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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Putting a new school of thought out there is a big thing. Especially in the climate of not having an established ideology or direction, establishing a group with a clear manifesto is extremely difficult.

Currently trends are all over the place and every thing is hyped, but a clear structured and concept lead direction is not established. THere are several technological directions and trends running, from mobile to location based and socia networking, but those don’t go under some ideologically guided interest. Also visualisation, data mining, and temporal aspects are topics currently en-vogue, but again no further big picture.

Duck and Cover
Image by RSAUD taken from Architizer / Duck and Cover: Thinking out of the Big Box. This proposal for a “big box community”, titled Duck-and Cover in reference to its interest in advancing the discourse introduced by Venturi’s Duck and Decorated Shed, puts forth an architectural strategy-cum-business plan which harnesses the vagaries of private investment and NIMBYism to act as a Trojan horse of sorts: one that proffers a new politics of urban community and public life. This project forms part of the chapter ‘Regenerating Economies’.

The last bigger movements were big at the beginning of the last century such as the modernists and ever since ideologies are on the decline. One of the topics that comes closest is maybe the ecological or sustainability topic, but even here it is a very individualistic pursuing of ideas.

Fast Forward Urbanism – Rethinking Architect’s Engagement with the City‘ is the latest Princeton Architectural Press publication challenging this current lack of collective ideology and the group based around the cityLAB at UCLA publish their concepts and thoughts in book form as a “testament to the group’s provokative launch into terrain”. It started back in 2006 with a two day workshop and has extended since.

The publication’s overall theme is the transformation of the city through small architectural projects. The authors Dana Cuff and Roger Sherman argue that “the city appears as a stop-action frame: nothing happens for interminable periods, when suddenly we arrive at built results seemingly by fast-forward, with no clear grasp of how we got there. Like a series of discontinuous jump-cuts, the landscape transforms in a sequence of disorienting new frames where the destabilization is never complete”.

The book is structures in four chapters ‘Recycling Ecoogies’, ‘Rerouting Infrastructure’ and ‘Regeneraing Economies’. Each has as a n introduction creating the context three essays. Each chapter then employes several projects to illustrate the points made and discuss the ideas with more practical context. Some of the project shown are built and others are in planning. Some others are thought experiments.

Fast-Forward Book Cover
Image by urbanTick taken from Fast-Forward Urbanism / Cover of the book ‘Fast-Forward – Rethinking Architecture’s Engagement with the City’ by Dana Cuff and Roger Sherman. Published by Princeton Architecture Press.

Cuff, D. & Sherman, R. eds., 2011. Fastforward Urbanism: Rethinking Architectureʼs Engagement with the City, New York, Princeton Architectural Press.

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Picking up on the recent topic of how urban areas deal with water this new Nai Publisher book ‘Amphibious Housing in the Netherlands‘ offers a very methodological discussion of different approach and strategies for living with water in urbanised areas.

THe authors Ane Loes Nillesen and Jeroen Singelenberg highlight the change in attitude toward the water in a wider planning context and the move away from the defensive approach towards a more integrated practice in te recent decade. This change is to be observed in both a quality sense as for that people discover the beauty of the water and want to have access to it, but on the other had also the pressuring issues of the rising sea levels with increased flooding. The book offers in this context a structured overview of the different typologies and solutions developed in traditional and more recent water housing project and offers an overview of the current state of the art in the Netherlands.

Het Nieuwe Water
Image taken from dein.gs / Het Nieuwe Water by Waterstudio.

In the first part the book discusses in detail the different elements. This methodological is extremely useful and presented with a lot of passion for the topic. The authors discuss the different water types, from sea to rivers to lakes, then the different dwelling typologies, with floating homes, pile dwelling and Dyke Houses. From these elements they move in to the discusion of urban principles and how the different types can be structured. In detail are the solutions for privacy and access presented. The authors put a very strong focus on the organisation within a new water dwelling community, but offer little on how it can be integrated with for example normal land housing in terms of larger urban structures.

The second part of the book is the presentation and discussion of recent water housing project in the Netherlands. The authors have drawn together an extensive and very interesting selection of project to illustrate the more theoretical discussion in part one of the publication. The projects range from the Haven City in Hamburg, to the Acquavista in Almere, to Sausalito Bay in California. It also includes proposed projects such as the Het Nieuwe Water in Westland.

Sausalito, California
Image taken from davidcmc58 on Panoramio / Floating Homes at Shores of Richardson Bay, Sausalito, California.

No only in the Netherlands, but throughout the urban planning discussion water has dramatically risen in importance both from a pleasure as well as a safety perspective. This book offers a very hands on and ‘it can be done’ discussion of the topics. The practical perspective offers for a lot of reading between the lines and interpretation of cross typologies. definitely something that suits the flexible requirements for planning with the fluid element of water.

Sausalito, California
Image taken from bookplu.fi/ / Amphibious Housing in The Netherlands. Architecture and Urbanism on the Water, book cover.

Nillesen, A.L. & Singelenberg, J., 2010. Amphibious Housing in The Netherlands. Architecture and Urbanism on the Water, RotterdamNAI Publishers.

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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.

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A guest post by Martin Gittins from Kosmograd newsfeed, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.

For a while, I was contemplating buying the Last House in London. It appealed to me, the idea of living at the very edge of the city, as far north as it is possible to go, on the outskirts of High Barnet. But on closer inspection it turns out that it isn’t the edge of the city at all. Next to the house is a cemetery, then a paddock and stable, and a little further on 2 golf courses. Then there are a couple of fields before you get to a pub, then the estate of Dyrham Park Country Club (one of a string of large country estates encircling London), then a gypsy encampment, the M25 motorway, and the curious environs of South Mimms, a village consumed by a motorway service station.

Image taken from Google Maps / The area to the north of High Barnet appears to be lush, verdant, sward, but on closer inspection reveals a hidden urbanism.

The city has a fractal edge, bleeding urbanity into the countryside, which conversely seeps tendrils of nature into the city. Yet our innate desire to see town and country as two separate realms means that at the edge of cities this landscape becomes a strange hinterland, a secretive fictive space. Development here is almost always ad-hoc, piecemeal, a gradual process of urbanisation – a garden centre or golf course as a vanguard – with the occasional flurry of infrastructural activity, usually a new road, a moment of intensification, seeding new developments.

Interwar planning dogma in the UK threw up the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act 1938, designed to stop the untramelled growth of London into the country, to protect against urban sprawl. It arose after vigorous campaigning from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and carried with it the overtones of protecting the wealthy country folk, the landed gentry, from the great unwashed lumpenproletariat. (For a town planner Abercrombie was a secret ruralophile). The Green Belt became a politicised landscape, the buffer zone between the haves and have nots. It was a concept that was soon adopted by other metropolitan areas of Britain and then exported to the world.

Image on the left taken from Building Land UK, image on the right taken from treehugger / The Green Belt was exported from London to the rest of the world.

Iain Sinclair, in the wonderful London Orbital, wrote:
“By the time Londoners had seen their city bombed, riverside industries destroyed, they were ready to think of renewal, deportation to the end of the railway line, the jagged beginnings of farmland. Patrick Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan 1944 (published in 1945) still worked through concentric bands: the Inner Urban Ring (overworked, fire-damaged), the Suburban Ring (to which inner-city casualties would migrate), the green belt (ten miles beyond the edge of London), and the Outer Country Ring, which would extend to the boundary of the regional plan.

Visionary maps, in muted Ben Nicholson colours, were produced. Lovely fold out abstractions. Proposals in soft grey, pale green, blue-silver river systems. But as always with the blood circuit of ring roads, the pastoral memory ring at the edge of things, at the limits of our toleration of noise and speed and grime. There must, said William Bull (in 1901) be ‘a green girdle around London’s Sphere … a circle of green sward and trees which would remain permanently inviolate'”.

Image taken from CBRD website / Abercrombie’s 1944 Greater London Plan. View larger image HERE.

Post WW2, with London and other urban areas ravaged by bomb damage and with a large displacement of people, a new vision of London arose. It was led by Abercrombie’s 1943 County of London Plan, followed in 1944 by the Greater London Plan, and led to the New Towns Act of 1946, with its plan for the extensive enlargement or creation of a ring of towns around London within the Green Belt. Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield were the three designated towns in Hertfordshire.

Image taken from CBRD website / Part of Abercrombie’s County Plan of 1943. View larger image HERE.

Image taken from BBC / Welwyn Garden City was founded by Ebenezer Howard but expanded as part of the New Towns Act.

New Towns, heavily inspired by Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, were conceived as places that would not be allowed to grow too big, and maintain a healthy relationship between Town and Country. Certainly Howard thought that Garden Cities could be self-sustaining communities, solipsistic enclaves, with just enough people to support just the right amount of amenities, light industry and offices, enough to provide employment for all the inhabitants. It’s a concept that was also mooted for the flawed ecotowns boondoggle of the late 2000s in the UK. But, inevitably, any town is plugged into an infrastructure larger than itself, and so there is a network of transport links, water and sewage systems, power lines and telecoms links that has grown up to meet the needs of these towns.

Image taken from CBRD website / 3 types of arterial road junctions. Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan included proposed layouts of road junctions, but gave little thought to what might happen around these junctions, outside of the city.

This infrastructural life support system criss-crosses the green-belt, connecting the towns of Hertfordshire together and plugging them into the beating heart of London. Physically it also carves the landscape into a number of small, leftover spaces. It is into these leftover space that secret urbanism seeps in, the parasitic typologies of golf courses, garden centres, caravan parks, and those other things that spring up along transport interchanges, such as business parks, retail parks, travel hotels, distribution warehouses. The Green Belt seems in places to be little more than one or two fields that keep a satellite town, Bushey, Potters Bar, Broxbourne, from merging into the Great Wen of London.

Image taken from Geograph.org.uk / The Green Belt, as it is today. Retail park, London Colney.

‘Abolish the green belt’ is an provocative clarion call that periodically raises the hackles of the folks in the Shires, the Home Counties home guard, whether it comes from design figureheads like Kevin McCloud or anti-establishment tyros like James Heartfield. The problem with a Green Belt is that it does nothing to really save the countryside from the encroachment of the city, and instead of presenting sprawl, actually encourages it. But rather than simply abolish it, we need to recognise it for what it has become, and design within it.

The green belt has become not a verdant sward of pastoral beauty but an interzone of pure infrastructure. Instead of resisting the growth of the city, and pretending the resulting drosscape doesn’t exist, a new form of continuous urbanism is required, one that can operate at a variety of densities, with points of stim and dross, to use Lars Lerup’s terms, more consciously defined.

Sinclair, Iain, (2002) “London Orbital”, London: Granta Publications
Lerup, Lars (1995) “Stim & Dross: Rethinking the Metropolis.” Assemblage 25, Cambridge & London. MIT Press


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

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

Image by Cris Mitry / A view of the extended viewpoint area and the social element of the scheme – commmunity allotment gardens. MA Urban Design project 2010.

Click the image and read this contribution on Urban Lab Global Cities

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