Architecture and digital infrastructure. The city and the urban block.

Colquhoun (1981) notes that since the Industrial Revolution the external pressures on architecture have increased and ‘necessitated a change in architectural rules’. These changes led to the creation of new architectural form, influenced by the machine age and the technological context of the time; and a new type of city, schemes with a focus on vehicular transportation for movement, the car not the pedestrian – Villa Radieuse (Corbusier, 1924, unbuilt), Plan Voisin (Corbusier, 1925, unbuilt), and Brasilia (Niemeyer, 1956). But ‘context is neither permanent nor passive’ (Scott Brown, 2011) and the emergence of digital infrastructures have caused a shift in how people live and interact with the built environment. As the flexibility of digital communications networks replace the rigidity of physical road networks, how people live and work, and how communities are formed is changing. There is increasingly a focus on shared public collaborative work and community spaces (Barth, 2011).

The urban block is a prevalent form in historic cities, including Dundee, and the masterplan for the Central Waterfront development is laid out in a block pattern. The scale, function, and expression of urban blocks varies considerably by location, as do the functions housed. Alexander’s ‘A Pattern Language’ (1977) suggested a ‘toolkit’ for the creation of places and buildings. This thesis aims to establish some ultra-rational principles for the creation of urban blocks, and create an online ‘toolkit’ or ‘shopping cart’ to generate blocks at a three different scales using these principles.

Research Questions

How has the city evolved as a result of digital infrastructure? How can this change contribute to the resilience and growth of the city today and in the future?

How can the typology of the urban block at different scales, responding to multiple architectural issues, and housing varied functions, be interpreted to contribute to the changing context of the city today (‘the digital context’) while retaining a flexibility to respond to future contexts?


Mapping a digitally connected city – exploring the relationship of the ‘pedestrian city’ (Nolli’s map of Rome), the ‘vehicular city’ (Niemeyer’s Brasilia) and speculations on the future, digital city. Drawing relationship between the block and the city and how digital infrastructure can enhance this relationship.

Creating an ‘ultra-rational’ urban block: models and drawings exploring scale, structure, ventilation, daylight penetration, cores, and communications cabling; housing modular spaces including residential, commercial, and leisure. Explorations in block morphology building on research by Steadman (1983).



Alexander, C. (1977).  A Pattern Language, Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York : Oxford University Press.

Colquhoun, A. (1981). Essays in Architectural Criticism – Modern Architecture and Historical Change. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London : The MIT Press.

Barth, L. (2011). Interview with Lawrence Barth on Workspace Urbanism [online video]. Available from: [Accessed: November 2013].

Scott Brown, D. ‘In Defence of the Sainsbury Wing’, in Building Design, 15-19, 2011.

Steadman, P. (1983). Architectural Morphology: An Introduction to the Geometry of Building Plans. London: Pion Ltd.