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Title of the PhD thesis : The “shrinking city”: a new issue for the contemporary architectural thought

Director : Catherine Maumi
Year of inscription : December 2012

Keywords :

Shrinking city concept, urban shrinkage, architectural and urban project, urban morphology, France, Germany, United State


Trained and accustomed to think the project in a growing context, the architect finds himself nevertheless more and more in front of inverse process: the urban shrinkage. Indeed, more cities (e.g.: Detroit, Saint-Etienne, Genoa, Leipzig), even whole regions (e.g.: East Germany, Romania, Japan), know currently this process. Causes are multiple and complex, but indicators of this condition are identical everywhere: a more or less intense demographic decrease (rate / duration), which accompanies generally an economic, political and/or social decline. The spatial impact has not to be forgotten even if it is not integrated in definitions as essential indicator. However, it is one of the most perceptible indicators by the man every day. We see taking place a process of spatial hollowing out, an “urban perforation”[1]at large scale by the departure of inhabitants and activities.

The urban shrinkage is considered by the society as a trouble of the city rather than a natural process of evolution. It has marked every historic periods but its presence is unprecedented since the second half of the XXth century. From 1970s, many of researches were realized on the subject by multidisciplinary and international teams, but the interest of architects is still emerging. The increase of publications for these last fifteen years and the exhibition “Shrinking Cities, produced in 2006 by the International grouping Shrinking Cities and coordinated by the German architect Philipp Oswalt, facilitated the realization.

On this beginning of the XXIth century, current issues on the fabrication of the city in contexts with an uncertain future ask to have one particular attention for shrinking cities. This interest would allow to enrich debates and to wonder about architect’s practices today. Indeed, this condition implied for the architect to rethink these knowledge, these methods of work, and these tools of project. The specific observation of these territories by the architect becomes necessary and its specific look would allow to bring new knowledge. The hypothesis of the research is that thinking of shrinking cities would be at the origin of the elaboration of new architectural thoughts (architectural languages, typologies and urban forms) and new forms to live in territories by the man (spatial and temporal / lifestyle / adaptation-adaptability).

A comparative study of urban projects on shrinking cities will be produced. The choice of projects, theoretical as achieved, will be in different urban fabrics (urban center, suburban area, rural village) to show the diversity of spaces that can be confronted and to reveal the fallow lands of tomorrow. In parallel of the study of French cases (Saint-Etienne, Livradois-Forez), it shall observe other experiences in two precursory contexts in terms of local initiatives and urban policies: Germany (Halle-Neusdat, Dessau) and the United States (Detroit). A set of interviews will conduct with architects, urban planners and local actors for feeding the speech.

[1] Daniel Florentin, Sylvie Fol et Hélène Roth, « La « Stadtschrumpfung » ou « rétrécissement urbain » en Allemagne : un champ de recherche émergent », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Espace, Société, Territoire, document 445, mis en ligne le 26 mars 2009, consulté le 05 août 2014. URL :


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