Tag Archives: architecture

Cityscapes :: An urban magazine from the global south :: New issue #3: The Smart City?

How to think cities anew? When what we are seeing are not new londons, parises, new-yorks or even tokyos growing, we need to start re-thinking what urbanization and urbanism is about.

New Cityscapes issue #3 out. Speaking from the south on ‘Smart Cities’.

This is when we need a magazine like Cityscapes. Started in 2011 by artist-desginer-urbanist Tau Tavengwa and Sean O’Toole, backed up by southern urbanist stalwart Edgar Pieterese, the magazine gives a provocative shot or sip of a matured postcolonial critique of knowledge production.

Indeed when urban Theory, capital T, is not longer valid for the type of cities we see in Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, Johannesburg, Mumbai, and Jakarta, we need new tools, registers and ways of engaging that allows for new theories of the urban to grow and influence city-making, including planning and design professions. This is when we need to ask, like Indian historian Dipesh Chakrabarty of how to “provincialize Europe”—re-inserting the ‘localness’ of European thought to allow for experiences of urbanization and scholarship from different regions to take hold and influence theory-making. If Europe and USA is merely a province in the world of knowledge-making, then how have other regions thought and enacted their cities?

The Cityscapes magazine makes the amazing balancing act of being popular and punchy, while delivering a relentless critique that cities should not only be thought about from a EuroAmerican experience. But from locations like Lima, Nairobi, Mogadishu, Bangalore, Jakarta, Harare, and Medellín. This builds upon decades of academic critique of how theory—or established ways of thinking—has been critiqued.

Indian urban scholar Ananya Roy (2009) and South African cultural geographer and comparative urbanist Jennifer Robinson (2002, 2005 etc.) have in a series of articles argued for a comparative urbanism, a cosmopolitan urbanism that can de-centre EuroAmerican theory and experience.

Cityscapes #2 – the previous issue.

In response to the ‘world city’ theory created by Saskia Sassen and in part Manuell Castells—which traces the economic relations for global capitalism and has come to create hierarchies of cities based upon the number of transnational companies that chooses to place their offices there—Robinson argues for theories of the ‘ordinary city’.

This is not to say that the world city theory is not helpful to understand the internationalization of capitalism, and how it necessarily needs cities, but to say that its focus comes with effects.

These ‘ordinary cities’ does not only ‘fall off the map’ of the ‘world city theory’, making these cities uninterested locations for research and policy, but these cities also suffer in the way that investment—private and above all public—are spent increasingly in cities that aspire to become ‘world class cities’.

Rather than spending money on improving essential infrastructure to deliver safe water, sewage, electricity and food, money are spent on business parks, luxurious water front developments, and big event buildings (think the World Cup soccer stadium built in Cape Town, now standing mostly empty; or the Formula 1 racing track in the Omerli Watershed outside Istanbul, used once a year).

Consequently, backed by the world city theory, a whole industry of consultants and thinkers have carved out a policy field to influence how decision-makers can turn their own cities into ‘world cities’. This shapes the urban agenda away from the problems and possibilities of the ‘ordinary city’ and in particular the needs of the urban poor.

In Cityscapes last issue #2 the world city theory is under scrutiny. Through interviews and photography, the magazine unpacks infrastructural investment in Johannesburg, and also visits Bangalore. Increasingly many Indian cities are aspiring to become world-class. “As an instance of homegrown neoliberalism, the Indian world-class city is inevitably a normative project”, writes Ananya Roy in Worldling Cities edited book (2011). As reported, “Why? And for whose benefit is the world-class city?”.

In the current issue #3 focus is on ‘The Smart City’, the increasing tendency to invest in high-tech monitoring and surveillance techniques to govern city-life. This represents a move to allow technicians and experts not only a greater say in defining the problems of the city, and its solutions, but also in the actual day-to-day governing of the city. As expressed by the editors in promoting this issue:

This fuzzily defined term speaks to the increasing use of networked information and communications technologies in ordering of large-scale urban phenomenon. The magazine visits Rio de Janeiro to find out what this means practically. “Technology gives you a faster response,” explains Dario Bizzo Marques, a technology systems coordinator at Rio’s $14-million integrated city management centre, home to Latin America’s largest surveillance screen.

“We increasingly share the space and time of cities with semi-autonomous agents of a nonhuman, indeed non-biological, nature, from drones to algorithms,” offers Adam Greenfield in his provocative 100-point manifesto appearing in Cityscapes and addressing the pervasive use of tech-savvy urban management solutions. Noted urban theorist Ash Amin, in a cornerstone 5000-word interview with Matthew Gandy, is also wary of the ideological implications of reducing city management to the top-down marshalling of abstract data.

If you are intrigued and need a stylish, punchy, provocative shot of postcolonial critique, make sure to get a copy of the new Cityscapes #3. It will hopefully come to destabilize how you think about cities. You can find more information here.

If you are interested in the academic debates, I have just with Mary Lawhon and James Duminy submitted a paper to the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR) with the title “Conceptual vectors of African urbanism: ‘engaged theory-making’ and ‘platforms of engagement’. The manuscript summarizes debates but also pushes towards clarifying some of the contribution from the recent research on urbanism in Africa and what it could bring to theoretical conversations about cities. I could send you a copy if you are interested. For other entry points, see papers by Chakrabarty, Roy, Robinson, Simone and Pieterse below.

/Henrik Ernstson, Cape Town, 20 March, 2013

PS. The Cityscapes issue #3 will be launched Mar 27, 2013 at The Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street, Cnr Buitenkant & Roeland Street, Cape Town. More information here.

References
Chakrabarty, D. (2007). Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Second.). Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Parnell, S., & Robinson, J. (n.d.). (Re)Theorizing Cities from the Global South: Looking Beyond Neoliberalism. Urban Geography.

Pieterse, E. (2008). City Futures: Confronting the Crisis of Urban Development. Global Issues Series. London: Zed Books.

Robinson, J. (2002). Global and world cities: a view from off the map. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 26, 531–554. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00397

Robinson, J. (2011). Cities in a World of Cities: The Comparative Gesture. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35, 1–23. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2010.00982.x

Roy, A. (2009). The 21st-Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory. Regional Studies, 43(6), 819–830. doi:10.1080/00343400701809665

Roy, A., & Ong, A. (2011). Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global, 41.

Simone, A. (2011). City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the Crossroads. London: Routledge.

 

Bhopal 2011: Requiem & Revitalization

MJ writes about BHOPAL 2011: Requiem & Revitalization an International Students’ Workshop and Symposium, Bhopal, India January 23 – February 04, 2011.  The workshop is organized by the School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi, modern Asian Architecture Network (mAAN), India and The International Committee for Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH) India.  More information is available on the conference website.  MJ writes:

Bhopal is known the world over as the city that witnessed the Union Carbide Gas Tragedy in 1984 and continues to struggle with the fallout of this disaster. The significance of the disaster however, extends beyond Bhopal. The factory site of the disaster, now an urban void in a dense neighbourhood of Bhopal lies abandoned and the stories that it contains, lie untold. Over the course of two weeks in January-February 2011 students and experts from multiple disciplines and backgrounds will converge in Bhopal and work together with local citizens in an attempt to understand the tragedy and its site in its conflicting interpretations. Through exploring the possible transformation of the site into a place of remembrance and a resource for empowering the local community the participants will also address the broader issue of how heritage sites with a troubled and troubling legacy can contribute to a better understanding of our times.

BHOPAL2011 looks at the possible protection, decontamination and rehabilitation of Union Carbide Factory as potential to revitalize the precinct and the community around the site and explores the possible approaches and mechanisms to do so. In exploring key issues linked to the emergence of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Site as a cultural heritage site, BHOPAL2011 sets the ground for an collaborative and creative dialogue between disciplines of cultural heritage, architecture, urban design and applied arts.

Within a collaborative framework the conference and the workshop will explore three main themes:

  1. Challenges in Recognizing Contemporary Sites with a Conflicting Past as Heritage
  2. Challenges in Interpreting and Rehabilitating Sites with Contemporary and Conflicting Heritage
  3. Challenges in Harnessing Sites with Contemporary and Conflicting Heritage for Society Building

Last date for registration is December 1, 2010.

Papers are invited for the following (but not limited to) themes and proposals for organizing sessions are welcome.

  1. Commemoration & the Politics of Construction of Public Memory
  2. Public Participation in Revitalization of Sites of Memory
  3. Challenges in Rehabilitating Landscapes of Disaster
  4. Protection, Preservation and Interpretation of Sites of Conscience
  5. Heritage, environment and economy – Conflicts and Resolutions
  6. Gaps in the World Heritage list. Industrial & Modern Heritage of Asia, Africa and Latin America

The last date of submission of abstracts is November 15, 2010.

Resilience meets architecture and urban planning

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by Matteo Giusti [contact: matteo.giusti [at] gmail.com]
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Does resilience thinking and architecture really mix? The answer is a clear “yes” if you ask urban planner Marco Miglioranzi, and Matteo Giusti, Master student at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Together with the German based firm of architects N2M, they have developed two projects led by resilience concepts. Their first work, based on social-ecological systems, was preselected in the EuroPan10 competition. The second one, “A Resilient Social-Ecological Urbanity: A Case Study of Henna, Finland” with an emphasis on urban resilience, has been published by the German Academy for Urban and Regional Spatial Planning (DASL) and also featured by HOK –  a renowned global architectural firm.
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The project proposes a wide range of theoretical solutions based on urban resilience which find practical application in Henna’s (Finland) urban area. Governance networks, social dynamics, metabolic flows and built environment are separately analyzed to ultimately restore, and maintain over time, the equilibrium between human demands and ecological lifecycles.
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But the project also challenges current urban planning practices as it states the city’s  future requirements to be unknown. As a result, it identifies “the development-process as a dynamic flow instead of a static state”. Time scale for urban planning is therefore included within an evolving spatial design.
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Diagram of the parametric cell structure: reversible space layer (upper left) and reversible building layer (right)The project description elaborates: “As a result, the planning is not static anymore. It is not a blueprint, not a collection of architectural elements to create an hypothetic Henna out of the current mindsets and needs, but a multitude of tools, methods, opportunities, options, to define a sustainable developing strategy to meet future’s demands. We keep an eye on time, its complexity and we humbly admit we cannot foresee future; we can only provide guiding principles from current scientific understanding to define a social ecological urbanity capable of sustainably moving on with unique identity.”
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All these theoretical premises ends up in Henna’s planning. This includes an energetic smart grid based primarily on Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS); community-managed greenhouse areas to enhance food local self- reliance; low-diluted sewage system to reduce water consumption; efficient reuse of municipal solid waste to reach the Zero waste goal; and a problem solving centre to analyze ever-changing social ecological demands. Time is included in space, people in their natural environment, urban services in ecological processes. An harmonious cycle of growth and decays.

mammoth’s best architecture of the decade

mammoth suggests the the best architecture of the decade.  They write:

The end of a decade inspires a lot of list compiling; in that spirit, mammoth offers an alternative list of the best architecture of the decade, concocted without any claim to authority and surely missing some fascinating architecture. But we hope that at least it’s not boring, as this was an exciting decade for architecture, despite the crashing, the burning, and the erupting into flames.

They include many projects with an environmental dimension including: New York’s Fresh Kills, Orange County’s Groundwater replenishment system, and the Svalbard global seed bank.  They write about Orange County’s project:

you might say that the Groundwater Replenishment System is a small step towards a new way of thinking about urban hydrology: the city is a stillsuit for surviving the drought.  Intended to halt the traditional mass flush of urban effluent and wastewater into the ocean, Orange County’s latest addition to its wastewater infrastructure is “the world’s largest, most modern reclamation plant”, capable of turning “70 million gallons of treated sewage into drinking water every day”, according to the LA Times.

and about New York City’s Fresh Kills landfill conversion:

[Fresh Kills demonstrates] the ability of an office led by a landscape architect to produce a synthesis of ecological, urban, social, and infrastructural processes on a large scale within an extremely complicated urban system. This kind of work, of course, operates intentionally on long time scales, and so it is perhaps not surprising that even Corner, probably the best-known of the landscape architects who joined the first wave of landscape urbanists, has only completed one major landscape (at least as far as I’m aware), the rather disappointing High Line. … What is particularly exciting about Field Operations’s Fresh Kills for landscape architects is that this massive new park isn’t being built so much as it is being grown and cultivated, thereby realizing a firm reliance on the flow and flux of ecologies as not just inspiration for design, but as the tool of design

Dubai’s new tower

The world’s tallest building has just been opened in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

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burj_dubaiThe Toronto Globe and Mail writes:

Soaring 200 storeys and 828 metres into the sky, the world’s tallest structure has opened in Dubai, a monument to the excesses of the emirate’s bygone boom. But while the $1.5-billion (U.S.) tower’s striking opulence recalls the unrestrained era of a massive property bubble, its surprise name is very much grounded in Dubai’s new reality.

Originally called Burj Dubai, it was renamed Burj Khalifa Monday in a tribute to Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, head of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, which came to debt-laden Dubai’s financial rescue last month.

Abu Dhabi has provided about $25-billion in bailout funds for Dubai in the past year, including a $10-billion lifeline in December that was funnelled to state-owned conglomerate Dubai World to avoid an embarrassing default on its crushing debt load.

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Ballard and architecture

Noted science fiction author J.G. Ballard died April 19, 2009. on Omnivoracious Geoff Manaugh, of BLDG BLOG, offers an architectural appreciation – Between the Tower and the Parking Lot: A Spatial Appreciation of J.G. Ballard:

J.G. Ballard, who died on Sunday at the age of 78, leaves behind far more than his status as a “cult author,” science fiction novelist, or agent provocateur. Although most of his novels are still all but impossible to find in the U.S., I would argue that Ballard is one of the most important writers on architecture in the last century. But what do I mean by architecture, and why would that be the source of much of his works’ continued relevance?

Ballard is best known for his look at the erotic nature of car accidents (Crash) and his semi-autobiographical account of a childhood spent in a Japanese internship camp during the Second World War (Empire of the Sun), but it’s also worth looking at the settings of his less well-known novels: the architectural structures and urban landscapes in which they take place. Among other things, what makes Ballard’s fiction so spatially valuable is that he explores the psychological implications of everyday non-places–like parking lots, high-rise apartment towers, highway embankments, shopping malls, well-policed corporate enclaves, and even British suburbia–without resorting to the flippant condemnation one might expect. Instead, Ballard describes these spaces in terms of their effects: how they mutate and rearrange the mental lives of their inhabitants.

It’s as if these buildings, malls, empty plazas, and parking lots do, in fact, inspire a new type of humanity–as modernism’s high priests once predicted–but Ballard shows that what they are bringing into existence is something altogether darker and unexpected. In other words, our contemporary built landscape has not ushered in the enlightened utopia once promised by Le Corbusier, for instance, with his isolated towers, or by Mies van der Rohe with his unornamented glass boxes. Instead, there is a slow-burning psychopathy here, a dementia inspired by space itself. Architecture becomes a kind of psychological Manhattan Project, so to speak: a vast, poorly supervised experiment in which new species of human personality are incubated.

At its best, Ballard’s work is a devastating and original contribution to architectural thought, articulating the often sinister impacts of our built environment with a sense of humor, and an aphoristic memorability, that is all too lacking in contemporary fiction and architectural criticism alike.

Kim Stanley Robinson on nature, architecture, and society

Geoff Manaugh recently interviewed ecological science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson about ecology, architecture and socieities on BLDGBLOG.  Manaugh writes:

Robinson’s books are not only filled with descriptions of landscapes – whole planets, in fact, noted, sensed, and textured down to the chemistry of their soils and the currents in their seas – but they are often about nothing other than vast landscape processes, in the midst of which a few humans stumble along. “Politics,” in these novels, is as much a question of social justice as it is shorthand for learning to live in specific environments.

Robinson responds to a question about the idea that catastrophe can allow new forms of social organization to emerge:

It’s a failure of imagination to think that climate change is going to be an escape from jail – and it’s a failure in a couple of ways.

For one thing, modern civilization, with six billion people on the planet, lives on the tip of a gigantic complex of prosthetic devices – and all those devices have to work. The crash scenario that people think of, in this case, as an escape to freedom would actually be so damaging that it wouldn’t be fun. It wouldn’t be an adventure. It would merely be a struggle for food and security, and a permanent high risk of being robbed, beaten, or killed; your ability to feel confident about your own – and your family’s and your children’s – safety would be gone. People who fail to realize that… I’d say their imaginations haven’t fully gotten into this scenario.

It’s easy to imagine people who are bored in the modern techno-surround, as I call it, and they’re bored because they have not fully comprehended that they’re still primates, that their brains grew over a million-year period doing a certain suite of activities, and those activities are still available. Anyone can do them; they’re simple. They have to do with basic life support and basic social activities unboosted by technological means.

And there’s an addictive side to this. People try to do stupid technological replacements for natural primate actions, but it doesn’t quite give them the buzz that they hoped it would. Even though it looks quite magical, the sense of accomplishment is not there. So they do it again, hoping that the activity, like a drug, will somehow satisfy the urge that it’s supposedly meant to satisfy. But it doesn’t. So they do it more and more – and they fall down a rabbit hole, pursuing a destructive and high carbon-burn activity, when they could just go out for a walk, or plant a garden, or sit down at a table with a friend and drink some coffee and talk for an hour. All of these unboosted, straight-forward primate activities are actually intensely satisfying to the totality of the mind-body that we are.

So a little bit of analysis of what we are as primates – how we got here evolutionarily, and what can satisfy us in this world – would help us to imagine activities that are much lower impact on the planet and much more satisfying to the individual at the same time. In general, I’ve been thinking: let’s rate our technologies for how much they help us as primates, rather than how they can put us further into this dream of being powerful gods who stalk around on a planet that doesn’t really matter to us.

Because a lot of these supposed pleasures are really expensive. You pay with your life. You pay with your health. And they don’t satisfy you anyway! You end up taking various kinds of prescription or non-prescription drugs to compensate for your unhappiness and your unhealthiness – and the whole thing comes out of a kind of spiral: if only you could consume more, you’d be happier. But it isn’t true.

I’m advocating a kind of alteration of our imagined relationship to the planet. I think it’d be more fun – and also more sustainable. We’re always thinking that we’re much more powerful than we are, because we’re boosted by technological powers that exert a really, really high cost on the environment – a cost that isn’t calculated and that isn’t put into the price of things. It’s exteriorized from our fake economy. And it’s very profitable for certain elements in our society for us to continue to wander around in this dream-state and be upset about everything.

The hope that, “Oh, if only civilization were to collapse, then I could be happy” – it’s ridiculous. You can simply walk out your front door and get what you want out of that particular fantasy.

Rooftop gardening in Montreal

Rooftop garden at McGillMontreal’s Rooftop gardening project has had a demonstration garden outside my office at McGill this summer. Montreal is very dense, it has a lack of gardening space, but many people have balconies and external staircases where they can have gardens. The rooftop gardeners aim to produce good healthy food, in a way that also improves urban environmental quality.

The Rooftop gardening project have been working with McGill Architecture’s global edible landscapes project, which is workingin Colombo, Sri Lanka; Kampala, Uganda and Rosario, Argentina, as well as Montreal. The McGill reporter had an article Garden of eating about the project in May 2007.

The Rooftop gardening project have made a film about their work Des Jardins sur les toit (Rooftop gardens) – it is in French with English subtitles.

Photos from the Montreal Rooftop gardening project and the AASHE weblog.

Building Interdisciplinarity

An article in Harvard Magazine (January-February 2007) describes The Janelia Experiment, an new biomedical research facility designed to foster great inter-discplinary research. Fostering interdisciplinary research is topic the Stockholm Resilience Center is grapling with as it organizes itself (but without the problems a $16 billion endowment brings).

Great scientific research organizations, of the rare variety that produce multiple Nobel Prize-caliber breakthroughs, share common traits that can be imitated. This is the precept behind the creation of Janelia Farm, the new biological-research campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). In November, scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute visited the new campus, where everything from architecture to organization to social culture has been planned to nurture an optimal environment for scientific discovery. What the visitors saw may offer ideas for Harvard, which is planning an ambitious science-research campus in Allston and working to ensure that the organizational structure of the sciences, as well as the architecture of new buildings, will promote a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Such places did exist in the past. Both Bell Labs and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, England, took a long-term approach to problem-solving, one in the physical sciences, the other in biology. Both produced results that were “offscale,” Rubin says, “even compared to the best private institutions.” Both were used as models for Janelia Farm.

Common to Bell Labs and the LMB were small research groups, leaders who were active bench scientists, internal funding for research, outstanding shared support and infrastructure, limited tenure, and a culture that rewarded collegiality and cooperation.

Sociological research, Rubin says, has shown that humans don’t have meaningful interactions with more than about 20 people. “If you want to have interactions between groups and every group is 20 people, well, it’s just not going to happen,” says Rubin. “It’s fundamental human nature.” Thus groups at Janelia Farm, with its goal of increasing interdisciplinary cooperation between labs, are limited to no more than six members.

Yet even if the opportunities to create an organizational structure that promotes interdisciplinary collaboration are somewhat limited within the university environment, there is no such limitation on design and architecture that promotes collaboration. In this sense, Janelia Farm is also a model that blends lessons of the past with the most contemporary thinking in lab design. There are spaces that promote interaction: a cafeteria with good, inexpensive food, and a pub that serves coffee and tea during the day and cheeseburgers and beer after work. Forcing people out of their normal environments is a good thing, says Rubin. The LMB had a canteen and the culture there, he says, was that you were free to sit down with people you didn’t know. (A 2004 study by the National Academy of Sciences asked research administrators what they would cut last in a hypothetical budget crunch. They overwhelmingly named their cafeteria.)

Teddy Cruz – What adaptive architecture can learn from Shantytowns

From Mixed Feelings Teddy Cruz a California architecture, who has focussed on what architecture can be learnt from informal settlements is profiled in an article Border-town muse: An architect finds a model in Tijuana from the March 13 International Herald Tribune.

The IHT article writes:

As Tijuana has expanded into the hilly terrain to the east, squatters have fashioned an elaborate system of retaining walls out of used tires packed with earth. The houses jostling on the incline are constructed out of concrete blocks, sheets of corrugated metal, used garage doors and discarded packing crates – much of it brought down by local contractors and wholesalers from across the border (slideshow in NY Times).

Once such a settlement is completed, it is protected from demolition under Mexican law – and the government is eventually obliged to provide plumbing, electricity and roads to serve it. In Cruz’s view, the process is in some ways a far more flexible and democratic form of urban development than is the norm elsewhere.
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