Painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Siena 1338
​Effects on the city and countryside, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Siena 1338​

Rurban transformations

​ARKX03,Masters’ thesis direction, 2020/2021

Description and aim​

This track works with the spatial transformations of Rurban areas where potentials from both rural and urban conditions are combined and create hybrid conditions. For example, ruralurban fringes between the city and the countryside and towns in rural locations. These areas are often set aside from the mainstream, neoliberal architectural and urban planning and design focus on cities and urban areas. In a situation where rural municipalities deal with struggling economies, shrinking population and where mass agriculture is no longer the main economic activity, new development opportunities can emerge and reinforce local and regional identities. Rurban areas are subjects for specific challenges and spatial approaches. But they also include a mix of residential, commercial, industrial, educational, agricultural and ecologically protected areas and land uses that offers unexplored potential for sustainable transformation (Keil and Young, 2009: 488).

Factors such as climate change, a renewed interest in locally produced food and bio-based products, the Covid-19 pandemic demanding for social distancing and a rediscovery of the local vis-a-vis the global, can help to promote a shift towards a ”new rurality” (Rytkönen, 2013). Here, the rurban concept is crucial, by introducing (and combining) urban functions and logics in rural contexts and vice versa. The aim of the direction is to explore and develop the potential of new rurban transformations beyond an urban norm for sustainable futures. The direction welcomes projects that critically examine specific characteristics of spatial transformations that take place in rurban landscapes, intended as fringes, hybrids and fragmented areas inbetween urban and rural landscapes. Given this context, the architectural thinking is used both to display current situations but even more to explore possibilities to model alternative future imageries.​

Method and process

Master theses within this direction use research by design methodologies, architectural thinking and modelling to formulate possible rurban futures, clarify the critical questions and develop design interventions that investigate the space of manoeuvre for spatial transformation. Both speculative and critical aspects of design are valuable. However, a key feature of this direction is to have a clear reference to a local context. Along the process, the students are encouraged to explore the different values and functions of rurban spaces e.g. “ecological”, “economic”, “socio-cultural”, “historical” and “aesthetic” (Gallent et al. 2006: 21), as well as their hybrids and interaction. Particularly relevant is the relationship between human, society and nature, resulting in different landscape configurations and ecologies (Banham, 2001; Reed & Lister, 2014). The direction will also use the potential of incremental interventions and key projects (Björling, 2016) to identify and develop specific initiatives that can shape spatial transformation in sustainable, just and resilient directions. The thesis final output is not expected to be conclusive but rather interrogative, in the form of critical questions or reflections.

Specific evaluation criteria

1. Specific relevance for the rurban question; 2. Anchored to a local context; 3. Consistency and alignment between thesis questions, theory, methods, process and outcome; 4. Level of independency.

Suggested literature and projects

  • Banham, R. (2001 (1971)). Los Angeles: The Architecture of four ecologies. Los Angeles: University of California press.
  • Björling, N. (2016). Sköra stadslandskap – planeringsmetoder för att hantera urbaniseringens rumsliga inlåsningar. Diss. Göteborg: Chalmers tekniska högskola.
  • Ernstson, H. and Swyngedouw, E. (2019) Urban Political Ecology in the anthropoobscene: Interruptions and possibilities. Routledge.
  • Gallent, N., Andersson, J., Bianconi, M., (2006) Planning on the Edge. London: Routledge.
  • Keil, R. and Young, D. (2009), Fringe explosions: risk and vulnerability in Canada's new in-between urban landscape. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien, 53: 488-499. doi:10.1111/j.1541-0064.2009.00270.x
  • Lefebvre, H., (2014). Dissolving city, planetary metamorphosis. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2014, volume 32: 203-205
  • Petrescu, D., Petcou, C., & Baibarac, C. (2016). Co-producing commons-based resilience: Lessons from R-Urban, Building research and information, 44:7, 717-736
  • Reed, C., Lister, N-M. (Ed.). (2014). Projective Ecologies. New-York: Actar.
  • Rytkönen, P. (2013) Sweden – an emerging wine country – a case of innovation in the context of the “new rurality”, Spanish Journal of Rural Development, IV(4):79-88.
  • Stan, A. (2013). Morphological patterns of urban sprawl territories. Urbanism. Arhitectură. Construcţii, 4, 11–24

Exemplary thesis projects

Direction faculty 

Marco Adelfio, Nils Björling, Julia Fredriksson, Ida Röstlund​

Published: Fri 02 Oct 2020.