‘Soon Europe will be one urban nebula.’ This fascinating statement refers to the character of urbanisation processes in the second half of the twentieth century. The urban nebula is a new kind of urban space whose morphology is not immediately apparent. Furthermore, the spatial manifestation of the urban nebula reflects a unique concept comprising economic, infrastructural, socio-political and visual layers of meaning. The urban nebula also contains a digital layer, for which a host of metaphors are in circulation, such as virtual city, digital highway, datacloud and network city. The appearance of the urban nebula can be studied at the level of the plot of land, the typology of the buildings, the traffic and transport network of goods and people, the image/perception of the region and the relationships between the network users and the public space.
The Schiphol region, with the airport as its centre, is perceived as one of the most exemplary urban nebulae in Europe through its connection with virtually all international networks and its extremely Dutch local and regional traits. Although Schiphol has more or less the same array of facilities as an average city centre, it is a contemporary alternative for, rather than a parallel manifestation of the city as we know it. We must realise that positively tinted marketing terms such as ‘airport city’ and ‘mainport’, and academic, negatively tinted, terms such as ‘non-place’ and ‘heterotopia’ are applied to airports, and that thereby, diverse meanings are projected onto the airport time and time again. This makes the region a very interesting research project.
The research is divided into four subprojects, each looking at a different aspect of the urban nebula, and from a different perspective. The key explanatory term, adopted by all of the subprojects, is collective arrangement, a concept that attempts to explain the complex layering of the urban nebula, but yet a concept which is still in development. Changes in collective arrangements of the urban space shall be studied from four interrelated viewpoints: planning concepts, infrastructural networks, physical structures and urban visual culture.
The goal of this VU research project, which is a component of the new NWO (Netherlands Institute for Scientific Research) research programme Urbanisation and Urban Culture, is the understanding of the morphology, spatial presentation and communicative concept of the urban nebula Schiphol.
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