Urban acupuncture

Urban acupuncture is a socio-environmental theory that combines contemporary urban design with traditional Chinese acupuncture,[1] using small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context. Sites are selected through analysis of aggregate social, economic and ecological factors, and are developed through a dialogue between designers and the community. Just as the practice of acupuncture is aimed at relieving stress in the human body, the goal of urban acupuncture is to relieve stress in the built environment.[2] In Taipei, there was an urban acupuncture workshop that aimed to "produce small-scale but socially catalytic interventions" into the city's fabric.[3]

Urban organism

Originally coined by Barcelonan architect and urbanist, Manuel de Sola Morales,[4][5][6] the term has been recently championed and developed further by Finnish architect and social theorist Marco Casagrande, this school of thought eschews massive urban renewal projects in favour of a more localised and community approach that, in an era of constrained budgets and limited resources, could democratically and cheaply offer a respite to urban dwellers.[7] Casagrande views cities as complex energy organisms in which different overlapping layers of energy flows are determining the actions of the citizens as well as the development of the city. By mixing environmentalism and urban design Casagrande is developing methods of punctual manipulation of the urban energy flows in order to create an ecologically sustainable urban development towards the so-called 3rd Generation City (postindustrial city). The theory is developed in the Tamkang University of Taiwan[8] and at independent multidisciplinary research center Ruin Academy.[9] With focus on environmentalism and urban design, Casagrande defines urban acupuncture as a design tool where punctual manipulations contribute to creating sustainable urban development, such as the community gardens and urban farms in Taipei.[10]

Casagrande describes urban acupuncture as:

[a] cross-over architectural manipulation of the collective sensuous intellect of a city. City is viewed as multi-dimensional sensitive energy-organism, a living environment. Urban acupuncture aims into a touch with this nature.[11] and Sensitivity to understand the energy flows of the collective chi beneath the visual city and reacting on the hot-spots of this chi. Architecture is in the position to produce the acupuncture needles for the urban chi.[12] and A weed will root into the smallest crack in the asphalt and eventually break the city. Urban acupuncture is the weed and the acupuncture point is the crack. The possibility of the impact is total, connecting human nature as part of nature.

Casagrande utilized the tenets of acupuncture: treat the points of blockage and let relief ripple throughout the body. More immediate and sensitive to community needs than traditional institutional forms of large scale urban renewal interventions would not only respond to localized needs, but do so with a knowledge of how citywide systems operated and converged at that single node. Release pressure at strategic points, release pressure for the whole city.[13]

Participatory planning

In theory, urban acupuncture opens the door for uncontrolled creativity and freedom. Citizens are enabled to join the creative participatory planning process, feel free to use city space for any purpose and develop their environment according to their will.[14] This "new" post-industrialized city Casagrande, dubbed the Third Generation City, is driven by people who are concerned about the destruction that the modern machine is causing to nature including human nature. They want sustainable co-operation with the rest of the nature.[15] In a larger context, a site of urban acupuncture can be viewed as communicating to the city outside like a natural sign of life in a city programmed to subsume it.[16]

Urban acupuncture bears some similarities to the new urbanist concept of Tactical Urbanism. The idea focuses on local resources rather than capital-intensive municipal programs and promotes the idea of citizens installing and caring for interventions. These small changes, proponents claim, will boost community morale and catalyze revitalization.[17] Boiled down to a simple statement, "urban acupuncture" means focusing on small, subtle, bottom-up interventions that harness and direct community energy in positive ways to heal urban blight and improve the cityscape. It is meant as an alternative to large, top-down, mega-interventions that typically require heavy investments of municipal funds (which many cities at the moment simply don't have) and the navigation of yards of bureaucratic red tape.[18] The micro-scale interventions targeted by "urban acupuncture" appeal to both citizen-activists and cash-strapped communities.[19] In Mexico urban acupuncture converts temporary housing, like sheds in the slums, to simple homes that allow for "add-ons" later, based on need and affordability. This strategy transforms the slum zone, without relocating families that have been living together for generations.[20] In South Africa Urban Acupuncture is viewed as a possibility to provide a means for people to unlock their creativity and the advantages thereof, for example, innovation and entrepreneurship concentrating on parts of the city, i.e. communities thereby providing opportunities to those areas which do not have the sort of infrastructure that is found in mainstream cities. This approach can provide a more realistic and less costly method for city planners and citizens as an effective way to make minor improvements in the communities in order to achieve a greater good in the cities.[21]

Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, suggests urban acupuncture as the future solution for contemporary urban issues; by focusing on very narrow pressure points in cities, we can initiate positive ripple effects for the greater society. Urban acupuncture reclaims the ownership of land to the public and emphasizes the importance of community development through small interventions in design of cities.[22] It involves pinpointed interventions that can be accomplished quickly to release energy and create a positive ripple effect.[23] He described in 2007:
"I believe that some medicinal "magic" can and should be applied to cities, as many are sick and some nearly terminal. As with the medicine needed in the interaction between doctor and patient, in urban planning it is also necessary to make the city react; to poke an area in such a way that it is able to help heal, improve, and create positive chain reactions. It is indispensable in revitalizing interventions to make the organism work in a different way."[24]

Taiwanese architect and academic Ti-Nan Chi is looking with micro urbanism at the vulnerable and insignificant side of contemporary cities around the world identified as micro-zones, points for recovery in which micro-projects have been carefully proposed to involve the public on different levels, aiming to resolve conflicts among property owners, villagers, and the general public.[25]
A loosely affiliated team of architects Wang Shu, Marco Casagrande, Hsieh Ying-chun and Roan Ching-yueh (sometimes called WEAK! Architecture) are describing the unofficial Instant City, or Instant Taipei, as architecture that uses the Official City as a growing platform and energy source, where to attach itself like a parasite and from where to leach the electricity and water… [The Instant City's] illegal urban farms or night markets is so widespread and deep rooted in the Taiwanese culture and cityscape that we could almost speak of another city on top of the "official" Taipei, a parallel city – or a para-city. WEAK! is calling urban acupuncture depending on the context as Illegal Architecture, Orchid Architecture, the People's Architecture, or Weak Architecture.[26] The theory of urban acupuncture suggests that scores of small-scale, less costly and localized projects is what cities need in order to recover and renew themselves.[27]

Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award

The winner of the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award (DBUAA) Cape Town 2012 is the neighbourhood project "Mothers Unite" demonstrating the power of urban acupuncture.[28] Mothers Unite was founded in 2007 and provides a safe haven from the gangsterism, drugs and violence that are part and parcel of street and home life in the area. Built with donated shipping containers, the village is made up of a library, kitchen, office, sheltered area, playground and food garden.[29] Professor Edgar Pieterse:

Durable urban change is often about carefully targeted micro interventions that can change the energies and dynamics of a surrounding neighbourhood. When one engages with the physical manifestations that the tenacity, blood, sweat, and tears of the protagonists of Mothers Unite and Masiphumelele Library (another of the eight finalists) have created, the power of urban acupuncture is apparent. These projects serve as reminders that through vision, commitment over the long haul, and principle-based partnerships, just about any problem can be confronted and addressed.[30]

Urban ecological restoration

In ecological restoration of industrial cities Urban Acupuncture can take form as spontaneous and often illegal urban farms and community gardens punctuating the more mechanical city and tuning it towards a more sustainable co-existence with the natural environment.[31] Urban Acupuncture areas can receive, treat and recycle the waste from the surrounding city acting as eco-valleys within the urban fabric. In River Urbanism the Urban Acupuncture areas can include underground stormwater reservoirs and act as flood relief for the surrounding city as a sponge and they can act as biological filters purifying water originated from polluted rivers.[32] Urban acupuncture is a point by point manipulation of the urban energy to create a sustainable town or city, which Marco Casagrande has dubbed '3rd Generation Cities'.[33]

Urban acupuncture in art

American artist Gordon Matta-Clark is credited with developing a system for identifying pockets of disrepair in the built environment—the first step in the framework of urban acupuncture.[34] Artist Miru Kim explores industrial ruins and structures making her look at the city as one living organism. She claims to feel not only the skin of the city, but also to penetrate the inner layers of its intestines and veins, which swarm with minuscule life forms.[35] Referring to a public environmental art work, Cicada, Casagrande explains:

Cicada is urban acupuncture for Taipei city penetrating the hard surfaces of industrial laziness in order to reach the original ground and get in touch with the collective Chi, the local knowledge that binds the people of Taipei basin with nature. The cocoon of Cicada is an accidental mediator between the modern man and reality. There is no other reality than nature.[36]

Environmental art as urban acupuncture is an artistic way of injecting a healthy dose of natural elements and human scale into the mechanized urban grid.[37]


See also



  1. Parsons, Adam. (2010, December). "Urban Acupuncture: Marco Casagrande." University of Portsmouth.
  2. "Urban Acupuncture," Urban Applications, 2013. Archived 16 April 2013 at Archive.today
  3. Ruin Academy – Casagrande Lab. In Architectural Theories of the Environment: Posthuman Territory, ed. Ariane Lourie Harrison. Routledge, 2013.
  4. Frampton, Kenneth. Megaform as urban landscape. University of Michigan, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture+ Urban Planning, 1999.
  5. i Rubió, Manuel de Solà-Morales. Progettare città. Vol. 23. Electa, 1999.
  6. De Solà-Morales, Manuel. "The strategy of urban acupuncture." Structure Fabric and Topography Conference, Nanjing University. 2004.
  7. Could cities' problems be solved by urban acupuncture?Leon Kaye, The Guardian 21 July 2010
  8. INTERVIEW WITH M. CASAGRANDE ON URBAN ACUPUNTURELaurits Elkjær, Bergen School of Architecture 4/2010
  9. Anarchist Gardener Issue Two HK special 安那其建築園丁港深建築雙城雙年展特別版Nikita Wu, Ruin Academy 2/2012
  10. PARTICIPATIVE DESIGN & PLANNING IN CONTEMPORARY URBAN PROJECTS Christina Rasmussen, Urban Planning & Management, Aalborg University 6/2012
  11. "Urban Acupuncture: Revivifying Our Cities Through Targeted Renewal," – Kyle Miller, MSIS 9/2011
  12. "Ruin Academy," – Marco Casagrande, Epifanio 14, 2011
  13. Urban AcupunctureUrban Applications 2013 Archived 16 April 2013 at Archive.today
  14. Compost City – Guoda Bardauskaite p. 30-31, Sustainable Urban Design Journal 1 2011
  15. Urban AcupunctureRaune Frankjær, Rethink: Urban Interaction 10/2012
  16. Urban AcupunctureKelly Chan, Architizer 1/2012
  17. 'Urban acupuncture' touted for cash-strapped citiesDavid West, New Urban Network 7/2011
  18. London’s Urban Acupuncture: The Urban Physic Garden This Old Street 8/2011
  19. 'Urban acupuncture' touted for cash-strapped cities Archived 15 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine David West, Better Cities & Towns 7/2011
  20. Star architect leaves it all to build homes for the poor Archived 12 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine Yam Phui Yee, Good Times – The Conscience of the Nation
  21. Urban Acupuncture Mariam Mahomed, Urban Spaces Review 2012
  22. Urban Acupuncture Archived 25 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine Understanding Space 2011
  23. Curitiba: Jaime Lerner’s Urban Acupuncture Archived 4 December 2011 at the Wayback MachineBill Hinchberger, Brazilmax 2/2006
  24. Urban Acupuncture: Revivifying Our Cities Through Targeted Renewal – Kyle Miller MSIS 9/2011
  25. Chi Ti-Nan develops a project to preserve Hong Kong coastline Tai Long Sai Wan Archived 31 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine World Architecture News 4/2011
  26. Illegal Architecture in Taipei Archived 26 May 2012 at Archive.today – Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan Architizer 3/2011
  27. Could Cities Benefit from Small-Scale, Local "Urban Acupuncture" Projects Like This? – Kimberly Mok Treehugger 1/2012
  28. Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award – 19 April 2012 Archived 8 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine Mothers Unite 4/2012
  29. Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award 2012 – winner announced Archived 25 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine Deutsche Bank Corporate Social Responsibility 4/2012
  30. Mothers Unite: Urban acupuncture for an urban age Cape Town 2014 Live Design. Transform Life. 4/2012
  31. Taipei Organic AcupunctureMarco Casagrande, P2P Foundation 12/2010
  32. Urban EcopunctureMarco Casagrande, World Architecture 10/2011
  33. Amsterdam: Urban Acupuncture creates new life in the suburbsDanish Architecture Centre, Sustainable Cities 6/2010
  34. Urban Acupuncture: Revivifying Our Cities Through Targeted Renewal – Kyle Miller MSIS 9/2011
  35. Miru KimTED Talks 2/2009
  36. Could Cities Benefit from Small-Scale, Local "Urban Acupuncture" Projects Like This? – Kimberley Mok Treehugeer 1/2012
  37. Signs of Life – Phyllis Richardson Archetcetera 1/2012

Further reading

  • Lerner, Jaime. (2014). Urban Acupuncture. Washington, DC: Island Press. ISBN 9781610915830
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