EAUH Conference 2018


Session M06. The Engineered City: Engineering Design, Experience and Failure in Urban History, from the Middle Ages to 21st Century

Coordinators: Shane Ewen (, Genevieve Massard-Guilbaud (

The relationship between engineering design and urban space has attracted growing interest from environmental historians and historians of technology in recent years. Much work has been published on the networked city’s evolution, focusing on the ways that cities became increasingly sophisticated entities of communication, energy systems, transportation, industries and infrastructure. Towns and cities are also connected by engineering – interurban communication and transit systems, which connect urban with rural environments – and subject natural features like rivers, moors and the coast to the control of urban actors.
In this main session, which covers the period from the Middle Ages to 21st centuries, we are interested in exploring the multiple ways that urban engineering has shaped urban space, and how engineering design and practice has been moulded by other urban actors. Our leading question is how has resilience been engineered into the city’s DNA, and what happens when this resilience is challenged by engineering failure?
Related themes include:
(1) Models of urban engineering – how have particular engineering designs become models of innovation and subsequently been imported elsewhere? In what ways are these models shared, adopted and modified in different local and national contexts?
(2) Ordering urban engineering – Which urban actors commission studies from urban engineers? How are decisions involving multiple interests negotiated?
(3) Engineering and agency - how do engineered landscapes and operational systems manage people (users, workers, residents, visitors) and facilitate or prevent their freedom to access spaces? How do people engineer urban space in everyday interactions like pressing buttons, turning on taps, or in accessing smart technology?
(4) Cultures of urban engineering – What role has engineering played in the (re)formation of place identity? How has the representation of engineering changed over the period, as symbols of reform or modernity, and as sites of conservation and heritage?
(5) Resilience and failure – What happens when urban engineering fails? Operational or systemic failure tests the resilience of engineering systems and their capacity to cope with crises, so how does the engineer respond in such cases? What kinds of lessons are taken from the experience? How is engineering renewed?
(6) Contesting urban engineering – What kinds of urban design were contested, by whom and why? What were their results?
We welcome papers on topics related to these themes, which focus on comparative as well as individual city cases. We strongly encourage papers that connect urban and environmental history. Papers in French are welcome.
Keywords: urban engineering; early modern and modern cities; landscape; place identity; technical urban networks; resilience; failure; negotiation; contestation