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Tag "urban design"

Around the topic of the city and urban areas, one word is omni present in the discussions. ‘Density’ seems to be the key term to a whole range of aspects. This incudes not only questions and explanations but also definitions. Very often density is used to define or characterise certain aspects, but frequently this is based on visual material. For example high-rise buildings are an indicator usually associated with high density and brick buildings with low density.

A recent NAi Publishers book by Meta Berghauser Pont and Per Haupt examines afresh this topic of density and urban spaces under the title ‘SPACEMATRIX – Space, Density and Urban Form’.
One thing is obvious from the beginning and this is refreshing, it is an approach to density that does not start from the visual and does put a lot of effort into developing a whole framework of characteristics of density from a simple, pragmatic mathematical point of view.

Calculating density might be the obvious thing to do, but looking back there hasn’t been a lot of other publications on this topics actually looking into the math of the topic. Other than in building regulations one might not find a lot about actual density figures.

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Image taken from SPACEMATRIX / Spread from the book showing the central matrix. This is the tool to relate the 79 example projects.

The core of the book definitely is the ‘Spacecalculator’. This section explains the different factors and calculation methods, but then also introduces how the different numbers calculated for different projects can actually be compared in the ‘Spacematrix’. In addition this section is followed by a whole catalogue of 79 built examples aken from Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona.

In additiona to the book this section is available online at http://www.spacecalculator.nl/. A tool that many planners and offices will love. A click on the ‘Spacematrix’ brings up a list of projects that are cose to this value. Each individual project is documented with images and plans. This provides a good sense of what the density factor produces and how the same factors can vary in appearance. So for your next competition were you are working on a whole block or estate, this is the reference and source for density example!

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Image taken from spacecalculator / By clicking on the left hand matrix a selection of examples pop up with the related density come up. Each project is documented with additional details.

The book is otherwise structured classically organised in to concept, history, variables, urban form, performance, practice and qualities as a conclusion. However in the light of the approach via the mathematical way this provides a great background. In this sense the authors have managed to merge the technical core element of the density calculation with the rest of what we know from the density calculation. This rich background of the topic as it is discussed in the book might also be partially because the content is based on the authors PhD research work undertaken at the TU Delft. The Thesis was successfully defended in late 2009. And how fresh, surprising and new books based on PhD thesis’ can be was only recently demonstrated for example by the book Grand Urban Rules by Alex Lehnerer.

The book is beutifully designed by Studio Joost Grootens as was the extremely beautiful book ‘Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defence Line’. In this sense even though the topic is approach from a mathematical perspective and suporte with a lot of theoretical background information it is a joy to read. A must have for every planning office and the chance to finally move beyond abstract discussion, starting to develop an individual approach with each project.

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Image taken from nijhoflee.nl / Book cover.

Pont, M.B., Haupt, P., 2010. Space Matrix: Space, Density and Urban Form, NAI Publishers.

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It seems to be time again for book on how to build a city. This is as an answer or better a following step to all the publication investigating the city the logical step. Necessarily with such a project one has to define a position in many ways, conceptually, socially, technically, culturally or other wise and is in the following relatively bound. This should of course not be seen in a negative way, but rather as a potential. The in depth and thoughtful aspects are usually developed in such a context. That it will also allow for a lot of critique to be raised should similarly be seen as the start of a healthy debate. Earlier I have discussed the publications “A Manifesto for Sustainable Cities‘ by Albert Speer and Partners, Prestel and ‘Asia Beyond Growth‘ edited by AEOM, Thames and Hudson.
Princeton Architectural Press has just no published a new book that fals into this category, ‘City Building – Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century‘ by John Lund Kriken with Philip Enquist and Richard Rapaport. Interestingly what these publications have in common, they all come out of large planning companies. Each with a different approach and strategy, both, regarding the content but also the marketing / positioning. The latest one is very close to SOM, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, currently building the Burj Khalifa.
The book presents a structure of nine topics as principles of planning. This is meant as a framework for organisation and decision making. None of the selected headings will surprise you though, the topics have been floating around the professional debate for years now, but they make sense as a collection. A set to cover more or less all aspects of the design process one would come across in practice.

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Image by SOM, taken from socketsite.com / Treasure Island: Sold To The Bidder Across The Bay For $105M (Plus), SOM to develop masterplan.

The approach to the different topics is very American, if this ‘style’ existis, otherwise let’s call it commercial. SOM is an international practice, but particularly here this american school approach shines through, from how elements are explained and definitely in the sketches. For someone from Europe, some of the topics are some years behind. Trying to make things simpler than they are, is usually not a helpful approach. But beside these style preferences the presented structure of topics and the examples used to illustrate key points are clear and straight forward to understand. The real value is in the detail of the presented examples. Here the authors draw obviously from the large pool of SOM projects to provide in depth understanding of the topics. Maps and plans are at large represented at same scales which makes comparisons possible. Detailing goes as far as discussing aspects of climate and wind direction in their relevance to urban design. This is a element unseen in peer publications. However, at times the topics still remain on the surface and don’t manage to impress. Maybe because the authors have chosen to go with widely discussed keywords.
The nine chosen topics are as follows: Sustainability, Accessibility, Diversity, Open Space, Compatibility, Incentives, Adaptability, Density, Identity.
“The city, in fact is a font of saving solutions for humankind because the way that urban settlement takes place links virtually all other environmental and social concerns. How humans come together in cities is nothing less than a key to the long-term stewardship of the land, air, water, and energy use, as well as to habitat preservation, health, security, and positive social interaction.” (City Building, Part III, p.239) This, I would say, is a statement of someone who truly believes in the city as a model. Someone who lives and breathes the city, someone who loves the city. On the other hand these statements also demonstrate how the perspective shapes the story. In some way some of the contextual comments in this publication have mad me once more aware of the complications we face to conclude and frame a definite thought in the context of our own practice. And furthermore, the essential necessity to remain critical and reflective especially regarding the context and the product.

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Image by SOM / SOM’s Master Plan proposes a variety of innovative solutions to facilitate the regeneration of this prime London location. Key amongst these is: the integration of future development with the rail, tram and bus interchange; strengthening the mixed-use core through increased density; amalgamation of green spaces; maximising pedestrian permeability. The scheme establishes a unique sense of place, and ensures social and economic benefits for the community.

This publication represents the perspective of the practitioner and manages to speak the appropriate language. The introduction and the conclusion provide a formal framework, but you really will be interested in the middle bit, with its numerous examples drawn from all over the world and presented in the context providing framework of nine topics, or, as called here, principles. The richness of detail and the relevants make this a very useful source for everyday situations in practice.

Preview on Google Books will also give you a first impression.

Kriken, J.L., 2010. City Building: Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A book with a great question: what do we owe the planning and building rules? An for a change, this is a different approach to try and explain what the urban form, the urban morphology is and where it comes from.
Traditionally, this seemed very easy, being simply the sum of all the individual buildings. becoming more complicated with for examples Kevin Lynch’s Image of the city were the idea settled that individuals perceive the city and this in turn influences how we understand and then obviously it became even more complicate with the introduction of the social dimension as a informing parameter of the built form, as for example in ‘the Social Logic of Space’.
So it is complicated and the search for the identity of the place is going round and round.
Going back, picking up a very pragmatic element and start rolling up the question from a completely different angle could be a very good idea. This is what I thought when I saw the book.
Grand Urban Rules by Alex Lehnerer and published by 010 Publishers “is a tribute to the city’s will to form…”) as it says on the book back cover. The concept is then, nevertheless introduced using two aspects. One is to base it on the building rules or regulations exemplary taken from cities of central Europe and the United States with the exception of Vancouver and Hong Kong. The second aspect is then already the social connection with the statement “Setting standards is first and foremost a cultural act.” So we are back in the social business, but that is most likely a very good move.

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Image taken by urbanTick / Book spread with an overview of urban rules.

The book might encounter a difficult problem, a certain resistance from readers to engage, specially from practitioners side. Very often the rules and standards are something that is seen as a negative force engaging in the creative process. This often creates the two sides of the planning an building process. On one hand the authority setting out the rules and on the other hand the planner or architect who has to ‘implement’ them. It often ends in a battle between the two. To some extend this is ok and part of the ongoing process of finding and defining the position of the current culture, to refer back to the statement on the book back cover. But too often this ends in useless, consuming debates.
Refreshing then here, that this publication manages to completely avoid this topic and present, discuss and ‘implement’ regulations as a positive part of the planning process. As you start diving in to the publication and flip through the first 51 pages skimming all 115 examples chosen here you kind of forget about the battle and the misery it turns most debates into. Slowly but steadily a feeling creeps in to your mind, that actually this discussion is a lot larger than the battle between the parties of one building and the personal emotions involved and that it could actually be a cultural, society based discussion that authority and planner could lead and develop together.
Having said that, the book is much more fun and not at all as heavy as my thoughts on this topic. It is actually fun and present the ideas and concept with a certain implicit humor that you will have a constant smile on your face as you read along, that it very rear with architecture, planning publications.
It presents the ‘2h Shadow’ used in Zurich, Switzerland “A high-rise may not place a neighboring residential building in shadow for more than two hours per day.” and the ‘London View Management’ “Through the heights of the adjacent buildings, the upper space around the cathedral shall remain unencumbered by visual interference. Tall structures will be permitted to stand in the cathedral’s view shadow.” or the ‘5-Story Rule of Paris’ “Buildings cannot be taller than the height residents and users are prepared to climb using stairs. For buildings without elevators, this threshold has been reached at a height of five stories.” to name a few examples.

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Image taken by urbanTick / Book spread discussing the London View Management

Using these 115 examples the book then develops a clearly structured understanding of rules and regulations by comparing situations, implementations and outcome of different locations. For this it uses plenty of illustrative examples and makes beautiful use of illustrations. By the way the book is designed by Joost Grootens, who also did ‘the New Dutch Water Defence Line’.
To sum up, this is a brilliant read and a book that could lead a new and much more open debate around the implications and possibilities of identity of the place.

Lehnerer, A., 2008. Grand Urban Rules, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.

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Urbanism is in a crisis in terms of identity of the profession, the work it should do and the work it can do as well as the way it interconnects with other disciplines. Well actually it has never had a position regarding these points. Pressure is rising from all sides, Sustainability approaches are developed here and there, but not within the profession, theoretical concepts as well as technical concepts are also developed elsewhere and even the job is done by other people. What can be done?
What a joy to read a book on urbanism that actually seeks and to some extend manages to to shape a particular position. There are clear references to were this position comes from and what the tools are that are used to work, but it leaves the clear impression that it creates something different.


Image taken from Steven Holl / Spread 12/13, Beijing: The linked Hybrid Located just off the second Ring Road.

In terms of tools, clearly the architectural approach is used. There are plans, there are models, there is usually even a building. Not just a shadow but actually a proposal or even a project that is being built. So what makes this variance then?
The difference really is the scale. Starting on page two with a plan that is actually more of a map covering a large section of Manhattan, page there a map-plan covering the centre of Amsterdam and page four a map-plan showing the lower section of the Saine in Paris. I call it a map-plan because it is a plan of the project location, the site or building is marked in a black and white context in red, but the scale is really more what you would expect of a map. The approach could be accused of simply scaling up the building project to city scale and claiming this to be urbanism. This is probably true, however I believe the result counts. An in this case at least the book and the presented projects here really strongly give a sense or urban character and importance.


Image taken from Steven Holl / Spread 4/5, title page showing the project Ile Seguin in France.

Covering a time span of 43 years, from 1967 with a student project to 2010, Steven Holl covers his position on large scale interventions and overall this detailed collage manages to piece together a position. A position that really lets you believe again that something like urbanism really exists.
The book we are talking about here is ‘Urbanisms – Working with Doubt‘ by Steven Holl, published by Princeton Architectural Press. It is a book, very much in the sense of a book. It has a very traditional feel to it, even though it makes use of the new arrangements, like page numbering or ordering of elements and so on. However layout and font, but also the feel to the cover and the square format render it extremely formal.
38 projects are presented, together with essays and statements by Steven Holl. Together this creates the position. The most important statement, that also has given the book the subtitle it probably ‘Working with Doubt’, here Steven Holl says: “Today working with doubt is unavoidable; the absolute is suspended by the relative and the interactive. Instead of stable systems we must work with dynamic systems. Instead of simple and clear programs we engage contingent and divers programs. Instead of precision and perfection we work with intermittent, crossbred systems, and combined methods. … Working with doubt becomes an open position for concentrated intellectual work.” (Steven Holl, p13)


Image taken from Steven Holl / The ‘Linked Hybrid’, my favorite large scale building.

This position is illustrated in the book with the project and it is possible to understand this position, I think this is the real achievement of this book, as an entity it works great.
However, in the sense of the starting question it might provide guidance and thoughts, but no solutions. I am not convinced that this super-sized architectural style has solutions in all situations, especially when it comes to diversity, social, and longer term temporal aspects. What Steven Holl offers are large scale buildings, quite literally (with massive projects in the middle East, particularly China), that have the potential to play a an important role, define spaces and create identity for an area, but they are not the city.
These super-sized site plans on city scale seem to be the new trend at the moment. For example also the new Herzog and De Meuron Book is making use of this tactic to locate the presented projects. Where this will take us we will see.
Nevertheless, this is the most recent comprehensive urban statement you can get your hands on. It will challenge your position.

Holl, S., 2008. Urbanisms: Working with Doubt, New York, N.Y: Princeton Architectural Press.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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A truly nice book worth having. Well, yes I know it is odd to start the review with the conclusion, but there is not much more needed to be said. A Birkhauser publication usually would not let you down and this one is no exception. But however, a good publication also needs some good substance to it and only if the two meet up it will be a truly nice book. Probably the only thing irritating is the preface, which you’d better skip because this puts you definitely in the wrong mind set.
Cities of Change Addis Ababa – Transformation Strategies for Urban Territories in the 21st Century‘ by Marc Angelil and Dirk Hebel is, as mentioned above by Birkhauser. The book reports on the progress of an ongoing research at the ETH under Professor Marc Angelil (His practice is AGPS). The work published here is the result of three years of student work dating from the years 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2008/09. The introduction summarizes: “The research investigates the performance of cities in view of resource fluxes – the interplay and transformation of stocks and flows of recourses according to changing parameters in time.” The reoccurring ‘awareness’ here really is “…that the only constant is change, …”


Image by urbanTick / Cities of Change Addis Ababa book cover.

Since this is research conducted in the learning environment with students it has adopted a rather strict and structured approach. This makes perfect sense, in the light of changing groups of students over the duration of the investigation, but especially to allow for a structured leaning environment, while still keeping an open mind for the research. This is a very challenging setup, but I believe this publication demonstrates that any academic research short comings are definitely made up by the quality of the students learning output. It is to some extend a catalogue of student work produced, but the integration as research work is so clever that you wont necessarily notice.
The investigation is structured in two trajectories: “The first … follows the principle of conducting in-depht academic work in specific fields of inquiry, highlighting particular themes and integrating input from supporting disciplines. THe second trajectory, on questions of urban design, situates the work in the context of design research studio, a workshop setting in which concepts are tested through specific design propositions, aiming for the synthesis of findings from an array of fields.” Clearly the publication explores the intersection of the two trajectories. This is organised in seven topics called the ‘flux model’. These areas of change are: Stocks and flow of ‘people’, ‘space’, ‘material’, ‘capital’, ‘information’ and ‘energy’. Each chapter is introduced with a theoretical text, outlining and extending on the explanations given in the introduction part. Mixed with the design projects each chapter also contains theoretical, subject or contextual text pieces.
The surprising element here probably is that the publication does not close with a summary or conclusion. But probably this has to be looked for in the introduction, like in this review, the important things can be said up front without sliming away any of the interest for the further content.
To open the debate here, one of the points I believe to be important to discuss is the structure chosen for such a research project. As outlined before, the context of design studio work clearly has its requirements, but for a truly ‘in flux’ practice the static outline of the seven chapters can probably not sustain itself over a longer period, since “…that the only constant is change, …”


Image taken from Google Maps / Addis Ababa aerial view of the city centre.

Angelil, M.M. & Hebel, D., 2009. Cities of Change: Addis Ababa: Transformation Strategies for Urban Territories in the 21st Century, Birkhauser Verlag AG.

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