Wednesday, September 28, 2016

From Urban Acupuncture to the Third Generation City

Casagrande, M. (2016). From Urban Acupuncture to the Third Generation City. Journal of
Biourbanism, IV(1&2/2015), 29−42.

From Urban Acupuncture to
the Third Generation City

Marco Casagrande
Ruin Academy, C-Lab, and International Society of Biourbanism, Finland


The crisis of urbanism is analyzed as a vital phenomenon that prepares the Third Generation City—its connection with nature and its flesh. The industrial city is, on the contrary, fictitious. The example of the settlement of Treasure Hill, near Taipei, is given. As an organic ruin of the industrial city, Treasure Hill is a biourban site of resistance and an acupuncture point of Taipei, with its own design methodology based on Local Knowledge. This ruin is the matter from which parasite urbanism composts the modern city. Another example is offered by observing the daily life in Mumbai’s unofficial settlements. Urban acupuncture, the Third Generation City, and the conceptual model of paracity speak to the community that rests in the hands of its own people.

Keywords:     urban acupuncture, biourbanism, Third Generation City, ruins, parasite urbanism,
paracity, Local Knowledge


Missis Chen is 84 years old. She has lived together with the Xindian River all her life. Her family used to have a boat, like every Taipei family, and a water buffalo. Sometimes the kids would cross the river on the back of the buffalo. Sometimes an uncle might end up so drunk, that they hesitated, if they could put him back on his boat after an evening together. Children, vegetables, and laundry were washed in the river. The water was drinkable and the river was full of fish, crabs, snails, clams, shrimp, and frogs to eat.

Missis Chen used to work for sand harvesters, who dug sand out of the river bottom for making concrete. She made food for them. Many of the sand harvesters lived in the Treasure Hill settlement together with Missis Chen’s family. In the past, the hill had been a Japanese Army anti-aircraft position, and it was rumored that the Japanese had hidden a treasure of gold somewhere in their bunker networks inside the hill—hence the name Treasure Hill. 

Xindian River was flooding—like all Taipei rivers—when the frequent typhoons arrived in summers and autumns. The flood was not very high, though—the Taipei Basin is a vast flood plain and water has plenty of space to spread out. Houses were designed so that the knee-high flood would not come in, or in some places, the water was let into the ground floor while people continued to live on the upper floors. In Treasure Hill, the flood would also come into the piggeries and other light-weight structures on the river flood bank, but the houses with people were a bit higher up on the hill. All of the flood bank was farmed, and the farms and vegetable gardens were constructed so that they could live together with the flood. Flooding was normal. This pulse of nature was a source of life.

Missis Chen remembers when the river got polluted. “The pollution comes from upstream,” she says, referring to the many illegal ‘Made in Taiwan’—factories up on the mountains and river banks, which let all their industrial waste into the river. “Now not even the dogs eat the fish anymore.” At some point, the river became so polluted that Taipei children were taught not to touch the water or they would go blind. The flood became poisonous for the emerging industrial city, which could no longer live together with the river nature. The city built a wall against the flooding river:  a 12 meters high, reinforced concrete flood wall separating the built urban environment from nature.

“One day, the flood came to Chiang Kai-shek’s home and the Dictator got angry. He built the wall. We call it the Dictator’s Wall,” an elderly Jiantai fisherman recalls sitting in his bright blue boat with a painted white eye and red mouth and continues to tell his stories describing which fish disappeared which year, and when some of the migrating fishes ceased to return to the river. In one lifetime, the river has transformed from a treasure chest of seafood into an industrial sewer, which is once again being slowly restored towards a more natural condition. The wall hasn’t moved anywhere. The generations of Taipei citizens born after the 1960s don’t live in a river city. They live in an industrially-walled urban fiction separated from nature.


In 2003, the Taipei City Government decided to destroy the unofficial settlement of Treasure Hill. By that time, the community consisted of some 400 households of mainly elderly Kuomintang veterans and illegal migrant workers. The bulldozers had knocked down the first two layers of the houses of the terraced settlement on the hillside. After that, the houses were standing too high for the bulldozers to reach, and there were no drivable roads leading into the organically built settlement. Then the official city destroyed the farms and community gardens of Treasure Hill down by the Xindian River flood banks. Then they cut the circulation between the individual houses—small bridges, steps, stairs, and pathways. After that, Treasure Hill was left to rot, to die slowly, cut away from its life sources.

Roan Chin-Yueh of the WEAK! managed so that the City Government Department of Cultural Affairs invited me to Taipei. She introduced me to Treasure Hill’s impressive organic settlement with a self-made root-cleaning system of gray waters through patches of jungle on the hillside. Treasure Hill was composting organic waste into fertilizer for the farms and using minimum amounts of electricity, which was stolen from the official grid. There was even a central radio system through which Missis Chen could transmit important messages to the community, such as inviting them to watch old black and white movies in the open-air cinema in front of her house.

At that point, the city had stopped to collect trash from Treasure Hill, and there were lots of garbage bags in the alleys. I started to collect these garbage bags and carried them down the hill into a pile close to a point that you could reach with a truck. The residents did not speak to me, but instead they hid inside their houses. One could feel their eyes on one’s back, though. Some houses were abandoned and I entered them. The interiors and the atmospheres were as if the owners had left all of a sudden. Even photo albums were there and tiny altars with small gods with long beards. In one of the houses, I could not help looking at the photo album. The small tinted black and white photos started in mainland China, and all the guys wore Kuomintang military uniforms. Different landscapes in different parts of China, and then at some point the photos turned to color prints. The same guys were in Taiwan. Then there was a woman, and an elderly gentleman posed with her in civil clothes by a fountain. Photos of children and young people. Civil clothes, but the Kuomintang flag of Taiwan everywhere. A similar flag was inside the room. Behind me, somebody enters the house, which is only one room with the altar on the other end and a bed on the other. The old man is looking at me. He is calm and observant, somehow sad. He speaks and shows with his hand at the altar. Do not touch—I understand. I look at the old man in the eyes and he looks into mine. I feel like looking at the photo album. The owner of the house must have been his friend. They have travelled together a long way from the civil war of China to Taiwan. They have literally built their houses on top of Japanese concrete bunkers and made their life in Treasure Hill. His friend has passed away. There is a suitcase and I pack inside the absent owner’s trousers and his shirt, both in khaki color. I continue collecting the garbage bags and carry the old man’s bag around the village. The next day the residents start helping me with collecting the garbage. Professor Kang Min-Jay organizes a truck to take the bags away. After a couple of days, we organize a public ceremony together with some volunteer students and Treasure Hill veterans, and declare a war on the official city:  Treasure Hill will fight back and it is here to stay. I’m wearing the dead man’s clothes.

We have a long talk with Professor Roan about Treasure Hill and how to stop the destruction. He suggests that Hsieh Ying-Chun (Atelier 3, WEAK!) will join us with his aboriginal Thao tribe crew of self-learned construction workers. I start touring at local universities giving speeches about the situation and try to recruit students for construction work. In the end, we have 200 students from Tamkang University Department of Architecture, Chinese Cultural University, and National Taiwan University. A team of attractive girl students manage to make a deal with the neighboring bridge construction site workers, and they start offloading some of the construction material cargo to us from the trucks passing us by. We mainly get timber and bamboo; they use mahogany for the concrete molds.

With the manpower and simple construction material, we start reconstructing the connections between the houses of the settlement, but most importantly, we also restart the farms. The bridge construction workers even help us with a digging machine. Missis Chen comes to advise us about the farming and offers us food and Chinese medicine. I am invited to her house every evening after the workday with an interpreter. She tells her life story and I see how she is sending food to many houses whose inhabitants are very old. Children from somewhere come to share our dinners as well. Her house is the heart of the community. Treasure Hill veterans join us in the farming and construction work. Rumors start spreading in Taipei:  things are cooking in Treasure Hill. More people volunteer for the work, and after enough urban rumors the media arrives suddenly. After the media, the politicians follow. Commissioner Liao from the City Government Cultural Bureau comes to recite poems. Later Mayor Ma Ying-Jeou comes jogging by with TV crews and gives us his blessings. The City Government officially agrees that this is exactly why they had invited me from Finland to work with the issue of Treasure Hill. The same government had been bulldozing the settlement away 3 weeks earlier.

One can design whole cities simply with rumors.

Working in Treasure Hill had pressed an acupuncture point of the industrial Taipei City. Our humble construction work was the needle that had penetrated through the thin layer of official control and touched the original ground of Taipei—collective topsoil where Local Knowledge is rooting. Treasure Hill is an urban compost, which was considered a smelly corner of the city, but after some turning is now providing the most fertile topsoil for future development. The Taiwanese would refer to this organic energy as “Chi.”


After the initial discovery in Treasure Hill, the research of Urban Acupuncture continued at the Tamkang University Department of Architecture, where Chairman Chen Cheng-Chen under my professorship added it to the curriculum in the autumn of 2004. In 2009, the Finnish Aalto University’s Sustainable Global Technologies research center with Professor Olli Varis joined in to further develop the multidisciplinary working methods of Urban Acupuncture in Taipei, with focus on urban ecological restoration through punctual interventions. In 2010, the Ruin Academy was launched in Taipei with the help of the JUT Foundation. The Academy operated as an independent multidisciplinary research center moving freely in between the different disciplines of art and science within the general framework of built human environment. The focus was on Urban Acupuncture and the theory of the Third Generation City. Ruin Academy collaborated with the Tamkang University Department of Architecture, the National Taiwan University Department of Sociology, Aalto University SGT, the Taipei City Government Department of Urban Development, and the International Society of Biourbanism.

Urban Acupuncture is a biourban theory, which combines sociology and urban design with the traditional Chinese medical theory of acupuncture. As a design methodology, it is focused on tactical, small-scale interventions on the urban fabric, aiming in ripple effects and transformation on the larger urban organism. Through the acupuncture points, Urban Acupuncture seeks to be in contact with the site-specific Local Knowledge. By its nature, Urban Acupuncture is pliant, organic, and relieves stress and industrial tension in the urban environment, thus directing the city towards the organic—urban nature as part of nature. Urban Acupuncture produces small-scale, but ecologically and socially catalytic development on the built human environment.

Urban Acupuncture is not an academic innovation. It refers to common collective Local Knowledge practices that already exist in Taipei and other cities, self-organized practices that are tuning the industrial city towards the organic machine—the Third Generation City.

In Taipei, the citizens ruin the centrally governed, official mechanical city with unofficial networks of urban farms and community gardens. They occupy streets for night markets and second hand markets, and activate idle urban spaces for karaoke, gambling, and collective exercises (dancing, Tai-Chi, Chi-Gong, et cetera). They build illegal extensions to apartment buildings, and dominate the urban no man’s land by self-organized, unofficial settlements, such as Treasure Hill. The official city is the source of pollution, while the self-organized activities are more humble in terms of material energy-flows and more tied with nature through the traditions of Local Knowledge. There is a natural resistance towards the official city. It is viewed as an abstract entity that seems to threaten people’s sense of community, and separates them from the biological circulations.

Urban Acupuncture is Local Knowledge in Taipei, which on a larger scale, keeps the official city alive. The unofficial is the biological tissue of the mechanical city. Urban Acupuncture is a biourban healing and development process connecting modern man with nature.


The first generation city is the one where the human settlements are in straight connection with nature and dependent on nature. The fertile and rich Taipei Basin provided a fruitful environment for such a settlement. The rivers were full of fish and good for transportation, with the mountains protecting the farmed plains from the straightest hits of the frequent typhoons.

The second generation city is the industrial city. Industrialism granted the citizens independence from nature—a mechanical environment could provide everything humans needed. Nature was seen as something unnecessary or as something hostile—it was walled away from the mechanical reality.

The Third Generation City is the organic ruin of the industrial city, an open form, organic machine tied with Local Knowledge and self-organized community actions. The community gardens of Taipei are fragments of third generation urbanism when they exist together with their industrial surroundings. Local Knowledge is present in the city, and this is where Urban Acupuncture is rooting. Among the anarchist gardeners are the Local Knowledge professors of Taipei.

The Third Generation City is a city of cracks. The thin mechanical surface of the industrial city is shattered, and from these cracks emerge the new biourban growth, which will ruin the second generation city. Human-industrial control is opened up in order for nature to step in. A ruin is when the manmade has become part of nature. In the Third Generation City, we aim at designing ruins. The Third Generation City is true when the city recognizes its local knowledge and allows itself to be part of nature.

“To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now” (Samuel Beckett).


The emerging biourban cities are not homogeneous platforms for single cultures, races, economical doctrines, timelines, or other ways of life or being. They are urban composts where organic knowledge is floating into the cracks of the industrially developed surroundings. This organic knowledge has the ability to treat and heal the surrounding city as a positive parasite. It can suck in and treat urban and even industrial waste, and it is able to build bridges between the modern man and nature. It can grow to places where the industrial city cannot go and through punctual interventions, it can tune the whole urban development towards the organic; built human nature as part of nature.

This symbiotic coexistence between the “official” and “developed” city, and the unofficial, self-built and organic parasite biourbanism has been existing already for a long time with slums, favelas, camps of migrating workers, unofficial settlements, urban enclaves of resistance, community gardens and urban farms, and even refugee camps. These strongholds of urban nomads are harvesting the surrounding city from what it calls waste, surplus material streams of the industrial life. Without these urban nomads, these material streams will end up in nature as what we call pollution. The unofficial is the buffer zone between development and nature—trying to save the city from itself.

This parasite urbanism should be encouraged to grow on the expense of industrial efficiency. It should eat the urban industrialism away up until a point, where the city is in tune with the life-providing systems of nature. Within this new biourban human mangrove, the relicts of the industrial hardness will emerge as islands, ridges or hills, maybe volcanoes. This urban compost is the Third Generation City. It already exists in many places and on many scales, from Jakarta to Rio, and from the collective urban farms of Taipei to the buffalo sheds of Mumbai. It is not a utopia, but a way in which the different material cycles of cities have coexisted for much longer than industrialism.

For example, in Mumbai there have always been countless buffalo sheds along the monsoon floodwater streams. The respected animal gives fuel (dung-cakes) and milk to the surrounding city. Here, the river or stream is an essential part of this symbiosis. The buffalo dung is pushed to the low water stream, where women mix it by foot with straw before it gets transported back to the sheds for the making and drying of the dung-cakes. The buffaloes also need to get washed every day. The buffalo caretakers are living on decks above the animals.

People have always brought their household waste from the surrounding city to the buffalo sheds in exchange for the milk and energy. The first one to eat from this organic waste is the buffalo, which will pick up the best parts. Then comes the goat, which can even eat paper. After the goat comes the dog, who goes through the possible small remnants of bones, skins, and meat. The last one in the chain is the pig, who will eat even rotten meat and already digested material. The surrounding city cannot live without the buffalo sheds. This chain of animals worked perfectly before the age of industrial materials. Then, materials started to appear in the trash bags that even a pig could not consume—plastics, aluminum, et cetera. The city needed a new animal:  man.

The slums of Mumbai have grown around the buffalo sheds. Millions of people have been transported from the poorest areas of India to take care of the developed city. Only in the Owhiwara River chain of slums is there estimated to live some 700,000 inhabitants. The recycling stations and illegal factories are situated here, just next door to Bollywood. What cannot be recycled or treated ends up in the river, just like in Jakarta it ends up in the bay. Monsoon will flush the toilet.

The buffalo sheds are the original acupuncture needles of Mumbai. Now, together with slums, they present a strong culture of parasite urbanism. The harvesting, processing, and recycling of the urban waste is harmful for the people who do it and for nature. The Third Generation City is looking towards a situation where the parasite urbanism has reached another level presenting a biourban balance between the rivers, slums, and the surrounding city. 


Learning from the cases of Taipei and Mumbai, we have developed a conceptual model to further study the possibilities of parasite urbanism:  Paracity (2014).

Paracity is a biourban organism that is growing on the principles of Open Form:  individual design-built actions generating spontaneous communicative reactions on the surrounding built human environment. This organic constructivist dialogue leads to self-organized community structures, sustainable development, and knowledge building. Open Form is close to the original Taiwanese ways of developing the self-organized and often “illegal” communities. These micro-urban settlements contain a high volume of Local Knowledge, which we believe will start composting in Paracity, once the development of the community is in the hands of the citizens.
The agritectural organism of the Paracity is based on a primary wooden three-dimensional structure, an organic grid with spatial modules of 6 x 6 x 6 meters, constructed out of CLT (cross-laminated timber) beams, and columns. This simple structure can be modified and developed by the community members. The primary structure can grow even in neglected urban areas such as flood plains, hillsides, abandoned industrial areas, storm water channels, and slums. Paracity is perfectly suited for flooding and tsunami risk areas and the CLT primary structure is highly fire-resistant and capable of withstanding earthquakes.
Paracity provides the skeleton, but the citizens create the flesh. Design should not replace reality—Flesh is More. Paracitizens will attach their individual, self-made architectural solutions, gardens, and farms on the primary structure, which will offer a three- dimensional building grid for DIY architecture. The primary structure also provides the main arteries of water and human circulation, but the finer Local Knowledge nervous networks are weaved in by the inhabitants. Large parts of Paracity is occupied by wild and cultivated nature following the example of Treasure Hill and other unofficial communities in Taipei. 

Paracity’s self-sustainable biourban growth is backed up by off-the-grid modular environmental technology solutions, providing methods for water purification, energy production, organic waste treatment, waste water purification, and sludge recycling. These modular plug-in components can be adjusted according to the growth of the Paracity, and moreover, the whole Paracity is designed not only to treat and circulate its own material streams, but to start leeching waste from its host city and thus becoming a positive urban parasite following the similar kinds of symbiosis as in-between slums and the surrounding city. In a sense, Paracity is a high-tech slum, which can start tuning the industrial city towards an ecologically more sustainable direction. Paracity is a Third Generation City, an organic machine urban compost, which assists the industrial city to transform itself into being part of nature.

The pilot project of the Paracity grows on an urban farming island of Danshui River, Taipei City. The island is located between the Zhongxing and Zhonxiao bridges and is around 1,000 meters long and 300 meters wide. Paracity Taipei celebrates the original first generation Taipei urbanism with a high level of “illegal” architecture, self-organized communities, urban farms, community gardens, urban nomads, and constructive anarchy.

After the Paracity has reached critical mass, the life-providing system of the CLT structure will start escalating. It will cross the river and start taking root on the flood plains. It will then cross the 12 meters high Taipei flood wall and gradually grow into the city. The flood wall will remain in the guts of the Paracity, but the new structure enables Taipei citizens to fluently reach the river. Paracity will reunite the river reality and the industrial urban fiction. Paracity is a mediator between the modern city and nature. Seeds of the Paracity will start taking root within the urban acupuncture points of Taipei:  illegal community gardens, urban farms, abandoned cemeteries, and wastelands. From these acupuncture points, Paracity will start growing by following the covered irrigation systems such as the Liukong Channel, and eventually the biourban organism and the static city will find a balance—the Third Generation Taipei.

Paracity has a lot of holes, gaps, and nature between houses. This is a city of cracks. The system ventilates itself like a large-scale beehive of post-industrial insects. The different temperatures of the roofs, gardens, bodies of water and shaded platforms will generate small winds between them, and the hot roofs will start sucking in breeze from the cooler river. The individual houses should also follow the traditional principles of bioclimatic architecture and not rely on mechanical air-conditioning.
The biourbanism of the Paracity is as much landscape as it is architecture. The all-encompassing landscape-architecture of Paracity includes organic layers for natural water purification and treatment, community gardening, farming, and biomass production as an energy source. Infrastructure and irrigation water originates from the polluted Danshui River and will be both chemically (bacteria-based) and biologically purified before being used in the farms, gardens, and the houses of the community. The bacteria/chemically purified water gets pumped up to the roof parks on the top level of the Paracity, from where it will by gravity start circulating into the three-dimensional irrigation systems.

Paracity is based on free flooding. The whole city stands on stilts, allowing the river to pulsate freely with the frequent typhoons and storm waters. The Paracity is actually an organic architectural flood itself, ready to cross the flood wall of Taipei and spread into the mechanical city.

Paracity Taipei will be powered mostly by bioenergy that uses the organic waste, including sludge, taken from the surrounding industrial city and by farming fast-growing biomass on the flood banks of the Taipei river system. Paracity Taipei will construct itself through impacts of collective consciousness, and it is estimated to have 15,000–25,000 inhabitants.

The wooden primary structure and the environmental technology solutions will remain pretty much the same no matter in which culture the Paracity starts to grow, but the real human layer of self-made architecture and farming will follow the Local Knowledge of the respective culture and site. Paracity is always site-specific and it is always local. Other Paracities are emerging in North Fukushima in Japan and the Baluchistan Coast in Pakistan.


The way towards the Third Generation City is a process of becoming a collective learning and healing organism and of reconnecting the urbanized collective consciousness with nature. In Taipei, the wall between the city and the river must go. This requires a total transformation from the city infrastructure and from the centralized power control. Otherwise, the real development will be unofficial. Citizens on their behalf are ready and are already breaking the industrial city apart by themselves. Local knowledge is operating independently from the official city and is providing punctual third generation surroundings within the industrial city:  urban acupuncture for the stiff official mechanism.

The weak signals of the unofficial collective consciousness should be recognized as the futures’ emerging issues; futures that are already present in Taipei. The official city should learn how to enjoy acupuncture, how to give up industrial control in order to let nature step in.

The Local Knowledge-based transformation layer of Taipei is happening from inside the city, and it is happening through self-organized punctual interventions. These interventions are driven by small-scale businesses and alternative economies benefiting from the fertile land of the Taipei Basin, and of leeching the material and energy streams of the official city. This acupuncture makes the city weaker, softer, and readier for a larger change.

The city is a manifest of human-centered systems—economical, industrial, philosophical, political, and religious power structures. Biourbanism is an animist system regulated by nature. Human nature as part of nature, also within the urban conditions. The era of pollution is the era of industrial urbanism. The next era has always been within the industrial city. The first generation city never died. The seeds of the Third Generation City are present. Architecture is not an art of human control; it is an art of reality. There is no other reality than nature.


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Figure 0. (Missis Chen Drawing) / No Caption
Figure 1. Taipei flood wall (Photograph by the Author).
Figure 2. Treasure Hill (Photograph by Stephen Wilde).
Figure 3. Collective farm in Treasure Hill (Photograph by Stephen Wilde).
Figure 4. Reconstructed steps in Treasure Hill (Photograph by Stephen Wilde).
Figure 5. Unofficial community gardens and urban farms of the Taipei Basin, the real map of Urban Acupuncture (Image sourced by the Author).
Figure 6. Paracity, model (Photograph by the Author).
Figure 7. Image sourced by the Author.
Figure 8. Drawing by Niilo Tenkanen / Casagrande Laboratory.
Figure 9. Paracity CLT-module, 6 x 6 x 6m (Photograph by Jan Feichtinger / Casagrande Laboratory).
Figure 10. Agritecture of the Paracity (Drawing by Niilo Tenkanen / Casagrande Laboratory).
Figure 11. Paracity, flood-water scenario (Image sourced by the Author).


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