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— urbantick

May 2010 Monthly archive

Spearheaded by the current energy, financial, and climate crises the sustainability agenda has called upon planners, architects, and urban designers to rethink profoundly the ways in which we build our cities. This, however, is not the first time when modern society is faced with such an imperative. Roughly one hundred years ago, in the beginning of the twentieth century, the explosive growth of cities during the industrial era posed a similarly overwhelming challenge. Thus, before we embrace wholeheartedly and without reservations the new emerging paradigm of sustainable design, it is worthwhile to consider the historical experience of western society when faced previously with the heroic task of redesigning the city.

The unprecedented rate of urbanization in Europe and North America towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, produced a number of severe urban problems related to congestion, overcrowding, pollution, and public health. The western civilization produced two strategies for addressing these issues. The first one was an instinctive response based on the idea of decentralization. Thus, over the course of the twentieth century, the processes of suburbanization were effectively fuelled by a confluence of economic, cultural, and political forces stretching the boundaries of cities to engulf ever-greater patches of their surrounding landscapes. The second response to the challenges of rapid urbanization was based on the principles of the emerging modernist movement, putting its faith in the application of science and technology as a way of combating all social ills and advancing society forward into a new era of universal progress. In the context of city planning, this line of thinking called for massive reorganization of the urban fabric with the goal of increasing the efficiency with which cities performed their functions.

Image taken from Integrated Sustainable Design / In North America, more and more of the landscape is being converted to what has been called the wildland-urban interface, where urban sprawl takes over natural landscapes, as seen in this aerial view of the expansion of Albuquerque, New Mexico into the surrounding desert landscapes.

During the twentieth century, the two strategies (suburbanization and modernization) were applied simultaneously throughout the western world. The market-driven economies placing emphasis on suburbanization, and the central command-driven societies emphasizing modernization defined the two extremes of this range. It should be noted that to a great extent, both of these strategies achieved their goals. They reduced overcrowding, rationalized and improved the delivery of urban services, and offered to a great share of urban residents better quality housing (both in the form of suburban homes and high-rise urban dwellings) compared to the slums and squatters of the nineteenth century industrial city. However, both of these strategies created their own set of urban problems, which became very obvious toward the end of the century. The fallacy of modernist planning (the separation of uses leading to the demise of urban vitality) and the negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of urban sprawl are extensively documented in urban literature and need not be recounted here.

The point that I am trying to make is that we should examine very carefully the principles of sustainable urban design before it is too late to deal with its unintended consequences. I am afraid that efforts for such critical evaluation are still lacking or easily drowned in the euphoria of embracing the new green agenda. My main concern is that sustainable design principles, if they are too rigorously applied, can easily become a dogma that can threaten the most salient feature of cities – the intensity and richness of social interaction reflected in the complexity and richness of urban form. This can happen on several fronts and disturbing parallels could be drawn with the dawn of the modernist movement.

Image taken from arc1.uniroma.it / Le Corbusier, Plan Voisin, Paris 1935.

One of the most alarming overtones heard among the ranks of the most radical sustainability proponents is the notion that the severity of the environmental crisis, coupled with the needs of today’s profoundly transformed society, call for a complete redesign of the built environment. The rejection of the past and its structures is a familiar rallying cry of the modernist thinkers, best exemplified by Corbusier’s Plan Voisin. Luckily, most sustainability proponents exercise considerably more constraint in their public proclamations, but one is often left with the impression that appreciation of the existing urban fabric does not rank very high on the sustainability agenda.

Related to that is another point of concern deriving from the narrow interpretation of sustainability. Quite frequently, particularly during the last couple of years, sustainability is equated with minimising energy and resource use. I am afraid that applied to the urban realm, the dictate of resource efficiency can produce similar outcomes to those generated by the push for greater functionality which dominated modernist city planning during the previous century. Following such rationale, for instance, one can easily make the argument for the wholesale replacement of the energy inefficient historic housing stock of many cities around the world.

Another analogy between modernist and sustainability ideologists is their shared belief in technology as a main tool for accomplishing societal goals. This time around, the reinstatement of technology as a liberating force comes not in the form of a shiny machine, but as a delicate organic membrane wrapped around the body of the building, a network of sensors draped over the city governing the self-regulation of its interlinked systems. The digital delirium of the twenty-first century has replaced the fetishism of the machine championed one hundred years ago.

Recently, the notion of flexibility and fluidity characterizing natural systems has been pulled in to serve as an inspiration of architectural and urban design. The fluency of space, both interior and exterior, has been emphasized as form-shifting buildings and nomadic public spaces adjust to the ever-changing requirements of a highly dynamic urban reality. The permanence of architecture and the built environment, one of the city’s most reassuring psychological traits, is replaced by an overly responsive environment eager to please the users in whichever possible way.

These are just a few thoughts, admittedly rather dark ones. Overall, I am rather skeptical of the ability of societies to learn from the past. Yet I hope that the experience from the attempts to redesign the city during the last century could bring some humility and insights to our efforts toward sustainable design.

This Guest post by Kiril Staniov forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.


Kiril Stanilov holds a Professional Diploma in Architecture from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, Sofia; a Master of Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati; and a PhD in Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington. From 1998 to 2008 he was an Assistant and an Associate Professor in Planning at the University of Cincinnati where he taught courses in urban design, physical planning, and contemporary urbanization.
Kiril Stanilov’s research interests are centered on explorations of contemporary patterns of urban growth and change, and the role played by public policies in shaping urban form transformations.

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The city experience is a web of connected networks and multi layered threaded paths that condition us to the emotional state of the city space. In essence, the city fabric is a giant multi user multi data sphere. To take part you really have to put something back in, that’s like life. In this case, to take part you have to input data so others ‘may’ see the output of the data response. One day we all be tracked, our ID in our passports with rfid chips, implants in our arms and new software in skies. One day aliens will arrive and having heard our call they will eat us. One day, one day…….one thing is for certain things do change.

The Mother of Big Brother

Imagine walking out the door, and knowing every single action, movement, sound, micro movement, pulse, and thread of information is being tracked, monitored, stored, analyzed, interpreted, and logged. The world we will live in seems to be a much bigger brother than the Orwellian vision, its the mother of big brother.
Can we use new technologies to imagine a world where we are liberated and empowered, where finally all of the technology becomes more than gimmick and starts to actually work for us or are these technologies going to control us, separate us, divide us, create more borders. Will the securitzation of city space create digital borders that monitor our movement and charge us for our own micro movements inside the system.

Image by Stanza / Sensity on a round globe display tested at County Hall London (Live data on globe 2006)
Image by Stanza / Sensity on a round globe display tested at County Hall London (Live data on globe 2006)

Real time.

There is a argument to opening up the level of control and responsibility in the system. It is a good argument until something changes, the passwords change, the building goes private, and every single piece of data is used for something that it wasn’t intended for. Some things change for the better but sometimes they don’t; one thing is for sure; things change.

My focus is on the things that change, the flow, the data that describes our experience of the city as space. Data from all sides in systems that can be mediated by all, with varying visualizations communicated over the internet and represented onto different display systems. Recurring themes throughout my career include, the urban landscape, surveillance culture and alienation in the city. I am particularly interested in real aspects of the city. Although there are theoretical aspects to my work my works is practise based……in other words I make stuff. It is through this process of research that I find my next questions.

Image by Stanza / Above image shows xml data from London and Copenhagen mashed up together to form a mixed merged city space. Stanza 2008
Image by Stanza / Above image shows xml data from London and Copenhagen mashed up together to form a mixed merged city space. Stanza 2008

My wireless sensor networks are set up to visualize cities as ‘worlds’ full of data, a city of bits. These new data-spaces can help us understand the fundamentals of our outside environment.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

In Sensity I have visited ten world cities and made visualisations. This artwork is made from data that is collected across the urban and environment infrastructure ie from the city. My aim is to re-engage with the urban fabric and enable new artistic metaphors within city space. The sensors are positioned across the city. Custom made software now enables these sensors to communicate will one another in a network over a proxy server in real time. Control to the hardware is opened up. The data is then turned into online real time visualizations of the space.

This work opens up a discourse about networks and surveillance technologies. The ownership and interrogation of public domain space is opened out where anyone can view all the data in these networks. This work aim to reclaim the city which is remade as a real time virtualised space belonging to all.

Sensity can also be shown / exhibited as an installation and projected ie, making a display based on the net based interfaces using the data collected. Sensity can also installed permanently for a longer period in rural or urban space.

The changing data is what affects what you see and experience. The flash interfaces reflect these real time changes in the interactive city space. This is open source so other academics, urban designers, researchers as well as artists can make use of the data. The sensors monitor temperature, sounds, noise, light, vibration, humidity, and gps. The outputs from sensors are also visable on google maps. The social space is opened up into a real time flow space, a new virtualized data space emerges. see http://www.soundcities.com/data.php

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

Stanza Artworks using urban sensors.

A dynamic public sculpture viewable over the internet. House describes the space, a real Victorian terraced house, in this case, that the artist lives in. In “House”, the private interior has been made public. The sensor data unfolds and discloses the inherent properties of the space, creating an online artwork visualisation. The environment is disclosed and made public opened up and made transparent.

Gallery describes the space, in this case the upper gallery in Plymouth Arts Centre, England. Made during an artist in residency project in situ in the gallery space during feb 2008. “Gallery”, is part of a series of process led experiments in data visualization within the context on an art gallery. Stanza asks, “what happens during the process of visiting the gallery as a dataspace”; ie what happens to the gallery and what do the visitor do? The gallery laid bare as a work of art. Gallery proposes that the data is art. The art is a real time flow of the things around us that allow our senses to invoke understanding. The gallery space becomes the art described by the shifts in light, temperature and noises in the space over time.

Field. Tree. Park. Lake.
A series of sonifications and visualisations of landscapes. The landscape becomes virtual, dynamic, and encoded. I am trying to disclose the underlying data that we see that is changing all the time in front of us. The sounds you hear are streams of data acquired and processed in custom made software from thirty motes sensors; this is changed into sounds. The squiggles or painterly stuff on the image is a response to the changing light, temperature, noise, humidity and pollution of the landscape….which is also fixed by its gps position.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

Sonicity is a responsive installation, a sonification of the space. The system monitors the space (the building) and the environment (the city) and captures live real time data ( light , temperature, noise, humidity, position) to create an ambient sonification, an acoustic responsive environment, literally the sound of the micro incidents of change that occur over time. The interactions of all this data are re-formed and re-contextualised in real time as a audio experience. Hundreds of small speakers are wired together and an installation is made across the available space.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

An installation responding to changes in the environmental data. There are electronic components all over the floor. (Fans, Lead, Soleniods, Motors) these move only in response to a wireless sensor network of 40 motes deployed in the gallery and across the environment. The light temperature, noise, humidity of the space and the city. As this data changes this wired city changes. That is the physical world is made virtual and them made real again. IE fans turn when the temperature changes, motors turn when the light changes. This whole piece is a living and breathing city. The real city captured made virtual and made real in another form.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

An interactive responsive architecture linked to the culture of the AOF Nova building within the city of Trondheim, Norway. The objective is for the Nova building to become the focus and the centre of a new social space harvesting data and information from across the city. The facade presents the emotional real time state of the city by using live data and CCTV images to represent the Nova Building as a living breathing entity. Using custom made software the artist will interpret the data collected into the artworks that are incorporated into the display. Exciting use of the Texlon envelope can be integrated manipulate surface quality, with laminate LEDs allows the creation of envelopes of almost infinite visual variety and interest. The surface can be designed to capture projected light for displaying images, video or colour. Each layer can be engineered to transmit, reflect or scatter the image, enabling the full exploitation of the envelope to operate as a visual panorama.

Image by Stanza
Image by Stanza

Disclaimer – All rights reserved. The copyright for any material published on this website is reserved. Any duplication or use of objects such as images, diagrams and texts is not permitted without Stanza’s written agreement.
© Copyright stanza 2004-10. www.stanza.co.uk

This Guest post by Stanza forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.

Stanza is an internationally recognised artist, who has been exhibiting worldwide since 1984. His artworks have won prestigious painting prizes and ten first prize art awards including:- Vidalife 6.0 First Prize. SeNef Grand Prix. Videobrasil First Prize. Stanzas art has also been rewarded with a prestigious Nesta Dreamtime Award, an Arts Humanities Creative Fellowship and a Clarks bursary award. His mediums include; painting, video, prints, generative artworks and installations. Stanza is an expert in arts technology, CCTV, online networks, touch screens, environmental sensors, and interactive artworks. Recurring themes throughout his career include, the urban landscape, surveillance culture and alienation in the city.

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In their role as climate change canaries, clouds are both more prevalent and closer to home than Arctic ice-caps or polar bears. Cloud patterns have long been read as short-range weather indicators, but more recently they have begun to be seen as longer term climatic signals. Their messages are far from clear, however, and so far little is certain about the roles that clouds are likely to play in shaping future conditions on earth.
Will clouds turn out to be agents of warming, veiling us in an ever-thickening greenhouse of emissions, or will they end up saving the day by reflecting ever more sunlight back into space? These, it turns out, are far from simple questions, and cloud behaviour continues to offer serious impediments to understanding future climates, since a change in almost any aspect of clouds, such as their type, location, water content, longevity, altitude, particle size and overall shape, changes the degree to which clouds will serve to warm or cool the earth.

As is so often the case with climate science, research yields apparently contradictory results. On the one hand, for example, many climate scientists believe that continued surface warming will cause increased water vapour to rise from the oceans, leading to an overall increase in cloud formation — while on the other hand, particularly in warmer latitudes, an increase in the water vapour content of our atmosphere could see large convective cumuliform clouds building up and raining out far quicker than they do at present, thereby leading to a net decrease in the earth’s total cloud cover. Low-level stratiform clouds, meanwhile, tend to shield the earth from incoming solar radiation, but recent research has shown that such clouds are more likely to dissipate in warmer conditions, thus allowing the oceans to heat up further, and causing yet further stratiform cloud loss. Scientists currently have no idea which of these outcomes is the most likely, nor do they really know the kind of long-term influences that either is likely to have. Even if, for the sake of argument, it’s assumed that overall cloud cover will increase as the surface of our planet continues to warm, it remains unclear what kind of clouds (and thus what kind of feedback mechanisms) are likely to predominate.

For instance, high, thin clouds, such as cirrostratus, tend to have an overall warming effect, as they admit shortwave solar radiation in from above, while bouncing longwave back-radiation (reflected from the sunlit ground) back down to earth. Any increase in cirrostratus cloud cover would therefore add another warming mechanism to our climate. In contrast, however, bright, dense cumulus clouds serve to cool the earth by reflecting incoming sunlight back into space by day. At night, these same clouds tend to exert a slight warming effect, by absorbing or reflecting back-radiation, but their overall influence is a cooling one, especially when their summits grow dense and white. So, in theory, an increase in high, thin clouds would amplify the global warming effect, while an increase in low, dense, puffy clouds would have a contrary cooling effect — which is why cloud-whitening has recently been advanced as a geo-engineering idea for mitigating the effects of climate change, with salt water to be sprayed from thousands of ships in order to create brighter and more reflective clouds over the oceans. In reality, of course, things are never that simple, and clouds have always had an interesting habit of behaving in unpredictable ways.

For example, after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, all commercial flights in the United States were grounded for several days, leaving the skies contrail-free for the first time in decades. The result, according to a comparison of nationwide temperature records, was slightly warmer days and slightly cooler nights than were usual for that time of year, the normal night/day temperature range having increased by 1.1 degrees C. According to the climate scientists who worked on the data, this was probably due to additional sunlight reaching the surface by day, and additional radiation escaping at night through the unusually cloudless skies. At first sight this might seem counter-intuitive, for surely the kind of cirriform clouds created by the spreading of aircraft contrails are straightforward warming clouds, the kind that allow sunlight through, while bouncing back-radiation down to the lower atmosphere? Surely an absence of contrails ought to have an overall cooling effect?

But contrails are a lot more complicated than that, because when they are in their initial, water droplet, stage they are denser than natural cirrus clouds, since they are created from two distinct sources of vapour: the moisture emitted by the aircraft’s exhaust, and the moisture already in the atmosphere, all of which is condensed into a turbulent mixture of large water droplets and ice crystals, seeded on the solid particulates present in the exhaust plume. At first, this young contrail behaves more like a fluffy low-level cloud, reflecting sunlight back into space, and exerting a short-term localized cooling effect. But if persistent contrails start to spread, they thin out into cirriform cloud layers, which can often cover large areas of sky. Their overall effect then reverts to a warming one, consistent with the known behaviour of natural cirriform clouds.

Image taken from NASA / Contrails over the southeastern U.S. January 2004

The picture is complicated yet further by the time of day that the contrails form and spread. If contrails spread during the early morning or late evening, they can exercise a slight cooling effect, due to the angle at which sunlight is reflected off the ice crystals into the upper atmosphere. At night, by contrast, all clouds, including contrails, can only exert a warming effect, since there is no incoming sunlight to reflect into space. Any increase in night flights is therefore likely to raise temperatures on the ground: and that increase is already well underway. In fact, the projected warming effects associated with the rise in night flights are in the region of a 0.2-0.3 degrees C hike per decade in the United States alone — and this figure does not include the other warming effects of aviation, such as increased CO2 emissions and local ozone formation. Of course, much about contrail science remains new and uncertain, and little about these man-made clouds is understood entirely, especially when it comes to the skies above the developing world, where flights are becoming increasingly prevalent. But the difference between the skies above busy flight corridors and those above sparsely flown areas is clearly visible from space. Whether aircraft of the future will need to change the altitudes or times of day at which they fly in order to modify their contrail formation is a matter of current speculation; as David Travis, the atmospheric scientist who led the post-9/11 contrail research, has pointed out, ‘what we’ve shown is that contrails are capable of affecting temperatures. Which direction, in terms of net heating or cooling, is still up in the air.’

Equally up in the air, albeit at a far greater distance, are noctilucent clouds (NLCs), the changing patterns of which have become apparent over the past two decades. First observed and named in the 1880s, NLCs were once the rarest clouds of all, but not only are they now appearing far more often, they also shine brighter than they did before, and are observable from increasingly lower latitudes. According to one hypothesis, NLCs are being formed from plumes of space shuttle exhaust jettisoned into the earth’s upper atmosphere, where neither water vapour nor dust nuclei are common natural occurrences, and therefore these clouds’ increased appearance (an increase of 8 percent per decade) is due to a proportionate increase in space shuttle traffic. Other research, however, points to the fact that extreme cold is needed to form icy clouds in environments as dry as the mesosphere, 50 to 80 kilometres above the earth’s surface, where temperatures as low as -130 degrees C are normal.

Image taken form NASA / Noctilucent clouds

Strange as it may seem, the increased concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases that have contributed to raising temperatures on earth are also serving to create colder conditions in the earth’s outer atmosphere. This is because greenhouse gases trap much of the longwave surface radiation that has started its return journey back out into space. With less thermal energy able to escape from the lower atmosphere, the upper atmosphere is thereby growing correspondingly chillier. So could the observed increase in noctilucent cloud formation be due to mesospheric cooling, the lesser-known counterpart to global surface warming; and might their increased brightness be due to larger ice crystals being formed from a high-altitude influx of water vapour from the warming layers below? After all, NLCs have only been in evidence since the 1880s, the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, so it is possible that they will turn out to be yet another anthropogenic phenomenon — if so, the visible impact of human activity will have extended much further into our fragile atmosphere than we could ever have previously suspected. Whatever the secrets of these mysterious clouds, it is hoped that the AIM (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) satellite, which was launched by NASA in April 2007 on a mission to study NLCs at close range, will be able to provide some answers to these questions.

Viewed from ground level, clouds are short-lived localized phenomena, undergoing rapid alterations as they pass overhead; when viewed from space, however, their individual movements are subsumed into large-scale formations that range slowly across the earth’s surface, connecting vast tracts of land and sea through enormous geophysical processes. Seen from space, what from earth is merely an indistinct bank of stratocumulus cloud, becomes part of a visible planetary order. It was this dual perspective that led Martin John Callanan to produce a terrestrial cloud globe, entitled A Planetary Order, the many technical challenges of which were worked through and overcome during his residency at the UCL Environment Institute.

Image by Martin John Callanan / A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe), 2009

‘Unlike Richard, who’s got a huge fascination with clouds, I’m more interested in systems — systems that define how we live our lives’ (MJC). Showing the earth’s cloud cover from one second in time, the shimmering white cloud globe freeze-frames the entire operation of the global atmospheric regime, and highlights how fragile the environmental (and informational) systems are that operate across the world. For the globe is created from raw information, being a physical visualization of real-time scientific data. One second’s worth of readings from all six cloud-monitoring satellites that are currently overseen by NASA and the European Space Agency was transformed into a virtual 3-D computer model, which was ‘3-D drawn’, or rather, laser melted, at the Digital Manufacturing Centre at the UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. It was the largest object ever created by the Digital Manufacturing Centre, and it took two full days to build, the delicate outlines and profiles of the clouds emerging slowly as the laser carved gently across the compacted nylon powder surface of the sphere.

Unlike most of NASA’s own data visualizations, the globe features no added colour, only the sculpted whiteness of the raw material that throws a maze of faint shadows across the structure. From out of these shadows, in the right angles of light, emerge the global cloud patterns taken on 2 February 2009 at 0600 UTC precisely, and, under them, the implied outlines of the continents below, seen as though glimpsed through mist, or rather, through the mystifying quantity of atmospheric data that is currently being collected from the silent fleet of satellites in orbit some 36,000 kilometres out in space — an increasingly hertzian environment, where an electronic Babel of satellites, radio signals, text messages and security frequencies vibrate with an invisible stream of man-made weather. Though far from earth’s surface, we have nevertheless made it back to something resembling Borges’s 1:1 scale Map of the Empire, for, by taking a single second’s worth of transmitted information, our entire world has been made anew, pristine, white, and wreathed in the haze of an artificial atmosphere, held aloft like the fossilized egg of a long-extinct species that is about to be brought back to life from a single rescued strand of DNA.

This Guest post by Martin John Callanan forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.
It is an extract from the book Data Soliloquies, commissioned by UCL Environment Institute

Martin John Callanan is an artist whose work spans numerous media and engages both emerging and commonplace technology. His work includes translating active communication data into music; freezing in time the earth’s water system; writing thousands of letters; capturing newspapers from around the world as they are published; taming wind onto the Internet and broadcasting his precise physical location live for over two years. Martin is currently Teaching Fellow in Fine Art Media at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Richard Hamblyn is an environmental writer and historian; his books include Terra: Tales of the Earth, a study of natural disasters; The Invention of Clouds, which won the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize; The Cloud Book and Extraordinary Clouds (both in association with the Met Office). He is currently editing The Picador Book of Science, and researching a book about man-made landscapes.

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I wrote in a previous text on BIG, precisely, on the use of Circle Packing in their project The Ren Peoples Buildings, quoting Cynthia Ottchen, (AD, p.23) that there is an increasing interest for scripted design methodologies, in particular, genetic algorithms based on a biological model (morphogenesis), mathematical means, and advanced parametric modeling tools such as that offer by Rhinoscript (Rhino 3D), Maya Embedded Language (MEL), Catia, GenerativeComponent Software (Bentley System), Processing, MatLab or Mathematica depending on the computer system the architect use (Mac, Linux or Windows .Net). Cynthia Ottchen has noted in the issue Closing the Gap: Information Models in Contemporain Design Practice: Architectural design of Architectural Design (March 2009) that «the profession’s further development of specialist software for structural and environmental analyses and simulations, and building information modeling (BIM) parametisation of material proprieties as well as fabricated and assembly constraints, has elevated practical, technological data to a newly privileged status.» Here I stop the generalization of these architects who use generic algorithms, scripts and modeling. There is a gap between the group of architects such as BIG, FOA, OMA, etc., that of architects such as Asymptote, Iwamoto and Scott Architecture, and that of R&Sie(n). R&Sie(n), the agency co-founded by François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux, uses modeling and scripting in understanding the structural performance of the environment where they construct.
I formulate my hypothesis as such: R&Sie(n), by using morphogenetic and parametric, try to demonstrate that nature cannot be, and I quote them, «domesticated and purely sympathic and predictable»; nature should be though as it «brings some aspect of fear or danger or psycho- repulsion». I won’t discuss the place and the role of fiction in their work, meaning that I won’t speak of fear or danger that emanates from their projects, for instance, I’m Lost in Paris. I would like to focus on how R&Sie(n) uses tools such as modeling and scripts to question the evolution of nature and its interaction with urban elements such as housing. I will essentially interrogate three of their projects that illustrate brilliantly this research of the devenir-écologique (to quote Felix Guattari and of course Gilles Deleuze two of R&Sie(n) influences) of cities. I will follow a few number of core elements such as self-organization and architecture, adaptation, contingence, uncertainty (contingence), redundancy.
If I borrow the system of phylogenesis, I will notice a very interesting evolution in R&Sie(n)’s their research and a focus on ecology. I will not use the term of «green» because «greenery» is predictable, and convenu (obvious, in French in the text). As Javier Arbona argues, «most green architecture spatialises nature either as a neatly bounded territory where, in isolation, it shall regenerate.» Yet, R&Sie(n) questions the way nature and molecular nature of cities interact. Nature is unpredictable so that it cannot be easily domesticated. The notion of «contingent» that can be heideggerian (See, among others, Building, Dwelling, Thinking from Poetry, Language, Thought) is the most appropriate. François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux have reappropriated this notion in their research on ecological architecture and urbanism. Their latest project I’m Lost In Paris (2008-9) examines how the intrusion of nature (fern) causes stress not only on the plants but also the inhabitant of a quiet haussmannian-style housing. Contingence means, for François Roche, relational, conflictual, and transactional mode). For R&Sie(n) nature is reactive and not proactive. I’m Lost in Paris is an ecological house with 1200 ferns that grow around the building. These ferns are fed by hydroponic tubes that carry water from the roof to the plants. To a certain extent, these ferns are fed from an unnatural and human source.
To choose such plant, such ecological site requires research on evolutionary development, behavior and material organization of plants.

Image by R&Sie(n), Paris, 2008-2009 / I’m Lost In Paris, view of the ferns around the house.

Michael Weinstock, Director of the Emergent technologies and design Programme of AA School of London, has undertaken research since a decade on the interaction of evolution of biological elements. He found similarities between the biological structure and parametric and morphogenetic architecture and urbanism. As he wrote for the issue on Techniques and morphogenetic of the Architectural Design (Vol., March/April 2006), «plants are hierarchical structures, made of material with subtle properties that are capable of being changed by the plant in response to local or global stresses.» In the case of I’m Lost in Paris, the principle is clear: ferns will grow up thanks to the installation of hydroponic system that will feed them. The house will probably disappear and provoke fear to the neighbors.

RS_Blow-glass tube
Image by R&Sie(n), Paris, 2008-2009 / I’m Lost In Paris, Blow-glass tube. The ferns receive water from the hydroponic system made of blow-glass tube.

Image by R&Sie(n), Paris, 2008-2009 / I’m Lost In Paris, Ferns. A detail of the ferns that will grow up thanks to the nutrition from the blow-glass tube of water.

Image by R&Sie(n), Paris, 2008-2009 / I’m Lost In Paris, Aerial view of house with the ferns that grow around the house.

The choice of this plant, the fern, is strategic. As we know, there is a strong relationship between a mass of plant form and its lifespan. Big plants live longer than small ones, as noted Michael Weinstock.
A similar project is Spider Net in the Wood, that R&Sie(n) constructed in 2007 at Nîmes (France), confirm Michael Weinstock’s assertion. The scenario is clear and simple: «Over density of existing forest plantation (trees will be at the right level in 5 years)…» R&Sie(n) has posted a series of pictures of the evolution of the plant one year after the construction, entitled Growing plants. As we can see, plants, gradually, seem to absorb the house. The structure is made of netting and wrapping the forecasted size of adult trees with a polypropylene mesh in order to develop a labyrinth in the branches. The house consists of stealth indoor 400 m2 summer 2-stories building that has been plugged and connected to the labyrinth by a huge sliding glass door.

Image by R&Sie(n), Nîmes, 2007 / Spider net in the Wood, Detail of the net.

This house functions as the principle of plants: it is unpredictable, if not to say, self-organizational. It aims at demonstrating that building as well as plants is capable of being changed in response to local or global stresses. This house is a prototype of François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux’s interest for biomimetics, biomimetics or else the behavior of building stressed by nature, to summarize simply (the same Michael Weinstock wrote this: «[…] abstracting principles from the way in which biological processes develop a natural material system, applying analogous methods in an industrial context, and using stronger materials to manufacture a material that has no natural analogue.»). The plan of the house shows the relationship of the building and its surrounding environment.

Image by R&Sie(n), Nîmes, 2007 / Spider net in the Wood, plan of the house and its surrounding environment.

Nature will gradually control the building the building, as I wrote above, will, gradually, be absorbed by its surrounding environment.

Image by R&Sie(n), Nîmes, 2007 / Spider net in the Wood, One year after: view of the house and its surrounding environment.

Image by R&Sie(n), Nîmes, 2007 / Spider net in the Wood, one year after: view of the pool.

What I find fascinating here is the concept of adaptive: in R&Sie(n)’s architectural projects, the building functions as the plants, meaning: it is adaptive. It will be obliged to manage its behavior facing the plants as the plants will resist to this structure made of various technologies and techniques. Plants as well as buildings function in the same way. Precisely, building needs to capture light, ventilation as well as it will exchange gases such as metabolic structures. This is what François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux call Uncertainties, a research that they have been undertaking since 2005 (since their exhibition I’ve Head about). It is very instructive not only for architects but for engineers who work on ecological architecture and urbanism.
Michael Weinstock discussed the concept of redundancy that can be easily used here (Spider Net in the Wood), there (I’m Lost In Paris), and there again (Mosquito). Redundancy, in a biological meaning, as Michael Weinstock wrote, is «not only that the system has more cells available in each tissue than any single task would require, but also that the hierarchical organization of cells is arranged so that issue has sufficient excess capacity for adaptation to changing environmental stresses» while in Engineering, redundancy is considered as an opposition «to efficiency». The distinction, he noted, is that this concept is important if not to say crucial for biology «without which adaptation and response to changing environmental pressures would be possible».
Now I would like to finish this short post with the use of modeling and scripts, and their value in understanding the behavior of nature, and its interaction with urban structure.
Analyzing pictures, plans, diagrams of R&Sie(n)’s projects teaches us the complexity of the process of their work. Let’s take, for instance, the project Mosquito Bottleneck, a house project built in 2003 for an art collector in Trinidad. Precisely, the illustration that shows the movement of the mosquito. This movement produces a simple form that, then, will be assembled to form a complex structure that have behaviors which, in turn, will self-assembled into a more complex structure, and so forth.

Image by R&Sie(n), Trinidad 2003 / Mosquito Bottleneck, Sketch of the mosquito. Study of the movement of the mosquito.

These descriptions and digital models, as I mentioned above, permit a better understanding of the structural performance not only of the biological structure (here: the mosquito, there: surrounding environment, there again: the ferns) but also the building. In the case of Mosquito Bottleneck, the analysis of the movement of the mosquito turned into a klein-bottle twist between the two contradictory data: that of humans and that of insects.

It is interesting to note that the architects used a fragile structure and materials for this building as if they wanted to simulate the fragility of the mosquito lifespan… and our fragility facing with the Mosquito-borne West Nil Fever virus… The skin of the building consists of plastic wire and plastic shrink-warp to weave together the house from the floor to the roof. The goal was to build a skin that would actually attract mosquitoes and move them through the building, while, of course, keeping them separate from the occupants. The result is: the dwelling structure behaves like the mosquitoes as it vibrates like the buzzing of the mosquitoes.

Image by R&Sie(n), Trinidad 2003 / Mosquito Bottleneck, detail of the skin of the house.

Image by R&Sie(n), Trinidad 2003 / Mosquito Bottleneck, diagram of the bottle-klein house. Mosquito trap.

Image by R&Sie(n), Trinidad 2003 / Mosquito Bottleneck, diagram of the Bottle-klein house.

Digital models facilitate the construction of these projects Mosquito Bottleneck, Spider in the Wood, I’m Lost In Paris as well as previous and forthcoming projects. It enables analysis and simulations. The natural behavior of the mosquito is then shifted into a structural behavior that will be modeled, then, scripted with the use of softwares from 3D softwares to mathematical softwares. The analysis of natural environment leads to the construction of house that will be progressively controlled by nature. Conversely, the intrusion of nature (the ferns) in an urban environment (Haussmanian buildings) has previously been simulated with advanced tools in order to draw various scenarios of relationship and conflict between nature, urban environment and humans, etc.
In conclusion (temporarily), these tools permit to test, simulate at various scale behaviors, scenarios, etc., that, will, then, be reinterpreted into construction, meaning, architecture and engineering. They reveal an agenda for new strategies not only in terms of design but also in terms of construction, that is, new system for advanced architectural engineering. If one wonders what ecology can bring to architecture, first answers can be found in projects such as R&Sie(n)’s ones.

Bibliographies R&Sie(n), www.new-territories.com
Roche François, «[Science]Fiction & Mass culture Crisis», in R&Sie(n), DD 05 R&Sie:Corrupted Biotopes, Damdi, 2005, pp.6-17.
Corbellini Giovanni, Bioboot: The Architecture of R&Sie(n), Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.
Gissen David, Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environment, Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.
Weinstock Michael, «Self-Organisation and structural dynamic of plants», in Hansel Michael, Menges Achim, Weinstock Michael (Guest editors), Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic design, Architectural design, March 2006, pp.26-33;
Weinstock Michael, «Self-Organisation and material construction», in Hansel Michael, Menges Achim, Weinstock Michael (Guest editors), Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic design, Architectural Design, March 2006, pp.34-41.
Weinstock Michael, «Metabolism and Morphology», in Hansel Michael, Menges Achim (Guest editors), Versality and Vicissitude: Performance in Morpho-Ecological Design, Architectural Design, March 2008, pp.27-33.
Arbona Javier, «It’s in your nature I’m lost in Paris», Gissen David (Guest editor), Territory, Architectural Design, May 2010, pp.46-53.

See also Lally Sean (Guest editor), Energies: New Material Boundaries, in Architectural design, April 2009, in particular Michelle Addington’s text Contingent Behaviours, Mathieu Lehanneur’s text Domestic Micro-Environments.
Hensel Michael, Menges Achim, Weinstock Michael (Gest editors), Emergence: Morphogenetic Design Strategies, May 2004, in particular, Michael Weinstock’s Morphogenesis and the Mathematics of Emergence, Achim Menges’s Morpho-Ecologies: Approaching Complex Environments, George Jeronimidis’s Biodynamics.

This Guest post by Annick Labeca forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.

Annick Labeca is a researcher on Japanese cities based between Paris and Tôkyô. She has a deep interest on typomorphology and morphogenetic architecture.

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"In nature, organisms and species coexist in an ecosystem, where each species has its own place or niche in the system. The environment contains a limited number and amount of resources, and the various species must compete for access to those resources, where successive adaptations in one group put pressure on another group to catch up (e.g., the coupled phenomena of speed in the cheetah and evasive agility in the gazelle). Through these interactions, species grow and change, each influencing the others evolutionary development. This process of bi-adaptive relationship (in some cases can also assume a form of cooperation and mutualism) or reciprocal adaptation is know as Co-evolution, i.e. the evolution of two or more competing populations with coupled fitness."

Vitorino Ramos [1]
Image by Ben Fry / All Streets 

"Ne quid Nimis" [nothing in excess ]Sustainability can be, aside a trendy tag, a desirable life perspective with high impact within our cities system as long as we make a personal task. Luis Suarez pointed rightly in his recent post when talking abut individual consciousness.
Individual behaviour (usually manipulated by industrial consume model and mass media) has important consequences in the process of co-evolution between techno-sphere and the biosphere, as long as more population demands more resources. The crucial problem is not population growth, but the fact that population  keep consuming resources in an unsustainable way. There are sectors of world population that constantly generate pressure on demanding more resources only to maintain their lifestyle.
The concept of ecological footprint is very instructive as indicator of this phenomenon. The ecological footprint is a measure of how much biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates using prevailing technology and resource management practices. 

Image taken from Nicholas Feltron web-site / FOOD (detail) from the Feltron Annual Report 2009. 

At this point, most people have the belief that science and technology will find the solution and take us through the path of "sustainable development." Technique and technology are important, as long as they are reinforced by common sense. If we maintain the same consumption patterns while increasing technological efficiency what actually occurs is a rebound effect known as the Jevons paradox which states that resource consumption increases when increases its efficiency. It means that when efficiency improves, production increases and therefore, consumption. Here, we can quote José Manuel Naredo, when he pointed "This technological optimism, in fact extractive, is therefore incompatible with life." If we consider that "the second law of thermodynamics can not be ignored."

Image taken from Masdar Media Center / Technique and technology for "new sustainable cities" at Masdar. 

The growth limits do not pass through the optimum use of resources, neither by improving technology. The boundary is defined by the law of entropy, that describes the degradation of matter and energy in the universe. In fact, economy is an open system that can not function without the input of energy and materials. According to Joan Martinez Alier[3], the conflict between economy and environment can not be solved simply with phrases such as "sustainable development", "eco-efficiency" or "ecological modernisation". The clash between economy and environment seems to be inevitable, and Martínez Alier adds that therefore, we still needs to invent something new, a vision that does not depend on politics, but rather on social movements that reinforce it.Proposal for a social approach to sustainabilityNicholas Georgescu-Roegen pointed that in the future the fundamental scarcity would not be due to energy (given the existence of solar radiation), but depending on materials, taking in consideration that Earth is an energy-open but materials-closed system. The question is not whether the 21th Century cities may be sustainable or not.  The crucial fact is that our entire system of production and consumption needs a deep revision. This can be achieved as long as we abandon "growth rates" and "development" (even if sustainable) as economic and political objectives and focus on other convivential and relational goods, which consequently will be reflected in all our achievements, including architecture and our cities. A clear awareness of the material and energy limits of our activities is essential to reach a balanced relationship within the system. It is possible that this will lead to courageous proposals as to stop or reverse the growth of our cities. Changing our mechanical growing paradigm and our production system would result in the conversion of economic activity as we know, which is deeply rooted in our collective unconscious as synonymous of progress. In this process of assimilation and conversion, will be crucial the community support to absorb the countless number of people who need to change their labour activities. At this stage starts to make sense to encourage activities based on convivential exchange of goods (in the sense pointed by Ivan Illich) [4], labour support and network assets in the creation of open source systems that allow appropriation and adaptation to the specific situation where apply (e.g. time banks, local currencies, barter of services, open source software).

Image by dpr-barcelona / Wellness' Thermodynamics.

We have proposed an open formula, which allows new variables in case anyone wants to contribute. With didactic vocation, it shows the increasing importance that relational goods must have against other "values" that until recently we thought unassailable.
[1] Ramos, Vitorino "Charles Darwin’s Scottis kilt " http://chemoton.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/charles-darwins-scottish-kilt/. Web May 07 2010.
[2] Global Foodprint Network. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/. Web May 06 2010.
[3] Interview points by Monica Di Donato CIP-Ecosocial http://www.rebelion.org/noticia_pdf.php?id=81315. Web May 06 2010.
[4] Illich, Ivan. "La Convivencialidad" (Tools for Coviviality) . Barral Editores. Barcelona 1978.
This Guest post by dpr-barcelona | Ethel Baraona + César Reyes forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanismdpr-barcelona is an innovative publishing company based in Barcelona, specialised in high quality architecture and design books. With an international scope and founded by two architects, their titles vary from monographs and documentation of buildings to historical studies, collections of essays and dissertations. Showing a clear innovative way to bring the contents to the public, their projects transcend the boundaries between time and space from conventional publications, approaching to those which are probably the titles of architecture in the future.

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Ecology is one of the most popular words nowadays. We all throw terms in frequently like sustainable, environment friendly, renewable, efficiency, green, climate change. It is now important for Companies, governments, politicians, individuals; to turn green. Some really respect the cause and care about themselves and the planet. While others take advantage of the situation; “green” is now a profitable brand. For good or for bad ecology is know trendy.

Image taken from CNN / In Copenhagen, Denmark, which has a reputation for accommodating cyclists, Jessica Eisenbraun gets her exercise riding around the city on her steel bike, which is older than she is but easy to maintain. Biking is the fastest way around the city, she says, when you consider how long it would take to park a car or take a bus.

“GREED Vs GREEN” Our contemporary societies are evolving from “greedy to greeny”. Bill Maher, an american comedian and critic said in his show; “greed isn’t good! In fact, is the common threat that runs through all of the problems that this country faces, from financial meltdown, to healthcare, to climate change. Americans will do anything to each other for money…” Twenty years ago greed and consumption were the key factors in any society. Things seem to be changing slowly. Unfortunately we needed get scared the hell out to evolve! We all now fear; Climate change, terrorism and the economy. As a result society is getting a conscious.

Individual consciousness seems to be the answer for this mess. Consciousness about our ways of life by consuming less and taking care of our selves and the environment. Italian Architect Andrea Branzi in his “Weak Metropolis Lecture” at the ecolological urbanism conference in Harvard talked about our attempt to change cities with major architecture projects, and how we must instead focus on smaller scale projects that will be able to penetrate households and cultures. It is in the conscious of the individual that ecological urbanism finds its roots.

Sustainability is the capacity to endure independently. The term is often used in architecture and urbanism for projects that respect or use a minimum of natural resources, the same term can be applied on individuals. The sustainability of the individual must be approached on how the individual takes advantage of the environment with the minimum impact over it. Environment relating to the geographical location, social and cultural surroundings of the habitant. This means that Andrea Branzi arguments are very strong. Even though a large amount of resources could be used in the construction process I do believe that well thought macro projects can bring benefits to a city and small projects like roof productive gardens (not only grass!) in each house hold can definitely create a huge difference on the sustainability of a city. Small viral green projects carried out at a house hold scale or at an individual scale will change the dynamic of the city. It will bring better quality of life to the habitants and it will lower the resources that the city requires.

Image taken from civileats.com / Roof of Abundance, a repot from the frontline of roofgardening in New York by Paula Crossfield. Details can be found in the ‘Roof Garden Rookies’ Category.

An informed individual is a conscious one. Nowadays we can find several web pages that will inform and measure the carbon footprint of individuals or small businesses. For example myfootprint.org, or one that I recently discover and that I really enjoyed is www.changinghabbits.org The ‘Changing Habbits’ project was initiated, designed and developed by Prof. David Walker and Prof. Rob Holdway of Giraffe Innovation. By responding to some easy questions this website will calculate your carbon footprint and will illustrate it in a fun way, at the end of the exercise you will have a perspective of your house hold habits and some simple tips on becoming greener and on improving your quality of life. The message is simple, wrong habits will make you a fat, ugly and unhappy person! So from a greedy materialistic frightened society we must change our ways into a conscious society. We all are ecological urbanists.

Image taken from changinghabbits.org / cover illustration.

This guest post by Luis Suarez forms part of the discussion on Ecological Urbanism as an urbanTick series .

Luis Suarez was born, in Bogotá, Colombia and graduated from The University of Florida in design, construction and planning in 2005. He received a master in science of urban design from The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Bioclimatic Architecture from The Isthmus School of Architecture for Latin America and the Caribbean. He is designing and building multiple projects in South and Central America with his established firm, Estudio ArQ.

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The Ecological Urbanism conference 2009 at Harvard’s GSD ambitiously set out to define a ‘new ethics and aesthetics of the urban’, taking a design approach to developing a multi-disciplinary understanding of urban ecology. The contributions in the accompanying publication are highly diverse, contradictory even; ranging from small scale to the regional, practical to polemical, from favelas to futuristic utopias. The results are rich, muddled, often fascinating, and fail to reach any consensus on ecological urbanism. I propose here that a true multi-disciplinary understanding of urban ecology needs to interface between design and the social-sciences, particularly economics and geography, an approach rarely touched on in this volume.

In the introduction Mohensen Mostafavi argues that ecological urbanism can define a new set of revolutionary sensibilities and practices in design that challenge established socio-economic and political structures. Indeed the book includes many inspiring examples of small scale eco-architecture. The difficulty is whether architectural projects can really ‘scale-up’ to bring about city-wide and global change. Cities are not the result of architectural design, but emerge through complex social and economic (generally capitalist) interactions. Urban development is subject to this capitalist order, with iconic buildings used to brand cities to compete in global markets.

The choice of opening keynote for the conference, Rem Koolhaas, met with criticism as he is precisely the kind of ‘staritect’ marketeer that has engaged little with ecological urbanism. Yet he is ironically the only contributor to discuss greenwashing- an important concern for sustainable architecture. Even the oft-cited eco-cities of Masdar and Dongtan, while being larger scale and revolutionary in scope, have elements of greenwashing writ large, with UAE’s oil-money Masdar a small distraction from the insanity of Dubai, while Dongtan is a drop in the ocean in China’s coal powered western-style urban explosion (and may never be built).

Image taken from constructionweekonline.com / Masdar City, Foster & Partners. Eco-city projects provide a test-bed for comprehensive urban sustainability solutions, but how can these ideas be applied to the thousands of existing cities? The US $22 billion project is being developed in seven phases.

So how could a geographical approach contribute to an ecological urbanism? Well it would begin with cities as they are- urban evolution and retro-fitting are the priorities. Indeed several articles in the conference volume do discuss regional integrated urban assessment approaches, in terms of the many dimensions of sustainability such as energy, water and waste. There is also interesting discussion of the complex and productive social structures in slums, particularly in Mumbai.

A considerable additional challenge is to consider cities in terms of their global relationships and flows, the economic and power structures that define urban function and growth. Thus it is entirely possible for a city to be ecologically sound in its physical form, but embedded in environmentally damaging economic and political structures. London is a case in point, with positive moves towards local energy generation and sustainable urban form doing little to change the ills of a capitalist system in which it is a primary centre (London based BP struggles to contain environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico as I write). Very few articles in the volume grapple with these issues. One that does is Hodgson & Marvin’s critique of eco-planning, which convincingly argues that energy security and social and material reproduction concerns are the main roots of trends by capitalist cities towards improving self-sufficiency and adopting sustainability discourses.

In conclusion, an aesthetics of ecological urbanism in isolation cannot be sufficient, and the perspectives of economics and geography are needed to place cities in global structures. Interfaces between the design and social sciences are the most promising path for understanding local and global connections and creating an ecologically based urbanism.

This Guest post by Duncan Smith forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.

Duncan Smith, is a researcher in GIS and urban geography at CASA UCL, completing a PhD on the topic of polycentric urban form and sustainable development. He also works as a research fellow at the Greater London Authority Economics Unit.

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We are starting a series of blogposts on the topic of ‘Ecological Urbanism‘ here on urbanTick for which we invited guest to discuss the topic from different angles. Over the next few days a contributing post will go online every day, outlining a specific aspect, each with a individual perspective. The invited guest list in order of appearance: Duncan Smith, Luis Suarez, DPR-Barcelona, Annick Labecca, Martin John Callanan, Stanza, Kiril Stanilov.
We kick of with a introductory review of the recent Harvard publication ‘Ecological Urbanism‘ edited by Mohsen Mostafavi with Gareth Doherty, published by Lars Mueller Publishers. This will provide the context in terms of topics and problems for the following discussion.

The book sprung from a conference held in April 2009 at Harvard University – Graduate School of Design, titled “ECOLOGICAL URBANISM: Alternative and Sustainable Cities of the Future”. Design practitioners and theorists, economists, engineers, environmental scientists, politicians and public health specialists where invited to discuss and compare ideas, projects and latest developments about the present and future of ecological urbanism.

The book foreword by Mohsen Mostafavi is concise and yet rich of insights. His words may be interpreted as an axiom made by three simple statements which bring the reader to a notorious conundrum. The articles in the book (hopefully) should help the reader decipher it.

Statement 1: The largest wave of urban growth in history is happening now. Since 2007, for the first time, the majority of the world’s population has been living in urban instead than rural areas (UN-Habitat, 2007). Rapid city growth is often uncontrolled and risky.
According to Roy (2009) by 2025 more than 90% of the new urbanites will locate in developing countries (UNFPA, 2007), which are already characterised by explosive growth of population, low stages of economic development and poor state of environment (Pugh, 2000).

Statement 2: The former leads to a massive use of the available resources and the necessity to address scarcity. In fact, cities cover only 2% of the earth’s surface, yet consume 75% of all resources and produce 75% of all waste (UNFPA, 2007).
Megalopoleis have captured much of the public attention, but most of the new growth will occur in smaller towns and cities, which have fewer resources to respond to the magnitude of change.

Image taken from Ecological Urbanism / Spread from the book.

Statement 3: The former two lead to environment exploitation and consequent disasters, especially around urban areas. Urban sprawl fragments land cover, reducing ecosystem functions and increasing the probability of natural and man-made hazards.

The conundrum is thus the following: can we achieve fast urban growth and development without destroying the Earth?
As Bruno Latour outline in his article, “nothing looks the same, space is different, and so is time. Space is now that of a fully urbanized planet Earth.” So, where and how will we learn our new skills?

Image taken from Ecological Urbanism / Spread from the book – a timeline identifying the major urban-regional disasters during the past century.

Architecture, in the broader sense of the word, should be able to address this issue and give some answers. Unfortunately true scientific research concerning sustainable urban growth, large-scale planning and related ecological disasters has just started with very low and uncoordinated funding.
Most of the current research is towards architectural solutions and building products which bring new technological insights to the problem at a small scale, but do not break into the large scale issues.

The book shows exactly these limits within the architectural world. Theoretical advances in urban ecology and the state of the art of design concepts and practices are beautiful illustrated within the 655 pages of the volume. However, most of the projects have very limited scientific significance and minimal impact on a large scale.

The key to address the conundrum seems to be “density”, since it relates and affects each and every subject within the book. Density is the factor that puts in relation humans to city scale, therefore reflecting the soul of both. Density might be the only factor that can have a remarkable impact on sustainability both on large and small scale. Can we define a socially and morphologically “right density”? What kind of urban visions would that bring?

Image taken from Ecological Urbanism / Spread from the book – Perception of Urban Density.

These questions cannot be answered by high-tech solutions or visionary projects, since the places that need the answers the most are still developing in a conventional and conservative way with low resources and increasing fragility.

According to Mostafavi, we need to view this fragility as an opportunity to define a new sensible approach to urbanism, the one that identifies “right densities”, drivers and constraints. The city is not anymore the modernist machine, that works as an entirety in every given world location. Instead, as an organism, the contemporary city evolves through ecologies of social interaction and the natural and built environment (e.g. Felix Guattari’s “ecosophy” concept).

Nowadays, sustainability is a philosophy rather than a design ability, forging a new international language. In architecture history there’s always been a need to find a common, widespread and recognizable language. Whether we trace it back to the Gothic Style or more recently to the Modern Movement, whether it is the result of aesthetics forgery or organised agendas it does not make a difference: cities has been shaped and developed by following trends and styles.

Ecology and sustainability have become today the new widespread language, suddenly (and finally) a fashionable one, which might bring architects, city planners and scientists together working towards the same goal. Whether they will be successful it will depend on the ability to coordinate appealing projects with true scientific background, the capacity of translating international concepts into simple and local words of action.

Image taken from Ecological Urbanism / Spread from the book – From “Sustain” to “Ability”.

In order to extend this debate towards a better understanding of cities as organisms shaped by local actions and ecological patterns, several invited guests will contribute to the discussion over the next days. They will be, in order of appearance: Duncan Smith, Luis Suarez, DPR-Barcelona, Annick Labecca, Martin John Callanan, Stanza, Kiril Stanilov contribuiting on the following subject areas:

1. Environmental and Socio-Economic Contexts
2. Visionary Projects
3. City Sensing
4. Urban Morphology

Roy, M (2009) Planning for sustainable urbanisation in fast growing cities: Mitigation and
adaptation issues addressed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Habitat International 33 (2009)
pp. 276-286.
Pugh, C. (Ed.). (2000). Sustainable cities in developing countries. London: Earthscan.
UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). (2007). State of world population 2007.
UN-Habitat (2007). Global Report on Human Settlements 2009: Revisiting Urban Planning,
outline, UN-Habitat Global Reports on Human Settlements, New York: United Nations

This Guest post by Taneha Bacchin forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.

Mostafavi, M., Doherty, G. & Design, H.U.G.S.O., 2010. Ecological Urbanism, Lars Muller Publishers.

Contributors to the following discussion are in the order of appearance:
Taneha Bacchin is a PhD researcher at University College London – Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UK. She holds a Doctoral Fellowship sponsored by CAPES / Brazilian Ministry of Education for modeling the “co-evolution of cities and environmental crisis”.
Architect and urban planner (MArch) graduated with honour at IUAV University of Venice, Italy (2006) and MSc. in Spatial Planning & GIS at IUAV, Italy (2009). During her studies in Brazil, she has worked as a research assistant in urban planning and computation sponsored by CNPq / Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology.
Since1996 she has worked in architectural and planning practices in Brazil, Italy and Denmark. At the IUAV University of Venice, she has been tutor for the BArch Final International Laboratory.
Duncan Smith, is a researcher in GIS and urban geography at CASA UCL, completing a PhD on the topic of polycentric urban form and sustainable development. He also works as a research fellow at the Greater London Authority Economics Unit.
Luis Suarez was born, in Bogotá, Colombia and graduated from The University of Florida in design, construction and planning in 2005. He received a master in science of urban design from The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Bioclimatic Architecture from The Isthmus School of Architecture for Latin America and the Caribbean. He is designing and building multiple projects in South and Central America with his established firm, Estudio ArQ.
dpr-barcelona is a young and independent publishing company based in Barcelona, specialized in high quality architecture and design books. Focused on the work of emerging architects and designers and their innovative projects. With an international scope and founded by two architects, all of dpr_editorial books are product of a creative exchange between publisher, author and designer and with the collaboration of some experts that make most complete the overview about each project.
Annick Labeca is a researcher on Japanese cities based between Paris and Tôkyô. She has a deep interest on typomorphology and morphogenetic architecture.
Martin John Callanan is an artist and researcher exploring notions of citizenship within the globally connected world. Concerns include information, data, and knowledge.
Martin John Callanan is an artist whose work spans numerous mediums and engages both emerging and commonplace technology. His work has included translating active communication data into music; freezing in time the earth’s water system; writing thousands of letters; capturing newspapers from around the world as they are published; taming wind onto the internet and broadcasting his precise physical location live for over two years.
Stanza is an internationally recognised artist, who has been exhibiting worldwide since 1984. His artworks have won prestigious painting prizes and ten first prize art awards including:- Vidalife 6.0 First Prize. SeNef Grand Prix. Videobrasil First Prize. Stanzas art has also been rewarded with a prestigious Nesta Dreamtime Award, an Arts Humanities Creative Fellowship and a Clarks bursary award. His mediums include; painting, video, prints, generative artworks and installations. Stanza is an expert in arts technology, CCTV, online networks, touch screens, environmental sensors, and interactive artworks. Recurring themes throughout his career include, the urban landscape, surveillance culture and alienation in the city.
Kiril Stanilov holds a Professional Diploma in Architecture from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, Sofia; a Master of Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati; and a PhD in Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington. From 1998 to 2008 he was an Assistant and an Associate Professor in Planning at the University of Cincinnati where he taught courses in urban design, physical planning, and contemporary urbanization.
Kiril Stanilov’s research interests are centered on explorations of contemporary patterns of urban growth and change, and the role played by public policies in shaping urban form transformations.

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The two GPS units provided by Garmin are now in use for the UrbanDiary project for one ful year and this seems a good point to follow it up with a review of the use and performance of the device. This is a follow up from the first test review published on urbanTick a year ago. Since then 365+ days have elapsed and we are still going.
And really to take it up front, the performance is through out impressive and completely positive. The few minor points we’ll be talking about later on, but for the most of it both units performed perfect every day year through out the seasons. This is a great result.
Since they arrived back in April 2009 they were in use every day for the whole day. This puts them to a usage time of some 200’000 minutes. During this time the have collected some 800,000 track points with time-space information for the UrbanDiary project.
The UrbanDiary project is run by urbanTick and is an investigation to record the spatial extension of everyday persona routines in the city. The two 405 units have been used for a longtime study. Two participants used them for the whole year to track their movement.

Image by urbanTIck for urbanDiary / GPS tracking over one year by two participants. Person a is covering in pink the western end of the map and person b is moving around central and north London.

For the previous review the comparison of the Foretrex 201 was used. This proved to be not really comparable, since the forerunner 405 performed so much better. This time we could use the iPhone or a like to compare. To be honest, this, even though we tried it, is nothing you want to do for a whole year. Tracking with the 405 on your wrist is such a convenient thing to do, after two days you forget that it is there. Apart from a slightly paler tan around your wrist in summer there are no longterm complications.
The satellite reception is through out very good with little errors in the resulting records. In fact only a handfull of points needed manual corrections out of the 800,000 records in the database. Here in London there are a particular locations were a signal is weak or lost. For example on the DLR it is even for the 405 difficult and most of the time impossible to get a decent signal due to the glass used in the carriages that prevent the satellite signal to penetrate.
One of the points of critique is the Bezel, the main input element on the device. It touch sensitive navigation is not without hicks and there is nothing more annoying than having this creepy feeling of a tool not responding the way it is intended to. This is to say that the technology works very well, but the few hangs and glitches are probably more annoying than anything else. Occasionally the Bezel will simply not register anything. Not sure if this is connected to wet, or cold fingers, but usually locking and unlocking the device will help with this. The second point is the missing feedback from this method of input. Having a click or any tactile and audio respons would improve the experience quite a bit.
A second point of critic should be on how the device handles the information. There is no option to delete something or manage the data directly on the device. This can only be done via the desktop software. More importantly the device does not inform about the state of the internal storage. So no clue give if the storage is full and worse the device simply starts overwriting the old information. So one has to be careful and regularly sync. And this regularity depends on the activity. If you are out for a week on a tour and recording everyday most of the day, more frequent syncing is required compared to a normal working week where you could probably go for the whole seven days without syncing.
Over this quite long period obviously the bodys of the watches have taken a few hits and this is now visible as scratches and marks. This is again mainly the Bezel that shows most of the markings. There is a exposed kerb around the display and this is where the hits go. As a result this area is partly black instead of the initial golden colour. There are two three scratches o the rest of the plastic body but they are less prominent even though larger. The material copes well with it. Also the actual wrist band looks pretty good, probably not like new, but there are no sweat marks as one might expect.
The second important point of critique is the battery life. This is not really the devices fault. The longterm performance of the battery, in fact is very good, with no sign of earlier battery drain after a continuos usage for a whole year of using and charging every day. And this is the point, the device needs charging every day. It has out of the box an about 8 hours battery life. It would be nice if this could be longer. For now to use it continuously one has to addable the habit of plug in every night. The charging time however is impressively quick. One hour is good, two hours wil probably fill it. And you’ll have it filled up 100% under three hours. The USB charger has the benefit of working with your computer or laptop, so there is never far to go to charge it. For outdoor usage in this post the use of the 405 with the freeoaderPro solar charger was reviewed. It is a realy good solution for when you are on the road and the weather is nice.

Image by urbanTick / The two devices after constant use for one year, every day, all day.

Regarding the buttons, for one there is the missing power button to mention. I still kind of think this would be something to have. Probably mainly because it needs the charging essentially. It is designed as a watch and no one turns the watch off before they go to bed, but I guess this is one of the points were it doesn’t quite work out to be two things at once. I woud like to turn the thing off, preserving battery and starting it up, with a ful battery, as I need it, the next morning. Currently it turns off if the battery is dead and it turn straight on while charged. It has to be said on is usually sleep mode, e.g. displaying the time. We have also debated weather the option to turn on the satellite reception is a needed option? In the context of the UrbanDiary project there was no use of the device without the GPS, tracking is required constantly. For other uses however, there might be a benefit to being able to preserve battery, if you are training at the gym for example. The way to handle it in our case is not to touch the satellite setting, but to start-stop the timer. Stop the timer will put the device in sleep mode after one minute, turning on the timer wil prompt the device to lock to the available satellites, as simple as that – almost a power button.
The design is very simple and quiet. Not a product to attract too much attention for its shape or colour. It fits for everyday use, however it is sort of a cross mix that is a bit undecided. In the long run one might wish it were a tick more distinct. But this is maybe a personal preference for subtile statements. On the other hand the design cleverly conceals the rel size and clunkyness of the thing. I have voted for the green model back then and still would, the black model seems to hard to me, but I am aware that a lot of people prefer it. Maybe an extended colour palet with dark red and a yellowish-orange would be something. Maybe for an urbanTick special edition?

To sum up, as already stated in the introduction the Garmin forerunner 405 is a really great tool and performs to a standart of its own. The price is high, for a full set between £280-300, but this is in the long run very well invested. If you are tracking and able to charge it frequently this is the tool for you. Lets see how it goes in the second year with different participants.

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