ETH Zurich – Institute for Urban Design
HIL H44.1 – Stefano-Franscini-Platz 5 – 8093 Zurich




In his The History of the City, Leonardo Benevolo defines the transition from village to city as being the moment when people begin to practice certain professions—in other words, when complex networks begin to form. Now, thousands of years later, we can define the concept of urbanity as the moment when new or unexpected networks develop out of a combination of existing ones. Former industrial, harbor, or train station areas are typical sites for the formation of new networks.


A conversion site is a site in the city where the economic and social processes of change throughout the last decade become visibly apparent. These witnesses of the past often become the source of new developments. They possess a distinctiveness and stability due to their history, identity, and context, and at the same time are open to programmatic and semantic modifications. They can thus be described as dynamic-stable structure. This interaction makes sites such as these so interesting and valuable, and not only financially but socially as well: they become projection surfaces and realms of possibility.


The term loft represents these adaptable, flexible, and powerful architectural spaces and can be thus conveyed to the urban design context. Therefore, the loft concept goes far beyond its functional meaning and is meant to provoke and encourage reflection.


The research project collects and examines redeveloped or temporary-use conversion properties around the world and assesses their loft qualities. Moreover, we will consider social and economic values involved in conversions and what they contribute to urban development. The knowledge and planning information gained for the design and the development of such projects complete the study.



researcher: Dr. Martina Baum