Professor Sergio Porta

Architecture

Personal statement

I am professor of Urban Design and Director of UDSU - Urban Design Studies Unit. I have been Head of Department of Architecture in 2011-14. I teach the MSc in Urban Design studio for students in Y5 with a background in Architecture as well as in various other areas.

I am interested in what makes our cities a great place to live in, raise children, learn stuff, run businesses and have fun, for us as well as for the next generations, still remaining human. At the core of it all there is one game-changing lesson: the quality that makes our cities sound and enjoyable does not come by design. It comes by the uncoordinated efforts of people in time. Basically, it comes from history and evolution. Once you have digested this simple truth fully in all its aspects - and indeed it takes time - then everything changes. Adaptability becomes paramount, people become crucial, informal participation becomes more important than formal participation, and you as a designer begin thinking differently. Ultimately, "design for change" becomes much more than a buzzword: it means that your mission is just to ensure the conditions (primarily spatial and environmental, in our case) for those uncoordinated efforts to emerge and self-organize in a way that is good for all.

We at UDSU pull together urban morphology, environmental psychology, "classic" urban planning analysis, spatial analysis, and community engagement into a science of urban design for change. We do all what we can to do that through an evidence-based approach across everything we do. For example, we are developing a new ground for understanding urban evolution by taking the long-standing analogy with biological evolution to a higher level, that of the empirical science.

And yes, we love making masterplans, good-old masterplans that work in time by informing a truly democratic process of urban change in time.

Publications

Main street plot scale in urban design for inclusive economies : Stockholm case studies
Danenberg Rosa, Mehaffy Michael, Porta Sergio, Elmlund Peter
Proceedings of the ICE - Urban Design and Planning Vol 171 (2018)
https://doi.org/10.1680/jurdp.18.00031
From system ecology to urban morphology: towards a theory of urban form resilience
Feliciotti Alessandra, Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio
IFOU2018 (2018) (2018)
Urban form Resilience Urban Design Practice: Masterplanning for Change.
Romice Ombretta, Feliciotti Alessandra, Porta Sergio
IFOU2018 Conference (2018)
Big box, short life: little box, long life : the democracy of resilience: plot-based urbanism, evolution and informal participation
Porta Sergio, Romice Ombretta, Feliciotti Alessandra, Rudlin David
(2018)
Towards informal planning : mapping the evolution of spontaneous settlements in time
Iovene Maddalena, Fernandéz de Córdova Graciela, Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio
24th ISUF International Conference - City and Territory in the Globalization Age 24th ISUF 2017 - City and Territory in the Globalization Age
, pp. 545-557 (2017)
On the origin of spaces : morphometric foundations of urban form evolution
Dibble Jacob, Prelorendjos Alexios, Romice Ombretta, Zanella Mattia, Strano Emanuele, Pagel Mark, Porta Sergio
Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design (2017)
https://doi.org/10.1177/2399808317725075

more publications

Research interests

My research sits in three areas: 1. Urban Morphology and Street Network analysis, 2. Construction and Therapy, and 3. Urban Design. Overall, I am trying to set up a scientific approach to urban form production and evolution, with a focus on people/environment relations and direct community construction.

More in detail:

I conduct joint research on street networks and spatial centrality with physicists like Vito Latora, Luciano Da Fontoura Costa and Marc Barthelemy. This research is about mapping centrality in urban spaces and establishing correlations with relevant dynamics such as land-use, vehicular or pedestrian flows, crime and real-estate values. A summary of this stream of research has just been published (http://www.udsu-strath.com/5-publications/5-1-articles/articles-2010-networks-in-urban-design-six-years-of-mca-research/).

A fundamental frontier of research involves a quantitative approach to urban morphology in a truly evolutionary perspective. That is the statistical characterization of different types of urban fabrics taken from the history of cities in order to infer similarity and ultimately “parental” relationships between them; this is named Urban Morphometrics. A first working-paper has been released that defines the field of research (http://www.udsu-strath.com/5-publications/5-3-udsu-wp/working-papers-2011-urban-morphometrics/); moreover, a first analytical research on 45 UK cases is now also available (http://arxiv.org/abs/1506.04875). 

I work with students and communities to the real construction of buildings through a process of direct and collective design/construction, named Construction and Therapy, inspired by Chris Alexander. The involvement of end-users throughout three phases (Land Exploration, Pattern Language and Conception&Construction) is a crucial step towards "healing the people and healing the land" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksQ3DSu-X44).  

In urban design and masterplanning, our latest research links up to Urban Morphometrics by exploring the definition of procedures, attitudes and tools for sustainable/human/adaptive urban analysis and design, ranging from GIS-based space analysis to sustainable community design, mobility planning and traffic calming to strategies for safety and liveability in the public domain and community engagement in decision making. The theoretical development of my ideas on urbanity and change has been summarised under a notion of Plot-Based Urbanism (http://www.udsu-strath.com/5-publications/5-3-udsu-wp/working-papers-2011-plot-based-urbanism/).

Professional activities

External Examiner
Examiner
2018
Plot Based Urbanism and Masterplanning for change: Strelka CPD workshops
Consultant
6/2/2018
International Forum on Urbanism
Participant
10/12/2018
Royal Society of Arts (External organisation)
Advisor
11/2018
Innovation districts and the example of Tel Aviv
Invited speaker
5/9/2017
INTBAU ITALY
Participant
5/7/2017

more professional activities

Projects

The Urban Form Resilience Project:
Porta, Sergio (Principal Investigator) Romice, Ombretta (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 30-Jan-2020
A new dimension for data-driven urbanism: studying the form of preference
Romice, Ombretta (Principal Investigator) Porta, Sergio (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2016 - 31-Jan-2017
Doctoral Training Center in the Built Environment Futures
Porta, Sergio (Academic) Bradley, Fiona (Academic) Agapiou, Andrew (Academic) Clarke, Joseph Andrew (Academic) Bellingham, Richard (Academic)
The projects achieved funding for the creation of a new Doctoral Training Center in the Built Environment Future at the Department of Architecture
30-Jan-2014
L'Abitare Futuro (The Future Dwelling)
Porta, Sergio (Academic) Vigano, Federica (Academic) Rosina, Alessandro (Academic)
Commission from National Consortium of Construction Cooperatives of Italy for a research on the future of construction cooperatives in Italy.
15-Jan-2013 - 31-Jan-2014
BRE Framework Collaboration / S130160-103
Porta, Sergio (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2013 - 30-Jan-2020
GALE: Global Accessibility to Local Experience
Porta, Sergio (Principal Investigator)
"Recommender Systems have been generated in the past 15 years with the aim to suggest to individual users opportunities arising in the virtual space of the Internet on the basis of the individual profile of the user, her/his past history as a customer/web-user and even her/his friends' community in social networks. Further, the rise of online social networks such as Facebook has allowed for a new source of information to be exploited by recommendation systems: the user social network. Internet access is now becoming increasingly mobile and smart phones are changing the way people interact with places and with each other in an increasingly complex manner. Smart phones are starting to impact the way users access information on the go and receive suggestions. More specifically, innovative recommender systems are currently being developed to exploit GPS-based or other location-sensitive information, associated on-the-go to individual users through smartphones. This second generation of recommender systems, by being location-based, pose an entirely different set of problems which not only have to do with the knowledge of the user (her or his profile), but also with that of the places. Knowledge of places can be achieved by means of guides, textbooks and journey reports, or by direct experience. These ways are quite different in nature. The former is globally accessible (everybody can get it from afar) and relatively fast to obtain, especially in the age of the Internet. The latter is only locally accessible (one needs to be in the place to access it) and, being generated by those living in the place through personal local interaction, it becomes accessible only after long-term interactions and the construction of personal relationship of mutual trust. When visiting a new place, you would necessarily rely only on global information to navigate the place and access its resources. Conversely, if you are a local, your knowledge of the place is mostly constructed through your personal long-term exchange with what all your neighbours are doing every day and with their favourite places in the neighbourhood; as a result, you not only would rely on local knowledge, but you would also contribute - by interacting locally - to the formation and continuous re-shaping of the information used by your neighbours too in their interaction. If we name the long-term, locally generated knowledge of the place neighbourhood knowledge, we can say that what people locally do in places is in one way or another dependent on the extent to which they have access to the neighbourhood knowledge. The second generation of recommender systems allows global place-users, i.e. people visiting a place who are not experienced with the place itself, to access globally available information. However, a good deal of information is still not exploited in these systems, as the geographic and the social only meet in a superficial way: in other words, the system does not take advantage of any information about the particular use of the place that local communities have done in the past and do at the moment. As neighbourhood knowledge information is now becoming increasingly available through the viral expansion of location-based social networks such as foursquare or Gowalla, it is now possible to explore a third generation of recommender systems, where knowledge about how the place had been used in the past (historical use) or is used at the moment of the inquiry (real-time use) by communities of users is the key element of the system. The main motivation behind the GALE project is to pioneer such third generation recommender systems which would make it possible for the rapidly growing population of global city users to access a level of information, that of the neighbourhoods knowledge, which is inherently inaccessible to global repositories, and to do that in real time."
23-Jan-2013 - 13-Jan-2016

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