Biourban Acupuncture

by Marco Casagrande

Urban acupuncture is an urban environmentalism theory which combines urban design with traditional Chinese medical theory of acupuncture.[1] This process uses small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context. Sites are selected through an aggregate analysis of social, economic, and ecological factors, and developed through a dialogue between designers and the community. Acupuncture relieves stress in the body, urban acupuncture relieves stress in the environment.[2] Urban acupuncture produces small-scale but socially catalytic interventions into the urban fabric.[3]

This strategy views cities as living, breathing organisms and pinpoints areas in need of repair. Sustainable projects, then, serve as needles that revitalize the whole by healing the parts.[4] By perceiving the city as a living creature, thoroughly intertwined, “urban acupuncture” promotes communitarian machinery and sets localized nucleus ―similar to the human body’s meridians. Satellite technology, networks and collective intelligence theories, all used to surgically and selectively intervene on the nodes that have the biggest potential to regenerate.[5]

Originally coined by Barcelonan architect and urbanist, Manuel de Sola Morales,[6][7][8] the term has been recently championed and developed further by Finnish architect and social theorist Marco Casagrande, this school of thought eschews massive urban renewal projects in favour a of more localised and community approach that, in an era of constrained budgets and limited resources, could democratically and cheaply offer a respite to urban dwellers.[9] Casagrande views cities as complex energy organisms in which different overlapping layers of energy flows are determining the actions of the citizens as well as the development of the city. By mixing environmentalism and urban design Casagrande is developing methods of punctual manipulation of the urban energy flows in order to create an ecologically sustainable urban development towards the so-called 3rd Generation City (postindustrial city). The theory is developed in the Tamkang University of Taiwan[10] and at independent multidisciplinary research center Ruin Academy.[11] With focus on environmentalism and urban design, Casagrande defines urban acupuncture as a design tool where punctual manipulations contribute to creating sustainable urban development, such as the community gardens and urban farms in Taipei.[12]

Casagrande describes urban acupuncture as:

[a] cross-over architectural manipulation of the collective sensuous intellect of a city. City is viewed as multi-dimensional sensitive energy-organism, a living environment. Urban acupuncture aims into a touch with this nature.[13] and Sensitivity to understand the energy flows of the collective chi beneath the visual city and reacting on the hot-spots of this chi. Architecture is in the position to produce the acupuncture needles for the urban chi.[14] and A weed will root into the smallest crack in the asphalt and eventually break the city. Urban acupuncture is the weed and the acupuncture point is the crack. The possibility of the impact is total, connecting human nature as part of nature.

Casagrande utilized the tenets of acupuncture: treat the points of blockage and let relief ripple throughout the body. More immediate and sensitive to community needs than traditional institutional forms of large scale urban renewal interventions would not only respond to localized needs, but do so with a knowledge of how city-wide systems operated and converged at that single node. Release pressure at strategic points, release pressure for the whole city.[15]

The theory of urban acupuncture opens the door for uncontrolled creativity and freedom. Each citizen is enabled to join the creative participatory planning process, feel free to use city space for any purpose and develop his environment according to his will.[16] This “new” post-industrialized city Casagrande dubs the 3rd Generation City, characterized by its sensitive citizens who feel the calling of a sustainable co-operation with the rest of the nature, sensitive citizen who are aware of the destruction that the insensitive modem machine is causing to nature including human nature.[17] In a larger context a site of urban acupuncture can be viewed as communicating to the city outside like a natural sign of life in a city programmed to subsume it.[18]

Urban acupuncture focuses on local resources rather than capital-intensive municipal programs and promotes the idea of citizens installing and caring for interventions. These small changes, proponents claim, will boost community morale and catalyze revitalization.[19] Boiled down to a simple statement, “urban acupuncture” means focusing on small, subtle, bottom-up interventions that harness and direct community energy in positive ways to heal urban blight and improve the cityscape. It is meant as an alternative to large, top-down, mega-interventions that typically require heavy investments of municipal funds (which many cities at the moment simply don’t have) and the navigation of yards of bureaucratic red tape.[20] The micro-scale interventions targeted by “urban acupuncture” appeal to both citizen-activists and cash-strapped communities.[21]

Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, suggests urban acupuncture as the future solution for contemporary urban issues; by focusing on very narrow pressure points in cities, we[who?] can initiate positive ripple effects for the greater society. Urban acupuncture reclaims the ownership of land to the public and emphasizes the importance of community development through small interventions in design of cities.[22] It involves pinpointed interventions that can be accomplished quickly to release energy and create a positive ripple effect.[23]

He described in 2007: “I believe that some medicinal “magic” can and should be applied to cities, as many are sick and some nearly terminal. As with the medicine needed in the interaction between doctor and patient, in urban planning it is also necessary to make the city react; to poke an area in such a way that it is able to help heal, improve, and create positive chain reactions. It is indispensable in revitalizing interventions to make the organism work in a different way.”[24]

Taiwanese architect and academic Ti-Nan Chi is looking with micro urbanism at the vulnerable and insignificant side of contemporary cities around the world identified as micro-zones, points for recovery in which micro-projects have been carefully proposed to involve the public on different levels, aiming to resolve conflicts among property owners, villagers, and the general public.[25]

A loosely affiliated team of architects Wang Shu, Marco Casagrande, Hsieh Ying-chun and Roan Ching-yueh (sometimes called WEAK! Architecture) are describing the unofficial Instant City, or Instant Taipei, as architecture that uses the Official City as a growing platform and energy source, where to attach itself like a parasite and from where to leach the electricity and water… [The Instant City’s] illegal urban farms or night markets is so widespread and deep rooted in the Taiwanese culture and cityscape that we could almost speak of another city on top of the “official” Taipei, a parallel city – or a para-city. WEAK! is calling urban acupuncture depending on the context as Illegal Architecture, Orchid Architecture, the People’s Architecture, or Weak Architecture.[26] The theory of urban acupuncture suggests that scores of small-scale, less costly and localized projects is what cities need in order to recover and renew themselves.[27]


  1. Urban Acupuncture: Marco Casagrande – Adam Parsons, University of Portsmouth 12/2010
  2. Urban Acupuncture – Urban Applications 2013
  3. Ruin Academy – Casagrande Lab – Ariane Lourie Harrison, Architectural Theories of the Environment: Posthuman Territory Routledge, 2013
  4. Better Blocks: One of Many Urban Acupuncture Needles – Kelly McCartney, Shareable: Cities 8/2011
  5. Acupuntura urbana para sanar una ciudad – Martha Salotti, Sphere 2012
  6. Frampton, Kenneth. Megaform as urban landscape. University of Michigan, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture+ Urban Planning, 1999.
  7.  i Rubió, Manuel de Solà-Morales. Progettare città. Vol. 23. Electa, 1999.
  8. De Solà-Morales, Manuel. “The strategy of urban acupuncture.” Structure Fabric and Topography Conference, Nanjing University. 2004.
  9. Could cities’ problems be solved by urban acupuncture? – Leon Kaye, The Guardian 21.7.2010
  10. Interview with Marco Casagrande on Urban Acopuncture, by Laurits Elkjær, Bergen School of Architecture 4/2010
  11. Anarchist Gardener Issue Two HK special 安那其建築園丁港深建築雙城雙年展特別版 – Nikita Wu, Ruin Academy 2/2012
  12. Partecipative design & Planning in contemporary urban projects – Christina Rasmussen, Urban Planning & Management, Aalborg University 6/2012
  13. “Urban Acupuncture: Revivifying Our Cities Through Targeted Renewal,” – Kyle Miller, MSIS 9/2011
  14. “Ruin Academy,” – Marco Casagrande, Epifanio 14, 2011
  15. Urban Acupuncture – Urban Applications 2013
  16. Compost City – Guoda Bardauskaite p. 30-31, Sustainable Urban Design Journal 1 2011
  17. Urban Acupuncture – Raune Frankjær, Rethink: Urban Interaction 10/2012
  18. Urban Acupuncture – Kelly Chan, Architizer 1/2012
  19. ‘Urban acupuncture’ touted for cash-strapped cities – David West, New Urban Network 7/2011
  20. London’s Urban Acupuncture: The Urban Physic Garden – This Old Street 8/2011
  21. ‘Urban acupuncture’ touted for cash-strapped cities – David West, Better Cities & Towns 7/2011
  22. Urban Acupuncture – Understanding Space 2011
  23. Curitiba: Jaime Lerner’s Urban Acupuncture – Bill Hinchberger, Brazilmax 2/2006
  24. Urban Acupuncture: Revivifying Our Cities Through Targeted Renewal – Kyle Miller MSIS 9/2011
  25. Chi Ti-Nan develops a project to preserve Hong Kong coastline Tai Long Sai Wan – World Architecture News 4/2011
  26. Illegal Architecture in Taipei – Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan Architizer 3/2011
  27. Could Cities Benefit from Small-Scale, Local “Urban Acupuncture” Projects Like This? – Kimberly Mok Treehugger 1/2012