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NUDA is a non-profit organisation which aims to gather qualified urban designers from the Nordic countries as members for the purpose of stronger promoting urban design as a necessity within city planning.

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Bluespace: a typological matrix for port cities
02. February 2012
The sea covers more than 70% of the Earth's surface. Now for the first time in history more than half the world's people live in cities and many of the world's most populated conurbations are located on the ocean periphery. Climate change is making littoral zones a potentially productive location for the development of new forms of urban space in coastal cities. Increased urbanisation and the foregrounding of the coastal condition make the association between cities and the sea one of the most important environmental juxtapositions of the 21st century. The aim of this paper is to re-theorise the collision of the public realm and the sea edge, and provide a range of design precedents for this emerging urban space phenomenon. The paper will introduce the concept of 'bluespace' and define a matrix with nine instances of how urban space and sea space combine to produce distinct public space types in port cities. Case studies of each type will be presented and discussed in detail with reference to textual and representational descriptions of the space in question.
Diane Brand

School of Architecture and Planning
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland
New Zealand

Correspondence: Diane Brand, Tel: 649-373-7599  88498; Fax: 649-373-7694; E-mail: dj.brand@auckland.ac.nz


Littoral refers to locations proximate to the seashore. The idea of a 'littoral society' broadens the concept to mean a community extending inward from the coast with porous frontiers acting as filters through which the salt of the sea is gradually replaced by the silt of the land society (Pearson, 1985). This is a western and continental view of the space under discussion with its privileging of the land mass. Polynesian culture, which locates itself in an ocean covering one-third of the Earth's surface, has for generations migrated across these vast spaces and views the seascape quite differently:

According to early Tahitian accounts these navigators saw the Pacific Ocean as a vast watery plain, joined around the edges of the horizon by the layered spheres of the sky, which encircled its clusters of known islands. It was also a marae, a sacred place where people went to cleanse themselves in times of spiritual trouble. (Salmond, 2003)


Literature dealing with port cities has typically defined the port in relation to its landed boundaries rather than a space in its own right. Hoyle (1967), Hoyle and Hilling (1970) and Rimmer's (1973) theoretical framework for port cities defines the foreland and hinterland as generators of port development. Both elements conceptually relate to the land at the extremities of the voyage. The sea space itself and in particular the space of the anchorage or harbour is incidental. In contrast Reeves, Broeze and McPherson endorse the importance of land–sea interface in their study of the Asian port city:


Such port city studies must take their start at the places [my emphasis] where goods and passengers are transferred between ship and shore-which is, after all, the ultimate rationale of the port-and in consecutive stages include all aspects of urban economic, social, cultural and spatial development that are generated, dominated, or significantly influenced by the port. (Reeves et al, 1989)


Urban design literature dealing specifically with waterfronts has emerged in the last quarter century as cities internationally have rediscovered sea adjacencies in their post-industrial urban centres. Publications exploring the urban revistalisation of waterfronts and the remaking of the public realm in these locations have focused on the governance, planning and design challenges of the land-based development of the city and the urban quarter (Breen and Rigby, 1994, 1996; Berens, 2004) while other studies have documented the changes in port infrastructure (Meyer, 1999) to demonstrate a variety of generating conditions for port-city edge transformations that have resulted in successful urban waterfront projects around the world.

Typologically port waterscapes such as canals and docks have often been identified by urban theorists as elements of urban structure or enclosed public space in water-based cites (Bacon, 1975, pp. 100–105; Braunfels, 1988, pp. 78–109). Kostof (1992, pp. 218–219) describes the overlays of infrastructure, walkways, vegetation, buildings and streets that combine to energise urban waterways from Amsterdam to Delhi. Jacobs (1993, pp. 62–74) highlights on water light and movement as contributing to vibrant liquid streetscapes such as the Grand Canal in Venice, and Blumenfeld (in Spreiregen 1967, pp. 246–269) interrogates civic design qualities resulting from the careful juxtaposition of an enclosed dock, an urban square and a town hall complex in Hamburg's Inner Alster. These latter studies in particular point to the importance of the water space itself as a public realm.

A definition of the public realm of the port city therefore needs to make reference to spaces, functions, technologies and activities from both urban and maritime traditions to properly encompass the complexity of this transitional zone. Bluespace can thus be defined as place where:

  • A physical space or social activity has an edge condition or adjacency that is coastal
  • The context is urban in character

These two fundamental characteristics of bluespace can be elaborated by four further criteria to create a matrix of nine space types that can be ranked in terms of:

  • Being analogous to a maritime space or technology
  • Being located along a land–sea continuum
  • Can be described in terms of a clearly defined spatial or formal configuration
  • Can be mapped on to a recognised urban space typology


The nine space types that emerge as a result of this analytical process are: maritime highways, fleets at anchor, harbour arenas, beaches, piers and jetties, containers, docks and canals, waterfront squares and beached vessels. In each category, three examples of the space type are identified in the matrix. An historical and geographical range is evident, with examples from Rio de Janeiro in the 18th century to Dubai in the 21st century.


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