Thursday, May 6, 2021

THIRD GENERATION CITY - From Urban Acupuncture to Biourbanism

Author: Marco Casagrande

Ruin Academy, Casagrande Laboratory, Bergen School of Architecture, and International Society of Bio-urbanism, Finland


Republic of Croatia

Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction and State Assets 


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 bio-urban 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. 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; bio-urbanism; Third Generation City; ruins; parasite urbanism; Paracity; Local Knowledge

1.      Treasure Hill

In 2003, the Taipei City Government decided to destroy the unofficial settlement of Treasure Hill (Kang, 2006). By that time, the community consisted of some 200 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.

Treasure Hill (Photograph by Stephen Wilde)

 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. A team of girl students manage to make a deal with the neighbouring bridge construction site workers, and they start offloading some of the construction material cargo to us from the trucks passing us by. Mainly we receive 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. Rumors start spreading in Taipei: things are cooking in Treasure Hill. More people volunteer for the work, and after enough urban rumors, suddenly the media arrives. After the media, the politicians follow. The City Government officially agrees that this is exactly why they had invited me from Finland to work on the issue of Treasure Hill.

‘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.

2.      Urban acupuncture

After this initial discovery in Treasure Hill, the research of Urban Acupuncture continued at the Tamkang University Department of Architecture, In 2009, the Finnish Aalto University’s Sustainable Global Technologies research center with Professor Olli Varis (Casagrande, 2009) joined in to further develop the multidisciplinary working methods of Urban Acupuncture in Taipei, with focus on urban ecological restoration through punctual interventions (Casagrande 2011a). In 2010, the Ruin Academy was launched in Taipei with the help of the JUT Foundation for Arts & Architecture (Harrison, 2012). 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.

Urban Acupuncture is a bio-urban theory (Casagrande, 2013), 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 (Kaye, 2011). 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 (Kim, 2010).

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

Urban Acupuncture is a form of bio-urban healing and a development process connecting modern man with nature.

3.      Third generation city

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 (Casagrande, 2011b). 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 need. Nature was seen as something unnecessary or as something hostile—it was walled away from the mechanical reality (Casagrande, 2011b).

The Third Generation City is the organic ruin of the industrial city, an open form, an organic machine tied with Local Knowledge and self-organized community actions.

It is a city of cracks (Casagrande, 2016). The thin mechanical surface of the industrial city is shattered, and from these cracks the new bio-urban growth emerges, 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 (Mik, 2018). 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)

4.      Paracity

Paracity is a bio-urban organism that is growing on the principles of Open Form (Casagrande, 2015b): 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 (HolzBuild, 2009).

Paracity provides the skeleton, but the citizens create the flesh. 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 Do-It- Yourself (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 model (Photograph by the Author).

Paracity’s self-sustainable bio-urban growth is backed up by off-the-grid modular environmental technological 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. Paracity is a mediator between the modern city and nature.

Paracity has a lot of holes, gaps, and nature between houses. 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.

Third-generation Taipei (Drawing by Niilo Tenkanen / Casagrande Laboratory)

 The bio-urbanism of the Paracity is as much landscape as it is architecture (Fredrickson, 2014).Paracity Taipei will construct itself through impacts of collective consciousness, and it is estimated to have 15,000–25,000 inhabitants.

Paracity CLT-module, 6 x 6 x 6m (Photograph by Jan Feichtinger / Casagrande Laboratory).

 The wooden primary structure and the environmental technology solutions will remain mostly 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.

5.      Conclusion

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. 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. Bio-urbanism 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 second generation city. The next era has always been surviving within the industrial city, like a positive cancer. The first-generation city never died, it went underground, but the bio- urban processes are still surviving. 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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