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— urbantick

The world around us shapes who we are, what we think and what we like. So not surprisingly it also shapes what we do. In regards to hobbies that is especially true as it often mimics the kinds of aspirations one has. This might be in sport and fitness where our ideals define the regiment we throw ourselves at or in fashion terms, we dress the way we want to be seen. This is especially true also for the kinds of hobbies that imagine a more playful alternative reality in the world of miniature models. Some are connected to history with the vast battlefields some American TV presidents play with – see House of Cards – or the superhero worlds of Warhammer 40’000 or indeed some of the model railway worlds companies such as märklin and other have been producing products for the better part of the last century.

These alternative model worlds are of particular interest in the way they connect to what we would probably call the real world or at least the shared space of the everyday. Two strategies can be identified. Either they mimic and mirror it or they reject and oppose it. In the case of the model railway it is the former and from an architecture or planning perspective its fascinating how the real world examples find their way into this miniature world where everything seems right, but fundamentally everything is wrong, but that is deemed ok.

Image taken from märklinModerne p. 10 / Modernity on “stilts”: the Faller model “Helvetia commercial bock”. In many ways the architecture is just the stage, really important are the references to advertisement as the real source of identity on this piece.

It’s maybe like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871) by Lewis Caroll. It is a temporal escape into a distorted world where everything and nothing makes sense. To archive this the references to real-world experience need to be fitting and responsible for that part is the German company Faller. These are the makers of the well known and loved model sets to complete the landscaping around the railway tracks.

A recent publication märklinModerne portraits a whole series of model sets that were produced over the last century since the foundation of the company back in 1946. Still in business and a market leader the company produces about 1.2 million buildings a year. The publication focuses on how these model sets have portrait the “modern” idea of architecture and the ways and strategies that were developed to achieve this sense of “modern” as it was prevalent after the 1950s throughout the world.

Image taken from märklinModerne p.76 / Villa in Ticino. One of the most popular set overall. It is based on an actual building by Alberto and Aldo Guscetti and the Studio Ticnico. It was build in Ambri, Switzerland and later copied not just for the model set but also as a villa prototype that was build several times in Güterbach, Germany, the hometown of the Faller company by the companies house architect. Below the original in Ambri, Switzerland around 1958. It still exists today.

This new publication by Daniel Bartetzko (ed) and Karin Berkemann (ed) is published by Jovis, Berlin. It accompanies an exhibition that was shown earlier this year at the DAM (Deutschen Architekturmuseum) and will still be on show until October 7th at the architekturgalerie am weissenhof in Stuttgart. Furthermore, this project is portrayed by a film by Otto Schweitzer. If your interested to see what Faller are offering in 2018, have a look at their latest catalogue here on issuu. Why the editors have decided to name this publication märklin and not Faller will remain a mystery.

The topic and the content is so retro for sure. This is about enjoying the good old times when modern was a thought after attribute when the vision of the future was bright and open and something to work towards. Working hard was the ideal and structured conformity the norm. In other words, everything was great.

Not so much anymore it’s needless to say. Our attitudes and expectations have changed, the world has changed. Modern has certainly been over past by smart and one is no longer so sure in professional circles about the achievements of that time especially modernism has endured a lot of damning criticism recently. So where do we stand?

Image taken from märklinModerne p. 118 / Nurda Vacation (holiday?) House. It might not be modernist, but certainly “modern” in the sense of this publication. A great example of the go do attitude and believe in technology and progress of the second part of the last century. A lot of us who are old enough have certainly once holidayed in one of those.

Not something the book can answer and unfortunately is lacking notably in the way it is designed or is it? Anyhow this is a discussion starter. Something that embodies all the good of the past in a little cardboard box with plenty of plastic pieces – so get creative. The one thing it can still teach us amongst many others is the original is always physical! If the model is too, even better. Our cultural world is about practice, and making and these geeky model sets are precisely that. So go out and get one of those sets and build your self a modern design icon!

Image taken from Jovis / Book cover.

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The everyday objects that are embedded in our lives so that they are taken for granted are most likely the ones that are quite fitting designs.

While design is everywhere, it has a fundamental impact on our everyday lives and shapes quite literally the day. From the cereal pack in the morning over breakfast to the train ticket to the signage guiding the way or the interface of the mobile device our faces keep being glued to, to the built environment as such of course.

Since the 60s various great icons of design have been created, and a new documentary directed by Greg Durrell, Design Canada examines a number of these icons. It features original creators and contemporaries to tell the story that lead to the design of the Canadian Flag and other icons from that area.

Logos of CN by Allan Fleming, CBC by Burton Kramer and TD by Hans Kleefeld

Interestingly the film was funded on Kickstarter with the slogan: “The first documentary chronicling the history of Canadian graphic design and how it shaped a nation and its people.”

Several icons are being discussed in the film with their creators. For example the Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s logo by Burton Kramer 1975. “It always seemed clear that the real challenge for the designer was to help make our world a better place than it would be without our efforts.” Or the Air Canada and TD logos by Hans Kleefeld, both 1960s. “What makes a great logo is when the combination of colour, texture and form captures the essence of a business.”.

Image taken from Design Canada on Kickstarter / Canada Wordmark designed by Jim Donoahue

Enjoy the preview and see Design Canada for screening details. Further stuff on Canadian Design also to be found for example on the CDR – Canadian Design Resource.

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The term urban is widely considered to be equivalent to busy, bustling or crowded. It is synonymous with active and associated with density, services and manmade physical structures.

The extend of all these aspects however is very much a subjective quality rather than a quantity. In large parts these expectations are conditioned through experience and vary greatly depending on location and context.

If the conditions are disrupted however they generate a moment of surprise. Very much so the video Urban Isolation by Russell Houghten. Where is everybody? The backdrop of massive infrastructure suggests otherwise, but the streets are empty. An earlier post refers to the same topic with work from photographer Matt Logue.

Video taken by Russell Houghten on Vimeo.

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Autonomous home delivery is on the rise. McKinsey predicted in 2016 already that 80% of the good will be delivered by autonomous vehicles. The trend is still towards speedy deliveries such as instant and same day for which consumers are willing to pay significant premiums. Hence this is a big market. Even though currently in London Amazon is in most cases no longer capable of delivering same day or even next day. There seem to be limits to the expandability of deliveries.

The big driver behind deliveries is of course e-commerce. Bloomberg reports and predicts that the market will reshape by 2040. Online shopping, household goods, cloth and groceries are big business. However, both cloth and groceries are unlikely to be autonomous deliveries for people want the crates to be brought up to the doorstep and get an instant refund on unwanted items. But all else is content for to be delivered autonomously.

Animation taken from Meg Kelly/NPR / Starship’s autonomous delivery box under way in the urban context.

starship robot

Tests are underway in various locations in the US and also in the UK and elsewhere. Southwark, a south London council is running a pilot scheme with Starship Technologies to deliver locally with the fleet of Starship’s own autonomous six-wheel vehicles.

Image taken from Piaggio Fast Forward press kit / Gina is shown following a person in an urban context.

These Self-Driving Delivery Robots are also being manufactured and tested by other companies, such as Marble, Nuro and , competing on this “last mile” of the delivery. Gregg Lynn design worked for Piaggio Fast Forward to develop Gina as their answer to granular mobility. The space between the customer and the warehouse. Interestingly those two locations are pretty much the only physically relevant locations within all of this. The rest of the everyday activities are increasingly becoming ubiquitous in the sense that they are transferable and pop-up doings. Things like food, work, exercise, play are being app managed with user accounts working across device and location. For goods delivery, however, location still matters and start-ups are competing for this slot. The term “last-mile” is quite fitting.

Driverless machines taking over the urban spaces and increasingly starting to shape the urban space is to be expected. Physically there will be the introduction of lanes for autonomous delivery vehicles, sort of bus line style or special parking regulations for drop off of and pick up. Of much more interest is the mental and experiential makeup of urban space in the wake of robot-delivery. The bodySpace of the urban fabric of older days. Is the world shrinking or expanding is there going to be more or less space between the warehouse and the customer?

Image taken from archiobjects / View of the High Rise City Project, L. Hilberseimer, 1924

It might bring us closer to the post city landscape where time and location no longer define the urban context but free up the space between entities. Thus creating a cross between Ludwig Hilberseimer’s High Rise City (1924) and Decentralized City (1944)? With the driving forces missing behind the urban concept new forms of spatial configurations and spatial order will become necessary and desirable. Will we be able to escape the modernist city through ultra mechanisation?

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The landscape is many things and indeed a big topic in architecture and art at the moment. Far from the sustainable and eco discussion, landscape has become a more approachable term taking over from a very technical system sort of term. It essentially means the same – things working in interconnected ways – and are not entirely to be framed in one single way.

From early Dutch landscape painters quite literally bring the view of the surrounding nature into the house it has evolved to a very intellectual construction of everything that surrounds us. Artists ha a hand in the terms development from the beginning and still do chiefly influence the direction its interpretation develops.

Image taken from Zimoun / 435 prepared dc-motors, 2030 cardboard boxes 35x35x35cm. Zimoun 2017. Installation view: Godsbanen, Aarhus, Denmark. Curated by Marie Koldkjær Højlund and Morten Riis.

Landscape is however not less technical than its predecessorial term and in the work of the Swiss artist Zimoun this is fascinatingly illustrated and heightened. I stumbled on this via inverses. The mesmerising work develops a multitude of landscapes from object to technology, flows and not least sound.

Video by Zimoun / 127 prepared dc-motors, sticks 30cm, 2015

Video by Zimoun / 240 prepared dc-motors, cardboard boxes 60x20x20cm, 2015

The installation was part of the exhibition What Lies Beneath Installation view: Borusan Contemporary Istanbul Exhibition: “What Lies Beneath”, September 5, 2015 – February 21, 2016, Curator: Christiane Paul. The exhibition «What lies beneath» strives to capture one of the current conditions of our culture: an atmosphere of increasing alienation and decaying trust resulting from factors that often lie beneath the surface of the visible. The show comprises four room-size installations — by Krzysztof Wodiczko, Michal Rovner, and Zimoun — that create a contemplative space for reflecting on cultural and social conditions and visceral forces that may not be easily perceivable and create feelings of uncertainty.

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Housing is one of the fundamental aspects of the city. A place for living and a good place at that. Not always, however, is it successful with too often conflicting interests clashing over its delivery. Economic aspects, but also politics and power struggles more often than not cloud the bright future of a generation.

Vienna has however, over the past almost 100 years, delivered on a social housing program that certainly is part of the reason Vienna is consistently rated most liveable city in the world. Jovis Publishers has recently published the 2nd edition of The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City a publication1 and a touring exhibition to honour, present and discuss housing more broadly.

The housing model in Vienna is an interesting mix with a strong tendency to subsidised and state owned properties. Today about 62% of all households are
subsidised with the city owning about 220’000 housing units, corresponding to about 1/4th of the housing stock. About another quarter is owned by housing associations.
This Vienna Model developed from the 1920s when the city became one of the first to be governed by social democrats, labelled “Red Vienna”, decided that the housing market should not entirely be left to the private sector.
Today the instruments developed in this ongoing effort to provide a social housing program of very high quality are of much interest to planners around the world. The “four pillar model” sounds very cheesy, but actually has proven itself as simple enough to be implemented in practice and thorough at the same time to deliver the social mix in all residential areas. These four pillars are social sustainability, Architecture, ecology and cost. Detailed onfo on this in German can be found on the website of the Wonfonds_Wien.

Image taken from the publication / Vienna’s Four Pillar Model as presented in the 2017 Jovis Publication “The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City”.

Vienna's Four Pillar Model

Unlike other mainly European cities, Vienna has resisted the temptation to sell off its public housing stock to solve short term budget problems or regain control over an increasingly independent fraction of the population. Such efforts for example by the different governments in the UK were successful in this respect but at the same time destroyed the affordability of housing for generations.

Over the past 90 or so years a collection of housing projects have been realised in Vienna that are outstanding examples of their respective area and continue to serve as references to the discussions on housing international. The publication
dedicates a entire chapter to a number of the most prestigious projects starting with the Reumannhof 1926, includes the Karl-Marx-Hof 1930, the Werkbundsiedlung 1932 and the Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa 1985 amongst others. The contrast could not be any more stark.

Image taken from Wikipedia by Bwag / Karl-Marx-Hof central section of the 1km long housing block built in 1930.

Karl-Marx-Hof

Image taken from Faustian urGe Fist / Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa, 1985, Vienna, Austria. Architect Hary Glück, Requet & Reinthaler & Partner and Kurt Hlawenczka.

Alt-Erlaa

The publication showcases a whole range of projects. Some 60 prototypical project feature in the publication and the ongoing accompanying exhibition with the same name. It has since 2013 toured the globe with some upcoming dates for 2018: Warsaw, Poland, October 2018; Calgary, Canada (workshop only), November 2018; Conference Housing for All, Vienna, Austria, 05.12.2018; Los Angeles, USA, spring 2019. Details on their website.

The publication is based on the traveling exhibition with the same name. It was presented in New York, hence the dedicated chapter to the comparison of NY and Vienna. What the publication really is about is “Red Vienna”‘s housing projects legacy with an added explanation about the tools used to achieve this. Yes, it is a good idea to look closely at the “Four Pillar Model” if you have a minute.

Image taken from Jovis / Book Cover – The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City.]

Book Cover The Vienna Model

  1. Förster, W. ed., 2017. The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City. 2nd edition, (orig. 2014) ed. Berlin: JOVIS Verlag.
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This will be some new stuff. Welcome to urbantick’s new home! Yes, it is WordPress, and it has a brand new custom domain – www.urbantick.org also the previously used urbantick.eu domain will still be working ahh.. redirecting here.

It has been in the making for too long, but that doesn’t matter now. It’s back, it’s fresh and its same old stuff.

1

Walled City Andy young

2

aerial photography

With this online move, the real home of urbantick is also relocating. It started out at CASA at UCL back in 2008 and had then moved to the IArch at FHNW for a couple of years. Its new home is in Calgary at the Department of Environmental Design. Some might remember the Twitter work on Calgary that we did back in the days.

NCL Calgary

There is a NCL Calgary map and a aNCL visualisation on Vimeo.

There is a host of new topics to be expected, but we’ll keep an eye on the developing issues of urban-related stuff from around the world. There is also a trove of recent research around typology and technology that hasn’t yet found its way onto this platform awaiting publication.

About

Anyhow, same old, same old let’s plough on. Good read and please comment as you see fit or get in touch.


We have to wait and see…..

  1. Image taken from My Modern Met by Andy Young / Walled City #03, from the series Walled City. Drone footage of urban areas in China. Check out his portfolio here.
  2. Image taken from My Modern Met by Andy Young / Walled City #01, from the series Walled City. Drone footage of urban areas in China.
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Animals have featured on this blog mostly in connection to technology in some form and always in regards to movement. Studying these patterns are especially fascinating as they complement snapshot impressions one normally has if just observing the animal occasionally. It is however also a reminder that movement pattern are much less structured and determined than is generally believed. Movement is goal oriented, but in order to maximise performance it is extremely flexible and opportunistic behaviour.

Movement is therefor very expressive, it tells the story of desire and emotion and is the basis of many art forms, foremost dance, eg. this old post on the movement of the body and creation of space.

Image taken from The Guardian / Snails of the gros-gris (fat greys) species saved from the plate.

An upcoming art work has mixed these aspects together and come up with a brilliantly mistifying snail ballet. Elizabeth Saint-Jalmes and Cyril Leclerc have created a dance of the animals supported by live music. It is also a live event that is coming to London’s Kings Place on Fri 20 & Sat 21 April – booking here.


Pixel lent / slow pixel from Cyril Leclerc on Vimeo.

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Home delivery keeps the urban areas busy and promises the busy citizen a hassle free consumer live style. Delivery trucks a clogging the streets of most large western metropolis for later today, same day or next day deliveries.

Not the road, but the sky is the limit so little surprise drone technology has attracted the interest of large delivery companies. There are a number of project in development. Currently the hurdle is not so much the technology but the legal requirements.

Nevertheless test are being undertaken. One example for a smaller scale autonomous food delivery system is being tested in Iceland.

The Iceland project does sound like a scam, but it has been covered by Inside, the Verge, Fortune and actually investigated by TNW.

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London has seen a boom in inner-city developments over the past five to ten years. Large areas have been transformed, become densified in many ways and existing development has been replaced to make way for huge investments. Along it came a number of landscape projects to design pleasing outdoor spaces.

London is comparably green for its size with many streets tree-lined and many public parks. However, the everyday location in this bustling city is still dominated by hard surfaces. Greenery is rare and often not maintained. Especially with the government’s ongoing austerity programmes, the local councils struggle to keep up maintenance.

To distinguish themselves investors invest big in the design of the surroundings of their buildings. It underlines the quality to justify sky-high rents. The public is invited in to generate footfall for rented spaces. Where previously private property was fenced off, investors have discovered the potential of beautiful spaces. It seems a win-win situation, the public gets more greened spaces, the local councils get well maintained outdoor spaces and the investors can secure their investment.

The numerous places that have sprung up across London are now documented in a new JOVIS publication Landscape Observer: London by Vladimir Guculak. The book acts as a guide, but also a repository of not just a handful, but some 89 projects. Ranging from large-scale projects like Kings Cross redevelopment in central London to the Cutty Sark Gardens in Greenwich and other smaller projects.



Image own / Title page of the pubication Landscape Observer: London, by Vladimir Guculak, 2017.

Each project is in detail documented with photographs by the author, a landscape architect himself, with additional information about location, size, year, designer, nearest public transport and accessibility information. Each chapter is proceeded by a map that helps locate each open space in the context of the city.

It is a beautifully designed publication complete with artwork by the author. With the photographic documentation, the publication gives an overview of the project and a number of detail shots to highlight specific areas and in some cases construction details. Along the photos, the author does give a brief listing of plants included, materials used and other special features such a street furniture and lighting.

Image taken from London Fieldwork / Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven

It also features a personal favourite the Duncan Terrace Gardens (p.18). With a very inspiring artwork by London Fieldwork Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven. Or the nice-to-be-in-the-summer-with-kids Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.

The weather is always extremely sunny throughout this publication and everything is documented in bloom with green lush leaves. It might seem a good idea to show summer, but landscaping has to work 12 months a year not only three or four. This is especially true for English weather and seasons. Colourful autumn leaves are as beautiful if not more so and stormy or rainy conditions can make for dramatically romantic scenes. So not why not make use of it?

However, there are some more important problems with this publication. And it’s not that something like the John Lewis Rain Garden (p.81) designed by the prominent designer (Nigel Dunnett) of the 2012 Olympic Parc in Stratford (now Queen Elizabeth Olympic Parc) features as a model “public space”. The main problem is the nonchalant attitude towards public space.

Public space is one of the most important principles to an accessible and shared city that is open to everyone. It is highly political and can be linked to the concept of the city-state in ancient Greece with the Agora, the foundation of democracy. See for example Sennett, Richard, 1998. The Spaces of Democracy, 1998 Raoul Wallenberg Lecture or Henry Lefebvre, 1974 (1991 e). The Production of Space, Blackwell. p.237-241. We don’t need to launch into a manifesto for the open city here, others have done so much more thoroughly. Nevertheless, the open and shared spaces are fundamental to living together in an open democratic city.

The problem with public spaces is the creeping rise of POPS or pseudo-public spaces. These spaces look and feel like public spaces but are in fact private spaces. They are on privately owned land and therefore are governed by a very different set of rules. Rules that are made up by the private owner and rarely publicly shared. The fact that one can access a street, a square or a riverside does not for a long shot make it public space.

The Guarding has recently run a couple of stories on the rise of pseudo-public spaces in London and together with GiGL put together a database of such spaces in the UK and especially London. The Guardian has put together a quick guide to POPs here, listing important points such as “…appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and corporations.” or “…“Pops” – are not subject to ordinary local authority bylaws but rather governed by restrictions drawn up the landowner and usually enforced by private security companies”, noting “…public access to pseudo-public spaces remains at the discretion of landowners” and “…alter them at will. They are not obliged to make these rules public.”

Image taken from the Guardian / Map shwing the pseudo-public spaces around central London. The data has been put together in colaboration between the Guardian and GiGL and is available as open data.



Image taken from the Guardian / View of Canary Square, Kings Cross with square and fountain and the UAL in the background.

One of the most prominent areas of these new breeds of urban spaces is the area around Kings Cross with Granary Square, Wharf Road Gardens, Gasholder Park and more. It has become over the past two or so years a very popular meeting place with new restaurants, soon to be open shopping, housing and the UAL at the centre of it. It is a very cleverly disguised pseudo-public space with the university at the centre, a very large square with a sort of public program and fountain as well as access to the Regents Canal, Kings Cross and St. Pancras station.

All of these are listed in the discussed publication as examples and many more such as St Pancras Square and Regents Place to list a few. Interestingly the author does make a reference to what he calls “political activists” presumably campaigning for public spaces. Examples listed on other news sites such as BigThink list some of the implications:

In 2011, Occupy protesters were removed from Paternoster Square, outside the London Stock Exchange, on the grounds that they were trespassing on private land owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Company.

In Pancras Square, part of King’s Cross Estate, lying down on the grass is okay, but not sleeping. One homeless man told the Guardian that as soon as he shuts his eyes, he is accosted by security guards.

Taking pictures is becoming increasingly problematic, with photographers being informed by security guards that they are on private land, and their activity is subject to prior permission – even in what looks like public space, such as Tower Place, adjacent to the Tower of London.

Public drinking is considered sufficient reason for removal from certain Pops.

A lot of data has been put together by GiGL and the Guardian on sites in London and has been published as open data here.

This implicates the publication and the approach to some extent. It raises serious questions about the use of terminology or the understanding put forward of public and space. But it does not question the intention of the author. It was put together from a practitioners point of view, probably aimed at peers. Focusing on materials and practices, but then was opened to a wider audience, as hinted in the foreword.

Image own / Spread of the pubication Landscape Observer: London, by Vladimir Guculak, 2017.

Not just, but especially as professionals in urban planning, landscape architecture, architecture, public officials and other roles involved in the planning and maintenance of public spaces, we have to be extremely careful and precise with the terminology to ensure and preserve these fundamentally important features of an open and accessible city, our open society and ultimately democracy are not undermined.

Never the less it is one of the most comprehensive collections of recent landscape architecture projects in the centre of London and as such a valuable contribution, even if vague regarding terminology and location mapping. Extensive preview available on the publisher JOVIS’ website

Image own / Cover of the pubication Landscape Observer: London, by Vladimir Guculak, 2017.

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