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Tag "sustainability"

From sustainability to the new beauty in the following four books are put forward to start into 2012. The topics all address some of the concerns raised about cities in the past year or so and all contribute to the current discussion around changes in social and spatial organisation at large. With globalisation and technology social structures are changing requiring urban environments to be adapted. This will not happen tomorrow, nor is it a case of restarting in building it new from scratch. The only option is to keep transforming and by testing and engaging with the presented new thoughts and aspects we might take a step into this direction.

Not all cities are mega cities. In fact most of the cities are small to mid sized. According to the work Mike Batty had done together with Martin Austwick and Oliver O’Brian on Rank Clocks plotting city sizes in the US, only about 10% of the cities are mega or large. The rest of the cities are under 1 million in population size.

In terms of sustainability potential these large numbers of smaller cities could actually play a major role and this is what Catherine Tumber put forward in her publication Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World published by MIT Press.

There are so many problems the smaller cities face. From long terms decline due to the faltering of industries, massive transport infrastructures slicing them into non workable urban islands and social struggles related to working poor and general poverty reminiscent of postcolonial squalor. The biggest struggle however is the fact that they are excluded from the general debate of urban planning and theoretical thinking. They all practice urban planning and development, but with only little recognition and background.

Tumber argues that due to the smaller sized, shorter distances and proximity to farmland and recreation these smaller cities have a lot of potential to implement sustainable concepts and start integrating those in everyday urban practice. Tumber especially points to renewable energies, such a wind, food production and local agriculture as well as manufacturing skills. Its all about producing and consuming locally.

These ideas are not new and sort of resonate with early garden cities ideas, especially in the praise of size and population density. This is not at all a negative association, but more a practical application. Since here it is not about setting up a new place to live, which can in itself not be sustainable, but about reprogramming an existing one sustainability is given an additional dimension.

Small, Gritty, and Green Book cover
Image taken from archpaper / Small, Gritty, and Green, book cover, part.

Does a city posses its very own spirit and identity? Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit argue in their new book The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age published by Princeton University Press that actually they do. The authors draw on the ancient Greek concept of city spirit and argue for the rediscovery of the local urban spirits around the world especially in connection to todays globalisation.

Earlier publications have picked up on this topic and characterised cities in such a manner as to work out distinct identities. Saskia Sassen in Cities in a World Economy and more recently Martina Löw in Soziologie der Städte
(sociology of cities). THe concept of the citiy spirit is, as Löw points out, closely entangled with the city marketing that has been very popular in the past fifteen years as a tool to distinguish, present and attract.

Bell and de-Shalit look specifically at nine modern cities: Jerusalem (religion), Montreal (language), Singapore (nation building), Hong Kong (materialism), Beijing (political power), Oxford (learning), Berlin (tolerance and intolerance), Paris (romance) and New York (ambition). Of course soe of them sound like external concepts. Especially Paris and the age old topic of romance, hey but never mind it shapes the place in a certain way and this identity hold the potential to develop something specific and relevant.

Each city is portrait in a lot of detail making good use of story telling as well as combining theoretical aspects with practical experience. A good read for travellers of thought.

The Spirit of Cities Book cover
Image taken from the Atlantic / The Spirit of Cities, book cover.

“We have to find our way back to beauty!” Lars Spuybroek argues in his new book The Sympathy of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology of Design, published by V2_publishing, for a revised approach to design culture moving away from the technological practice of modernism towards a more romantic notion of art in the sense that beauty always combines variations, imperfection and fragility. Spuybroek bases his arguments on John Ruskin‘s aesthetics. Overall the book is a project to wrest these topics out of the Victorian era into the present. This is achieved by combining the five central themes of Ruskin: the Gothic and work, ornament and matter, sympathy and abstraction, the picturesque and time and ecology and design in combination with more recent thoughts on aesthetics by philosophers such as William James and Bruno Latour.

It becomes a projection of a world of feeling and beauty in such a way as it completely does a way with the fundamentalism and absolutism of modernist conception of design.

The Sympathy of Things Book cover
Image taken from il giornale dell architettura / The Sympathy of Things, book cover.

Graphical representation of information are in every case an abstract representation. Often to represent a point of view or a standpoint is required and depending on this the representation is biased. In Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty through Graphical Display published by Princeton University Press, Howard Wainer is looking at the phenomenon of information display of statistical data and the possible complications.

The book is less about graphics than numbers, although graphics do play an important role. Similar to Dona M. Wong’s Guide to Information Graphics and also like Tufte’s Books The Visual Display of Information and Envisioning Information the correct representation is at the heart of the text. However, Wainer focuses more on the conditions and the explanations than the design.

Wainer is a longtime expert in statistical graphics who works as a research scientist for the National Board of Medical Examiners and as an adjunct professor of statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The examples are discussed in detail in order to really get the reader to understand the points Wainer is to make. This has the advantage that for a number of the examples the reader also comes to finally understand the actual meaning of the graph probably well known to him. The book draws from a great range of examples including Charls Joseph Minard’s plot of Napoleons Russian Campaign, Florence Nightingale’s Diagram of Mortality and William Playfair’s Wheat Prices graph to name a few.

The book is written in a very accessble language and takes time to explain the details as well as linking it with current facts and events that enlighten the presented problem further. Definitely a great read for data enthusiasts.

Picturing the Uncertain World Book cover
Image taken from Borders / Picturing the Uncertain World, book cover.

Wainer, H., 2009. Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty through Graphical Display, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Bell, D.A. & de-Shalit, A., 2011. The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Spuybroek, L., 2011. The Sympathy of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology of Design, Rotterdam: V2_Publishing.

Tumber, C., 2011. Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World, Boston, MA: MIT Press.

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Sustainability as a concept applies to a range of scales and has to be implemented in each step from planning to production to building, use and recycling. Only overall a maximum of impact is archived. For individual steps this might not make the difference but for the project of a whole this is important. In this sense taking on a global view and develop the project in a wider context is important in order to mange the palette of wide ranging impacts from source to production and recycling of a single project.

Material are playing a mayor part in this since they are the very substance each of the project steps is taking shape through the application and transformation of material. In this sense material can be seen as the very practical and central element of sustainable design.

solid poetry concrete
Image taken from traces / Solid Poetry developed this moisture reactionary concrete. Customised patterns are possible on a range of cales to appear if the concrete surface ges wet. Flowers grow as it rains or footprints emerge from pool splashes.

A lot of material innovation have changed the way products are being not only designed but also used, loved and recycled. In a new Birkhaeuser publication by the author Sacha Peters these changes in the material world are being presented. The book ‘Material Revolution: Sustainable Multi-purpose Materials for Design and Architecture‘ focuses on the latest innovations in material design as well as production. The publication presents materials as tightly interwoven with products and makes good use of product examples to demonstrate and especially illustrate the potential of a specific type of material. Also the production process is especially highlighted as part of the sustainability aspect of a material. However the recycling of the material is not discussed as a material property. This would have been an interesting aspect.

The book is structured in eight chapters grouping together materials based on properties such as Bio-Based, Biodegradable, Recycled, Leightweight, Shape-Changing, Multifunctional, Energy-Generation and Light-Influencing. These groups might not make sense as such, but are perfectly fitted with the examples they put forward. This ranges from concrete that reacts to moisture by SolidPoetry or fabrics that have a built in shape memory.

Max Schäth shape-shifting hood
Image taken from vicinteractivesurface / This is an expressive shape-shifting hood that references the senses and feelings of a person in an abstract way. It subtly transforms and changes shape via shape memory alloys. The project was developed Max Schäth.

Each material is discussed along the same three structural elements of ‘Concept and Properties’, ‘Use and Processing’ and ‘Products’. This provides a good guidance for the reader and makes it easier to compare the different material and their properties. The publication discusses a very large range and number of different materials, so many in fact that is becomes almost a material catalogue. This leaves only little room for each individual material and the provided information is rather limited. In this sense the book is a good starting point, providing an overview and basic comparison.

Interestingly there is a lot of discussion about sustainability of materials and the importance of the concept, but in the end little of this comes down to the actual material and on the leve of the material sustainability is not present, only really in the book concept. This is a shame since the importance would be for the perspective this book has chosen on each material property against its sustainability value.

Nevertheless a good catalogue for designers and architects with great product examples also as a source of inspiration, providing an overview of the latest available and upcoming materials for specific product purposes.

Image taken from Birkhaeuser on issuuu / Book preview.

Peters, S., 2011. Material Revolution: Sustainable Multi-purpose Materials for Design and Architecture, Basel: Birkhauser.

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Bracket : architecture, environment, digital culture‘ is a new book seriespublished by Actar with the first one [on farming] published in summer 2010. The series is a collaboration between InfraNet Lab and Archinect. The publications are designed by thumb. The edited series is based around a specific topics, but works with contributions. Each edition starts with an open call for entries.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac
Image taken from bracket / Cover of the Old Farmers Almanac no 103. The Old Farmer’s Almanac can be accessed online for the most up todate weather forecasts.

The publication is an Almanac, a yearly publication. For this topics one important reference is of course the ‘Old Farmers Almanac’ the yearly planting and weather forecast guide for farmers published since 1792, and this is how the edition starts. With this the connection between farming, science, landscape and urbanism.

Farming has been a trending topic for the past six years in landscaping, urban design and architecture. This is partly nostalgic, but there are many practical or sustainable interests involved too. Even though farming is no longer farming, the topic is on a wide range of issues woven into the current discussion of urban planning not least because of the blurred boundaries between rural and urban or the larger cale infrastructural linkages between the two.

Microcosmic Aquaculture
Image taken from bracket / Microcosmic Aquaculture Bittertang (Antonio Torres and Michael Loverich). We imagine a future where the vast and deep expanses of the ocean will teem with overabundant floating gelatinous reefs. Humans will be nourished physically and aesthetically be encouraging new floating worlds of reefs that sustain large quantities of harvestable wild and captive fish. Farming in this project is not viewed as a monoculture but the creation of a new ecology where wild and captive wildlife are ’raised’ and their aesthetic potential is enjoyed by future divers and fisherman. From Bittertang, Antonio Torres currently tastes new flavors and Michael Loverich explores frothiness in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

This is outlined by Charles Waldheim in his introduction ‘Notes towards a history of agrarian urbanism’. The discussion is structured into six chapters: tiling/seeding, grafts/hybrids, plots/allotments, harvest/yield, ploughs/combines and crop rotation/sequencing. Overall there is a strong focus on design and the discussion thereof. In fact the publication really wants to be a design almanac.

With the extended mix of projects and writings this new format can really contribute a slightly different format. It is not a magazine and not a book, but sort of manages to get the best of both. With the open call there is a broad range of perspectives covered ont he topic, but with its extended content projects are not reduced to just three renderings and image captions. There is room for a proper discussion here.

In this sense the contributed project cover all areas, ranging from Globalisation issues gobalgalisation, to faming in urban areas Nomadic Allotments, the harvesting of the oceans Microcosmic Aquaculture Bittertang or the colonialisation of the skies Cloud Skippers.

Microcosmic Aquaculture
Image taken from bracket / Cloud Skippers
Studio Lindfors (Ostap Rudakevych and Gretchen Stump) Cloud Skipping is about harvesting the resources of earth’s atmosphere. By harnessing the tremendous energy of the jet stream, Cloud Skippers imagine a community of adventurous pioneers who leave the surface to drift amongst the clouds in machine-like dwellings designed for gliding. Studio Lindfors explores the contours of imagination.

The next bracket edition wil be [goes soft], on: “racket 2 invites the submission of critical articles and unpublished design projects that investigate physical and virtual soft systems, as they pertain to infrastructure, ecologies, landscapes, environments, and networks. In an era of declared crises—economic, ecological and climatic amongst others– the notion of soft systems has gained increasing traction as a counterpoint to permanent, static and hard systems.” However call for submission has closed now. Editors will be Neeraj Bhatia and Lola Sheppard. The jury for Bracket 2 includes Benjamin Bratton, Julia Czerniak, Jeffrey Inaba, Geoff Manaugh, Philippe Rahm, Charles Renfro.

White, M. & Przybylski, M., 2010. Bracket 1. On Farming, Barcelona: Actar.

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China is going through massive changes at the moment ranging from economy and society to culture. The bilt environment is definitely also part of this. Was it just four years back only about bringing prestigious names and projects into the country has this evolved into a wide ranging ecology and sustainability trend. Probably fueled by the western input, Cina has leapfrogged directly into the sustainability discussion and this directly influences the project planing and delivery.

A lot of projects are now not only seeked for their architect’s prestigious name or the avantgarde design, but marketed for its sustainable value. If this goes together even better.

Politically China has already implemented long term strategies on how to develop expected growth sustainable with the twelfth Five-Year Plan and in 2010 also proclaimed ambitious climate targets. Since buildings use about 40% of the total energy consumption the built environment is an obvious starting point to reach such standards.

A new DOM Pulishers publication ‘Contemporary Green Buildings in China – Art and Architecture for Sustainability 2000-2010‘ is drawing a portray of the trend in sustainability architecture in China. The editors Christian Dubrau and Li Xiangning are not at all short of examples, on the contrary list is impressive.

The publication is largely informed by the project ‘Germany – China moving ahead together’ centers on modern and future oriented development plans. Part of this is the forum ‘Urban Academy’ which builds a platform for specialists focusing on social development and urban construction development in cities today. 40 architecture project are showcased, but integrates a series of art projects that challenge the same topic.

This partnership between the two countries is of course an interesting one. Germany with a far developed culture of sustainable discussion but also practice has a lot of expertise to export to China. Of course the challenge is to adapt the practice and technologies to the specific need and environment.

The projects discussed in this book cover a broad range. This starts with two Steven Holl projects (two of his books discussed earlier Urbanisms and Hansun) the fabulous Beijing Moma Apartment Complex and the massive Vanke-Centre. There are of course quite a few urban examples, together with a short discussion on sustainable urban planning approaches, but then there is also a range of refurbishment and revitalise as well as rural projects together with some community based projects.

One of the very interesting urban projects is the Ningbo Museum. A gigantic structure on an artificial hill. The area was cleared for an urban extension and dozens of rural villages were destroyed. On the site of formar rice fields, parts of the structure are bamboo concrete formworks and the rest ist built from bricks recycled fromt he former village houses.

Ningbo Historic Museum
Image taken from ArchDaily / Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio

Two of the more rural projects that are very fascinating are the ‘Maosi Ecological Demonstration Primary School’ (not sure what the name is pointing out) and the ‘Namchabawa Visitor Centre’ by Standardarchitecture.

The school project was developed by the Department of Architecture – The Chinese University and build together with local builders as a community project.

Maosi School
Image taken from DomusWeb.it / The project emphasizes a scientific and transferable methodology: condition analyses, computer simulation experiments and field construction.

THe visitor centre by Standardarchitecture is a project in Tibet about 2900 meters above sea level. It is located at the entrance to an important pilgrim destination. The project similar to the Maosi School seeks to blend in with the landscape, but especially with the local culture. This is realised quite successful in both projects and does show a new type of Chinese architecture, a much more engaged and interested attitude the architects show here.

Image taken from archinfo.it / The center is located in a small village called Pai Town in Linzhi area in the south-eastern Tibet.

One thing that this publication definitely achieves is for a change to document an show a more subtile side of Chinese building projects. What publications so far usually have focused on is the size, the speed, the change or the costs. Such and approach tends to overlook the quality and sells buildings as consumables. What can be learned from ‘Contemporary Green Buildings in China’ is that there are good quality buildings with a interesting architectural style being built in China today. This is finally moving reports about China’s built environment beyond bilboard architecture towards a substantial development.

Debrau, C. & Xiangning, L., 2011. Contemporary Green Buildings in China: Art and Architecture 2000 bis 2020, Dom Publishers.

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A post by Annick Labeca, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.

Image by footprintnetwork.org / United Arab Emirates’ Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity.

Click the image and read this contribution on DPR-Barcelona

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A guest post by Luis Suarez from estudio-arq, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.

Image taken from Saidaonline / Balloon helps Parisians breathe easy By Jim Bittermann, CNN September 20, 2010 9:15 p.m. EDAir de Paris balloon tells Parisians whether the quality of the air is good, bad or indifferent.

Click the image and read this contribution on DPR-Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by dpr-barcelona / Wellness' Thermodynamics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image taken from changinghabbits.org / cover illustration.

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

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

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A manifesto for sustainable cities is definitely a task with two diverting possible outcomes to it. On one side this is a winner, because everyone is talking sustainability and if you can offer this bound knowledge on the topic you are clearly up to the task. However, there is also the other side, you can only fail with this approach. It has been over used and become a real media word without meaning or program. Furthermore some sort of resignation has settled and a lot of practitioners think it is just too complex to fit in one field of expertise.
This book here with the title: ‘Albert Speer & Partner: A Manifesto for Sustainable Cities, Think Local, Act Global’ by Jeremy Gaines & Stefan Jaeger, published by Prestel in 2009, is probably such a candidate for this kind of black and white judgement. It is either great and you love it, or you will find it terrible and you don’t bother. However, the topic is kind of urgent and it has to be taken seriously globally to tackle the issue and every little helps.
This book is not a little, but 220 pages think and therefore must have something to say?
It is organised in ten chapters each in command style what you have to do and how you have to do it. It looks kind of more like a manual than a manifesto. The content is put together from practice examples drawn from all over the world, both in house Albert Speer & Partner (AS&P) projects and external projects by leading practices.

Image by AS&P, taken from german-architect / Artist impressio nof the proposal for Abuja, Nigeria. Note the six lane boulevard running down the length of the proposed development. This not only creates two parts or reminds us of Haussmanns Paris, but it also is clearly planned for individual traffic – cars – sustainable? More ilustrations can be found HERE.

The guys at Albert Speer & Partner really seem to know what they are talking about and they know it so well that they have to tell everyone else that they know it. So what you get with the book, is a set of ten rules, and I have to stress the importance of these rules, on how to do it. I have to repeat it again, this book tells you how to do it and of course also tells you how not to do it. It comes as a surprise to actually find such an old school approach to the complex topic of sustainable urban design especially because planners and designer only begin to grasp the extent of the topic and the required complexity of processes needed to address some of the issues at hand. But with this publication in hand you are saved and with you the planet, if this is not sarcastic enough.
There seems to be a never ending list of complex interwoven topics that render this book impossible to acknowledge as serious beyond a marketing publication. The text starts right away in the introduction with a sharp critique on the Fosters and Partner project ‘Masdar’, the zero carbon city outside Abu Dhabi. I agree with the critique in some points, but why would you choose to open a book with such a statement? Is there such a need to establish this distance between oneself and the others, dealing with the same problems? Similar, at a later point, there is talking about the new Alianz Arena in Munich, a new Football Arena built for the World Cup in Germany 2006. AS&P somehow had a part in this project, but the actual architect is not once mentioned in the paragraph. And who do you guess the architect was? A famous architect of course and not Foster and Partner. Yes, it was Herzog and de Meuron. This strategy of not mentioning seems to go through the book and frequently not the whole context is revealed. Other examples can be found again in the introduction where the talk is of another mysterious zero carbon city, this time in the United Arab Emirates called Ras al-Khaimah, who do you guess is the project author for this one – O(h)M(y)A(?). The name of the architect must have gone lost somewhere on the way. Also in the paragraph ‘Icons and Idiosynchrasies’ where only specifically selected icons are presented, such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, but with great care not mentioning the architect. More is in ‘Current Mobility Fosters Immobility’ with the example of the Curitiba Bus System but no reference to where it came from and who invented it.
Either it is a decision to keep the descriptions extremely simple and this information is considered as clutter or it is strategical non-placement of references that would distract from the glory of AP&P.

Image by AS&P / perspective view of the master plan for Changchun JingYue, Ecological City in China. Extreme axial organisation again, as in the previous example, while creating a lot of physical boundaries in addition with transport and water features. Surprising her is the lack of clarity regarding the definition of space or voids. The parcels seem to be developed under aspects of value and dimension along a grid of roads. The buildings are then detached isolated placed floating around inside the plot. It is only a diagram yes, but one that clearly states the road in with it the individual car traffic as its dominant factor,

The glory really doesn’t end here. You have probably by now understood that the book must be in ten chapters – reference, what comes in ten chapters down from the hill, somewhere in the desert? AS&P must also have picked it up somewhere in the desert as they … sorry this is going to far, but yes The Ten Commandments are, according to Wikipedia: “a list of religious and moral imperatives”. As if this is not good enough, there is an eleventh chapter, the conclusion. This is the book killer, it is entitled: ‘Applying The Ten Commandments: Cairo’ ??? Is this some sort of 21st Century Christianization? (I am aware that the Ten Commandments do also play a role in Islam, but the context and the way ideologies are thought directly by the head teacher is truly astonishing.)
A note on the style of the text, it is surprising at times and lets one wonder who actually is telling the story here. From the first impression you would expect that this is some kind of a knowledge output by an architectural practice, they talk about what they learned and experienced. But then after a few lines you come across the first third person reference and then follows the first quote of someone, apparently a board member of AS&P. After a few times this lets you wonder who is writing here. Do architects also have ghost writers?

Overall there is very little good to say about the style of the book. However, it has to be said that it covers different aspects of sustainability, illustrates them and through this can offer a perspective on the topic. It is just that one has to like the style to like the book, I guess. This is a half hearted recommendation, but have a look at the book and see what you think of it.

Gaines, J. & Jager, S., 2009. Albert Speer & Partners: a Manifesto for Sustainable Cities: Think Local, Act Global, Prestel.

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