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Architectural Democracy


Research on "Architectural Democracy" comprises a Doctoral Study at Aalto University, Finland, by Pedro Aibéo, funded by the Kone Foundation.

Expected defense in 2023


Architectural Democracy is an ongoing doctoral research at Aalto University proposing a conceptual framework for a structured exploration of the relationship between Architecture (exemplified as the life cycle of a building) and Democracy (defined here as the assurance of all person’s rights and freedoms, that every person can access information and is able to use one’s voice in the process of decision making). It aims to create a common ground for diverse stakeholders to better understand the complexity of cities and to participate more actively in the urban planning processes. For concept development and testing the usefulness of the proposed framework, three characteristics for both Architecture and Democracy are crisscrossed as being the minimal possible ones to characterize both, to reduce the complexity of the matrix and thus guarantee the readability for the user. For architecture, these characteristics are its birth (acquisition, design, and construction), life (operations) and death (recycling or renovation). For democracy, the main characteristics are the civil rights and liberties, informed citizens, and participation. By criss crossing these, a 3 by 3 matrix arises, in which bilateral questions are asked. These questions are answered by the stakeholders affected. It is argued that this framework evaluates the quality of both architecture and democracy as it provides a reference on how to measure a standard, not by its similarities but by contextualizing its societal outreach.


architecture, democracy, digitization, open systems, smart city, right to the city


Cities are designed by architects constrained by the rules set by physics and politics (most notably democracy), which by definition are the matters of the city (polis) [1] . The city is our best attempt to make the world how we wish it to be [2] , in changing the environment for our comfort. But are we aware of this worldwide urbanization task and where is it leading us into? [3] The kind of city we live in is related to the kind of people we are creating [4]. So if citizens are unaware of the process, in not understanding for example how things are done, why, for whom, and to which cost, ‘sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces’ [5]. The designers (Architects) and regulators (Politicians) communicate between a complex array of markets and personal interests, for most of the times away from public scrutiny and environmental accountability. 
Architecture and Democracy make out today’s age of Anthropocene but remain subjective terms, prone to misuse, and of difficult understanding of lay people [6]. The author claims that it is not possible to participate in politics [7] and make thus collective responsible choices for us and future generations, without the understanding by all citizens, on how cities work at a deep level: who owns it, what goals, what memories, how open and adaptable it is, etc., all this through time (future and past generations) and in different scales.
We can remain passive and let the automated smart city continue the control of us lemmings, marching steadily off the cliff, or we can try to deal with the complexity of cities and break it down to make way for smarter humans by using the best of our cognitive abilities. 
Architectural Democracy is thus an attempt to create a common ground of the understanding of both Architecture and Democracy, and the interaction between these in the society. It proposes quantifiable metrics on the relationship of both Architecture and Democracy, in order to make cities, with all its processes, more understandable for all citizens, as being a fundamental feature to take practical part of the everyday political and design processes of our environment (built and/or natural).


[1] The design of cities are conditioned by the very cities themselves, a ‘social antagonism’ notably described by Adorno on functionalism (Adorno, 1967)

[2] See Park, 1967

[3] For example, “what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of daily life we desire, what kinds of technologies we deem appropriate, what aesthetic values we hold.” (Harvey, 2008, p. 4)

[4] Confront Harvey, 2008

[5] Reference from Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, from  1997, page 26 (Sagan, 1997)

[6] For Democracy there is no adequate definition of the concept, it is overlapping with other concepts and it is being treated “as a binary rather than a continuous concept” (Bollen, 1980, p. 1).

[7] Democracy depends on well informed citizens; if we do not find ways to make cities understandable to humans then it may be leading into an automated democracy, where decisions are automatically done by algorithms and AI.

Research Title: Architectural Democracy

Name: Pedro Aibéo

Target degree: Doctor of Science (Technology) 

Aalto Doctoral Programme in Engineering

Research field ENG-025Z

Major: Building Technology

Supervisors: Prof. Günther Filz

Advisors: Ass. Prof. Vishal Singh

Funder: Kone Foundation

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