The Supertight refers to the small, intense, robust and hyper-condensed city spaces that emerge as a by-product of extreme urban density. Tightness is a consequence of density, but not density itself, as commonly understood.  Tightness is a series of social, economic and cultural practices that have developed in cities as a response to both rapid growth and consolidation. Architectural models of density measured spatially and quantified with built volume have been heavily explored. The supertight project investigates the cultures that has emerged, particularly in Asian cities over the past thirty years, and the role that designers play in the material and social behaviours of tightness. To be tight is to be small and constrained, but also to be in sync with conditions; to be open to the economies and the social intimacy of being close. Through qualitative observations this project argues the benefits of urban closeness, of a particular density without an upper limit. Supertight project aims to unpack and convey both the delight and difficulty that emerges through this close occupation in large cities.

There is a relationship between our physical footprint and consumption of ecological resources. However inexact that correlation, a tighter city consumes less. There is also a loose relationship between a city’s density and its built volume; the most dense cities are usually not the tallest. The rapidly growing large cities of Asia though, are critical to understanding our future footprint. If only by weight of population and scale of transformation, they provide the key insights into current ways of being densely urbanised. The by-product of this unprecedented metropolitan expansion, and unprecedented shifts in patterns of consumption will be new urban models and new architectures; new models for living and making culture, laid over old ones. Transformations in technologies (transport, production or communications) and the pressures of economics or ecology may radically tighten cites; the evidence of the cites we know and call tight, may assist us in doing it as humans.

The Supertight project grew from a shared interest in very dense cities and from a regard for cities in Asia. It also grew from anxieties about urban density in noticeable affluent western (particularly anglophone) cities and from the fact that now such places and their inhabitants generally suffer more from isolation than from overcrowding. In the first decade of this century, the city of Melbourne in Australia was very successful at reconsolidating its metropolitan centre, (and to an extent its sprawling, radiating spokes). It was so successful that the influx of high-rise dwellings unleashed anxieties about density, framed as a debate about planning regulation, and about the merits of European medium rise versus the delirious verticality of Hong Kong. Rather than analyse the quantifiable benefits or risks of such development or policies, we asked: What are the qualities of cities that adapt to closeness, and do so without limit? Is there a term more nuanced that may describe the qualities found in very dense cities, and how are those qualities designed, observed or imagined? We curated a substantial exhibition of the Supertight in 2019, and gathered contributors in Japan, Vietnam, China, Singapore and Korea. These contributors are designers in and observers of their cities, and who produced moving images of their cities and works, as well as participated in conversations in the event space installations of the Design Hub gallery in Melbourne. This book is a reflection on that work and on the ideas that emanated from it, particularly from the perspective of architecture. Since that exhibition of course, our cities have endured a pandemic which recast nearly everything. Paradoxically, the notion of living more closely suddenly seemed absurd to consider; and yet it has also brought all the questions of tightness as a social concept, into brutally sharp focus.

Supertight: Models for Living and Making Culture in Dense Urban Environments published by ACTAR - December 2021

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