Digital Urban Course Final Work

Experiment In CityEngine

  1. Introduction

In this course, my objective is to explore an urban spatial form in Haaga municipality by relating to my living and study experience and by using the program of CityEngine.

  1. Referenced Sites

The urban spatial form has a significant influence on public life. The form’s value is not only aesthetic but lies in its existence to promote people from different social classes and groups, ethnics and hobbies in the city to be active under the same sky. Interactions among people catalyze the formation of a broader level of social relationships in complex urban life and make breakthroughs in the identity of individuals. Accessibility and inclusiveness are the two most important factors of urban vitality.

There are many great iconic urban form: Bologna, Venezia, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, etc. These variations of urban morphology are the wisdom accumulated by the local inhabitants in the long history. The forms and layouts are closely related to the natural conditions and the way people contemplate time and space.

Among many experiences of living and traveling in different areas in different cities, two sites in the completely differed background have given me similar tranquil and relaxing feelings.

Both of the two have higher buildings functioning as walls blocking the external disturbance. The inner part buildings vary, yet the inner streets of both sites have proper proportional relation to its nearby building’s architectural form:

  • Historical Area of Ziyang Street, City of Linhai, China:
    Ziyang Street in Linhai is situated in a background of traditional Chinese courtyard architecture. As is seen in the image (source: usually this type of building has a maximum floor count of 2. The street fulfills and discloses a wide variety of local people’s daily life.

  • Residential Area in Zone Lambrate, City of Milan, Italy:
    On the Milan side, the inner street offers a similar cozy feeling by properly distancing itself from the different height of buildings. It is clear how a 4-floor building and an 8-floor building are situated differently to the street.

3. Experiment in Haaga

The ideal experiment site should have a similar scale to the two aforementioned sites and should have its perimeter contacting various situations to examine how this specific form interact with each surrounding condition. The selected site is located in the southern end of Haaga. Nearby there is a major arterial road, a major collector road, a library, a park, a parking lot, a small forest and other residential buildings.

4. Result and Comparison

I applied the common denominator from the two related sites by carefully adjusting the size and scale of the buildings and streets, experimenting with variant CityEngine rules to fit this particular Nordic context. Here is the result:

View 1: bird view of the area

View 2: higher buildings at the periphery

View 3: inner central road

View 4: higher buildings of the border and lower inner buildings with different offset distance to the street

View 5: watching from backyard to street

View 6: backyard size


Existing area’s attributes

New area’s attributes

The new area achieved almost twice building footprint area and building gross floor area, concomitantly, better street atmosphere.

5. About CityEngine

CityEngine is capable of creating huge and immersive urban environments in less time than traditional modeling techniques. The cities created using CityEngine can be based on real-world GIS data. Planning rules affect its generated city model in real time.

Just like any other programs, CityEngine does come with limitation (unable to find premade traditional Chinese courtyard architecture type for example), which can also mean potentiality. To further exploit CityEngine, more practices and studies in scripting is required.



Public space of Huopalahti station

For a complex social problem, the cause is often the rapid mutation of a core element, and the current situation cannot fundamentally improve the element. Thus, it is essential finding ways to mitigate from other angles. While clearly aware of the boundary of competence in one discipline, we must not ignore its potential and give up contributing in this field.

Social interactions develop in everyday encounters. When discussing and planning urban environments an increasingly diverse demographic structure should be recognized. Well-thought residential areas can increase daily encounters. In the best case, the built environment can provide an appropriate and welcoming venue for multiple interactions between immigrants and local residents. This non-awkward atmosphere is a prerequisite for voluntary neighborhood work.

This public space project is an open subject. User, specific location and function are in an uncertain state at the beginning. Haaga is a municipality heavily focused on the residency. I made a serie of survey questions and a field visit. The following is the route, from 2pm to 4:30pm on Wednesday.

First impression:

after getting off the train at Huopalahti and going down from the platform to the north side of the tunnel under the train rails, a narrow and deep pedestrian/biking lane showed up. The wet road after the rain plus the surrounding ordinary residential buildings kind of gave me the sensation when coming to the countryside. I felt at ease. The route continues till the second tunnel and begins to merged with the car lane on the right and a tree lane in between. The woods on the left, the playground in the distance, and the occasionally passing bus continued the sense of peacefulness.


  • The only two square-sized open spaces encountered on the field visit are near the intersection, however they are parking lots, not squares.
  • The major and central and area of Haaga is residential with schools and a small number of other facilities.
  • The business/service industry exists sporadically within the community. They are mainly near the intersection of the main roads at the borders of neighborhoods (especially ones near train station). They all located at the bottom floor of the residential building and the total number is scarce. Small volume entities are supermarkets.
  • Inside the neighborhood it is very quiet. The collision of the lid and the pot, the coughing of the passers-by behind, the sound of the tires in the distance, the sound of closing door and the bird sound are very clear.
  • After going outdoor there is almost instant access to the nature. Woods are everywhere, the landscape and the sunlight are sublime.
  • On the way to the train station at four o’clock, I met a group of high school students and several younger students perhaps coming home from school. There were many people waiting for bus in the tunnel under the platform. They are of various identities (interestingly, one being slightly away from the crowd and drinking beer from the can with music playing out loud).


Renovate the space near the train station; enhance the centeredness of the train station; promote the occurrence of social activities (mentioned by Jan Gehl in Life Between Buildings).


Retain the traversability of the train station for a large amount of people in certain time during the day; exploit the natural segmentation properties of the train rails; explore the demographic and landscape characteristics of haaga.

From nihility to nihility – Task for the mid-term

In the past weeks we’ve been peeping Haaga from many different angles: its nature, history, density and diversity. We have ingredients. But we don’t know the recipe. Shoul we invent one?

It has to start with a book I recently read: Urban Planning Theory since 1945 (Nigel Taylor, 1998, London: Sage Publications).

The author begins with the core content of planning theory: 1. The components of high-quality urban environment; 2. Under what conditions, these environmental objectives are most likely to be realized; 3. For building a better living city, what role should planning play? Based on these three points, the book describes the evolution of planning thoughts in detail.

Early postwar, the traditional concept holds that the essence of urban planning is the design of the material space of human settlements, and is a natural extension of architectural art and civil engineering. Understanding of the nature of planning was a continuation of early historical concepts. Therefore, the design work has become the focus of planning education, paying attention to the quality of the landscape and the aesthetic characteristics. Although the function would be considered, most decisions are made based on intuitive or simplistic aesthetic concepts.

In the late 1950s, the theory of spatial pattern planning was increasingly questioned. Urban planning is a social behavior, not just an act on physical space. If social factors are not considered, it is difficult to understand what the goal of planning should be. Another point is that urban planning is a long-term continuous work, a flexible strategy rather than an ultimate outcome. There is an inevitable contradiction between urban planning attempts to determine the future urban form by solidified land zoning and the reality that the functional land activities have been constantly changing, and planners were not interested in the state of urban operations.

In the second part of the book, the author introduces the Western urban planning concept of the 1960s. In 1961, J B McLoughlin ‘s Urban and Regional Planning: A Systems Approach proposed a fundamental change in planning thinking, emphasizing analysis and control of the system rather than simply design. During this period, there are two important theories in urban planning: system planning theory and rational process planning theory. The former is the narrative of the goal and the latter is the discussion of the planning process or procedure. The characteristic of system theory is that planners need to examine the city from an economic and social perspective to understand how the city operates, so it is necessary to conduct investigations, analysis, and then planning. Planning itself is a process of constant change and continuous monitoring of analytical interventions. The outcome of the plan should also be develops of trajectory rather than the ultimate state of blueprint drawing. The emergence of this theory is related to the prosperity of a wider range of social thoughts. The development of “modeling”, “science”, “mathematics” and so on has promoted the growth. However, there is a gap between this theory and practice. Process theory emphasizes the incoherence of planning. People believe in science and firmly believe that people have the ability to improve the quality of life based on a scientific understanding of the world. The importance of the word “science” has been highlighted.

Public protests were expressed in this planning ideology in the late 1960s. These protests highlighted a lack of value despised by both system theory and process theory. Value judgment is usually more than common sense, but a strong emotional dissent, so the judgment of planning is more political rather than technical or scientific. Under this critical thinking, public participation was taken into account in planning theory. Planning relies on the value judgment of future ideals. These value judgments reflect the interests of different groups of society, so the voices from all parties should be heard in the planning process.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, with the intensification of the critique, the theory of planning was once again reconsidered. To response the lack of sufficient understanding of the outcome result, scholars have suggested that the task of implementing should be considered the same time as the plan is specified. The work of reconciling the interests between different themes should be the biggest role of planners. Planners should participate in the negotiations of all parties and should actively protect the interests of public groups.

From then on , more problem-focused planning studies has emerged, such as old city recovery, social equity, ecological sustainability, aesthetic quality of urban environments, and public planning. The focus of various theories is on specific issues rather than on the planning essence.

Going through all above, to me, planning is non-scientific and non-artistic, but a social act that makes value judgments about environment that are to be protected or created. I personally would choose a project on a more controllable scale focusing on strengthen the character of Haaga neighborhood. Clues are shown in the measuring unmeasurable task.



Nigel Taylor, Urban Planning Theory since 1945, London, 1998

Measuring unmeasurable

Here are some of the analysis by my group in the last couple of weeks in GIS class.

About built area:

Data used: SeutuRAMAVA 2016 (zoning data of the Helsinki region); HSY’s SeutuCD building registry data 2013; HSY’s SeutuCD Real estate registry 2013

Total floor area respecting 250m gridTotal floor area respecting real estate registry

About occupation:

Data used: Finnish Environment Institute’s YKR employment grid data, year 2010 (centroid points)

As is mentioned in the weekly topic, models of present-day cities represent complex patterns. This pattern is basically the result of where people choose to settle and where they choose to go.

Where does the built environment locate? What kind of the built environment it is? What do people do and where? These are main reasonings behind the selection of the analysis.

From the 2 maps about built area, the city Helsinki has a tendency of relieving pressure and material through 2 main branches. One to the northwest and the other to the northeast. In between there is a significant partition of quasi-linear green area kept untouched. As for Haaga, it’s located where the downgrade of the built environment density goes from quantitative level to qualitative level.

Zooming a little further and looking from the distribution of occupation, the 2-branch tendency starts to fade. The region has a more radiant pattern with certain amounts of competing cores. Haaga’s east is facing the forest. It’s west and southwest neighbor provides significant amount of commercial trades as well as recreation. The municipality itself has sufficient social services, plus industry at its northeast border.

Ok we had a basic grasp of density situation. Now following questions: What is the proper density for Haaga? Can this density be built? Can we deduce anything useful to guarantee a successful project? My answer to all above is hardly. Because density is result. Accessibility should be the main drive force behind. Why I don’t say that the price is the main factor? Because the developers know what price they can put out to maximize the profit while not scaring people off. As a result similar type housing in location with similar character will not vary dramatically.

The uneven distribution of variant urban activities is heavily dependent on accessibility. Generally speaking, a location that provides individuals more opportunities to participate in activities in other different locations is easier to gather more settlers. Individuals usually do a collective valuation about travel cost to make their travel choice. The cost can be classified in time, money and effort (such as physical effort during transfers when taking public transport, mental strain when driving, worries about parking…). There are also other angles to look at accessibility, location-based and infrastructure-based perspectives for example.

Optimal planning requires comprehensive accessibility analysis. No single method can evaluate all accessibility factors: a variety of methods are needed reflecting different impacts, scales and perspectives. Our ability to evaluate accessibility is improving as we develop a better understanding of these concepts and better tools for quantifying accessibility impacts. However, accessibility-based planning techniques are still new.

Beyond Wikipedia

In 2008, human achieved a huge leap. It is not the conquest of outer space, or the discovery of eternal energy, but the exceeding of the critical threshold: more than half of the world’s population live in cities (according to the revised UN census report). This percentage is increasing, day after day, and constantly approaching the sum of humans. In other words, the city seems to be our natural habitat, not the woods, meadows, fields and streams, but roads, buildings, junctions and ports.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the city has become a real machine, creating wealth and cross-industry innovation, stimulating art and cultural production, and initiating new social relationships.

Today the root of urban debate seems to be environmental sustainability and the soil of consumption.

Back to Haaga:

This montage of maps of the year 1909 suggests the possible logic of the planning could be the direct overlay of zoning upon the topography of soil.

In 1935 we can see the early development of the lower tier road infrastructure following the landscape supporting many punctiform houses. Straight road only appeared on the northern side of the railway.

Here we have a map that makes a part of the year 1938 plan. The radiating layout and the multi-level infrastructure are both trying to contribute to a more concentric neighborhood. (need help in finnish to identify building types on the legend)

1956, 1976, 1997, 2018, what’s happening in every two decades seems to be a repeating pattern: more people, more consumption of soil with hardly increase of density. The concentric attempt appeared to be never happened. The infrastructure layout has never altered.



Reconstruct Haaga (pre-17 century) – The Biggest Story Not Being Told

This is quite an ambitious title. Its purpose is to bring the discussion to the word context.

The context in an article means the connection between upper and lower paragraph. In architecture, it refers to the relationship between elements of individual architecture and elements of its surrounding: people, other individual buildings, group form of buildings, city, culture… In short, it’s the feature given by its natural and cultural environment. This feature is both temporal and spatial.

The contextual thought is concerned with the connection between various owned elements and between the partial and the whole. Before the industrial revolution, the unconscious cultural thoughts always existed. The conservative social customs and proprieties, the relatively stable social structure and the limited materials and construction methods make the architectural environment visually unified.

The current situation comes from long-term accumulation of history, thus emphasizing history is the natural attribute of researching context.

Both contextualism and rationalism emphasize history. But their difference is the way to treat history.

Although rationalism pays attention to history, it is not the continuity of history. It regards history as a still object. It collects and analyzes the buildings and cities in history to extract “elements”. Then reorganizing and mutating to form “types”. These “types” are used for creation. The pioneer of rationalism, Aldo Rossi, believes that the essence of architecture is, in principle, does not have aspect of history and is immutable. What changes is the explanation and answer to the architectural problems.

Contextualism emphasizes the creation through understanding the continuity of history and the richness of tradition. There are two kinds of aesthetic foundations of contextualism: pop art (local and people-oriented) and Gestalt psychology (convergent individuals form the overall beauty of rhythm. Relationship between the whole and the individual is control and obedience).

When it comes to history, people will automatically think history as a long story between men. They don’t give enough attention to the first page of the story (people settle in nature). This history, which nobody tells, is where the potential and beauty begin. Nature provides extremely rich resources. People need to find the clues in this information cloud in order to make logical decisions that result in the best interests.

In what way can we read the context of nature? What difference can be made to Haaga by the speculation of the beginning and the reflection of hundreds of years of experience?

A simple metaphor: After going through from infant to old, letting you live once again, what is going to change in new life?

Map of Haaga in year 1765,1776 and 1870, same scale and orientation

References: (Accessed 28 September 2018)