Are Property Developers “Ruining Our Cities”?

Phase 3, Battersea Power Station redevelopment (London). Image Courtesy of Foster + Partners / Gehry Partners

Alongside a number of recent articles that explore the rise of the urban property developer and the subsequent “threat” to the built environment, Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian explores at length how developers are “exploiting planning authorities and ruining our .” In discussion with Peter Rees, former Chief Planning Officer for the City of London and responsible for the financial district’s monuments of today, Wainwright discusses the lack of accountability of the vast majority of urban developers. While local councils attempt to secure the next iconic development for their area many planners, authorities and developers are locked in a battle over the built fabric of our cities. Read the article in full here.

World Architecture Festival to Kick-Off in One Month

With only one month to go before the 2014 World Architecture Festival (WAF) begins in Singapore, has unveiled new additions to the Festival Program, including a keynote speech by Ole Scheeren of Buro Ole Scheeren. With “Architects and the City” as WAF’s overarching theme this year, Scheeren’s talk will be on the relationship between architects, architecture and urbanism.

Other keynote speakers include Rocco Yim of Rocco Design Associates who will speak on his involvement in the West Kowloon Cultural District, the largest arts and cultural project in Hong Kong to date, and Richard Rogers who will speak candidly about his life as one of the most influential global figures in architecture and his future agenda. Moshe Safdie will close the Festival, looking back over his extensive career to talk exclusively about the defining moments that shaped its path.

Read on after the break for more information on WAF’s three days of fascinating talks, networking opportunities and its annual awards.

Cities Need Big Changes to Become Bike Friendly

A bicyclist in , Canada. Image © Flickr CC User Paul Krueger

A new study has found that cities need to make big infrastructural changes, rather than small ones, in order to become more bike friendly. As this article from Fast Company explains, small increases in bicycle usage lead to more accidents, which in turn makes others afraid to make the switch from driving to riding. However, the study found that heavy investment in cycling infrastructure brings an economic benefit to cities in the long run, largely thanks to savings from reduced healthcare costs. To learn about the long-term benefits of big biking investments, click here.

Amsterdam is “Dirty, Filthy, and Too Full”

Dutch Canal Houses. Image © James Taylor-Foster

Wim Pijbes, director of ’s Rijksmuseum, has declared in an open letter to the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad that the Dutch capital is “dirty, filthy, and too full.” Complaining primarily about the culture of short-stay accommodation, segways, scooters and canal cruisers in the historic heart of the city, he argues that “the charm and spirited character has long since faded.” Amsterdam, an apparent magnet for those who enjoy an “anything-goes atmosphere,” faces an uphill battle in order to remold a dwindling reputation.

Initiatives like Project 1012, which seeks to put a cap on (and even shut down) some of the brothels and marijuana ‘coffee shops’ in the city’s historic core, is part of a wide-reaching clean up campaign. For Feargus O’Sullivan however, “if Amsterdam loses its sense of license, its aura of permissiveness, and its immaculate order held in delicate balance, then it will lose some of its delight, its uniqueness – even its Dutchness.” Read his article in The Atlantic’s Citylab in full here.

How New Elevator Technology Will Allow Our Cities to Grow Even Taller

KONE UltraRope Elevator Shaft. Image Courtesy of Kone/Splash/Corbis

The sky is not always the limit when it comes to building vertically – rather, elevator technology is often the restricting factor when it comes to skyscraper height. With current , a single elevator can travel approximately 500m before the weight of the rope becomes unsupportable. This means that ascending a mile-high (1.6km) tower would require changing up to 10 times. However, UltraRope, a recently unveiled technology by Finnish elevator manufacturer KONE, may change the heights of our cities. A new hoisting technology that will enable elevators to travel up to one kilometer, UltraRope doubles the distance that is currently possible.

In an article for The Guardian, “The new lift technology that will let cities soar far higher,” Rory Hyde looks at the current limitations of elevator technology, how its development over the years has shaped our cities and the impact that UltraRope could have skyscraper design. Read the whole piece, here.

Tree-Like Skyscraper Takes Urban Farming to Next Level

Courtesy of

Urban farming is nothing new, but Aprilli Design Studio‘s proposal for a completely open-air skyscraper does put a novel spin on the sustainable ideal. Instead of tacking greenery onto roofs and balconies, they incorporate agriculture into cities by dedicating entire buildings to the cause. To learn more about the tree-like design, check out Fast Company’s article here.

Washington D.C. – The Most Walkable City in the US?

Chicago is the fifth most walkable city. Image © Vincent Desjardins via Flickr

new report from Christopher Leinberger and Patrick Lynch at The George Washington University School of Business has unexpectedly named Washington D.C. the most walkable city in the U.S., trumping expected favorites like New York, which ranked second.

Respectively rounding out the top five were Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago. Although a mere 2.8 percent of the population is estimated to walk to work, the report’s authors believe the results are indicative of urban development moving away from automobile dependency and sprawl - an event they consider as significant as Frederick Jackson Turner declaring the “closing of the frontier” in 1893.

Urban Design for an Urban Century: Shaping More Livable, Equitable, and Resilient Cities

Courtesy of Wiley

In for an Urban Century: Shaping More Livable, Equitable, and Resilient Cities (2nd Edition), by Lance Jay Brown, David Dixon, historical trends and practices are used to explain current theories of urbanism. The following excerpt illustrates one such historical trend, detailing exactly how the advent of railroads and skyscrapers following the Industrial Revolution radically changed the urban landscape.

Before the Industrial Revolution, forces such as trade, agriculture, and defense determined the shape of cities in North America and Europe, whether planned or unplanned. How far a person could reasonably walk and the requirements of carts, wagons, and herds of animals heavily influenced the layout and dimensions of city streets regardless of the form the larger city took. Defensive strategy and also dictated form, but the resulting walls — and the need to guard them — often imposed smaller footprints than cities might otherwise have produced.

The Pre-Fabricated Skyscraper & The Clean-Tech Utopia: Two Game-Changing, Sustainable Proposals in China

How can the city be reinvented to save the world? Chinese business magnate Zhang Yue and Finnish professor Eero Paloheimo are two men with very contrasting answers to this loaded question. Zhang Yue’s answer puts trust in pre-fabricated, high-density vertical development, whereas Paloheimo envisions a built-from-scratch, clean-tech sprawling utopia. Their grand ideas, met with both skepticism and excitement, are documented in a new film by Anna-Karin Grönroos. To watch the trailer and learn more about the bold proposals, continue after the break.

Justin McGuirk’s Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture

Elemental’s houses in Quinta Monroy, Iquique. © Cristóbal Palma

In Radical Cities, Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving: “after decades of social and political failure, a new generation has revitalised architecture and urban design in order to address persistent poverty and inequality. Together, these activists, pragmatists and social idealists are performing bold experiments that the rest of the world may learn from.” The following is an excerpt from Radical Cities on  – the great, but all-but-forgotten experimental housing project in that counted James Stirling and Aldo van Eyck among its contributors.

In a northern suburb of Lima is a housing estate that might have changed the face of cities in the developing world. Its residents go about their lives feeling lucky that they live where they do, but oblivious to the fact that they occupy the last great experiment in social housing. If you drove past it today, you might not even notice it. And yet the Proyecto Experimental de Vivienda – PREVI for short – has a radical pedigree. Some of the best architects of the day slaved over it. Now it is largely forgotten.

The Sprawled Desert City of Phoenix Sets Sights on Walkability

Light Rail crossing Tempe Town Lake. Image © CC Flickr User Alan Stark

When the profit-driven bulldozing of virgin desert quickly transformed into unfinished ghost towns in 2008, the city of Phoenix, , reset their sights on a more sustainable and desirable way of living: walkable communities. With the establishment of the city’s first light rail, the once car-centric communities of its urban core have turned into swaths of pedestrian havens. This has not only improved the city’s desirability, but has also been good for business. See how else Phoenix is trying to “pull off an urban miracle” and reverse it’s sprawled image here on Fast Company.

Sydney Illuminates Itself with City-Wide Light Festival

Vivid 2014: The Lighting of the Sails of the Opera House © James Horan

Now through June 9, the city of Sydney will be illuminated by its annual, world-exclusive light festival known as Vivid Sydney. Each night from 6PM until midnight, many of the Harbour City’s most famous landmarks will be transformed into an interactive visual spectacular, paralleled with street side installations, laser shows, (free) live music performances and over 200 creative industry business events.

One of the festival highlights, of course, is the illumination of the Sydney Opera House. Watch as Jørn Utzon’s famous white sails are transformed by a series of mind-bending, 3D projections designed by 59 Productions after the break…

City of Kiruna To Move Two Miles Over This June

The new city center with the salvaged bell tower. Image Courtesy of

Officials announced this week that, starting in June, the city of Kiruna, Sweden will begin to migrate. Founded in 1900, the town is the product of Sweden’s largest state-owned mining company, LKAB. The company extracts iron from the nearby Kirunavaara mountainside, and now the expansion of the mines threatens to destabilize the ground beneath 3,000 homes as well as many of the town’s municipal buildings.

The 100-year master plan put forth by White Arkitekter, in collaboration with Ghilardi + Hellsten Arkitetker, calls for the city to expand two miles eastward along a linear axis. This new plan will rebuild the town on solid ground, retain its historical and cultural presence, and slowly wean it off its dependency on the mining industry by opening the community up to new businesses.

Happy Cities and Stranger Danger: An Interview with DIALOG’s Bruce Haden

© Trevor Brady

In this article, first published by Indochino as “What makes some buildings happy?” architect Bruce Haden, principal at DIALOG in Vancouver, discusses why some places feel good to be in and why some just have that awkward, quiet feeling.

Award-winning architect and urban planner. Dad. Researcher on happy vs. lonely . We talked to Bruce Haden about why some places feel good to be in, and some just have that awwwkward, quiet feeling.

Bruce Haden has only been an architect and a bartender. So ask him what he likes about it, and his answer is he doesn’t really know anything else. In high school, he didn’t want to pick between calculus and woodshop, so he ended up in a profession that’s part art, part engineering (and a fair amount of politics). Now, he works on a lot of large, public buildings. But he also spends a lot of time thinking about happy and lonely cities. He talks about how working with a client is like dating, why some buildings are worth being in and others are just empty, and whether adventure or luxury wins.

Crafting Urban Life in Three Dimensions: An Interview with Adam Snow Frampton by James Schrader

Footbridge in Central, Hong Kong. Image by Adam Frampton

The following are excerpts from one of 41 interviews that student researchers at the Strelka Institute are publishing as part of the Future Urbanism Project. In this interview, James Schrader speaks with Adam Snow Frampton, the co-author of Cities Without Ground and the Principal of Only If, a -based practice for architecture and urbanism. They discuss his work with OMA, the difference between Western and Asian cities, his experiences opening a new firm in New York, and the future of design on an urban scale.

James Schrader: Before we get to , I thought it would be interesting to look a bit into your past. Could you tell me about where your interest in cities came from? Were there any formative moments that led to your fascination with cities?

Adam Snow Frampton: I was always interested in cities, but not necessarily exposed to much planning at school. When I went to work at OMA Rotterdam, I was engaged in a lot of large-scale projects, mostly in the Middle East and increasingly in Asia, where there was an opportunity to plan cities at a bigger scale. In the Netherlands, there’s not necessarily more construction than in the US, but there is a tradition of thinking big and a tendency to plan. For instance, many Dutch design offices like OMA, West 8, and MVRDV have done master plans for the whole country.

Biking to Work Increases 60 Percent in U.S.

© 2008-2012 American Community Survey

Over the last decade, the amount of bicycle commuters have increased 60 percent in the U.S. As the U.S. Census Bureau reports, this is the largest percentage increase of all modes tracked by the 2000 Census and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey. Along with the study, the Bureau released a new interactive map that allows you to zoom-in and explore the statistics for every neighborhood in the U.S. Find out how to access this map and read some highlights from the report, after the break…

What Makes a City a City?

The presence of a cathedral meant St David’s in Pembrokeshire had city status with a population of around 2,000. Image Courtesy of Alamy

You probably use the word ‘city’ on a daily basis, but if put on the spot – could you give it a concise definition? Under the rule of Henry VIII, the title of city was given to virtually any settlement in the United Kingdom with a diocesan cathedral. Obviously, times have changed. For Robert Bevan’s thoughts on the title’s past and present meaning, read his article on here.

Sydney Pushes First-Ever Policy to Promote Culture

© Flickr - User: Jong Soo (Peter) Lee

The City of Sydney has requested that 1.6 million square meters of empty commercial and residential space be made available to artists for “creative activities.” The proposed cultural offers over 120 ideas in which the space can be used to enhance Sydney’s reputation as a world renowned creative city. “The City is proud to spend more than $34 million each year to support the arts, culture and creative activity in Sydney – but we know it is equally important to create an environment where ideas and imagination can flourish.” More information on the new can be found here