What is an 'archipelago city,' the model of 'cities in a city'?

·2-min read
The "archipelago city" model creates cities within the city.

One of the preferred urban models of European capitals is referred to as the "archipelago city." Neighborhoods that are independent of one another, surrounded by greenery, allow for the creation of a "singular territory where the city/countryside distinction is no longer relevant." Berlin, Vienna and Athens are built on this model, while Rennes is France's prime example.

Tirana is in the process of transforming its urban landscape in accordance with a "vision of an archipelago city," in the words of Stefano Boeri, an Italian architect renowned for his Bosco Verticale in Milan, who is in charge of the major project designed to revitalize the Albanian capital. So what does this city model -- which many other international capitals are pursuing -- consist in?

The archipelago city is the fact of considering the city's districts as centers in their own right, self-sufficient islands separated by "natural," green spaces. This urban vision proposes "new centralities to meet the needs of the inhabitants ... Proximity between city and countryside is an asset for this form of urbanization, while the question of travel to the city center is a major issue," says Rennes, France-based urban planning agency Audiar in a report.

The covid-19 pandemic has created an urgent need to rethink and transform our cities so that they become as "livable" as possible. And the archipelago city model is highly attractive for its characteristics of local urban management, alongside green spaces.

Rennes, a flagship example in France

The capital of France's Brittany region encapsulates the country's flagship example of the archipelago city; indeed the metropolis of Rennes was a pioneer in developing these principles. Urban planner and sociologist Jean-Yves Chapuis, deputy urban planner of the city since 1983, contributed to the elaboration of this concept, although the historical origins of the term remain unclear.

That year, the city was divided into 12 districts in order to facilitate localized management of the municipality. Recreational activities, cultural and educational facilities, infrastructure for meeting basic needs... each district has everything it needs.

"This new landscape creates a singular territory where the city/countryside distinction no longer has a place and offers a calm, gentle vision of the city, which has become a metropolis," writes Jean-Yves Chapuis in his book "Rennes, la ville archipel" published by Editions de l'Aube in 2013.

Vienna, Athens, Berlin... many European capitals have been built and organized on this island model. In the German capital, considered a "green archipelago" by urban planner Oswald Mathias Ungers, the city center is surrounded by densely populated residential areas. In these areas, services are structured to exist independently of the city center, creating "cities within the city."

Louis Bolla

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