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The Evolution of Radical Urbanism: What Does the Future Hold for Our Cities?

Earlier today in Shenzhen the 6th Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (UABB) opened its doors to public. Under the overall theme "Re-Living the City," curators Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner of Urban Think Tank headed up the "Radical Urbanism" exhibit in the main venue. Brillembourg and Klumpner invited the exhibition participants to show how we can learn from ad-hoc and "bottom-up" initiatives for alternative urban solutions. In the following essay - originally printed in the UABB 2015 catalogue - the curators call for us to "rethink how we can operate within the city, learn from its emerging intelligence and shap[e] its outcomes to radical and tactical ends."

The notion of a radical urbanism draws us unavoidably into the realm of the political. Imagining a more equitable and sustainable future involves an implicit critique of the spatial and societal conditions produced by prevailing urban logics.[1] As such, we are not only reminded of Le Corbusier’s famous ultimatum, “architecture or revolution,” but its generational echo in Buckminster Fuller’s more catastrophic pronouncement, “utopia or oblivion.”[2] Both were zero-sum scenarios born of overt social disjuncture, whether the deprivations and tensions of the interwar period, or the escalating conflicts and ecological anxiety of the late 1960s. While the wave of experimental "post utopian" practices that emerged in the early 1970s positioned themselves explicitly in opposition to perceived failures of the modern movement, these disparate groups shared a belief – however disenchanted – with their predecessors in the idea that radical difference was possible, as well as a conviction that a break was necessary.

Buckminster Fuller's Montreal Biosphere. Image © Flickr user rodmaia licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0The Plug in City by Peter Cook of Archigram. Image © Peter Cook via Archigram ArchivesKisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower. Image © ArcspaceHouses built using the Walter Segal system in South London. Image © Chris Moxley+ 9

Is Housing at the Root of Inequality?

Ever since last year, in response to the publication of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the hot topic in the field of economics has been inequality. Piketty's book, which argues that if left unchecked wealth will be increasingly concentrated into the already wealthy end of society, many saw the book as evidence for progressive taxes on the wealthiest members of a society. However, according to The Economist a new critique of Piketty's work is making waves among economists. A paper by MIT graduate student Matthew Rognlie argues that, since the 1970s, the only form of capital that has demonstrably increased the wealth of the wealthy is housing. With this in mind, The Economist suggests that, instead of focusing on taxation, "policy-makers should deal with the planning regulations and NIMBYism that inhibit housebuilding." Read more about Rognlie's paper at The Economist, or (for the more adventurous) read the paper for yourself here.

Kikutake's Sky House: Where Metabolism & Le Corbusier Meet

In this article, first published in the Australian Design Review as "The Meeting of East and West: Kikutake and Le Corbusier", Michael Holt outlines the cross-fertilization of ideas that helped spawn the Japanese Metabolist movement, focusing on how Le Corbusier's ideals were key in the design of one of the movement's most enigmatic projects, Kiyonori Kikutake's Sky House.

Japanese architect Kiyonori Kikutake’s Sky House (1958) remains an exemplary project that defines the Metabolist agenda but, more significantly, underscores the notion that a single-family dwelling can be ideologically recursive and strategic. Kikutake, however, was not without a somewhat unlikely precedent in the renowned Le Corbusier.

Both architects established an order and method of working via their smallest designs – Kikutake in Sky House and Le Corbusier at Villa Savoye (1929) – and developed their notions through written accounts (Kikutake’s Metabolist Manifesto, 1960 and Le Corbusier’s Purist Manifesto, predating the built work, in 1918). Finally, each scales up their ideas to the level of the urban through Kikutake’s Tower-Shaped Community Project (1959) and Le Corbusier’s Urbanisme at Chandigarh, India (1953). To locate the origin of the influence, it is necessary to first examine Le Corbusier’s position as the figurehead of Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM).

Read on for more about this unlikely chain of influence

Nakagin Capsule Tower: a Prototype for Today's Micro Housing

Seizing on the current trend for 'micro-apartments' in cities such as New York, Fast Company has an interesting profile (including some great photos) of the Nakagin Capsule Tower, the 1972 Japanese building, one of the first (and still one of the most extreme) examples of small-plan living. The article explores both the successful and unsuccessful elements of the design, such as the difficult maintenance and non-openable windows, as well as the ongoing battle for preservation since the residents voted to replace the tower with a conventional building. You can read the full article here.

AD Classics: Nakagin Capsule Tower / Kisho Kurokawa

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