Editor's Highlight: this week we read…

Today's Editor's Highlights: five essays and a proposal by Tingwei Xu a student of the University of Pennsylvania.
Five essays have particularly attracted my attention. Some of them have nothing to do with the others… though…
Pixelating the Genome by Christina Agapakis. A very interesting text on synthetic biology. Beyond its focus on biology — I am not at all a specialist. In consequence I will pass —, I found this text very instructive in particular for those who have a strong interest to fields such as building materials, biomimicry, computation, morphogenetics, materialecology. So for those who are involved in reengineering building materials:
Refactoring has played a role in synthetic biology for a few years, but I find this story especially interesting now in light of the recent discussion of the New Aesthetic, which describes art and design that celebrates the "eruption of the digital into the physical." Synthetic biology re-imagines and refactors living systems to be more like computers, with DNA functioning as code used to program living hardware according to logic diagrams and designed with the help of rigorous computational models and CAD software. Synthetic biology is the eruption of the digital into the living.
She continues as follows:
The New Aesthetic is an interesting lens through which to understand the way that synthetic biology translates living systems into computer models that are then retranslated back into engineered cells. This flip-flop between the living and digital world can generate biological insight and useful biotechnologies, but it also leaves behind interesting artifacts of the transition. The DNA code of the nitrogen fixation gene cluster was sequenced, the sequence was edited and modeled in a computer, redesigned according to engineering principles and put back into the cell, functioning in a clearer but less robust way.
According to Agapakis, "we gain control but lose function." More like this are featured in her essay. Those who read eVolo Magazine, follows architects and designers such as Neri Oxman, Achim Menges, Michael Weinstock and Rachel Armstrong may be familiar with those research.
And synthetic biology is regarded as a possible path towards more sustainable and evolvable buildings and urban patterns. This is at least one of the goals of this series of interventions on future cities curated by Dr Rachel Armstrong for Arup Thoughts, the think lab of this engineering firm Arup. This project entitled Sustainable to Evolvable features four essays from Peter Head to Koert van Mensvoort, each looking over the future of cities in the light of the connection between human technology and nature. I have selected only two texts, those of Peter Head and Koert van Mensvoort but I encourage to read the other texts: Rachel Armstrong's introduction and Arne Hendriks' text. Of course, more texts are needed.
What to say about Peter Head's text if not that everything has been already discussed about the importance of a serious engagement in a more sustainable city. Yet, if you clearly examine our politicians' visions regarding environmental crisis, sustainability as well as issues of water scarcity, energy, food production are underestimated. This is at least the global message behind these texts.
The common point here is the call for doing with, cooperating with nature as Peter Head states:
We also need to cooperate with nature. Natural systems are an essential part of the solution and reforestation in particular will be the key. Reforestation traps water in the ecosystem, lifts agricultural production and provides biomass.
Put simply: a new vision of cities that will be based on guided growth to quote Koert van Mensvoort. Still, a growth that won't be a inert, static as we conceive cities still today, cities incapable of adapting to pressures according to these authors, and countless others. In the coming years, cities and their components will be able to change along with us if we change our ways of building, as van Menswoort writes.
In a way, these texts highlights this shift into anthropocenic world. According to van Mensvoort:
We must no longer see ourselves as the anti-natural decision that threatens and eliminates nature, but rather as catalysts of evolution. With our urge to design our environment we create a 'next nature' that is as unpredictable as ever: wild software, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers.
Put in another way:
If you understand that the technologies you create will ultimately grow beyond your control, then you set about designing them in new ways — rejecting the modernist idea that we can understand something and create a blueprint to master it.
Of course these ideas of next nature, guided growth, evolvable cities and buildings remain vague for many of us. However some architects and researchers are already involved in developing set of tools and studies not only in design, manufacturing and fabrication as well as materials.

Another vision concerning cities and sustainability is that of Kaid Benfield, an urban planner and theorist that I've followed for months, and I will keep on following as I found his research very patent. This week the very productive Kaid Benfield once again posted an essay that looks back to smart growth. Benfield, of course, subscribes with the importance of smart growth as one of possible ways of building sustainable cities allowing for better living conditions and quality of life to dwellers. But, for Benfield, taking smart growth as the only key is not enough. He puts the questions of smart growth into another perspective in comparison with current debates on this topic of smart growth. According to Benfield, we have become slaves to measurable outcomes, which, as a result, leads urbanization to a failure. In this context, he calls for both smart growth and better (if not great) placemaking.
Our communities of the future must not only reduce carbon emissions, save land, and encourage use of transit, walking and bicycling. They must be significantly more dense than sprawl, but also sometimes forego additional increments of density in order to maintain light, limit noise, provide privacy, and respect a human scale. They must be conductive to engaging the intellect and the spirit. When we pursue these things, we are out of the realm of smart growth per se, and into the realm of placemaking. I have become convinced that the tow overlap but should not be mistaken for the same thing. In other words, sustainability in our built environment requires both smart growth and great placemaking.
 I go along with Benfield's point of view concerning building better placemaking as central to a sustainable city.
As he points out:
We need to stop thinking of smart growth as a goal but instead as a tool to achieving the more demanding goal of creating better, greener, more sustainable people habitat. If we want to win heats as well as minds, we need to start paying much more attention to placemaking, to the quality of what we advocate. In fact (…) if we want to deserve to win, we need to pay a lot more attention to making great places.
Yet designing placemaking, better quality of life, living conditions, self-sustained cities, etc is as important as designing cities more attractive… according to many dwellers. These dwellers can be local or native; as they can be migrants. Nina Glick Schiller examines what she calls "urban scalers"' viewpoint concerning attractive cities for migrant candidates. Some cities are attractive or desirable as they provides informal works while other too much 'clinical' do not allow for informal works and are, in a consequence, seen as non-attractive or undesirable.
As Glick Schiller points out: "as scaler makers, migrants relate to cities not only as workers but as business people, transnational capitalists, cultural producers, gentrifiers, makers of sacred space, and participants in transnational activism." More:
Inspired by what I learned from African migrants in Halle, who recognized hierarchies of economic, political, cultural power in their ranking of cities I argue for a relative comparative approach to the study of cities. Such an approach, builds on and develops Kevin Ward's work on a 'relational comparative' urban studies. I add a concern for the ways in which residents of cities including migrant populations experience, understand, and evaluate the relative merits of cities. It is important in such comparative work to actively engage in an analysis of city rescaling processes and acknowledge active agency of migrants as what Ayse Caglar and I have called 'scake makers'."
This text is warmly recommended for those who explore relational comparative urban studies in a global era using urban scalers, here migrants in Europe, Canada and USA.
A project to conclude this week of editor's highlight: A structural membrane for skyscraper proposed by Tingwei Xu from the University of Pennsylvania. This proposal consists of a membrane structural component for a skyscraper. Here synthetic biology and computation are the main influence of field of research to generate this membrane structure. This project is described as follows:
Each component contains a continuous surface which has structural properties and it is made of plastic that can resist deformation in different configurations and directions. The structural units grow from the surface and melt into each other like biological cellular membranes — each unit squeeze into each other with great strength. The secondary component contains a inhabitable space unit and antenna.
I am, however, surprised in regard with new generation of architects' approach: an architecture fed by science fiction, dramatic in many ways, much more like organic than a typical building.
Source: eVolo.
Structural Membrane for Skyscrapers © Tingwei Xu.
Originally appeared on eVolo.
Structural Membrane for Skyscrapers © Tingwei Wu.
Originally appeared on eVolo.
Structural Membrane for Skyscraper © Tingwei Xu.
Originally appeared on eVolo.


News: Building Materials: MIT Researchers Engineering Glass Surface that Eliminates Glare and Reflection…

Mark Brown for the Wired UK reveals that MIT researchers have engineered a new type of glass, — multifonctional according to these researchers, — capable of eliminating glare and reflections. His article is based on David L. Chandler's paper entitled Through a glass, clearly, available on MIT News. This glass surface can also shrug off fog, cause water droplets to bounce off like tiny rubber balls as well as resist contamination by sweat.
The surface texture, which was inspired by lotus leaves and moth eyes, has an array of nanoscale cones that have a base width of 200 nanometres. The cones give the glass a rough surface that repels water, and their refractive index minimises reflection.
It is consequently self-cleaning. In fact, this glass is based on surface nanotextures that produce an array of conical features.

Structurally speaking:
The glass texture is built using coating and etching techniques adapted from the semiconductor industry. A glass surface is coated with several thin layers, including a photoresist layer, which is then illuminated with a grid pattern and etched away until the cone shapes appear.
According to these MIT researchers, David Chandler writes, this material may be resistant to raindrops in a strong downpour, wind-driven pollen, grit, and direct poking with a finger. Taking photovoltaic panels as example, mechanical engineering graduate student Kyoo-Chul Park, one of the co-authors of a paper on this technology published in the journal ACS Nano pointed out:
Photovoltaic panels can lose as much as 40 percent of their efficiency within six months as dust and firt accumulate on their surfaces. But a solar panel protected by the new self-cleaning glass would have much less of a problem. In addition, the panel would be more efficient because more light would be transmitted through its surface, instead of being reflected away — especially when the sun's rays are inclined at a sharp angle to the panel. At such times, such as early mornings and late afternoons, conventional glass might reflect away more than 50 percent of the light, whereas an anti-reflection surface would reduce the reflection to a negligible level.

According to Park and co-researcher Hyungryul Choi,
Glass or transparent polymer films might be manufactured with such surface features simply by passing them through a pair of textured rollers while still partially molten.
Nature appears to have been a greatly inspiration, where textured surfaces ranging from lotus leaves to desert-beetle carapaces and moth eyes have developed in ways that often fulfill multiple purposes at once.

This material is not yet available as this is an expensive manufacturing process, both David Chandler and Mark Brown write. Nonetheless this interesting nanotexture material, beyond smartphones, microscopes, cameras, televisions and solar panels, may even be used for windows in buildings.

MIT makes glass that repels water, eliminates glare, shrug off fog | Mark Brown || Wired UK
Through a glass, clearly | David L. Chandler || MIT News


Interview: Maurits Ruis on Urban Scale Fog Harvesting in Rio de Janeiro

Today's interview is with London-based architect Maurits Ruis about his very interesting research entitled Harvesting in Rio de Janeiro, a research that problem-addresses lack of infrastructure, and water stress in favelas.

But before this interview, Maurits Ruis explains the articulation of his proposal as follows:
Christo and Jeanne-Claude realized the Valley Curtain project in Rifle, Colorado in 1971.  The orange-colored canvas curtai had a span of almost 400 meter, a surface of 18,600 square meter, and required bridge heads of 200 tons of concrete on each side of the valley (1).
FogQuest is a non-profit that uses mesh curtains to harvest fog to deliver water to rural communities. They say that on a yearly average, 200 liter of water could be collected per day with 40 square meter of mesh (2). This is the equivalent of 5 liters per square meter per day (3).
Combining the Valley Curtain Project with FogQuest's findings would open up possibilities for fog harvesting at an urban scale.
Case Study: Favela Cosme Velho, Rio de Janeiro
Cosme Velho is a favela at the foot of the famous Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro, with a population of about 7,500 people (4). According to Western European standards, one person uses around 120 liter water per day (5). Cosme Velho therefore needs 7,500 x 12° = 900,000 liter water per day. This is the equivalent of 45 small tank trucks.
If a mesh curtain were to be hung between the hilltops on either side of Cosme Velho, it would have a surface of 173,500 square meter. A mesh of this size should be able to collect 173,500 x 5 = 867,500 liter water a day. At a use of 120 liter water per person per day, 7,229 people would be served with a Fog Harvesting Curtain, which is 96% of the population of Cosme Velho.
With 1,400 meter, the span the fog curtain would be much bigger than the Valley Curtain project, but in terms of civil engineering the curtain would only be slightly longer than the 1,280 meter of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, and much lighter. The realization of a fog curtain at this scale should therefore be possible.
1. Source: Christo and Jeanne-Claude2. Source: FogQuest3. More info on fog harvesting: Allianz, Science Daily4. Source: Rio Census5. Source: UK Code of Sustainable Homes

The interview, below, is an email interview on this project and various but important questions on this pressing subject: water scarcity. More broadly, I wanted to hear Maurits Ruis's point of view on the lack (and/or the obsolescence) of infrastructure and the effects of poor quality of urban planning on dwellers' living conditions.

Q: Let's start with a basic question. I would like to go back to the origin of Urban Scale Fog Harvesting in Rio de Janeiro, if you don't mind…
A: The idea for this project is my own. The motivation behind the project is not just water scarcity in an urban context, but more specifically the urban assimilation of slums. Slums are usually built without a prior infrastructure in a way that cities are usually built. As a consequence, water provision usually constitutes a major challenge for slum dwellers.Although I have contact with Rio City Hall on the subject of urban regeneration on another project, no other parties are currently involved. I have contacted a number of agencies, such as FogQuest, mentioned in the post, to see what the feasibility of this project would be. The reason why I chose for Rio is because I think the city has a leading position globally in urban regeneration for a number of reasons, especially in relation to slum policy — contrary to, for example, India, South East Asian and African countries.
Valley Curtain Project, 1971.
Originally appeared on Maurits Ruis.

Q: A question that I have a strong interest in is water scarcity due to global issues. In this new era, water scarcity will be becoming one of major issues. Population growth, urban migration, floods, climate change, drought, human activities will grow extreme. As many observers pointed out, governments, international agencies, economists, and scientists have constantly underestimated the growth demand, and the growing stress on water supply. Many areas will be affected by these issues that I mentioned, and water is one of the most worrying constraints. Cities will be more and more at risk as they will continue to grow. The risk will be an over-exploitation of water resources. In this context, architects, landscape architects and planners will be more and more involved in re-engineering cities, defining new ways and tactics to face these issues. In my view, your project Urban Scale Fog Harvesting, beyond its aim to respond to water issues in Rio de Janeiro, raises this crucial task: redefining infrastructure by addressing issues such as water scarcity, and more broadly, energy.
A: I would agree with your comment that urban water provision does not get the attention it needs. The water issue is gaining urgency not only in the face of exponential urban growth, but also in the face of climate change. In the United kingdom, where I live, we are currently in drought because of two very dry years, and we are now forbidden to wash our cars or water our gardens. Mind you, the United Kingdom has always been infamous for its rainy weather! This shows how urgent the problem is, even in the developed world. I also agree that we have to start looking for more innovative methods. For one, because of the current financial crisis there is simply not enough money around to provide water infrastructure to all those in need, especially in developing countries. What is more, most urban growth happens in slum areas where infrastructure was not an issue when they were built. This makes it much more complicated to add infrastructure afterwards, which underlines the need for innovation. I agree that architects, landscape architects and planners have a crucial role in finding methods that are grassroots and local. The same goes for energy, as you rightly point out.
Urban Scale Fog Harvesting in Cosme Velho, Rio de Janeiro - Infographic © Maurits Ruis.

Q: Just asking: do you know the density of this part of Rio?
A: I haven't done a density study for this part.

Q: I read months ago many articles about this issue of drought that threats UK's cities. I was at first surprised reading these articles but, and I mentioned it in the previous question, as water stress has always been (and it is still) underestimated even in Europe, it is unsurprisingly that even some European cities are at risk. We must also include China's and India's rapidly growing cities. Due to population expansion and rapid economic growth, China and India's natural resources including water are over-exploited with direct threats in populations as well as governments. Many areas in these two countries have poor infrastructure, including water, sewage and drainage. Some observers forecast major crisis and tensions in these areas due to water scarcity in the coming years. Back to London and possible drought issues, as I mentioned in the previous question, these pressing problems reveal the obsolescence of today's infrastructure…
A: I agree with your comments. Interesting fact about the water scarcity in London: recently the head of the Wales water company said that they should sell water to London 'like oil' (note 1). To me this is a worrying prospect of what is yet to come worldwide. Another water fact: in his book 'Critical Path' Buckminster Fuller claims that the real reason why China invaded Tibet was water, as all of the important rivers in South East Asia — Ganges, Jangtze, Indus, Mekong, Yellow River — all start in Tibet. This illustrates that the Chinese already in the 1950s understood the threats of water scarcity.

Q: architects and landscape architects' task will consist in developing systems, networks and technologies that will share key characteristics as follows: problem-addressing, flexible, adaptable, responsive, scalable, and non-linear. Urban Scale Fog Harvesting is of those soft systems, as show in the Bracket upcoming issues [goes soft] (note 2), that works as interface with the environment, trying to address or mitigate it operating at the scale of an area within the city. In this way, I am wondering whether or not, rather than working at a global scale, Urban Scales Fog Harvesting is a localized system embedded in its environment. In few words, a resilient system…
A: I would add to your comment that architects understand the social, environmental and economic sides of a problem — The Triple Bottom Line — and their interrelationships, whereas business or politics often only focus on economics. I agree that resilience has everything to do with localized systems rather than centralized ones — as the Fukushima incident painfully pointed out. What is more, localized systems are far more sufficient as there is no need for infrastructural investments, and in terms of energy, there are no transmission losses.
Q: This leads to another but complementary comment. Earlier today, I discussed with a friend of mine about a series of articles we found on The Atlantic Cities (note 3) and the Sustainable Collective Cities (note 4) that emphasize, cope, and address the impact of poor urban planning on city-dwellers. This reminds me a conference organized by the LSE/Urban Age in Hong Kong (note 5) last November, a conference entitled, if I remember, Cities, Health and Well-Being. As you know, health and well-being, are keys to best living conditions. These keys will become crucial in this century if we don't adopt better measures to respond to these pressing issues. A bad urban planning tends to lead to poor quality of life, asocial behaviors, spatial disparities, and health differentials. As conventional urbanism failed to respond to these constraints, one of cities' tasks will consist in planning problem-addressing scenarios to provide the economies of scale necessary to support health-supporting infrastructures such as water, sanitation and drainage, to quote and only these three. Many Observers, among others Richard Burdett, pointed out that cities' health service are not just a resource for urban citizens; they also serve rural population in their immediate vicinity and beyond. Yet a growing number of population estimated to be living in informal settlements in the developing world face multiple health risks from birth. Lack of infrastructure and access to basic services, such as water, will cause communicable diseases, such as illnesses, respiratory, accidents and injuries. In this context, as you mentioned very well in your answers, cities's tasks are to provide efficient infrastructure for all their city-dwellers. In a previous response, for example, you pointed out that slums share many key characteristics among others: poor infrastructure and water issues. These pressing problems worsen dwellers' living conditions, health and well-being raising issues such as communicable diseases and crisis. In this way, I was wondering whether or not Urban Scale Fog Harvesting can be viewed as tactical urbanism, as being tactic in nature, by addressing these lacks, by revealing the impact of poor infrastructure in the city. I would like to have your point of view on this…
A: In extend to the point above I certainly think that the Fog Harvesting project would classify as tactical urbanism. The problem is that to date cities have been planned in a centralized way, including city services. For tactical urbanism to take root therefore has far reaching implications that include a changing paradigm. I think Brazil is ahead of the game in this as they actively try to integrate favelas into the urban fabric. To me the extended financial crisis is a sign that we are getting to grips with this new paradigm. Regarding the importance in water in cities — Edward Glaeser dedicated a chapter in his book 'The Triumph of the City' to this — highly recommended.

Suggested Book: Edward L. Glaeser | Triumph of the City ı How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier | The Penguin Press HC, 2011.

Q: Back to Urban Scale Fog Harvesting, what are the main technical aspects of your case study?
A: Regarding the technical challenges I would say that they can be resolved. The structure I propose is quite simple in terms of civil engineering, especially if you compare it to a suspension bridge. The main challenge I would envision is wind: Christo's Valley Curtain project for example had to be dismantled after only a few days because of an upcoming storm. There are also cultural challenges, for example, how do we explain to the slum dwellers that the curtain is intended to provide them with water, and not to cover the sight of their slum from the rest of the city? I hope a number of issues will come up by publishing this idea and that we can come to a fruitful discussion and, hopefully, to a real life project.
Urban Scale Fog Harvesting in Cosme Velho, Rio de Janeiro - Photo Montage © Maurits Ruis.

Q: Two more point before concluding this interesting email interview. Firstly the possible future of your project. Let me ask you this: what do you think your project can be a model for urban and rural areas that will be confronted with water stress?
A: My aim is to propagate exactly that: to urge an urban policy that does not think in terms of slum eradication, but about assimilation, and I think that projects that source water and energy locally are essential in achieving this. My project is only of many possible solutions.
Originally appeared on Maurits Ruis.

Q: You probably know Manuel de Solà-Morales and his work. For him, architecture, urbanism, infrastructure, and landscape were considered as variables in the same equations. Examining Urban Scale Fog Harvesting, it appears that your approach is similar, as your proposal seems to provide an integrated solution for Favela Cosme Velho…
A: I would agree with de Sola-Morales' view — I like to view the city as an urban ecosystem, an organism if you like, in which designers can only tweak its real workings and dynamics.
Note1: Welsh Water should sell its water 'like oil' during hosepipe ban || BBC
Note2: InfraNet Lab and Archinect (ed.) | Bracket [goes soft] || Actar Editorial (soon)
    —>  See also: Bracket [goes soft]: ESP// Estuary Services Pipeline
                              Bracket [goes soft]: GROUNDING: Landslide Mitigation Housing
                              Bracket [goes soft]: Dredge Locked
Note3: Is Bad Urban Design Making Us Lonely? | Nate Berg || The Atlantic Cities
Note4: Smaller Cities: Setting the Pace for the Next Wave of Innovation and Growth | Adam Christensen || Sustainable Collective Cities
Note5: Urban Age/LSE | Cities, Health and Well-Being ı Urban Age Hong Kong Conference || November 2011

More on Maurits Ruis, his work, research and biography can be found here.


D.I.Y Infrastructure: DMWL (do more with less): Haiti's first sewer system

D.M.W.L for Do More With Less or, Design More With Less can match perfectly with these initiatives in Haiti.
As Tyler Falk reports basing his analysis on NPR's Richard Knox's article entitled: Port-au-Prince: A City of Million, With No Sewer Systems, Haitian cities have no sewer systems which leads to a major public health crisis: Cholera. This infectious disease hits the country causing half a million cases and over 7,000 deaths.
However, Richard Knox has recently noticed two interesting D.M.W.L initiatives:

Suggested Article: Richard Knox | Port-au-Prince: A City of Millions, With No Sewer System, || NPR's Health Blog, April 13, 2012
The first comes from a school in Port-au-Prince that is using an actual toilet. It's not connected to pipes but it does do something pretty amazing. It's a biodigester. The waste from the toilet is recycled and is turned into methane gas. The school will use the gas for cooking. On a large scale it could be a cheaper, quicker solution.
The second case is the construction of Haiti's first sewage treatment plant, outside the city.
[T]his plant and another one 12 miles away that's about to open will handle the city's entire output. The sludge will be used for agricultural compost, and the detoxified effluent will irrigate a grove of trees to be planted around the treatment ponds. (…). Soon there will be treatment plants like this one in seven other Haitian cities. (…) The money comes from a post-earthquake donation by the Spanish government.
Tyler Falk concludes with this:
Port-au-Prince might be the epitome of the good and bad that comes with cities. On the one hand, lots of people in a small space can produce major health concerns. But at the same time, it's in cities where innovation can happen at a much larger and faster scale, helping more people, if the resources are available.
I can't wait for having more news, and better: feedback on these initiatives on Haiti's cities and vicinities.

Source: Smart Planet and NPR's Health Blog.

Conference: Living City/City of Dreams, at Kumu Art Museum

A conference entitled Living City/City of Dreams at Kumu Art Museum, on May 15 2012.
We will be asking everyone — residents of the city, those who make decisions about what happens in the city, architects, other specialists and urban space clients — what kind of city they want to be living in and how they can make that countries and Estonia, including their good sides and those that need a little tweaking, and discussing how these urban environments came about.
Sharing their thoughts, ideas and inspiration will be:

  • Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of the Republic of Estonia
  • Jacob van Rijs, Co-founder / Director MVRDV & President BNA International (Royal Institute of Dutch Architects, The Netherlands);
  • Andres Sevtsuk, Urban Researcher and Architect (Estonia);
  • Patrick Quist, Landscape Architect, Quist AB (Sweden);
  • Marco Steinberg, Director of Strategic Design, Sitra (Finland).
What: 'Living City/City of Dreams' Conference
Where: Kumu Art Museum, Weizenbergi 34/Valge 1, Tallinn
When: 15 May 2012, starting at 9:00
More: Here.

Future Cities: How buildings could come to life | BBC Click

A video that was shared by architect Liam Young who is talking about the future of cities, drones and et al., entitled: How buildings could come to life, on the BBC Click.
The buildings in our cities could quite literally come alive in the decades ahead. Spencer Kelly looks at a series of projects that will allow buildings and even the furniture in them to be able to sense how they are being used and adapt to changes in the environment around them.
It opens the way for chairs to know who is sitting on them so they can become more comfortable and buildings to change their own heating and lighting without human intervention.
In a nutshell, future cities are announced to become networked, senseable, and interactive capable of self-sustained without human intervention.
The video is available: here.

On the questions of drones, cities, future, infrastructure, robotics, and technologies, see: Liam Young project for the Electronic Countermeasures GLOW Festival video.


D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld by MVRDV

MVRDV recently unveiled their project for an urban development in Almere Oosterworld, The Netherlands. An ambitious proposal entitled DIY Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld, or maybe this is not the title but the ambition is crystal clear: an urbanism that "puts power into the hands of neighborhoods and communities."
Almere's Topography

But first, the project itself is what MVRDV defends: a project that results from MVRDV's research on future cities: built environment, human activities and natural environment are interrelated. The Green City Calculator, for example, a tool that resides in measuring the 'greeness' of the city and making it comparable. According to MVRDV and their think lab The Why Factory:
D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld © MVRDV.
Originally appeared on archdaily.

We need to measure the greeness of our cities. We have a lot of labels for buildings. Two for neighborhoods are n development. But so far, there is no tool to measure and compare cities. We need the Green City Calculator, because cities are crucial in the fight against climate change. We need to measure our efforts to know if they have an effect. And to know where we are and how far we need to get.
Back to D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere OosterworldMVRDV says:
D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld © MVRDV.
Originally appeared on archdaily.

[This proposal] is a revolution in Dutch urban planning as it steps away from governmental dictate and invites organic urban growth in which initiatives are stimulated and inhabitants can create their own neighborhoods including public green, urban agriculture and roads.
This proposal will sit a 43-square-kilometer site. 15,000 dwellings, 200,000-square-meter offices, and 400-hectare new landscape. In short, as I mentioned, a mix of human activities, built enviroment and natural elements based on this: 18% construction, 8% roads, 13% public green, 2% water and 59% urban agriculture.
D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld © MVRDV.
Originally appeared on archdaily.

This proposal hopes to provide living conditions and preservation of the rural character of Almere New Town with the connection of living, working, nature, and leisure. Low density is the key to this approach in contrast with the urban west of the city to guarantee urban agriculture security.
D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld © MVRDV.
Originally appeared on archdaily.

The recent spate of articles on the topic of urbanization, population growth and environmental stress revealed that cities and vicinities will require urgent measures to secure energy, water, as well as food due to global issues — urbanization, increasingly human activities, climate change, urban migration, population expansion. As a result, this era's urbanization must take account of the problem of food security to respond to urban population expansion and land/natural/food resources. This is at least what a recent report warns. And, with evidence, The Netherlands — to limit but only to what is concerned here — is concerned by these pressing issues.
D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld © MVRDV.
Originally appeared on archdaily.

MVRDV as well as more and more architects address this issue of food production in the context of an increasingly urbanization of the world. Here locally considering this middleweight city of Almere as a city lab for this needed shift to green and self-sustained cities. Indeed, it is announced that 50% of the site will be dedicated to urban farmlands to provide food to the rest of city. According to the architecture firm, this approach is expected to improve Almere's sustainable profile and maintain the agricultural character of the area.
D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld © MVRDV.
Originally appeared on archdaily.

The last but more intriguing characteristic — in my view — to this proposal is its articulation: D.I.Y, for do-it-yourself, or, and rather, design-it-yourself. This confuses me a bit. Not that I am skeptical to MVRDV's ambition to allow dwellers to take part to the proposal:
As individuals begin to realize their designs they will also be held responsible for the components that make their share of the land livable: the piece of road, energy, sanitation, rubbish colection, public green and urban farming.
The planning has allotted the rest of the space for collective initiatives that will help create a strong sense of community and character of the town.

Or else:
The New Town Almere, of which Almere Oosterworld will be a part, was designed in a similar fashion, allowing individuals to build their own homes. In this instance, MVRDV is the organizer, but private initiative is the driver.
However, it is important to clarify the signification of D.I.Y practices. These are enacted from the bottom-up. In a nutshell, individuals, small groups of people or communities work together to improve the living conditions and the quality of life, or to communicate a message, at the scale of the urban block of building.

Mimi Zeiger proposes, in a very interesting and enlightened essay entitled The Interventionist's Toolkit, a definition of these D.I.Y practices. As Zeiger writes, D.I.Y signifies: a practice driven by individuals and community:
Driven by local and community issues and intended as polemics that question conventional practice, these projects reflect an ad hoc way of working; they are motivated more by grassroots activism than by the kind of home-craft projects (think pickling, Ikea-hacking and knitting) sponsored by mainstream sheltr media, usually under the Do-It-Yourself rubric.
A clear distinction between a political act of design-it-yourself and a mainstream approach one.

She goes on:
They are often produced by emerging architects, artists and urbanists working outside professional boundaries but nonetheless engaging questions of the built environment and architecture culture.
And yet, this does not mean either that MVRDV must be excluded from this category of actors, or that their intention is more 'commercial' while these actors' intention is more 'political' meaning legitimate. This said, MVRDV's approach of D.I.Y needs much more precision for a better examination of this proposal, and, more important, their new approach of urbanism that connects individuals and communities and architects. I will borrow Michael Kimmelman's quotation from Zeiger's essay:
[C]ulture (often unconsciously) identifies crucial ruptures, rifts, gaps and shifts in society. It is indispensable for our understanding of the mechanics of the world in this respect, pointing us toward those things around us that are unstable, changing, that shape how we live and how we treat one another. If we're alert to it, it helps reveal who we are to ourselves, often in ways we didn't realize in places we didn't necessarily think to look.
In a nutshell, beyond the aim of addressing the act of living, working, and having leisure in combination with nature, beyond the aim of tackling the importance of food production and sustainability in an increasingly population expansion, and urbanization, I am curious to see if — with the impulsion of MVRDV's think lab The Why Factory — this proposal participates to a search for new ways to practice and provoke within the fields of architecture, urbanism, and design.
D.I.Y Urbanism: Almere Oosterworld © MVRDV.
Originally appeared on archdaily.

Source: archdaily and eco-question.

Event: The Sniper's Log by Alejandro Zaera Polo at The Storefront for Art and Architecture

A book that I've been waiting for… for a while: The Sniper's Log, a book written by Alejandro Zaera Polo will be launched this week. When I will purchase my copy (with the hope that my favorite bookstore in Paris will receive it soon), I will review it. For now, this launch is accompanied with an event at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, this Friday 27 April.

Towards a Theory of Misbehavior,
A Book Launch and Manifesto Series Event on the occasion of the release of
The Sniper's Log by Alejandro Zaera Polo, published by Actar

New York, NY. Storefront for Art and Architecture will present "Towards a Theory of Misbehavior," a Manifesto Series event showcasing different generational approaches towards architecture theory on the occasion of the relase of The Sniper's Log: Architectural Chronicles of Generation X by Alejandro Zaera Polo at the Storefront Gallery.
The event will include a live staging of manifestos that will present different hypothesis and methodologies towards architectural acts of disobedience. The presentations will be followed by a discussion between the presenters moderated by Stan Allen.
Storefront's ongoing Manifesto Series is part of an effort to encourage the formulation of positions in relation to selected topics and instigate spirited discussion and exchange in a dynamic and polemical context. The format therefore differs from that of a typical symposium. Rather than a synthetic lecture, participants are invited to present a concise, point-by-point manifesto, with the hope that the ideas exposed will provide a ground for discussion to test and discuss different hypotheses in real time. This the 8th event in the Manifesto Series.

Presenters include (in order of appearance):
Kenneth Frampton, Peter Eisenman, Benard Tschumi, Cynthia Davidson, Jeff Kipnis, Stan Allen, Sylvia Lavin, Stanford Kwinter, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Michael Meredith, Anna Pla Català, Bjarke Ingels, Eva Franch i Gilabert

Friday 27 April, from 7 to 9 pm
Storefront for Art and Architecture

About the book

The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation X.
by Alejandro Zaera-Polo

This compilation of texts written since 1986 reveals a parallel activity to Alejandro Zaera-Polo's professional life. The book is like a sniper's log, a register of events for the purpose of accumulating experience, be it academic or professional, trying to identify tendencies and to assess performances, rather than to establish truth. Written for different media and formats (professional magazines, speaking engagements, academic presentations…), the texts and thread together as part of a biographical experience determined by temporal and geographical factors. A graphic texture of more than 500 images captures the temporal framework of these writings and provides a background to trigger associations.

Publisher: Actar and Princeton University School of Architecture

More: here.


Update: Urban Lab Global Cities Facebook Page

I just updated the code to link this blog with my facebook Page Urban Lab Global Cities. Apparently, I noticed an error when I previously linked my blog with my page. I hope it will work. Now it is on the right as you may have seen. So be free to like it if you like this blog.


Editor's Highlights: This week in Architecture, Urbanism, and design

Months ago, I posted some to-read lists. Now this will be the Editor's Highlights. But the principle remains the same…
This week's Editor's Highlights proposes my readers to read:

Urban regeneration
An article entitled Newark is Apparently Not a City Either posted on New Jersey Future, 20 April 2012 to open this editor's highlights:
Plenty of smaller cities, towns, and older "streetcar" suburbs offer many of the same advantages of the big cities in terms of affordability and accessibility: a variety of housing types (including single  family homes on smaller lots) affordable to a range of incomes; shops and entertainment within walking distance; accessibility to public tranportation; and grid-like street networks that facilitate shorter local car trips not requiring use of the regional road network. And many such laces are indeed gainng population, some for the first time in decades. Some urban commentators, Wendell Cox and Joel Kotkin among them, apparently find this phenomenon threatening and are attempting to muddy the waters. The "problem" for them (and is only a problem if you're seeking to discredit the notion that there might be people out there who don't want to live in spread-out, single-use, cul-de-sac suburbia) is that people moving back into denser, downtown-style small towns and older suburbs supports the idea of a return to a pre-insterstate Highway-era settlement pattern. What is a sprawl apologist to do?

Poor urban planning could affect living conditions and quality of life
This week, I shared two articles on Facebook and on Twitter concerning the impact of poor urban planning on city dwellers' quality of life. These articles were published in The Atlantic Cities and Architizer (the Architizer's article was about the Trayvon Martin murder case), respectively. The Atlantic Cities, first, with Nate Berg's article, was wondering whether or not bad urban design is making us lonely. Unsurpringlingly while cities offer more opportunities for interaction, suburban areas however stress private spaces over public ones, Berg wrote.
However, even big cities can affect dwellers' living conditions harming social connections. This, in particular, concerning cities that suffer from bad urban design (but not only…). Two cases quoted here: Australia and America:
Bad urban design is one of the major causes of loneliness and asocial behavior in Australia, according a report from the Grattan Institute, a think tank focused on public policy. According to this think tank:Cities can help social connection, or hinder it. They can be so poorly organized that they are hard to get around — a problem not just for getting to work, but also for seeing friends and family and participating in social activities.
But Aussies urban dwellers are not the only dwellers that deplore fewer friendships and neighborhood connections. In Tokyo, I noticed a lack of connection between dwellers as urban land is shinking and lots are becoming tinier and tinier, apartments are getting smaller and smaller and privacy is getting more and more complicated, work hours in a day are getting longer and longer, etc. Even in the United States:
In 1985, 10 percent of people reported having no close friends with whom to talk about important personal issues, and 15 percent reported having only one close friend. In 2004, those numbers rose to 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
French cities attempted to tackle this issue with La Fête des Voisins  — also known as Neighbours' Day in a European scale — launched firstly in Paris in 2000. The principle of the Neighbours' Day is to invite neighbors from the other apartments in your block or the other houses in your streets for a dinner or a coupe de champagne to get to know one another. This does not mean that this will solve the issue of urban loneliness but this addresses clearly the problem.
But more broadly, according to Nate Berg:
[Grattan Institute's] report suggests better shared waiting areas for commuters (perhaps with greeters who could offer real-time information on delays); improving public transportation quality (to cut down on commute times); parks and sports facilities (the report is particularly fond of mini-parks), and local events that bring people together. […] The placement of building access points and the location of outdoor seating can have a noticeable impact on how much social interaction takes place in a city — or doesn't.
Or doesn't. The question is open. At least, a reflection on the impact of poor urban planning on neighbours' relationship is at last addressed. This is the question that Kelly Chan asked on Architizer concerning the Trayvon Martin case: Trayvon Martin: Victim of Poor Urban Planning?.
According to the Globe, the Retreat at twin Lakes gated community is largely lacking in conventional sidelwalks and the other forms of pedestrian thoroughfare. Where Martin entered the subdivision where he was fatally shot, he would have encountered a rare stretch of sidewalk, a safer, and less disruptive means of arriving at his destination than the option of crossing the 30-foot street from the corner where he was. As Youngerman wrote, "On [Martin's] mile walk to the nearest convenience store, the sidewalk ends twice and becomes a no-man's-land of grassy highway shoulder. IF Martin were trespassing, he had no choice but to do so."
As Chan pointed out:
Aside from more pedestrian-friendly planning, the neighborhood in Sanford, Florida could afford denser residential areas: houses sitting closer to the property line and residences with front porches instead of long driveways may make the Retreat feel a lot less 'private,' perhaps deterring Zimmerman from feeling alone, threatened, and fearfully accountable for Martin's actions. A more local convenience store or café within the neighborhood may have prevented the encounter altogether. 
Chan concluded with:
Unfortunately, Martin and Zimmerman met in an environment designed explicitly to be sheltered, a place built to project such an image of security that even the most unassuming actions spur insecurity.
As Tim Stonor argued, in an article that I recommend: Future Cities_Cities of Transaction, a shift in thinking is needed in terms of planning:
It is now more important than ever to regain this focus. World population is growing and this population is increasingly urbanising. […] 
What are the implications of this kind of growth, Stonor asks:
Social fragmentation (…).
He continues:
Cities are growing and they are currently growing the wrong way: towards slums and traffic congestion. They need to be planned differently.
I agree with him:
[F]ocus on day-to-day urbanism.
Which means: "Future cities need to provide face-to-face human transaction… localism more important than globalism." This is the tweet that Tim Stonor sent few minutes ago…

Lebbeus Woods's Early Drawings
Today's drawings are those of Lebbeus Woods at the Friedman Benda Gallery, New York. Lebbeus Woods presented his early drawings until April 14th at the gallery. The Funambulist went back to this exhibition in a very interesting article entitled #Heterotopic/Chronic Architectures /// Lebbeus Woods: Early Drawings Exhibition. Here are some examples of Woods's drawings:
Lebbeus Woods: Early Drawings at The Friedman Benda Gallery, 2012
Lebbeus Woods: Early Drawings at The Friedman Benda Gallery, 2012
Lebbeus Woods: Early Drawings at The Friedman Benda Gallery, 2012
Interactive Island of Mankind
Endless Cities that I follow on Twitter tweeted this interesting Interactive Islands of Mankind map designed by Geography graduate student Derek Watkins using population densities datas. This is an interactive version of William Bunge's The Continents and Islands of Mankind, The FlowingData reports. Derek Watkins says:
Interactive Islands of Mankind © Derek Watkins

An intersting thing about this map is that each layer is contained in one 23,000 pixel tall spritesheet to reduce load time. An uninteresting thing is that my workflow was to export black and white density images from QGIS (which I've been working with more lately), generalize in illustrator, export each slice and then stitch them together into one image with ImageMagick. I grabbed the population data from here.
Interactive Islands of Mankind © Derek Watkins (with legends)

Source: FlowingData.

Wood Casting | Hilla Shamia
I usually do not write on design, even on urban furniture but this is worth blogging. Samuel Medina, a contributor to Architizer, posted on The Atlantic Cities this wooden urban furniture designed by Hilla Shamia:
To create her pieces, Shamia takes a whole tree trunk and incorporates it into steel tables, chairs, and stools. First, molten aluminum is spread over the wood, scorching the surface; the log is then sectioned into square forms, which according to the designer, "intensifies the artficial feeling, and in the same time keeps the memory of the material." The individual sections are paired with differently sized frames — ranging from a coffee table to night stand-used to cast the metal body of the furniture. The hot liquid metal is poured into the molds, which are removed once the aluminum has cooled and set to reveal the now-sutured log and metal legs, enjoined by a dark band a char. Each piece is unique, with the metal "leakage" varying from one product to another "Wood Casting" is currently on show at the Milan Deisgn Week 2012.
Wood Casting, © Hilla Shamia
> 'Furniture combing the cast aliminium and wood. The negative factor of burnt wood is
transformed into aesthetic and emotional value. Preservation of the natural form of the
tree trunk within the explicit boundaries. The general, squared form intensifies the artificial feeling,
and in the same time keeps the memory of the material." Hilla Shamia.
Wood Casting, © Hilla Shamia.
Wood Casting © Hilla Shamia.
Wood Casting © Hilla Shamia.

Infographic of the day: Making Urban Agriculture a Success | Amanda Record || Sustainable Collective Cities
The second infographic of the day is an Urban Agriculture infographic designed by The Bozzuto Group. This infographic is based on datas from the Washington DC area but is quite representative of the pressing issues of food and growing world's population. As Amanda Record for The Sustainable Collective Cities stated:
Today, about 15% of the world's food is now grown in urban areas. Since space is limited in big cities, you may have noticed city gardens sprouting up in smaller spaces (like rooftops or apartment balconies).

Infographic: Urban Agriculture © The Bozzuto Group
Originally appeared on The Sustainable Collective Cities.
True. Not only here in Paris, there in Tokyo, there in NYC, in London, in…, as space is shrinking, urban dwellers attempt to set interesting tactics in order to have their own gardens using small spaces such as balconies, and of course rooftops. French Guillaume LetschetDorian Bernards and Myriam Cesaroni's Vertical Urban Farmlands are one example among many others exploring issues of food in a world that counts now more than 9 billion people. But more important, as urban migration continues to grow, food  will be becoming one of pressing issues that may raise tensions if clear measures are not adopted. Maybe urban agriculture can be answer… maybe not… enough… who knows…
Vertical Urban Farmlands © Guillaume Letschet, Dorian Bernards and Myriam Cesaroni.
Originally appeared on eVolo.
A Translucent High-Density Installation
to close this editor's highlights. Andrew Saunders's project is composed of 1,224 folded, developable surfaces highlighting the now admitted importance of computation in today's architecture.

Suggested Magazine: Achim Menges (guest-editor) | Material Computation: Higher Integration in Morphogenetic Design || Architectural Design, Vol. 82, Issue 2, March/April 2012.

© Andrew Sanders's Translucent installation.
Originally appeared on eVolo.

This installation is also made of digitally-generated and fabricated sheets of translucent high-density polyethylene. As written in eVolo Magazine, the inspiration is from the Hyde Collection's painting of The Annunciation by the Italian Renaissance Master, Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510).
© Andrew Saunders.
Originally appeared on eVolo.

This project is part of a exhibition entitled Building Futures: Re-Envisioning The Hyde at Rensselaer at The Hyde Collection now closed ((February 11-April 16).
© Andrew Saunders.
Originally appeared on eVolo.

Source: eVolo.

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