The need for adaptability in (sub)urban fabric – “the inevitability of change”

June 3, 2007

In a comment piece in the latest issue of Blueprint (June 2007), Alex Lifschutz highlights the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the built fabric. Criticising the “iconic buildings” of towns and cities and the “monocultural houses” of new Thames corridor suburbs, he suggests that unlike buildings in the past, they possess an “unyielding specifity” of dimensions that makes it likely that in the future it will be more difficult to convert them to new uses.

Calling for a return to ideas “originally espoused by Jane Jacobs, Bernard Rudofsky and… a new brand of ’emergence’ theorists”, Lifschutz states that cities and buildings need to be made of much more general, simpler ingredients; an evolving fabric easily capable of change that is able to respond… to needs and to become a platform of diversity”, with a “degree of redundancy”.

As I have pointed out in the past when commenting on the Non-Plan theory, I believe that it is precisely this adaptability of the built fabric of some historical suburbs that makes them continue to be used today, despite the strikingly different patterns of social and economic use extant. When discussing this with Muki, he has suggested that where 20th century suburban town centres were able to adapt to change, and sustain their success, this was due to such adaptabilty. Our forthcoming historical review of 20 London cases will hopefully provide us with data to support this hypothesis.


One Response to “The need for adaptability in (sub)urban fabric – “the inevitability of change””

  1. SSTC project blogger Says:

    I think we are agreed that the idea of ‘non-plan’ has relevance for our study, not least in providing a useful framework for thinking about how urban environments change over time. We should take care though not to assume this perspective as self-explanatory and non-problematic to the planning-policy community at large. It is important that our research provides a *critical* account of what it actually means in terms of our cases.

    I was alerted to this by Simon Jenkins’ polemic dismissal of “non-planning” as a “neo-conservative cult” in his Guardian column. His target was the government’s planning reforms recently announced by Ruth Kelly. In her response Kelly maintained that Jenkins’ characterisation was completely inaccurate and that planning regulations remained rigorous.

    The point is that we should take care to develop a more sophisticated, research based, notion of ‘non-plan’ in which a concern for the dynamism and adaptability of the built environment is not equated simplistically with a license for unrestrained laissez-faire and irresponsible corporate development of our cities. (Often, incidentally, responsible for the kind of ‘iconic buildings’ that Lifschutz criticises).

    Simon Jenkins in the Guardian:,,2086103,00.html

    Ruth Kelly’s response:,,2091578,00.html

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