11/20/2009

Towards a Housing Renaissance? (part one)

I decided to open a long investigation on social housing and a new category «typology» with the review of two magazines: eVolo, a new magazine of architecture created by former students of GSAPP, and the new issue (issue 21) of Volume Magazine. These magazines deals with housing but with different approaches. eVolo poses the question of housing for the 21st century, that is, a new conception of building housing.
As for Volume, they draw a balance sheet on mass housing in 20th century and wonder what kind of new politics of dwelling can be made in terms of housing, especially social housing. The issue's title is The Block. Supplements entitled Mass Housing Guide Supersudaca Reports #1 and Microrayon Living are included. the term of "Block" contrasts with CIAM principles of large escale housing — lifting of floor (libération des sols), freestanding of building in open space, greenery (but minimum costs).
As one knows, the 20th century of council housing’s principles was to re-house people out of slum clearance areas, from overcrowded conditions or those threatened with homelessness. The aim of these policies was to permit to low-income household to access to houses. But the concentration of low-income households, then, most deprived households in estates accelerated the decline of council housing. Editor Arjen Oosterman argues that "In (…) Europe, we have indeed bid farewell to blueprints, repetition and uniformity", and I agree with him when he goes on as follows: "is that farewell as definitive as we think?". Drawing a balance sheet of mass housing is to interrogate the evolution of mass housing from the beginning to today and to pose the question of its failure, hoping that these mistakes will no longer be done. Simon Pennec starts by drawing an outlook of mass housing: Apartment living, world housing shortage in which core elements — dwelling, chart, household, PPD — are defined in a world circumstance. For instance, the top 10 Apartment housing shows that Hong Kong owes 82 % of Apartment housing, followed by Singapore and Russia (both 72 %). As for the typical residential heights and number of stories, Hong Kong dominates with 26 followed by Shenzhen (23), and New York (23), while the highest population densities of inhabitants per sq. km are Mumbai (23,088) and Delhi (26,276), two developing cities that are now facing with housing demands. Yet not only will the developing cities be concerned with housing shortage but also advanced cities, for instance France who is facing housing crisis (in particular social housing), will be confronted with a growing demand for housing while, paradoxically, confronting with demographic shrinkage.
I appreciate research on Russia and their large-scale housing policies, what we call micro-rayon. It seems that this housing policy can be a strategy to adopt in our new strategy of housing people. Maybe. What can we say about Microrayon? The principle of Microayon is to improve the quality and reducing the cost of construction. To a certain extent, this policy is the opposite of the CIAM's goal for lifting of floor, freestanding of housing in open space, maximum open space, and greenery yet minimum cost. I put this issue aside for I will go back to mass housing in a series of posts.
The Mass Housing guide edited by Henri Ng and Simon Pennec — this supplement will be available in Spring 2010 — draws an atlas of mass housing: Le Mirail (Toulouse, France), Yunusaband (Tashkent, Uzbekistan), Marzahnn (Berlin, Germany), Colonial mass architecture — The North African experience, Kim Liên (Hanoi, Vietnam), The Bijlmer (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), Ekbatan (Tehran, Iran), and Hikarigaoka Park Town (Tokyo, Japan), among others, are examples of large-escale housing which were examined. A "Grand Tour of Runied Mass Housing'" has been included in which the authors consider the demolition of large-scale complexes in cities, Courneuve, Paris (1964-2011, and I would like to add La Pierre Collinet 1958-2010, in Meaux, a medium-scaled town near Paris), Bijlmermeer, Amsterdam (1968-2009), to quote but few. A Mass housing glossary (very important for those like me who are recently working on typology of large-scale housing) completes this supplement.
This is Bart Goldhoom's research — Block City. Toward a standard for plot sizes, Standards, classes, formats, Open à la Russe — which mostly attracted me, in particular, the concept of "urban block" which "in contrast with the apartment building, [it] is directly accessible from public space, offering ample possibilities for the introduction of public and commercial program in the housing block. The second idea of "housing custom" is very interesting. I will go back to this idea in these series of posts, nevertheless, the difference between housing standard and housing custom is that the first one leads to conflict. "The standard building's footprints do not relate to the specific site. This means there is a margin between building and public space that is not being designed. This undesigned space is more often than not the reason why fences and walls appear whose purpose is to demarcate the property border" (Goldhoom Bart, "Block City. Towards a Standard for Plot Sizes, in Volume Magazine, issue #21, The block, p. 82) he goes on with "as a consequence the housing complex is cut off from public space resulting in insecure and unattractive urban spaces and a rising feeling of inequality that is a growing problem in many parts of the developing world." The series of posts that I prepare that will open a new "category" called "Typology" will illustrate the former strategy of maximum open space, minimum cost" that were the key element of the CIAM's Chartes of Athènes. Now that architects, modern urban theorists like Aldo Rossi, Rob Krier, Rem Koolhaas, to quote but few, have understood the failure of the politics of CIAM by proclaiming the superiority of the block structure over the CIAM principles of freestanding buildings in open space, urban planners now revert to "the urban block as the best way to regulate the relationship between public and private space". And following Bart Goldhoorn, the block structure can "solve the problem of monofunctionality: it allows the development of a mix between private and public program".

Another way to rethink mass housing is proposed by the new fresh magazine eVolo. The magazine was firstly conceived in 2004 by a group of graduate students at the so-called prestigious GSAPP (Columbia University). The first issue has been launched in spring.
As Carlo Aiello wrote, eVolo has been created in order to provide «a forum for showcasing the most innovative, the most avant-garde designs that will define architecture in the twenty-first century». This is now a new challenge for new/existing magazines. But let’s put that issue aside and lets back to the question of a possible housing renaissance.
The first issue deals with mass housing. But their approach is different that of Volume Magazine. For me, eVolo is firstly a magazine of architecture for architects: some projects are described by architects themselves, others by specialists of architectures. Then it includes another way of building: the computational methodology for rethinking architecture (and urban planning) which shows the ambition of the magazine, that is: an inscription in the 21st century, or how to link new problematic such as the information age to architecture itself. To a certain extent, it is interesting in this regard to note that we now have included other type of spaces such as rhizomic space. Parametric urban system, morphogenesis, that is, computational methodology, are considered as new tools to apprehend spatiality today. In fact, not only spatiality. As American architect Tat Lam shows about his project « Housing + Infrastructure: An Active Planning Strategy Subdsidizing Low Income Public Housing» (Lam Tat, «Housing + Infrastructure: An Active Planning Strategy Subdsidizing Low Income Public Housing», in eVolo, issue #1, Housing for the 21st Century, pp. 94), a new approach of building low income public housing is announced. Tat Lam argues that «A public housing project in the 21st century must help low-income families obtain better living quality without the associated high costs». This viewpoint is shared by many architects. FOA’s Social Housing in Carabanchel public housing (2006, Madrid, Spain), ecdm «social housing, 45 rue Louis Blanc» (2006, Paris, France), or MVRDV’s Mirador (or Housing in Sanchinarro 2001-2006, Madrid, Spain) are among many examples of this new approach of social housing. In few words, we are facing new demands of housing with the transformation of our «way of dwelling» (in French Mode d’habiter). Many architects are conscious that one must interact with previous urban conditions but, with the inclusion of new parameters such as information age, unstable space, hypermobility, climate change, population shrinking, and new way of dwelling, hence the concept of rhizomic spaces. German architects Mathias Thiel and Florian Rieger argue that «Housing for the 21st century should be a dynamic of organism that incorporates the latest technology and becomes a dynamic body that mutates constantly in response to different kinds of stimuli», and that «this type of housing will be a structure capable of recognizing the most important characteristics of an existing urban context and developing the necessary elements for unification» (Thiel Mathias, Rieger Florian, "Becoming a Living Space", in eVolo, Issue #1, Housing for the 21st Century, p.112-115). The interaction of objects such as people, urban space, housing space, and information space, etc, to build a more liveable space, is now the goal that not only urban planners, developers, policy-makers, architects, but also inhabitants must take into account. This is what the two architects want to say with the concept of «inbetween Living Space» (p. 113). Architect, designer and researcher (MIT Media Lab) Neri Oxman sumed up brilliantly this introduction of computational methodology in architecture and the shift for a new approach of housing when arguing that «today, we live in an age which may be described as the Material Age as a result of new developments in materials and technologies, which have dramatically altered the way in which we build and live» (Oxman Neri, «Pavane for the Well-Tempered Typology», in eVolo, issue #1, Housing for the 21st Century, pp. 76-79). Yet would it be accompanied with a growing housing cost? No if we consider FOA’ Social Housing in Carambachel’s envelop which is made up of old bamboo. The bamboo façade works as solar protection shutters. Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Aravena have used it because it appeared to be cheaper than wooden façades. Given their interest for the function of the form — from the structure of the building itself to the details (like façade), to a certain extent, it would seem that FOA addresses the question that ‘houses are second skins, not isolating fortresses», to quote Neri Oxman (p.76). To be continued…

Last word:
At the beginning of this post, I wanted to write a review on these two magazines, but the questions they pose push me to go further and explore issues on social housing. I consider this post as the introduction of the introduction of a series of posts on social housings that I am working on. I, thus, will develop new categories, as I mentioned above, entitled «typology» in which I will try, with modesty, to understand architects, urban planners, and urban designers’ projects. I will start with a typology of housing that I call 1st generation of large-scale social housing, or «grand ensemble». The concept of «tower and block», suggested by Volume Magazine (see the glossary of the supplements) is the most interesting example to apprehend these «grand ensembles» that major city are facing with. It will take times to post these new posts because I am perfectionist, but I will try to do my best to do quick.

Quick glossery
microrayon: microdistrict or microraion (Russian), a type of residential complex found in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet states constructed of standard scales, repeated residential blocks distributed typically over 10-60 hectares.
Tower Block: a multi-unit high-rise apartment building. Occasionally they may be referred to as MDU or Multi Dwelling Unit.

Source:
eVolo, Housing for the 21st Century
Volume issues #21, The Block
Verb Boogazine Crisis

10/21/2009

Eco-friendly urban environment? on Neville Mars's Solar Forest

I will not write a long post. I just read Neville Mars's article entitled Solar Forest that he updated last August, and I would like to respond to its fascinating project. This post that I include the abstract of the concept of Solar Forest:
Many of the most unpleasant aspects of urban life are caused by cars, for both driver and the city itself. Large sweltering expanses of tarmac in cities contribute heavily to the urban heat island effect, whilst cars also become unbearably hot in summer sitting in these urban deserts.
Optimizing the heliostatic photovoltaic panels ultimately resulted in their leaflike shape. Although never intentionally conceived to mimic the form of a tree, the panels rotate to follow the path of the sun throughout the day – much like sunflowers – absorbing light whilst also providing optimal shading for cars. Although all parked cars can benefit from shading, electric vehicles can directly charge their batteries by plugging into the ‘solar trees.’
Neville Mars's project is an example of a large number of various projects on sustainable urban space that are recently developed, particularly those which deal with the issue of electricity car.

[Image by Burb]


[Image by Burb]


The images above are two examples of this project. As for the video, it is available on Youtube and as embedded video on burb.tv. It shows the concept of this project, how these heliostatic photovoltaic panels work. These panels look like trees, and work as trees: following the sun throughout the day, it absorbs light whilst providing shadow for cars. In the same way, Ecosistema Urbano's Ecoboulevard is another sustainable project based on the mechanism of tree.
This project might be utopian, it, however, illustrates the mentality change regarding transports and urban environment. In most cities, car dominates. Los Angeles, for instance, is considered as an Automobile City where 81 % of the population use cars compared with, as we know, 21 % of population of Tokyo, and approx. 32 % of population of London. In China, according to many Think Tank like Urban Age, bicycle which dominated cities in the 20th Century becomes obsolete : Car dominates the 21st century Chinese city. Yesterday, Ricky Burdett in his lecture at Harvard GSD mentioned that for many local municipalities and people, bicycle is holding up the traffic.
Now that we're aware of oil scarcity, engineers are working hard with shifting into electric cars. I remember of a French journalist who, several months ago, was wondering how those electric cars would get electricity to move, and what kind of infrastructure could be constructed for this type of automobile. Since we became aware of oil scarcity, some designers, architects and urban planners develop research on city redevelopments, precisely infrastructures for electric cars. Neville Mars/Burb's project is one among these numerous examples.

Information on Neville Mars
Neville Mars is a Dutch architect based in Beijing. He founded Burb and the Dynamic City Foundation in 2003. DCF is a Dutch-Chinese researcg and design institute based in Beijing. It focuses on sustainable architecture and urban planning. Burb functions as a platform for the DCF projects. His last editorial project is The Chinese Dream (010 Publishers) a heavy books on Chinese.


All pictures : courtesy : Neville Mars,/Burb.

10/06/2009

Symposium Other markets at Wien the 31st October

Other Markets

Symposium + panel discussion

"New prototypes for extreme spatial configurations have emerged from informal structures in the wake of the economic deregulation and exploding mobility. Rapidly spreading informal markets on the peripheries in Europe, for instance, form urban nodes for the networks of global migration. Are these architectures of informal exchange the forced low-cost counterpart for the success of the global capital market, or is their creativity showing the way to more sustainable ecologies?

The symposium on the FWF research project 'Relational Architecture' addresses critical questions on the participation of architecture in this reconstruction of our political and economic environment, from the local scale of neighbourhoods to the dimensions of civil society in transnational regions."

This thread is a quick thread on the symposium above.
The title is particularly interesting because it poses the question of the official market and the unofficial, that is that of informal. This symposium seems explore this hidden market, this architecture, urban planning considered as informal to quote Saskia Sassen.
The comment below is a rapid comment on some interventions to come. That of Marjetica Potrc, and that of Teddy Cruz and that of Iritt Rogoff. A friend of mine will go and record these intervention so I may go back in a further (or probabilistic) post. I wanted to write a thread on this symposium just because this reminds me various reading, and architectural projects such as that of Elemental's one.
I, also, posted a version of this comment below in my facebook page.

Marjetica Potrc explained to us last year (December 2008) at EHESS in the framework of Something you should know seminar organised by Natasa Petresin-Bachelez, Elisabeth Lebovici, Patricia Falguière and Hans Ulrich Obrist, that it is important, if not urgent, to rethink the city, as practician who works in the architecture field, or artistic field, urban planning field, landscape architecture field, in relation to its users. I mean, you must work with but not for the inhabitants. This is why these "participative" architects (I usually don't use this term "participative" but simply architects) attempt to short-circuit the system by proposing an alternative modus operandi. Elemental's Housing Projects are an illustration of this new tendency of an architecture much more simple, perhaps much more open to its users. For some critics, these architects demonstrate a tendency of a return to the basics. But I feel unconfortable with this idea of "back to the basics". It is rather a will to rethink architecture to quote Teddy Cruz.
Therefore, this symposium's text reminds me aaa's research, in particular Doina Petrescu's book (co-edited with Peter Blundell Jones and Jeremy Till, with participation of Leon Krier, Anne Quierren, and Muf, to quote but a few) Architecture and Participation (unfortunately this book is not available), in which authors discuss the issue of participation as a critical tool to question the changing society where we live — rapid urbanisation, pressure on housing demand, on new infrastructures, urban environmental problems (climate changing that will particularly be more difficult (I don't find the word I wanted to use) for the developing areas than for the developed areas), etc, etc.
For Rogoff as for Cruz, and Potrc (but you must add Keller Easterling, Eyal and Inez Weizman, Celine Condorelli, Urban Think Tank, Rael San Fratello, etc, in this list) Architecture is politics and politics is architecture.
I add below the schedule of the symposium with personal and quick comments on Potrc, Rogoff and Cruz.

The schedule
2pm
Peter Mörtenböck, professor of visual culture, Vienna University of Technology, welcome address and introductory speech (A)

2.30pm
Helge Mooshammer, FWF project manager, Vienna University of Technology, speaks on: 'Relational Architecture' (A)

3.30pm
Marjetica Potrč, artist and architect, speaks on: 'Catalysts of Change in Cities of Transition' (SLO) —> I've the opportunity to hear her discussing her research on cities as architect and artist and, in particularly, as a practician who attempts to rethink the practice of architecture.

4.30pm break (—> Well)

5pm
Teddy Cruz, architect and professor of public culture & urbanism, UC San Diego, speaks on: 'Radicalizing the Local: Post-Bubble Urban Strategies' (USA) —> Maybe with Marjetica Potrc and Irit Rogoff the utmost interesting interention. But it's a prediction...

18:00 c, professor of visual cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London, Goldsmiths, speaks on: 'Regional Imaginings — A Political Practice?' (GB) —> This is in fact Irit Rogoff but the websmester has probably forgotten her name. Anyway Rogoff, recently oriented her research on architecture and participation. It appears that architecture a much easier support for exchange and interaction between user and its cities. She recently takes part in various conferences, editorial projects on architecture as a political tool.
Some books
Verb Crisis (you will find interviews and texts of Teddy Cruz and Alejandro Aravena (Elemental)
I advice you to read Markus Miessen and Chantal Mouffe's conversation published in this boogazine.
Praxis, in particular the issue #10 entitled "Urban matters"
Architecture and Participation, co-edited by Peter Blundell Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till
Did Someone say participate? An atlas of spatial practice, coedited by Markus Miessen, Shumon Basar and Hans Ulrich Obrist
The Violence of Participation, edited by Markus Miessen.

10/03/2009

My opinion of Enjeu Capital(es) reference



This thread deals with the conference Enjeu capital(es). Les métropoles de la grande échelle, or how to rethink city in terms of macro.
But… almost nobody discussed deeply this topic.
I'm reserved in my opinion, and I may be not the only one. If yestersday sessions were interesting, this day was… Participants such as Rem Koolhaas, Dominique Perrault, Brendan McFarlane, Kuma Kengo, and Thom Mayne were exceptional as usually. They all present their research on city and the relationship between architecture and city. But I will go back to this part, later.
The reproach that I would like formulate concerns the choice of the topic. Not was it uninteresting, but it seemed be a little bit conceptual. This is of course my opinion. Yet, during the discussion at the end of yesterday afternoon session, the question that the mediator posed to these participants made them disconcerted, if not confused, such as Koolhaas and Mayne which insisted on the mediator repeating his question, if not reformulating it, as I wrote on twitter (and I will write a review on my blog). The problem of the question was that it was too much focused on image, materials, and representation, and not enough on the context of city. Brief, his questions were nothing to do with the topic, in my opinion.
Let's analyse this afternoon session:
The most interesting point is Rem Koolhaas's intervention. He announced that he is now working on "countryside". This territory is now a virgin territory insofar as its population migrated to the city. This is what he said to justify his shift into countryside. It is relevant that city is saturated and nothing new can be done. Even though many projects, reflections and competition show that there is still something to do. Rethinking the city relevant to new tools, new materials, new lifestyle and taking account of the mutation of the urbanity is an illustration that city may be saturated but not "finished". Even if Koolhaas has not said in this way, architects should now rethink the concept of countryside and its relation to the urban environment. I think that it can be a track that needs be explored. He, in fact, is focusing on the complexity city/non-city. To a certain extent, he was not too far from Adriaan Geuze's conception of the city. I am sure that a new debate will emerge from his research.
Thom Mayne rethought his presentation in order to respond to what he heard the morning session (I was not there so I won't say more on FOA, UnStudio, etc). It was very interesting to hear Mayne discussing his work starting from the city as both object and subject, and not restricted to the object. I am among those who usually analyse his architecture for itself and not in the relation on its context, say, the city, while we usually do when examining OMA's projects. His presentation was very fresh and informative.
Kuma Kengo started by considering Japanese city according to keyword, such as screen, grain and roof. I maybe forgot one. It was very interesting but he hasn't pursued his argument, rather, he presented his work. It would be rather to explore the concept of city in Japan. But for those who didn't know him pretty much (or hadn't the opportunity to hear him), it was a great opportunity to discover his work or hear his work again.
MacFarlane talked on his work, in particular his both and most popular projects : Docks de Paris (Seine), and Pavillon Quai Rimbaud in Lyon. For the both projects, Jakob + McFarlane attempted to reinvent the concept of public space, and explored the relation to the site where they intervened. But I didn't find any relation to the main topic ; or he was a bit too far from the concept of city.
Dominique Perrault presented several aspects of his project. For each of them, he attempted to demonstrate the importance of the site (the city) in his project. I particularly appreciated his presentation, but as it was crowded and we had to move for another place to attend the conference, I missed 10 minutes of his presentation. Sad. Because he talked on the importance of water in the 21st century, and I remark that water will be one of the core element of the 21st century.
Back to the discussion. The discussion between all the participants and the mediator was cut short, if I can say. Architects maybe supposed to be questioned on their presentation, and this was what the mediator tried to do but… This is why I am desappointed.
Yersterday afternoon (I missed the morning sessions) was better in many respects. I particularly appreciated both landscape-architect Adriaan Geuze (West 8) and architect Ken Yeang's interventions. Yeang presented his 5 strategies that articulate the concept of green and city. I chose several points. The main idea in to environ the city in accordance with biointegration, green and vertical urbanism, the impact of climate change on urban (and non-urban) environment, complex and green building. I recorded his presentation and I will write a short review on his presentation, when I will have time. Then Geuze. His presentation focused on the ecological agenda of metropolis. After having presented ecological agenda of several metropolis, he analysed Paris one. Around Paris, you've got countryside, and what Geuze wanted to say — but I may be wrong — is to preserve this relationship of city and countryside (or non-city as Koolhaas said today). He then analysed Paris urban organisation in accordance with the topic of nature. He said that Haussmann envisioned the planification of Paris by integrating natural patterns such as garden, trees, parks, etc. It seems that he was influenced by French patrimony such as le Chateau de Versaille, et that of Vaux-le-Vicomte, both of them organised on the concept of greenery. So Le Grand Paris must envision the importance of its legacy — in terms of greenery (of course). It was very interesting and like Yeang, I've got a recording of his presentation that I will transcript (the main ideas) into my blog.
The discussion between all the participants (included Niven Sidor, Andrea Branzi and James Wines) was better than today maybe because the architects talked more than the mediator, and the last one was more careful to what they said.
In a new thread I will focus on these issues sus-mentioned.




9/29/2009

Tokyo and its 23 wards: minimum site areas



This map illustrates the repartition of the minimum site area in Tôkyô and its 23 wards (Little Tôkyô). According to many urban planners, developers and constructors, Tôkyô has a problem of scattered small-scale lots. This map does not represent the repartition of these small plots, but focuses on the minimum site area fixed at 60 m2 in residential areas, and 55 m2 in commercial areas.
For many constructors, Housing problems (lack of housing floor space, to quote one problem among many others) can be achieved by assembling the current small parcels. By doing so, high-rise and multi-used structures can be built in a large-scale parcel. Yet, assembling these micro-parcels poses various and important problems due to their size and their shape : many of them have irregular shape : hatazao, unagi no doko, kado, or respectively flagsite (L-shaped), 'eel' site (long and thin with a narrow entrance) and corner site (open to two sides. Therefore, one can add sloping (shamen) site to this list) are very hard to pool. The main characteristics are that their size is less than standard site area. In Tôkyô, as I wrote in the previous thread, standard site area is approx. 112.0 m2. However site area less than 100 m2 are very numerous.
Recently, due to a "come back" to the Center, many young people — young couple, single, couple with children, and even couple with children and one grand-parent — are searching to build a house on these small plots. These parcels are cheap insofar as the intensified subdivision practice (saibunka) causes to drop in value. As I wrote previously, the TMA and the National Territory Agency noted that a 270-square-meter site divided into 3 parcels of 90 m2 causes a important depreciation of the site. When the site value was 567 752 ¥/m2, each divided parcel (90 m2) costs 24 711 ¥/m2. In this context, the sale of such a small and depreciated plot is very hard, or used to be hard, for, recently, the new tendency demonstrates, as mentioned above, that they are sold much easier than the last decades.
And in this perspective, it would not be surprising that minikaihatsu (mini residential development plan) will continue to be used as main residential development tool.
Back to the site size: according to the Tôkyô Gouvernment Area, as it is mentioned on the illustration, 19 % of the minimum site areas of the UPA (shigaikakuiki) are compounded of smallest parcels. The minimum site area is fixed nearly 60 m2. Yet it is common to find plots less than 60 m2. Some housing projects such as Schemata Architects' 63.02°, a tiny house, with minimal footprint (the site floor is approx. 24.58 sqm). This House has been built in Nakano-ku, one of these densely wards of Tôkyô. This house is mixed-used: SOHO (very common in Japan) and apartment for rent. Due to strict regulation laws (that I will analyse briefly in a next, next, next thread, that means that will not be for now, not next week), particularly prospect rules (the relation to street and adjacent building), that is called in Japanese shasen seigen, the façade is inclined in 63.02° toward the front road. This inclination, also, permits to measure out light and ventilation inside the house, — an important point in Japan. Regulations law complies architects with a strict direct sunlight law (hikage kisei or nisshô kisei). As urban planner Yamagata Hiroo notes "Japanese residential units are required to have a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight every day". Indeed, the direct sunglight law fixes an alloted slot from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. In the case of 63.02° SOHO/apartment, one will understand that, not only the inclination of the façade, but also the use of large windows that are opened on the inclined façade is important. I will probably go back to the analysis of windows in housing (of course the starting point will be Japanese Home due to this complexity), in a next thread.
Another important point is the plot itself. These subdivided plots are from many reasons that need pages and pages that this blog can't allow, but, it is prevalent to say that one of the utmost reasons is the nature and the character of these plots. They are the result of subdivision of fragmented farmlands. Indeed, the same Yamagata Hiroo assests that Tokyo "already has a problem of small parcels of farmland scattered within the built-up urban area." Japan, in fact, has a long tradition of fragmentation of farmlands. As I wrote in the previous thread, many reasons, that I won't explain in detail, play an important role. I will just enumerate them : Land readjustment (kukaku seiri), mini residential development plans (minikaihatsu), and of course land price speculation, and land tenure.
As you can see in this map, these tightest plots are concentrated in five wards: Setagaya, Megurô, Edogawa, Nakano and Suginami. Those wards have a high demographic density, respectively 148.3 inhabs/ha, 183.0 inhabs/ha, Edogawa 133.8 inhabs/ha, Nakano 201.6 inhabs/ha, 158.6 inhabs/ha, or are closed to the central wards such as Megurô (near Minato).
In order to control the subdivision of plots, TMA introduced measures of minimum site areas, that, as mentioned above, are fixed at 60 m2 for the residential areas and 55 m2 for the commercial areas. These measures were passed in the framework of the 1992 Urban Planning Act. Minimum site area fixed at nearly 60 m2 has, precisely, a coverage ratio of 60 %. Of course some areas are under stricter restrictions such as zones under natural disasters protection. I will post a thread illustrated with maps represented these zones under natural disaster zones (bosai in Japanese), such as the protection zones (bôka chiiki. The Earthquake Prevention Renewal Areas designated in Central Tokyo is one of these numerous protected districted).
TMA plans to create a subdivision manuals (saibunka shidô yôkô) that would permit to control the intensified subdivision of plots.These manuals would indicate various patterns such as division number, minimum site areas, lot coverage ratio, among others. Indeed, if residential developments based on land reajudment (kukaku seiri) and redevelopment projects (saikaihatsu) are under restriction, the control over mini residential development (minikaihatsu) practice is still very light. Indeed, as André Soressen notes, "In LR and redevelopment projects the formal agreement of all or a two-thirds majority of landowners is required by law", while no restriction as such had been passed in the Urban Planning Act of 1968. Then, developers using mini residential development instrument is not complied with the development of land for infrastructures and facilities. One of the goals of the Urban Planning Act of 1992 is to make up for this shortage and to halt subdivision damage.
A next thread will focus on some wards which are passed stricter controls on subdivided land.

9/28/2009

WAP 2.0 : My favorite finalists are

I've already talked about WAP 2.0 competition in a previous thread, I will not go back to the presentation of this fascinating competition. In this thread, I only present my favorite finalists (for the other fascinating finalits, please check WAP 2.0 website) and Lateral Office with "P1117 Coupling Infrastructures: Water Economies/Ecologies". I included a quick presentation of my third favorite finalist — because I fistly decided to choose only two favorite finalists — UrbanLab "1,000,000,000 Global Water Refugees"
The first finalist is Rael San Fratello Architects's "P1145 Border Wall as Infrastructure" proposal.
I am particularly interested in the relationship between architecture and political. I usually follow Teddy Cruz's reseach and architectural projects on the border of Mexico and USA, particularly on Tijuana and San Diego Border Neighborhoods (I will add in this list of architects/activits Paris-based aaa). A detailed presentation of his research is available in Verb Crisis. Architecture and Urbanism are used as critical tools for rethinking our society, and also Architecture and Urbanism themselves. As we know, this border has affected not only the very space-making and city-building on both USA and Mexico, but also their ecological agenda. For Teddy Cruz, the border wall is a "geography of conflict". This is what Rael San Fratello Architects attempted to demonstrate. their proposal "Border Wall as Infrastructure" consists of:
[T]here exists far more potential in a construction project that is estimated to cost up to $1,325.75 per linear foot." Recognizing the high cost, limited effectiveness and unintended natural consequences of the new, multi-layered US/Mexico border wall (disruption of animal habitats, diversion of water runoff that has caused new flooding in nearby towns), this proposal names 30 alternatives (covering nearly the whole of the Mexican alphabet, literally from Aqueduct wall to Zen wall) that might better combat the energy crisis, risk of death from dehydration, disruption of animal habitat, loss of vegetation, negative labor relations, missing creative vision and lack of cross-cultural appreciation likely in the government sponsored version.
To a certain extent, this proposal unfolds a political act. This is why I decided to select them as my favorite finalists. They attempt to analyse the impact of the demarcation of this territory in terms, not only, of spatiality, but also of sustainability, economy, social, and politics, that affects the everyday life of inhabitants (especially in Tijuana side).
Here is a quick illustrated overview of their proposal:

Who are Rael San Fratello Architects? This Oakland-based young architecture firm has been founded by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello. Their works have been published by a numerous of magazines such as Metropolis Magazine, Domus, Praxis (see Praxis # 10 "Urban Matters"), Architect Magazine. Rael San Fratello Architects are defined as Environmental Activists through design.
They developed this project with Emily Licht.

The second is Lateral Office's proposal. They explored water crisis. If they selected Southwest regions for their case studies, their proposal is the illustration of today water problem. I may be naive but I am astonished to see that today, in the 21st century, water is still a problem that must be urgently solved not only in terms of lack of water, but also of distribution and storage.
Here is the presentation of their proposal:
"P1117 Coupling Infrastructures: Water Economies/Ecologies

Proposal location: case studies include Salton Sea, Mono Lake, and Owens Lake in California and Pyramid Lake in Nevada yet proposal is applicable to numerous locations, particularly in the southwest.
Primary issues: This proposal focuses on America's impending water crisis, particularly in cities in the southwest where growth is high and water availability is limited, by rethinking water use, distribution, and storage. Using the Salton Sea as a model site, the proposal envisions "converting the Sea back to its recreational use while allowing multiple economic opportunities for the production of water, salt, and more efficient greenhouses." Here "infrastructure [becomes] an extension of nature." Island pods provide for salt harvesting, recreation, and new animal habitats.

Some illustrations will, I hope, give the reader an overview of their proposal:




Lateral Office is a Toronto-based architecture firm founded by Mason White, Lola Sheppard. The office is compounded of the both founders and Neeraj Bhatia. Lateral Office developed a large number of projects in various fields — architecture, urbanism and research such as History Rising: Dubai's Visible Cities for ACSA conference in 2006, to quote but a few. They developed an open source blog entitled Infranet lab in which they regularly post the results of their research. I appreciate their blog that I visit since this week. I discovered their work via WAP 2.0 competition. Further information on their works is available in PDF format.
Of course the other finalists have proposed fascinating projects. For instance the third favorite finalist (that I have not included because I decided to choose only two but) American architecture firm UrbanLab (Chicago)'s proposal "1,000,000,000 Global Water refugee" explores what I noticed above : the water crisis that affects some regions (this time, the lack of water) of our earth. For their proposal, they studied different locations in America — Milwaukee, Buffal, Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland). Their project outlined "the strategy for redensification of under-utilized post-indutrial landscapes by relocating populations threatened by water scarcity".
Some illustrations:


UrbanLab combines Architecture and Design to explore the mutation of the 21st century city. This Chicago-based architecture firm have been founded by Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn. Their projects include single and multi-family projects, new commercial and conversions of industrial buildings into live and workspace lofts, restaurant interiors, and museum installations. They, also, develop research on city and its transformation (and contradictions) such as their project Growing Water.
For this project "1,000,000,000 Global Water Refugees", Lee Greenberg, Jeff Macias, and Katherine Eberly were the other members.
I wish a good luck for these finalists.
Another competition that has just announced the result is Reinvent Cities. The winner is Paris and Santiago-based Ignacio Echeverria. But I will post a thread on this result and this competition that I just discovered.
Last news : WAP 2.0 announces the Symposium WPA 2.0: Working Public Architecture, the Monday 16 November 2009 at Washington DC. For further information, please check WAP 2.0 website.

9/23/2009

Fetichism of space Tokyo Land Shrinking (tiny plot—> small house)

I just bought a book titled "Small House Tokyo". As one knows, Japanese small houses are well-commented here and there because of Architects' capacity to build on such tiny plots. Since several years I've been interested in the transformation of Tokyo residential areas, in particular the land use. My research is focused on the transformation of Tokyo residential areas from 1923 to today. I will publish a small, very small part of my research but sometimes if I want to publish it, depending on of my humour. So let's start.
Mixity is the — 21th century city, post-kyoto city… — keyword: mixed-use land permits to mix habitat/work/leisure in an area. This is one of Tokyo Particularity. But the other side of mixity is fetichism of space, say, a competition for land. The graphic below sums up the consequences of various reasons explained in the graphic*:


The practice of subdivision (saibunka in japanese) is linked to the Japanese history of residential development. A next thread will present another aspect of saibunka: subdivided parcel and regulation laws (setback, daylights)... because imagine a congested (kamitsu) residential area (a density of 18 300 inhab/km2 such as Nakano-ku) with tiny plots and small houses poses the question of daylight. A law stipulates that a house has to be lighted up for 4 hours at least. so to be continued…

* (p.s.) : click upon the image to enlarge it

8/28/2009

Architecture and Graphic Design

I received my copy of Bldg Blog Book Saturday but this article is not its review: I've not finished to read it. Also, I will write an article soon. Today, I would like to speak of the relationship of graphic design and architecture.

The influence of Archigram in BldgBlog Book's graphic design.

When I looked at the book BldgBlog Book, in particular, the cover, I firstly thought of these 60's 70's radical little magazines/fanzines of architecture — I wished I had a copy of these fanzines —, especially Archigram magazine, but also Bau Magazine (in particular the color of the cover). The book was designed by MacFadden & Thorpe, and illustrated by Brendan Callahan of Semigood Design. It is certain the author Geoff Manaugh, blogger, writer, lecturer, editor, etc., is influenced by, not only Archigram, but also the whole 60's culture — novel, cinema, science fiction, art, architecture, design, illustration. This book gives me the opportunity to collect some articles on magazines and books published in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

We all know that the emergence of these magazines has participated in the transformation of architectural practices as well as the conception of magazines of architecture, and of course books of architecture. Magazines such as Le Carré Bleu, for instance, was an example of innovative designs.

The issue I found on Internet, issue #3, September 1968, — Canadian Center Architecture (CCA) has welcomed, in 2007, the exhibition entitled "The Radical Little Magazines of Architecture: 1960s-1970s" curated by Beatriz Colomina and a group of PhD student of Princeton University — is typical of these socially-engaged magazines. It was launched 4 months after May event, with the will to translate students and workers' protests. This Paris and Helsinski-based magazine, in fact, was created in 1958 by a collective connected to Team 10. Texts of Giancarlo de Carlo, Alison and Peter Smithson, Candilis-Josic-Woods, to quote but a few, as well as illustration were published in this double-sided pamphlet. Another magazine is Form, a British-made magazine, with a great graphic design that makes clear the editorial line: architecture combined with art, and a deep political influence. The particularity of this magazine is its interest for the 1920s Avant-garde, in particular Soviet Avant-garde magazine LEF which has probably influenced the graphic conception of the magazine.

French Magazines, Le Carré Bleu aside, were very productive with L'architecture d'aujourd'hui, to choose an example among these magazines. Of course, a magazines-of-60s lover will not forget Archigram as one of the most important magazines of architecture that is still cited as example of the best designed magazines. Archigram used illustration, precisely comics universe, to draw imaginative and narrative cities — or cities of future.

Another example with these illustrations

Of course, and this is one of the comparison that can be made with The BldgBlog Book, architecture was left behind in favor of speculation, futuristic stories on cities, with a narrative style, were. This is probably this disruption with formal style — magazines that only focuses or discussing on buildings, to choose an example among many others — that made the success of Archigram Magazine in the 1960s and, today, in 2009, in a certain way, makes the success of The BldgBlog Book.

Geoff Manaugh is not the only one who is influenced by these radical magazines. I discovered two years ago a London-based American-Swiss graphic designer, born in 1984, raised in LA, before installing in London: Zak Kyes. Zak Kyes, independent graphic designer, also Architectural Association's art director, probably influences young architects as well as he is influenced by these architects with whom he collaborates — the particularity of these architects is to be not only architects but also theoreticians and editors, and, and, and — such as London-Based Germand architect Markus Miessen, Shumon Basar, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, Eyal Weizman, to quote but a few. To introduce Zak Kyes's work needs more space that this article can propose. Zak Kyes decided to attend CalArts after dropping out of double major business and history of art that he learnt in New York. He then moved to London, and now works as an independent graphic design. Zak Kyes takes an experimental position in graphic design field. He is interested in various fields from graphic design to architecture, and history of art. Research, writing and editing are the core element of his practices. He regularly collaborates with fashion designers, artists and architects. His relationship with architecture seems be normal for, architecture is a language close to graphic design. As the medium of architecture, design must be "informed by the world around it" and for those who seize the important legacy of art, graphic design and architecture of 20s and 60s, it can be understood by his interest for avant-garde art and conceptual art. Since 2007, he worked as teacher for Architectural Association where he teaches graphic design and its relation with architecture. He, in fact, uses teaching as expanding space in which he can experiment with students various research on form, typeface, etc. The graphic conception of AArchitecture, a magazine established in 2006 by Architectural Design, that he's in charge of with AA Studio Print is an example of his research on the relation of architecture and graphic design. This magazine has been, in fact, established in 1960s but, after, approximately 30 years of break, has been relaunched in 2006. Zak Kyes reappropriates, if not recycles, graphic strategies of the first period of AArchitecture: each issue has its own color, its typeface, its organization of images and texts, says, its own language. He, for instance, appreciates organizing body text around a color and a typeface. AArchitecture issue #5's body text is typeset in Sabon Bold and either red or black, depending on his will of playing with the content: interview, information, essay, probably as these architects of Archigram have done with their magazine, this desire to play with the limit of the relation of architecture and graphic design. Otherwise, graphic design is the extension of architecture. Books The Violence of Participation and East Coast Europe are other examples of his work. Both books were edited by architect Markus Miessen, architect and theoretician who explores the relation of politics and spatial practices.


For the book The Violence of Participation, he uses color — yellow for the dustjacket and blue for the text of the cover, and certain texts such as the introduction and Hans Ulrich Obrist's text, black for the main body text —, incorporates use of white space, and, combines juxtaposition of images, illustrations and texts.



I am very happy to see and read these new energy. I haven't talk of other fascinating editorial projects such as Verb that I love reading. Let's these for another article to come. For those who hare interested in AArchitecture but can't find it in his favorite bookstore, you can find it here.

Source:

Field Guide to Emerging Design Talent 2007

Geoff Manaugh, BldgBlog Book, Chronicle Books, 2009

BldgBlog

Markus Miessen, The Violence of Participation, Sternberg Press, 2007

Markus Miessen, East Coast Europe, Sternberg Press, 2008

Mimi Zeiger/Loud Paper

Mimi Zeiger, "Fantasy Lands", Architect Magazine, August 2009

Z.A.K. Group

Studio Miessen

"The Radical Little Magazines of Architecture — 1960s-1970s", arttattler.com

MacFadden & Thorpe

8/24/2009

Bike, Design bike, eco-friendly bike…

I finally found my Icon #075 Saturday. Yesterday, back from a 1-day trip, I was reading my mag in the train — globally this issue is very interesting, in particular SANAA's Sepentine Pavilion and of course François Roche and Warren Ellis's interview with Geoff Manaugh, Sam Jacob's article on this wonderful object, the 360° chair designed by brillant designer Kostantin Grcic (I don't really like using "brillant" to qualify a person, even though I truly consider him/her as such). My eyes were suddenly attracted by an article: Johanna Agerman's article. Johanna Agerman is Icon Magazine Deputy Editor. I won't discuss the article, because it is very interesting, I recommend its reading. I consequently have nothing to say or add on it. I was just interested in the phenomenon of bicycle, particularly these trendy well-designed bicycle. Let's start…

She starts as follows: "In the 1950s, Roland Barthes described the car as the 20th century's equivalent to the Gothic cathedral — a supreme creation consumed, at least in image, by a whole population. In the 21st century, the reputation of the car is much dented and the bicycle, in cities at least, is taking over as a status symbol." I was very proud in the train which is not adapted to welcome bicycle, especially mine, an object of desire. Even though we are shifting into a bicycle era, I notice that trains and stations, particularly in France, are not equipped for bicycle. I have to carry my bicycle to climb up and down stairs. If you know Dutch bicycle, you know how heavy it is. Furthermore, I am such a kind of straight homo urbanus, as one says: a straight punk (so I am), you can now say a straight homo urbanus: I don't drive a car, I do not have a driving license. I respect my environment. I love riding my bicycle because it is healthy, emission-free…, but my friends no longer tolerate my strictness (!!). Of course, I am carrying away…

Back to Johanna Agerman's article. "It is the ultimate guilt-free consumer product and the retailers are cashing in" —> Well, my retailer will confirm with happiness. "Manufacturers are falling over themselves to create exclusive editions with all the mod cons", Ah? (In French in the text), I said (in my head, of course, you will understand).

Then, because I didn't pay attention to the picture, when I suddenly look at the picture, I discovered: a beautiful British-made bicycle, the famous "gocycle".

It is an electric bike that can be adapted to an urban, daily use. Compared to my old Dutch bicycle, this gocycle avoids the Lance-Armstrongsian-way of riding a bicycle (rouler à la manière de Lance Armstrong), every day, of course, to go to work or, the week-end, to go to party (well, one must manage sweat. Imagine me riding my bike when it rains!!!). I've never ridden an electric bike because I love old-style one. I might be extreme: but I love riding fast, using my poor muscles, in spite of slope. My funniest experience is riding bicycle at Tôkyô (in spite of pollution, and people who look at me with curiosity due to the fact that I am a gaigokujin, say, a foreigner), in particular, traditional narrow streets. Needless to say how happy I am to ride in Tokyo streets.

Other particularity: this bike is nothing but an œuvre d'art, with beautiful lines, and compact.

The designer is an ex-car designer, a former MacLaren car, Richard Thorpe. I am not a specialist of design products, but just a fan, and if I had money, I would certainly collect design. According to Gocycle, this bike is "a revolutionary, lightweight electric two-wheeler designed to shake up the urban cycling industry with its sleek design and pioneering technology." Johanna Agerman adds that this bicycle parts "are concealed underneath a chunky white frame, injection-moulded in the light-weight magnesium alloy magflow", say, as these F1 cars, in a certain sense. I wish I have the opportunity to try this bicycle in order to see how it functions, to have a great urban experience with this bicycle. It could be interesting to compare conventional bicycle and this sleek designed-electric one. I would certainly agree (no: for sure) with Johanna Agerman that this bicycle misses, as she says, "one of the biggest benefits of cycling: fitness." For instance, according to Helen Pidd, a blogger and journalist of The Guardian, there is no dynamo type thing that will convert pedal power into electricity and charge the battery. So if you want to pedal as you usually do with a conventional bicycle, it seems not be handy.

But, afterall, these users, that I imagine as young-trendy-professional/fashioned gentlemen and ladies (ces jeunes très tendances), or, to sum up, iPhone generation (I am an iPhone user, a well, but…), do not care of this point. They will miss, with happiness, I am sure, Lance-Armstrongsian-way of riding bicycle, especially, when you're late, or else, you're afraid to miss your train. Accordingly, using an electric one will be the most appropriate. And you won't have to carry it to climb up and down stairs (!!! I can confess I am exhausted) because it is portable. But where can put my heavy bag with, inside, my Macbook Pro? no case to put my heavy bag...


My opinion, to conclude, will be: this beautiful bicycle, is very portable, compact, handy, but it is more an œuvre d'art "to-be-admired-in-my-living-room" than an urban bicycle for an daily use.

Source:

Agerman Johanna, "Gocycle", Icon Magazine #75, September 2009, p. 89.

Pidd Helen, "The gocycle electric bike makes going up the steepest hills an easy ride", The Guardian, posted: 18 June 2009.

Gocycle website

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8/18/2009

What is green what is not green

I just want react to Inhabitat's tweet on these five greenwashing towers. I admit to have been very astonished to discover these 5 buildings, especially the Antilla Green Tower, a housing project proposed by Perkins & Will in collaboration with Hirsch Bedner Associates for a Indian client, based in Mumbai, Mukesh Ambani. This client is announced to be the fifth richest man in the world. He wanted a green home for his family. Great idea. But things now are going to get nasty, if I may say. The architecture firm, indeed, has proposed a 27-storey tower for the family, say, only one family — husband, wife and children, maybe grandparents — who will live in this huge tower. I myself give my opinion both on Twitter and Facebook. I do not mind that a rich family needs have her own home.

Perkins + Will's Antilla Green Tower, © image from Inhabitat website

The problem is the relation between sustainable and this project. Collective housing is now well-appreciated if not approved, for it is more eco-friendly, more respectful to environment; it is also a tool for managing density. In fact, collective housing does not waste land in comparison with detached-housing (by comparison, a 27-storey collective housing, with more than approx. 50 households, corresponds to approx. 50 detached-houses, that is, an economy of approx. 50 lots. I have already read such argument, which is not false, but people need alternative type of housing as well. This is the debate in Japan, and more recently in Paris. By the way, an interesting conference on this topic is announced for October in the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine (I will confirm the date as soon as I will have more information). back to the theme of this article, last year Bordeaux-based Arc en Rêve Centre for Architecture proposed a very fascinating exhibition that addressed collective housing in Europe, but, one may have understood, that beside Europe, collective housing is now considered as the 21st century dwelling — I am sceptical concerning this viewpoint.

This debate launched by Inhabitat demonstrates that sustainable which is now well-accepted, if not approved, turns into fashionable, if not marketing. This is the risk that you must take if you want to protect the planet. But it can fatigue those who are sceptical (just take bio food which is now in the heart of French debate. For many people, bio food is just marketing, while…).

This is maybe, if I want to take only one example, the recent project I'm lost in Paris, realized by French architecture firm R&Sie(n) and its charismatic leader and founder, architect François Roche, which is the most positive and interesting example of eco-friendly, recently. I won't say more because I'm still waiting for my Icon #75 copy (I hope it is now available in my bookstores, that of Centre Pompidou and that of Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine! I'm getting impatient to read it!!!) with an interview of François Roche.

R&Sie(n) I'm Lost in Paris, © Images from R&Sie(n) website

This digression apart, just the reading François Roche presentation of the house, as follows:

"It s the story of an urban witch living behind a rear windows designed as a duck cabana. As alchemist, she feeds the plant with drop by drop hydroponics system watering liquid substances coming from the bacterian chemical preparation in 200 beakers disseminated in the ferns surfaces. The neighborhood is both attracted by the green aspect and repulsed by the brewage and the process to produce it."

… gives an outline of the project. "I'm lost in Paris" house is an example of typical 21st century-eco-friendly-reactive-house, project that emanates from R&Sie(n)'s fascinating research on reactive, unfinished, interaction of resident and city (or habitat, or environment). I am impatient to buy my copy to tell more on this project.

Whatever, you will see more and more project, in terms of architecture, and urban design, that will be considered as eco-friendly. Recently, Seoul announced its first ecoville (or ecopolis), or U-City "ubiquitous computing" New Sangdo City, an artifcial island/city that deals with New technologies (computing) and sustainability. Tokyo has just announced a shift into zero-carbon-city up to 2016, etc. Yet many observers do not believe that these city will be specifically eco-friendly, for you cannot deal with these issues as a whole.

None the less, these initiatives, whatever one may think it is fascinating or, in contrary, a delusion, or just a manner to do marketing with sustainability, illustrate efforts for shifting from issues such as sprawl, land waste, etc., into a more respectful attitude to our habitat, i.e., our planet.

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8/16/2009

Improve your existing building, your lot, your residential area, or what else

The Reburbia Project directed by Inhabitat, and Dwell Magazine, gives me the opportunity to discuss on different points that these proposals deal with. First, let me vote (I've already voted via Reburbia website, but I want to revote just for this blog) again: my favorite, and I assume that it seems not be the favorite of others, is Brian Alessi's project. I will attempt to explain the reasons of my choice. I confess to having hesitated between Entrepreneurbia's and Brian Alessi's proposals, say, respectively "Entrepreneurbia: Rezoning suburbia for sustaining life" and "Regenerative Suburban Median". But I have in fine chosen Brian Alessi's.

Why? Both of these projects address sustainability as key issue: producing city now requires an integration of sustainable issues — housing, infrastructure, sewerage, roads, transport, and so forth. Here this is the question of suburbs that is posed, and in terms of sustainability: sustainable suburbs, sustainable neighborhoods. This project is very interesting as it questions the urban space in its micro-scale: the suburbs, as entity of Metropolis. How to conceive suburbs today, is the question that is currently posed to everyone who works on urban renewal. Reburbia, WAP 2.0 organized by Los Angeles-based City Lab, etc., are among others of projects that function as tool to examine our urban space. Of course, but in a larger scale, 2000s is the decade of urban renewal. Kyoto Protocol has elaborated new issues that will transform cities. Before examining these both proposals, let us list 3 major keys of Cities in the Post-Kyoto context:

  1. Best quality of life
  2. Mixed-use
  3. Density

    > I recommand the reading of Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners/Arup/LSE's report for "Le Grand Pari(s)". But I do not know if a English-version of this report exists.

I will not discuss on Density. I will only focus on the concepts of best quality of life and mixed-use, then I will add another important factor, that of reusing vacant derelict and under utilized lots and existing building.

First, best quality of life and mixed-use now are keys of the Post-Kyoto city. Best quality of life: architecture critique Kira Mariko has noted that physical living condition is an important issue and more significantly, that "people are becoming more conscious of their living environment and are starting to plan their lives accordingly". One, who has the opportunity to have visited suburbs — in France, in America, in United Kingdom or in China —, knows that building and living conditions of these areas, physically as well as socially, are neglected. Both projects, that of Entrepreneurbia and that of Brian Alessi take account of these factors and propose to revitalize these areas. But, this is probably Entrepreneurbia who appears to be the most precise on this issue of best quality of life. Entrepreneurbia calls for abolishing the current zoning that lead to most of the major problems in suburbs — I will add, not only in suburbs but also in Metropolis. I am thinking of Teddy Cruz, one of the most interesting architects of his generation who claims for a revision of zoning. Most of his projects such as Ysidro Pilot Village in collaboration with Casa Familiar, or his research such as Formal/Informal developed with theoretician Mike Davis — they examine the impact the politics of discriminating zoning in San Diego deal with this issue of rezoning. According to Entrepreneurbia, revising zoning laws can permit to improve neighborhoods areas. Most of areas are separated into residential areas and commercial areas, or, residential areas, commercial areas and industrial areas — even though industry tends to disappear, and so are industrial areas. The result of this separation — Entrepreneurbia uses the term "segregation" — is: a lack, if not to say an absence, of build balanced communities, consequently, a major handicap for a residential area dynamic and effective in one hand, and long distance between each activity: living, working, shopping and dining, in the other hand. Entrepreneurbia proposes mixed-use communities as the solution. The issue of mixed-use can be a tool to reduce the environmental footprint of not only suburbs, but also Metropolis. Mixed-use makes suburbs more compact, and, as Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners/Arup/LSE noted, compacity (or this neologism "Compa/city" that I appreciate) appears to be the only sustainable form of development. As the team noticed, mixed-use areas can be a process to attract people who live in crowded metropolis, and still have a negative vision of suburbs due to the long distance between these districts and Metropolis, say, home and workplace, hobbies, etc. Accordingly, it is not surprising that mixed-use is now viewed as THE TOOL to revitalize urban environment. Mixed-use and polyfunctional areas (another tool to promote compact city) promote a better energetic efficiency, and a better social cohesion. Mixed-use creates proximity between home, workplace, hobby, shopping and dining. In this way, mixed-use is now the new spatial factor for best sustainable development — a city such as Tokyo has already integrated this factor but, as urban planning theoretician Andre Sorensen noted, one must be more critical about this tool, particularly in the case of residential and industrial mixed-use areas. The same Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners/Arup/LSE, for Paris, have claimed for rethinking zoning laws but — and this is why I haven't voted for Entrepreneurbia due to the fact they were not precise enough on this point —, by starting with existing zoning.

Entrepreuneurbia: Rezoning the suburbs for a sustanaible future, image © Entrepreneurbia/Reburbia, 2009

The issue of recycling constitutes the other side of Post-Kyoto cities and suburbs. Brian Alessi considers this aspect as one of many keys for a sustainable development of suburbs. I will convoke Interboro Partners' project Improvement Your Lot! to complete this analysis.


> See Interboro Partners' essay, case studies and interview for Verb Boogazine "Crisis", 2008

I was deeply interested in Brian Alessi's concept of "recycling" existing lot, say, these under utilized space, as he wrote. Once again, I will turn to Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners/Arup/LSE's research, that I consider as one of the most powerful tool for regenerating 21st century urban space. Recycling vacant, derelict lot necessitate the elaboration of management tool. Unfortunately, he has not precise this point. But, recycling these lots permit to maximise their potential. By reusing them, these lots will be unvaluable in the future.

Regenerative suburban median, image © Brian Alessi/Reburbia, 2009

This concept of "recycling" vacant, derelict lots as well as existing building in order to improve urban fabrics pose the question of 1. the state of suburbs; 2. the state of top-down urban planning. I will use the concept of "New Suburbanism" that Interboro Partners have developed for their study on Detroit suburbanization to qualify Reburbia. What is it? The New Suburbanism, according to them, is the process of 'bottom-up' suburbanization that "happens when vacant lots having been abandoned by their owners, taken by the city (or state) [here, I add, suburbs] and generally neglected, are taken, borrowed, or bought by entrepreneurial landowners nearby. What results — a de-densification, but also a "replatting" that undermines official property boundaries." My use of "New Suburbanism" is limited to the will of reusing vacant, derelict lot and existing but under utilized building and space. I do not know if Alessi will consider that inhabitants will contribute to this process, but, I found his idea of re-suburbanization as closed to that of Interboro Partners.

Whatever, what I noticed here, and this is the same reflection I had after reading Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners/Arup/LSE's report, and various research such as Tsukamoto Lab, among others, we are shifting from a top-down urban planning to a bottom-up urban planning, say, to a participation — real or not, I still don't know — of inhabitants in the process of revitalization of the community (Even through, Interboro is more critical concerning this opposition of top-down planning and bottom-up planning). Interboro Partners proposed for their project Improve Your Lot! that the planner's role is no longer to create visions of what should be, but rather help a city to improve what is already is.

To conclude, I will add a last but important point: even though I have not voted for Entrepreneurbia, after examining the whole projects, that of Entrepreneurbia, that of Alessi and that of other participants, it seems that Entrepreneurbia and Alessi are the only participants who have taken into account that as societies and cultures change, use of space changes.

Clichy-sous-Bois: Create a mixed neighborhood, image © Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners, 2009

Sources

Ruburbia, Inhabitat, Dwell, Rogers, Stirk, Harbour & Partners, Arup and LSE, Interboro Partners, mentioned above, apart:

Kira Mariko (eds.), Toward Totalscape Tokyo, NAI Publishers, 2002

Interboro Partners, "Improve Your Lot! The New Suburbanism", in Verb Crisis, Architecture Boogazine, 2008, Actar Publishers

© Pictures are from Reburbia, Le Grand Paris official website

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