How do we access urban or territorial identity?

Updated: Aug 15

#semiotics, #signification, #architecture, #urbanism


The territory is composed by a multitude of meanings organized in a multilayer, where we find a visible layer, which corresponds to the apparent forms of the territory – squares, streets, neighbourhoods, gardens, mountains; and a multitude of invisible layers that correspond to urban routes, public manifestations, territory morphologies, among many other activities that make visible the social, cultural, symbolic and physical forces.


In a previous reflection, I identified as territorial forms, sociocultural forms and symbolic forms what I now call “multitude of meanings”,


From a morphogenesis perspective, this multi-level of meanings that unfolds topologically is not conceived or planned by anyone, but by a collective memory that crosses generations.


Let's look at three "layers" of this "thousand-foils" that we consider structuring the territory and urbanity:


1. Symbolic Forms are considered the deepest “layer”, an invisible layer, they are our collective identity, concretely made explicit in monuments to which we associate symbolic values.


This is the case of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris, or São Jorge Castle, in Lisbon, both symbolic places because of religious activities, in the case of the cathedral, or political activities, in the case of the Castle. These activities were associated with these places for many centuries, or in the case of these two examples, for 10s of centuries.


2. Sociocultural Forms are considered the intermediate “layer”, which are also invisible. These are collective activities that are reflected in squares or large urban axes to which we associate sociocultural values.


We can refer to Avenida dos Campos Elísios, in Paris, and Avenida da Liberdade, in Lisbon as examples of sociocultural forms as both avenues reconnect symbolic places. They are associated with commercial activities for more than a century.


3. Territorial Forms are considered the “layer” of visible expression, in this case, of the city. The visible level of space allows us to access other dimensions as subjacent or latent dynamics in the urban space.


These multiple layers give us access to the identity and deep dynamics of the territory and its urbanity.


When we are tourists, we visit places that are intensely symbolic, or to which we connect values of historical, social, cultural or simply architectural interest. For example.

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