Category Archives: Design

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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Bruce Mau @ McGill

Bruce Mau, a Canadian designer, recently gave the McGill School of the Environment‘s annual Environment Public Lecture at McGill University, on the ‘Future of Environmental Design,’ based upon the Massive Change exhibit developed for the Vancouver Art Gallery. The show was at the Art Gallery on Ontario in 2005, and will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, in the fall of 2006.

The Massive Change project takes an optimistic, design oriented look at global social and environmental problems and suggests there are many existing resources and abilities that can be mobilized to improve the global human well-being, in areas such as transportation, cities, and manufacturing. My favourite part of the Massive Change exhibit was the visualization room – which filled the walls and floor of a room:

Visual Room VAG

The room is set up like a three-dimensional electromagnetic spectrum. The images made from low frequency waves (radio waves) are near the entrance, images made with visible light (red, orange, yellow…) are in the middle of the room, and images made using high frequency waves (gamma waves) are near the exit of the room.

Massive Change is oriented towards market based technological solutions to environmental problems and therefore in the language of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, it fits withthe TechnoGarden scenario, and indeed addresses many of the same issues, such as bus-rapid transit systems.

The exhbit/book/radio show/website were developed by Bruce Mau and a group of design students.

After hearing from Bruce Mau about the what the students did in these project I was inspired to try and build on our project courses in the McGill School of the Environment.
I think it would be great if we could run a similar type of workshop course here at McGill. That is a course that would encourage a team of students (somewhere between 7-25) to imagine what a sustainable McGill or Montreal could look like, and how we could get there over the next (5 – 25 years) and make there visions/proposal/syntheses into a series of public products such as an exhibit (ideally on the streets of Montreal), lecture series, a book, and website. I think they could build upon lots of work in synthesis and communication done by Massive Change, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, WorldChanging, and many others, to develop practical proposals for McGill and Montreal.

It is also interesting to think about what type of resilience oriented course with a larger international vision could be developed as a Resilience Alliance project. In either case, there are many details of time, money, and credit to work. But I think, there is a lot of potential for learning and innovation in real world, positive, synthetic courses.

Some other articles on Bruce Mau and Massive Change:
From architecture/design magazine MetropolisMag.comAt the Parsons Table with Bruce Mau, and from the business magazine Fast Company, Making a Map to a New World.

Stewart Brand on How Cities Learn

On WorldChanging Chris Coldeway discusses a recent talk by Stewart Brand on how cities learn. In 1994, he wrote the excellent book How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built:

The redoubtable Stewart Brand gave a talk at GBN last night on global urbanization, expanding the “City Planet” material he first outlined at a Long Now talk and [WorldChanging] covered in detail. As we stand in 2006 at a point where the world’s population tips from mostly rural to mostly urban, Stewart considers this a good time to ruminate on the nature of cities and the causes and implications of a rapidly urbanizing world.

In typical Brand form, the talk swept from the beginnings of civilization — with a view of one of the oldest continuously occupied areas and discussion of how Jerusalem has been sacked or taken over 36 times — to the future of the world, with a look at the largest megacities of 2015. While the largest cities one hundred years ago were primarily in the US and Europe, these 21st century megacities are profoundly global. With cities such as Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and Karachi dominating the list, Stewart noted the similarity to another era of international cities — 1000 AD.

In asking himself how cities “learn” over time in the way that buildings do, Stewart found that while cities do learn, they also teach: they teach civilization how to be civilized. He discussed Levittown as a counterintuitive example, with its lenient do-it-yourself home customization policies actually facilitating the development of community. Squatter cities in the developing world were another example, with the view that squatter cities are what a population getting out of poverty ASAP looks like: self-constructed, and self-organizing, and vibrant.

Stewart sees cities playing out the same patterns of “pace layering” that he sees in civilization overall. Nature changes the slowest, with culture, governance, infrastructure, commerce, and fashion as progressively faster changing “layers.” Cities specialize in acceleration, in the faster cycles of commerce and fashion, but must balance those with the slower layers at the risk of collapse.

I previously mentioned Stewart Brand on cities in Feb and Sept 2005.

Robustness of the Internet

Router-level topology of Abilene. Each vertex represents a router, and each link represents a physical connection; however, each physical connection can support many virtual connections, giving the appearance of greater connectivity at higher layers of the IP stack. End-user networks are shown in white, peering networks are shown in blue, and high-degree routers can only be found at the network periphery (not shown).

John Doyle and his colleagues published a very interesting paper on the structure of the internet and its implications for robustness. It is a popular belief that the structure of the Internet follow a scale free distribution of the number of connections, which then results in being sensitive to target attacks at the hubs. Doyle et al. dig deeper in to the real structure of the internet and falsify this myth. Indeed the number of connections follow a scale free distribution, but there are various ways to derive such a distribution. Doyle et al. find that the components of the internet with the most connections are not the crucial hubs of the internet.

Doyle et al. define an alternative model to generate networks structures of the internet (an alternative to the preferential attachment models). This alternative model is based on the highly optimized tollerance (HOT) concept and includes specific technological (bandwidth) and economic (costs) constraints. The resulting model generates statistics more in line with the real internet, and an important finding is that this structure is robust to targeted attacks to highly connected nodes.

John C. Doyle, David L. Alderson, Lun Li, Steven Low, Matthew Roughan, Stanislav Shalunov, Reiko Tanaka, and Walter Willinger (2005) The “robust yet fragile” nature of the Internet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 102: 14497-14502

Dreaming a New New Orleans


On the Sustainability weblog WorldChanging, Alan AtKisson writes about rebuilding New Orleans –Dreaming A New New Orleans, Version 1.

He sees the possibility of a future New Orleans that combines elements of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Scenarios TechnoGarden and Global Orchestration, by using technological innovation to ‘green’ the city, ecological engineering to produce a safe livable city , and poverty alleviation to produce a fair and open city. He envisons how these things can combine to noursh a vibrant distinctive creative city.

AtKisson writes based upon his experience with a regional vitalization process in New Orleans:

What follows are very preliminary thoughts on principles for eventually creating a “New New Orleans,” one that is more environmentally secure, more economically successful, and more socially healthy and equitable, while retaining the culture that made it world famous. As the news reports continue to create a picture of the city’s horrible descent into hell, such an exercise feels a bit foolhardy; but there is so much dreaming to be done, to restore this great and wondrous city, that the dreaming must begin now.

Beginning in 2001, my firm was engaged by a consortium of regional leaders in New Orleans to help them design and launch an ambitious regional initiative, called Top 10 by 2010. … this extraordinary group worked together for a year and a half to craft a new foundation for regional progress. It was just in the process of re-forming and assessing progress so far when Katrina struck.

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TechnoGarden : Finland?

The MA Scenario TechnoGarden is based on the emergence and spread of ecological property rights and technology. Pieces of this potential world are described in a Washington Post article about how the growth of green business in Finland is being stimulated EU policies.

Finnish entrepreneurs are investing in eco-friendly businesses. Their most important salesmen may not be Finnish businesspeople (for whom, many here acknowledge, salesmanship is not a natural talent), but the European Union’s regulation writers in Brussels who set the community’s ecological standards.

Proventia, for example, hopes to make millions from the new E.U. regulation requiring the original manufacturer to recapture and recycle at least 75 percent of the contents of every piece of electronics and electrical equipment sold in Europe. The new standard comes into force in August, and adapting to it will cost companies (including some U.S. corporations) huge amounts of money, according to Noponen. He hopes Proventia companies will earn a lot of that money.

Proventia Automation, another member of the group, already produces machines that can cut up television sets and computer monitors, separating leaded from unleaded glass with a laser and recycling all the glass and other valuable, reusable components. Noponen hopes the E.U.’s new standard will produce numerous new customers for this technology.

More broadly, his firm can provide information technology and management advice to help manufacturers figure out how to meet the new rules most efficiently. Manufacturers of electronic equipment can actually make money by recycling their own creations when their useful lives are over, Noponen said.

via WorldChanging

Governing the Resilience of Venice

Venice lies in the shallow waters of a coastal lagoon connected to the northern tip of the Adriatic sea. It is occupied for more than 1500 years, and in the 14th century it became a major martime power. However, human activities have reduced the resilience of Venice which is increasingly experiencing floodings. The buffering capacity of the lagoon has been reduced by pollution (affecting sea weed vegetation which keep sand together), fishery (clam fishing by mechanical equipment that damage the lagoon bed), groundwater withdrawn and sealevel rise (climatic change). Venice in Peril is a committee that coordinates research to save Venice. A nice book came out on this subject “The Science of Saving Venice” which can be ordered from this website.
A flooded St Mark's Piazzetta

Stewart Brand on Long Term Thinking and Cities

From an article in the Portland Tribune:

Brand, whose current lecture is titled “The Future of Cities as if the Past Mattered,” makes a distinction between long-term planning and long-term thinking, favoring the latter because we can’t know the future.

“Institutions max out at 40 to 50 years; some universities have lasted a thousand years. Religions — some poop out pretty quickly — while cities vary enormously, such as capitals of dynasties. Jerusalem has been an important town for 2,000 years.”
He compares aerial photos of earthquake-devastated Turkey from the 1990s with those of recently tsunami-ravaged Asia.
“All the buildings went down except the mosques,” he says. “This is because some parts of civilization move faster than others.” Islam is ancient, but modern businesses bought off the government to get around building codes, he says.