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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Building transformative capacities: integrating design research into port-city transformation

Dahl, Caroline; Diedrich, Lisa Babette


Port cities understood as complex human-environment systems are in an urgent need of complying with sustainability goals in the wake of the changing climate and the resulting economic and social consequences. Furthermore, such systems’ interdependencies are not fully understood, changes in them not fully predictable, and straight forward solutions to make them more fit for future challenges tackle part of the problem while generating other. Hence, port city development poses to any actor involved what researchers have identified since the 1970s as ‘a wicked problem’. Contemporary researchers engaged in the study of such problems increasingly recognise the inability of a single field of knowledge to generate pertinent answers, pointing at transdisciplinary science to be the only way out. In this paper we invoke basic tenets of transdisciplinary science to call for the inclusion of the discipline of landscape architecture into port-city studies. The disciplinary understanding of dynamic human-environment systems as ‘landscapes’ prompts the production of multi- and transdisciplinary knowledge, in particular through design research. Based on a case study of three design projects for transforming post-industrial port sites in Nantes (France), Gothenburg (Sweden), and Providence (U.S.A) the paper discusses how their design approaches (iterating, prototyping, simulating) could render planning procedures more dynamic. Furthermore, the paper theorise the interdependency  of place and site, project and process, practice and theory.


Port-city transformation; Dynamic planning procedures; Landscape perspective; Design research; Transdisciplinary research

Published in

2020, Volume: 9, pages: 1-21