Contextualization Matters: Beyond Abstract, Normative and Universal Approaches




context, contextualization, Living Labs, cultural, political and economic factors


The negative ecological, health and social impacts of intensive agricultural production and deforestation, coupled with rapid urban and suburban development motivated some architects, land-use planners, landscape and urban designers last century to consider how the morphology and size of human settlements impact on natural and human ecosystems at local, regional and global levels. Some initiatives 50 years ago, including the seminal contributions of Constantinos A. Doxiadis, John Habraken, Victor Papanek (among others), preceded current concerns about complex people-society-environment-biosphere interrelations in a rapidly urbanizing world. Notably, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda recognize these dilemmas, but these initiatives have not borne anticipated outcomes since 2015. This article explains that the proposed responses to these societal challenges by these international initiatives have devalued fundamental elements of ekistics that combined and synthesized five forces - economic, social, political, technical and cultural factors in a holistic and systemic model. In addition, abstract, dogmatic, normative, and universal approaches commonly used in architecture and urban planning during the last century have remained dominant. The author requests a fundamental rethinking of key drivers of rapid urbanization that need to be understood and corrected according to the diversity and plurality of contextual conditions in which human settlements are constructed. These can be identified and accommodated in Living Labs which are creative real-world settings that explicitly reconnect knowledge and praxis about human habitats, thus overcoming the current deficit in implementing the SDGs, and in particular SDG 11.   

Author Biography

Roderick Lawrence, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Roderick Lawrence graduated from the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the University of Adelaide (Australia) with First Class Honours. He has a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge (England) and a Doctorate of Science from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale, Lausanne, (Switzerland). In 1999 he was nominated Professor in the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences at the University of Geneva. He was promoted to Honorary Professor in October 2015. He was Honorary Adjunct Professor at the University of Adelaide (2017-2020), and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI) at the National University of Malaysia (UKM) from 2011 to 2019. He was Visiting Professor at the Institute for Global Health at the United Nations University (UNU-IIGH) from 2014 to 2016. He was founding Director of the Certificate for Advanced Studies in Sustainable Development at the University of Geneva from 2003 until 2016, and Director of the Global Environmental Policy Program (GEPP) from 2010 until 2016 He was a Member of Scientific Advisory Board of Network for Inter- and Trans- disciplinary research, Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, Bern (2009-2020).



2023-12-31 — Updated on 2024-01-02

How to Cite

Lawrence, R. (2024). Contextualization Matters: Beyond Abstract, Normative and Universal Approaches. Ekistics and The New Habitat, 84(1), 3–10.