From the window of an airplane it’s all too plain that apartheid has been deeply written into the South African landscape. Even the smallest town appears as two distinct towns. One features a spacious grid of tree-lined streets and comfortable houses surrounded by lawns. The other, its shriveled twin, some distance away but connected by a well-traveled road, consists of a much tighter grid of dirt roads lined with shacks. Trees are a rarity, lawns non-existent. This doubling pattern appears no matter the size of the population: here, the white town; over there, the black township. — Lisa Findley, “Red & Gold: A Tale of Two Apartheid Museums.”
There are few systems of government that relied so heavily upon the delineations of space than the Apartheid government of South Africa (1948-1994). Aggressively wielding theories of Modernism and racial superiority, South Africa’s urban planners didn’t just enforce Apartheid, they embedded it into every city – making it a daily, degrading experience for South Africa’s marginalized citizens.
When Nelson Mandela and his party, the African National Congress, were democratically elected to power in 1994, they recognized that one of the most important ways of diminishing Apartheid’s legacy would be spatial: to integrate the white towns and the black townships, and revive those “shriveled twin[s].”
As we remember Mandela – undoubtedly the most important man in South Africa’s history – and ponder his legacy, we must also consider his spatial legacy. It is in the physical, spatial dimensions of South Africa’s towns and cities that we can truly see Apartheid’s endurance, and consider: to what extent have Mandela’s words of reconciliation and righteous integration, truly been given form?
It’s been exactly one year since the world first mourned the passing of a great master of 20th century architecture: Oscar Niemeyer.
After 104 years of life, the renowned architect left a profound legacy. His works - known for their impressive curves, embrace of light, and profound relationship to their surroundings – made him an icon. Not just in Brazil, but the world.
After the Wolfson Economics Prize announced a challenge to deliver new garden cities in the UK for the 21st Century, Feargus O’Sullivan of Atlantic Cities responds, calling the attempt to bring back garden cities “misguided”. His article gives a comprehensive rundown of why garden cities were popular during the 20th century, why they are becoming popular again and, ultimately, why they are a bad idea that will not succeed this time around – finishing with some ideas from The Netherlands and Sweden that would be much more appropriate. You can read the full article here.
The challenge of converting a sea of parking lots, that so often riddles auto-dependent suburbs, is in densification. Architects are introducing compact urban living models to small towns all across the country, retrofitting single-use zoning into more walkable, diverse and connected communities. Perhaps nowhere is this evolution more evident than Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood, home to the country’s oldest shopping malls. Learn how the town became denser and greener, transitioning to a transit-oriented development, “Gray, Green, and Blue: Seattle’s Northgate.”
UPDATE: The video detailing Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s winning proposal for Moscow’s Zaryadye Park has just been released. In it the three partners discuss the central idea behind the proposal – “Wild Urbanism” – in which plants and people are of equal importance and “nature and architecture are merged into a seamless whole.” They explain how each of Russia’s varied landscapes – its tundra, steppe, forest, and wetland – will be imported to the park and overlapped into ”enfolded nodes” that will house sustainable, artificial micro-climates that will allow for year-round use of the park.
The Strelka Institute has announced the winner of the two-stage international competition to design Zaryadye park, Moscow’s first park in over 50 years: Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Zaryadye Park, 13 acres of land just a minute’s walk from the Kremlin and the Red Square, is hoped to “project a new image of Moscow and Russia to the world.” See the renderings from Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s winning proposal for Moscow’s new and most important public space, after the break…
Cities are diverse places, home to a rich spectrum of people and lifestyles. Chris Downey, however, believes that there are only two types of people, “those with disabilities and those that haven’t quite found theirs yet.” Downey, a distinguished architect of over twenty years, lost his eyesight four years ago and found a new way of seeing the world. “If you design for the blind in mind, you get a city that is robust, accessible, well-connected…a more inclusive, more equitable city for all.” Hear his story, contrasting his daily life before and after this newly found “outsight.”
For years, rivers were a source of transport and power, upon whose banks our cities were born. But as cities industrialized, many of them clogged with filth and disease – making them not only ugly, but dangerous. Unless they were useful, rivers were often diverted, covered, pushed underground, and forgotten.
Not anymore. Reclaiming rivers seems to be the newest trend in urban design, and cities across the world are hopping on the bandwagon. In the UK, the Environment Council is working to restore 9,500 miles of river; in Los Angeles, the eponymous river is about to undergo a complete transformation.
The Battle of Ideas is an annual, weekend-long series of panel discussions hosted at the Barbican in London, ranging across subjects from neuroscience to music and everything in between. With a strong thread of architecture and urbanism, this year offered a spectacular chance to probe the popular trends and fads in today’s design culture.
Read on after the break for the highlights of the event.
In a world where people live more mobile lifestyles than they have for centuries, cities are facing a problem they rarely planned for: their citizens move away. When jobs and resources start to decline, modern cities, such as Detroit, suffer difficult and often wasteful processes of urban contraction. In contrast to this, Manuel Dominguez’s “Very Large Structure,” the result of his thesis project at ETSA Madrid, proposes a nomadic city that can move on caterpillar tracks to locations where work and resources are abundant.
Of course this is not the first time that the idea of a nomadic city has been proposed. Ron Herron’s Walking City is one of the more recognizable Archigram designs from the 1960s, and has been influential to architectural theory ever since. However, the design for the “Very Large Structure” expands on the Walking City by including strong proposals for energy generation on board the city.
Read on to see more on this provocative project – including a full set of presentation boards in the image gallery.
In many cities these spaces have long been disregarded. Today, however, we are witnessing bold experimentation and innovation coming forth from cities across the globe: cities re-using and re-imagining previously underused spaces in order to uplift communities and transform lives.
As explained by this article in the Guardian, planners in Copenhagen are thinking ahead – to the years 2050 and even 2100 - to propose plans that will cope with the storms and floods that will threaten the low-lying city due to climate change. From ”percolating pavements,” “pocket parks” and “cloudburst boulevards,” read about some of the innovative measures they are proposing, many of which are now being adopted around the world, here.
An interesting article in The Atlantic Cities reveals the ideas behind “gender mainstreaming” in Vienna, a policy that began in the early 1990s and has had a huge effect on the past two decades of city planning there. Initially intended specifically to make the city more livable for women, the principles have proven so successful that they now form a part of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme’s best practices. You can read the full article here.
This article, by Klaus Philipsen, FAIA originally appeared on his blog Community Architect.
As BIM (Building Information Modeling) slowly finds broader acceptance in the architecture and engineering of individual buildings, perhaps it is time to consider the next scale: the city. Just like virtual models help us design and understand buildings and embed information, virtual city simulations could have an application in real city planning, allowing us to go from “flat” GIS to three dimensional information modeling that includes terrain, infrastructure, buildings and public spaces. Could virtual cities be the answer to “smart cities“? Find out after the break.
Last monday, Columbia University’s Avery Hall was buzzing.
The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) hosted a highly attended event that welcomed respected academics and professionals from architecture and real estate to what the dean, Mark Wigley, warned might take the form a a celebrity roast. Vishaan Chakrabarti, a partner at SHoP Architects and director of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia, was on deck to deliver an abridged, more “urban version” of a longer lecture on his new book, A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America. Proceeding the twenty minute lecture, an “A-list” panel of architects and historians - that included Kenneth Frampton, Gwendolyn Wright, Bernard Tschumi, Laurie Hawkinson and Reinhold Martin – lined up to discuss Chakrabarti’s work.
If Henry Ford were reincarnated as a bike maker, Le Corbusier as an architect of buildings and cities for bikes, and Robert Moses as their bike-loving ally in government, today’s bike plans would be far more ambitious in scope. Ford would be aiming to sell billions of bikes, Corb would be wanting to save the whole world, and, even if it took him a lifetime, Moses would be aiming to leave a permanent mark.
They would want to give bicycle transport a leg-up, like the leg-up the motorcar received from farmlands being opened for suburban development. So who are our modern-day, bicycle-loving Le Corbusiers? And what, exactly, is their task?
Cricklewood, a North London suburb devoid of public space, is finding a new lease of life through a series of pop-up interventions - including a mobile town square designed by Studio Hato and Studio Kieren Jones - put together by civic design agency Spacemakers. While the project might have a bit further to go before any benefits are truly felt by the local residents, the project is part of a wider scheme financed by the Mayor’s Outer London Fund which will hopefully lead to the rejuvenation of more of the capital’s suburbs. Read Liam O’Brien’s full article in The Independent here.
The Center for Architecture + Design and the Seed Fund announced the winners of the Reimagine. Reconnect. Restore What if 280 came down?, a competition that explored the idea of removing San Francisco’s 280 Freeway, north of 16th Street, in an effort to pedestrianize that portion of the city while generating funds for several regionally important transit projects. The open competition, which encouraged designers to submit urban design interventions, from public art to infrastructure, awarded $10,000 in prizes.
This is not the first time that San Francisco has demolished a freeway to successfully revitalize a neighborhood (remember the Embarcadero and the Hayes Valley?) and it certainly isn’t a first for other American cities, either. In fact, demolishing old, ineffective and/or obstructive freeways has become a powerful vehicle for urban change in this country and the 280 Freeway Competition is just one example of that trend.
In this article, originally published in Metropolis Magazine’s Point of View blog as “The Real Problem with China’s Ghost Towns” , author Peter Calthorpe explains the problems of these cities, predicts their grim future, and explores how the thoughtful planning behind the city of Chenggong could provide a more sustainable alternative.
We’ve all seen the reports on “ghost town” developments in China, showing acres of empty high-rise apartments and vacant shopping malls. These barren towns seem particularly ironic in a country planning to move 250 million people from the countryside to cities in the next 20 years. But this massive, unprecedented demand has been distorted by a number of factors unique to China. Flawed financial incentives for cities and developers, along with the poor phasing of services, amenities, and jobs create most of the problems. In addition, China’s emerging middle class is very comfortable (perhaps too comfortable) investing in real estate, so people often buy apartments in incomplete communities but don’t move in, expecting that values will rise, or that they will live there someday. The result is a string of large, empty developments that remain speculative investments rather than real homes and communities. [See-through buildings are the worry now, but the real problems may come when they are full.]
While it’s hard to get data on vacancy levels in China, there are certainly many anecdotal examples across the country. An all-too-typical example is Chenggong, the new town planned for 1.5 million just outside of Kunming in the west. This freshly minted city boasts the growing Yunnan University, currently with 170,000 students and faculty; a new government center; and an emerging light industrial area. Under construction are the city’s new high-speed rail station and two metro lines connecting the historic city center.