The necessity of specific vagueness

The role of specific architectural expressions to facilitate local implementation of sustainable development goals in urban policy decision making.

By T.Lic. Pehr Mikael Sällström, KTH School of Architecture

The thesis is based on observations of local implementations of the policies on architecture and environment adopted by the Swedish parliament in 1998 and 1999 with 3 planned case studies.

Complex urban development projects that include new information about conditions for sustainability  require innovative programming. Management research on alignment of frames of understanding among actors in urban development projects with vague goals indicate that the use of ‘specific expressions’ can be a mean to coordinate action without complete alignment and facilitate innovative approaches (Sahlin-Andersson 1989).

My thesis is that specific vagueness is a characteristic property of the communication genre of planning directives. I propose that the role of directives is to absorb uncertainty about implementation of sustainable development goals and to facilitate alignment of frames of understanding among the actors. I propose that one condition for such an alignment is that the directives are open to re-definition of both ends and means during the programming stage when the spatial and aesthetic potential of the site are disclosed.

The role of the legal planning tools of an Amended comprehensive plan for a particular part of the municipality (FÖP PBL Ch3§23) and a Programme for detailed development planning (Planprogram PBL Ch5§10) and its aligned programs for urban design quality and environment are analysed.  Their relation to negotiation of geographically situated tactical and operative project requirements with the general municipal policy and strategy are discussed.

Based on the first case study of Lomma harbour a provisional model of an urban sustainable development management system is introduced as a frame for the discussion of the following cases to be completed.

I conclude that programming of spaces in urban district developments are better made on the intermediary level between land use planning and detailed planning.


A specific and vague architectural expression by Architect SAR/MSA Kjell Forshed found in the urban design quality program at Lomma harbor (littera G11). The image not only gives specific information about the spatial configuration, measures and materials for a typical alley. At the same time its vague poetic lines connotate an icon of the small town, local identity and safety. The value paradigm of the planning program.