web analytics

— urbantick

Tag "infrastructure"

Since the early half of the last century the car is a defining aspect of the urban environment. Pre-car urban pattern are obviously different and many scholars and practitioners have since covered the topic of how things have changed.

It is in most parts of Europe no longer as dominant as it was in the 70s as the directing constraint, but is obviously still very much present. Present not only in the way it moved and demands space to move, but cars also occupy space to stop and stand.

Parking lots are required to supply this need for cars to be parked and they area permanent infrastructure taking up space whether in use or unused. little can be combined with these lots and indeed most of the time they sit there empty, just like that, as a tarmaced free space with a few white lines.

Outside Europe in higly car dependant areas, such as the Unites States, Canada, England and increasingly Asia most lots for cars are surface parking. Meaning each building requires a plain surface in immediate proximity the size according to the number of peak time occupants.

What the residence of for example Milton Keynes, UK, know very well from their everyday experience, the perceived density of the urban environment is exceptionally low. This because there is never a feeling of closedness, of held space, because of the constant distance between ones position and the parking lots and between buildings. A list of the largest parking lots was put together by Forbes HERE.

In a new publication this topic of lots and parking is examined in detail from an american perspective in an MIT Press publication by Eran Ben-Joseph in Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking. The author is MIT Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning and as he explains in the introduction tot he book has ben teaching one of the most famous courses at MIT architecture. The course runs already for over 75 years under the title Site Planning. It has been taught by a hand full of, as Ben-Josephs calls them, luminaries of urban design and city planning, foremost Kevin Lynch, who took over the course in 1956.

Image taken from emspy.com / Car Park and Terminus Strasbourg designed by Zaha Hadid in 1998, completed in 2001.

This for the context of the book. Whilst of course the course covers a whole range of other subjects, the design and arangements of parking lots is only a part of the course. Nevertheless a subject that, as Ben-Joseph stresses, in the US not had a lot of attention.

Indeed it is tricky, thinking on your feet, to come up with a handfull of good lot designs. Probably Hadid’s parking design for Car Park and Terminus Strasbourg would be one of them.

Image taken from democraticunderground / To make matters worse, a lot of parking lots are not only pooly designed and landscaped, but also maintained.

The publication is structured in three parts. Whilst the first part covers the topic from todays perspective focusing on problems, questions and requirements, introduced with a quote by J.B Jackson, taken from his Landscape in Sight: Looking at America, but also covering natural aspects. The second part covers the history and the development of parking lots. In the third part practice, design and examples are presented.

Whilst the book design is not extremely exciting, with mix of photograph quality, different styles of sketches and diagrams. its content is fascinating. The creative and playful approach to wording, especially titles and descriptions, for example A Lot in Common, Musing a Lot, Lots of Lifestyles or From Street to Lot, make it a pleasant read. But foremost the depth of research into the topic and the presentation of it in a lot of context and history make it a truly useful addition to your library.

Image taken from MIT / Book front and back cover.

Ben-joseph, E., 2012. Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Read More

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.

Read More

Infrastructure projects have grown into an important role in the public realm taking more and more responsibility in a social context. Over the past arguably hundred years more and more emphasis has be put in to infrastructure, being it transport services and facilities.

As a modernists take on the city technology was to be placed as the driving force behind planning and this of course shall also include infrastructural project. In fact especially here technology could be implemented with the help of additional arguments. Today, infrastructure is running as flag ship projects in many cases being put forward as statements both public and design wise.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from dpr-barcelona / Hans Hollein Aircraft carrier city in landscape, project. Aerial perspective.

The Jovis publication Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks, edited by Katrina Stoll and Scott Lloyd takes a detailed look at this position infrastructure has grown into and how architecture relates to it, thus implying that design has to learn from both in order to support a new take on projects.

The publication discusses the matter in essays organised in five topics. These are: Infrastructure Economy, Infrastructure Ecology, Infrastructure Culture, Infrastructure Politics and Infrastructure Space/Networks. Contributors include for example Dana Cuff from UCLA, LateralOffice, UrbanLAB, Alexander D’Hooghe and MVRDV.

The essays cover a range of topics and reach from the presentation of practical projects, built and planned to theoretical essays of the discussion. Thus there is a wealth of different views that are, as the editors argue: ‘providing a framework for understanding the union of infrastructure and architecture’.

Of course it is on one hand a secret claim to but architects in the position to take on and reclaim design agency over infrastructure projects, but more importantly to discuss the dualities of presence and identity of building projects regardless of their function.

It is superbly interesting how this publication argues for a new take on infrastructure and how the argumentation might actually be point out what practice has already incorporated. Whilst the discussions around the relationships infrastructure is bedded into in the urban system is not new, there is a new approach being argued for. Modernists have taken it on at the beginning of the last century and in the 60s the Smithsons and Team X proposed a new take. More and more it grew into a systemic approach and whilst before it was always one or the other it is now being argued for as both, one and the other.

Appleyard and Lynch in A view from the Road already note that the road is producing scenery for the driver and the passengers it is at the same time dominating the landscape as a static bulky object. Alexander D’Hoogh is especially arguing for this in his essay contribution o the publication: The Objectification of Infrastructure: The cultural project of suburban infrastructure design.
This dualism of producing and being is the new aspect in this publication, but probably could in fact reach beyond. Testing this against current trends might revel a deeper interest of our times in this dualism and the fact that problems could have more than one state.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from jonathandsolomon.com / Book cover. A preview of the publication is available from Jovis HERE. The Essay by Jonathan Solomon is available HERE.

Stoll, K. & Lloyd, S., 2010. Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Read More

The Cold War years are usually presented in terms of the military force and an ever expanding resource of military equipment. This of course includes foremost the nuclear weapons both sides the West lead by the U.S. and the NATO and the Communist East lead by Russia.

Architecture however, played an important role in cicvil defence and the preparation for a potential third world war. There was far less attention payed to the fact that all nations had programs running to prepare their societies for the case of escalation. Tensions there were enough.

Nuclear war was the ultimate danger and with images and evidence form Hiroshima and Nagasaki preparation was part of civil defence programs also in the U.S. In a new book Fallout Shelter: Designing for Civil Defence in the Cold War published by University of Minnesota Press, David Monteyne presents these U.S. programs from an architectural perspective. This detailed investigation ranges from the propaganda to built examples and examines closely the role of the architect as the middle man between government and civil society implementing a plan that is further reaching than simply the provision of shelter. Find Fallout Shelter: Designing for Civil Defence in the Cold War for great prices with these Amazon Promo Codes.

DIY shelter
Image taken from etsy / DIY fallout shelter for your back garden.

As Monteyne points out in his introduction it effectively is a contract between citizens and government exchanging provision for shelter and quality of live for cooperative behaviour. He refers to Foucaults biopower as a political relationship. Essentially building shelters was and in some cases still is, as we’ll discuss further on, the physical implementation of goals and powers of the welfare state.

The book explores in seven chapters the background, the planning, the implementation and the potential influence of shelter provision programs in the U.S. The programs were mostly about information and education but of course also aiming to build shelter provision. For this the architects were a key alley and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) launched a series of design competitions together with the Office for Civil Defense (OCD). The aim was to promote good planning and preparation for shelter provision. A series of designs were presented as winners, both built and as projects.

In the last chapter Monteyner goes a step further and applies his observations and investigations as an interpretation of an architectural style. He goes as far as arguing that this focus on shelter and bunker design has effectively led to an specific style, not a new one, but Brutalism?! Well thats something new and of course he has some evidence, the famous Boston City Hall. The basic argument is that Brutalist architecture looks a bit like bunk architecture so the origin of Brutalism is to be found in these government programs during the early Cold War times having shaped a whole generations concusses.

Boston City Hall
Image taken from Wikipedia / The Boston City Hall that serves as an example as to how bunker design has lead to the Brutalism movement.

Boston City Hall is at this point is the famous and widely debated example in the U.S. and serves well since it has implemented to some extend the requirements for fallout shelter. Interestingly the term Burtalism however is claimed to be coined by the Smithsons from the United Kingdom based on Le Corbusier in the context of CIAM. So not really an American connection there and all in all a bit too early for these programs that were run in the fifties and sixties mainly.

Reading the shelter guides these cold war programs produced and the resulting designs one can not help but smile. It amazing how naive the designs are and how improvised. For example there are guides on how to build a wooden shelter in your backyard and even the Boston City Hall project, the famous bunker style building has implemented shelter space on the eights floor?

It seemed to work and to some degree the American officials seemed to gain some sense of preparednes from these exercises. To everyone else these plans must immediately seem strange. If all you need to withstand a nuclear war is to build the entrance of a house not in line with the corridor to prevent fallout from penetrating deep into the house we ar all save.

American architecture is not generally well known for going deep underground and if possible basements are avoided at any cost. Very much so in terms of shelter and fall protection provision. Not even these programs have seriously considered building bunker underground, as the Boston City Hall projects demonstrates. Shelter can happily be provided on the eighth floor?!

The way this infrastructure of bunkers and shelters is described in the publication does echo practices for example in Switzerland. The small country in the heart of Europe is well known for its specific bunker infrastructure. On the military end this infrastructure was designed to guarantee the independence creating a réduit in the alps. On the civil side planning for large scale shelter infrastructure started a early as the 1930s. These efforts were geared towards the provision of shelter everyone in the country. Doring the 1980s this was achieved, making Switzerland arguably the leading provider of shelters.

It is a general requirement in Switzerland to built a shelter as part of every housing project ranging from a single family house to an entire block. Depending on the size of the project and number of inhabitants the shelter has to provide a certain capacity. Currently there are, according to the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection FOCP, about 360’000 individual shelters built as part of buildings and in addition some 2300 communal shelters. Hereby a shelter in general is a sort of mini bunker in the basement of every building constructed after 1963.

shelter details section
Image taken from Kanton Schwyz / Detailed section drawing showing the emergency exit from a standard single family house shelter space. Requirements including distances and dimensioning are based on standards applicable through out Switzerland. Note also the shown solution in case of high ground water.

There are clear guide lines for the construction of the shelter, the provisions and the equipment necessary. Every opening has to have a massive concrete door to completely seal the space. There is ventilation equipment required, designed to withstand gas and fall out. In addition there are simple bunk bed constructions and basic facilities such as dry toilets required.

Larger buildings such as community centres provide shelter for a larger number of people ranging from 30 to a few hundred. All are real bunkers constructed in full concrete, at least 25 cm in thickness with completely sealable openings, basic infrastructure equipment, toilets, beds and cooking facilities.

In addition infrastructure projects sometimes have been used to extend capacity of shelter place capacity. For examples the highway tunnel ‘Sonnenbergtunnel‘ in Luzern was build with the capacity to transform into a massive bunker if required. It would have provided places for about 20’000 people. This includes sanitary facilities including a small hospital unit, large kitchens, ventilation infrastructure and bunk beds and so on. In case of emergency each tunnel entrance would be closed with a specially designed massive concrete gates to seal the entrance. The entire length of the tunnel be used for cubicles with bunk beds. It was calculated for 1m2 of floorspace per person.

Sonnenberg tunnel gates
Image taken from Luzernerzeitung / The large gates of the Sonnenbergtunnel shelter in Switzerland were last closed in 1987. The gate is constructed on sight and is curved to withstand great pressure.

Sonnenberg tunnel is since 2005 no longer in operation as a shelter unit. It can still be visited with a guided tour though. The city of Luzern has in connection to the complete renovation of the highway A2 developed a new Civil Defence concept and provides the capacity in shelter places elsewhere. However, through out switzerland a number of other such invisible underground civi defence infrastructure buildings are still being maintained in order to provide shelter in case of war or nuclear fall out.

Switzerland has in many ways optimised and multiplied the implementation of shelter provision for the civil population. Reading it under the aspects David Monteyne presents in the introduction to his publication the outreach of the state to discipline the population to good behaviour in exchange for welfare did work and still works very well. It can be argued that the Swiss population and the architects as the implementers of these outreach programs cooperate well. However, the implementation of the shelter infrastructure is taken much more serious in its mechanics in Switzerland than according to Monteyne it was in the US. And from a Swiss perspective to speak of a specific bunker style (believed to be brutalism) to emerge from the state requirements for shelter seems absurd. This is mainly dueto the fact that Swiss planners have always decided that shelter or bunker facilities only really make sense if they are implemented in the basement and never tried to somehow fit it in above ground. As such the shelter has never been visible and therefore did not influence the ascetics of the aboveground appearance necessarily.

Die Zivilschutzanlage Sonnenbergtunnel in Luzern
Details taken from: Heierli, W., Jundt, L. & Kessler, E., 1976. Die Zivilschutzanlage Sonnenbergtunnel in Luzern. Schweizerische Bauzeitung, 94(46), pp.689-699.
/ Map of the Sonnenberg highway tunnel near Luzern in Switzerland showing the location of the built shelter. The bunke was designed to provided space for 20’000 civilians in the case of war. Constructed between 1971 and 1976. The shelter was finally closed in 2005.
Details taken from: Heierli, W., Jundt, L. & Kessler, E., 1976. Die Zivilschutzanlage Sonnenbergtunnel in Luzern. Schweizerische Bauzeitung, 94(46), pp.689-699.

Building shelters underground could be an explanation why the required provision of shelter had and still has a much higher acceptance through out the civil population. Without it being constantly present in the everyday environment it is much more a background infrastructure than an style and other functions are not overloaded by the required provision of shelter but extended.

Nevertheless the book presents a very distinct characteristic of the last century and the period between 1950 and 1980. Whether it lead to a distinct architectural style can be debated. What is of specific interest is to compare the different approaches to the provision of shelter as well as what these approaches tell about how the civil society deals with chaos and order, the manipulation of the collective and the individual and the role of planning and architecture in a wider society context.

Fallout shelter design Book cover
Image taken from amazon / Book cover.

Monteyne, D., 2011. Fallout Shelter: Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War, University of Minnesota Press.

Read More

Copenhagen is growing fast and with its 539,542 citizens and about 1.2 million in the metro area its a rather busy place.

One of the very famous examples in the Copenhagen planning history is the Finger Plan of 1947. Quite interesting how the formal shape of the human hand serves here as an icon for a strategy. It is not very modernist to use such this reference in such a direct way. But nevertheless also Le Corbusier referred occasionally to the body in urban planning projects as a reference. However, here it is a very litteral translation and it has never grown out of it. The different elements are still, aso on Wikipedia, called the Ringfinger, the little finger, and so on. In a very modernist tradition one would maybe expect a stronger interpretation of the function of the hand, in the sense of form follow function.

But there are many more interesting projects. A great Timeline of the Copenhagen urban planing history can be found on Engineering-Timelines.

Finger Plan 1947
Image taken from Skyscrapercity / The Finger Plan 1947 provides a strategy for the development of Greater Copenhagen, Denmark. According to the plan, Copenhagen is to develop along five ‘funger’, centred on S-train commuter rail lines, which extend from the ‘palm’, that is the dense urban fabric of central Copenhagen. In between the fingers, green wedges are supposed to provide land for agriculture and recreational purposes.

One of the latest additions, not yet on the above timeline, in the BIG contribution of a new and of course BIG rethinking of the wider Copenhagen area. It is entitled: ‘1947-2047: From Finger Plan to Loop City’. The project was presented at the 12th Architecture Biennale in Venice 2010 and was really a collaborative project. It goes with loads of credits: Presentation developed by BIG + Kollision + CAVI. Loop City Vision by BIG + Tom Nielsen + ReD Associates + ARUP. Presentation sponsored by Realdania.

The key idea is to develop a ring around the the Øresund Strait combining Sweden and Denmark into a one urban area. By connecting the fingers with a light railway and then extending along the little finger clockwise around the Strait all the way down to Malmö and back across the bridge connecting to the thumb.

A very bold gesture with even bolder infrastructure-architecture hybrids. It features the reinterpretation of a Roman aquaduct or a highway loop in the style of model racetrack features. Landmarks I suppose, the point comes across.

Loop City
Image taken from Danish Architecture Centre / The ten rings of the Øresund region by BIG et all, 2010.

Interesting are the ten layers the team has based the project on. Of course transport and sustainability are at the very top of the importance list, but the layer 10 with the nationalities reflects a very specific attitude to wards foreigners and migrants. The nationalities already established and presumed to grow in the near future feature as an important argument of the project. Its not something negative that has to be hidden, but something that can be built upon become a driving force. There are of course some elements embedded in this like the “København M” as a reference to the rivalry between Danmark and Sweden, but its and key part. Danemark is living a very liberal culture, this is reassuring.

Read More

Inspired by Tim Knowles’ work on postal tracking as well as the publication “The Englishman who posted himself“, this had to be tried. Maybe one should not try this at home, however, we did. This project is run in collaboration with Studio-Bread in Vienna.

The tracker was sent from London to Vienna, where it arrived after many days, too many days actually. The battery was dead, but the tracker alive. And to much surprise it actually contained data. It did record for the time siting around various Royal Mail London sorting centres.

Image by urbanTick / GPS and parcel as used on the way from London to Vienna. Parcel created by Studio-Bread.

It came back from Vienna in a much more sophisticated little box, faster and with more data. Some places in Vienna, including the airport and presumably a postal sorting centre. And, one is stunned Royal Mail is organised to this extend, on the way back the tracker asses the same sorting centres. From Heathrow back in to London where it sits at the Clerkenwell sorting centre again.

Google Earth embedded, linking to a KML file. You can use the time slider to track the parcel. You can manually adjust the time window. Active tracks are shown in bright yellow rest is faded out. Zoom in to see the locations in detail. You can make your own Google Gadget HERE.

Apparently “Mount Pleasant is one of the world’s largest sorting offices, covering an area of 7.5 acres. It’s home to an expansive set of 23 miles of train tunnels which were built to deliver the post and did so up until May 2003. Though the railway is no longer used the tunnels, running 70 feet under the streets of central London between Whitechapel and Paddington, still remain. There are no visitors allowed” from LondonTown.

Royal Mail Sorting Office
Image taken from Londontown / Royal Mail Mount Pleasant Sorting Office (Clerks working in the Return Letter Office, Mount Pleasant, 1934).

Since this is not much here is a more inspiring clip as it was mentioned by radek in a comment on the last postal tracking post on this blog – thanks for the link again.

Read More

The good old post service has had a difficult stand with the raise of the digital message. The romantic love letter as well as the intense debating correspondence has largely shifted into the virtual realm of messages on a computer screen. The main content of mail remaining is legal documents that need to be in physical form or parcels. Things still need to be moved.

What the mail service provides, beyond delivering post, is a web of connection. In fact a very dense and very flexible network with numerous elements, links and nodes. These ranges from a post office, to a distribution and sorting centre to the postman in the street delivering.

Based on a detailed system of code every functional unit in the city i accessible through this web an can connect to any other unit. Quite and important and versatile institution this is. In todays cities we relay on a number of such infrastructure systems constructing and serving the urban landscape, such as power networks and streets. However the mail and address system is probably the most flexible one.

Mail correspondence has a long tradition and is looking through historical works, for example in art or science, the letters between different figures in volved act a an important medium of exchange and stimulation.

In a recent visualisation ‘Visualizing the Republic of Letters‘ developed at Stanford University by Daniel Chang, Yuankai Ge, Shiwei Song, Nicole Coleman, Jon Christensen, and Jeffrey Heer the past correspondance of 55’000 letters by 6400 people over about 200 years has be mapped and animated. The visualisation is based on the e-enlightment project, an electronic database for letters and lives. “Electronic Enlightenment reconstructs the extraordinary web of correspondence that marked the birth of the modern world.”

In a recent Princeton Architectural Press publication the topic of the mail and especially the parcel i explored from a very different perspective. The book ‘The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects‘ by John Tingey traces the story of Willie Reginald Bray. It is not just about the person but about the special experiments he staged practically exploring the possibilities of the mail service. Basically he just posted everything and anyone, including himself.

The postal service became very popular with the radical changes in 1840 in prices and structure. The mail needed to be pre payed by the sender (was previously payed by the receiver) and a simplified pricing structure, one penny for a letter in the UK.

Bray however wanted to explore the boundaries of this ‘shipping things’ on both ends, the side of the object and what could possibly be sent, as well as the coding system, the addresses and the labeling.

Image taken from fingersports / A picture postcard utilised the image as an element of the address. ‘To a resident nearest to these rocks’.

These are very interesting parameter of the service. Bray for example developed a series of postcards with coded addresses that required the postman to deceiver the intended receiver. This could be in the form of a rhyme, writing using wax or using symbols. During the high days of the pictue card area he also utilised these pictures as the address, only with the accompanied instruction “to the resident nearest”. The actual address was aso of interest to Bray and he experimente with sending letters and postcards to train drivers for example, as a moving destination.

The object posted in the second categorie ranged from onions to dogs and as mentioned himself. It was in February 1900 that he tested the Mail service and again in November 1903 that he posted himself as a ‘Person Cyclist’ back home. Bray claimed this to be the first time a person has ever been posted.

The book pulls together this rather curious story about a man’s efforts to test out the service that links together across the entire country. And this collection possibly highlights the exact difference between the generally linking infrastructure and this postal linking network. It works in both directions and is in this sense a truly interactive service that can be, as Bray demonstrates customised to a large extend.

Tingey, J., 2010. Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects, the, Princeton Architectural Press.

Also thanks to James from spatialanalysis for the letter link.

Read More

The city has many different faces and as we all know it cannot be described in one sentence or one equation. It also is not a computer chip, although some recent master plans might have a formal similarity, nor is it a single organism growing for one purpose. It is more of a collective consisting of individuals capable of creating, deciding and moving. It is organized, as one currently would describe it, in networks and some of the elements of the collective are private where as other are public, in the sense of providing service to a larger group of the collective. Within the network these services manifest in infrastructure serving the public. In a number of ways this infrastructure tells a large part of the story about the collective or the city as such. In the sense of ‘Show me your infrastructure and I tell you who you are.’ the book ‘Infrastructural City – Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles‘ edited by Kazys Varnelis and published by Actar tells the story of an urban area. This specific focus reveilles so much about the society that invented it, it is fascinating and sometimes shocking. From mobile phone tower camouflaged as palm trees to engineered tarmac graffiti everything is revealed and sets the context to the 21st century society.

Image by urbanTick / Book spread.

The analysis comes in three parts, Landscape, Fabric and Objects. The titles do not obvious characterize the content though. I haven’t really figured out what the organisation is. This, however doesn’t matter because you should read them all, or the reader can jump from one to another and back. It is not a necessarily linear read and this is a relief, because its content is extremely dense.
The detailed descriptions are accomplished with three elements describing the linear city. Lane Barden follows linear infrastructure elements and explores the city. This gives a very specific angle on the subject, but also helps high lighting due to the focus. The lines are documented by a map and sequential photographs as well as a little bit of background text. In a very calm and focused way the city takes shape along these lines. The elements are, the river, the street – Wilshire Boulevard and the trench – freight transport.

Image by urbanTick / Book spread.

In ‘Counting (on) Change’ Roger Sherman describes and illustrated the pace at which change takes place and how planning and design professionals fall behind the latest trends and are doomed to react rather than help shape the future. He sais: “For architects, the time has come to recognize, finally, that contemporary urbanism is better rethought around conceptions of progress and potential – via design strategies for unfolding the future – rather than by another utopian horizon.” In a series of detailed diagrams the negotiations and changes over land and ownership at a number of scales.
The book ends with a report on probably the biggest and most vital piece of infrastructure in the city of Los Angeles. ‘The Trench’ is the ten miles long transport corridor Bringing the arriving goods from the port out of the city to distribution centres that will feed the rest of North America. The specs are impressive, more than $200 billion in cargo are transported on this route, but it is largely unnoticed as a feature in the city. It used to be a dominating feature due to its rail crossings and activity of the trains, but nowadays all the trains run in a fifty feet wide and thirty-three feet deep cut on a lower city level out of sight. And still it is probably the main artery of the city. Lane Barden sais: “It would be realistic to argue that the trench is central to the everyday efficiency of global capitalism.”
In this sense, the city might as well be a machine.

This is a book on urban infrastructure that not only describes the elements, but positions them in a social and cultural city context. The approach is not about isolating elements to simplify it, rather it is about piecing it together to help shape an understanding of the whole. It really is a book about the city, the city of the everyday.

For other reviews see: archidose or we-make-money-not-art.

Varnelis, K., 2009. The Infrastructural City. Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles, Barcelona: Actar.

Read More

A book you don’t want to give out of your hands for its beautiful cartography and graphic design overall. Well it goes in the tradition of Atlases designed by Jost Grootens. He has only recently received the Rotterdam Design Prize for the set of atlases he designed for 010 Publishers so far. Those are the Groten KAN Atlas, the Metropolitan World Atlas, the Limes Atlas and the Vinex Atlas.
The now published ‘Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defence Line‘ edited by Rita Brons and Bernhard Colenbrander, designed by Studio Joost Grootens and published by 010 Publishers adds an other chapter to this ‘series’. It continues with the power full use of colour that already the ‘Metropolitan World Atlas‘ made so attractive, but this new publication makes a lot better use of the overall appearance. It is a real gem.
In the first place it is the cartography you will be looking at, but beside this the book actually has a true subject. And this is simply as the title says the Dutch Water Defence Line. Actually this is about defense in a proper military sense, and not as you might have guessed while already seduced by the pretty colours about water defense. Since it is set in the Netherlands it could have been about water drainage and pumping systems to fight the storm flooding of vital agricultural land, but its not. It is about a specific element of Dutch history, built between 1815 and 1885 as a “technically accurate territorial military system” (Johan van der Zwart abd Clemens Steenbergen in Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defence Line, p.28)
In a nutshell the military conceptis to defend the territory by simply flooding a stretch of land and in this way make it impossible for any land based mode of transport to traverse. It sounds very effect full and simple, but is actually a rather complicated piece of infrastructure and engineering. A detailed system of canals and basins are laid out in such a way as to create, by opening strategically positioned flood gates, a man made flood zone.
The whole system is based on the element the Netherlands has enough anyway and since water has its very own rules the given parameters are tight. Not only from the water element but also in terms of the landscape. In this sense, the here documented military defense structure is in a very strong way trying to make the most of a successful management of possibilities over constraints. This results ins a strongly context based solution, that is unique to this exact location and circumstances and paints a beautiful portrait of the character of an entire region.

Image taken from 010 Publishers / Showing a spread of the publication.

As hinted in the introduction, the graphics, cartography and design overall are brilliant. Especially the colour schema used for the maps is intriguing. In terms of the graphic design even this book is not protected from mistakes and problems. Everyone who is working with maps and plans knows these painful moments when you have a strong concept and clear structure and then for some elements it just doesn’t work out. A name is too long to fit in the desired space in the key, in one summary map suddenly two colours representing important information cancel each other out or the approach chosen for one element does not fit for another or in other scales. It is sort of a tradeoff and ad-hoc adjustment job one has to do, restricting damage while hoping the final product may remain close to the desired result. This sounds all very pain full, I know, and it actually is. However, this process can be used to continue developing the strategy and representation and ideally will raise the quality of the end product over the initially thought out concept. Still some minor problems will always be there and the quality of the end product is probably more about these are managed and integrated than how good the anyway functioning elements are developed. I believe this publication managed this process extremely well and the final product is great.
For me the main issue with the graphic elements in this publication is the representation of the forts. This being the central element of focus it plays many roles and obviously a single representation can’t be able to play all of them equally well. The colouring of the water protecting the forts as well as the pink used for the fill are not always consistent with the overall context of the maps.
The maps actually come with quite extensive background information in the form of essays and I think it is worth pointing this out because of the almost over powering presence of the cartography. I kind of owe it to this review that I have actually read and tried to understand the background, because otherwise I am pretty sure I would have been (still am) simply seduced by the pretty pictures and had satisfied put the publication to the top of my pile of inspirations. But going beyond the graphics starts opening up a perspective on a cultural territorial identity of a region that is even more inspiring and actually informative.
In this sense there is a hidden treasure in this book, but one needs to battle the dragon of seduction first, a fight I am bound to loose, at times. This one is definitely worth the effort already for the beauty of an bright orange or pink.
A book, or even a series, that has definitely already set a standard and will let loose a trend.

Image taken from Kosmograd / Showing a spread of the publication.

See also reviews on mammoth and Kosmograd.

Brons, R. & Colenbrander, B. eds., 2009. New Dutch Water Defence Line, 010 Publishers.

Read More

Probably the beauty of the product lies not in the subject of the product, but in the way it is done. Might not be the latest headline, but there is something to this. Can one build nice highways, is it possible to design a meaningful park and ride or can a disused railway lines turned into a park? Well you must have guessed it by now, I am thinking of specific examples here. Even though it is probably a lot easier to come up with terrible examples for infrastructure projects, you probably only have to look out the window, there are some really ‘knock you out of your shoes’ examples of good practice. A great collection is put together in the book ‘the Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure‘, published by NAi Publishers.

Image taken from Archphoto / A view of the Swiss highway A16.

And of course here are the examples I was thinking of, ‘Tunnel Artifices’, highway projects by Flora Ruchat-Roncati and Renato Salvi 1988-2008, realized in Switzerland; ‘Terminal Hoenheim Nord’ by Zaha Hadid Architects 1999-2001, realized in Strassbourg, France; or the ‘High-Line‘ by Dillier Scofidio + Renfro with James Corner Field Operations 2005-2010, in New York, USA.
And actually New York was what I wanted to get at, to introduce this beautiful timeLapse. A day in the Sandpit of the big Apple portrayed so beautifully the everyday situations that it lives up greatly to the examples give. Everyday life is beautiful, no matter what.

Read More