Integral Urbanism 2017-12-17T13:09:04+00:00

Integral Urbanism is an ambitious and forward-looking theory of urbanism that offers a new model of urban life. Nan Ellin’s model stands as an antidote to the pervasive problems engendered by modern and postmodern urban planning and architecture: sprawl, anomie, a pervasive culture and architecture, fear in cities, and a disregard for environmental issues. Instead of the reactive and escapist tendencies characterizing so much contemporary urban development, Ellin champions an ‘integral’ approach that reverses the fragmentation of our landscapes and lives through proactive design solutions.

In contrast to the modernist attempt to remove spatial boundaries or postmodernist fortification, integral urbanism generates permeable membranes and emphasizes movement through space as well as time via circulation systems and built-in flexibility. The resulting urban design pays attention to borders, edges, and networks. It values system diversity and is dynamic and self-adjusting through feedback mechanisms. Integral urbanism infuses the inherent wisdom of nature with contemporary sensibilities arising primarily from new technologies. This quiet revolution in the field of urban design figures within a larger reorientation in Western society that might be characterized as a shift from acceleration, accumulation, irony, and escapism towards slowness, simplicity, sincerity, and sustainability.

Nan Ellin says that “Urban design success should be measured by its capacity to support humanity”, and ” an Integral Urbanism offers guideposts along that path toward a more sustainable human habitat.” To accomplish this, Integral Urbanism must embody five qualities: Hybridity, Connectivity, Porosity, Authenticity, andVulnerability. The author briefly summarizes the definition of these terms (condensed by this reviewer) as follows: Hybridity and Connectivity bring activities and people together, rather than isolate objects and separate functions. Porosity preserves the integrity of that which is brought together while allowing mutual access through permeable membranes. Authenticity involves actively engaging and drawing inspiration from actual social and physical conditions with an ethic of care, respect, and honesty. And Vulnerability means to relinquish control, listen deeply, value process as well as product, and re-integrate space with time. This is what the essence of the book is about. The brief chapter following the Introduction for the book is titled: What is Integral Urbanism? Followed by a chapter on the five qualities of an Integral Urbanism, then the bulk of the book is devoted to detailed chapters on the five qualities of Integral Urbanism that the author has devised to achieve her goals. In the Conclusion Ellin discusses her findings and summarizes her arguments under the umbrella of the following terms: Convergence, Clearing Blockages, Alignment, and Across the Fissures.


The book is embedded in the architectural/urban design disciplines and thus should be most welcome by practitioners and academics in those fields. Although the concepts are universal and are relevant across disciplinary boundaries, it remains to be seen if outsiders in other fields can take the author’s argument and integrate it within the ideological/technical milieu of their disciplines and professions. If that occurs then Ellin’s contribution would truly be significant to society and its built environment. The author clearly recognizes this when she says (p. 142): “Although Integral Urbanism pertains specifically to urban design, its five qualities might effectively apply to governance, homeland security, management, business, education, mediation, technology, the healing arts and sciences, and the other expressive forms of culture.” Let us hope these qualities will spread via Ellin’s book.