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Quantum City

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By Ayssar Arida. Architectural Press, 2002. 160pp. £19.99

Be ever wary of books based upon a figure of speech, advises Liz Bailey . Quantum City 'does not make any claims as to the scientific correctness of its postulations; it merely produces a metaphor that borrows language and concepts from quantum theory - or at least from the popularised accounts of it'.

Factual, metaphorical, interpretive: who cares, it's all the same.

And in fact the thesis - that quantum physics provides a useful metaphor for urban design - is rather less than rigorous. The languid personal musings are trite, containing precious little historical information and there are a raft of vacuous truisms: 'Man, nature and the universe are one, ' he says, 'in the sense that their interactions have mutual effects on each other.' Blah, blah, blah.

Previously, the social sciences have borrowed with great effect from the ideas underpinning quantum physics: Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle, for example, or using Kuhnian paradigm shifts to explain why knowledge often takes large, discrete leaps forward (such as Leibniz and Newton inventing calculus contemporaneously, for example). The tragedy of Arida's book is that it contains the grain of a fascinating idea, completely obscured by pseudo-intellectual chic. Quantum physics may well lend us insight into how cities grow and develop and how architects may influence this process, but this book fails signally to demonstrate the merit, or truth, in the assertion.

Arida also includes pages of unedifying diagrams. One entitled 'urban design as a multidisciplinary interface', shows an X-axis from planning to architecture bisected by a Y-axis from landscape architecture to geography, placing the blob of urban design squarely in the north-west quadrant. It all sounds like Humphrey Lyttleton's closing remarks in I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue .

Arida's whole approach makes it a little difficult to take his ideas seriously. His discovery of quantum theory, 'included middle-of-the-night insights and weird dreams of quantum antimatter twins'.

He dutifully points out in his preface that the book changes not only type sizes but font repeatedly throughout the text.

Perhaps one should not judge a book by its cover, nor by its typesetting, but such self-conscious mannerisms are annoying, and reinforce our suspicion that Arida has simply cobbled together a collection of musings that advance our understanding of how urban design relates to quantum physics not one jot.

Liz Bailey writes on transport and technology. Contact lizzie@lizzie. net

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