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An Ecology of Space – Introducing the Second Ecological Urbanism Discussion

An introduction to the second series of the Ecological Urbanism discussion put together by Annick Labeca and urbanTick.

The Ecological Urbanism discussion series is back with a very exciting line up of contributors. It has been a while since the first series was hosted here on urbanTick back in May, but the topic has not faded, nor have any of the challenges disappeared from the league table of actualities.

In various formats across disciplines this summer has seen a multitude of debates, show, documentations, but also magazines, books, blog posts, wiki and even twitter messages or facebook statuses. Sustainability is hot, or cool, urgent, or desired, politics, or media, but it all helps. We are all in this together.

This second series is now hosted by Annick Labeca, DPR-Barcelona, Taneha Bacchin and urbanTick. The posts will rotate between the three platforms of Urban Lab Global City, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick. No worries we’ll guide you well with pretty links. No need to search for it, we’ll bring the discussion to you. We strongly believe in team work and collaboration, therefore a networked platform seemed appropriate for a dissuasion as complex and multidimensional as this one. Nevertheless this is an experiment so bear with us on this one.

Image taken from tanz im august / Bodies and the city by Compagnie Willi Dorner. Performance around the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

To quickly look back to the last series, where we focused on three different topics, social and society aspects, technology advantages and practice with a a total of nine contributions.
Aspects of sustainability and the social context were discussed by Luis Suarez and DPR who proposed the open formula based on the entropy of sustainability that puts the relational goods into a context. Annick Labeca examined that practice of R&Sie, pointing out how current practice could engage with the topic in a very creative and productive way and developing new solutions at the same time. The technology discussion was present through posts by Martin J. Callanan and Stanza. Where Callanan discussed the impact of technologies migrating from other fields in to the urban context showed Stanza the implementation of bottom up small scale urban sensors as independent units even allowing for interaction. Duncan Smith and Kiril Stanilov put the focus of their contributions towards the urban as a whole. Smith discussed the potential of an sustainable geography in the sense of an overview and clarifying approach to structure the discussion where Stanilov illustrated a comprehensive critique on the ongoing debate, reminding us of past attempts and their results.

Already in the first series it was important to integrate different perspective and a range of backgrounds and disciplines, more so it should be this time. The topic at hand is clearly to be addressed on all levels and in all aspects of activity and usage. In this sense we want to continue the discussion with a group of invited guests to share their angle on Ecological Urbanism and contribute to an collective approach.

As mentioned above this summer has seen the whole range of contribution to the topic. Not surprisingly the marketing branch has discovered the topic and quickly adapted. Term like sustainability have become a selling argument in a profit oriented society. A range of ‘promotion’ books started filling the shelves presenting specific planning companies under a sustainability aspect, see reviews HERE and HERE for example. This is to some extend positive, since it shows there some promotion for the discussion included, but sadly this makes, in the long run, look the discussion and even more so the term look really cheap. I guess this is already something ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable’, but also ‘ecological’ are struggling with.

However, there were some very good publications too, some of them not necessarily directly addressing the topic but proposing new processes as in ‘The urban Connection’ for example or indeed in ‘Grand Urban Rules’ or the ‘SpaceMatrix’. Also there was the ‘Infrastructural City’ book with a in depth discussion on mammoth. This is to link just a few.

One of the concerns and shifts we have discovered during and also after the first discussion is the heavy focus on technology throughout. Efficiency and smart solutions are in the foreground and get pushed quite intensively. That is to some extend because companies have realised that there is an opportunity to deploy their technology and make some money.
This has again different aspects to it. On the one hand it is a great way to develop technologies that push the state of the art and invent ‘greener’ solutions. On the other hand we see a lot of hitch hikers taking advantage of the topic.
What we now see is that technology however has taken over and dominates the discussion, leaving little room for other aspects of the topic. This is little surprising in the currently gadget obsessed urban culture, where the communication via ‘check in’ or ‘just checked in at…’ on the touch scree operates. So a few more sensors and an intelligent network of data collection and some really clever statistical visualisation drawn from a massive data base linking to multiple sources seems the appropriate answer. This is to a large extend not a new phenomenon in the practice of urban planning and is, as Kiril Stanilov discussed it in his post ‘Ecological Urbanism – Redesigning the City 2.0’, very much in the tradition of modernist city planning. Solving the urban problems employing technology has worked well in many areas and ha evolved dramatically. The machine city has been adapted into our everyday lives and the flaws and down hours ‘Ooops, something has gone wrong’ or ‘The city is over capacity’, are gracefully ignored. I guess this comes with the user agreement one has agreed to at sign-up. But this user attitude has its down sides. One is given the instructions on how to properly use on which one is constantly reminded and more importantly one is not part of it but a mere outsider and therefore not responsible. Does this city come with a warranty?

No, actually, it doesn’t and what ever you do will affect your city and your neighbours city. As opposed to the strengthening of the city as a well performing machine in a modernist sense we see the current series of the Ecological Urbanism discussion as a platform to explore potential aspects beyond just technology and the pure reduction of emission of one specific process.

Image taken from Oliver Bishop-Young’s ‘Skip Conversions: London, 2008. / Skates using the skip as a playground.

The second sequel on Ecological Urbanism focuses on space and the design thereof. This sequel is an opportunity to question how space, as a product of cultural and social organisation, has to be reconfigured in order to allow for a more sustainable performance.
Another aspect of space as the raw material in cities is the place of the so called ‘user’, the citizen as a fundamental part of the discussion. Ecological Urbanism begs an important question: how do (and will) we create, use and interact with urban space? This very much in the sense of the recent ‘Urban Interventions’ Book.

Discussing aspects of sustainability on a much more substantial level leads to interrogate crucial points such as the impact of environmental crisis on urban space. Issues among others water shortage, pollution, are much less developed. We all agree that a sustainable approach of urban design is needed to address existing and future cities. Can Ecological Urbanism be a response for a more livable city? Following the debate around Ecological Urbanism, this second series provide keys of understanding of existing cities and how they might be in the future. With a focus on space as the raw material in cities we want to discuss aspects of sustainability on a much more substantial level, as a change to how we create, use and interact with urban space and most important include the so called ‘user’ , the citizen as a fundamental part of the discussion. One aspect might be the social dimension of space in the way design can engage with people, involve them and let them take responsibility.

What we need to achieve is a balance of contribution and benefit in a very spatial sense, covering a lot more than the simple task of recycling materials or using energy responsible. Ecological Urbanism could cover the whole range, starting to understand the citizen as the essential element requiring them to act responsible in a spatial sense. Even though this sounds very 68, but taking care of the city ecology as a shared achievement via responsibility.

This mean of course negotiation and solving conflicts, but I am sure someone will come up with an iPhone or Android app for that. And yes I am very much aware that this call for more social space, more collaboration, more shared society responsibility comes at a rather awkward point in time. All the signs are on privatisation. World crisis, financial downturn, banks are losing money we have to cut the budget everywhere. The political wind has changed and large scale privatisation projects are back on track. Starting with schools, because the public transport has already been privatised, moving on to health and public services. So the city might well be next.

Actually, this is not far off and certainly projects in this direction are gaining momentum. Promising clean annual statistics, a healthy and happy population and of course prospering business conditions, various companies are lining up to secure a share with the new deal. Public space potentially could be worth something and there might well be a possible profit.

Note the cleaver use of extremely popular visualisation techniques. Basically you can find them all in this clip, there is animation, 3D rendering and CGI, tilt shift and time lapse.

IBM is one of these candidates, having just launched a new virtual city game called ‘CitieOne’ aimed at businesses and decision makers, but accessible online.
Funny enough it it focuses on four key areas ‘banking’, ‘water’, ‘energy’ and ‘retail’. Wow, now that’s a city. However for not to go too deep into criticising this project the key aspects are important to mention. The topics are clearly economical and take any cultural, social or health aspects as directly linked to ‘banking’. Also the introduction makes it clear how this new vision governed, the player is playing the role of the CEO. This is how you rule a city nowadays, the machine is no longer trying to hide beneath the surface of services it has become a factory, with ford style flexible working hours, but nevertheless a profit oriented,and cross financed by various shareholder groups, investment business.

This opens the discussion to include the aspects of collaboration, process and interdisciplinary. As Mohsen Mostafavi argued, Ecological Urbanism is essentially interdisciplinary. Collaboration with other fields, economics, technology, expertise, social sciences, ecology, botanics and even mathematics, opens new opportunities for existing cities and future cities. Similarly the traditional architecture and urbanism ways of thinking about cities and designing cities are obsolete.
As mentioned earlier in the introduction this is what we believe to be the essential element of the Ecological Urbanism discussion series, to get these various aspects into the discussion and bring the different disciplines to express their views and start developing new approaches. However this collaboration is a balancing act, where planners play a key role. Not some much because the city was traditionally their territory but because they could potentially play a negotiation and coordination role because of the way the training and education is structured. But to do so, they probably have to first find a way out of the identity crisis they are currently completely busy with.

With the focus on space and the role it could play in this discussion, we also want to touch on this topic and discuss the role of design as a profession and a contribution to culture and society in general but the city specifically.

In some sense we can look at Ecological Urbanism as a conduit, a transmitter and a receiver, constantly balancing out the progress of input and output from varying sources. Ecological Urbanism has to plays this dual role in order to perpetuate itself into practice and back.

So in this sense, the city is not a machine and neither is space. How can we configure an Ecological Urbanism that is not only an update to existing structures?

Another aspect of space as the raw material in cities is the place of the so called ‘user’, the citizen as a fundamental part of the discussion. Ecological Urbanism begs an important question: how do (and will) we create, use and interact with urban space?
Discussing aspects of sustainability on a much more substantial level leads to interrogate crucial points such as the impact of environmental crisis on urban space. Issues among others water shortage, pollution, are much less developed. We all agree that a sustainable approach of urban design is needed to address existing and future cities. Can Ecological Urbanism be a response for a more liveable city? Following the debate around Ecological Urbanism, this second series provide keys of understanding of existing cities and how they might be in the future.”

With this we would like to introduce the contributors to this second series of an Ecological Urbanism discussion. The contributors in order of appearance are: Colin Fournier Course, director Urban Design, the Bartlett, UCL, David Bruce from davidbrucestudios.com, Brett Milligan from FAD free association design, Marty from Kosmograd, Jonathan Kendall from Fletcher Priest Architects, Luis Suarez from estudia arq, Pieter from PYTR75, Duncan Smith, Annick Labeca from urban lab global cities, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Bacelona.
With this divers group of people from different backgrounds and currently undertaking very different activities/research/practice will be shaping not a specific point of view, but a multi angle perspective. On this can be built in many ways, beneficial as we think to respond to such a multitude of questions.

Contributors to this second series

Prof. Colin Fournier is Director of the MArch course in Urban Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, University College London. He joined UCL in 1996, where he has also been directing a Diploma unit. He is the co-designer, with his partner Peter Cook, of the new museum of modern art of the city of Graz, Austria. He was Bernard Tschumi´s partner for the planning and design of the Parc de la Villette project in Paris and was the former Planning Director of Ralph M. Parsons Co. in the USA, in which capacity he planned and implemented several major new town projects and comprehensive development programmes.

David Bruce from davidbrucestudios.com is an artist living and working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania while perusing a Masters Degree of Fine Art at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. His current work revolves around changes in environmental perception and behavior in relation to urbanism, network culture and technology. He received his bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning with a minor in ecology from East Carolina University in 2003. Focusing curatorial interests on the intersection of art, architecture, and urbanism he plays an active role as gallery manager for Temple University’s Exhibition and Public Programs department.

Brett Milligan is a practitioner, researcher, and educator and in the allied disciplines of landscape architecture and urbanism. He is the principal of the collaborative research practice of FAD free association design as well as a design instructor at The University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts, and formerly The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Brett’s research operates in the shared territories of urbanism, biotic infrastructure, applied ecology, and alternative modes of design practice.

Martin Gittins writes the Kosmograd newsfeed, a blog largely about architecture, disurbanism and urban identity, viewed primarily through the lens of Soviet Constructivism. Trained as an architect, but now working in the field of interactive design, Martin lives in north London with Ms Kosmograd, 3 children and a collection of bicycles. Martin spends most weekends cycling around Hertfordshire considering the ‘problem’ of London. Martin also writes occasionally at SuperSpatial.

Jonathan Kendall is Partner and Director of Urban Design at Fletcher Priest Architects where he has responsibility for the practice’s masterplanning and urban design work. He is an architect by training, registered in the UK and Latvia. He has worked on a number of large scale urban projects including the Stratford City masterplan and the new urban centre of Riga. He was recently invited to act as international juror for Europan 10. For more than ten years, Jonathan has also taught on the MSc/MArch Urban Design programme at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. He has spoken at lectures and conferences around the world and has published articles in a wide range of professional journals.

Luis Suarez from estudia arq 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.

Pieter Van den Dorpe from PYTR75 has (°1975, Belgium) graduated at Sint-Lucas school of Architecture in Ghent in 1999 and participated a postgraduate studie “architectural research”. He was a trainee architect at Sauerbruch-Hutton architekten (Berlin) after which he started his career as a project-architect at Christian Kieckens Architects and In&Out Architecture (Belgium). Currently he is project coördinator for the “Open Tender” architectural competition for the city of Ghent. His distinct interest in art, architecture & photography forms the foundation of his internationally known blog “pytr75.blogspot.com” since 2007. Ruimteruis.blogspot.com is a creative outlet to exhibit his experimental design ideas. The focus lies on form & space, architectural surfaces, light & shadow.

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.

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

Taneha Bacchin is a PhD researcher. 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.

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.