Big Cities - 'Quiet' Places: A quantitative and qualitative case study investigating relations between material and immaterial qualities of urban space in Amsterdam and Copenhagen

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

This PhD thesis aims at examining relations between material and immaterial qualities of urban space. By investigating ‘quiet’ places’ in the context of big cities, it highlights the importance of the urban environment for stimulating resonance, attunement and flow, thereby addressing the urban health agenda and the compact city as a sustainable city model.
In European countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, the compact city is seen as a sustainable city model. Because of its density and intensity, liveability is seen as a precondition for its success, and a generally agreed conclusion about living in high density urban environments is that it needs to be supported by a provision of high quality public open space. The city model however, is under pressure due to changing premises, including emergent discourses questioning dichotomies such as nature-culture as a premise for sustainable urban development. Primarily associated with environmental, recreational and health considerations, notions of quiet have attracted attention, and while relationships between green spaces and restorative qualities for humans have long been acknowledged, this thesis investigates other types and aspects of urban spaces, not focusing on green or dB ratio as such, but on relations between material and immaterial qualities of urban space. It draws on peoples’ everyday life experiences, and while agreeing that empirical research is of utmost importance, I suggest that exploring underlying theoretical paradigms and taken-for-granted perceptions is equally important.
This phenomenon is an under-researched field, also in methodological terms. To study this, I conducted a case study of four spatially distinct and comparable case study areas in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I titled these The Hub, The Street, The Neighbourhood and The Waterfront in reflection of their functional and contextual relation within the city. I designed a theoretical framework based in Western theory and Eastern philosophy, and outlined five thematic lenses, Nature, Spatial Layout, Flow, Place Attachment, Time-Space Pattern. The thematic lenses formed an intertwined theme, by which a broader perception of nature pointed to a more nuanced understanding of what a place is or could be. They served as a backdrop for designing research- and investigation tools, and informed a quantitative and qualitative questionnaire survey, asking respondents on-site about their appreciations of various material and immaterial qualities of the place. Moreover, the five lenses inspired rethinking of the terminology, by which quiet applies to urban planning and design.
Results show noticeable differences between the four typologies, of which the Hub received the lowest score
and the Waterfront the highest, including differences between similar types in the two cities. Respondents’ statements informed the understanding of relations and interplays between material and immaterial qualities of urban space, and revealed a variety of expressions, deepening the understanding and opening up for a new vocabulary based in the theoretical and empirical findings. Results point to profound relations between human beings and nature; relations that are often considered with respect to green spaces, but may also be found as abstractions of nature in terms of the built environment, architecture and everyday life routines.
The PhD thesis offers a comprehensive investigation of relations between material and immaterial qualities of urban space and their potential for stimulating resonance, attunement and flow. It illustrates spatial conditions that bring these about and offers first recommendations for ’quiet’ places’. Ultimately, the thesis introduces the contours of a new typology thinking, by which relations between material and immaterial qualities of space are taken into account and touches on the potential for informing spatial parameters and scale. Not just on the level of urban space, but on the level of urban form and structure.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDepartment of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
Number of pages184
Publication statusPublished - 2021

ID: 273016960