The first impulse of the reader, including the expert, warns about the counter-intuitive alliance between autonomy and urbanism. Common sense exacerbates the contrast between both terms. But while tension is accepted and even promoted, this dissertation argues that the self-governing aspiration of autonomy and the collective character of urbanism only exclude each other when an impulsive interpretation of terms substitutes the patience of research. Since its introduction into architecture theory in the 1930s, the term autonomy has been systematically reduced to a disciplinary redefinition, with some exceptions. The discourse on architectural autonomy gradually dissociated design from society. It acquired a negative connotation over time based on the assumption that its self-governing condition relegated the cultural causes and consequences of design. But autonomy is not independence. The premise of this dissertation counters the dominant narrative within design, which understands autonomy as detachment rather than engagement. It investigates the barely studied alliance between autonomy and urbanism to address the role design plays within the local and global challenges faced by our contemporary societies.
Autonomy is not proposed as a self-centered disciplinary redefinition but as a culturally and historically conscious design method that paradoxically rejects any form of subordination. The increasing narcissism of architectural autonomy resulted from a design reflection for its own sake. But the autonomy of urbanism aspires to provide a cultural reflection on design. This dissertation counters the assumptions of architecture on autonomy based on habits, customs, or terminological wisdom through the evidence of its historical and cultural formation. It studies the philosophical, political, aesthetic, and architectural progression of autonomy to formulate the theoretical and practical framework of a latent urban interpretation exposed by the current historical conditions but whose origins date back to the eighteenth century.