Invasive Aesthetics: A Manifesto for Reviving Architectural Identity in Developing Nations

Dubai. © Daniel Cheong

We have entered an era of ‘modernization’, led by the Western world.  In our times of unprecedented demographic expansion, infrastructural development is racing to meet demand with supply. As architects and designers, we have been pressured to embrace consumerism. has been adopted as a solution to the problem.  Developing countries have equated economic prosperity and success to the adoption of ‘contemporary architecture’ in a bid to demonstrate leadership and innovation. And voila, we have a palette of sleek buildings to meet the population’s needs, as well as to “modernize” our landscape. Surely, mimicking the formula of technologically advanced countries will project us into the public eye.

Well it certainly does, but not necessarily in a positive way. It is creating a global architectural uniformity as designs promoted by Western ‘architectural gurus’ are being replicated around the world. We are neglecting vibrant contextual elements and hence constructing a generic world lacking humane facets of design.  Would it not be a tragedy if , Venice and Barcelona all looked similar? Would we not mourn the vibrancy of Parisian streets around the Eiffel Tower, the romanticism of Venetian waters and the monumental Sagrada Familia that dominates the skies of Barcelona? Do we really want a world that is basically a mirror image of the US?

More after the break…

UN Scientists Identify Sustainable Development Goals to Address the Health of the Environment and Livelihoods

© Flickr user PictureNarrative

“Researchers argue that in the face of increasing pressure on the planet’s ability to support life, adherence to out-dated definitions of sustainable development threaten to reverse progress made in developing countries over past decades.”

In an effort to address the changing priorities of sustainable development, a group of international scientists at the UN identified six goals that achieve a holistic view of the development and nourishment of Earth’s life support systems.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were launched with the intention of addressing problems of environmental as it pertains to poverty eradication, citing that these two problems need to be addressed in unison as they will “increasingly become serious barriers to further human development”, says Professor David Griggs of Monash University (AU) according to the International Council of Scientists.

An Opportunity for Revitalization in Detroit

, ; Courtesy of Flickr User DandeLuca, licensed via Creative Commons

Young entrepreneurs gravitate to places where they can become the founders of a revitalized culture; where land is cheap and available, and innovation is uninhibited by a status quo.  Detroit, Michigan has become one of those places. The media gives us a portrayal of a wasteland, a post apocalyptic landscape of dilapidated homes and infrastructure, but there is plenty opportunity for start-ups to redefine Detroit’s future. That it why young innovators and risk-takers are needed to bring new energy and awaken new markets within the city.  A recent article by Chuck Salter for Fast Company identifies six entrepreneurs who have started businesses in Detroit.  They vary from grassroots campaigns to inform people of opportunities within the city to small scale enterprises that bring retail and infrastructure to the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.

More after the break.

Video: Bianca Bosker Discusses Architectural Imitation in China

In ’s effort to modernize its cities, it has used architectural mimicry – essentially “copy-cat architecture” as journalist and author Bianca Bosker puts it – to rapidly and substantially “adapt to the market” for .  Watch this video as Bosker describes the atmosphere of imitation that China has  adapted to bring western architectural styles to its housing market. Bianca Bosker is the author of “Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China”, in which she gives a tour of the various towns within major cities that have seen this rapid development.  Cities like Hangzhou has its own imitation of Venice, which includes man-made canals, townhouses, and villas.  Shanghai has its own version of Paris, Eiffel Tower included.  And Beijing has an imitation of the London Bridge.

More after the break.

New York City Preserves Public Housing by Leasing Infill Land

NYCHA, . Courtesy of Flickr User agentvladimir. Licensed via Creative Commons

For the past four decades, as cities faced financial pressures, high-rise public housing met its decline.  Cities throughout the country demolished public housing that was failing financially and socially, like Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Housing Project whose was completed in 2011, to make way for mixed use developments that encouraged economic and social diversity by way of the HOPE VI Program. This strategy resulted in the uprooting and relocation of former residents who faced uncertainty throughout the process.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) stands out among housing authorities in the United States due to its size – 179,000 units in 2,600 buildings across the city – and the fact that the buildings are relatively well maintained.  NYCHA has avoided resorting to demolitions to deal with its issues, instead resorting to special police services that costs NYCHA a purported $70 million a year.  Over the past decade NYCHA has been underfunded by approximately $750 million causing backlogs in necessary repairs.

To address the mounting costs of public housing, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has proposed an infill strategy that would attract developers onto NYCHA land and create a new layer of commercial space and residential units in public housing developments.  The goal over the next five years is to develop methods of preservation for the housing development and promote mixed-use and mixed-income developments to generate income for NYCHA.

More on the plan after the break.

Report Suggests Demolishing Unsustainable Mid-Century Skyscrapers in New York

Courtesy of wikiarquitectura.com

Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial plans to rezone midtown New York, allowing for bigger and bolder skyscrapers, has found an unlikely ally in the form of environmentalists.

Re-zoning midtown would ultimately lead to the of the corporate steel and glass skyscrapers, which preservationists argue are emblematic of the cutting edge modernism that swept 1950′s America. However, landlords contest that – for the most part – they are poorly built copycats of seminal landmarks such as the Seagram and Lever buildings and are not particularly significant or suited for modern needs.

More information after the break..

Should Obama Create U.S. Department of Cities?

New York City Skyline © David Blaikie

Author Richard Florida of the NY Daily News made an argument in his “Obama, build a lasting urban legacy” article that President Obama should create a new federal department at the cabinet level called the . Although the President has listed many issues that he would like to focus on in his second term, such as immigration, gun control and climate change, an initiative to create a more promising future for American cities could define the President’s term and leave a lasting impression on the country.

The President made efforts in his last term to rethink and revitalize America’s urban centers with the Office of Urban Affairs, created in 2009, but these efforts have gone largely unrewarded. Pair this with the existing Department of Housing and , which is becoming increasingly out of date and irrelevant, and it’s clear that Mr. President needs to rethink his approach. But despite the challenges that the Obama Administration faces, creating a Department of Cities to finally tackle the issues plaguing our most vital urban nuclei could be one of the most important and far-reaching moves he makes.

Read more about the future of our cities!

AWP to announce masterplan for La Défense

© Anna Positano

La Défense, ’ major business district, is about to undergo a transformation with the help of architecture firm AWP. AWP’s plan was presented to government agencies EPADESA and DEFACTO as well as local communities in November 2012, but will be released to the public for the first time in March. The proposed plan not only updates and adds to the current site: it rethinks and reevaluates what already exists.

More on AWP’s master plan for Le Défense after the break.