X-Urbanism: Catchy but not Compelling


Photo Credit sulamith.sallmann on flickr

X-Urbanism is a theoretical framework for analyzing the American city and it’s architecture, particularly that of the late 20th century. The term was coined in the 1999 book X-Urbanism: Architecture and the American City by architect and professor Mario Gandelsonas. The book provided a new way of envisioning cities by examining various configurations of urban space. The term serves as a visual representation of the formal properties of American urbanism—fabric, void, grid, wall—that reveal the hidden structure of urban areas.

While an interesting premise (and a great term), it never really caught on outside academic circles. This is, in part because while Gandelsonas’ research is exhaustive, it is also somewhat convoluted. Another shortcoming is it falls into a common architecture trap by describing the city solely as the object of architecture, without mentioning realities such as land ownership, property values, or even urban design. Finally, as it took over 15 years to research and write, by the time it was published the book’s methodology and graphic representations were dated.

Indeed, while Gandelsonas was researching books such as Joel Garreau’s Edge City and Jonathan Barnett’s books The Elusive City and The Fractured Metropolis were published. These books cover much of the same theoretical ground as X-Urbanism, but in a more compelling manner. Indeed Edge City has become a classic study of ex-urban sprawl, and ‘edge city’ appears to have taken the place that ‘x-urbanism’ sought in the urban lexicon.

Nevertheless X-urbanism remains a compelling concept; it just needs a new, updated perspective. Perhaps it is time for Mario Gandelsonas to revisit his framework. After all a lot has occurred in American cities in the 25 years since the book was conceived and the decade since it was published.

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Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.

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