2nd Holcim Forum “Urban_Trans_Formation”

What kind of cities do we want? And how do we get them?

  • 2nd Holcim Forum 2007 - Shanghai

    Participants in the Holcim Forum 2007 - "Urban_Trans_Formation" at Tongji University, Shanghai - April 19/21, 2007

  • 2nd Holcim Forum 2007 - Shanghai

    Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago (USA) - Keynote speaker at the Holcim Forum 2007, “Urban_Trans_Formation”

  • 2nd Holcim Forum 2007 - Shanghai

    "Sustainable architecture" - Kees Christiaanse, Chair Architecture and Urbanism, ETH Zurich (Switzerland)

  • 2nd Holcim Forum 2007 - Shanghai

    “Upgrading the city, grafting the existing” - Keynote speaker Jean-Philippe Vassal, Architect, Lacaton & Vassal Architectes (France)

  • 2nd Holcim Forum 2007 - Shanghai

    “A more socially- and environmentally-sustainable city” - Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotà (Colombia)

  • 2nd Holcim Forum 2007 - Shanghai

    "Urban transformation in the policy context", Peter Head, Director of Arup and Independent Commissioner on the London Sustainable Development Commission.

The forum fostered the interdisciplinary exchange of experience and knowledge through keynote speeches, workshops and panel discussions, as well as full-day case study tours in the Shanghai region. The experts discussed and shared their concepts for sustainable urban development – seeking to meet present-day needs for housing and infrastructure without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs in times to come.

Five workshop themes addressing transitions in urban morphologies worldwide provided a platform for addressing the challenge of how processes of urban formation can be managed in order to attain long-term sustainable conditions.






keynotes and workshop sessions


Workshop presenters, moderators & panelists


Normative Urbanism - Between convention and differentiation

Contemporary urbanism is marked by convention, where the user is assumed to be a generic subject. What ensues from this condition is a tension between the norm and that, which is considered to be outside the norm.

Cities today are confronted with rapidly changing demographics, i.e., the aging of wide sections of the population, a foregrounding of the role of women within the social order, increasing poverty, and more diversified social strata. Thus, discrepancies arise between non-differentiated urban design and differentiated users.

This presents an opportunity to not only question established standards, but to affect a shift away from an understanding of the city through the lens of a universal subject towards a differentiated understanding of urbanism.

Informal urbanism - Between sanctioned and shadow orders

Contemporary cities are comprised of parallel forms of social alliance, some legal and established, others outside the sway of official purview. While often held apart, these competing orders share at times the same urban stage.

The intermingling of formal and informal modes of organization promotes a split condition, leaving its traces in the very fabric of the city. This confounds practiced renditions of urban governance which adhere to top-down approaches without due attention given to bottom-up processes of self-regulation.

Whereas traditional urban design is inclined to follow both formal and top-down routes, the current situation demands a bifurcated sensibility attuned to a balance between official control and participatory agency.

Green urbanism - Between ecology and economy

Contemporary urban agglomerations manifest generally unsustainable ecologies. The depletion of material resources, the accumulation of waste, the over-expenditure of non-renewable energy are direct consequences of the predatory expansion of urbanization.

Although commendable, so-called “green approaches” present more often than not a conflict vis-à-vis widespread economic constraints either concerned with optimizing the return on monetary investment or the lack of financial means. Thus, a standoff remains between costly environmental measures and prevailing economic systems.

Alternative solutions and technologies, while available and mostly tested at the level of individual buildings, have yet to be assessed for their applicability to the urban scale. This challenge provides a platform for identifying potential procedures that are not only ecologically sensitive, but also economically, socially, and aesthetically sustainable.

Tourisic urbanism - Between local and global

Tourism accounts for one of the largest industries, promoting a commodification of place across the world. Clean, safe, and attractive self-contained environments are created that by definition are generally segregated from local conditions.

Packaged for mass consumption these sites are crafted via various tactics involving the construction of popular myth, the re-framing of history, and the management of cultural reception. In effect, destinations are remapped to serve social, political, and economic agendas.

Tourism is simultaneously a product and producer of culture, a catalyst in a nuanced process of exchange. This phenomenon offers an arena for examining the mutual relationship between contemporary practices of tourism and the ongoing development of the built environment.

Temporary urbanism - Between the permanent and transitory

Where contemporary culture has increasingly become nomadic, place has become transitive. This condition stands in contradiction to the time-honored notion of the city as a sedentary entity.

Whether brought about by natural catastrophe or initiated by choice, instant cities emerge, only to disappear again just as rapidly. This has given rise to non-paradigmatic terminologies such as relief urbanism, deadline urbanism, or event urbanism.

Among other factors, speed and agility in decision-making places a new performative demand on the collective. Such a shift from notions of fixed locality to temporary accommodation for mass migration requires equivalent forms of flexibility in planning.


Forum 2007 – Urban_Trans_Formation – Shanghai (Ruby Press)

A collection of essays inspired by the Holcim Forum 2007 held in Shanghai has been published by Ruby Press of Berlin. The Holcim Forum attracted more than 250 professionals from 40 countries and focused upon sustainable urban development.

The Holcim Foundation conducts the symposiums to promote the exchange of information on creating a sustainable built environment between architects, engineers, construction professionals and specialists of all generations.