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

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

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

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

Vienna's Four Pillar Model

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

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

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

Karl-Marx-Hof

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

Alt-Erlaa

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

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

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

Book Cover The Vienna Model

  1. Förster, W. ed., 2017. The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City. 2nd edition, (orig. 2014) ed. Berlin: JOVIS Verlag.
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London has seen a boom in inner-city developments over the past five to ten years. Large areas have been transformed, become densified in many ways and existing development has been replaced to make way for huge investments. Along it came a number of landscape projects to design pleasing outdoor spaces.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The ornament is returning slowly to the architectural discourse. It has not really been absent though merely denied, but it is returning as a more prominent topic now.

A key text is Adolf Loos’ Ornament und Verbrechen [Ornament and Crime]1 that was widely interpreted as at the easement of ornament in architecture. More recent interpretations, for example Gleiter, 20122, however, is more differentiated. Already the title in which Loos uses and hints at this. Nevertheless ornament was denied a role in modernist architecture and is still a minefield for architects today.

Image taken from designboom / A proposed project spelling out the letters ‘BE’ for buildings in Brussels by JDS in 2007.

BE the buildings

The way for the reintroduction of ornament has been paved by technology interestingly enough. In the late 80ies and especially the 90ies CAD tools have presented the tools to begin to design with patterns including options to manipulate the pattern based on conditions. This has also the been linked to production and printed glass or pierce metals facades or even brickwork layer by robots (Bearth & Deplazes with Gramazio & Kohler, 2006).

This has been accompanied by theoretical writings, exhibitions and journals. For examples the exhibition at the SAM Re-Sampling Ornament in 2008. The architecture journals ARCH+ (1995/2002), l’architecture d’aujourd’hui (2001) or AD primers, Ornament: the politics of architecture and subjectivity (2013) for example have published on ornament during this early phase. Authors who have contributed to the now re-emerging discussion on ornament include Jörg H. Gleiter ((orig. German, 2002. Die Rückkehr des Verdrängten)), Michael Dürfeld (The Ornament and the Architectural Form (orig. in German, 2008. Das Ornamentale und die architektonische Form)) or Farshid Moussavi (The Function of Form, 2008).

The new possibilities in design and production using new technologies have allowed to re-imagine the relationship between design, production and product. Whereas at the time Loos wrote Architecture and Crime the industrialisation introduced the production of exact replicas into the thousands of one single product, the new technologies based around computers allow for a trance dent workflow and individually adapted and styled objects whilst still machine and mass produced. Hence the conditions have fundamentally changed.

What can be observed is, though very slow moving, a shift from an understanding of ornament as decoration to an interpretation of ornament as process in the sense of structure and narrative.

A special take on this is presented by Michiel van Raaij in his new publication Building as Ornament 3. Whilst van Raaij focuses on iconographic architecture he proposes building as ornament as a term to frame part of this discussion in a new way implying links to a theoretical discussion with references to a long tradition.

Image taken from 52weeks / The Fire Station 4 in Columbus by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates in 1968.

Fire station 4

Van Raaij’s idea is to try and focus on the story the architect tries to tell through an iconic building. He argues that “Iconography is the use of images from outside architecture in architecture” and that the focus of the book is on “iconography that explains the function, social status, organisation, load-bearing structure and/or context of the building”. He makes the link to ornament using the narrative in the sense of explaining something.

The book brings together over 100 examples to illustrate this notion. This ranges from the Yokohama International Port Perminal by FOA, 2004, to the Bird’s Nest Stadium by Herzog de Meuron in 2008 or the People’s Building in Shanghai by BIG, 2004.

Whilst the book does not offer a theoretical framework for the introduced terminology or a broader discussion on the theoretical dimension of such a ‘new’ aspect of ornament in architecture, it presents a conversation. The publication is on one had a collection of projects that fit the description iconographic architecture and it is on the other hand a collection of interviews in which the author van Raaij discusses iconographic architecture with architects and architectural historians.

Image taken from divisare.com / The Signal Box in Basel, Switzerland by Herzog de Meuron, 1994.

Signal Box

The interview partners are, in order of appearance: Auke van der Would, Charles Jencks, Denise Scott Brown, Adriaan Geuze, Michiel Riedijk, Alejandro Zaero-Polo, Ben van Berkel, Steven Holl, Winy Maas and Bjarke Ingels.

All of the interview partners of course have a different angle on the topic and in some conversations the focus is more on icons, narratives, construction or material. Some do specifically discuss ornament as in the recently emerging debate, so for examples the interview with Denise Scott Brown where she discusses aspects of the design for Fire Station 4 in Columbus. She emphasises the very same topics of structure and narrative the ornament discussion is moving towards. Other interviews do however not even touch ornament.

There is loads of material and a very interesting discussion around icons in architecture and iconographic architecture to be found in this book. This is clearly the focus of van Raaij’s work and his personal interest. He has been running a blog on iconic buildings for a long time and he knows the projects in this field. The real contribution of this book is definitely to hear the architects, as described by van Raaij as the Generation OMA, to talk about icons and iconographic design processes in architecture. There are some very personal statements in these discussions that shed light on some of the famous icons this current generation of architects have developed. It demonstrates that there is more to the discussion of iconic architecture than it just being a land mark put up by an architect to make a bold statement.

Through out the book the terms ornament and icon/iconographic architecture are used interchangeably. And it turns out that ornament only plays a small role setting the stage in this nai010 publishers book. Even though one could have expected quite some potential in this take on ornaments, not as a complete explanation, but as a special case of ornament on the level of the building. More contextual material would be needed to define a clear standpoint.

However, the chosen title, it has to be said, is very cleverly chosen. It is catchy, provides a lot of historical context, touches the nerve (both of time and architects still hating ornaments, as they have been told to do in architecture school?) and it is simple enough to be self-explanatory whilst allowing room for imagination. Nevertheless for the reader who is looking for the specific topic on ornament it might mean to be disappointed, but not without discovering an interesting collection of personal discussions on iconic architecture.

Image taken from designboom / Book cover 3.

Building as ornament cover

Updated 2018-04-29

  1. (Loos, A., 1908. Ornament und Verbrechen. Ed. reprint 2000 ed. Wien: Prachner.
  2. Gleiter, J.H. ed., 2012. Ornament today: digital material structural. Bolzano: Bozen-Bolzano University Press.
  3. Van Raaij, M., 2014. Building as Ornament. nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.
  4. Van Raaij, M., 2014. Building as Ornament. nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.
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A very special figure in the architectural history of the Netherlands has finally a architectural monograph dedicated to his work in a new international edition: Hugh Maaskant. Architect of Progres.

It is not just the architect Maaskant himself, but especially also the context he was working in and his home city of Rotterdam that makes this a very interesting and insightful book. Rotterdam was the very logic or ‘functional’ city with its strong focus on the port and its logistics and with this was the ideal context for the rational and functionalist strategies of Hugh Maaskant.

The story is beautifully put together and researched in detail by author Michelle Provoost who spent almost a decade researching and tracing Maaskant’s work finally summarising it in her PhD thesis that was originally published in Dutch as Hugh Maaskant. Architect van de vooruitgang (Hugh Maaskant. Architect of Progress).

The new international version of the book is also publisher by nai010 publishers, designed by Simon Davies with Stephanie de Man and also features an essay by photographer Iwan Baan.

Groothandelsgebouw today
Image taken from baunetz / One of the court yards of the Groothandelsgebouw (1945-1953) today. Part of the photo essay by Iwan Baan.

Provoost makes it clear that Maarkant was a modern architect and clearly saw himself as a modernist architect. However she ale points out that Maaskant did not share the ideological background with the modernist movement. Provoost claims that in Masaskant’s work social criticism is absent and “that he was not a ‘critical’ architect but a ‘consensual one.” (p. 13).

Interestingly, it appears that Maaskant did exclusively focus on construction and realisation. He was not interested in theory and intellectual reflection on his own work. He was a businessman with a keen sense for strategy and opportunities without artistic leanings.

Akragon
Image taken from fotorob on flickrFlu / Akragon (1955-1970) sports tower in Rotterdam by Hugh Maaskant.

Nevertheless his work is still inspiring today. The clarity of his functionalism approach, the rigour of his style and the dedication to detail and design in his works are part of what makes the fascination. And this fascination is bleed, not only for architecture students, architects or architecture historians. The interest group is much larger. Michelle Provoost’s original Dutch publication was sold out within the first year. The interest in this period and Maaskant’s work in particular is amazing, his work is still captivating today.

Scheveningse pier
Image taken from Wikipedia, article ‘Scheveningse pier’ / Scheveningse pier (1954-1961) in Scheveningse by Hugh Maaskant.

As Provoost points out in the preface, her work on Maaskant and the wider subject of urban planning in and around the city of Amsterdam has helped to shape a new approach to and appreciation of the past and lead to a number of MAAskant’s buildings being refurbished or reused, saving them from being replaced by a new wave of renewal. This kind of continuity might not be what Maaskant’s approach to architecture was in his time, but it is what we have learned from his work and what Provoost beautifully demonstrates in this book. It is not about critique but this lesson is about understanding the work in a wider context, commenting it to draw inspiration for the present.

Hugh Maaskant
Image taken from naibooksellers / Book cover.

Provoost, M., 2013. Hugh Maaskant – Architect of Progress nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.

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What does science look like? This might evoke black and white images of the cities and sixties showing male scientists in white lab coats bent over a table where some assistant has layed out various tools and models. Materials are steel, chrome, glass and colourful plastic. Shown in the background is probably a black board with some formulas and equations written on.

But what does science really look like, today? In a new Lars Müller Publishers publication Andri Pol shows the reader some inside glimpse of one of the biggest scientific research labs in the world. In Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research he has been documenting work and live in and around CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Inside Cern 'layered equations' p.233
Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘layered equations’ p.233.

Andri Pol is a Swiss freelance photographer with a specific focus on the everyday. This is also how he portraits the places, labs, offices, scientists and atmospheres at CERN, with great curiosity and respect.

There are no pretty pictures to be found in this documentation and there are no glorious moments. Its all about the effort, the struggle and the dedication. Flipping though the pages only unveils a great range of colours and oddly chosen angles or frames. The book does not work that way. The photographs are actually rather complex compositions with a lot of depth each with not just one but often a number of aspects.

Whilst there is a lot of equipment and machines visible there is an emphasis on the people who are involved at CERN in some way. Being this the scientists, indeed sometimes in white overcoats and blue shoe protectors, technical staff or students. People from all over the world come together at CERN working in teams. This is often shown, science is discussion and exchange.

The documentation portraits also the atmosphere at CERN. Beside the highly technical installations there is very little shiny and new infrastructure. In fact most of the facilities seem to be rather pragmatic and often improvised. It is clear the focus is somewhere else. This place is not about design and style, but about customablilty, flexibility and improvisation. That does not mean that self expression is absence. On the contrary the numerous portraits of individualised desks, doors, books and computers themselves tell a story.

Inside Cern 'calibrate' p.243
Image taken from klatmagazine / ‘calibrate’ p.243.

Only on the last few pages the photographs stet to show some of the machinery of the actual Large Hadron Collider (LHC), photographs that look similar to what is usually circulated in the meadia. By that point the reader is already so deep immersed in the atmosphere at CERN that is seems to be most natural thing to walk past this monster of infrastructure that doesn’t even fit on a photograph. In many ways all the other photographs tell a much more telling tale of the LHC than the tons of steel, cable and concrete.

Inside Cern 'thinking' p.249
Image taken from uncubemagazine / ‘thinking’ p.249.

This being a Lars Müller Publisher publication it does not come as a surprise that this is a very beautifully made book. A lot of care has gone into the design of the book and the selection of the photographs. Even though it is mainly a picture book a real narrative is being told here something that captivates the reader. This book certainly tells a very different story about science today. It is of course documenting science in a unique biotope of research and collaboration creating a special place between Switzerland and France. But what it shows is the fascination and dedication of the individuals working in this field and manages to transport this.

If this is not quite yet enough. Google has collaborated with cern and it features on Street View. Try this link to go on a virtual walk around CERN and the LHC.

Inside Cern book cover
Image taken from amazon.com / Book cover. More details also available on the book website at insidecern.com.

Pol, A., 2011. Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research. Lars Muller Publishers, Zürich.

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Is architecture real? At times the discussion seems to imply that there is a certain degree of disconnectedness between real live and the abstract concepts architecture is thought of. Does it still have anything to do with real live? The large scale landmark projects of star architects work more for the marketing of location than a real sense of place is often claimed. Glossy magazines and picture books often can’t help to shake off such impressions. But a story can.

The story about architecture comes with a lot of context and discussion worked into the narrative. It creates a sense of the current debate whilst not neglecting the plot, the everyday struggle to achieve a sustainable project especially in its social context.

The book is unusual in two points. It comes as a novel and there are only a hand full of illustrations. It sets out to follow two projects an the leading architect in the city of Deventer in the Netherlands telling the story of muddy fields and yellow large scale machinery in rainy weather, long arguments over the phone, the mine fields of different interests and visions for change. Its about everyday live, architecture as real as it gets. It still conveys a hint of glamor and the ghost of cleverness is present every now and then, so not all is lost.

Deventer was published in 2013 by Nai010 publishers and is the fourth novel by writer and editor Matthew Stadler. Stadler has written a lot about planning every since he lived in the Netherland to research for one of his early novels The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee. Later he wrote for the magazine Wiederhall and later New York Times and New York Times Magazine.

Deventer
Image taken from Wikipedia.org / Nederlands: Topografische kaart van Deventer (woonplaats).

There is nothing spectacular about the projects portrait in Deventer, in a design or art sense. They are as normal as could get. What is of interest and concern is the possibilities, the ideas and the process that need to be forged by all concerned parties in order to create something fitting for the community, the location and the owners. Stadler reports on what is happening and continues to weave in contextual information after every other sentence. He lets the protagonists talk about details and everyday worries as much as ideas and theories, thus creating a dense atmosphere where struggle and effort create a sense of suspension capturing the reader.

The book portraits a model of community development and reports on the mechanisms of collaboration, but it is not a guidebook for professionals. It is rather an inspirational tale that has the power to motivate initiatives for their independent struggles to create and strive to change in order to improve their community.

Stadler, M., 2013. Deventer, Rotterdam: Nai 010.

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Two new publications set out to investigate the urban structure from a different angle than the ever same physical structure perspective. Whilst it might not as such mark a general shift in the way cities or urban areas are investigated these two publication both take a very strong position stressing the social aspects, the experiential and the lived city. It is about people, individuals as much as society and culture.

Both books are part of much larger ongoing research project supported by large national bodies, but operating internationally.

The first of the two books is Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. edited by Roger Keil published by Jovis. It is in fact some kind of half time summary of the ongoing project (2010-2017) Global Suburbanisms: governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century. Here the group not only reports on findings, but it is also a tool to define the status quo and look ahead at what is to be achieved further down the line. The project is mainly supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada but investigates case studies from around the world. One of the very striking themes in this project is to bring case studies of all those areas of urban sprawl from around the globe together and compare/contrast them.

The second book is Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town edited by Marco L. Rosa and Ute E and published by Jovis. Weiland and is a publication that draws on the Urban Age project at home at LSE and famously sponsored by Deutsche Bank. Here the Project is already into its sixth year and a number of books where published in its context. Most prominently the Endless City (2008) and Living in the Endless City (2011) both by Burdett and Sudjic. This new publication specifically focuses on the Urban Age Award which is organised by the Alfred Herrhausen Society as part of the Urban Age Conferences. With a focus on what is happening on the ground it is based on interviews with different stakeholders in each of the projects world cities. Those five cities are Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Cape Town. The editor of this new publication Ute Weiland has for the past five years coordinated said awards and worked closely with the local contributors in all five cities.

What is special on those two publications is the angel they portrait the urban world and the focus they chose for the respective research projects. The main topic is the rapid urbanisation, the fact that 80% of the world’s population will be living in urbanised areas by 2050 that urban means collective and that cities are in constant flux.

The publisher house Jovis has already a bit of a history with similar publications. There is for example Matthew Gandy’s Urban Constellations (2011) as one of the recent publications in this area. In fact Keil does specifically refer to Gandy in his introduction and the two books even share partly the same title.

Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. being a work in progress brings together a body of writings much more experimental and investigative in comparison. Whilst this might be interpreted as a lack of focus or clear scope at times, it does surprise the reader with raw concepts and very direct lines thought making for a joyful read. Further more it does not require to be read from cover to cover, rather it can be picket up to read just one of the essays and read others maybe later.

It is structured along four topics: Foundations, Themes, Essay and Images and Regions. The first topic presents some ‘foundational thinking on suburbanisation’. The second topic ‘elaborated on those themes with emphasis on redevelopment, risk, boundaries, water, sewage, and transportation. These topics intertwined with the research project’s main points of Land, Governance and Infrastructure. Whilst this organisational structure whilst they might make sense from a project point of view it not as easily accessible for the generally interested reader.

book cover
Image taken from the bad-news-beat.org / The waste lands of Fort Mcmurray AB.

The are pieces like “Forth McMurray, the Suburb sat the End of the Highway” by Clair Major describing the context of one of Canada’s two purely business driven settlements just north of Edmonton fuelled by the large oil sands. Or on the other hand an Essay by Alan Mabin “Suburbanisms in Africa” where he discusses not just the suburbs as places but mainly suburban as a term and its meaning in a culturally very different context. He for example points out how difficult it is to translate the term suburb or indeed suburbanises to other languages. For example in places such the urbanised areas of South Africa where beside the local/traditional languages plus English, French and Portuguese all compete for the meaning full expression such terminologies become very fluid in deed creating a complex concept of their own undermining all efforts to frame the topics with key terms.

The project plans a very comprehensive dissemination strategy including conferences and article, but also summer schools. So there will be much more to come from this project and research collective. Preview PDF for this publication is available HERE.

book spread
Image taken from the perfact.org / Book spread Handmade Urbanism showing sketch illustrations.

Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town has its focus on what is happening on the ground in each of the five metropolis regions and is being supported by the worldwide operating initiative Urban Age Award sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

The premise of the initiative is that empowering the local population and supporting them to organise their own projects will lead to more sustainable and lasting projects and increases the communities resilience. These aspects are investigated through the interviews and discussions each locations is portrayed by. This is frased by Wolfgang Nowak, the initiator of the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award in his interview as: “I am not one of these people, like a Florence Nightingale, who stands and gives out soup to the poor (she has in fact done a whole lot more, for people and science). What we want is to enable the poor no longer to accept soup queues and produce their own soup.” (annotation added)

The book structure is organised along the cities. This main body is introduced by a series of essays creating a context for the project. These are by Wolfgang Nowak, Ute E. Wieland and Richard Sennett. These essays are not extensive in length, but try to be very concise.

The main part of the book presents a range of information about each location. There are basic statistics and data key figures information, and a short introduction to each of the three shortlisted projects. This is then followed by a series of interviews with local stakeholders. Experts from the jury, the local government as well as the project initiators.

The book also comes with a cd so you can in addition watch the documentary about the award and hear a bit more about community-driven initiatives. Runtime only 5:30. Also the publisher offers a online preview in PDF for this publication, available HERE.

Both books provide a good overview and outline of these kind of projects. Both projects have a large scope but the struggle between global level of organisation and local level of operation is very apparent. It leaves the reader wondering what exactly do we take from all this? Urban Constellations is the one that makes for a good read with experimental thoughts and Handmade Urbanism is the more descriptive discussion type of publication.

Graphically the two books have very different approaches. Handmade Urbanism translates the topic literally and all illustrations are hand drawn sketches and symbols. Urban Constellations makes extensive use of photographs documenting places mainly views onto or into suburbs. It however a rather weak part of the book, the illustrations do not live up to the surprises the essays manage to challenge the readers with.

book cover
Image taken from the Perfact / Handmade Urbanism book cover.

Keil, R. ed., 2013. Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century., Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Rosa, M.L. & Weiland, U.E. eds., 2013. Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

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What do we see, when we see the world? In today’s world transcended by digital technology and flooded with representations, models and mashups the question of ‘what are we looking at?’ becomes more important. The many layers of data and visualisations in many cases start clouding the subject or in some cases appears completely detached from it and develop a dynamic of their own.

The kind of critiques are nothing new and have been heard through out the past decade. How perception is manipulated with information has been discussed for example in the book How to lie with Maps by H.J. de Blij , 1992. Here de Blij presents examples of representations and how they are used to favour certain aspects. Or also indeed The Power of Maps by Denis Wood, 1992, You are Here by Katharine Harmon, 2003 or the Atlas of Radical Cartography edited by Alexis Bhagat and Lize Mogel, 2008, to name a few of the recent cartography/mapping books of the recent years.

In a new Zone Books publication Close up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics Laura Kurgan presents her research work and offers a theoretical discussion on the usage and employment of representations. Whilst most of the presented works have been seen around the web in the past few years, the book offers a bunch of new perspectives by bringing the series of works together and wrapping them in a theoretical discussion. Laura Kurgan is Associate Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning at Columbia University, where she is Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab and Director of Visual Studies.

Whilst Lying with Maps focused heavily on the map and its technical aspect such as projection, Kurgan goes deeper and explores the fundamental relationship between the visual and a visualisation as much as the technicality of production. The projects presented n the book take the read far beyond the mere representation of physical geography. The author emphasises the power within the techniques of spatial representation and unmasks the promise of truth associated with such representations of abstract knowledge.

Million Dollar Block
Image taken from the NASA / This photo of “Earthrise” over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space.

The introduction to the book summarises this approach in a very nice way. Kurgan presents the series of ‘Blue Marble’ photographs released by NASA over the past 55 years and discussed the evolution from the initial ‘Earth Rise’ photograph actually taken by the astronaut on the Apollo 8 mission orbiting the moon to the 2012 version ‘Blue Marble: The Next Generation 2012’ assembled “from data collected by the Visible/Infrared Image Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NNP satellite in six orbits over eight hours”.

Million Dollar Block
Image taken from spatialinformationdesignlab.org / Million Dollar Block by Laura Kurgan and Spacial Information Design Lab. Map shows Government spending on incarcerate of individuals per block. Bright red represents more than 1 million $ of spending a year.

The example puts upfront the discussion and the shift from a photograph take from outer space, but still ‘as seen by the human eye’ through the lens of a camera to the ‘360-degree composite, made of data collected and assembled over time, wrapped around a wireframe sphere to produce views dynamically selectable and constantly updatable.

The second part featuring projects developed over the past 20 or so years take the reader from basic and playful but very intellectual GPS experiments to ware zones in Bosnia, Iraq and Kuwait and to inner city migration facts. Its a tour de force with a lot of depth. Definitely a book for anyone interested in the representation of spatial data.

book cover
Image taken from the MIT Press / Book cover.

Kurgan, L., 2013. Close up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics, New York: Zone Books.

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Computers have changed the architectural process fundamentally. In most areas the practice has embraced the possibilities of the software tool and has alongside the technology transformed not just the way architecture is produced but foremost the way architecture is thought.

Whilst CAD offers flexibility and speed, 3D software visualises models and simulation tools are employed to help with strategic design decisions, its the algorithm used in parametric design where the computer code actually becomes part of the process of designing.

A new The MIT Press publication by Luciana Parisi. Parisi is senior lecturer at the centre for cultural studies at Goldsmith, University of London. She publishes a comprehensive and thought provoking discussion of the practice and the thinking of parametric design in the field of architecture. However in this text Parisi does not just simply present the software logic and practice. Instead, as she states right at the beginning:

“Algorithms do not simply govern the procedural logic of computers: more generally, they have become the objects of a new programming culture. The imperative of information processing has turned culture into a lab of generative forms that are driven by open-ended rules.”

A definition of Algorithms is provided in the notes of the book referring to David Berlinski, ” an algorithm is a finite procedure, written in a fixed symbolic vocabulary, governed by precise instructions, moving in discrete steps, 1, 2, 3, whose execution requires no insight, cleverness, intuition, intelligence, or perspicuity, and that sooner or later comes to an end.” (Berlinsky, D. (2000). The Advent of the Algorithm: The Ideas that Rule the World. New York: Harcourt.)

Whilst the book is heavy on theory a few examples are provided. All examples are carefully chosen and do not at all make up a showcase. They illustrate specific points of discussion in the text and at the same time serve are points of reference to push the thinking forward.


Image taken from archdaily.com / Kokkugia, Taipei Performing Arts Centre, 2008. Roland Snooks + Robert Stuart-Smith. The competition was won by OMA.


Image taken from corpora.hu / DoubleNegatives Architecture (dNA) Yamaguchi Centre for the Arts and Media, 2007. Sota Ichikawa.


Image taken from new-territories.com / R(&)Sie(n), Une Architecture des humeurs, 2010-2011.

What is most interesting about the concepts of algorithmic architecture discussed in this book is the fact that from the very beginning time and space are folded into one and remain present aspects of the process at any time. Whilst the use of digital tools in architecture has transformed the practice in many ways, the continuous presence of time and space as one in architectural theory is probably the most fundamental. This transforms the way architecture is thought of from a physical object to a transformative process.

This is a very specialist book and runs deep on the theory of parametric architecture and algorithm based design. It is however not just for architects and experts who work with algorithms themselves, but is definitely interesting experts from a range of fields including theoretical works. The way Parisi pushed the thinking ahead creates successfully a niche in timespace for parametric design to develop an identity.


Image taken from the MIT Press / Book cover.

Parisi, L., 2013. Contagious architecture: computation, aesthetics, and space, Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.

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Cycle Space: Architecture and Urban Design in the Age of the Bicycle by Steven Fleming is a nai010 publishers book. It aims to takle the questions surounding the rebewed popularity of cycling in the urban areas of the western world from a architects point of view.

The book is cleverly organised in chapters mixing examples and theory. The author understands to weave experience and references to creat a dense fabric around the topic of cycling in our cities today.

In eight chapters the reader is taken on a tour around the world starting in Amsterdam, probably considered the ultimate cycling city, under the aspect of cycling is practical, to New York where cycling is reported as political, back to Copenhagen wher it is all about design, down to Sydney, where Cycling is prestigious, to Singapore for free cycling, to Portland where cycling is cool, to Chicago for green cycling to finally end in Paris the city of teatrical cycling.

This broad approach aims to creat an universal picture of cycling, locally working out the specifics to feed them into a discusiof cycling on a global level. Whilst it is a big strech the depth of the local examples is actually a large plus of this publication.

Cycling is a very direct and individual experince of the city and local knowledge is key to finding the suitable route. The author is from down under and knows his place inside out, but makes an efford to get to know all the places featuring in the book. Linking up with locals and drawing on their unique knowledge is key to a successfull portrait in the book. In this sense the reports are presented as well informed, packed with insider tips.

This on the other hand also renders the accounts very personal making them challenging to generalise in an objective sense urban planning discussions are usually held. However the topic might require the exploring of new territory regarding the synthesising of strategies for the development and implementation of ridable cities.

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Image taken from the book / Sample spread of the book Cycle Space.

Overall it is a well structured book with clear insight both regarding first hand experience reports and theoretical background. The reader is being presented with interesting portraits. Although it is difficult to get into different environments if your not really living it, being a local is not easy, but with great support and advice workable. It provides an insightful discussion of the cycling topics both as actual challenges faced by planning and political authorities, theoretical with references to planing ideas such as modernism, but also current project recently being built for cycling.

Te author makes a clear case that planning for cycling clearly has to go beyond the integration of bike infrastructure in new and renewing projects in urban areas. However it has to be noted that it is not enough to just reduce it to brown fields. Very few cities in Europe for example have the concrete storm flood water ways the author preferably refers to as ideal sites for cycling.

Cycling is a networked based activity and as the author of the book remarks on different occasions mainly based on en-route, in-context decision making. Whilst cycling, similar to pedestrians, one craves for the freedom of choice and options. Variety, possibilities and flexibility is what makes cycling exciting and this is too perfectly portrayed by the author already in the introduction. In this context the call of the book for separated and specific, exclusive cycling infrastructure seems not quite fitting.

The bolder, and possibly cheaper call, would bee for shared infrastructure. After all at the crossroad we all meet and have to negotiate anyway. Why not work towards a slower city with room, acceptance and respects for all road users equally? Probably because it is a learning curve, in most of the portrait cities a steep and tough one, but arguably the sustainable long term goal. It could be argued that isolating one selves as cyclists to exclusively cycling infrastructure is not only something cities like NY, London or HK simply can’t possibly achieve in a reasonable and useful timeframe, is way too costly as it means parallel, hence double costing, but will not necessarily evolve towards better understanding of users of the same road space.

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Image taken from the book / Sample spread of the book Cycle Space.

Progress as such can not just be pushed towards the urban planners as their responsibility. It is a mindset that has to be embedded in society as a concept to be backed by acceptance and become everyday practice. Politics and general believes have to grow accustomed to the idea of cycling. In London for example one of the big problems beside a lack of space is the fact that every body else on the street,including pedestrians do not expect or consider cyclists. They are still alien to the idea of other road users might be cycling. This is not something urban planners can change, it needs a collective effort to establish cyclists in all areas as equal road users.

To sum up the discussion, this is a book not short on personal statements, creating occasional controversies, which makes it a very interesting read. The topic is definitely timely and most of the major cities are currently evaluating their cycle infrastructure. By giving such a broad overview covering different locations the book has something for everyone. It can not be taken as a manual but a valuable contribution to the still itself organising discussion on the state of cycling and the possible reactions to it of the urban environment.

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Image taken from the book / Book front cover.

Fleming, S., 2012. Cycle Space – Architectural and Urban Design in the Age of the Bicycle, NAI010 Publishers.

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