault 1969). In rhetoric thgis is called ’doxa’ (Hellspong) The doxa of the actor’s discourses:

• Function and Space dominate the discourse among the planning directives.

• All the actors share a concern for the categories of function, technology and procedure.

• Only the planners and architects share a concern for Spatial and Combined directives.


The different frames of understanding (doxa) of the main actors in terms of the concept of ’design’ in the sub-programs:

The understanding of the Developer is that design can make the building less costly and more buildable: the episteme of know how, (Molander 1996).

The understanding of the Environmental expert is that the design can contribute to the function and usefulness of the building and place in terms of comfort, security and limited use of resources: the episteme of utility (Arendt 1958).

The understanding of the Architect is that the design should be expressive in a meaningful way and be properly done according to the function of the place: the episteme of sense making (Weick 2015).


By this I conclude that Specific vagueness is a characteristic of the genre of planning directives. To implement sustainable goals in local projects it is necessary to follow the logic of specific vagueness. This implies among other things that:

  1. Environmental goals should be adopted as first principles for the design and be embedded in the specific expression.
  2. The policy goals should be open to re-definition of both ends and means during the programming stage when the spatial and aesthetic potential of the site is disclosed with specific expressions.
  3. The actors should be informed that their different competencies are complementary, but based on different regimes of knowledge. This means that they have to give time to discussing the project specification interpretation to develop a temporary project specific shared frame of understanding.
  4. The different objectives should be discussed at the outset of the project and the planning process must include sufficient time for resolving conflicts in the program and adapting general directives to the site specific conditions.


The contingency of urban development result in that initial action to start urban development is governed by a different logic than the fabrication implied by management by objectives.

The absorption of uncertainty, which is a necessary condition for action, is instead dealt with by making qualified guesses with the assistance of specific design expressions that are given the authority to establish a principle for priority among all available options.  This limit the risk of the actors and make them willing to contribute to the development. Initial planning of urban development belong to the logic of action which according to philosopher Hanna Arendt is ruled by the ability of humans to make treatises based on mutual trust. This establish frameworks of relations that make society prosper. The role of design is to mediate the initial vision that start this process of value creation and make it credible by qualified guessing rather than inferencing from previous known facts.