Greg Keeffe: “the city will be born, not made”

Download a free pdf of Greg Keeffe’s book, Urban Evolutionary Morphology: The Vestige City

Focussing on the Greengate area of Salford (Manchester, UK), the book interrogates the city as ‘an evolutionary and emergent super-organism’ and puts forward four pro to-propositions for the:

  • exaptive city
  • spandrel city
  • atavistic city
  • phenotypic plasticity city

Readers of this blog may remember our reading loop discussions on exaptation and spandrels, prompted by our reading of Slavoj Zizek’s Living in the End Times

In Gould and Lewontin’s seminal critique of the adaptationist programme, the spandrel becomes a metaphor for Panglossian wrong thinking: the nose evolved as somewhere to put our spectacles, the legs so that we may wear trousers, and the spandrels of San Marco or King’s College chapel are there to be decorated.

The spandrel is the bit beside, the structural by-product, the connective material, the unintentional, the bit part between the arches. The arches are the attention seekers, pulling our eyes up to heaven. The spandrels are a quiet reminder that looking where you shouldn’t, at the extra, can be as compelling as the main act. The secondary acts of the San Marco mosaicists met an opportunity in the four spandrels between the arches. They made it possible for remainders to steal the limelight.


The spandrel can be a warning against the hubris of narrative itself. Our own stories could be mistaken for adaptationist theories of evolutionary cause and effect: ‘at that point I realised’, ‘if I hadn’t done this then that would never have’. In the end, we may be mistaking exaptation for adaptation. Best not get too attached to our own versions of things.

(Terry O’Connor, extract from ‘The Spandrel Opportunity’, 2011)

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