Posts tagged with "urbanNext":

Placeholder Alt Text

Reimagining Madrid as a zero energy city

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “NYC releases major climate change plan aligned with Paris Agreement.” This article was authored by José Luis Esteban Penelas.
Constructing Dreams of Energy Welcome to a dream. Today’s metacities are formed by liquid and fluid mechanisms of energy. It is important to understand that the changes that occur due to their collective inhabitants make them capable of mutating at great speed. Cities that appear to be motionless generate a spatial multiplicity; they mirror the paradigm of production (Jean Baudrillard). Today’s cities arise as energy cities. They are supercities of today’s post-industrial era of supermodernity (Daniel Bell). Madrid Zero Energy is an example for the twenty-first century. Our proposal is an open dream of the future, developing thoughts and projects, and building up from a human scale to a territorial scale; a zero energy dream where the protagonist is the human being, where the city of Madrid is an example of zero consumption and a healthy citizenry. Architecture and urbanism are shaped by a complexity of actions, and through these creative actions, subsequent thoughts emerge. They are also poetic. Today’s architecture changes at a vertiginous speed, and the way it has been understood for almost the past two thousand years is mutating. The concepts of velocity, spectacle, anonymity, limits, mobility, sustainability, health, and energy define the parameters of today’s globalized society. Madrid: Fresh Air, Zero Consumption, Healthy, Glo-cal Madrid Throughout its history, Madrid has been treasured for its fresh air—a great tradition which is currently being recovered through the actions of zero consumption. This concept is linked to the “commons” of the Seoul Biennale. We are generating a new Madrid Zero Energy. It is understood, in time and space, through communication, through urban and territorial infrastructure (highways, metro, trains, cycling lanes, buses, and green corridors) and through high-speed infrastructure (AVE, the supergeneration of new infrastructures, the real-time transmission of images through mobile phones), all of which are susceptible to being rethought, reanalyzed, and transformed. All of this is aimed toward zero consumption and interactive processes that branch and become interconnected: the city of Madrid.Madrid is a metacity. Its form is predictable and projectable through new computational energy—systems that make its real-time adaptation possible. The emerging needs of society’s communication are met through the strengthening of super-infrastructures.A rethinking and evolution of the city of Madrid will inevitably keep mutating toward other configurations that express new conditions of this territorial and glo-cal supercity: a city of six million inhabitants, a glo-cal insertion with a common, variable intercultural program that can be altered with the idiosyncrasies of each country, connectable to other cities in the global context. Computational Zero Energy Systems: Planning Madrid for the Twenty-First Century  Presenting Madrid as a future global city, Madrid Zero Energy is the outcome of continuous research conducted for more than a decade on public urban space and regeneration, and it proposes an “advanced evolution” in urban thinking: “A new profile for twenty-first century cities in an era of super modernity.” The aim of this meta Madrid Zero Energy is to become self-sufficient by 2025, an estimation which, according to research conducted by the municipality, will be possible. The dream is for Madrid to become a city of zero consumption, a new meta energy zero consumption city (“meta” from the Greek meaning “further” and “beyond”). From here we generate a computational intelligent energy system capable of real-life adaptation, based on the development of a fluid network. Five Energy Concepts DREAMadrid integrates five strong core concepts into generic public, urban, and metropolitan spaces as part of a global network of similar nodes, where citizens become aware of the environment’s performance: — Future (establishing design as a tool to produce a tangible future) — Environments and ecology (as constitutive parts of the future) — Enjoyment (as a productive tool oriented toward sustainability) — Zero consumption and health (Madrid to become a 100% healthy city) — Citizens’ participation in Madrid will count on citizens’ real-time participation DREAMadrid explores the limits of these mutable scenarios via a shared working methodology based on parallel and co-evolving strategies, and it develops urban strategies based on the growth of Madrid as an almost unique example of the development of a city based on Zero Energy. The vision is propelled by the municipality. Future Energy Our urban areas cannot continue to grow as they have done in the past. In this era of changing demographics and supermodernity (Marc Augé), diminishing resources, and climate change, new models for living are needed. In others words: How can we live in our unstable and fluctuating contemporary cities? DREAMadrid explores and presents new models for living in future cities at four scales (human, residential, urban, and territorial) based on health and zero consumption. DREAMadrid… dreaming the future energy. Curators: Jose Luis Esteban Penelas, James London Mills, Santiago Porras Alvarez, Daniel Valle Almagro, Maria Esteban Casanas.  Participants & Affiliations: COAM Official Chamber of Architects of Madrid, Universidad Europea de Madrid, UEM, Ayuntamiento de Madrid (Municipality of Madrid), AIR LAB Architectural International Research Laboratory Design Institute, Grupo Tecma Red S.L., Carto.
Placeholder Alt Text

A brief urban history of Pyongyang, North Korea—and how it might develop under capitalism

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “Photographer Andy Yeung uses drones to capture the density of Hong Kong.” The article below was authored by Dongwoo Yim, who received a Master of Architecture in Urban Design at Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard University, and bachelor’s degree in Seoul National University. Dongwoo is a faculty member of Rhode Island School of Design since 2011 and teaches PRAUD’s architectural discourse “TOPOLOGY & TYPOLOGY.”
As we witnessed from many post-socialist cities in Eastern Europe, Russia, and China, economic growth and political transition [have] supplied the formula for exceptionally radical and quick transformations of a city. Since adopting market-oriented systems, post-socialist cities have become “blue oceans” for new investments. Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, is one of few socialist cities in the world that has not adopted this new economic model. On the other hand, Pyongyang is comparable to socialist cities of decades ago, in that it exhibits a strong potential to attract huge investments if and when it begins to open its market to other countries. This change has, in fact, already begun to take place, raising the following questions for architects: 1) what growth model can be suggested? 2) where will the new developments be centered? 3) will the urban transformation replace or arise from within the existing structure of Pyongyang? Framed Pyongyang In spite of recent developments in its fledgling tourist industry, North Korea is still the most enclosed country in the world, and even Pyongyang, its capital city, remains under a veil. The information we currently have about Pyongyang primarily comes from media discussions of its political or social issues. In contrast to reports of its dictatorship, nuclear weapons programs, and the trend of nationwide starvation, the actual urban layout of Pyongyang has not received much attention. Pyongyang, however, was considered by other socialist countries to be an ideal socialist city when it was first built during the 1950s, instead of to be a city of veil or dictatorship. In the absence of the political dictatorship of today, Pyongyang provided an experimental field in which socialist architects attempted to apply their ideal urban structures to the real world. In the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-1953), Kim Il Sung, the leader of North Korea, decided to keep Pyongyang as the capital city of the DPRK (North Korea). Its layout reflected the ideology of socialism as well as [the] victory of the war. Left in complete shambles after the war, the reconstruction of Pyongyang afforded planners the rare opportunity to create a new structure from the ground up. Thus, in order to fully understand the urban structure of Pyongyang, it is necessary to first consider the larger context of the model socialist city, its historical context, and how it differed in key ways from the capitalist city model. Pyongyang as a Socialist City After three years of fighting in the Korean War, North Korea started to rebuild its cities through its first three-year reconstruction plan from 1954 to 1956. During this period, several socialist countries supported the reconstruction of North Korean cities by providing resources as well as technological assistance. Pyongyang received support from Hungary and Bulgaria, and not surprisingly, the architectural style and urban structure of Pyongyang showed some similarities to the two countries at the beginning of reconstruction. Based on a master plan in 1953 that reflected the ideals of socialist city planning, Pyongyang was planned as a one-million population city that would stretch from the Daedong River to the Botong River; the density of city was to planned as 20 percent to 25 percent. This scheme captured the socialist concepts of constructing a proper city in a well-planned way. Throughout the decades, Pyongyang realized a number of its socialist urban planning goals. The three major socialist urban morphologies mentioned above were well executed in the city. To resolve disparities between cities and to balance development between urban and rural area, [the] architects of Pyongyang aimed to set aside self-productive units within the city. Today’s Pyongyang continues to be planned based on a unit district system that combines the industrial and residential so that residents can both produce and consume their products. The density of population is planned at around 300 to 600 residents/ha. This district is well structured in the area across from the central administration district, and the two areas together comprise a key axis of directionality for city expansion. As North Korean leaders insisted that Pyongyang be developed in [a] well-balanced way in contrast to any other capitalist cities in the world, architects carefully injected landscape features into the city. Both riversides were developed major landscaped areas and most major boulevards were heavily planted. Additionally, to maximize the effectiveness of labor and production for workers, they created several leisure parks in the city so that the public could have enough rest and recover before returning to production. In Pyongyang, most of the leisure parks were located close to historical or memorial areas. The central part of the city was structured as a place for administrations and institutions. Major socialist buildings and symbols are located in this area, and the main square, Kim Il Sung Square, is also located there. Juche Tower, which is a symbol of North Korean ideology, is located directly across the river from the square. Together they create a major axis of symbolic spaces. Moreover, additional symbolic buildings and statues are distributed all around Pyongyang in order to serve as physical sites of propaganda for socialist ideology. Pyongyang was reconstructed based on the master plan that was designed by Kim Jung Hee in 1953. In the master plan, Pyongyang is structured as a multi-core city. Several different symbolic spaces are distributed evenly throughout the city and each of them become a core of each district. Also, main landscape structures are planned in between districts and work as buffer zones so that they cannot expand freely. This distribution of districts is mainly done to maintain the proper size of the city and to prevent social differentiation that can emerge from marked development in distinct areas. At the same time, each distributed central square works as a symbolic space that testifies to the centrally controlled society. In the 1960s, Kim Il Sung ordered the re-development of an architectural strategy of Pyongyang. Unlike the 1950s when development was more focused on [the] reconstruction of infrastructures based on a master plan, the new wave of development focused on five features that would propagate its society as well as its victory in war. They consisted for the expansion of the major boulevards and the construction of high-rise residential buildings along the boulevards, large-scale civic and cultural facilities, symbolic statues and squares, and leisurely and convenient facilities for foreigners. Once proposed, these five strategies became a major urban development standard with the larger scheme of the master plan in 1953. However, some of [the] schemes conflicted with the master plan. For instance, focusing on the development along major boulevards clashed with the development of several multi-cores. Major boulevards branched out of [the] central developed district and dense high-rise residential buildings came to be located along them. Consequently, this destroyed the multi-core system and only certain areas located near the start of the boulevards could function as core-like districts. Also, denser development of certain areas conflicted with the principle of evening distributing residents around Pyongyang. Additionally, even symbolic urban spaces came to congregate in the central part of the city instead of being distributed throughout the city. This phenomenon resulted primarily due to of the rapid growth of the city. Although North Korea, like other socialist countries, controlled migration of the population, it could not halt illegal immigration into the city and rapid urbanization of Pyongyang. As the city grew denser, housing shortages became a problem. To resolve this problem, as mentioned above, Pyongyang developed several high-rise residential areas. At the same time, informal residential areas emerged. They mostly arose in areas originally planned as landscape areas in the 1953 master plan, and housing resembled typical one or two-story houses that were designed for agricultural areas. This informal development not only broke with the landscape structure in the city, but also rendered micro-districts impossible. Hence, compared to other organized areas that were developed according to the master-plan, the informal development area lost its balance between residential units and service facilities. In short, the urban morphology of current-day Pyongyang portrays a mixture of the physical forms of the ideal socialist master plan and the realities of the actual development scheme. Transformation of a Socialist City As other socialist countries have already experienced, North Korea is also in the midst of [a] transition to adopt the capitalist system in some ways. There are several indications that highlight this transition. For instance, the secretive Pyongyang government recently launched an experiment with the free market in 2002, beginning to deregulate prices and hiking salaries. Also, small vendors, which had been controlled strictly by the government, are starting to emerge at major squares, and even underground real estate deals are taking place. Collectively, these changes can be seen as early indicators of a market-oriented economic system. The former Soviet Union, its Eastern European satellite, and China each underwent this transition a decade ago, and several cities amongst them, like Moscow, Shanghai, Beijing, have already [become] booming metropolises in the world. As noted earlier, socialist cities have different urban structures and morphologies from capitalist cities. These contrasts not only reflect different political ideologies but also differences in the flow of capital. Hence, when socialist cities start to allow capitalist forms of capital flow, the urban figures also change based on this new logic. The socialist city center has been the area where most of this transformation unfolds. Because of its strategic location and superior infrastructure, most investments are concentrated in the city center. Further, public spaces or institution areas in the city center that have weaker capital power tend to be occupied by bigger capitals such as business fields. Therefore, it is the central area of the city [that] begins to morph into the central business district, something that a socialist city has not had before. In summary, the emergence of a variety of retail outlets in the form of street vendors and warehouses are undeniable indicators of Pyongyang’s economic transition, and this trend will impact the transformation of its urban morphology. For example, the more evenly distributed activities of the socialist past will become concentrated in certain areas, while denser and higher pedestrian flows will develop around metro stations, major boulevards, or squares. Moreover, new warehouse-style transactions taking place outside the city will begin affecting the structuring of suburban areas where few developments have been witnessed under socialism. Suburbanization is also connected to the restructuring of social classes within the city. In an ideal social city, there is no class segregation and [the] government strictly controls the movement of its residents. However, as social classes begin to diversify based on personal earnings within the market-oriented system, upper classes have tended to relocate to areas that have better living quality. This observation is closely related to the system of the micro-district. Aiming to consolidate areas of production and living into one space, the micro-district creates a worse environment for residents than an area that is mainly focused on residential development. Therefore, social class differentiation leads to the segregation and restructuring of programs within a city. Pyongyang Transformation The urban structure and layout of Pyongyang will likely shift alongside major economic transformations that have already begun to take place. It may be beneficial for Pyongyang to develop a new set of plans to reflect its transition to a market-oriented system. What growth models are open to Pyongyang? There are several possible development plans for the city. One is the “incremental growth model.” Unlike most Chinese cities, the small size of Pyongyang’s market and the gradual nature of change suggests that the city will transform step by step. The incremental growth model differs from the ad-hoc master plan that ignores the existing socialist city structure and puts an alien structure onto the city. Just as the urban DNA of Pyongyang has resulted from the mixing of the original socialist master plan and development scheme, the incremental growth model will also be capable of forging a new DNA of Pyongyang, fusing it with its existing DNA. Thus the second questions to consider is: where would this incremental growth take place? Studies of other former socialists cities that have already been through the transition suggest that the urban mutation will occur easily in areas where the existing socialist structure and the market-oriented system collide. For instance, the area extending from the major axis of Kim Il Sung Square and Juche Tower is [a] location where socialist ideal morphology, as well as well-structured infrastructure, coexist. Because of its advantageous infrastructure and location, the area has a strong potential for attracting new investment in a market-oriented economic system. A desire to improve the residential environment will likely force production facilities, like light industries in the micro-district block, to be relocated to outside of the city; further, a new mix-used development, which is a typical development type in capitalist cities, will fill the gap. Similar types of transformation will unfold, albeit in distinct ways, in areas where informal development schemes arise. How does a new development interact with existing structures of the area? A significant difference between capitalist and socialist cities is "parcelization." Though its distribution of programs, there is no parcel system within a block in Pyongyang, whereas the parcel is the basic element that defines ownership in capitalist cities. However, like the notion of production-consumption within a block, the physical relationship between programs is very strong in Pyongyang. Thus, when a new parcel system is introduced for the sake of the market-oriented system, instead of just dividing parcel based on existing programs, the inter-relationship of programs should be carefully considered. For example, a parcel can be composed of both production facilities and residential lots, and it can be developed as a mixed-used program. This not only ensures the maintenance of the existing character of Pyongyang as a socialist city, but also makes possible gradual development within a block instead of a whole block scale development. In short, sixty years of socialist rule, twenty-first century Pyongyang is showing early signs of change, and the developments are nothing short of unprecedented. It will usher in new paradigms, a new economic system, and a new social structure. Therefore, a new structuring of Pyongyang is needed. There may be numerous strategies or scenarios to greet this new era of Pyongyang, and the scenario of incremental growth I have outlined is one I find particularly important. Pyongyang may or may not exhibit gradual growth patterns in the future. This scenario, however, takes into consideration the existing structures of Pyongyang and anticipates how they will be shaped by a new era.
Published in [UN] Precedented Pyongyang, 2017. This article originally appeared as Unprecedented Pyongyang on urbanNext. Springer, Chris. The hidden history of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, 2003. Kim, Won. Socialist Urban Planning, 2004. Kim, Youngkyu. Tong Il Han Kook, 1988. Faiola, Anthony. Washington Post, 2004. Haaussermann, Hartmut. From the socialist to the capitalist city: Experiences from Germany. Axenov, Konstantin; Brade, Isolde, and Bondarchuk, Evenij. The transformation of Urban Space in Post-Soviet Russia. Wu, Fulong; Xu, Jiang, and Gar-On Yeh, Anthony. Urban Development in Post-Reform China, State, Market, and Space.
Placeholder Alt Text

Saskia Sassen on how the powerless can “hack” global cities

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “Modern design, pleasure, and media blur at “Playboy Architecture, 1953–1979.” The article below was authored by Saskia Sassen, is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and a Member of its Committee on Global Thought, which she chaired till 2015.
Cities are complex systems. But they are incomplete systems. These features take on urbanized formats that vary enormously across time and place. In this mix of complexity and incompleteness lies the capacity of cities to outlive far more powerful but formal and closed systems: many a city has outlived governments, kings, the leading corporation of an epoch. Herein also lies the possibility of making—making the urban, the political, the civic, a history. Thus, much of today’s dense built-up terrain, such as a vast stretch of high-rise housing or of office buildings, is not a city; it is simply dense built-up terrain. On the other hand, a working slum can have many of the features of a city, and indeed, some slums are a type of city—poor, but deeply urban. It is also in this mix of incompleteness and complexity that the possibility exists for the powerless to hack power in the city, in a way that they could not in a plantation, for example, and to hack particular features of the city. They are thereby able to make a history, a politics, even if they do not get empowered. Thus, current conditions in global cities, especially, are creating not only new structurations of power but also operational and rhetorical openings for new types of actors and their projects. In these cities those without power can make themselves present: in the richest neighborhoods where they are the indispensable household support, in the corporate center where they are indispensable service workers, and so on. Thus powerlessness can become complex in the city. And this is, in itself, a transversal type of hacking. One way of conceiving of some of this is as instances of urban capabilities. In this essay I am particularly interested in two features of the city. One is that the global city is a strategic frontier zone that enables those who lack power, those who are disadvantaged, outsiders, and minorities who are discriminated against—even though it decimates the modest middle classes. The disadvantaged and excluded can gain presence in such cities in a way they cannot in neat, homogenous provincial cities. In the global city, they become present to power and to each other, which may include learning to negotiate their multiple differences. They can hack power and they can hack their differences of origin, religion, phenotype. The second feature is the strategic importance of the city today for shaping new orders—or, if you will, hacking old orders. As a complex space, the city can bring together multiple, very diverse struggles and engender a larger, more encompassing push for a new normative order. It enables people with different passions and obsessions to work together—more precisely, to hack power together. Global Cities Are Today’s Frontier Zones The large complex city, especially if it’s a global city, is a new frontier zone. In frontiers, actors from different worlds meet, but there are no clear rules of engagement. Whereas historically the frontier lay in the far stretches of colonial empires, today’s frontier zone is in our large, messy global cities. Cities are now the places where actors from different spheres have an encounter for which there are no established rules. The historic frontier lay at the creeping and expanding edges of empires; but those edges of empires no longer exist today. Today that space of encounter with differences lies deep inside our large, messy cities. Thus, these cities are strategic for both global corporate capital and the powerless. Much of the work of forcing deregulation, privatization, and new fiscal and monetary policies on governments actually took place in the corporate sector of global cities rather than in legislatures and parliaments. In this sense, then, the corporates hacked the city because that making of new instruments was a way of constructing the equivalent of the old military “fort” of the historic frontier: the corporate zone in our cities is a protected, de facto private space. And corporate actors have been doing this since the late 1980s in city after city worldwide to ensure they have a global operational space that suits their interests. The global city is then also a frontier zone because it is where strategic spaces of power can be hacked— though they rarely are, which has always surprised me. But global cities are also strategic places for those without power. They signal the possibility of a new type of politics, centered in new types of political actors. That is one instance of what I seek to capture with the concept of urban capabilities. It is not simply a matter of having or not having power. For the powerless, the city is a strategic space because the political goes well beyond routinized voting and having to accept corporate utility logics, or the dominance of narratives that strengthen powerful actors. Urban space in powerful cities provides new hybrid bases from which to act. One outcome we are seeing in city after city is the making of new kinds of informal politics. For instance, there is a kind of public-making work that can produce disruptive narratives, and make legible the local and the silenced. Political work gets done this way: it becomes the work of making a new kind of contestatory public that uses urban space as a medium, a tool to hack power, even if it does not bring power down. The Occupy movements that rose in countries in very different parts of the world were momentarily disruptive but educational in the long term. They rhetoricized inequality and provided a narrative to large sectors of the impoverished middle classes, usually a rather conservative and prudent sector. It has evolved as a politics that is making headway at the level of political speech and mobilization, but not necessarily system change: Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the rise of a seventy-year-old long-term socialist in the United States as a presidential candidate appealing to all ages, but especially the young. Deeper have been the changes in Bolivia and Venezuela, encompassing a whole new vocabulary and governmental logic; less radical but still significant are Peru and Quito. All of these, across their differences, and with varying levels of intensity, share a partial or full repudiation of politics as usual. It also signals the possibility of making a new type of subject, one abundant in cities across time and place, but always somewhat rare: the urban subject that results from hacking ethnicity, religion, phenotype, inequality, physical disability. Old Baghdad and Jerusalem, industrializing Chicago and New York, early-twentieth-century Berlin and Buenos Aires were such cities. This is not to deny the specific histories and geographies that generated what I like to call the “urban subject.” The urban subject is at home with enormous differences of religion, ethnicity, etc. A city’s sociality can bring out and underline the urbanity of subject and setting, and dilute more essentialist markers. The need for new solidarities (for instance, when cities confront major challenges) is often what can bring about this shift. Urban space, especially a city’s center, can hack our essentialisms, as it forces us into joint responses, into crowded public transport, into highly mixed work situations, into public hospitals and universities, and so on. From there it can move us on to the appreciation of an urban subject, rather than more specific individual or group identities that might rule in a neighborhood. The big, messy, slightly anarchic city enables such shifts. The corporatized city or the office park does not. There is yet another type of hacking of long-time orders that is taking place today. It is the hacking of well-established larger units, notably nation-states, that are beginning to lose their grip on domains where they once had considerable control. This is an important even if partial and not always desirable change. In Territory, Authority, Rights, I identified a vast proliferation of such partial disassemblings and reassemblings that arise from the remix of bits of territory, authority, and rights, once all ensconced in national institutional frames. In Europe, these novel assemblages include those resulting from the formation and ongoing development of the European Union, but also those resulting in a variety of cross-city alliances around protecting the environment, fighting racism, and other important causes. These generate a European subject for whom protecting the local or global environment matters more than nationality. And they also result from subnational struggles and the desire to make new regulations for self-governance at the level of the neighborhood and the city. Against the background of a partial disassembling of empires and nation-states, the city emerges as a strategic site for making elements of new partial orders. Where in the past national law might have been the law, today subsidiarity and the new strategic role of cities make it possible for us to imagine a return to urban law. We see a resurgence of urban law-making, a subject I discuss in depth elsewhere (see Territory, Authority, Rights, chapters 2 and 6). For instance, in the United States, a growing number of cities have passed local laws (ordinances) that make themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants; other cities have passed environmental laws that only hold for those particular cities because they are far more radical than national law, or have developed currencies for local transactions that only function in those cities. These are among the features that make cities a space of great complexity and diversity. But today, cities confront major conflicts that can reduce that complexity to mere built-up terrain or a cement jungle. The urban way of confronting extreme racism, governmental wars on terror, and the future crises of climate change is to make these challenges occasions to further expand diverse urban capabilities and to expand the meaning of membership. Yet much national government policy and the “needs” of powerful corporate actors go against this mode. In the next section, I discuss a range of issues that illustrate how the powerless can hack power in the city.
This article originally appeared as Can Cities Help Us Hack Formal Power Systems? on urbanNext. 1- I develop this argument in “Does the City Have Speech?,” Public Culture 25(2) (April 2013): 209–21; see also Expulsions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014; Dutch translation forthcoming with ACCO). 2- This is the process I describe at great length in The Global City, 2nd updated ed. (1991; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), and in Cities in a World Economy, 4th ed. (CITY: Sage, 2012). 3- The emergent landscape I am describing promotes a multiplication of diverse spatiotemporal framings and diverse normative mini-orders, where once the dominant logic was toward producing grand unitary national spatial, temporal, and normative framings. See Saskia Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), chaps. 8 and 9. 4- One synthesizing image we might use to capture these dynamics is the movement from centripetal nation-state articulation to a centrifugal multiplication of specialized assemblages, where one of many examples might be the transborder networks of specific types of struggles, enactments, art, and so on.
Placeholder Alt Text

Urban planners are irresponsibly designing risky mega-developments across Africa

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “Shigeru Ban will design 20,000 shelters for a Kenyan refugee settlement.” The article below was authored by Christopher Marcinkoski, an assistant professor of landscape architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania.
Today, according to recent United Nations data, there are just under 1.2 billion people living on the African continent. By 2050, this number is projected to double to approximately 2.4 billion people. By 2100, there is presumed to be somewhere in the realm of 4.4 billion people living in Africa, accounting for roughly 40% of the total population of earth. [1]
While Africa is currently home to a hugely diverse range of urban formats vis-à-vis their degree of maturity, the politics that guide them, and the economies that support them, the overall urban condition is substandard—both in terms of the infrastructures upon which it relies, and the building stock of which it is composed. In this context, there should be little question regarding the need for substantial upgrades to Africa’s urban settlement and infrastructure. Not coincidentally, in the ten or so years since the peak of the global real estate bubble in 2004 these population projections, in combination with the extreme deficiency of urban services and settlement seen across the continent, have led to a growing wave of proposals for new large-scale urban development throughout Africa. Acknowledging the urgent need for upgrades mentioned above, what is of particular interest regarding these proposals is the radical incongruity of their scale, scope, format, and program relative to the actual demographic and market demands of the contexts they are being proposed within. For example, many of these proposals are reliant on models of urbanization-driven economic growth that unapologetically borrow from exogenous pursuits recently employed in places like China and the Middle East. This appropriation seemingly ignores the fundamentally different set of material and demographic resources characterizing the contexts from which they are drawn, as well as the radically different governance and land tenure systems on which they are based. In turn, beyond their clear misalignment with the near-term realities of the African milieu, what many of these proposals for new settlement and infrastructure imply is the threat of further exacerbating deficient urban conditions by shifting severely limited capital resources away from more basic urban services. [2] In this way, these “African New Towns” represent an increasingly critical topic of concern for those disciplines actively engaged in their planning, design, and construction.
What complicates this process—or, in fact, what motivates it—is the emergence over the last 30 years of a phenomenon I refer to as speculative urbanization.[3] These are pursuits that employ the construction of new infrastructure and settlement for primarily political and economic purposes, rather than to meet real (as opposed to artificially projected) demographic or market demand. If this definition is expanded slightly, it can also include activities related to the legislative re-designation and re-parcelization of land for the specific purposes of increasing its monetary value. The phenomenon refers primarily to activities occurring at the periphery of established urban areas, or in entirely exurban contexts where physical urbanization is operating autonomously at the scale of a district or territory, rather than at the scale of a single parcel or building. While examples of the speculative expansion of settlement and infrastructure can be found as far back as ancient Rome, the last 15 years in particular have seen the most dramatic and consequential instances of the phenomenon, as well as a clear intensification of its incidence. [4] Given the severe economic and social disruption caused by the failures of recent speculative pursuits—see for example Spain, Ireland, China, and Dubai during the first decade of the 21stcentury—it is worth taking a moment to consider design and planning’s role in these activities. Historically, physical urbanization has tended to follow on economic growth. On the occasions when building activities do outpace their corresponding economy, a surplus is created and some sort of market correction is required: price, volume, etc. However, this correlation between urbanization activities and economic growth is more and more frequently being inverted. Here, as was the case in many of the examples mentioned above, physical urbanization activities are expressly being undertaken in the hopes of generating economic growth regardless of real demographic or market demand. This often means the pursuit of projects that are wildly over-scaled, economically inaccessible or simply inappropriate to the current circumstance of a given context. In turn, these projects are increasingly characterized by a high incidence of failure—either through low occupancy, partial completion, or complete abandonment. The costs of these failures extend well beyond the built environment into substantial social, fiscal, and environmental repercussions. Given the expansive nature of these consequences, what is increasingly coming into question as new proposals for gleaming urban development rapidly emerge across the African continent is how necessary upgrades to settlement and infrastructure should be undertaken; what types of physical formats and urban strategies these upgrades should rely upon; and—most critically—for whom these new settlements and infrastructures are actually being produced. When it comes to rapid urbanization in developing economies, these are not new questions. In fact, similar queries were raised in the 1980s and 90s in Southeast Asia, and again in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the Middle East as urbanization activities were employed with the explicit intent of projecting the image of modernity and competitiveness for both economic and political purposes, often independent of the realities of demographic or social need. While proposals for massive new urban districts are increasingly becoming the norm and, in turn, less shocking, a fundamental question does remain: Will the particular urban growth models employed in these pursuits serve to produce long-term urbanistic benefits as in the past, or will these initiatives ultimately succumb to unanticipated near-term disruptions (social, environmental, economic and political) that preclude the realization of longer-term successes? [5] While it is impossible to foretell the answer to this question, the role real estate speculation played in the global financial crisis of 2008, as well as reflections on other prior speculative urbanization events does suggest that without some sort of fundamental change, these contemporary pursuits are likely to produce commensurately severe repercussions—both locally and globally. Ongoing research being conducted at the University of Pennsylvania has found no fewer than 60 cases of territorial-scale speculative urbanization undertaken over the last decade within the 20 largest state economies in Africa. That said, examples can be found in many of the continent’s smaller economies as well. Each of these cases is a minimum of 80 hectares (approx. 200 acres) in size; is positioned as peripheral expansions of settlement adjacent to existing cities or on exurban greenfield sites; and is intended to function as an autonomous urban district, ostensibly independent of existing urban centers. Ultimately, what distinguishes these speculative urbanization activities from more credible or more conventional urbanization pursuits is their scale, their location, and their degree of accessibility relative to an available population (market). While this is not the appropriate venue to discuss each of these various developments in a great deal of depth, we can begin to sort them based upon type, which proves useful in exploring the motivations behind these pursuits. For example, perhaps the most common speculative urbanization format being seen on the African continent today is what I refer to as the middle class new town. These are developments undertaken with the explicit intent of accommodating a particular country’s so-called “growing middle class” that is projected to appear as a result of rural to urban migration in combination with the economic expansion associated with modernization. Examples of this type include Morocco’s ongoing new towns program initiated in late 2004; Tatu City northeast of Nairobi, Kenya (1,200ha); the Centenary City (1,260ha) and Lekki New Township (1,560ha) projects in Nigeria; La Cite du Fleuve (375ha) at the eastern periphery of Kinshasa, D.R.C.; Appolonia–City of Light (941ha), north of Accra, Ghana; and, what has become the media poster-child for this type of development, the Chinese-built new town of Kilamba (5,400ha), southeast of Luanda, Angola to name just a few. What is at issue with this particular format is that much of the housing being produced is simply inaccessible to the general population from a financial point of view without substantial government subsidies that many of these countries simply cannot afford to provide. The result is that this particular type of development often remains empty and physically deteriorating years, even decades, after its construction. Another common speculative urbanization format is the increasingly ubiquitous tourist/luxury enclave. Following on the urban growth models established in places like Spain and the Emirates, these urbanization projects are predicated on the opening up of an exotic landscape to foreign investment and populations, in combination with the creation of secured areas of exception within the extents of existing metropolitan contexts. Examples include the 2,400-hectare Longonote Gate located 70 km northwest of Nairobi; the various developments undertaken as part of the New Cairo project including Barwa (830 ha), Madinaty (4,500 ha) and Mivida (1,490 ha); resort projects along the Atlantic Coast of Morocco south of Tangier such as Tinja (330 ha) or Al Houara (234 ha); and the ten-square-kilometer Eko Atlantic development being reclaimed from the sea south of Lagos, Nigeria. These developments, like the middle class new towns mentioned above, are inaccessible to the vast majority of the African population. However, unlike the prior set of examples that claim to be undertaken explicitly in service of the continent’s growing urban populations, these developments make no pretenses about their desired clientele—the global elite and their associated investment dollars. The third category of speculative urbanization most often being pursued on the African continent is also primarily oriented towards the desire to attract foreign investment. However, rather than investment from individuals, these technology- or industry-sector new towns are geared primarily toward attracting capital and/or partnerships from established foreign corporations and institutions. For example, the proposed 2,000-hectare Konza Techno City, to be located 70 km southeast of Nairobi, Kenya, aims to capture the momentum behind the massive telecom market (SMS) already present throughout Africa. The Green City of Mohammed IV, roughly mid-way between Marrakech and Casablanca, looks to build upon the resources of Morocco’s Office Chérifien des Phosphate (OCP)—the state agency tapped with managing the country’s vast phosphate reserves—in order to establish an international research and industry hub centered around a newly created “world class” university. A few hundred kilometers to the north is the proposed Zenata Eco City (1,830 ha), which is intended to elevate Casablanca, already Morocco’s financial center, “to the rank of world metropolis.” [6] Elsewhere, forty or so kilometers north of Johannesburg, South Africa lies the privately owned Lanseria Airport, envisioned to be transformed over the next 25 years into a so-called Airport City, with an “aerotropolis zone” radiating out as much as 20 km from the airport facility at its center. In the context of these various pursuits, it is worth considering why the potential economic engine implied by each of these proposals is so often seen as incompatible with existing urban centers and structures. Certainly urbanization activities tied to potential job centers other than construction has proven to be a valid strategy. The question becomes why these pursuits seem to rely so heavily on exogenous urban growth models, rather than leveraging the particular assets of specific territory or context in the service of establishing new paradigms. The final category associated with the intensifying pursuit of speculative urbanization on the African continent is perhaps the most telling. The appearance of a number of new national capitals makes clear the perceived correlation between global political and economic status and the production of novel or iconic urban form. This correlation is obviously not new as places like Rome, Paris, and Moscow can easily attest. What is unique, however, as was mentioned before, is the inversion of this relationship to the point where the physical construction of the constituent components of the “global city” is now understood as a means to an end, rather than a product of growing economic and political status. Examples of these new capitals include the 6,000 ha “low-carbon city” of Boughezoul 120 km south of Algiers, planned as the new capital of Algeria and funded primarily by the carbon-dependent oil wealth of the country. In Equatorial Guinea, an 8,150 ha administrative capital called Oyala (or Djibloho) is rising on the mainland, roughly 350 km across land and sea from the existing capital at Malabo. While not a true new town, the Kigali 2020 master plan imagines transforming the territory of one of history’s worst genocides into a decentralized conurbation comprising high-tech, finance, and retail districts alongside ecological preserves in what can only be characterized as a city conceived in the image of Singapore, home to the planners behind the project. [7] And, as recently as March 2015, a massive new capital district for Egypt was proposed for the outskirts of Cairo in order to “spark a renaissance in the [country’s] economy”. [8] This new city, planned for five million residents and to be built in five to seven years, is just the latest example of an increasingly prevalent belief in urbanization as the ultimate instrument of 21st-century economic production and global status, particularly for developing economies. In reflecting on these various cases, what is striking is that unlike the post-war period in Europe where urgent housing demands and the need for modernization motivated the pursuit of innovations in both architectural form and urban formats, similarly urgent population projections for the African continent are inducing an urbanization response that seems to do little more than recycle familiar recipes for what constitutes the contemporary “competitive global city”. [9] Here, the limited pursuit of urban design “innovation” has been reduced to the occasional quest for hyperbolic architectural form or stamping out vast new urban districts wrapped in over-scaled, ill-defined wreaths of green. Such a body of work suggests an inexcusable abdication of responsibility by the urban design disciplines. In this regard, the urgent challenge facing urbanization on the African continent relates less to the models being emulated than to the particularities and appropriateness of the urban formats being employed; the processes by which this urbanization is undertaken; and the capacity of planning and design to conceptualize models of urbanization that actively adjust the disposition of these pursuits in response to changing demographic, economic, political and environmental demands faced over the extended timescale of a project’s deployment. Contemporary popular media’s engagement with these speculative urbanization activities could be described as uneven at best. European and American news outlets in particular have tapped into the paranoia surrounding China’s growing global influence by focusing their narrative on urbanization projects on the African continent being promoted or constructed by Chinese state or state-related entities like CITIC or CGCOC. [10] While significant in both number and scale, these are by no means the only actors involved in speculative urbanization activities on the African continent. For example, a group of familiar international funding sources and government-linked companies, alongside recognizable engineering and planning multinationals from Europe and Southeast Asia, appear again and again in many of these projects. Institutions like the E.U., I.M.F., and World Bank underwrite many of these projects through the support of planning studies or infrastructure funding. [11] Elsewhere, corporate partnerships and investment funds with interests in resource extraction or agriculture are utilizing urbanization activities as an instrument for gaining political favor, and in turn, access to these assets. [12] While many proposals emerge from the hubristic ambitions of the leadership of a particular state, other proposals are being promoted by foreign parties looking to take advantage of what they see as latent markets or fiscally desperate governments. State-linked planning and development companies from places like China, Singapore, and the Middle East trade upon the demonstrated “successes” of their particular urban growth models in order to convince the leaders of cities and states to retain their services or allow them to undertake development on their behalf. [13] In this way, the similarity between proposals in terms of central actors and proposed outcomes, in even the most divergent of contexts should be unsurprising. Simply put, there is a universal recipe for urbanization-driven economic growth that is being peddled indiscriminately across the African continent as the essential solution to the most intractable of economic and, in turn, social challenges. As I have argued elsewhere, this pursuit of speculative building is an inevitable consequence of a capitalist economic system. [14] However, acknowledgment of this inevitability should not be interpreted as acquiescence—quite the opposite. While these speculative activities emerge from a variety of political and economic motivations, we cannot excuse the design and planning disciplines from complicity in the consequences of these pursuits. For example, we must acknowledge the sheer absurdity of trying to design and plan large-scale new urban settlement—speculative or otherwise—by focusing solely on the realization of a single, preferred outcome. The illogic of such an approach is manifold. Focus on a single outcome presumes an impossibly stable state in terms of economic activity, population, and market demand. It demonstrates a disturbing naiveté or willful negligence on the part of the planner and designer to not take into account the increasing likelihood of disruption to the urbanization process that characterizes speculative building activities. It relies on discredited ideas of phasing and predetermined stages of implementation. And ultimately, this focus on a singular outcome demonstrates a hubristic belief in being able to accurately prognosticate just how an economy will function years, if not decades, in the future. This critique is not offered to argue for some form of indeterminacy—we know the dead end such an approach offers. [15] Rather, what I am suggesting is the need for a retooling of urban design theory and practice in pursuit of modulatable formats of land use, infrastructure, and settlement that can be actively adjusted in real time. In this context, the Dutch urbanist Michele Provoost has argued that there is a fundamental disconnect between Western design education and the realities of contemporary urban design practice. [16] She notes: “While big architecture firms are designing entire cities and constructing architectural icons ex nihilo, ‘their’ schools theorize mostly about the inability to plan urbanization, and offer up instead tactics of architectural acupuncture and bottom-up urban politics.” In essence, since the “failures” of midcentury modernist planning, the act of designing a city from scratch has been excised as a core competency of urban design education. In turn, design and planning’s capacity to adequately (or appropriately) conceive of and implement new urban form has eroded. As a result, what is most often being peddled as “urban design” today is simply scaled-up reproductions of “proven” urban formats, or dystopic renderings of new settlement as implausible architectural icons. Obviously, there is a certain operational efficiency to relying on familiar formats and fixed outcomes when it comes to the design and planning of new settlement. In fact, one might argue that to operate otherwise would risk disciplinary credibility. It is admittedly difficult (perhaps akin to professional suicide) to tell a client, “I don’t know exactly what is going to happen in 10 years,” or “there is a possibility this might not work as we desire.” On the other hand, the capacity to devise systems of urbanization that can be adjusted or adapted to changing circumstances; that can be recalibrated or modulated during an ongoing process of urbanization; that can create net positive outcomes even in “failure” offers the urban design disciplines an opportunity to expand and extend their agency in the inevitable speculative urbanization process. Under such an approach, urban design engages in the ongoing management of urbanization activities, rather than continuing to simply be employed in the blind production of physical urban products that stand in as proxies for the processes of urbanization. Given the pressing demand for urbanistic and infrastructural upgrades implied by population and economic growth projections across the African continent, such a disciplinary shift is essential if we are to avoid once again reproducing the severe environmental, economic, and social consequences that have emerged from comparable prior speculative pursuits.
This article originally appeared as Africa’s Speculative Urban Future on urbanNext. [1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015), World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables, Working Paper No. ESA/P/WP.241. [2] Vanessa Watson. “African Urban Fantasies: Dreams or Nightmares?,” Environment and Urbanization 26, no. 215 (2014): 229. [3] Christopher Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015). [4] For a more complete discussion of these and other historical examples of speculative urbanization, see “A Brief History of Speculative Urbanization” in Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was, 16–48. [5] “Booms and Busts: The Beauty of Bubbles,” Economist, December 18, 2008. [6] Zenata Eco City project website, (accessed October 25, 2015). [7] While the Denver-based firm Oz Architects did much of the initial planning for Kigali 2020, the current scheme is clearly driven by Surbana given its characteristic disconnect with reality as seen in other projects such as their work in Mumbai. [8] “Egypt unveils plans to build new capital east of Cairo,” BBC (March 13, 2015). [9] For a discussion of these post-war pursuits see Eric Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960 (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000). [10] “China in Africa: One Among Many,” Economist, January 17, 2015. [11] See for example, The EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund. For a discussion of the motivations behind these investments see, The World Bank, “Harnessing Urbanization to End Poverty and Boost Prosperity in Africa,” October 23, 2013. [12] See Jessica Chu, “Investigation Into German Involvement In Land Grabbing In Zambia,” Zambia Land Alliance and Caritas Zambia (March 23, 2012), and Hawkwood Capital statement on corporate social responsibility. [13] Examples include the aforementioned Surbana and CITIC, as well as U.A.E.’s Emaar. [14] See “Urbanization Beyond Speculation” in Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was,220–235. [15] For example, a common critique of the utility of the contemporary Landscape Urbanism discourse is its perceived embrace of open-endedness and indeterminacy at the expense of well-defined physical or policy interventions. [16] Michelle Provoost, “Why Build a New Town?” in Volume no. 34—City in a Box. The French version of the article was published in issue 4/2016 of Swiss magazine TRACÉS.
Placeholder Alt Text

Hans-Ulrich Obrist on architecture, art, and Metabolism

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “First look at Jenny Sabin Studio’s immersive MoMA/PS1 installation.” The article below was authored by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, an art curator, critic, and historian of art.
My interest in architecture, from the perspective of my role as a curator of art, stems from the fact that architecture is the pre-eminent site for the production of reality, as it is uniquely oriented the toward the future, but precisely as a continual negotiation, or as a continually articulated struggle between the present, the past, and the future. This is what I look for, also, in the art that interests me the most; namely, the recognition, following Duchamp, that art is ultimately a game in which the only constant is change itself. Implicit in Duchamp is a vision of history under perennial negotiation; historical truth as forever in situ. My interest in architecture stems especially from the work of English architect Cedric Price, who, beginning in the 1960s, advanced an evolutional model of building premised upon flexibility, change, and renewal. Although many of his concepts never materialized outside the studio, Price is receiving a renaissance in architecture today and I am particularly indebted to his progressive thinking. Price’s vision was to do with the unpredictability of architecture, of its forms and uses, and I am especially interested in pushing at the edges of what is expected of the exhibition-form; and in conceiving unusual sites, formats, and temporalities for exhibitions. Price’s unrealised Fun Palace, 1964, adjusted to its users’ ever-changing needs: "It will probably look like nothing on earth from the outside," it was said. "The kit of service towers, lifting gantries and building components exists solely to produce the kind of interior environments that are fitting and necessary to whatever is going on." The Potteries Thinkbelt, 1966, proposed the construction of a school in England’s North Staffordshire region across a series of railway tracks: the university was rearticulated as a set of interchangeable mobile units which could be attached and detached as necessary. My own practice draws considerably upon Cedric Price’s future of dynamism and his disregard for permanence—his structures often had shelf-lives and once their utility expired, he urged their destruction. Both art and architecture today must be adequate to the most pressing needs of our time, and in particular to the demands of ecology: both sustainability and adaptability; preservation and impermanence. This is why I have tried, wherever possible, to avoid the top-down blockbuster model of curating, and have been more interested in exploring other means to produce reality through exhibitions, delegating decisions and possibilities to artists. Since its inception in 1993, for example, Do It has traveled to over 40 international venues and offers a model of art and exhibition making as the following-through of a variable set of instructions. Perhaps the pre-eminent challenge encompassing this project concerned how to perpetuate a show that no big museum wanted to touch: because it wasn’t the "real" thing—because it was about instructions and interpretations, not concrete "works"—it never hit the primary institutional radar. By consequence, Do It was a huge risk and it perpetuated only through an amazing grassroots mechanism that ricocheted across Europe, Asia, the Americas, and so on. From an economic perspective, the manner in which Do It produced its own circuit, a self-sustaining distribution model, is exemplary and I consider this to be among my proudest achievements. So we come to Metabolism, which, for me, is one of the most fascinating developments in postwar architecture, since it explores all of these important aspects of adaptability, change, and renewal that I see as being especially important in the art context. To some degree, the moment of Metabolist architecture in Japan is inseparable from the tremendous forces of change and renewal affecting that country during the postwar period—the Japanese economic miracle that propelled the country into the premier league of developed nations and only began to stall in the 1990s. This emergence into the "big league" required a distinctively Japanese Modernism, and this is the great achievement of the Metabolists in my view. As one of the movement’s founders, Takashi Asada, clearly stated in regard to the relation between Metabolism and Japan’s phenomenal economic dynamism after the war:
… Those who signed their names on my copy of Metabolism 1960, Ekuan and I as chairman are the eight members of the group… For six years I have encouraged them to realize their proposals in the book so as to examine their validity. In my view, the flexibility that inherently exists in our society and the rapid economic growth in recent years should allow for their proposals to be realized.
With regard to Japan’s economic growth, there is a deep optimism inherent in much of the architecture, an optimism appropriately framed by the decade of the 1960s, marked by the signing of Metabolism 1960 and the important Expo 1970 in Osaka. This optimism is, perhaps, most obviously apparent in Kiyonori Kikutake’s Marine City proposal of 1958, which has all the formal revolutionary zeal of Corbusier, and envisions an entirely new mode of life appropriate to the modern age. But it is also there in some of the more modest examples of Metabolist work, which are, of course, the few key examples that have been realized and given to us for posterity. So, Kisho Kurokawa’s ever-controversial Nakagin Capsule Tower in Shimbashi, Tokyo, is a powerful homage to the dynamism of the Japanese capital city and economic powerhouse: a residential building comprising two interconnected concrete towers, intended as distinctively Japanese, but also somewhat Corbusian, "machines for living" for the capital’s salarymen, featuring as standard all the amenities of modern life amid what Ernest Mandel once characterized as the "third industrial revolution" of mass consumption and rising living standards in the advanced economies. But it combines this with that quintessential Western imaginary of contemporary Japanese living: the capsule, which are here able to be reconfigured and combined in different ways according to individual need. Kurokawa’s Capsule Tower is thereby simultaneously expressive of widespread societal change then afoot, as well as the need for individual maneuverability within this larger systemic whole. Expo 70 was billed as a celebration of "Progress and Harmony for Mankind," and is perhaps the summation of the optimistic Japanese orientation toward the future—a unique historical moment that has many lessons for us today. It stands in the Japanese collective memory as a testament to the country’s incredible rate of economic development and rapid recovery during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and is today marked by the Expo Commemorative Park in Osaka. It is indeed fitting that this pivotal event was held in Osaka, which, especially during that period, was of course, the beating heart of Japanese industrialism. Expo 70 in fact marked a turning point, as the culminating point of the steadily accelerating growth of the Japanese economy in the twenty-five years following the end of the war, and the 1970s, during which the country’s great fortune would only further accelerate amid the economic crises of the West that were prompted, not least, by the Oil Crisis of 1973. Change and renewal, as the most important elements of what I understand by the "production of reality," are directly indexed in Metabolist work. Impermanence is a key facet of Kisho Kurokawa’s practice, for instance, and it may not be too much of a stretch to suggest that the idea of unceasing change is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. It goes back to the most profound teachings of the Buddha, who argued that attachment to the idea of a permanent self, a permanent ego, in this world of change is the cause of suffering and the main obstacle to liberation. Liberation for Buddha, and for Buddhism generally, means to accept the implacability of change. The enormous changes that Japan as a nation had to face in the immediate aftermath of the war were, I think, fundamental to the visions of renewal and change that we find in Metabolism. Kurokawa, in particular, noted that, apart from Kyoto and Kanazawa, the majority of Japanese cities of any size were decimated during World War II. Whereas, in the West, when a city like London or Dresden was destroyed, there was brick and stone and rubble remaining as evidence of what had been, and out of which new ideas could grow. But Japan’s cities, on the other hand, appeared as blank slates after the dust had settled. Kurokawa noted that Japan’s cities were predominantly built of wood and other natural, perishable materials, and so when they were bombed, they simply turned to cinder. The destruction of both Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto during several battles of the Warring States period in the 15th and 16th centuries also made deep impression on Kurokawa, while into this mix of influences on Metabolist notions of change and adaptability can be added the obvious fact that Japan’s cities are virtually annually struck by natural disasters of various kinds: earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and volcanic eruptions. This ongoing destruction and reconstruction of buildings in Japan has meant that the Japanese population have, as Kurokawa put it, “an uncertainty about existence, a lack of faith in the visible, a suspicion of the eternal.” What is also detectable in Metabolist work is a strong emphasis, stemming from traditional Japanese architecture, on the notion that buildings and cities should be true to their environs. In traditional Japanese buildings there is the idea that architecture should be as natural as possible and should be in harmony with the rest of nature, since it is, after all, only temporarily there. This ethos spurred the entire Japanese tradition of making buildings and cities as temporary structures, with the ideas of temporaneity and autochthony in-built. Autochthony, in particular, I think can be seen in Kurokawa’s design for the Nagoya City Art Museum, completed in 1987, for the way that the entrance, especially, seems to expose the formal structure of the building and seems also to ‘bleed’ into the area surrounding the building itself. This idea of impermanence was reflected in Kurokawa’s work as part of the Metabolism Movement, and his buildings were built to be removable, interchangeable and adaptable, both in time and space. All of these ideas mean that Metabolism infused a particularly Japanese Modernism with some of the key ideas of postmodernism in architecture; especially, truth to surroundings, rather than the implantation of a transposable and monolithic International Style. But there was also a profound sense of experimentation and search for the new, rather than simply the recombination and resurrection of the old, that marks Metabolism out as very much part of the canon of architectural Modernism, however much it may be a kind of proto-postmodernism. Experimentation was inherent in the ways in which the Metabolists worked and collaborated, which echoed the constant reshuffling and disciplinary revolutionizing that is characteristic of, for instance, the Bauhaus under Gropius. As Asada described it:
Group Metabolism has no strict rules or agreements. It’s a free and
 intimate group of architects, designers, and critics.
One of the ways in which this was manifested was in the profound interdisciplinarity of Metabolism as it merged with other fields of knowledge. So, we have Tomatsu’s sociology, Kurokawa’s Institute of Social Engineering, Awazu’s graphic design, as well as an engagement with the broader spheres of science, technology, and biology.
Metabolism, it could be said, belongs to the last heroic wave of architectural movements, in a period before the hastening of disciplinary specialization that we find with trends such as the otherwise exemplary Deconstructivist movement of Libeskind and Eisenman. Metabolism was anything but the manifestation of a recursive, architectural argument, but rather was profoundly open to the world, not least in its engagement with questions of environment and ecology. It therefore has many potential lessons for us today, as we search for ways in which design might lead us into the future. On the one hand, the challenges of sustainability, and therefore of urban wellbeing, demand that cultural production today reclaims its old sense of ambition and scale; that it once again embraces the possibilities of total design. Bruno Latour has recently called for an expanded role for design that extends "from the details of daily objects to cities, landscapes, nations, cultures, bodies, genes, and… to nature itself," welcoming this as a novel "political ecology" that might "ease modernism out of its historical dead end." This is not to say that we should resurrect anything like the monolithic aesthetic schemes of modernism itself, but rather that we should borrow from their ambition in order to form our own dynamic, shifting and alterable institutions and spaces of the future. Latour states that: "the little word 'design' could offer a very important touchstone for detecting where we are heading and how well modernism (and also postmodernism) has been faring." But one way of avoiding what is a potential pitfall of grand visions for the redesign and rebuilding of urban environments is to embrace possibilities for future change as an inherent facet of architectural and planning projects, in other words, to embrace impermanence and adaptability. It may not be too much of a stretch to imagine Metabolism as an object lesson in the way in which architecture might straddle these dual demands of the revisioning of the urban context and urban society, while at the same time accommodating uncertainty, becoming, and the changeable.
This article originally appeared as Architecture, Art and Metabolism on urbanNext.
Placeholder Alt Text

Alejandro Zaera-Polo: Urban planners must rethink how they approach cities

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’sHow Can Cities Double down on the Climate Change Fight?” The article below was authored by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, an architect and co-founder of London/ Zurich/Princeton based Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Maider Llaguno Architecture (AZPML).
Since the eighteenth century when the Western world became human-centered, humankind has not ceased to evolve, and so too has the very concept of the human. In 1933, Le Corbusier and a few other members of the CIAM issued The Athens Charter, a document aimed at orchestrating the emerging technologies of the built environment into a proposal for the future of cities.[1] A classification of human activities became the vertebral spine of this proposal, structured around four urban functions: work, residence, leisure, and transport. This functional classification has structured urban planning policies ever since, but its human-centered approach appears now to be unable to address the problems of our age.
In the Anthropocene, humans have become capable of modifying natural ecosystems, geological structures, and even the climate; we have become so powerful that it is increasingly difficult to delimit the natural from the artificial. As the most populated human environment, cities are a central focus of these transformations, and yet, none of these concerns seems to have permeated the tools that we use to plan cities. The urban planning disciplines remain primarily conceived around human functions, despite the fact that the crucial questions they need to address—air pollution, rising water levels, drought, the heat island effect, deforestation, biodiversity, food security, automated work, inequality…— are primarily driven by concerns that, for the first time in history, transcend human societies and threaten the very survival of the planet. The economic, political, and technological drivers of modern urbanism—the mass integration of production, employment, and consumption; the separation of work, dwelling, recreation, and transportation; the division between the natural and the artificial—are no longer effective at addressing the urgent questions cities are facing today. Likewise, the traditional urban instruments such as plazas, streets, and neighborhoods have been commodified by neo-liberal practices and have become ineffective at addressing the new urban collectives and constituencies, both human and nonhuman, which populate contemporary cities.
Posthuman Cosmologies The agency that cities have in the construction of the Anthropocene is something that can no longer be ignored. We are assisting in a veritable paradigm change, one that requires a reformulation of the cosmologies upon which the contemporary tools of urbanism have been constructed. Arcane technologies and rituals of the urban were often based on mythological references. Ancient cosmologies were mechanisms of comprehending the natural world which enabled cultures to understand and operate within the natural environment. The oldest ones predated human settlements and were aimed at explicating natural phenomena and regulating the modes of relation between humans and nature. As the urban environment became increasingly controlled by human agency, cosmologies were discarded as systems of urban knowledge and governance. Typology and monumentality became primary tools for urbanism, with the structure of human relations prevailing over the physical and material determinations of the environment. The affairs of cities (politika) became an entirely artificial endeavor. The current prevalence of artificial environments and politics—cities—has tended to naturalize technology while de-politicizing nature. However, the pressing nature of ecological concerns and the scale of technological developments call for the imminent city to re-politicize both nature and technology and construct new urban cosmologies which can support the development of new urban sensibilities. An entirely new set of urban technologies have since appeared, radically transforming urban protocols and experiences: smartphones, GPS, electromobility, and biotechnology. Yet, these technologies still remain largely outside the practices of urban planners and designers, which remain trapped in the humanistic precepts of modern urbanism.Far from producing urbanity, urban functionalism has dismantled the commons and undermined urban democracy. Clichés, such as the relevance of public spaces as guarantors of urban communities and urban democracy, are as problematic as the inability of architects and urban planners to quantify the implications of density and urban form in the energy consumption or the determination of urban micro-climates. The idea that architects and urban designers can find effective agency in the distribution of human functions—such as work and domesticity—is at best naïve. Cities have become sources of extreme inequality and environmental degradation (in contempt not only of the demos, but also of all of the nonhuman constituencies that exist in cities), and these are even threatening the subsistence of cities and are pointing at insurmountable contradictions at the core of the current modes of economic integration. Theorists like Jeremy Rifkin and Paul Mason argue that we are already entering a post-capitalist world in which politics are shifting from a focus on capital and labor to a focus on energy and resources, and they have proposed new economies: shared economies of zero marginal costs driven by new technologies: peer-to-peer organizations enhanced by pervasive computation, sustainable energy sources, and carbon-neutral technologies.[2]
As the largest human habitat, cities have become the epicenters of global warming, air pollution, and a variety of ecological malaises. Naomi Klein has pointed at the fundamental opposition between capitalist growth and the limited natural resources of the earth, and questioned the capacity of capitalist regimes to resolve an imminent ecological catastrophe.[3] The decline of capitalism has loaded urban ecologies and technologies with unprecedented political relevance. Cities have now become a crucial intersection between ecology, technology, and politics where the equation between wealth, labor, resources, and energy has to be reset to address the shortcomings of neo-liberal economies.
Ecologies and Technologies Rather than Functions Does this scenario, determined by the rise of the Anthropocene and the crisis of neo-liberal capitalism, imply that the work of urbanists and architects has become futile? That the new commons will be entirely developed within social media? Has urbanism been expelled from politics, and is it now at the mercy of securitization and capital redistribution? On the contrary, some economists[4]argue that urban planning, housing, and real estate hold the key to resolving urban inequality.[5] Cities precede the installation of political systems, and have systematically outlasted them, often constituting themselves in mechanisms of resistance to power. For cities to become devices for the common good rather than instruments producing and implementing power structures (and often inequality or ecological destruction), urban practices need to locate resources and technologies at their core. Rather than splitting urban life into functions easily captured by power, we should try to identify first where the imminent urban commons are and how to reconstruct them as instruments of devolution and ecological awareness, constructed transversally across technologies and resources. We have tried to outline what those might be, and how they may become the source of a revision of urban practices.
This article originally appeared as Imminent Urban Commons on urbanNext. [1] Le Corbusier, Jean Giraudoux, and Jeanne de Villeneuve, La Charte d'Athenes (Paris: Plon, 1943). [2] Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (London: Macmillan, 2014. Paul Mason, Post Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future (London: Allen Lane, 2015); and Paul Mason, “The End of Capitalism Has Begun,” The Guardian, 17 July 2015, [3] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014). [4] Matthew Rognlie, “Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Share,” BPEA Conference draft, March 19–20, 2015;, accessed 5 October 2016. [5] Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2014).
Placeholder Alt Text

Architects used to design industry and infrastructure—that needs to happen again

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’sChicago digs deep to fight flooding, but the city’s geology may provide another solution.” The article below was authored by Hanif Kara, a practicing structural engineer, the Pierce Anderson Lecturer in Creative Engineering at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, and Visiting Professor for Architectural Technology at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, since 2008.
As the world’s population rapidly expands, the need for architects’ engagement in the industrial and infrastructural realm becomes increasingly urgent. Yet, with the exception of a few cases, architects remain conspicuously absent from the conception, design, and implementation of such projects. WHY ARCHITECTS? Today architects play a minor role in the design of industrial and infrastructural projects. Yet this was not always the case. The history of modern architecture, intricately tied to the rise of industrialization from the mid-18th century on, is rife with architects’ contributions to the industrial realm. Innovative creations such as Thomas Pritchard’s Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale, England (1775–1779)—often cited as the first single-span cast-iron structure—purportedly set the stage for later developments, including Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer’s seemingly weightless Faguswerke factory in Alfeld on Leine, Germany (1911–1912), which is hailed as an embodiment of an early 20th-century industrial aesthetic. Likewise, across the Atlantic Ocean, Albert Kahn utilized reinforced concrete to design a series of wide-span automotive plants, ideal environments for the efficient assembly-line production, or Taylorization, for which Henry Ford’s factories became known. These are but a few of the many architects who worked on industrial architecture alongside businessmen and engineers in the early 20th century. In the years following World War II and as the global economy moved toward recovery in the 1950s and 1960s, architects continued their involvement with industrial projects. The United States saw architects such as Eero Saarinen and the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) engaged in industrial work, notably with their contributions to the burgeoning industrial campus complex type. In Europe, architects such as Angelo Mangiarotti in Italy, Fritz Haller in Switzerland, and Norman Foster in England began enlisting prefabricated modular building systems, which allowed vast, flexible, open-span factories to accommodate a variety of manufacturing setups. These prefab systems, which could be erected more quickly and more economically than previous industrial buildings, became a widespread alternative to individually designed factories. Not surprisingly, the building owners’ desire to cut costs coupled with the efficiency of prefabricated modular systems to steadily eclipse the architect’s role in industrial building design. Mass production and “industrialized systems” hastened the rapid construction of many different building types during this period. Simultaneously, seeing fewer opportunities for creativity in such “mundane” or “ugly” work, architects turned their attention away from industrial and infrastructural projects. Additionally, the growth of other disciplines gave rise to engineers and project managers, who legitimately claimed to be able to produce buildings rather than “design” them, further undermining the role of the architect. Despite the shift to service- and knowledge-oriented industries in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, a time marked by the emergence of widespread economic and ecological changes, architects’ contributions to these building types have remained conspicuously absent. Yet this need not be the case. Architects bring much to the conception and creation of such projects, beginning with a holistic approach that extends beyond functionality to embrace the physical, social, and environmental issues that affect each project. By virtue of education and experience, architects hone the ability to devise creative spatial configurations to address real-world problems. Furthermore, architects are trained to design not just for the present, but for the future ways in which buildings may be used. This skill in particular figures prominently into our contemporary landscape, where in many cases a building’s physical presence may long outlive its initial purpose. And, as numerous examples in our past and present demonstrate, such industrial buildings do not have to be ugly. The past few decades saw a minor eruption in the adaptation of redundant existing industrial buildings and large-scale infrastructures for public use. Projects like the Tate Modern (England, Herzog & de Meuron) and the Hamburg Philharmonic (Germany, Herzog & de Meuron); the Rosario Museum of Contemporary Art (Argentina, Ermete de Lorenzi); the Zollverein Power Station (Germany, Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture, B.ll and Krabel); the High Line (United States, Diller Scofido + Renfro); the Contemporary Jewish Museum (United States, Studio Libeskind); and the Modern Museum of Malm. (Sweden, Tham & Videg.rd Arkitekter) have captured the public imagination and become new architectural touchstones. Note that many of these readapted structures exist in developed areas that have transformed from industrial to service societies (a cycle likely to repeat in the future). In addition, these projects involve not only the reuse of materials, but also a respect for the old while infusing the new. They are complex projects that encourage cultural interactions and multiple programs in spaces previously conceived for singular functions and occupied by only a few individuals. These buildings and structures were initially created to serve a specific use; yet through architectural interventions, they have been successfully repurposed as cultural icons. Architects introduced unique skills and perspectives to these transformational projects, all largely well received. In turn, these adaptations have bolstered their architects’ reputations. We believe that architects can add similar value to, and likewise benefit from, the design of industrial and infrastructural projects. In particular, we are focused onWaste-to-Energy (WtE) facilities, which are much needed in both developing and developed societies. Along with global population growth and increased urbanization comes an exponential rise in the production of solid waste. In 2012, urban populations generated roughly 1.3 billion tons of solid waste. By 2025, the World Bank estimates that this number will likely increase to 2.2 billion tons. How do we address this mounting volume of waste? This question becomes all the more pressing when we consider that landfills—currently (and historically) the most prevalent means of waste disposal—are quickly becoming less plausible due to space restrictions, environmental concerns, mandates to close existing sites, and legislation that prevents the creation of new landfills. Waste-to-Energy facilities offer a proven and increasingly attractive solution for dealing with solid waste. Indeed, far from the pollution-spewing industrial behemoths of yore, WtE plants are an environmentally conscious option for coping with garbage. Strategically placed near or within urban areas, WtE plants can generate alternative energy for local use and eliminate the need to transport waste to rural areas or across state lines, thus reducing travel-related emissions. And as we will later discuss in detail, WtE infrastructure offers a range of beneficial possibilities for future development, including opportunities to develop hybrid programs that positively impact their communities. Such innovative arrangements are already in operation in Sweden, recognized as a leader in WtE use, as well as other countries. WHY WASTE-TO-ENERGY? There is little doubt that, as the world’s population grows, local WtE infrastructure will be increasingly needed in cities. As densities increase and consumption patterns change, WtE will continue to emerge as an acceptable and affordable source of renewable energy alongside a portfolio of other sources, such as solar, wind, and biomass. As additional WtE infrastructure is conceived and constructed, architects’ involvement will help ensure the best functional, social, and aesthetic results. Indeed, a handful of high-profile architects, including Bjarke Ingels and Zaha Hadid, have recently engaged in WtE projects, signaling a shift in thought regarding the desirability of and value generated by architects’ involvement in such projects. With these ideas in mind, we selected WtE facilities as a means to re-engage architects and interdisciplinary design with industrial buildings and infrastructure. We conducted design research on novel and effective ways to rethink the relationship of architecture and waste—a (re)planned obsolescence. THE WASTE MANAGEMENT HIERARCHY The Waste Management Hierarchy is an internationally recognized ranking of the various waste management practices in the order from most to least preferred with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. Priority is given towards the prevention and reuse of waste followed by recycling, energy recovery, and disposal. Energy recovery from the combustion of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is a critical component to this hierarchy because it diverts and ultimately decreases the total volume of waste that would have otherwise been destined for landfills. The WtE Design Lab chose to narrow the focus of design speculation around the method combustion—as opposed to pyrolysis and gasification—because it is the most widely implemented. Ranked a tier above natural gas but just below solar photovoltaic, the energy produced by this renewable energy source has a reduced carbon emission record—as compared to petroleum and coal—by offsetting the need for energy from fossil fuel sources and reducing methane generation from landfills.

This article originally appeared as Architects, Waste and Design Research on urbanNext.
Placeholder Alt Text

Can Tampa undo its Post-War planning mistakes while embracing its environment? This competition explored how.

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’sHow is the New Jersey Meadowlands planning for climate change?” The article below was authored by Shannon Bassett, an architectural and urban designer.
The (Re) Stitch Tampa project was initially conceptualized during 2010 around the advent of the announcement of what was to be the first high-speed rail line in the U.S. The Obama Administration had just announced as part of its “New” New Deal program that the region was to receive $1.2 billion in federal monies earmarked for the construction of a high-speed rail line along the Tampa-Orlando corridor. The program was reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s WPA program, during the great Depression, where the federal government funded large-scale public infrastructural projects with the intent of jump-starting the economy. In Florida, such projects included the Rural Electrification Program of rural farms, running wire to over 54,000 farms, and the development of much of the Florida State Park System. [1] Plan Tampa, a post-war coastal American city, was reeling from the worst recession since the great Depression. Arguably, it was also located in one of the regions the greatest impacted in the country by the 2008 economic bust and mortgage crisis. The region had developed around car privileging infrastructures and an economy predicated principally on real estate and its speculative practices. The real-estate bubble had burst hard here, where real-estate speculation and flipping were part of the main sources of the economy. It was not uncommon, beginning in 2007 and continuing onwards, to see hand-crafted signs dotting the on and off ramps of Tampa’s highway infrastructures and byways of the city advertising short-sale, foreclosed houses, or offering flat-out cash for houses. “We buy up houses-$50,000.00 each and 3 for…” [2] By 2011, however, this “New” New Deal in the form of high-speed rail infrastructure had been squashed, and the $1.2 billion of federal monies returned to the federal government. The stymying of the project had been largely due to the prevailing anti-smart and, arguably, anti-urban politics which did not support the funding of public transportation. This was even despite the efforts of mayors in the six cities who would be positively impacted by the high-speed rail system, who self-organized at a local-regional level to accept the federal monies, although in the end they were not able to do so. The aggregated land for the high-speed rail station in Tampa was also left vacant, left to return back to nature. Therein existed other such aggregated plots of land or “land-banking” which had occurred at the height of the real-estate boom, such as on the north end of the Riverwalk, the northern anchor of the competition project site, where the developer had acquired and aggregated land and had then, subsequently, gone bankrupt. The Trolley Barn-Armature Works lay in decay, as a relic of the post-industrial landscape, and the former affluent trolley-car suburb and trolley system which was one of the most successful in the U.S. before it was ripped-up and replaced by the roads of the predominant automobile culture. This aggregated lot lay in urban decay; the ecology and the biodiversity returning back to it and recovering the site’s natural landscape. This urban aggregate added to the 50% of surface parking, as well as to the additional vacancies in the downtown core. The focus of the competition brief shifted, at this moment, to a critical re-thinking of the ebbs and flows of circulation and movement throughout the city, and how these might contribute to a more sustainable development and ecological practices. The competition brief posed the question, how might the re-calibrating of infrastructure serve as an opportunity to re-choreograph the flows and the movements of people and habitat to and from its natural lifeline running through the city, and how might it bring the River into the city? Paradoxically, the recession and the mortgage crisis with its foreclosures, vacancies, and halted development, had actually provided an opportunity to take stock, as well as to critically reassess a legacy during the 20th century of largely unsustainable building and development practices and seemingly unlimited growth, much of which was eating up valuable wetlands and ecologically sensitive lands. Unsustainable land development practices had been catalyzed by the rationalization of the pumping system. Dredging, as well as the canalization of swamplands pushed by real-estate speculation and tourism, had largely trashed the natural environment and its ecologies. Further, the invention of air conditioning had perpetuated the development of housing typologies divorced from their natural systems and local ecologies, dissimilar to Florida’s earlier vernacular housing typologies, such as the Florida Dogtrot. The Dogtrot’s design was more integrated with passive design strategies, such as breezeways as well as the natural Florida landscape. The competition also prompted a re-thinking of the current oppositional relationship of the city to its water, as well as the potential to re-stitch, re-cover and re-claim the landscape of the Post-War Coastal American City through Ecologies. Tampa—the Beginnings of the Post-War Coastal American City Unlike their counterparts to the North, the Sunbelt coastal cities of the south, including Tampa, did not experience the same overarching opposition to the top-down urban renewal planning practices of the 1950s, largely inspired by the Modernist City. During the 1960s, freeway revolts occurred in many American cities, opposing the byproducts of the 1958 Federal Highway Act, which included cutting highway infrastructure through swathes of the city in order to expedite commuters out to the suburbs. The post-war suburbs had been federally subsidized in the form of inexpensive mortgages to returning war vets from World War Two. Jane Jacobs, author of the seminal text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, successfully organized her community to oppose and subsequently defeat Robert Moses’ attempt to bulldoze part of the West Village in New York City with a cross-town expressway infrastructure. Further, grassroots community opposition to urban renewal projects and the bulldozing of Boston’s historic West End and Scollay Square, as well as New York City’s Penn Station, lay the groundwork for the bottom-up preservation movement of cities and their historic fabric beginning in the 1950s. It also ushered in the establishment of the National Park Service in the U.S. Tampa’s period of urban renewal happened later, in the 1960s and 70s. Unlike their northern counterparts, many of the community leaders in the districts designated for urban renewal actually embraced it, as opposed to attempting to fight it, such as in Tampa’s Ybor City. As Tampa historian Emanuel Leto writes, “these projects were also motivated, in part, by racial divisions within urban communities, and the desire for segregation in districts and enclaves of the city.”[3] The erasure of one such community known as “the Scrub,” was one of the three major urban renewal projects carried out by Tampa in the 1960s as part of the Federal Urban Renewal program. Its name came from its natural landscape, referring to the territory outside of the protected Fort Brooke boundary which was settled by white settlers, and referred to the small brush-like vegetation of scrub and Florida brush. The area was settled by freed African-American slaves and the neighborhood had a vibrant music scene, including Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald. The inhabitants were relocated to public housing and the city became largely zoned as single use as part of the CBD (Central Business District), with highway infrastructure cutting through the urban fabric, carrying people out to the suburbs in the wetlands and the reclaimed swamplands, which lay beyond a middle landscape of trolley suburbs, largely vacated. Tampa as the Ecological City Prior to the period of urban renewal which radically transformed the urban space and fabric of Tampa, the settlement of the area had a much more intrinsic relationship to the landscape and its natural ecologies, living more symbiotically with the Tampa Bay natural estuary. Historical natural atlases and guides of Tampa from the turn of the 20th century boasted in their descriptions of Tampa’s natural landscape, as well as its estuary. “People came from miles around to eat the fish and oysters out of the Tampa Bay.” Such sites as Sulphur Springs, located further north up the Hillsborough River were, in fact, natural springs where people came from afar for their natural healing powers. Other sites of intrigue included an alligator farm adjacent to the natural spring. The site became contaminated and trashed in the middle part of the 20th century, however, although ecological remediation and recovery is currently being undertaken in the area by the City. Competition Brief The competition brief is premised on a critique of the failings of the post-war American City, the prevailing traces and conditions of which can be seen in Tampa. The brief also calls for resilient design strategies, which address its coastal location, as well as the re-articulation of its land-water edge between the city and the water. It proposes possible design strategies, which might begin to de-construct, de-engineer, as well as to de-laminate the previous infrastructures that are part of the legacy of these predominantly short-sited planning strategies. The competition framed a re-thinking and re-programming, as well as the re-articulation and re-consideration of the possible occupation of infrastructures operating at a large-scale. (Re)stitch Tampa serves as a research platform. The publication serves as a useful toolkit and handbook for disseminating design strategies which both design for resiliency, as well as addressing the conditions which are resultant from the failings of the policies around the post-war American city, and their unintended consequences. Designers are trained to be strategic, innovative and tactical in design, as well as having the ability to synthesize multi-scalar systems, and to conceptualize multiple scenarios for different conditions. The brief also encouraged designers to work across a spectrum of design scales, while addressing issues of recovering a landscape. Arguably, the state of Florida and its coastal cities will be some of those the worst impacted in the U.S. by sea level rise and climate change. Whereas human settlement and inhabitation in these locations initially co-existed in a much more symbiotic relationship with their natural landscapes and ecologies, the natural geography of this territory writ-large has been significantly impacted and altered by a manufactured landscape. Design strategies can also build on new modes of design representation, employing mapping as a process of design research. The competition brief challenged designers to develop schemes addressing the perceived failings of the post-war American city, offering solutions for the vacancies from previous failed urban renewal programs, and the ensuing urban decay and flight from the city. Perhaps, most importantly, it is the ability of design to act in a milieu not possessing the political will or agency to address the pressing issues of sea-level rise and climate change in coastal cities. The schemes should offer design strategies, which lie in more symbiotic relationships between city and nature, including the Hillsborough River and the Tampa Bay and its estuary. It should be noted, however, that recent trends currently show, in fact, the population to be actually increasing as migration flows of the Baby Boomer retirement generation move to Sunbelt coastal cities seeking warmer climates and cheaper housing prices than those available in the North.
The Competition The competition had both national, as well as international participation, bringing forth the best practices for designing for resiliency in coastal cities from all over the world. The invited jurors, prominent theorists as well as practitioners in urban design and landscape urbanism—Margaret Crawford, Juhani Pallasmaa, Chad Oppenheim, Chris Reed and Charles Waldheim—discussed the opportunities for the envisioning, as well as the re-thinking of these urban landscapes. Juror Charles Waldheim lectured broadly about the agency that the Design Ideas Competition possesses, and the pivotal role that it continues to play in redefining urban design and theory, citing such seminal examples as the competition for the Parc de la Villette in Paris’s nineteenth arrondissement, a former slaughterhouse. Both Bernard Tschumi’s project, as well as the OMA scheme for Parc de la Villette, reconsidered the re-programming of the urban condition through the programming of the landscape of a thickened surface, as well as the juxtaposition of programmatic bands with indeterminate and flexible programs. As Waldheim discussed, more recent design competitions, such as that of the Downsview Park competition, an international competition for an urban park design for a former military base in Toronto, Canada, have focused on the integration of ecologies and habitat into design schemes. So did the naturalization of the Mouth of the Don competition, also located in Toronto. Here, the previous infrastructure of the Don River was softened and re-naturalized at its mouth where it empties out into Lake Ontario, thus creating an urban estuary, as well as catalyzing a re-thinking of the co-existing natural habitat with landscape systems. The Competition Schemes Many of the competition schemes featured here investigate resiliency as a design strategy. The winning schemes distinguished themselves by addressing the issues of the competition framework, including landscape recovery, in addition to the contemporary urban issues in the post-war Coastal American city such as designing with vacancies. This also included the de-engineering of infrastructures from the failed paradigms of post-war city planning policies, at the same time as layering resiliencies and ecologies into strategic planning and frameworks. The competition entries, which are featured here, are analyzed and considered for their contribution to new and more flexible frameworks of urban design and planning design for the Post-War Coastal American city through Ecologies. The winning schemes for (Re)stitch Tampa distinguish themselves by challenging existing planning norms through ecological urbanism. Schemes also examine alternative methods of representation and process in urban design. The featured schemes address the city through the three mutually reinforcing lenses, which framed the competition, those of ecology, infrastructure and connectivity. Landscape infrastructure becomes the underlying structure and connective tissue of the urban system. The schemes also critique the single-use zoning, of the modernist, post-war city. Winning Schemes 1. Flowscape—A Vision for a New Urban Estuary proposes the de-engineering and re-programming of the previous regimes of historic infrastructures, resulting from poor-sighted urban policy decisions. Its underlying concepts propose the re-calibration of the historically oppositional relationships between land and water, in addition to critiquing the previous regimes of decades-old infrastructural projects and their resulting fragmentation of cities. It also proposes the reclaiming, as well as the re-assigning of new and layered programs between the interface of the city and the water. The scheme introduces an urban bayou along the underside of the Crosstown Expressway along its right of way. It affords a large-scale re-stitch in a swapping out of parking on the land for an ecological system. Thus, the bayou is connected to the Tampa Bay natural estuary, the city, and the Shipping Channel. Here, design strategies engage ecological processes in their frameworks. This scheme creates urban marshlands that integrate liquid programs into the city, as well as integrating both urban, and ecological relationships within the city. This scheme re-organizes and aggregates the surface, re-stitching the forgotten layers of the city, creating a layering of programs, as well as new flows and movements. Soft-infrastructure can accommodate flooding.
The strategies used here address the disinvestment of the public realm, as well as integrating flood protection onto the city grid and its systems.
2. Stitches and Fabrics, another winning scheme featured here, offers a proposal for not only a singular scheme, yet for a number of possible different scenarios, which are flexible, operating within the framework of the post-war coastal American city. Schemes plan for a shifting landscape, through both flexible, as well as indeterminate programs, where design has the agency to address uncertainties. The proposal identifies points for individual stitching to occur. These stitches, when aggregated or combined, have the agency to become activated as part of a larger, scalar proposal. In their overall totality, they have the agency to activate new programs within the city. Strategies include those of infill, as well as the introduction of tidal zones and aquatic typologies within the city grid. The scheme reclaims infrastructure for other uses, introducing layered programs within these substrates. 3. (re) stitch Resilience is an elegant design strategy which pays homage to the intrinsic relationship and symbiotic siting of the initial human settlement in the region with respect to its fragile eco-systems and their natural resources. The design’s overarching intent is to make the city more resilient to sea level rise, in addition to creating a public water space in the River which registers the changing water levels. An archipelago design strategy addresses the current vacancies in the urban fabric, which are aggregated through the recovering and reclaiming of the landscape. A floating public square acts both as a public space and as a scaffolding for layered programs and ecological services. It also acts as storage for storm water and purification systems. PARK in lots re-introduce layered programs, which engage both the water, as well as the integration of urban and ecological systems and the transformation of infrastructures. It creates different matrices of green infrastructure, in addition to re-naturalizing the post-war coastal city.
Conclusions (Re) Stitch Tampa, as a research platform, fundamentally questions the prevailing frameworks and methods of traditional urban design practices. It also challenges traditional city planning strategies, which design cities through a weightier approach of buildings, which also employ single-use zoning. The schemes featured here and resulting from the competition, reintroduce the River as the new spine and lifeline of the city while creating new and layered programs along it. This resonates with design strategies of flexibility and open-endedness for programming. It also integrates performative design aspects through a re-working of the river’s infrastructure. It begins with a new spine for the city, as well as the re-introduction of new ecologies which reconnect the city to the water. The projects emerging from the (Re) Stitch Tampa project have the potential to have a life beyond the competition itself. They offer a tool-kit of possible design strategies for architects, planners, and city planning agencies, as well as the constituents, stakeholders, and developers vis-à-vis public place-making in the post-war coastal American city. This publication should be used as both a toolkit, as well as a handbook which affords an alternative insight for both designing, as well as recovering cities and their landscapes. These include tactical strategies, designing for resiliency, flexibilities, which engage multiple readings and possibilities. As initiated by the competition brief, connective urban landscapes and ecological infrastructure have the agency to function as the underlying framework. The featured schemes here robustly address the competition charge, designing frameworks with ecologies, as opposed to a singular proposal. Within this framework, these strategies can act as catalysts for the economic redevelopment of the city, in addition to calibrating the reconnection of the city to its nature, while ameliorating its current fragmentation. Other notable coastal cities in Florida, such as Port Charlotte, south of Tampa, have adopted more progressive design strategies for their land-water edges, which might also serve as useful precedents. After Hurricane Charley in 2004 severely impacted Port Charlotte, the city engaged a strategy of acquiring land through rolling coastal easements, land banking and compensating those property owners with the properties impacted. The vacated land became part of a public trust for the city of parklands and areas for coastal replenishment and building for resiliency. As a strategy, the design is more flexible and that allows the city to replenish their valuable wetlands, which can mitigate storm surge. In a milieu where there does not exist the robust political will to address these increasingly critical issues facing Florida’s coastal cities, as well as other coastal cities within North America and the world, it is the charge of designers, trained in stewardship, who must be tactical in their design gestures and strategies, with an overarching agenda for the greater public realm. Epilogue-DIY (Do it Yourself) (re) stitch Tampa There were a number of significant public space projects which were actually implemented shortly after the (Re) Stitch Tampa awards ceremony on April 12, 2012. The city received a significant TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) federal grant, which in part was used to finish the remaining segment of the Tampa Riverwalk, which has recently just opened. Additionally, a green pedestrian right of way is being implemented along the right of way under the Crosstown Expressway. The abandoned Waterworks Park industrial building on the northern anchor parcel of the Riverwalk was adaptively reused as a restaurant, and the natural spring there as well as a city park. Ulele Spring was recovered and connected to the River, in addition to undergoing a significant shore-softening strategy and habitat restoration. Its warmer water temperatures serve as a destination for the manatee, which swim up the Hillsborough River from the Tampa Bay Estuary into the downtown core. Perhaps most inspiring is The Tampa Green Artery project, a grassroots, bottom-up organization with a mission to complete a 22-mile planned, perimeter trail throughout Tampa. Through the aggregation of vacancies and other opportunities, this dedicated group continues to connect the neighborhoods of Tampa and various public spaces with off-water and close to water trails. This is an excerpt from (Re)Stitch Tampa. Riverfront-Designing the Post-War Coastal American City with Ecologies, 2017. For further information, visit [re]

This article originally appeared as Tampa as the Ecological City. Living with and Inhabiting the Estuary and the Swamp in urbanNext. You can find additional Honorable Mentions and Selected Proposals there. [1] Gary R. Mormino, “WPA in Florida”, FORUM (The Magazine of the Florida Humanities Council), Issue 25-Nov./Dec. 2005. [2] Empirical observation of the author. [3] “Manuel Leto, Cigar City Magazine.
Placeholder Alt Text

What does “radical urbanism” mean today?

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we're pairing the urbanNext article below with AN's "Explore three near-future worlds where technology has changed romance (and cities too) in this GSAPP exhibit." This article was authored by Alexis Kalagas, Alfredo Brillembourg, and Hubert Klumpner.
What does it mean to be a radical architect or designer today? Never before have cities mattered as much to the future of humanity. As David Harvey attests, we have sleepwalked unknowingly into a full-blown “crisis of planetary urbanization,” with acute social, political, and ecological dimensions[1]. Cities are fundamentally places of opportunity—after all, urban migrants continue to be drawn in their millions by the promise of security as well as upward mobility. But cities are too often sites of yawning inequality, where land, housing, infrastructure, and services are transformed into symptoms of exclusionary growth. Faced with contemporary urbanization patterns, we are forced to question how cities and city-making have traditionally operated. More to the point, as architects and designers we are forced to rethink how we can operate within the city, learning from its emerging intelligence and shaping its outcomes to radical and tactical ends. The notion of a radical urbanism draws us unavoidably into the realm of the political. Imagining a more equitable and sustainable future involves an implicit critique of the spatial and societal conditions produced by prevailing urban logics. As such, we are not only reminded of Le Corbusier’s famous ultimatum, “architecture or revolution”, but its generational echo in Buckminster Fuller’s more catastrophic pronouncement, “utopia or oblivion”[2]. Both were zero-sum scenarios born of overt social disjuncture, whether the deprivations and tensions of the interwar period, or the escalating conflicts and ecological anxiety of the late 1960s. While the wave of experimental ‘post‑utopian’ practices that emerged in the early 1970s positioned themselves explicitly in opposition to perceived failures of the modern movement, these disparate groups shared a belief – however disenchanted – with their predecessors in the idea that radical difference was possible, as well as a conviction that a break was necessary[3].
It is precisely this potent mix of idealism and criticality that we wish to explore under the rubric of ‘radical urbanism’—utopian dreams tempered by an unflinching engagement with social reality. We are interested in those who advocate for the exceptional while cloaked in the trappings of routine. Those who infiltrate peripheral disciplines, embed themselves as outside observers, and leverage a proximate vantage point to influence decisions and policies. Those who relinquish direct control in favor of distributed autonomy and instrumental feedback. We are interested in projects that seek distance from disciplinary bounds, and from legal, political, and societal norms. That render complicit the imminently possible and the highly improbable, the absolutely necessary and the prohibitively taboo. A radical project does not necessarily view design as a solution, nor as a means to elucidate a question, but as a fundamental restructuring of assumptions in the way we live, and the environments that are necessary to support that life.[4] The history of architecture and urbanism is littered with individuals, groups, movements, structures, unbuilt work, conceptual projects, research programs, theories, exhibitions, publications, and performances that collectively trace a potent tradition of radical intention. What ties these diverse activities together is not a desire to escape disciplinary boundaries entirely, but instead to redefine the very possibilities of architecture and design as a means to usher in an alternative to the status quo. Though radical urbanism can assume countless forms, one can point to three potential fields of contestation that embody alternative modes of practice, thought, or engagement. The first is by outlining a provocative vision that challenges the normative thinking of the time. The second is by recasting the role of the architect in order to question what is pragmatically possible when intervening in an urban environment. The third is to operate at the vanguard of political change, or, in other words, architecture as revolution. If one accepts the foundational modernist belief that addressing the realities of contemporary life means working in (and through) the city, then architecture and urbanism can represent a radical subversion of established social structures beyond material questions of form and aesthetics[5]. From unrealized visions and plans like Antonio Sant’Elia’s La Città Nuova, Yona Friedman’s Ville Spatiale, Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon, and Cedric Price’s Potteries Thinkbelt, to the avant-garde provocations of Archigram’s Plug-In City, Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument, and Archizoom’s No-Stop-City, the inclusive humanism of the Smithsons, the animist hybridity of Pancho Guedes, the techno‑utopianism of the Metabolists, and the politically charged agit-prop of groups like Ant Farm, Utopie, and Haus‑Rucker‑Co, we can see a shift from the limited understanding of architecture as the design of discrete structures, to an expanded notion that architecture and urbanism can embody a form of cultural critique, or venture even more decisively into the realm of social and political action. This dovetails with a parallel line of thought that views the role of the architect as extending beyond ‘pure’ design, to support the agency of the individuals and communities whose everyday life shapes the evolving built environment. We see this in the flexible open building concepts of John Habraken, the simple modular housing system of Walter Segal, the self-build and self‑management theories of John Turner, the cooperative strategies and ‘pragmatic anarchism’ of Colin Ward, the tecnica povera of Riccardo Dalisi with children from the Traiano Quartiere in Naples, and the ‘action planning’ of Otto Koenigsberger in India. Besides a common concern with the groups or ‘users’ most often marginalized or excluded by formal processes of authority and control, these projects are linked by a modesty that contrasts starkly with the heroic projections of the modern movement. It is a radical urbanism characterized by sensitivity to scale and time, an appreciation of context, and a shift from author to enabler. The third type of radicality emanates from the inside out, where urbanism is adopted as an institutionalized building block prefiguring a new way of life. Though discredited in its most deterministic guise—the hubristic belief in the ability to “correct society on the drawing board”[6]—this direct alignment of architects and designers with revolutionary governance is perhaps urbanism at its most ‘radical’. While the emblematic case remains the ‘social condensers’ of Mozei Ginsburg and the Russian constructivists, which were consciously designed to induce collectivism, it is echoed in Álvaro Siza’s involvement with the ‘brigades’ of the Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local (SAAL) housing program following the Portuguese revolution, the Proyecto Experimental de Vivienda (PREVI) launched in Peru in the brief mid-1960s interlude between military dictatorships, and the peripheral new towns designed by BV Doshi’s Vāstu-Shilpā Consultants in post-independence India. In tune with emancipatory political agendas, these schemes sought to underpin alternative forms of economic and social development. Reyner Banham has described dreams of a better world as the true “ghosts in the machine” of 20th century architecture, while Tahl Kaminer argues the loss of the “utopian horizon” means the idea of progress has been rejected as a myth[7]. Does it make any sense then to speak of a contemporary radical urbanism? In short, we are convinced it does. Cities are complex, hybrid spaces where divergent ways of acting, thinking about, and living urban life collide and transform. And in these spaces, a new generation of architects, designers, advocates, artists, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, and activists are collectively reimagining new tactics to tackle critical urban and social issues. The city today is perhaps more radical than those operating within it. It computes unknown possibilities, conducts high‑risk experimentation, and telegraphs previously unknowable futures more quickly and more completely than the raft of professionals tasked with its stewardship, analysis, or design. A discussion based around concrete and scalable projects is necessary to reframe the term ‘radical’ and its potentials for design in the 21st century. The ‘Radical Urbanism’ exhibition in this Biennale will bring greater visibility to alternative models of housing, mobility, production, and recreation grounded in the pursuit of social and environmental justice, diversity, and equality. It will highlight forms of radical praxis that question the role of the architect and redefine the discipline, claiming new territories, new functions, and new legitimacy for architectural and design thinking. It will give space to projects that are both courageous and provocative—that call attention to game-changing urban agents of tomorrow. It will show how it is possible to develop path-breaking tactics of intervention and engagement while operating legitimately within the blind spots of existing power structures. And it will reaffirm the capacity of architects and designers to articulate empowering, transformative, confronting, and realizable visions of our collective urban future. [Excerpt from Re-Living the City: UABB 2015 Catalogue, 2016]
This article originally appeared as The Evolution of Radical Urbanism in urbanNext. [1] David Harvey, ‘The Crisis of Planetary Urbanization’ in Pedro Gadanho (ed), Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities (2014) 29. [2] See Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture (1927); R Buckminster Fuller, ‘Invisible Future’ (December 1967) 11 San Francisco Oracle 24. [3] Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future (2005) 168. [4]This and other portions of this text are excerpted from a curatorial statement authored by UABB curatorial advisors Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller from AGENCY. [5] John R Gold, The Experience of Modernism: Modern Architects and the Future City, 1928-53 (2013) 15-16. [6] Meyer Schapiro, ‘Architect’s Utopia: Review of Architecture and Modern Life’ (1938) 4 Partisan Review 46, 89-92. [7] Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (2nd ed, 1980) 12; Tahl Kaminer, Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation: The Reproduction of Post-Fordism in Late-Twentieth-Century Architecture (2011) 19.