Baroque cities? The concept of scale in global urban centres, with particular reference to the Xin-Yi Planning District of Taipei
One prominent consequence of globalization has been rapid urbanization and the formation of extremely large cities. In East Asia, such cities are not only large, but have blurred edge conditions and are increasingly difficult to distinguish from their once rural hinterlands, are usually fragmented in form, and simultaneously juxtapose different scales of physical things such as buildings and infrastructures, and economic and social networks that thread through them. The aim of this thesis is to explore these kinds of globalized cities in East Asia, and focuses on the city of Taipei in particular. The thesis identifies a set of conceptual and methodological limitations in conventional approaches to studying these contemporary urban conditions of such cities. The thesis argues that new ways of thinking through the concept of scale is essential to properly understanding the large, globalized cities of East Asia. The thesis works through the issue of multiple and co-present scales. It suggests that different kinds of ‘bigness’ and ‘smallness’ coexist, and that this coexistence is central to the experience of such cities. With a special focus on the city of Taipei, Taiwan’s largest city, the thesis indicates that cities that appear to be merely ‘big’ urban formations disguise many overlooked global ‘middling’ (Sassen, 2007a) and ‘small’ conditions that emerge from their struggle with their post-war urban reconstruction and the emergence of globally networked urban logics. The conditions of Taipei register the contextual specificity to the importance of thinking in a multi-scalar way. The theoretical framework of the thesis is grounded in re-examining the idea of scale within the particular fields of architecture, geography and urban studies. The concept of a hierarchically-nested scale has been a dominant approach to scalar conceptualization in these fields for a number of decades. However, the thesis argues that this linear approach has been weakened by its limited abilities to respond to the more complex and multiscalar processes that crucially inform the big urban formations in the context of globalization. Drawing from the critiques of The Fold (Deleuze, 1993; Wölfflin, 1986) and the concept of ‘flatness’ (Latour, 2005; Law, 2004; Marston, 2005), as well as critical work on place significance (Sassen, 2007a), the thesis proposes a ‘Baroque’ alternative to these conventional theorizations of urban scale. In order to offer an enabling approach to cities such as Taipei, the thesis argues this ‘Baroque’, used here in a quite specific sense, as a way of appreciating the multi-scalar nature of such cities, and as a means of developing a methodology by which to better appreciate and understand them. The thesis develops this ‘Baroque’-inspired methodology by examining five socio-spatial practices at different scales which have been selected to represent multi-scalar characteristics in the Xin-Yi planning district of central Taipei which is formed by a globally networked urban logic. The thesis concludes by proposing the idea of the ‘Baroque City’ as a more suggestive, multi-dimensional approach to capturing the richness of the contemporary urban scale of cities. It is intended that this will not only support investigations of East Asian cities, but also enhance architectural engagements with such dynamically complex and multi-scalar conditions of global urban centres.