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Tag "planning"

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.


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


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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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.

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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The defining airport for the last few decades has to be sent into retirement. Heathrow is at its capacity limit and with a growth expectations of only 1.5% also at its expansion limits. It has however, influenced largely airports around the world and was for many years the airport number one, both in terms of handling and standards.

Established in 1944 as a very big airfield and subsequently developed into the patchwork of extensions we see today. Terminal 5 being the latest completed addon, opened in 2008 and terminal 2 currently being under redevelopment. It serves as the Hub for the UK with 75 airlines flying to 170 destinations, Wikipedia. Interesting are the statistics, only about 11% are UK bound passengers, 43% are short-haul international passengers and 46% are long-haul international passengers.

Thames Hub airport proposal
Image by Foster + Partner taken from Dezeen / The new Thames Hub international airport proposal in the Thames Estuary to replace Heathrow by Foster + Partner and Halcrow.

It serves as a connection point between America and Asia as a stop over airport. With such a strategic location it is very valuable for business and trade and through passenger, business and fright it is the UK’s connection to the world.

New and alternatives have been proposed over the last two decades. The problem really is not new. Officials and operatios have known about it for years. Options are to extend either Heathrow, the project is on the table for a third runway, or any of the other airports, second runways in Gatwick or Stansted as well as extending some of the smaller airfields around the capital. The other option is to build a new airport from scratch on the green field.

Thames Hub airport proposal
Image by Foster + Partner taken from telegraph.co.uk / The new Thames Hub international airport proposal in the Thames Estuary to replace Heathrow by Foster + Partner and Halcrow. The new Thames flood barrier is located strategically to the west of the airport proposal as an will regulate the water flow in and out of the Thames maximising the protected areas further up the river and at the same time serving as a tunnel for infrastructure to and from the airport but as a Thames crossing in general.

The green field option is the favourite currently since the private sector prefers the promis such a project bares that it has not the strings attached an extension might have in terms of legacy. The location currently in the spot light is the Thames Estuary,, being the least populated area in the South West potentially offering the opportunity for 24 hours operation whilst minimising the noise pollution over inhabited areas.

Several proposals have been put forwards including two floating airports. The latest proposal Thames Hub is put together as a private initiative by Fosters + Partners and economics consultants Halcrow. The proposal is nice and tidy, plausible and put forwards in a very rational manner. Fosters know how to do that sort of thing. THe firm has a lot of experience in delivering large international airport projects. They delivered Hong-Kong, Beijing and Terminal 5. Details on Wikipedia or a collection of images on Dezeen

The real interesting part of the project is not the airport but how they manage to tie it in with every other major infrastructure problem the UK currently faces. They claim to solve the problem for ports, rail water, flood defence, CO2 emissions, broadband and the imbalance between the north and south regions in the UK. If thats not an agenda!

Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Image by Foster + Partner taken from the Atlantic Cities / The infrastructure side of the proposal extends right across the UK including links to main land Europe. From new high speed rail links (including visibility shields and integrated infrastructure media, water broadband and so on) and the proposed link across the Thames serving for flood defence, infrastructure and transport tunnel.

The project was presented at lecture evening at UCL by Sir Peter Hall, Huw Thomas from Foster + Partner and Andrew Price from Halcrow.

But its true, the UK actually faces a massively overaged infrastructure system that is constantly patched together poring in emergency funding to actually keep it going, but in no way to renew it. The country is in desperate need to renew these structures, but the real goal of course it to make the airport the essential piece of this task in order to build up enough pressure to get a tiny piece of the necessary changes actually built. This of course would be the airport.

Image by jafud / Proposal for a floating city in the Thames Estuary, including an international airport and a deep water access port for London. Developed by jafud 2006, the Bartlett. Part of this proposal was published in the book Cycles in Urban Environments: Investigating Temporal Rhythms
, by Fabian Neuhaus, 2010

Such an argumentation of course it no new strategy. Previous projects have tried to integrate new flood defence flood barriers for the Thames Gateway and ultimately London as part of a new International Airport in the Estuary. So for example Thames Reach Airport put forward in 2002, actually proposed more or less on the same location as the new Thames Hub by Foster + Partners. There was also the Thames Reach Airport project put forward in 2009. THere were however much older proposals for example the Maplin project proposed in the early 70s under the then prime minister Edward Heath. There are som many more including the ArKwAy project developed at the Bartlett’s MSc Urban Design of a floating city in the Thames Estuary that would include a major new airport as well as a port. A very comprehensive summary is the parliament report Aviation:proposals for an airport in the Thames estuary, 1945-2012 – Commons Library Standard Note summarising the last 67 years of airport planning in the Thames Estuary.

Thames airport proposal 1934 outside parliament
Image taken from Skyscrapercity / Proposal for an airport above the Thames in the center of London just outside Parliement as published in Popular Science Monthly, March, 1934, p28.

The main problem is how the planning is done in the UK. As it is with pretty much all the large scale projects, the Government is doing nothing, it is the privat sector that is pushing it and finally delivering. The politicians have missed the opportunity 2003, ten years ago, because they could not decide. Now the new Government is also against everything and all options, but unable to come up with proposals for solutions.

This practice leaves the essentials and crucial UK infrastructure to be proposed, planned and delivered by the private sector. The result will be once more a cost effective business hybride that works, but is not at all innovative, nor is it ground braking or future proof. It will be just another quick fix, badly stitched together from pieces copied from examples from around the world (maybe UK companies have delivered them, but abroad they all work much better) and crucially it will be too late.

The private sector and comercial businesses can’t be blamed. At least they deliver. It is not in their interest to look ahead when they are still busy maximising the profit they can squeeze out fo horribly run down but still profitable, with public money supported infrastructure pieces. To plan and organize a countries infrastructure, serving primarily its people should definitely be the governments business. They should be in charge of developing the strategies for the future, covering energy network and grid, transport infrastructure and communication networks as well as environment including disaster management and water security. Its a public job for the community to secure the essentials in a sustainable and future proof way definitely not a private sector job.

This does not mean the private sector can not deliver, nor pay for it. But the strategy has to be thought out an prepared by the politicians as a matter of national interest. However, this government is not gona do it, they privatise schools and the police force, why should they develop the national grid of infrastructure? Further more there is nothing that points towards the planning system being overhauled into this direction. The government will unveil plans to change the planning system very soon, according to an article on the BBC Planning system awaits overhaul in England, but its going exactly the other way. It will open the doors to planning free for all strengthening such private sector proposals and takeovers on a whole range of scales whilst at the same time again weakening any public authority’s position. They are actively taking themselves out of the responsibility.

It is again in fact not far of the earlier example of crowd funding of projects on web platforms such as Spacehive as discussed earlier HERE. The new Hub for the UK will be built in a similar way. The first group that comes along saying the have the money to deliver it, will get the job, no matter what the project, nor which option they are proposing.

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The internet has opened up new resources for funding opportunities. Platforms to advertise projects and find sponsors and funders are developing fast. On such platform is Kickstarter, where developers can promote their project and ask for funding to develop prototyps and deliver products. Others are Go4funds, JustGiving or Profunder. They all have their specialities and niches but essentially they are all about projects and proposals that need to be funded.

A new project called Spacehive has come up in the UK with its own niche in this popular funding circus. The focus is on building projects as they call it neighbourhood improvement projects. As it says on the page “For people with inspiring project ideas, Spacehive allows you to pitch for support and funding from your community. For everyone else it’s a refreshingly easy way to transform where you live: just find a project you like and pledge a donation. If it gets funded, it gets built!”

The founder Chris Gourlay describes the Spacehive as the world’s first online funding platform for neighbourhood improvement projects. The project went live only last December (2011-12-07) and has so far listed a total of seven projects. These range from a Rooftop Aquatic Farm to a Dog Training Facility to the Community Centre project in Glyncoch.

As far as the projects range so do the costs. The platform has no cost restriction or a minimum. For examples the community centre wants to raise some £792,578 and the Revive North Pond project needs £42,320 or the Stokwell Urban Oasis needs only £2,952.

So far none of the projects have been successful. In fact the Glyncoch centre will be the first project to hit the dead line on the 30st of March. The projects currently needs a further £23’000 to go ahead next month. The next 22 days will be nerve racking for the project officials who desperately want their project to go ahead.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from gka.org / The existing community centre in Glyncoch built in 1977. Could do with an update no question about that.

The media has already responded to the project and BBC has reported from Glyncoch after Steven Fry has tweeted about it. The social media is quick in picking stuff like this up and once more Twitter was the media of choice to discover the Spacehive platform. With over 4 million followers Steven Fry tweeting about it is great promotion and the community hopes this will bring the project the remaining money in funds they are short.

The projects are however not purely community funded. The Glyncoch project for examples has already had funding of 95% when is was listed on the Spacehive platform. This funding is Government money the village was promised for a new community centre. Only the remaining £30’000 the project team is trying to raise on the internet for the new centre to serve the 4’125 strong community.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from spacehive.com / The newly proposed community centre for Glyncoch to be built for 7. There are no plans of or drawings, mentions of a program or what kind of facilities exactly it will offer. Its only a simple SketchUp image showig some building form the outside. Very difficult to see how it will unfold its qualities but it seems to be enough to try and rais substantial amounts of money.

Getting the public involved in local projects is nothing new interesting however, is the way the new trend on the internet is pushing terminologies and understandings of such projects. What does it mean if such a project for a community centre that is desperately needed is now promoted a crowd funded project. How does that change the responsibility previously carried by official government bodies and what does such a model mean for the next generation of urban project?

Platforms for crowd funded projects are nothing new as we have discussed above. THey work for software and app development, for products and now also have their big platform for art, but does it work for community projects? Can such a model replace the states responsibility to deliver and maintain standards in communities including infrastructure and facilities like a community centre.

The current UK Government will be very pleased if such a funding process takes off and becomes a model for other community project. It will mean that even in the delivery for public projects competition and free market can be introduced. Cameron could try and argue that the best promotion team could win any community the much deserved project with the add-on of ,if they can’t, they don’t deserve it. Let the crowd decide who needs what. It fits perfectly with the Tories plan to run schools privately as academies, privatise the police as outsources services to private security providers and now also let public projects be delivered privately.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from spacehive.com / A project for A Roof-top Aquaponic Farm for London! producing fish and vegetables is one of the other projects looking for funders on the Spacehive platform. This project will need £45,602 to go ahead. The project is promoted by urbanFarmersUK a project related to urbanfarmers.ch a Group based in Zuerich, Switzerland.

A state and especially a planning and urban development does’t work like that. Values, excellence and quality are not something that is naturally delivered in the free market. Urban planners and practitioners have to stand for such qualities with their expertise. The future of our cities is not to be placed in the hands of lay people, for such important tasks experts should be put in place to develop such plans for the interest of the community.

The deliver should similarly be payed by the state or the local government using the taxes. People already pay a contribution to the community and this should be directed into such projects. The people from Glyncoch have all payed their tax towards this community centre and its not the point to now turn around and say well we are 30’000 short so all of your pay £10 extra and it will get payed. They already have payed!

Further more developing such funding options for urban development will change the responsibilities. The government will no longer be in charge and therefore also looses the power to controle what is happening. Who will be setting the standards and guidelines if the new road or bridge or dump is crowd funded? It will be very easy for large companies and businesses to manipulate such a process and get it don their way whilst ignoring all regulations and guidelines by pretending to work with the community.

Especially here in the UK it will be dramatic since the current development frameworks already are heavily influenced by private interests with the local authority and the government having very weak measures and tools to develop a community based vision. Other countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have much better developed frameworks and instruments for urban planning and community development.

It will be vital to strengthen the public official in delivering such community projects and bring back authority to plan ahead and deliver. This is the only way for consistent and sustainable development of the communities through out the country. The public can privatise these responsibilities they have to remain in the powers of the authorities.

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How exactly are we using light? Are we lighting what we need or are we lighting the surrounding plus everything else, wasting energy? Light has become a resource in our western societies that is being taken as a given available with the flick of a finger.

Street lights are recorded to be as old as 1405 in the city of London. Back then lanterns were to be hung outside houses along major roads. Several standards and specifications were released for the candles used. Only in 1807 the first gas lams were introduced into Golden Lane in London to replace the oil lamps.

Europe light pollution
Image taken from Architect / Street lights and context lighting above the urban area in the background.

Street lighting has come a long way since then and today all urban roads and alleyways are lit. Actually over lit in most cases emitting much light unnecessary into the sky. A lot of the lamp designs are very ineffective emitting the light upwards were it disappears into the sky without brightening the context.

The same is true for many privat light around houses, front and backgardens. Light in the dark is only really effective if it is directed at a surface and the lamp design should reflect this. If not unnecessary light pollution is produced affecting the environment. We have reached quite high levels of light pollution in urbanised areas, with most parts of Europe are.

Europe light pollution
Image taken from Wikimedia / Europe being light. False colours show various intensities of radiation, both direct and indirect, from artificial light sources that reach space.

This pollution is causing foremost wast of energy but also has direct environmental impacts. This is known as ecological light pollution. Nighttime light may for example interfere with the ability of moths and other nocturnal insects to navigate. Lights on tall structures can disorient migrating birds.

These problems have only begun to enter the public discussion and some cities around Europe have started to redesign lighting concepts for streets and squares as well as other infrastructures. This is usually done in lighting masterplans were the existing and the new light sources are taken into consideration.

FOr example only last week a proposal to dimm the light on A roads in the UK during ‘quiet’ times was presented by the Highways Agency according to BBC. It is however argued for under the umbrella of cost saving rather than environmental points.

Light not only just purs like a liquid, but if it would it could look like this. Energy and light saving visualised beautifully by Sunday / Paper. Via The Atlantic.

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In recent years Vienna has topped the rankings as most liveable city in consecutive years. Often enough it is Zuerich in Switzerland and Vienna as the two cities fighting over the first two places. Vienna however has recently overtaken Zuerich and has been, at least in the renown Mercer raking Quality of living ranking, on place number one for two years in a row.

Vienna is lovely, sorted and clean at least somewhere between the first Bezirk and the 19th. The sprawling suburbisation in the ranges of the green fringes around the city is a different topic.

Only just recently the historic centre of the city, the first Bezirk has been given World Heritage status appraising the quality of the ensemble and freezing it for the foreseeable future as such. It’s not that there are no interventions, 70s or 80s monstrosities, commercialised shop fronts or material insensivities. Overall however, the management of history, legacy and identity has been rather successful. This for example includes the very first and fiercely and controversially discussed Coop Himmelb(l)au rooftop project number one at Falkestrasse 6, just accross from the MAK.

Coop Himmelb(l)au Falkestrasse 6 Rooftop
Image by Geral Zugmann, taken from q2xro / Coop Himmelb(l)au Falkestrasse 6 Rooftop project located in Vienna’s first district, now selected as a world heritage site.

Vienna is successfully managing its building stock also beyond the historic centre. From the Ring, the former city wall area, to the Guertel, the former secondary wall, and beyond into the Vorstaedte Vienna has kept a rather xxxx einheitlich xxx building stock of Gruenderzeit buildings. On the city side of the Guertel one finds the upper class houses and on the outside the lower class buildings back then called the Zinshaeuser, meaning interest building, since it was built in the dramatic growth period of the industrialization during the 19th century. During this region Vienna grew from audit 1m to 2m with most of the population living in these Zinshaeuser suffering terrible standards, including the renting of beds, by the landlord twice or even three fold for shift workers.

As mentioned in the earlier post on Vienna, the cities population declined dramatically after the Second World War with the introduction of the Iron Curtain and Vienna in the following being disconnected from its Eastern backcountry. Interesting enough however, the city kept growing, still turing the surrounding grassland into built areas.

Over about 50 years Vienna developed a very sophisticated housing practice. Social housing is a established practice since the establishment of the Red Vienna. Housing is with the massive building stock within the city however, always also a topic of revitalisation and inner city change. Experts from the city today call it Slow Urban Revitalisation. This is however cheekily positively describing a lack of pressure and investment.

Vienna does not have, as other cities do a dramatic pressure on its building stock. Because they kept building, even if slowed down, as well as maintaining the Gruenderzeit buildings, the city is very well stocked. Slow in this case is a luxury of course offering great opportunities. There is more time for quality, more time for adaptability and more time for growth within each project.

Urban spaces don’t like to be rushed in to places. the context needs to adapt and grow alongside. In Vienna this practice was sort of accidentally developed and put in to practice, simply because the conditions were pushing it this way. Nevertheless the planners and the responsible people in the Gebietsbetreuung make the most of it and there are a number of very successful projects that could be realised at inner city locations.

Vienna Urban-Loritz Square by Silja Tillner
Image taken from Wikimeda / Vienna Urban-Loritz Square. Roof developed by architect Silja Tillner as part of the redesign of the square in connection with the Guertel Revitalisation.

One such project is the Guertel Revitalisation mainly lead and developed by the architect Silja Tillner. The project managed to revitalise the 30 km Westguertel along the Stadtbahn (Vienna Metropolitan Railway) designed and relised by Otto Wagner.

Interesting around the management of the building stock and the quality of urbanity developed under the new redevelopment schemas, is the discussion around density. As the Zinshaeuser earlier were really developed as cheep housing options for the owners to make money they provided only minimal standards and were rented out on a room basis. To optimize rents rooms often housed up to ten individuals. This meant real packed living under these circumstances.

However today, these densities have dramatically dropped and even though the built mass, the building stock is still the same the sort of people density must have dropped dramatically. Especially if the population reduction is taken into account as well as the continuous building practice on the outskirts. The image of the city that forms is a sophisticated spreading process. Vienna must have changed from a high-density, highly packed urban moloch into a lovely living standard league topping city.

At what cost? Non there seems, if talking to officials. Everybody seems pleased and very busy with he Slow Urban Revitalization . Everything is happening so slowly that there is little sense of the overall picture. While Vienna is continuously eating and in post-post-modernism digesting the surrounding countryside, the inner city slow changing practice is not adding quality to the urban spaces beyond rising the living standards inside the Gruenderzeit buildings. Its merely a shift from a one room apartment occupied by 10 tenants plus kids, to a very chic Altbau Wohnung (old building flat), a two or maybe three bed apartment for a single household or a couple maybe.

Whilst the urban constellation still looks the same, the city has changed. It has changed dramatically and is slipping through he fingers of the planners. It can not be captured by density factors in numbers, the new identity and the new buzz is generated by individuals and people density. Physically Vienna is built but inside this structure the body of the city has changed, it has been starved and is now with returning wealth thinning out.

The movie shows the building site around the artificially created lake for the new Aspern Lake City development on the outskirts of Vienna. It is located on a former airfield and underdevelopment for mainly housing usage. Masterplan available HERE.

Whilst the Gruenderzeit buildings seems to hold typologically very good qualities with its very basic and simple structure appear adaptable. This thinning process might lead to the crushing of the cities body if these heavy structures are underused and too scarcely populated. The city could it itself slowly from the inside. In addition of course there is a parallel discussion focusing on the outskirts and the continuos growing process at the fringes. With Vienna’s forecasted population growth towards t the 2m mark again, the discussion around sustainable growth, density and planning are essential and at the moment appear to bother the politicians and planners in this slow developing city not enough.

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This will be some relate, but maybe thrown together rumbling over a trip to Lisbon with bits and pieces of a conference and various thoughts and discussion extracts that link to this particular context. Being on the road usually brings up numerous new perspectives and lines of thought that might initially not be directly related to anything in particular but later on might as well find their way into a more contextualised form.

Visiting places as a tourist can often be quite frustrating. You are always the outsider, you stand out unable to step in to the secrets of the place. Scratching the surface and trotting the main paths with your fellow visitors. The guides direct you to what ever thousands of visitors have seen before tell you a little about the history but never really what you want to know and leave you in the dark about the real local narratives and secrets.

Lisbon Oriente Station
Image taken from skyscraper city / The oriente train station in Lisbons new quarter built by Calatrava for the expo in 1998.

See a place and learning about a place are quite some different things. This visit to Lisbon makes no exemption and the best probably is to accept and keep on walking, with open eyes continuously processing and combining trying to fit the puzzle pieces together reshuffle and attempt a new combination, establishing links both in terms of orientation and local practice whilst sucking ip the atmosphere of a quite unfamiliar place.

Its usually the subtile elements and little details as compared to the familiar context that stand out the most. Here in Lisbon as compared to London these are the sound, the smell and the space of the city. The three are probably diametrically the opposite of what you’ll find in the UK and especially in London.

Strong smell are common in Lisbon and you can find them everywhere usually before if at all you will find out about the source. From pleasant to truly awful there is everything. In terms of the sound, based on the dramatic differences in terms of space, architecture and topography the sound scape appears to have very different qualities. There is a lot more transition noises from activities blending into one another. A lot more activities take place in semi public spaces with a lot of balconies and loggias being involved. Then there are taler building and different street with-building hight relations transporting sounds into upper levels of buildings you might not associate normally with a ground floor situation.

Spaces are vast here in Lisbon. From the airport gates to the tube stations, train stations or university reception areas, everything is triple the size one would possibly assigne for the usage. Very impressive and completely changing the way enclosures are navigated used and finally perceived. Spaces flow a lot more here.


One of the talks at the 7VCT conference here at the Nova University was on Biomimicry and the promis of sustainable design based on such a concept. Various very beautiful and striking reference images were sown by Guorreiro during a tour do force of visually linking biological structures to urban physical form.

The occurring question of course immediately is as to how can one explain the linking of organic to man made other than visual similarities? Especially if we look at the creative capacity of people, the factors of decision making of the individual, also resulting in a cultor of space and space making.

Prof Mike Batty put it nicely in his comment during the sessions discussion time that in terms of energy consumption and optimisation of ‘the’ spatial problem this can be the result. With such a explanation the visual argument is extended and especially moves away from a direct comparison where people and cars in the road shall be see as blood cells transporting goods to the houses.

There is no doubt that there are similarities but there also are striking differences. Of this the capacity to take decision being one, but also the longevity of persistance being an example. if a mouse dies the same cells are very unlikely to reemerge as a mouse since the new baby mouse grows insed its mother, for the mouse being a mammal. However, a house is very likely to be built on the very same plot since this plot is guarded by boundary lines and the neighbouring property is likely to be owned by somebody else and at a very different stage of its live cycle (maybe there is a thing with local similarities though). This results in the discussion around boundary and finally organisational rules as sit would be extended to the discussion about culture and society in the next step. How do people live together in cities. Rules govern the structure, but they are not universal, its a trade off and locally emerged in regards to very specific conditions.

Taking this further these very same conditions however allow also for her consistence and persistance of the urban structure for a long times much beyond the individual inhabitant. Thus guaranteeing the built urban structure to develop and persist at a very different time scale. It is not down to a single planing act or the work of a generation that cities are stil there, but to the fact of social structure and the inscription of social structure manifested in physical form that lead to the continued existence of cities.

Cities rarely dye. Although there are some examples, there are even more stories of cities being rebuilt after great disasters. The earthquake of Lisbon being one or te fire of London. Nearly every city had its great fire actually , see the Wikipedia list of Fires. There is a very particular resilience about cities they don’t often die. Although thinking of it it might be the case that there are some examples to be fond.

The point is though that there are structures in place managing the functionality beyond the individual how ever important the single cities might be. This is what the pattern of activity and everyday structure is describing, inscribing activities in the urban morphology. THe word most overused in the past two years in this particular context is resilience. The capacity to withstand impacts and forces running against the everyday structure of the place.


To come back to the paper presented at the conference about the similarities between organic as in natural and planned as in organised one of the examples was the plan of Lisbon before and after the earthquake of 1755. The intention was to show how similar ‘natural’ growth is to planned growth since the planned result bears similar to the previous setting. The question being what is order and how does it emerge.

Lisbon map before 1755
Image taken from strangemaps / The city of Lisbon just before the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of the existing city. The square and the gates to the city are already established structures. So are the linear streets following the topographical conditions.

This comparison makes an interesting example for what the organisation of order can produce. However, to argue based on this that there are similarities between ‘natural’ growth and ‘planned’ growth.

There are clear restrictions linking the two stages of the urban fragments. The first image shows the old city of Lisbon just before the earthquake in 1755 and the second plan shows how the planners headed by Manuel da Maia laid out the rebuilding plan. The bold option with a complete restructuring of the Baixa area was chosen by the king as the plan to be implemented.

Lisbon 1785
Image taken from intbau / The city of Lisbon after the replanning following the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of the existing city.

Still as seen in many examples of reconstruction efforts, for example in London after great fire and after the second world war bombing with some of Abercrombies plans for the restructuring of the city, there are a lot of constraints that can not just be swept away as if it were a fresh plan. Landownership and established routes as well as other infrastructure or topological conditions make the rebuilding more of a puzzle task than a grand design effort.

There are of course some top down examples of restructuring such a Hausmann’s Paris plan or maybe some water dam projects in China were restructuring at such a scale is taking place.


Of course being in Lisbon makes it worth mentioning agani the visualisations developed by Pedro Cruz for the city traffic. These were covered in earlier posts HERE and HERE. The data stems forma survey covering traffic on the roads of Lisbon recorded over the period of one month. These animations developed in processing using explorative algorithms together with testing a range of analogies. Visually these representations are very captivating and stimulative in a number of ways. and on top it just loks pretty, very important too.

Having experienced a little bit the city of Lisbon over the past two days let me read these renderings in a different way. Some of the arteries have an distinct image attached and lend to read the network in relation to the topography and feel for urban identity.

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The widening of the planning process is something we have only seen happening in the past 20 years. Public consultations are older, but not public participation. There was a strong practice of participation in the late eighties and early nineties ,which has sort of established some public involvement, but it has also died out to a great extend again. It is however an upcoming topic again also with the availability of new tools and technologies such as digital and mobile gadgets.

The tension between the ‘planners’ and the ‘to be planned’, has always posed obstacles and the understanding and the working together is complicated already because of the self image of the different parties. One of the few methods with a good success for a productive process involving multiple parties is the games oriented approach, where the immediate self and the preoccupation can be diverted and the engagement or possible temporally enacting of a different role seems acceptable and possible.

In a new Valiz publication Game Urbanism: Manual for Cultural Spatial Planning, Hans Verhuizen discusses his theories and his practice in this field of, what he terms ‘Cultural Planning’, of working with multiple stakeholders on planning processes.

The publication puts Spatial Planning as: “Reassuring End-Pictures Remove all Fear of Change, yet also Curiosity about an Uncertain Result” and crucially for the approach: “The Best Idea is Indeed the Idea you Think of Yourself”.

The book puts forward a specific term for the aspects it is concerned with as ‘Cultural Planning’. It is not a new term, but Charles Laundry traces its roots back to the 1980s. The terms aims to broaden the meaning of ‘planning’ as a mer infrastructure and definitely physically oriented process. With the addition of culture the aim is to include social and cultural aspects.

The publication is structured in three main chapters, Handbook, Workbook and Urbanism Game. To understand the ful index it is important to have a look at the first few pages which are in fact part of the index. It is a sort of index spread allowing for a note with each topic. The number at the bottom is not the actual page number, but the page number this topic is discussed.

The Handbook chapter is the theoretical part with a wide range of inputs and considerations. Especially the side notes are a playful set of very serious input. The whole book is full of playful elements with rotation and skips or directions, where the topic of the content has informed the presentation and the character of the publication.

Image taken from archined / Parquette, a project game employing the herringbone pattern as a principle of reorganisation. The games reveilles the positive side of conflicts in the urban planning processes.

“Game Urbanism deals with the culture of spatial planning. Hans Venhuizen advances a broad understanding of culture that encompasses cultural history, heritage, architecture and art, as well as the culture of the current residents of a region and the idiosyncrasy of a place. In his search for a more specific identity for cities and areas, Venhuizen links the worlds of culture and space to each other in different ways. In this, his focus is always on the culture of spatial planning itself, and the game is his most important instrument. The relation between playfulness and seriousness is a key feature in all of Venhuizen’s projects. The game is capable of involving participants in an assignment on an equal basis. Moreover, it simplifies complex situations, reveals the wishes and interests of those involved, and provides pleasure in uncertain processes of change.”

“The book offerscase studies, context, methods and reflection. It shows a fundamentally different way of looking at how we deal with space, one in which culture assumes a natural and decisive role.”

The three authors have very different backgrounds and this shapes a very distinct perspective, creating interesting view.
Hans Venhuizen is director of Bureau Venhuizen, a project management and research bureau in the field of planning processes and spatial planning, also referred to as culture-based planning.
Charles Landry is founder and director of Comedia (UK), an international agency advising on creativity as source and stimulator for urban development and change. Landry is author of The Creative City: a Toolkit for Urban Innovators (2000), The Art of City Making (2006) and with Phil Wood of The Intercultural City: Planning for Diversity Advantage (2007).
Francien van Westrenen is Programmer/Curator Architecture of Stroom in The Hague and was project manager at Bureau Venhuizen.

For a quick overview of the book pleaase have a look at this clip.

SubMap 1.0
Image taken from archined / Book cover.

Venhuizen, H., Landry, C. & Westrenen, F.V., 2010. Game Urbanism: Manual for Cultural Spatial Planning, Amsterdam: Valiz.

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Urban regeneration in the UK appears to be mainly driven by speculation developer dominated investment projects thought and planned isolated as unique pieced dropped in a pool of likeminded, but distant relatives. As it looks cities, especially inner cities are suffering from identity loss with globalisation of characters and increasingly fragmented spatial configurations.

This is of course not a objective but a very subjective view on what is happening and how these changes feel. To be fair earlier changes in the seventies and eighties were worse. In this perspective a lot has changed and the nineties and the beginning of the 21th century projects have become a lot more sensible to a little bit wider context, maybe up to the pavement, and pretend more of a respect for environment and society.

The Public, West Bromwich
Image taken from Wikimedia / A view of the Public in West Bromwich. “The Building is lovely to photograph, though looks somewhat less impressive when actually standing in front of it. A financial disaster, the scheme has yet to prove its value in attracting investment to this run-down part of the West Midlands.

Phil Jones and James Evans have published in 2008 with Sage a reader on this topic, ‘Urban Regeneration in the UK: Theory and Practice‘. It a classical text book with all the features ‘Overview’ at the beginning of a chapter, ‘Key Points’ at the ed of each chapter, a ‘Further Reading’ section and very helpful a chapter by chapter bibliography. This is not to to say it is dumb or boring on the contrary it is very helpful and allows for quicker orientation, skipping and finding of specific information.

Finding thing is really what you what with this type of book. It is not about discovering and becoming immersed in new thought, its clearly to get the facts on the tabe. An this it does along the topics of ‘Policy Framework’, ‘Governance’, ‘the Competitive City’, ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Design and Cultural Regeneration’. Within this framework the book makes use of studies to present the cases and points. It is great to have such a practical focus.

Drake Circus
Image taken from geograph / A view of the Drake Circus shopping centre in Plymouth finished in 2007. It replaced a completely run down previous shopping mall. However, in stead of solving the identified problems of its precessor it presents a whole new set of complication to the city and the public. This includes its expression on the outside, connections for access, dead spaces and frontages as well as the very problematic roundabout at the north end of the development.

However it is important to point out that this is not a practical ‘how to do urban regeneration guide’. This is probably to be found in the CABE reading list or somewhere around there. This book is set in an academic context focusing on state-of-the-art research. In this sense the publication is providing the theoretical background and the discussion to the topic.

It an important topic and compared to many of Europe’s other large cities the quality of building in urban centres is really poor, actually dramatic. This publications provides some insight on the mechanics and the policies behind the processes leading to such a state. However it does not explain the spectacular failings. Project such as ‘The Public, West Bromwich’ or the ‘Drake Circus’ shopping centre and regeneration in Plymouth are on a two examples (see images above).

Drake Circus
Image taken from surreylibraries / ‘Urban Regeneration’ book cover.

Jones, P. & Evans, J., 2008. Urban Regeneration in the UK: Theory and Practice, London: Sage Publications Ltd.

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