Symposiums | Urban Ecologies 2013, Toronto ı Strange Utility, Portland

First a great news that I will confirm in the following weeks including an article for a magazine on architectural future practices, the architect's shifting role, etc… I'll confirm it when it will be printed (and in our local bookstore, the most important part for any editor who works hard on his/her project).

A call for proposals for Urban Ecologies 2013, Toronto, Canada. This is for a 2-day conference in June: June 20-21, 2013. The aim is to discuss the impact of five intersecting themes that are shaping the future of design in our cities.
Urban Ecologies is organized by OCAD University, Toronto, Canada. The themes are:

  1. Visualizing information: Using advanced visual strategies to improve our understanding of data-intensive human and non-human urban activity;
  2. Regenerating cities: Developing regenerative urban design strategies to create restorative relationships between cities and their surrounding environments;
  3. Building Health: Bringing integrated concepts of human health, quality of life and inclusion to the design of the urban environment;
  4. Creating Community: Fostering design partnerships between grassroots and professional communities to co-create sustainable urban places;
  5. Thinking Systems: Applying knowledge of the urban environment's complex and dynamic patterns of exchange to design stronger communities.
Note that the deadline is February 8, 2013. You can download the call for proposals (with further information, presentation abstract proposals, workshop proposals, registration and fees).

If you are in Portland, Oregon the 26 and 27 of April, at Portland State University, this symposium titled: Strange Utility: Architecture Toward Other Ends:

The discipline of architecture has always been linked to the idea of utility — albeit in a variety of ways and to different degrees. From architecture's putative origins as a primitive form of shelter made of foliage to the Modernist dictum that form follows function, architecture, from the beginning, has been required to perform a "useful" function. Not Surprisingly, utility remains a central concern within contemporary architectural practice, but alongside some of the obvious benefits — the development of more energy efficient materials and processes and the economic incentive to redevelop existing buildings before building anew — have come some strange, if understudied effects. With contributions from 14 extraordinary scholars and architects, Strange Utility: Architecture Toward Other Ends recognizes the contemporary currency of utility, and seeks unexpected ways of defining this term within and with respect to the built environment.
Participants are Jimenez Lai (Bureau Spectacular), Philippe Rahm (Philippe Rahm Architects, Paris, France) and Jill Stoner (University of California, Berkeley).

More on registration, location: here.


A cloud as an archive ı Landship

Next week, I will post a conversation — for The Architecture Post Conversation — with a young architect currently based in Tokyo Robert Schmidt III I had on a project he developed within the agency Adaptable Futures, titled… Adaptable Futures. We talked about the notion Adaptability, central to this project and other topics that, for me, behind this project: the architect's shifting role, the division between building and the built environment, among others. I am currently working on the audio edit. I hope to finish the end of this week. This aside…
A Cloud as an Archive | © Andrei Olaru, 2012
Originally appeared on Think Space

Parts of the 2012 edition of Think Space, an edition titled Past Forward 2012, are these two projects: A Cloud As An Archive and Landship. All information (few information, I should admit) can be found on the website. However, if you followed the first edition titled Borders, curated by Eva Franch i Gilabert, you have a broad idea of the guidelines of this platform which proposes a cycle of competition each year.
Past Forward 2012, curated by architect Adrian Lahoud (you can watch a video in which Adrian Lahoud presents the guidelines of cycle of competitions) consists of three competitions, that, according to Lahoud, have contributed to the transformation of the architectural culture over the last 50 years: The Peak (1982), Yokohama Port Terminal (1994), and Blur Building (1999). In short,
The last three decades saw significant change across social, political, and environmental registers. The conjunction of capital flows, mass urbanization and increasingly interconnected cultural and financial networks have reshaped the way we understand, produce and discuss architecture resulting in a breathless cycle of formal and aesthetic transformations. This restless appearance of change conceals an increasing sense of inertia or perhaps even of confusion. This restless appearance of change conceals an increasing sense of inertia or perhaps even of confusion, in that an intellectual project has yet to accompany the overiding sense of technical virtuosity.
I selected two projects among these entries, with few details — except a succinct description of the project (but it's a competition and the aim of this competition is not to analyze these proposals). The first was awarded with the first prize; the second receives a honourable mention: A Cloud as an Archive, and Landship. These two projects are parts of Blur
A Cloud as an Archive | © Andrei Olaru, 2012
Originally appeared on Think Space

If you remember, Blur was Diller, Scofidio + Renfro's entry for the Swiss National Expo 2002, in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, a suspended platform such as a cloud (note that Charles Renfro and Ricardo Scofidio were logically members of the jury in this 2012 edition along with Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher (Peak) and Alejandro Zaera-Polo (Yokohama). 
A Cloud as an Archive is designed by Andrei Olaru (Romania) with the contribution of Anna Gulinska (Poland), Elena Romagnoli (Italy) and Pablo Roman (Spain). The project is described as follows:
A Cloud as an Archive | © Andrei Olaru, 2012
Originally appeared on Think Space

Located along the coastline, 450 m structure of the Archive confronts as with an experience of encountering something that we already know. A new point of departure re-organizes and de-composes spatial memory of the Cloud. It brings us to the point where we can study it. Once we are inside we can go into details, research its fear of the rescue and erasure of the traces.
Generating structure of the Cloud is designed as movable machinery which travels along the sectors of the Archive. It is equipped with nozzles producing the Cloud and movable platform on which the Visitors can travel to the level 02 of the structure. The machinery moves from sector 01 to 10 one day interval, constantly producing the Cloud, taking its resources from the lake water.
Moving machine intervals allow the Visitors to select specific date and accessible sector from which the exploration of the Cloud begins. Along 450 meters of possible maneuvering along the structure they can perceive different instances of the Cloud. Starting from an instance on level 02 — which is an observatory level where the Cloud is visible only, captured in archival wall — they can decide on going lower, on level 01 of the structure. Walking on level 02 they are not only seeing the Cloud, it is all around them, and it is present and touchable. They can walk on multiple suspended bridges which all soaked in the changeable atmosphere Cloud. There are several of the bridges going to the water level with one walkway. Level 00 states for the Origin of the Cloud. That is where the travel through the Cloud ends, on both ends of the 450 structure.

Now the project proposed by Gauthier Duthoit, a French architect whose proposal, Landship, explores a series of concepts, including past/present/future, process, innovation, speed, technique. Highly influenced by Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Paul Virilio, and Gaston Bachelard (quite common when talking with French architects), the project is described as follows:
Landship | © Gautier Duthoit, 2012
Originally appeared on Think Space

The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history: with its themes of development and of suspension, of crisis, and cycle. (…) We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed." (M. Foucault). The conception of progress makes the future seem like a goal or an accomplishment, which leads to the thought that time is the path to perfection. The idea is based on the premise that the best is yet to come. Future as an accomplice to human initiative seems more and more uncertain. Indeed in the past, the future worried us because we were powerless; today it frightens us because of the consequences of our actions that we have no way to clear apprehend. We feel helpless confronted with our power. Technique has become one of the main instruments of progress, omnipresent in our society; it has become our environment. This phenomenon distances technique from human control, making him subject to a certain point of determinism. In an imperceptible way, technique has been sacralised. "It is not technique that enslaves us but the sacred transferred to technique" (J. Ellul) The transfer has generated an expansion of thought allowing mechanised time to dominate human reflection time. The acceleration of reality (P. Virilio) inhibits the sensation that time flies, when associated with efficient consumerisum, the world is unable to find any form of rest. The idea is not to resist progress but to take a break in order to assimilate it. It is necessary to question the philosophical and political notions concerning progress. What is progress today, on an environmental, economic and political level? It is important to raise awareness of the impact of progress, which leads us to search for clever endings or a limit to things. Landship intends to become a break point, in the visitor's exponential acceleration of time. Like the Blur building, Landship disappears, one image is missing, the one of the building itself. Anti-image and anti-object. Landship disappears, one image is missing, the one of the building itself. Anti-image and anti-object. Landship is a remote and isolated object surrounded by water. Built in the way of a boat hull, the structure insures water tightness and its ability to float. The complete absence of urban fabric becomes the context of the project, which differs from the context as much as it is a part of it. Landship is not an object lost in an endless extension of a uniform element as would be an oceanic island. (G. Deleuze), neither is it a "New world" but an alternative critique of the existing world. It is an artifice, part of a larger ensemble: the lakes borders, the continents borders… Unlike Diller and Scofidio's construction maintained in a constant cloud, Landship has well defined limits. It's the perimeter that embodies the limit and allows the visitor to experience and play a part in the limited and closed environment. The tangle of borders put the vessel in relation to different scales and different places. It becomes the consecration of utopia, a heterotopia as defined by Michel Foucault: a real place where other spaces are connected around it. This "topia" is defined in contrast with the context through a basic figure that insures the projects' clarity. The grid is used as the main architectonic structure; its geometry is altered by its relationship with other basic architectural elements that appear to be an exception to the uniform grid. These entities tend to bring environment and architecture together, as the observatory tower brings horizontality and verticality together. It is the garden contained in the center of Landship that becomes a variable to the grid. Apart from romantic contemplation, the garden allows an active relationship with nature. Here, the garden becomes a microcosm, being the smallest plot in the world and at the same time the world in its totality. "Since ancient times, the garden is some kind of successful and universal heterotopia." (M. Foucault). Through its composition and its combination of limits, Landship appears as speculative fiction with a poetical dimension: a piece of land balanced under the water level by an archaic technique. The simplicity and the architectural abstraction leaves room for interpretation and imagination. Too often imagination has been considered as a secondary force or as a way of evasion. "The importance of imagination on the human psyche has not been emphasized enough. Generally, we tend place reality in first position, but how can Man create if he doesn't feel what we could call the "possibility function". To take action we must first imagine" (G. Bachelard).
Landship | © Gautier Duthoit, 2012
Originally appeared on Think Space

It seems to me that both Olaru's Cloud as an Archive and Duthoit's Landship reflect new trends.
Landship | © Gautier Duthoit, 2012
Originally appeared on Think Space
They raise a series of questions (that have been evident over a decade or two. Yet these questions still need to be discussed in depth), let me cite two amongst them: redefinition of architecture, integration of the concepts of contingency, uncertainty, soft, and interface within architecture as well as the idea of considering time of architecture as fundamental. Probably an architecture more inclusive, less in the role of the solver, to a certain extent. 
Landship | Gautier Duthoit, 2012
Originally appeared on Think Space

Visit Think Space for better information on these projects here and other interesting entries for this year's competition. Then, those who are around New York and its areas, The Storefront for Art and Architecture hosts Think Space's exhibition, an exhibition which explores the politics behind the architecture competition. The exhibition is open until February 15 2013.


Book Review | Future Practice. Conversation from the Edge of Architecture by Rory Hyde

We look for sights that offer a new perspective by which to 
understand the emerging conditions we are designing for,
landscapes where we find the future in the present tense.
Rory Hyde, Routledge, 2012

Future Practice. Conversation from the Edge of Architecture, a book published in the second semester of 2012, alongside two major events, The Venice Architecture Biennale and the Istanbul Design Biennale, surveys the rise of new architecture practices. New, maybe not. But different from the 20th-century architecture practice, certainly so.

His author, Rory Hyde, is an architect, born in Australia, a long-term resident of Amsterdam — he recently announced to go back to Australia. He also defined himself as a researcher, writer and broadcaster — he and the Architects on Triple R (with Stuart Harrison, Simon Knott and Christine Philipps) broadcasted live during the first week of the latest edition of Venice Architecture Biennale. He is also on the editorial team of Volume Magazine.

Rory Hyde | Future Practice. Conversation from the Edge of Architecture || Routledge, 2012, 280 pages.
Available in paperback and kindle edition.

Rory Hyde knows his milieu; he works with, speaks with (as an editorial member) practitioners. He is himself an example of the rise of new forms of architecture practice.
But what is practice? This should be the first question one may ask when opening and turning the first pages of Future Practice. What does an architect mean with practice? On his blog — the new generation of architects is, for the most, also blogger —, Rory Hyde defines practice as a context for production. The architect might be mumbling that he knows this already. But, and this is partly what makes his book informative for not only those who work in the architectural-urban field (architects, critics, historian, et cetera) but also those who are not practitioners (we should probably redefine the term of practitioner) while operating on the built environment.
Based on a series of conversations with practitioners, Dan Hill's foreword aside, Rory Hyde undertakes a meticulous survey on new forms of architecture practices. Hyde justifies his choice for interviews:

Where Potential Futures pieced together the various roles largely from others' descriptions of their own work, to get closer to the reality of these people and practices necessitated speaking to them directly. An edited book of contribution by each of these people may have also worked, but it's important to note that — with some exceptions — these are all doers, not critics or writers. And doers are, by definition, busy doing stuff, not writing about doing stuff. In this sense, I also saw it as important to get these (busy) voices on the page, to discuss their work in a way that they might not feel compelled to write down themselves.
Note, however, that some of the interviewed also write while not being officially writers or critics or theorists. 
Various profiles, backgrounds, point of views are gathered in Future Practice: from Bruce Mau to Wouter Vanstiphout; from Steve Ashton/ARM to Marcus Westbury/Renew Newcastle; from Jeanne Gang/Studio Gang to Natalie Jeremikenko/xClinic. Architects, Editors-Architects, Educators-Architects. In addition, artists, historians and activists. Renew Newcastle (Marcus Westbury) is an example. Marcus Westbury, one of his members, is not an architect. We learn that he was a director of arts festivals and a cultural commentator. And yet his role is as (if not more) important as that of the architect in his contribution to re-think, improve a public space in Newcastle. He "illustrate[s] the potential of nonarchitectural strategies in achieving very architectural outcomes", writes Hyde. Hence the Community Enabler who "deploys the ample resource of people as a catalyst for change, where spatial improvements may be ineffective."

He is not the only one not being architect but whose role is as important and (not to say identical) as that of architect: Camila Bustamante described as the Urban Activist and Natalie Jeremijenko as the Environmental Medic. Considering the Environmental Medic. Jeremijenko is an artist and associate professor of art (at the New York University) with a background in science, engineering and art. Considering the Environmental Health Clinic, a service which function is to provide "individual "prescriptions" for changes to personal environments, and the potential for widespread, aggregated change." She calls her work as being socio-ecological systems design,

I actually think my work is quite specific, although it does look it comes from all over the place. It's really socio-ecological system design. I don't know if this is a prescription for all designers, but I certainly think that part of the work of problem-forming — as opposed to problem-solving which designers pride themselves on — is really about thinking through the challenges that we face in the 21st-century: re-imagining our urban infrastructures, promoting biodiversity, getting beyond 19th century hygiene myths. We need to further apply ideas of biodiversity and complexity — not towards LEED points or awards, but towards possibilities that are very specific, particular and local, and that can aggregate for significant effect.
Or x-design, or o-design, very difficult to seize but quite significant of this new form of practice, that is "very opportunistic in the sense that it's about framing the problem". And here we are back to the the definition of practice that Rory Hyde proposed. It seems to me that, beyond the practitioners in this book, the common denominator to the 21st century practice is that its role is to "frame the problem". The core element to these new forms of practice is that the architect, now, will be problem-forming (or problem-addressing) rather than problem-solving. He will no longer have the solution…, but will cope with the issue. To a certain extent, this can be a form of adaptation in a time of economic crisis and to an uncertain future.
A new form of business model, as Dan Hill wrote in the foreword. For, an evidence: architecture needs a new business model. We are reminded of a few sentences of Jeremy Till's essay Scarcity contra Austerity published several months ago on Design Observer (an essay that needs to be read again and again): 

For the large majority of the profession — let's say the 99% — the wider context of economic leanness is profoundly influencing every stage of the process. In architecture, this has meant that the choice of architects is largely determined by procurement managers making crude calculations that effectively exclude smaller practices and those who produce value through design rather than spreadsheets. Once selected, architects are then increasingly asked to take the hurt during the early stages by working on speculation; if the job lands, they are then paid at ever-reduced free levels, set against projects costs that are continually pared down through value-engineering. When the job goes on site, the contract is endlessly subdivided in order to pass risk down the contractual chain, and there is ever increasing reliance on off-site and standardized construction. Nor is the architectural academy exempt from the drive to austerity, given the ever more strident demands for market-ready students, often conveyed in terms of the irrelevance of theory or experiment, and revealing an anti-intellectualism that threatens the very basis of educational values.
No, Rory Hyde's Future Practice does not spotlight this new generation of architects'  hidden daily reality, this generation confronting with current crisis and lack of opportunities. Not directly. But if you read it twice, or more, it is not too far from what Till wrote in this passage. Both say the same — with different approach and point of view — that, as Hill smartly noted, architecture is in need of a new business model. Indeed, Future Practice "provide clues as how to back out of the cul-de-sac that architecture has partly built."

Hyde's book resides in the fact that it capture this vulnerability that characterizes architecture. Yes architecture has been marginalized. And yes architecture needs recalibrate its field which supposes a new look at innovative forms, approach to building, city-making. A collective practice can be a strategy. The case of Tomorrows Thoughts Today is an example. As Liam Young co-founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Todays (and co-founder of Unknown Fields Division) stated in the book:

For us, Tomorrows Thoughts Today is more like a music producer who marshals different people together; we bring in people from science or from technology to build a team depending on the nature of the problem or project, allowing us to be dynamic. It's a kind of "post-bust' office model that is less connected with the economy of building, but more connected with industry, technology, ecology or development at different times. And instead of operating as a service, producing optimistic views of things to clients in order to get paid, we develop self-initiated projects and operate more resilient forms of practice and this is our attempt to do so.
Put it simply, the ambition to Tomorrows Thoughts Today is to "break that cycle, and to operate in a more dynamic way with a new business model", said Liam Young

In the same way does architecture need a new approach in terms of education. Put it simply, even architecture school needs a new business model. What toolkits, instruments, methodology to educate strategic designers? This does not necessarily limit to building or city-making but to provide the future architect knowledge enough to operate in the world, Liam Young said. "[W]e try to use the studio as a place to develop strategies by which they can work independently as designers when [the students] leave us". Studying architecture does not spontaneously lead to the profession — if you consider the act of building as the unique way of being architect. You can become a writer, an educator, a publisher, a curator.
And, allow me for formulating a critic, this is probably what is missing from this book. With the emergence of a new profile that of the curator — see Pedro Gadanho, Geoff Manaugh, in the United States, or Beatrice Galilee, Ethel Baraona Pohl, in Europe (to limit to these two continents) as examples of curatorial practitioners — who brings up new modes of representation in the architectural field, it would have been great to have the inclusion of the Curator in this book. But this is my personal view…

Rory Hyde's Future Practices argues in favor of elaborating new architectural trajectories, new forms of architecture practices, new modes of operations and in urgent need of analysis and debate.

Note: I warmly encourage to read Rory Hyde's post Potential Futures for Design Practice, and the comments that follow.


News | Lecture and seminar series Spring 2013

In your calendar, a series of lectures and seminars:
We start with Benjamin Bratton. If you are in London and its areas, January 24th, 18:30-20:00, at Bartlett University, Faculty of the Built Environment, Benjamin Bratton will be giving a talk. I include below the advertisement:
2 or 3 Things I know About the Stack: Projects and Projections Toward the Acceleration of Integral Accidents

As a regime, planetary computation operates at multiple scales, from cloud computing to addressable nanobots. Instead of thinking of this heterogeneity as a unstructured proliferation of incommensurable technologies, they should be understood as layers of an emergent hardware/software stack. The Stack is a megastructure built out of far-flung data centers, embedded urban applications, universal addressing schemes, weird quasi-sovereign geographies, and maniacal self-quantification. How might the emergent geopolitics of this architecture be designed? Each layer generates its own productive accidents: Westphalian geometries of State sovereignty are augmented by an emergent Cloud Polis, even Cloud Feudalism. Cities and mobile software spin out new rights and restrictions to a global hypercity based as much on the capitalization of gestures as the acceleration of mobility. IPv6 and other universal addressing schemes link objects and events into abyssal fields of information exchange. Monotheisms rush in to invest new interfaces with primodial scripts. Augmentation of skin with nanosensors introduces new genres of epidermal media and biopolitical securization. How to intervene? Designing for the post-Anthropocene requires working across multiple scales at once, working backwards from catastrophic virtualities, and testing the breaking points of provisional totalities.

Where: UCL Faculty of the Built Environment, Ground Floor, Royal Ear Hospital, corner of Huntley Street and Capper Street, London,
When: 24 January 2013, 6:30pm-8:00pm

For details: here.
Note that Benjamin Bratton's next essay The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (this lecture supposedly will give an outlook of his book) is upcoming from MIT Press (visit Benjamin Bratton's website for more info)

Those based in Houston, will be interested in this lecture series New Commons: Between Aesthetics and Engagement. Participants are Pedro Gadanho (Curator of Contemporary Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York), Luis Callejas (Principal, LCLAOFFICE, Medellin, Colombia, and Cambridge, USA), David Gissen (Associate Professor, The California College of the Arts, San Francisco), Xaveer de Geyter (Principal, XDGA Architects, Brussels, Belgium). Below, the advertisement:
New Commons: Between Aesthetics and Engagement
The lecture series brings together architects and scholars who redefine the capacity of architectural aesthetics in engaging with the world.
Recent examples of architectural engagement frequently reduce the architect's role to that of a problem solver. Offering an alternative to this role, this series will investigate new practices within architecture that showcase the architect as not merely a respondent, but as an active agent capable of building new ideas and languages as they relate to the city, the environment, and geography. By focusing on the work of these architects and thinkers, the series will establish a new commons — that is, a ground for forging new and more productive relationships between aesthetics and engagement.

This lecture series will be starting with Pedro Gadanho, Wednesday, the 16th. It then will be followed by Luis Callejas, (Wednesday, January 23), David Gissen (Wednesday, February 6), and Xaveer de Geyter (Tuesday, February 19).
Where: Brown Auditorium, Caroline Weiss Law Building, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
When: Lectures starts at 7 p.m. with a pre-lecture reception at 6 p.m.
More info: here.

Rice School of Architecture, again, with other events including Sébastien Marot (École d'Architecture, Marne-La-Vallée, France, and Harvard Graduate School of Architecture) who'll be discussing The Present Environmental Predicament: Design and the Limits to GrowthGregg Pasquarelli/SHoP Architecture, on Out of Practice, March 5; Atelier Bow Wow on Architectural Genealogy, April 4; and Jeanne Gang/Studio Gang on Moving House, March 26.
More: here.

Wednesday 16 January at Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University, 5PM, Mason White of Lateral Office and InfraNet Lab, will be lecturing on The Space of Logistics.

I, unfortunately, don't have much more information about this lecture. I, thus, warmly recommend to contact directly the University for details.
When: Robert Rech School of Landscape Architecture Louisiana State University
When: Wednesday 16 January 2013, 5pm

More on m.ammoth.


Relational Boundaries, Landscape-Architectural-Urban as Mediator, Producer of Network Ecologies

Last Monday, the BBC has posted a series of pictures of uncontrolled sand mining activities in Sierra Leone, in West Africa. A post-conflict country confronted with a set of intertwined complex realities, including lack of economic opportunities, political instability, inequalities, destruction of infrastructure (due partly by a ten-year of civil war), rampant urbanization, population growth, housing shortage… To this list, we must add natural resources shortage and growing ecological issues.
Sand mining in Sierra Leone | photo © Tommy Trenchard
Originally appeared on BBC
"Once synonymous with a brutal civil war, Sierra Leone was forecast to be one of the world's fastest growing countries in 2012. On the back of the rapid economic growth, it is enjoying a construction boom, with new roads and buildings springing up in and around the major towns." BBC, January 2013.

These complex realities can be the cause of growing uncontrolled sand mining activities.
Mining sand provides materials for construction or industrial uses. The reasons to high exploitation of not only sand, but mangrove forests, estuaries and seagrass beds, are mainly due to urban growth and concentration of human activities along the coasts. With a population of 5,245,695, and 41,7 % being under 15, Sierra Leone is hit by a high unemployment rate of around 70%, as the BBC reported.  The miners justify the act of sand mining as a response to a lack of jobs offers:

The onus is on the government to provide them with jobs, otherwise they will have to continue digging sand.
wrote the BBC. Sand mining, then, becomes a source of funding, a lucrative option not only for the local workforce but also for the construction industry.
Sand mining in Sierra Leone | Photo © Tommy Trenchard
Originally appeared on BBC.
"The coast, stripped of its natural protection, is now being eroded at a rate of up to 6m (yards) per year in places, according to Kolleh Bangura, director of Environmental Protection Agency" BBC, January 2013.

What consequences will be resulted from exploitation of coastal sand? Now that I have presented the starting point to this post, let me enlarge the discussion into four points closely related to the the issue of sand mining in Sierra Leone (this being an example of the focal point of this post). First, coastlines all over the world concentrate 60% of the world's population now or within 100km of the seashore. The relationship between environmental systems and human activities have always been conflictual since here the landscape-architectural-urban, the economic, the political, the social, the cultural, and, there, the geological and the ecological have been envisaged as mutually exclusive entities, the one dominating the other. The consequences to this critical relationship can be summarized into 10 issues: land use and land ownership competition, rapid coastal erosion, climate warming, sea-level rise, air and water pollution by manmade waste (industrial, agricultural wastes), landscape degradation, forest loss, wetlands and wildlife habitat destruction, natural resource shortage, and destruction of coastal communities.
As the BBC reported:
In the village of Lakka on the Freetown peninsular, crumbling ruins dot the shoreline. This building was destroyed by coastal erosion in 2004, a year after the village's pristine golden beach became the site of intensive sand mining operation.

Sand mining in Sierra Leone | Photo © Tommy Trenchard
Originally appeared on BBC.

The second point focuses on the population-environment nexus. The landscape-architectural-urban should account for the complexity of the population-environment nexus when problem-addressing such areas. Coastal areas having their own complexities, their own geological characteristics, their own ecological features. An area where two systems attempt to co-exist: the ecological system and the engineering system. Population expansion in coastlines has led to growing demands for housing and activities as well as ecological disequilibrium. Back to Sierra Leone, but also other countries in West Africa were the question of sand mining is particularly sensitive, agricultural change should be added to the list of critical causes. A large number of observers has put on the table that the population-environment nexus has contributed to waste as well as environmental degradation.
Sand mining in Sierra Leone | Photo © Tommy Trenchard
Originally appeared on BBC.
"On Hamilton beach the scale of the operation is staggering. Sand is mined here two days a week, during which up to 40 trucks can be working simultaneously, each with a team of diggers." BBC, January 2013.

The third point, closely related to the second, concerns the question of boundary, which is occupying a central place in landscape-architecture-urbanism. There is a lot of literature on the topic of boundary, including ecological boundary, political boundary, urban boundary, moral boundary. What is a boundary? It seems to me that it is urgent to (re-)interrogated boundary but in the landscape-architectural-urban matter.  Considering sand. Sand constitutes the boundary that separates water and land; it preserves land from rising sea level. More broadly, a boundary is a zone that separates the natural and the cultural, the ecological system and the engineering system. A boundary separates two or more elements. Many ecologists define boundary as human constructs, like a line that separates  countries, areas, disciplines. For example, a boundary that separates population and environment. A boundary can also be tangible structures identified in nature. Another approach is to consider boundary as the result of discontinuities between patches, namely consequential boundary (sand or rocks in coastal areas, forest, wetland) or as the cause of discontinuities between patches, namely causal boundary (a fence to protect a herd of cattle).
Yet, as said earlier, the division between here, the landscape-architectural-urban, the economic, the social, the cultural, the political, and, there, the geological and the ecological, along with population growth pressure, has caused critical issues. As this event in Sierra Leone has showed, an uncontrolled mining sand will impact the boundary that separates water and land having been destroyed by internal and external conditions as well as landscape patterns, coastal communities, and at a broader scale, all the levels of the society, including socio-economics, politics, and environment.
Sand mining in Sierra Leone | Photo © Tommy Trenchard
Originally appeared on BBC.
"The mining is supposed to be restricted to just one beach as part of a rotation system designed to make the practice more sustainable, yet the ban is widely ignored, with intensive mining occurring in broad daylight on other beaches. Even when local bans are enforced, the mining simply goes ahead at night." BBC, January 2013.

Activities in coastal areas should be considered as infrastructural, self-reliant, non-linear. Considering another dimension of boundary. Boundary, in terms of ecology (but not only), could be a carrier of resilience, of network, of information; it could be relational (the relational is always information). Re-thinking the boundary between patches as been relational is to admit that the natural system is itself relational, that it is information (I particularly appreciate the idea of the infrastructure space as being information, as Keller Easterling has pointed and consider informative and precious to apply her idea here). The landscape-architectural-urban can learn a lot from the natural system. Exchanges between ecological system and engineering system can be innovative for both as it can be multivalent and adaptable at various scales, from the smallest scale (the boundary) to the broadest scale (building in coastal areas). A boundary is a form as well as a result of exchanges between patches. It can also be a mediator, a producer between patches. Considering boundary as relational, mediator, as information, as a form and a product as well as producer of exchanges provides a better understanding of the ecological system, its function, its behavior in response to internal and external elements. In this context, it is urgent for the landscape-architectural-urban to foreground ecological systems (here boundary, there landscape, there again, natural resources), here, as relational, information, non-linear when problem-addressing ecological issues (landscape recalibration in coastal and non-coastal zones). But not only: the landscape-architectural-urban should reintroduce ecological systems inside the definition of landscape-architecture/urbanism practices. In this instance, the stubborn behavior that consists in dividing the political, the economic, the cultural, the social, and the geological and the ecological could be replaced by an approach based on relational, on information, on a fusion of these spheres.

Suggested book
Keller Easterling | The Action is the Form ı Victor Hugo's TED Talk || Strelka Press, 2012

Four, we learnt from the BBC's article on sand mining that the human and non-human boundary result in natural-cultural network, or, namely, network ecologies. It is not too far from Bruno Latour's idea of ANT (for Actor-Network-Theory) which argues, if I put it simply, that socio-technical networks have been created by both human and non-human technologies. We particularly learnt from this article that the interplay between engineering systems and ecological systems should be central to the landscape-architectural-urban if we want to problem-address landscape restructuration, or when building coastal cities and towns (for example, wetlands in the North-Eastern Japan, the Tohoku, having being mostly swallowed against land use and land properties competition). Indeterminacy, for example, is bound to the concept of network. Better: it is what makes network functional and flexible. Allow me for importing here Keller Easterling's statement quoting Bruno Latour, and adapting it to our concern: To determinate the human and non-human boundary, to erase this boundary is to contradict it or to contribute to landscape destruction (another but interesting path, we can explore, is the relationship between landscape-architectural-urban and ecological boundary mediated by the concept of accountability).
This relationship can provide new instruments, new toolkits, as well as new modes of operation, new modes of representation, new forms of landscape-architecture and urbanism. Envisaging the human and non-human boundary as relational is to envisage it as active, self-sufficient, indeterminate, multivalent, and responsive as network.
Sand mining in Sierra Leone | Photo © Tommy Trenchard
Originally appeared on BBC.
"[T]he construction brings with it increasing demand for sand, an essential building material, and much of this sand is coming from the country's beautiful beaches." BBC, January 2013.

And we are back to the translation of boundary (that served us to understand the cause-effect of sand mining in Sierra Leone's coastal landscape, but that we partly interrogated): a boundary is also an indeterminate zone between patches, here between land and water…
This indeterminate zone and the engineering matter, then, should be articulated as unified. The landscape-architectural-urban can help achieve the unification of boundary, ecological system and engineering system providing that it, at a first but fundamental stage, re-interrogates itself, thus, plays the role of mediator, of interface…

Source: BBC News


A response from Maurits Ruis about my review on Special Economic Zones

I received an email from Maurits Ruis, the author of Special Economic Zones, the ebook I reviewed yesterday. I sent him an email to discuss the origin of the ebook, a possible continuation, etc with him. He kindly responded to my questions and I decided to share his response with you as a response to my review.

Dear Annick Labeca,
The Anatomy of Special Economic Zones is not as much an eBook as it is a report, which explains the concise nature of the document. It was written for a private investor that was so kind as to grant me permission to publish the report independently. The report is a briefing document that seeks to identify best practices for the development of Special Economic Zones. The focus thereby naturally gears towards China, which has been most successful in the application of SEZs worldwide.
The report pays little heed to the architecture and urbanism of Special Economic Zones. There is little information available on the conceptual drivers behind SEZ masterplans, but at face value it seems no distinctive typology is being used, and SEZ masterplans pretty much seem to follow the trends as in masterplan developments worldwide. In that sense they are very much a product of the International Style, or if you prefer, a representation of [Rem] Koolhaas' Generic City.
In terms of typology, the Special Economic Zone seems not to have evolved much from the Export Zones it started out to be, i.e. a single enclosed factory with an exempt legal status. In effect, the modern-day Special Economic Zone is nothing more than a factory on steroid that continues to serve the only goal it has ever served: the generation of foreign direct investment.
As is the case with any investment in the urban hemisphere today, SEZs entirely depend on the 'trickle down effect' for their success. This concept states that money invested in established and dominant market players (read: the rich and the powerful) will eventually trickle down to the masses through the generation of jobs. The validity of the "trickle down effect" however is "supported neither by economic theory nor by empirical evidence", says for example Cornell scholar Robert H. Frank.
The result of this approach are SEZs that only answer to one-dimensional reality of the financial market, a reality that reduces the places where people work and live into spreadsheet exercises, made in financial centres far away. These developments have little to do with the sustainable environments that architects and urban planners traditionally pursue; environments that include not only economic considerations, but also social, cultural and environmental ones (remember the sustainable adagium of people, planet, and profit). Hence the devaluation of architecture as a profession.
The evolution of the SEZ has shown that a one dimensional approach driven by profit has led to health hazards, social unrest and political unrest, among other things. It has also shown that a consideration for locality has produced a greater profitability, and better returns in the longer term. As urban developments worldwide are driven by the same principles you could say that a study of the Special Economic Zone is also a case study of the city at large.
Attention to urban and architectural typology seems futile when a brief has not yet been established that all parties can subscribe to. Investor, developer and designer first need to be in accordance of the principles underlying any development before proceeding with design and construction, form follows function after all. This report hopes to present evidence that can establish such a brief, build consensus and persuade investors to not only focus on short term returns, but also take into consideration the wider picture, as it ultimately contributes to their ultimate goal of return on investment.
The report thus is a critique as well as an analysis. There are many avenues yet to explore that branch off from this study, and urban and architectural typology certainly is one of them. My immediate aim however is to understand how our cities were hijacked by market forces, and how they were turned into financial instruments to generate a profit for the few, rather than into tools in the pursuit of happiness for the many.
Maurits Ruis

I recommend to read my review of Special Economic Zones posted yesterday.

Book Review | Special Economic Zones by Maurits Ruis

The recent news about the world's longest high speed line to connect Beijing with Guangzhou — a 2,298-km route — at speeds of over 300kph can be a justification of looking into the reasons that make China one of the world's most dynamics — depending on what criteria you choose — countries. One reason: SEZs, or Special Economic Zones. As known, SEZs have completely reshaped China's coast.
Special Economic Zones
By Maurits Ruis
. 57 pages. Colloquial ebook. $5.95

"Special Economic Zones", which I just finished, is an ebook of 57 pages by Maurits Ruis, a London-based architect. There is an extensive literature about this topic of SEZ, mostly from the economic and urban sociological fields. This book, however, is written by an architect who seems to have a great interest in the question of zone, its history, its implementation, its geopolitical implication.
I will first start with a definition of "zone", then follow with that of "Special Economic Zone" for a better understanding of the book. A zone is a dynamic place of trade, finance, management and communication. As the book states, it is ancient and new. As Keller Easterling, one of the most accurate specialists of global infrastructure, showed in an article titled Zone: The Spatial Softwares of Extrastatecraft, posted in The Design Observer in 2012, the zone is heir to the history and mystique of the ancient free ports, pirate enclaves and entrepôts of maritime trade. The sociologist and political scientist Xiangming Chen charted in 1995 three eras in the evolution and use of the zone: the first era, from the mid 16-th century by the 1930s, is characterized by the Free Port and early Free Trade Zones; the second, from the late 1950s to the 1970s, is dominated by the Export Processing Zones. These zones focused broadly on manufacturing; the third and last era starts in the 1980s with the rise of the Special Economic Zones, the Economic and Technological Development Zones, and the Science Industrial Parks.
Special Economic ZonesMaurits Ruis

Now the Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Maurits Ruis defines this zone as "geographically delimitated areas with an exempt legal status, that aim to attract foreign capital and generate jobs by offering special incentives to foreign companies." SEZs, in general, profited from international specialization. This is the case of China's SEZs, as the book, which is mostly focused on, stated. A fact is, in the case of China's SEZs — but this is not restricted to China — the implementation of SEZ coincides with a globalization of production in the world's economy, and China's aim of attracting foreign trades to access global markets. Put it in the simplest way, observers have demonstrated that SEZs use foreign capital to stimulate export and national development. The transformation of China's territory into city clusters — as trend in China seem to become groups of large, nearly contiguous cities with many adjoining satellite cities and town — provides a good example.
I shall put economic references aside as a literature from the economic field exists. My concern lies more in the architectural-urban contribution to the implementation of SEZs and to reshape the regions where these instruments are used. The author unsurprisingly chose Shenzhen as case study. In 1979, Shenzhen, in the Guangdong Province, became the first of China's Special Economic Zones. Shenzhen is now considered a China's special city, or a "overseas Chinese community" (qiao xiang). The township-now-high-tech-city became an urban and market-oriented economic laboratory to serve the entire country as a 'window' and a 'base'. The choice for this city is strategic. As Ruis noted, these "SEZs were deliberately located far from the center of political power in Beijing to minimize both potential risks and political interference."
Shenzhen was a fishing village close to Hong Kong. With the implementation of SEZs, Shenzhen estimates a population of 8 million (including a transient population of around 14 million). The city is composed of 7 districts: Futian, Luohu, Yantian, Nanshan, Bao'an, Housing districts in Shenzhen, and Longgang. If SEZ comprises only 4 of the 7 districts, namely approximately 396 square kilometers (approximately 150 square miles), in the following years, the SEZ will expand to other districts to reach a total of approximately 2,000 square kilometers (approximately 700 square miles).
Beneath the becoming-high-tech of Shenzhen, another aspect, more strategic: the geographic proximity between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, Which is not a coincidence. Shenzhen's SEZ status can be deconstructed in terms of the Strategic sites as the city is neighbored with Hong Kong and located in the southeast coast of China, and the linkages that bind them. The connection of these two cities offer many advantages such as low cost of shipping raw materials and products, easy supervision of the production process, and easy coordination with the headquarters in Hong Kong. Needless to repeat, then, Hong Kong is a global city. China developed the setting-up of a link between economic hinterland and overseas. Hence this explains the choice for Shenzhen as a SEZ and the geographic proximity and the economic links to the domestic business environment between these two cities. Note, again, that Shenzhen is not the only city to have been designated as a SEZ; three other cities — Zhuhai and Shantou, both in Guangdong Province, and a province — Hainan Province — were designated as SEZs too (Zhuhai, for example, is close to Macao). All located in the southeast coast of China.
Another important point, this time discussed in the book, is the 'Pearl River Delta'-ization of Asia's coastal regions after Chinese model. SEZs and Pearl River Delta Regions are the front runners of internalization of China's global-market oriented economy. They are also the front runners in spreading Chinese influence and economic models overseas such as Africa, as Ruis writes, and other Asian countries.
A lack, however, beyond the internationalization of China's economy, and its access to global market, concerns the architectural-urban level of SEZs. SEZ is the engine of not only economic growth but also urban growth with enormous, ramifying consequences. The urban growth must be neglected when examining SEZs. It seems to me that a spatial arrangement, architectural-urban study of SEZs is rarely discussed when addressing SEZs while trends of speculation and land loss, inequalities in urbanization and infrastructure improvement increased dramatically in the Chinese territory. What are the spatial and architectural patterns of these SEZs? As Keller Easterling wrote in The Action is the Form, "spatial arrangements are often the inadvertent outcome of rules written in the jargon of business, real estate, logistics, trade, banking, informatics or governance." In examining the instrumentalization of architectural-urban by SEZs, we could better understand how spatial disposition of SEZs as well as constructions of high towers, building complexes, infrastructure and facilities affected Chinese coastal areas, and more broadly China's cities and rural areas; how this zone-oriented approach led to competitions between cities, speculations and inequalities, among others, outside and inside the SEZs. An example concerns land loss. In China, it is stated that urban lands belong to the state and rural lands as part of the village commune reforms in the 1980s. An aspect particularly very complex is the land distribution. Overall, urban land use rights can be transferred to private parties while rural land use contracts can be transferred only to the state. Yet, when transferred to the state, they can be changed into urban land then sold to private parties. This is what happened to Shenzhen's lands creating and exacerbating a "zone fever" along with other estate speculations.
Another negative aspect of SEZs that, unfortunately, was not addressed in the book is inequalities in terms of 'infrastructuralization' of the selected zones. Over the three decades, Shenzhen witnessed an infrastructure improvement of its territory examine the ways, throughout SEZs, to quote Easterling, "in which architecture and urbanism have become repeatable and infrastructural." The means by which Shenzhen has an infrastructure improvement can be an indicator of spatial strategies as I mentioned earlier: both the geographic proximity between Shenzhen and Hong Kong and Shenzhen's SEZ status. The geographic proximity of these two cities may lead to the creation of… ONE city, in a certain future.
While, in my view, the ebook suffers from a spatial arrangement and architectural-urban perspective, this is a very interesting Précis of 57 pages — I insist as the book must be continued. I cannot affirm whether or not this ebook announces a larger study, if it must be considered an excerpt, which I hope so. Be as it may be, for those who want a global outlook on the topic of SEZs and understand why and how China becomes this today's China — city clusters, China's interest for urbanism as economic instrument for global market access, et cetera — without the economic (for example) jargon, this ebook is for you.

Special Economic Zones
By Maurits Ruis
57 pages. Colloquial ebook. $5.95


Underwater topography of North American Lakes

First, I wish a happy new year and best wishes for this new year of 2013. The second semester will attract my attention with the Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2013. Just to remind that Close, Closer, a series of exhibitions and public programmes continues to examine the role of architecture practice with a series of questions.
A short post on laser-cut wood maps I found earlier today.
My passion for cartography is satisfied with these laser-cut wood maps below, representing underwater topography of North American Lakes. These maps have been designed by Below the Boat, using laser-cut layers of Baltic birch, if I refer to this website This is Colossal where I found these maps.
I visited Below the Boat for more information on the techniques of  construction of these maps. I won't linger over the fact that these maps can be purchased. So this aside: consider Lake Michigan:
Lake Michigan
Locale: Wisconsin, Illinois & Indiana
Technique: Laser-cut wood map
Originally appeared on Below the Boat
I completely am ignorant about the construction of wood Maps. In consequence, these maps are an opportunity to have information about techniques of construction of wood maps.
As described in Below the Boat, Lake Michigan's rich contours are carefully crafted from laser-cut layers of Baltic Birch. They, then, are hand colored and glued together. This aside, I find the aesthetic of these map particularly impressive. Consider the treatment of water waves particularly well-represented.
Another map representing a place I've never had the occasion to visit is San Juan Islands, located in Washington and British Columbia. Below the Boat describes San Juan Islands as follows:

The San Juan Islands are the pinnacles of a submerged mountain range that connects Vancouver Island with the mainland. They're a tidal-gateway between the open ocean and the Gulf of Georgia a tidal-gateway between the open ocean and the Gulf of Georgia to the north. Because of this, heavy tide-rips are common in many of the island's inner channels. If it weren't for the interference cause by these tide-rips, the islands exposed shorelines would suffer from significant erosion during winter storms. Instead erosion is most dramatic only during slack tide and high-water wave-cuts are visible on many of the islands exposed shorelines.
San Juan Islands
Locale: Washington & British Columbia
Techniques: Laser-cut wood map
Originally appeared on Below the Boat
Lake Huron
Locale: Michigan & Ontario
Techniques: Laser-cut wood map
Originally appeared on Below the Boat
Mount Desert Island
Locale: Coastal Maine
Techniques: Laser-cut wood map
Originally appeared on Below the Boat

Source: This is Colossal

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