Six Teams Studying Uneven Growth to Exhibit Proposals for Expanding Megacities at MoMA

As the culmination of a 14-month initiative to examine new architectural possibilities for rapid growth in six megalopolises - Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lagos, Mumbai, New York, and Rio de Janeiro - the Museum of Modern Art is preparing to open Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities on November 22. The exhibition will present mappings of emergent modes of tactical urbanism from around the globe alongside proposals for a bottom-up approach to urban growth in the highlighted cities by six interdisciplinary teams made up of local practitioners and international architecture and urbanism experts.

Curator Pedro Gadanho, in collaboration with the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), states: 

“The exhibition features design scenarios for future developments that simultaneously raise awareness of the prevailing inequalities in specific urban areas and confront the changing roles of architects vis-à-vis ever-increasing urbanization. Each team in the exhibition was asked to consider how emergent forms of tactical urbanism can respond to alterations in the nature of public space, housing, mobility, spatial justice, environmental conditions, and other major issues in near-future urban contexts.” 

A synopsis of each team’s work, after the break.

Lau Fan Shan oyster farm in the shadows of Tin Shui Wai New Town, Hong Kong. 2014. Image Courtesy of MAP Office

Hong Kong by MAP Office (Hong Kong, China) and Network Architecture Lab (Columbia University, New York)

Compressed between sea and mountains, Hong Kong is a chaotic, hybrid, and colorful urban territory characterized by its extreme density and geography. Formed by a collection of more than 250 islands, mostly inhabited, the city/territory is under pressure from Beijing to absorb new waves of mainland migrants in order to accommodate a 50 percent population increase to its 7.2 million inhabitants. The threat of exponential population growth in combination with scarce land resources and rising sea levels suggest an opportunity to test an artificial island scheme that could extend to the Pearl River Delta and farther along the Chinese coastline.

Man-made islands offer an alternative, sustainable urban expansion with new modes of living, working, and entertaining. Paradigms of living conditions, islands exaggerate existing modes of production and consumption of urban spaces. As territorial fragments, their construction and destruction concentrates many of the forces of human civilization and offers a way to escape the present and to project the future. 

“Hong Kong Is Land” proposes to add eight new artificial islands, including “The Island of Sea,” “The Island of Resources,” “The Island of Surplus,” and “The Island of Self,” to the existing territory. In this way it addresses various needs and features of both prevailing contexts and communities of the near future. At the center of the project, beginning in Hong Kong territorial waters, there is a global awareness of specific contemporary issues that aims to reach other parts of the world. The location of the eight proposed artificial islands across Hong Kong territory is based on a process of decontextualization and "reterritorialization" of existing scenarios. Each island epitomizes one of Hong Kong’s characteristic values from a territorial, social, economic, and futuristic perspective.

Istanbul: Tactics for Resilient Post-Urban Development. 2014. Image © Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée

Istanbul by Superpool (Istanbul, Turkey) and Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (Paris, France) 

Turkey is currently one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. At 14 million inhabitants and a yearly growth rate of 3.5 percent, Istanbul has fully benefited from this economic boom. Starting in the 1960s, its rapid urbanization has had three main phases: gecekondus squatter villages; post-gecekondus’ additional building rights; and mass housing since the 1990s. Unlike earlier “self-building” phases, the recent mass housing is organized predominantly through the Housing Development Agency of Turkey (Toplu Konut İdaresi Başkanlığı, or TOKI), and it employs a single urban typology: gated complexes of repetitive tower clusters on open land.

TOKI mass housing development, Istanbul. 2014. Image © Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée

TOKI development parallels the emergence of a new middle class in Istanbul, for whom a TOKI flat is part of a dream of car and house ownership, even if this brings social isolation, long hours in traffic, and long-term debt. This deeply indebted middle class is also prone to be the most vulnerable during periods of recession. In the face of continuing political, economic, and ecological uncertainties, and the rising costs of energy, TOKI inhabitants have to become more resilient.

“Kolektif İşbirlikçi Toplum Oluşumu/The Collective and Collaborative Agency (KITO)” is a proposal for a post-urban development initiative, which features an alternative positive scenario for the future of TOKI complexes. KITO works at different scales and levels of resilient action to retrofit spaces, equipment, services, and institutions. KITO’s collective interaction is facilitated via KITO’da, an online network that creates an alternative economy, assigning value to local actions and empowering people to make, give, share, and save energy, services, goods, knowledge, and skills. Instead of consuming the city, residents share in its production. 

Lagos Tomorrow. 2014. Transportation. Image © NLÉ and Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas

Lagos by NLÉ (Lagos, Nigeria and Amsterdam, Netherlands) and Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas (Madrid, Spain)

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, is inhabited by over 170 million people. Lagos, its commercial capital, is home to about 20 million people, many of whom live in unplanned settlements with little formal infrastructure. Lagos is a paradigmatic mix of traditions, a place where history, culture, and popular wisdom interweave local knowledge and global awareness.

Challenges remain common for all Lagosians, regardless of social or economic status. While oil is cheap, in many areas the state energy network is only reliable for about three hours per day. Most homes and businesses depend on generators for electricity. Nearly 30 percent of Lagos state is covered by water, yet water is highly underutilized and inadequately managed by the city’s infrastructure. A poorly connected public transportation system and bad roads boost SUV use among middle and upper classes, while mini-transport vehicles like okadas (motorcyles) or danfos (vans) proliferate among lower-income Lagosians. Urban growth is so rapid that strategies devised by authorities and city planners become obsolete before implementation. Most citizens have to set up their own businesses, often in semi-illegal conditions.

There are no current detailed maps of Lagos, because the city is constantly transforming. The team developed their own map to understand how their findings relate to the city context. The resulting project employs tactical urbanism, creating a network of spaces that act as infrastructure for the city, strengthening what already occurs there. Combining large-scale with small-scale urban interventions, the proposal of NLÉ and Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas features a series of physical and strategic prototypes that enrich the city fabric, merging its local intelligence with global technologies.

Reclaiming Growth. 2014. Perspective of Mumbai with ultra-light growth and supragrowth. Image © Ensamble Studio/MIT-POPlab

Mumbai by URBZ: user-generated cities (Mumbai, India) and Ensamble Studio/MIT-POPlab (Madrid, Spain and Cambridge, US)

Mumbai is a city of disparate habitats that emerged through various historical encounters to form a global, but unique, metropolis. Often represented in bipolar terms as a city of slums and high- rises, contemporary Mumbai’s diversity of built forms represents the creative ways inhabitants occupy urban space. Within the complex city fabric, unplanned settlements have grown incrementally, and now absorb over half of the metropolis’s 12 million residents, most typically in thousands of tiny “tool-houses” squeezed into a disproportionately small share of the city’s land.

Serving as both a residence and workspace, Mumbai’s tool-house echoes a housing type common across Asia, from Singapore’s shop-house to Tokyo’s home-factory, and generates its value through use rather than from land speculation. It represents a lifeline that keeps millions of people afloat and allows them to productively occupy the city. In the name of redevelopment, however, these neighborhoods are being replaced by single-function high-rises, revealing the arrested imagination of the authorities.

Instead of a planet of slums in need of clearance, the team sees neighborhoods in different stages of evolution. The creative engagement of URBZ in homegrown neighborhoods and Ensamble Studio/MIT-POPlab’s innovative research respond to this vision with a collage of tactics, technologies, and imaginations. The air is proposed as new territory where live-work conditions and public infrastructures recover their rightful place, liberating the excessive pressure on the land. It is the users themselves who will make the final difference by seizing the tools of institutions and experts to continue doing what they have always done—to control and shape their environments with higher levels of professionalism and good sense. This is not a speculative future, but an expanded present where inhabitants can reclaim growth for themselves.

The Other New York. 2014. Axonometric view. Image © SITU Studio and Cohabitation Strategies (CohStra)

New York by SITU Studio (New York) and Cohabitation Strategies (CohStra) (Rotterdam and New York)

Over the past two decades, global investment and profit-driven development, as well as housing policies at all government levels, have engineered New York’s social divide. With middle-income households in decline, the city’s rapid growth manifests in transformed neighborhoods, luxury developments, and a marked scarcity of affordable housing. Deregulation of private rental housing, withdrawal of funds for rental subsidies, disinvestment in housing provisions for the poor, wage stagnation, and high rents—causing more than half of all renter households to be rent burdened—have created a crisis of affordability.

The Other New York. 2014. Community Growth Corporation infill typology. Image © SITU Studio

A lesser-known consequence of the affordability crisis is an informal rental market that has illegally adapted, subdivided, and converted existing apartment buildings, townhouses, and high- rises to accommodate the lowest-paid populations. More than a century ago, Jacob Riis identified this same injustice: poor citizens, made invisible within existing housing stock, are left out of the policies and design decisions that shape their homes. 

Two alternative approaches address New York’s housing crisis: Cohabitation Strategies proposes “Housing Cooperative Trusts” that challenge traditional conceptions of property through hybrid tenure frameworks. Land and buildings are owned collectively by nonprofits, community stakeholders, tenants, and city authorities, to guarantee permanent affordable housing while building social equity for future generations. SITU Studio proposes neighborhood-based “Community Growth Corporations” to open up underutilized spaces to incremental growth. Outer- borough neighborhoods leverage undeveloped air rights to collectively finance community-wide improvements that provide access to rooftops, backyards, and other occupiable spaces, facilitating a new informal rooftop urbanism for a city with scarce remaining land.

The Carioca Way of City Making. 2014. Varanda Products panorama. Image © RUA Arquitetos and MAS Urban Design, ETH Zurich

Rio de Janeiro by RUA Arquitetos (Rio de Janeiro) and MAS Urban Design ETH (Zurich, Switzerland)

Unevenness is a dominant feature of Rio de Janeiro’s urban landscape, making it exemplary of Brazil’s reputation as an unequal country. Extreme topography confronts the city with nature and the division between rich and poor neighborhoods is articulated in asfalto (official city) and morro (favelas). Yet this strong polarization is about to change, as Brazil’s income distribution has drastically shifted during the last seven years—the lower middle class has increased by 40 million people and now represents the largest segment of the population. In Rio, 60 percent of favela residents now belong to this emerging middle class.

As Rio becomes a middle-class city, the government and prevailing economic system are transforming the city into a setting for market-driven development. However, the discontent of large portions of the population—demonstrated by recent protests against the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics—expresses the gap between the aspirations of an emerging consumer class and the lack of urban equality. 

The cariocas (Rio’s inhabitants) have always found ways to appropriate and subvert their built environment through puxadinhos—add-ons to existing structures made from leftover materials. Operating as extensions beyond the boundaries of private property, puxadinhos collectively transform the built environment, incorporating and embracing new qualities and uses. Inspired by puxadinhos, the proposed “Varanda Products” accommodate the logic of the market in order to transform it. As an interface between individual and community, the veranda offers a middle ground for negotiation, gathering, and play. Varanda Products is a catalog of everyday consumer products that promotes city-making as a collective endeavor bringing together diverse social milieus. Insinuating itself everywhere, Varanda Products encourages small-scale urban entrepreneurship with the openness and playfulness typical of the carioca way of life. 

To further explore these ideas, MoMA has published a book and created a user-generated Tumblr blog that collects examples of emerging modes of tactical urbanism happening in the six cities. Find out more about the exhibition, here.

Project description courtesy of MoMA.

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Cite: "Six Teams Studying Uneven Growth to Exhibit Proposals for Expanding Megacities at MoMA" 13 Nov 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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