Dialectical Design Dialogues: Negotiating Ethics in Participatory Planning by Building a Critical Design Atlas

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Dialectical Design Dialogues: Negotiating Ethics in Participatory Planning by Building a Critical Design Atlas


  • Barbara Roosen Faculty of Architecture and Arts, University of Hasselt, Belgium
  • Liesbeth Huybrechts Faculty of Architecture and Arts, University of Hasselt, Belgium
  • Oswald Devisch Faculty of Architecture and Arts, University of Hasselt, Belgium
  • Pieter Van den Broeck Department of Architecture, KU Leuven, Belgium


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Abstract:  This article explores ‘dialectical design dialogues’ as an approach to engage with ethics in everyday urban planning contexts. It starts from Paulo Freire’s pedagogical view (1970/2017), in which dialogues imply the establishment of a horizontal relation between professionals and amateurs, in order to understand, question and imagine things in everyday reality, in this case, urban transformations, applied to participatory planning and enriched through David Harvey’s (2000, 2009) dialectical approach. A dialectical approach to design dialogues acknowledges and renegotiates contrasts and convergences of ethical concerns specific to the reality of concrete daily life, rather than artificially presenting daily life as made of consensus or homogeneity. The article analyses an atlas as a tool to facilitate dialectical design dialogues in a case study of a low-density residential neighbourhood in the city of Genk, Belgium. It sees the production of the atlas as a collective endeavour during which planners, authorities and citizens reflect on possible futures starting from a confrontation of competing uses and perspectives of neighbourhood spaces. The article contributes to the state-of-the-art in participatory urban planning in two ways: (1) by reframing the theoretical discussion on ethics by arguing that not only the verbal discourses around designerly atlas techniques but also the techniques themselves can support urban planners in dealing more consciously with ethics (accountability, morality and authorship) throughout urban planning processes, (2) by offering a concrete practice-based example of producing an atlas that supports the participatory articulation and negotiation of dialectical inquiry of ethics through dialogues in a ‘real-time’ urban planning process.

Keywords:  atlas; dialectics; dialogues; ethics; mapping; neighbourhoods; participatory urban planning

Published:   12 November 2020


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v5i4.3294


© Barbara Roosen, Liesbeth Huybrechts, Oswald Devisch, Pieter Van den Broeck. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.