It's a dazzling bright afternoon as my plane flies over Quito, Ecuador. The pilot does a loop to come into land and we get a sweeping view of the Andes mountain range and the valley within which this city of 1.6 million dwellers rests, 9,350 feet above sea level. On my taxi ride from the airport I ask the driver, in my terrible Spanish, if he knows what Habitat III is and whether it's of any interest to him. 'Si...', he responds resoundingly. It's been all over the TV apparently and—of course, it's of interest, it means more business for him—he chuckles. As we drive along the motorway, with every lamppost we pass bearing the Habitat III branding and slogans of welcome in every possible language, I begin to realize how silly a question that was. Quito as a city has a clear and tangible relationship with the UN, perhaps more than most. Its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, one of the UN-Habitat’s success stories, are everywhere and, crucially, Quito was also the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site. In the taxi, there's a palpable sense of civic pride coming from the driver as we get closer to the city. Later in the week, I will get to see this pride played out on a grand scale. Simultaneous to the Habitat III conference, which is located around Casa de la Cultural at the center of the town, a Festival of Lights is running to the northeast in the historic town center, which has been organized with support from the city of Lyon. Quiteños have turned out in droves on the streets to promenade with their families. The festival lights look good highlighting the features of the historic buildings but what's really great is the experience of being among the throng of people easing along the gradient of the street. Fathers lead the informal parade, often with their youngest child in arms sound asleep, (a stroller would be useless with Quito's steep slopes), there are locals of the quarter out supplying the crowds with grilled corn and plantain, and at the rear teenagers are hanging back passing furtive glances as different families cross paths with each other. The whole scene recalls images I'm used to seeing in town centers in Southern European cultures during summer festivals: It's a feeling of being connected at once to everyone in the bosom of the city. The taxi driver wakes me from my daydream induced by the winding mountain road, 'Alli es Quito...' he's pointing straight ahead. We're near the valley floor when I peer upwards through the windscreen from the back seat of the car to see rising from the hill top, a series of terracotta apartment blocks, like sentinels guarding over the city, which our road will soon climb up towards. When I arrive at the apartment, I realize that Quito is high up indeed. Higher than I'd accounted, I can feel it in my chest that the air is thinner. In fact, Quito is one of the highest cities in the world—it takes time to acclimatize. I wonder how the thousands of delegates from around the world are coping. The Habitat III conference ran from the 17th to 20th October and explored and discussed the New Urban Agenda, a document composed of 175 paragraphs on 23 pages. It lays out a vision for using the potential of the city, in the context of accelerating urbanization, to improve the wellbeing of everyone on the planet. The program for Habitat III was huge and there are hundreds of open events split into the categories of High-Level Roundtables, Stakeholder Roundtables, Special Sessions, Dialogues, Side Events, and much more. Some of the highlights were the headlining evening Urban Talks in which the current curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale, Alejandro Aravena gave the opening keynote. In his speech, Aravena fleshed out his belief in the ideas of Dr. Joan Clos, executive director of the conference: we need to invert our notion that good cities only come about after the creation of wealth and prosperity to one where good cities lead by setting the context for economic development—this is a critical principle underpinning the New Urban Agenda. Aravena compliments this concept with a detailed financial plan for building homes at scale through a relationship where the state and market are accompanied by a third element, the capacity of the people themselves—a dynamic which is exemplified in his half house model. Another of the Urban Talk treats was hearing Saskia Sassen, Richard Sennet, and Dr. Joan Clos in conversation, chaired by the Director of LSE Cities Richard Burdett. Sennet spoke on the importance of Open Cities, Sassen cautioned against the influence of private interests in the development of the city, and Clos stressed his point that the urban age must be planned and not left to instinctive development. A memorable moment came when, in a welcome aside to the gravity of their well-rehearsed speeches, we learn from Sennet that the late great Jane Jacobs was an accomplished Scotch drinker and could drink him under the table anytime. Unexpectedly, more than the talk of the New Urban Agenda is the talk of the vast queues and long waiting times to get through the venue security. This has been the greatest-attended Habitat conference with over 45,000 participants and it seems that the organizers somewhat underestimated the level of public interest. Judging by my unscientific survey of the crowds it appeared that many of the participants are local Quiteños from the general public, easily outnumbering the delegates from abroad—their civic pride in evidence once more. It's difficult to tell how much those who attended the conference were able to understand the New Urban Agenda—or indeed how much of it will actually be achieved over the next 20 years. However, the conference has highlighted key global urban trends such as the facts that cities are expanding faster geographically than their populations, as highlighted by the Atlas of Urban Expansion, and investment into urban development is going to have to increase by a magnitude several times greater in order to meet the demand of growing populations. Outside of Quito, this week at Habitat III might not have been the biggest news story, yet the emerging consensus around the global community's response to the challenges highlighted above—and their prioritization of the city in tackling them—are going to have profound implications for architecture and urban development over the next generation. A full review of Habitat III will appear in our December issue, then online as well.
Posts tagged with "United Nations":
Today the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to calendar Kevin Roche and John Dinkerloo's Ambassador Grill and Lobby at ONE UN New York Hotel, previously known as the United Nations Hotel. Now that it's on on the LPC's calendar, the space is safe from demolition (for now). The luxe late modern United Nations Plaza Hotel Lobby (completed 1983) and Ambassador Grill & Lounge (completed 1976) at One United Nations Plaza were threatened with demolition when the current owners, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, closed the restaurant to commence a significant renovation that would have stripped the space of its characteristic mirroring, white-veined black stone, and trompe l’oeil skylights. Preservationists, naturally, were outraged. Advocacy groups like Docomomo's national chapter and MAS were joined by local preservationists Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Theodore Grunewald, vice president of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, and members of local Docomomo chapters who together rallied to save the spaces by asking the LPC to consider designating the lobby and grill as interior landmarks. There are currently 117 interiors that are New York City landmarks, and only four of those are restaurants. When reached for comment, a member of ONE UN New York Hotel's management team told The Architect's Newspaper that, with the General Assembly in session, the hotel couldn't answer questions about the status of the Ambassador Grill. "You picked the wrong time to call," said a woman who would only give her first name, Pat.
Architect William McDonough's Innovation for the Circular Economy house (ICEhouse) was a gathering space during the 2016 World Economic Forum. The temporary meeting space was designed to exhibit the “positive design framework described in the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, the sustainable development goals of the United Nations, and the reuse of resources implicit in the circular economy." ICEhouse experiments with McDonough's concept WonderFrame—a structural system designed for quick assembly, local materials, and a variety of uses. McDonough explained WonderFrame is “designed to help us find ways to utilize many kinds of affordable materials to create dignified buildings for people in a variety of situations. We are calling it ‘wonder’ because we want people to wonder what it’s made of, and ‘frame’ because it is meant to be whatever structure each community and culture may need, and constructed from whatever materials they have available in that place at that time.” ICEhouse is made up of aluminum and SABIC’s LEXAN. The walls and roof structure were assembled in only a few days, and Shaw Contract Group provided the flooring. To allow constant relocation, McDonough's building was designed to be disassembled and reassembled in a few days. After its week of use at the forum, ICEhouse will be deconstructed and transported to The Valley, Schiphol Trade Park, where it will be rebuilt on site.
In addition to being AN's Midwest Editor, I was the special media correspondent for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2014, interviewing tall building designers, developers, and other experts at the skyscraper think tank's Shanghai conference, and its annual CTBUH Awards ceremony in Chicago. In Chicago I interviewed two of the minds behind the recent overhaul to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City (technically, in an extraterritorial space contiguous with Midtown Manhattan). Michael Adlerstein, of the U.N. Capital Master Plan & John Gering, managing partner of design firm HLW International, discussed the retrofit of the 1953 United Nations Secretariat Building, a finalist in CTBUH's 2014 awards. “Not many buildings in our time are looking at the exterior window wall and composition with the interior as one system. In many cases they're looking at them as either the exterior or interior,” said Gering. “What we looked to do was blend those two things together, and the end result was a lot of energy savings.” The handsome glass skyscraper exemplifies midcentury office design, drawing on the expertise of its architects, Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace K. Harrison. But its outmoded performance standards left it in need of a serious update. In that sense the project to retrofit the building—which also included firms Heintges & Associates, Gardiner & Theobald, Skanska, and Rolf Jensen & Associates—is a case study for repurposing aging office buildings around the world. “All buildings need to be considered for recycling because they do incorporate tremendous embodied energy … And not just beautiful buildings and buildings where treaties were signed,” said Adlerstein. “I do feel the preservation movement has to move beyond iconic buildings.”
Shigeru Ban: Humanitarian Architecture Dallas Center for Architecture 1909 Woodall Rodgers Freeway Dallas, Texas Through April 25 The Dallas Center for Architecture is presenting a selection of Pritzker Prize winning architect Shigeru Ban’s disaster relief designs. Ban’s humanitarian architecture has confronted some of the world’s most devastating natural and manmade cataclysms in the last 20 years. The Japanese architect is known for his pioneering designs for United Nations refugee shelters in the mid-1990s, using inexpensive and often recycled materials such as paper tubes and cardboard to make durable, shock-proof structures. Projects on view include the Tsunami Reconstruction Project (2005, Sri Lanka), Onagawa Community Center (2011, Onagawa, Japan, pictured above), Cardboard Cathedral (2013, New Zealand), and Paper Nursery School (2014, Yaan, Japan). Complementing the exhibition is a film screening on April 8 of a 2006 documentary about Ban, Shigeru Ban: An Architect for Emergencies. The film features extensive interviews with the architect about the practical, philosophical, and aesthetic aspects of his work. The exhibition is held in collaboration with Austin College, which will present Ban with the 2015 Posey Leadership Award at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science on March 26.
Wednesday afternoon, AN stepped inside the United Nations Security Council Chamber to see how the global institution had spruced the place up. No, we didn't just walk in there—you can't do that; it's the UN. We were invited by the Royal Norwegian Consulate. Anyway, after a six-year renovation, which was part of the UN's larger Capital Master Plan to renovate the entire East River campus, the truly awe-inspiring space has been returned to its original, mid-century glory. The chamber was gutted, upgraded, and then put back together with a few 21st Century bells and whistles thrown in—out with the ashtrays and in with the outlets! The Security Council Chamber was originally designed by Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg and given to the UN as a gift by the Norwegians in 1952. Every aspect of the Security Council Chamber reminds you that it is a Very Important Room. Let’s start with the iconic horseshoe table which is topped with placards and perfectly angled pencils at each seat. A gavel is positioned at the center of the table to mark the acting president's prime spot. Around the ambassadors' seats are the color-coded chairs: blue for advisors, red for member states, and green for visitors and members of the press. The chamber's high walls are covered in a wool Damask wallpaper. If that didn’t drive the point home that this is a Very Important Room, then direct your attention to the massive oil canvas where a phoenix is rising from the ashes. That mural is surrounded by marble. And that marble is bookended by heavy, detailed curtains. Originally, the curtains were left open to provide views of the East River, but since the table is shaped like a horseshoe, light was unevenly distributed on the Security Council members. “The people who were facing East got better seating because the sunlight would stream in and they would look happy,” said Michael Adlerstein, the Assistant Secretary General of the UN and Executive Director of its Capital Master plan. “The other people did not, they were in shadows and looked evil.” The natural light also started causing problems for this new-fangled technology called "television." Ultimately, it was decided to close the curtains and bring in more artificial light. With this recent renovation, the UN set out to make the chamber more energy efficient and increase security measures while not compromising any of the original design elements. To achieve that tricky goal, the space was reduced to its concrete shell, asbestos and contaminates were removed, new heating and cooling systems were installed, and measures were taken to fortify the space against a possible explosion. With all of those improvements in place, the room was reassembled with a few cosmetic changes—seats were reupholstered, marble was washed, the mural was cleaned, and tapestries and fabrics were scrubbed or recreated. Adlerstein said that, at the end of the renovation, the Security Council Chamber hadn't changed "by one iota.” Of course, a lot has changed in recent years, but all of it has been successfully hidden away in this Very Important Room. For more on the renovation, check out the video below the from the Royal Norwegian Consulate General New York
If world leaders don’t take unprecedented action to reduce greenhouse gases, nearly all aspects of human existence will be threatened by the "severe," "pervasive," and possibly "irreversible," impacts of climate change. That’s according to a blockbuster new report by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, which lays out the devastating consequences of a warmer planet. The effects of climate change are already being felt, but, as the report warns, things are about to get much, much worse. That will be especially true for those living in the world's poorest countries because higher temperatures will further threaten food and water supplies. According to the report, “throughout the 21st Century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.” These changes could lead to massive destabilization and conflict across the globe. “Thirty years ago, the previous generation maybe was damaging our atmosphere [and] the earth out of ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization at a recent conference in Japan. “Now ignorance is no longer a good excuse." In the United States at least, the Obama administration continues to call for action on climate change. “Read this report and you can’t deny the reality,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris this week. “Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice.” The sickness has been diagnosed over and over; but it’s still not clear if the world's most powerful have the will to treat it.
Just one month after leaving office, Michael Bloomberg (pictured) has been appointed a United Nations special envoy for cities and climate change. According to Reuters, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Bloomberg will help “raise political will and mobilize action among cities as part of his long-term strategy to advance efforts on climate change.” The former mayor is Johannesburg, South Africa this week for the fifth biennial C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Mayors Summit. Bloomberg is the President of C40’s board, which is a “a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” This year’s conference is focused on creating liveable and sustainable cities. (Photo: Spencer T. Tucker )
One Day on Earth Benefit Screenings June 1 to 7 The Quad Cinema 34 West 13th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue New York On October 10, 2010 (10.10.10), 19,000 filmmakers around globe shot the daily life unfolding around them. Their subjects ranged from people, to plants to bugs to the heavens. Over 3,000 hours of collective footage was edited down into one hour and 45 minutes, and the result is a stunning cinematic snapshot of our world today: the rhythms of nature and life (in that 24-hour period 363,000 babies were born), quotidian human habits, and the rites of passage in different civilizations. Called One Day on Earth, the film project was conceived by Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman, who were respectively director and executive producer, and received support from the United Nations. The film premiered on April 22 (Earth Day) at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, but the project doesn't end with the film—it aims to be a living archive with locations geo-tagged online (phase 2 happened last fall documenting 11.11.11). The film is using an "on demand" distribution strategy, so catch it while you can this weekend in NYC, where it is being shown to help benefit local charities. For example, ticket proceeds from Sunday's 3:30pm showing (suggested donation is $25/base admission is $11) benefit a worthy cohort of tiny but enthusiastic global citizens: the kids of the non-profit Williamsburg Neighborhood Nursery School. To purchase tickets, click here.
Rem Koolhaas has been thinking about the United Nations since his early Delirious New York days. Earlier this century, he even made a bid to design a new Secretariat. While that project didn’t pan out, the Dutch architect is joining a team of countrymen and women to “reconceive” the North Delegates Lounge in the Conference Building. In addition to OMA, the team will include designer Hella Jongerius, graphic designer Irma Boom, artist Gabriel Lester, and “theorist Louise Schouwenberg.” Occupied since 1952, the original space is sandwiched between the Secretariat and General Assembly; it is a magisterial double-height room hundreds of feet long with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the East River. A swank bar at one end was replaced in 1978 with a mezzanine and smaller bar that will be removed to take advantage, once again, of the room’s corner views. Keenly aware of the complex’s complex identity and Le Corbusier’s grab for design credit, Koolhaas who once wrote that the U.N. was a building that “an American could never have thought and a European could never have built” has described the team’s approach as the “preservation of change.” The renovation will include handmade bead curtains, new carpets, a combination of original Knoll club and Eames lounge chairs with new furnishings, and a new installation for artworks donated by member states. The fate of a 300-foot tapestry of the Great Wall of China (50,000 yards of wool; 600 pounds) that once hung in the lounge and was donated during the ping-pong détente of the 70s was not mentioned in the press release. The project sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is scheduled for completion in 2012.
One might think that the $1.9 billion overhaul of the United Nations Headquarters would be a multiple-stakeholder quagmire of Ground Zero proportions. However, as Michael Adlerstein, executive director of the U.N. Capital Master Plan, put it in a fascinating April 27 presentation, the consensus-based organization actually made it easier to push major decisions through, since the “joint stepping on of many toes” allowed various U.N. members to at least feel that they were being inconvenienced equally. And to alleviate the hefty price tag, the long-overdue renovations will be an object lesson in historical reuse, with 50 percent of interior fixtures and 95 percent of non-window exterior elements being refurbished. First to be renovated is the Secretariat, which according to project curtain-wall consultant Robert Heintges was the first true curtain-wall tower in the U.S. Because the weight of the originally-specified insulating glass was too much for the sash mechanism of the double-hung windows within the unitized wall system, it had to be substituted with monolithic glass of such low performance that a reflective film was soon necessary, destroying the intended effect of transparency. Heintges’ new wall will restore this transparency, and to give the glass a historically accurate, monolithic appearance, a simple gray substrate is used instead of a double-skin facade. Because the new wall is also pressure-equalized and insulated, its performance will be boosted significantly. Although the old curtain wall had to be almost completely replaced, the other quintessentially modern materials in the building (besides asbestos) will be restored: Vermont white marble, checkered terrazzo, brushed stainless steel, Naugahyde, and Formica. The original typical floor plan, with toilets perversely placed in the middle of the long west facade, blocking circulation and hogging the best views, will be adjusted to create a circulation loop around the core. To ensure that daylight is not blocked by walled private offices, open-plan workstations fill most of the area along the windows, with zones of walled offices placed at wide intervals. The other major interior adjustment described by John Gering, managing partner in charge for HLW International, involves punching holes in the robust structural beams to run mechanical, plumbing, and data services through, thus allowing a substantially higher ceiling and making room for a (previously missing) sprinkler system. The presentation, organized by the Skyscraper Museum in partnership with the Architectural League and DOCOMOMO-New York/Tristate, covered other performance upgrades, as outlined by mechanical engineer Keith Fitzpatrick of Syska Hennessy Group. These include the use of CO2 sensors to control fresh air intake, rainwater harvesting, and other features that will reduce water and energy use by over 30 percent. According to the U.N. master plan, all renovations are scheduled to be completed by 2013. In the meantime, staff have been moved to 1 million square feet of rented space in 10 separate buildings nearby, with the most important people and functions being relocated to a temporary structure on the North Lawn. When all is said and done, the oldest modern skyscraper in New York will also be one of the best-performing—proof that time can often redeem techno-utopianism’s heady ambitions.
A sublime piece of modern architecture, the United Nations Headquarters is a time capsule that preserves almost intact the spirit of the 1950s. From the head sets to the tapestries, which hide the most breathtaking views of Brooklyn and the East River, everything has the air of an early James Bond movie. On May 13th, however, the UN was looking forward to pressing environmental challenges and their urban solutions, as the host of the second part of the "Conference on Sustainable Urbanization in the Information Age," entitled “The Role of Infrastructure in Metropolitan Development.” Speakers from places and realities as diverse as Mexico, Estonia, Spain, Australia, Kenya, and the UK agreed that urban living is the greenest way to live. “Living well is the only sustainability,” concluded New York’s own Rick Bell, Executive Director of the AIA NY chapter, and that seemed to be the motto throughout the sessions. With the world urban population growing at an incredible pace (I was shocked to discover that my home country of Uruguay leads the world ranking with 91 percent of its population living in urban areas) speakers called for responsible planning, emphasizing the usual topics of density, public transport, affordable housing, and sanitation. What was a surprise, though, was the acknowledgment by many officials that governmental and sub governmental systems were inefficient and over regulated, impeding the implementation of better policies. Conflicts of governance and large bureaucracies, along with poor civic engagement and lack of private and public partnerships make it difficult for all these “good intentions” to be put to practice. When our planet is in peril, it is no surprise that major attention should be taken to cities, after all “urban centers are the ticking hearts of civilization,” to use words of Sarbuland Khan, of the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies. Also cities are the epicenter of the catastrophic global economic crisis in which we are living, but nevertheless, it is important not to compromise sustainable practices for the sake of reactivating the economy. The US government’s promises to end the economic slump come in the form of a stimulus package for infrastructure, but the kind of infrastructure we plan will determine the way we live and use the cities of the future, so we must chose responsibly. Keynote speaker Under Secretary-General Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka plead to consider this as an opportunity to instill principles of sustainability into infrastructure development: “The challenge is to integrate economic environmental and social policies to make our cities economically more competitive, ecologically more sustainable and socially more inclusive and gender responsive. It is important to recognize success factors and remove barriers to their replication… we need local action if we are going to achieve global goals.” It is high time we put aside political interests and start acknowledging that these challenges are not part of some dystopian future, but are right around the corner. Let’s just hope those with the power to make these decisions do so wisely.