Braided Urbanism by Anna Papachristoforou, Renata Paim Tourinho Dantas, Irene Guerra and Julia Cano



Four graduates from the MArch Design Research Laboratory course at the Architectural Association in London have sent us these images of their thesis project, a conceptual proposal for an environment to host Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China.


Called Braided Urbanism, the group project was carried out by Renata Paim Tourinho Dantas from Brazil, Anna Papachristoforou from Cyprus, Irene Guerra from Spain and Julia Cano from Colombia.


Here's some more information from the project team:



Tutor: Yusuke Obuchi

Understanding urbanism as the convergence of multiple, interconnected and simultaneous layers of circulation, activities, flows of people and of information, this proposal for a braided form of urbanism embeds the organizational and geometrical logics of lacing in a range of systems in which strands can be organized to obtain varied yet controllable outcomes.


Patterns emerge out of the iteration of simple twisting and knotting procedures, where local changes are able to reconfigure the overall coherence of system, as a way of organizing the city, generating of new circulatory, programmatic and spatial combinations and variations at different scales.


These tools enable the emergence of topological surfaces rich in spatial variation used to manipulate and control the complexity of interrelated systems.


The proposal consists of a continuous urban interior that hosts Shanghai Expo 2010, dissolving the boundaries between oppositional notions of interior/exterior, private/public, and setting the context for future vertical expansion of the site with the distribution of a field of continuously interwoven vertical and horizontal structures with movement circuits.













Posted on Monday December 22nd 2008 at 4:47 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • impressive work

  • ittemondi

    So tired of seeing this…

    A few years ago I would have been very happy to see this kind of thing published. Then, it seemed exciting and full of possibility. Now it gives me a headache.

    When did ‘conceptual’ stop being about ideas and become just an excuse for some feeble re-hash dressed in the de rigueur visual style?

  • Mowgli

    that would never work…

  • bald skull

    this is NOT architecture, maybe design, but mostly just “fun with Rhino”. weeeeeeee!!!

  • TL

    //as a concept, it’s beautiful. It seems they’ve taken the project up to the very point at which they have to now consider practicalities such as context, structure etc.

    In an exercise in concept it’s great, although it’s only showing half the story. My guess is that this would look incredibly different as a finished product//

  • Cool, nice to open the mind… do you slide to the next level? hehe

  • Francisco

    Isn’t there something more actual than the flow excuse? I’m wondering about it. Buildings as pipes (flows conductors) is just too simple. It’s not enough about connecting things, neither to artificially breed the connectors (what DRL calls buildings).

    “The building came out of the flows”. COME ON AA people! Find a different excuse!

  • it takes time to transition a programme with so much history, especially one with such a very specific and robust design sensibility. the DRL was way out ahead in the first decade, however, what happens next will be telling. do they continue exploring digitally derived topological morphs based on iterative elements, or try something else.

    there’s plenty of great minds in that school to be inventive.

    time to wait and see.

  • well, it`s an “Architectural Association” project. what did you expect? something different from all the other things they are producing?

  • mvb

    The concept isn’t new. Big cities are big nets or braids where everything is interconected. The difference between one to another is the shape of the braid and its efficiency. For instance, most american cities have an orthogonal one. I mean that this thesis is only a work of complex shapes to be satisfied with the results, but there isn’t any contribution to solve urban problems in the future.
    Good architecture emerges from big problems not from big solutions. Where are the problems here?

  • rodger

    i love the visionary aspect of this work but seriously, these guys have a better future as decorators than architects…

  • xing

    maybe the essence of this work is about the systematic?

  • DCV

    As an architecture student, when I found out about the DRL became a fan of it. I even wanted to go to London some day and apply for the AA because of this programme, but in the last months everything I see from there is the same. The same shapes, excuses, no fresh points of view. This work is part of it: Repetition

  • jake

    this is so outdated. the drl is repeating itself again and again (while getting worse). it’s modelled, rendered and designed in the same way like tons of drl projects before. and here: visual disaster.. it doesn’t work as architecture (or even as structure or sculpture) at all, so at least they should try to make it look good i think. student’s fault? sure. but i also think the aa need to change their staff or way of teching these guys or do something please. this is getting too ridiculous.

  • mads

    one of the most beautyful urban meshes i have ever seen.
    Difficult to be built??? of course, impossible???

  • nadine

    Amazing work!! visuals are real good! waether is just a concept or will be put forward, its good!

  • n

    It seems like every year, every student from the DRL is asked to make some forms out of rhino and use the most expensive, most structurally demanding solution to tackle an architectural issue. If you try to argue in an academic or intellectural point of view, there’s not much to it either. I hope we don’t train architects only for glossy magazines which only promotes the images of luxurious architecture. This sort of cake decoration work is becoming a kind of trustafarian architecture.

  • I did Landscape Urbanism program at AA in 07|08. I followed DRL a bit. It seems they are preoccupied with learning the tools hence the reason and theoretical underpinning are sometimes a bit vague. It is hard to do it all in a year and a half thought. Nevertheless, there are two general problems I would point out:

    All the projects iterate toward megastructures; the systemic parametric approach to urbanism produces morphed differentiations that have their reason in exploration of the form and not exploration of an urban condition. Deeper formal argument is left unresolved. Although it could be argued that the produced designs are diagrammatic representations of concepts they tend to slip into formal proposition, hence the difference between diagram and final proposition is undefined.

    DRL does explore the form as such, which is commendable (we are architects after all, and space and form should be our primary substance of interest). Although, the exploration of the form became superficial, it is hard to grasp the deeper understandings of ideas that were put forward by people like Eisenmann (unmotivation of architectural sign, interiority of architecture, …) in an MArch crash course.

    DRL is a good beginning to acquaint one self with intricacies of form, but it is just a first step – first of many that should follow; theoretically and practically.

  • Jer

    Of course the forms and description of the original thought process are compelling. However, as with any thesis (or conceptual work out in society) much of the detailed concept development can only be known if one discusses them with the designer or reads the brief. The architect should not need to stand by the work to convince others of its worth. Vagueness is the conceptual purgatory.

  • braidbarf

    Now it takes four students to write a script for how to barf braids all over an urban landscape?

    I am so sick of seeing scripted applications applied as decoration on different scales and then called ‘architecture’. And when critiqued, it is always a ‘conceptual’ project.

    Whatever happened to, you know, like, space, light, context, and materiality. Maybe they could have braided those strands in there as well… it isn’t like they didn’t have the manpower for it.

  • ness

    really cool … but way to complicated

  • Rouan

    As an architectural student in South Africa with a more technical and practical background Im always amazed at what is put forth by some of these formal concepts we see so much of these days. Surely Architecture isnt first and foremost a formal approach? Designing something simply as a formal representation or “solution” is absolutely naive….I feel many of these architectural schools teach students to design wonderful buildings/spaces but seem to lack any practical thought-process that should obviously be one of the very first priorities.

    In the real world these students might come to a rude awakening when realizing theres more to architecture than a couple of radical renderings and that the practical/structural/cost issues play a far larger part in the end than, what might have seemed, like a well thought through concept.

  • step_out_of_a_triangle_and_into_striped_light

    absolutely agree with Rouan. well put

  • Archandy

    I am currently studying advanced architectural design and this trend is annoying me. Whilst I applaud the amazing skills involved, parametric design is so limited. Its not really a style, its not an architectural expression. It says nothing of its site – its simply pretty algorithms worked out by a computer.

  • andy

    I’m going to have to go with braidbarf on this. This is really shallow stuff for a 4 person group thesis.

  • agata

    good computer graphics skills.
    just like never-ready-to-wear fashion..

  • nothingbutcode

    i don’t understand this.

    how is the braided exterior relating to the floor plates? were those just thrown in after the fact? whatever the case, that’s how it appears, which makes their entire concept null; at least to me.

    maybe this concept would be better fit for outer space, where gravity isn’t an issue (eliminating the need for earthly rationality), but here on this planet this makes no sense.

  • Realrich S

    Good design is not always seen in visualization like this.
    I think it is such a repetition from DRL project from previous year and experimentation of scripting technique. I wish I could see more from DRL, not only seeing form like this. :)

  • Tyson

    perhaps the purpose of this program [aadrl] is to explore and study the possibilities inherent in the processes used to discover and produce them…i think the idea is to study a material language in enough depth so as to speed up the academic study to reach the speed of practice…i see a need for that at my firm in nyc, and that is why i hope to study here…if someone becomes skilled enough at a particular systematic logic that they can translate that into a build able practice within the tight time constraints of our current projects then the program is not only successful, but is pushing architecture forward. Anyone who looks at this and thinks ridiculous/impossible to build is unaware of the current status of architecture in the world and what is being done everyday…

  • d a v i d e

    Rhino spoiled the architecture research.
    I use it constantly, but I’m seriously getting tired of all these “concepts” and so called “research” going nowhere.

    I’m afraid the most elegant concrete beams are still the 60yo Pier Luigi Nervi ones.

  • I think it lacks the sense of scale. Interconnected and braided cities? What does this complex design has to do with that? Go see Shanghai for real, or try walking in the streets of Beijing or Bangkok…then you’ll see what braided, interconnected cities mean.

  • BTW, I think the style of this project looks very alike to one of the pic in AA’s DRL website. Is it the same designer or just what the DRL teaches ppl to do?

  • minqi

    we should learn to walk before we run…having said that optimism in research is still a necessity

  • y

    Having lived in Shanghai, I dont see how this can fit into the city without looking out of place. It is like plugging in something from outer space without having seen or walked on earth before.

  • d

    I am finishing up a m arch program right now [not AA], and have been looking a little bit at the DRL and parametrics as a concept. My understanding is that this kind of project is about a research into technique and process. Look at the way a 6 person firm realized the extremely complex Yokohama port terminal project in such a short amount of time using parametrics. I don’t do much in the way of parametrics, but scripting is an extremely powerful tool and it would appear to actually be quite possible to fabricate efficiently from this. In the next few years you will see much more in the way of structural analysis packages integrated directly w formfinding. Take a look at Frei Otto’s formfinding or Gaudi’s catenary engineering techniques, and start to understand the pedigree and rigour of this approach and its respect for tradition. This stuff will be solid gold when it matures past the look ma no hands stage. Its not going away.

  • Gabs

    I agree with d (above), but I’m not sure this is MArch material. I mean, I could learn rhino scripting in any extra-curricular course. The DRL is supposedly a masters degree in architecture and urbanism, and all I see is a year-and-a-half long Rhino workshop. For me it is quite frustrating because the AA really does have a lot more to give.

  • Arturo Revilla

    good one guys.

  • Gee

    the mesh will only looks good for pendant light.not the architecture

  • Victor Valverde

    This proyect remembers me to the final boss of Contra Nintento game, pretty scary.

  • CarrieL

    it’s impressive to comes out with something like this but maybe it’s a bit too much. Confusing and do not have the comfortable feelings. Maybe we should apply this kind of design in another fresher way.sry..

  • lelibel

    esoo juliaa!!!!
    Es impresionante el proyecto, es todo un metodo para proyectar que ojala aca introduzcas un dia y dejo el commnet en espanol para que solo tu lo leas!! siiii!!

    te queremos!!

  • aaron

    Get a grip people, this project is not represented to be a real building project – this is conceptual design. This is a thesis project done at the Design “RESEARCH” Lab where they are focused on exploring very special design techniques.
    In architecture schools in the UK we are taught to design and expand our tools in design. The practicalities of design and construction are focused on in the 2 years experience out we have to do in a real architectural practice. And these are then combined in the final part 3.
    On a 7 year programme of qualifying as an architect these guys here are probably on their 5th year – so give them a freaking break.

    The work looks great. It’s a vital design skill that can well be used to design a practical project in the future after some further experience in the industry.

  • Steven

    I think the purpose of a parametric approach is mis-understood by many of those who have commented.

    Yes the practicality of some of these ‘scripted’ designs are considered limited at the moment, and structurally beyond the capabilites of majority of commonly used materials in the industry today, and as a result many of these designs would not work now or never be realised.

    The logic behind work like this is to question our approaches to architecture and design and push our boundaries in regards to material, space, form.etc, to make progress.

    Parametric design is in no way limted, and is not a style! Its a tool in development that compliments Designers knowledge and experience and enables them to further understand both simple and complex problems, and gain invaluable and accurate feedback from the designs themselves in the process.

    It allows time to be utlilised efficiently, when it comes to itterative designs (options), and a greater amount of focus is placed achieving the ‘best’ design solution in a shorter time.

  • chinar

    i think architecture student should think more as an architect and less as an form maker or artist ………….seriously ……..

  • alize

    YEAH!! I think this concept will be come to reality. Don't you think so?
    Just like what people used to think and give comments (active and positive) to Zaha Hadid designs and works. This conceptual design will be one of the beautiful projects in the future, i think. ^^.