Reading lost

to Roger Tranick theories


Esraa El-Marakby

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TA at faculty of
engineering, Ain Shams university, Cairo, Egypt.

[email protected]


Urban design without a strategic thinking and clearly
identified approach, of course will leads to serious consequences. These
consequences can be translated in large wasted areas within the urban
context without         a defined function, which is costly especially
in high land value areas. These wasted areas are defined as lost spaces
according to Roger Trancik in his book ‘Finding Lost Space – Theories of Urban Design’, he put also
three theories of reading lost spaces by the implementation of them together on
a specific area, you can easily read lost spaces within the context. Once you
read lost spaces in your design you can redesign them to achieve the efficient
design of the space. In this article we are going to make a practical analysis on
the facility of engineering, Ain shams university in Cairo as an example to
explore lost spaces in this campus by applying Roger Trancik theories.

From the book ‘Finding Lost
Spaces’-theories of Urban Design’, Trancik defined lost spaces as an unshaped
anti-spaces that existed at the leftover unstructured landscape, unused sunken
plaza, parking lots, and abandoned waterfronts, train yards, vacated military
site and industrial complexes which results from treating the building as an
isolated object sited from the surrounding landscape and the context not as a
part of the larger fabric of streets, squares and viable open spaces. Trancik
listed some of lost spaces causes like the broad depend on the automobile,
Modernism movements, Zoning and land-use policies in the design process and the
existing of critical land uses (military, industrial…. etc.) in the inner core
of the city (Trancik, 1986,
p. 4). In a similar way, Matthew Carmona confirmed Trancik definition of lost
spaces and he added that lost spaces result from the new trend of building high
rise towers away from the flow of the pedestrian activity in the city (Matthew Carmona, Steve Tisdell, 2007).the undefined and
inappropriately scaled space between building and surrounding structures which
are left over from the act of the design create also lost spaces (C.A. Brebbia??R. Pulselli, 2014).

Trancik clarify three theories of
urban design which are
figure-ground theory, linkage theory, and place theory. Each of these theories
are significantly different from the other, “but taken together can
provide us with potential strategies for integrated urban design” (Trancik,
1986, p. 97) and can help effectively in reading lost spaces.

“The figure-ground theory is founded on the study of the
relative land coverage of buildings as solid mass (figure) to open voids
(ground).” (Trancik, 1986, p. 97). According to Trancik, this theory is
powerful for exploring the pattern of the urban fabric and therefore we can
find its design problem. By applying the theory, we can read the solid pattern
related to the space pattern to distinguish the hierarchy and scales of urban
spaces. Figure and ground analysis of facility of engineering, Ain Shams university
in Cairo, Egypt shown in figure (1) presented the solid pattern of buildings
related to the void.



























Figure 1.figure
and ground analysis of faculty of engineering, Ain shams University, Cairo,


























Linkage theory includes the organization of lines that unite
all forms of layers and types of activity within the context of the city and
the determination of the “flow of movement, and organizational axis, or a
building edge.” (Trancik, 1986, p. 106). According to Trancik, he explains that
this theory ‘stresses’ “utopian ideas for community regeneration but does not
address the need for traditional urban spaces formed by solids and
voids.” (Trancik, 1986, p. 110). we can read the linkage theory obviously
from figure (2) and notse the broad movement patterns due to the dependence of
auto motion and the organizational axis of buildings and pedestrian movement.
The movement pattern translated in roads, Cal-de-sac and parking lots despite
the pedestrian movement pattern translated in paths connecting between
buildings and interactive zones.





































Figure 2.
linkage analysis of faculty of engineering, Ain shams University, Cairo,

Place theory is “understanding the cultural and human
characteristics of physical space.” (Trancik, 1986, p. 112). the place is not a
void area surrounded by building masses, it only becomes
a place “when it is given a contextual meaning derived from the
cultural or regional content.” (Trancik, 1986, p. 112). Tranick sees that
people need a”relatively stable system of places to develop themselves,
their social lives, and their culture. These needs give manmade space an
emotional content – a presence that is more than physical.” (Trancik,
1986, p. 113). you need to “discover the best fit between the physical, and
cultural context and the needs and aspirations of contemporary
users.”  (Trancik, 1986, p. 114). 















Figure 4.
reading the lost space in faculty of engineering, Ain shams University,
Cairo, Egypt. after applying the three theories (figure and

Figure 3. place
theory applying on faculty of engineering, Ain shams University, Cairo,



















































By overlapping the three layers of figure and ground, linkage
and place theory, we can read the lost spaces within the context. Figure (4)
shows lost spaces created in the design and the result is places with no
identified usage like unused green places, backyard of the buildings,
unstructured places…. etc.

In fact, the good urban design for any context should take care
of the present of lost spaces because these lost or anti-spaces provide “no
positive contribution to the surroundings or users” (Trancik, 1986, p. 4) and
the main problem of lost space within an urban core is that it “disrupts the
overall continuity of the city form.” (Trancik, 1986, p. 2). This problem has
become more complex and lead to a loss of identity of places.

Trancik said “design is nothing more than finding out what the
person and object want to be”. There is really no need for invention,” being a
key research component in how we might approach our designs (Trancik, 1986, p.





























C.A. Brebbia??R. Pulselli. (2014). Eco-Architecture
V: “Harmonisation between Architecture and Nature.
Matthew Carmona, Steve Tisdell. (2007). Urban
Design Reader.
Trancik, R. (1986). Finding Lost Spaces.



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