The intermediate size refers to an aspect of premodern building and plot typologies that is able to mediate between the scale of a house and its direct urban context. This intermediate size has a number of typological characteristics, such as the interweaving of the units of the multi-family dwelling, as well as interweaving these units with the scale of the city.
This concept was first published in 2006 in ‘The Intermediate Size: A handbook for collective dwellings’. In the book the attention is geared towards the collective plot and multi-family housing rather than the individual plot and the individual dwelling. The relationship between the multi-family dwelling (or an ensemble of houses) and its spatial context has been studied, mainly from a typological perspective, by looking at, for instance, the concatenation of spaces and the spatial sequencing.
The book heralded the start of a method of researching the city by means of finding and understanding intermediaries or gray spaces in the city that lie outside the scope of the conventional urban research practice, and re-substantiating these intermediaries as independent entities in their own merit. The method is firmly rooted in the spatial aspect, and relies heavily on observation at eye-height and the use of mixed media such as photography, video and hand-drawing.
At the TU/e chair of Urbanism and Urban Architecture the methodology has materialized in The Intermediate Size, a research and design studio that takes the city of Rotterdam as continual case study, and in which concepts of intermediate scale / space have been central. The content of the published book was an important basic source and formed the starting point for new explorations.
However, from the outset, the studio was intended to critically re-read the concept of the intermediate – as discussed in the book – and to broadly explore other meanings of the term. The trajectory that subsequently emerged – and in which we still find ourselves – can be seen as an experimental and mainly evolutionary, multiannual exploration without pre-defined objectives and hypotheses and the associated classification systems and methodological frameworks.
For this we have changed some substantive parameters that were central in the original book. In the new explorations, we have shifted attention from the small scale to the large scale; from the scale of architecture to the scale of the city. Hence, we have started to look for characteristics of intermediate size(s) at large and no longer specifically on the scale of the collective house and its immediate urban context, but rather on the scale of the neighborhood, the borough and even the city as a whole.
One of the research tracks focused on the influence of large-scale modern infrastructure networks on urban morphology. Modern mass transport systems are built at specially designed locations, but due to their enormous scale also produce specific spaces along their trajectories that often differ in form and program from the neighboring residential areas. These individual spaces can be defined – depending on their specific spatial characteristics – as mediating, separating or even autonomous intermediate spaces.
Nevertheless, due to their different sizes, shapes and programs, it is difficult to clearly define and classify these types of spaces. This makes systematic exploration based on unambiguous indicators, as maintained in the original book – The Intermediate Size: A handbook for collective dwellings – virtually impossible. In short, the studio arrived to the conclusion that on the level of the city, the “size” of the “intermediate” is always hybrid and therefore less suitable for consistent categorization.
The focus of this research track was on the exploration of spaces between the port of Rotterdam and adjacent neighborhoods. Historical research has shown that the morphological cohesion between the port and the neighboring residential areas has decreased. As a result of the ever-growing scale of modern port areas, the spatial relationship between the city and the Meuse river has decreased incrementally and has increasingly been determined by diffuse intermediate spaces with varying functional characteristics; industrial, recreational, indefinite, etc.
The research resulted in attempts to reprogram (former) port areas in close proximity to the urban center. Another approach pertained to the breaking open of mono-functional port areas by way of implementing contrasting program.
Examples of this are 1) the addition of cultural facilities in areas dominated by industrial production; 2) strengthening recreational landscapes through new spatial connections, or 3) by the addition of “foreign” program such as a datacenter. Functions that are usually situated at anonymous locations outside the scope of the city, but could also function as iconic objects co-determining the identity of the city.
In the other perspectives described, the focus of the research was primarily on the spatial (form and appearance), programmatic (use and identity) and scenic (recreation and entertainment) dimensions of intermediate spaces. In the most recent graduation studio, the term “intermediate” is linked to the dimension of time.
The starting point was formed by Georg Simmel’s hypothesis of the growing speed of urban experiences and impressions to which the individual is increasingly subjected. The central question of the studio is therefore whether it would be possible to come up with “slow” intermediary spaces that, due to their specific characteristics, create space for the individual to escape the ever-increasing turnover rate of external stimuli, albeit only temporarily.
A second approach is based on the hypothesis that with an ever-increasing speed of (technical, cultural, economic, ideological) stimuli, the individual (but also society) tends to repress (by forgetting). The individual does this biographically (not to derail mentally / Simmel’s concept of blasé); society does this historically to sort the increasing stimuli (from both past and present) and especially to accept (and reproduce) those stimuli that are expected to have a positive effect (social cohesion based on a shared identity, solidarity and connectedness).
If we look back at how we have dealt with the term “intermediate”, a pattern is noticeable. We have continuously expanded the concept and looked for new / different intrinsic meanings of it. This approach has certainly provided new perspectives on its diverse scope; spatial, programmatic, biographical and historical. However, this openness could only be achieved by limiting (and even eliminating) strict and classifying parameters. Viewed in this way, each project constitutes a specific translation of an intermediary phenomenon without the (impossible) ambition of creating a coherently ordered ‘reference work’, as was the case for the first book that could be considered Intermediate Size 1.0.
However, the more we deal with the various meanings of the “intermediate”, the more it could be argued that the contemporary production of space and its associated meanings (historical, economic, cultural, etc.) are increasingly determined by interweaving. This results in intermediate spaces that cannot be approached solely on the basis of one exploratory (typological) set of instruments and as such requires a reevaluation of the intermediate size, which could potentially lead to a second book: Intermediate Size 2.0.
Groene Loper 6, Vertigo 7.19
Den Dolech 2
5612 AZ Eindhoven
The graduation studio Intermediate Size is organized by Critical Intermediate Affairs.
Unit Architectural Urban Design & Engineering
Department of the Built Environment at the Eindhoven University of Technology.