The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), named after the Queen and Her Consort, has its foundations in the Great Exhibition of 1851 amidst the wealth, innovation and squalor of the Industrial Revolution. Britain was flooded by prosperity which allowed for the development of major new institutions to collect and exhibit objects of cultural significance or artistic value. The institute’s first director, Henry Cole, declared that it should be “a schoolroom for everyone,” and a democratic approach to its relationship with public life has remained the cornerstone of the V&A. Not only has it always been free of charge but it was also the first to open late hours (made possible by gas lighting), allowing a more comprehensive demographic of visitor.
Their latest exhibition, which opens today, seeks to realign the museum’s vast collection and palatial exhibition spaces in South Kensington with these founding concepts. The interventions of All of This Belongs to You attempt to push the V&A’s position as an extension of London’s civic and cultural built environment to the fore, testing the museum’s ability to act as a 21st century public institution. To do this in London, a city where the notion of public and private is increasingly blurred, has resulted in a sequence of compelling installations which are tied together through their relevance either in subject matter, technique, or topicality.
Danish urban planner and committed pedometer user Jan Gehl is an expert in creating “cities for people.” Following a recent talk he gave on sustainable cities in Basel, Gehl sat down with Tages Wocke to discuss what makes a city desirable and livable. “We found people’s behavior depends on what you invite them to do,” says Gehl. “The more streets you have, the more traffic you get. A more attractive public realm will be used by more people.” Read the full interview and see why Gehl thinks social and psychological sciences should be taught in architecture school, here.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked the Brazilian non-profit group Arquitetas Invisíveis to share with us a part of their work, which identifies women in architecture and urbanism. They kindly shared with us a list of 48 important women architects, divided into seven categories: pioneers, “in the shadows,” architecture, urbanism, landscape architecture, social architecture, and sustainable architecture. We will be sharing this list over the course of the week.
Yesterday we brought you The Architects, and today we present women leaders in the field of urbanism.
In The New Yorker’s latest Postcard from Rome Elizabeth Kolbert talks to Renzo Piano in his Senate Office at the Palazzo Giustiniani, just around the corner from the Pantheon. Piano, who was named a Senator for Life by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in September 2013 (when he was 75 years of age), immediately “handed over the office, along with his government salary, to six much younger architects.” He then “asked them to come up with ways to improve the periferie - the often run-down neighborhoods that ring Rome and Italy’s other major cities.” Kolbert attests to Piano’s belief in the power of museums and libraries and concert halls. For him, ”they become places where people share values [and] where they stay together.” “This is what I call the civic role of architecture.”
In an article for The Guardian, Oliver Wainwright steps “inside Beijing’s apocalypse”: the poisonous, polluted atmosphere that often clings to the Chinese capital. He explores ways in which those who live in this metropolis have started to redefine the spaces they frequent and the ways in which they live. Schools, he notes, are now building inflatable domes over play areas in order to “simulate a normal environment.” The dangers were made clear when ”this year’s Beijing marathon [...] saw many drop out when their face-mask filters turned a shade of grey after just a few kilometres.” Now, in an attempt to improve the living conditions in the city, ecologists and environmental scientists are proposing new methods to filter the air en masse. Read about some of the methods here.
The Dutch city of Rotterdam, often referred to as a hotbed of architectural activity, has been named as the best city in Europe by The Academy of Urbanism at the 2015 Urbanism Awards. Pitted against two other finalists – Aarhus in Denmark and Turin in Italy – the city has been praised for its “predominantly young, open, tolerant community that is embracing innovative architecture and urban design and new business models.”
Despite being a very closely fought battle, the Academy said that Rotterdam was a vote winner for its “unique approach to governance. Appointed for six years by central government, the role of mayor sits outside of political structures and with no portfolio, allowing greater engagement with citizens and businesses.” Steven Bee, Chairman of the Academy, said that “a long-term perspective, a high level of autonomy, strong leadership by the mayor and municipality, and strong partnerships between public and private sector, are all helping Rotterdam grow positively.”
If you read a lot of articles about cities and urbanism, you’re probably familiar with the words “half of the world’s population now lives in cities.” For a number of years, these words have been frequently used in the opening sentences of articles, hoping to convince readers in just a few seconds of the importance of the subject at hand. In fact, according to the World Health Organization these words are no longer even true: in 2014 the urban portion of the world’s population has already reached 54%. In other words, every nine months the world adds enough new urbanites to fill a city the size of Tokyo, with an increase of nearly 300 million new urban dwellers since we reached the tipping-point in 2008.
Of course, all of this means that there has never been a better time to be an urbanist than right now. Or does it?
“For the most part, the way urbanists view black neighborhoods (and other low-income neighborhoods and communities of color) are as problems that need to be fixed. At the heart of what I want to say is what can we as urbanists learn from these neighborhoods?” So asks Sara Zewde, a landscape architecture student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and this year’s Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Olmsted Scholar, in a fascinating profile on Metropolis Magazine. Read more about Zewde and her work here.
In Urban Design 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 technology also dictated form, but the resulting walls — and the need to guard them — often imposed smaller footprints than cities might otherwise have produced.
A collection of 41 interviews conducted by students at the Strelka Institute, entitled Future Urbanism, is now available online. The interviews feature architects, urban planners, sociologists, researchers, and other professionals from fields related to urban studies, emphasizing the Strelka Institute’s mandate for interdisciplinary thinking. To take a look at the interviews, see here.
Amanda Burden, former animal behaviorist turned New York’s chief city planner, has discovered what makes cities desirable: great public spaces. During her time with the Bloomberg administration, Burden oversaw the fruition of the city’s most transformative public projects, including New York’s beloved High Line. In the video above, she reveals the many unexpected challenges of planning (and maintaining) parks people love, and why it is so important for cities to have great public spaces.
In this article on the Atlantic Cities, Richard Florida delves into recent research by Edward Glaeser, the author of Triumph of the City, which investigates the emergence in recent decades of mega-cities in developing nations. Though cities have long been connected to prosperity he points out that in these new cities, residents remain poor. The answer it seems is linked to our globalized economy, as well as the under prepared governments in these countries. However Glaeser and Florida don’t see this as a reason for panic, or to abandon urbanization, but rather to ensure that urbanization is supported more effectively by government. You can read the full article here.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism has produced a new report examining urban health in eight of the USA’s largest cities, which has been translated into a collection of meaningful findings for architects, designers, and urban planners. With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas – a statistic which is projected to grow to 70% by 2050 – the report hinges around the theory that “massive urbanization can negatively affect human and environmental health in unique ways” and that, in many cases, these affects can be addressed by architects and designers by the way we create within and build upon our cities.
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?
One of Detroit’s most prominent vacant sites is slated to become one of its most iconic buildings. SHoP Architects will partner with Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates to transform the site formerly occupied by Hudson’s Department Store. Located at Grand River and Gratiot in the city’s Central Business District, the two-acre site has remained a scar in the urban landscape since the implosion of the Hudson’s building in 1998.