“There is a certain image that may prove useful to a project that attempts to discover the kind of order towards which the city is forced : the image of the archipelago. Today’s metropolis appears to be shaped in the form of an urban archipelago. Urban space appears as a vast sea which surrounds urban islands of various sizes and forms. As with every analogy that supports a certain interpretative idea, this image needs to be treated with caution.”

In Koolhaas’ essay “City of the Captive Globe”, a model city is projected onto Manhattan’s spatial structure, which is called an archipelago : the urban grid corresponds to the archipelago’s sea and the urban plots are taken as islands. As Aureli has observed, in this conception of the archipelago, “the more different the values celebrated by each island, the more united and total the grid or sea that surrounds them”. In this understanding of the urban archipelago the sea is the organizing and ordering medium in which distinct enclaves of difference, “cities within cities”, are located. 

 As Pier Vittorio Aureli noted, “to exceed this sea (…) from within, architecture has to mould the islands as separated fragments, “absolute” parts which reintroduce the necessary ingredient of confrontation and agonism, “political separateness”, against the homogenizing principle of the endless and always expanding “sea of urbanization”. 

“Within the boundaries of a common world, people accept and perform shared identities, shared habits and, often, shared values. As subjects of belonging to this common world, people tend to experiment it as explicitly separated from a hostile or simply alien outside. Participating in a common world is often connected to practices of securing the limits of this world and to practices that reproduces this separation.”

Stavros STAVRIDES, Common Space : The City as Commons, London, Zed Books, 2016, p. 15, 16, 31