#FLthecity: Re-enchanting the city (2)

Weeks 3 to 5 covered things architectural, green and technological, while the final week zoomed in our old friend, human scale. Weeks 1-2 here.

Architecture in the city

What role do architects play in the city? How do architects engage with the development process? Exploring the question of design diversity and the ‘starchitect’ phenomenon.

Diversity in architecture in the city means having different types of buildings designed for different activities and realised in different historical times with a diversity of materials…when you visit a European city like Venice, Rome, Paris, London, at first you see a uniform, old city with a few contemporary buildings standing out. But on a more in depth reading, you realise that the story is quite different.

Urban design encapsulates the process of designing the broad infrastructure for our cities, towns and villages, while architecture focuses on individual buildings. However, often architects act as urban designers, contributing to broader plans of city-making.

Key considerations of urban design:

  • understanding of topography, solar access, wind, transport, people and connectivity
  • floor space arrangement and massing
  • (the key) challenge of diversity and consistency (cohesion, shared purpose, embodied social values)

In looking at how we could transform the masterplan for Central Park we carefully studied the buildings that existed already, the buildings that were under construction, and we tried to see whether we can pull this sequence together in a different way, in a way that created more meaningful open space, that actually created a more generous interface with the adjacent community.

…making roads that could connect heritage items to give people a sense of memory so they could understand that it’s not all new. That as you turned a corner, you could see something old that you knew from before the site was developed. That idea of building in time is an important part of urban design processes.

Two examples of how heritage items were integrated at Central Park:

  • designing with heritage architecture – the Australian Hotel, a key listed building from 1938, created challenges for Foster+Partners (critique); heritage considerations were addressed through the idea of a city datum line, “expressed as a recess in the building that acknowledges and expresses the Australian Hotel’s original height”; the design process considered sensitivity to scale, a response to a sense of place, and influences of function and light for the facade (very reminiscent of that hotel in Rotterdam, where F+P were also involved – see the Gdn’s out of place city buildings feature and contributions)
  • adaptive reuse – the Irving Street Brewery (award citation) ties Central Park back to its early history, with the redevelopment influenced by the technology of the building and merging new, in the form of the trigeneration plant, with old; the trigeneration is expressed and designed into the building, including its distinctive roof

How do architects strike the balance between responding to context and pursuing the dream?

Starchitects are criticised for rolling out their habitual style on any site in any country without genuine response to the individual place, climate, or culture, and getting away with bigger (or higher, different use) buildings than governments would otherwise allow. Their buildings are frequently controversial. Do they have an unfair advantage, or is it a reward for fine design? See documentary.

Is the distinction between star and other architects spurious? The question of what is local, what is specific, what is regional is a very elusive thing…we work (increasingly) in a truly global context (critique).

Discourse from comments: “global design…befits Australia’s identity…inspirational…a fitting tribute to Australia’s multicultural identity”…

(St)architecture’s role in city creation is to engage with what exists while also taking people toward a future they cannot imagine. It does this both by fitting in and standing out, considering the nature of place from outside in, and from inside out. It must accommodate the individual and the larger group, pursuing beauty, economy, and structural integrity with architects, both servants and shapers of the planning system.

Diversity – except when it comes to buildings:

Many postmodern urban theorists have argued that the essence of the traditional city is uniformity, yet Australian cities, being relatively young and brash, are distinguished by their diversity, with terraced houses next to warehouses next to skyscrapers, and so on. Even in their oldest and most uniform parts, they’re still way more expressive than most.

The result is a sort of diversity within uniformity. At best, this could be very successful – more interesting than the rigid uniformity of say Georgian London, and more coherent than the random placement that modernism often encouraged.

How should a contemporary city precinct like Central Park replicate that balance? Should there be one design hand or many? If many, should they be briefed to fit in or to stand out? The design excellence requirements for Central Park specified visual diversity. This was to be achieved by using a variety of local and international architects and urban designers…The creative tension that resulted is one of the secrets of Central Park’s succes

Two Padlet exercises:

  • Different or popular? – take a closer look at the town or city in which you live and locate an example of diversity (range of different architectural styles in one location; you’ll be lucky) or starchitecture
  • Iconic architecture (disappointing directory) – a symbol of a city, a statement about its history, ambition or how it wants to be seen; what buildings are iconic in your city or town; what make it a signature building? (how many are new, how many heritage)

The weekly summary highlights:

  • a green grid as an additional layer to urban design representing the ecology of the city
  • modern vs post-modernist approaches to ornament for buildings
  • the relationship between residents and green space, including the balcony plantings.
  • sensitivity and respect to heritage – what represents successful integration of old and new
  • the value and drawbacks of starchitects

Being green

Focuses on significant sustainability initiatives, on sustainable urbanism and the inclusion of nature into the city. It examines design innovations in green technologies, and environmental building services.

Being green is:

  • about integrating nature into our cities and constructing our urban habitat in ways that mimic natural systems and remembering that human beings are just one of the species that lives in the cities – includes renaturing the city, bringing more plants and green landscape elements into urban areas
  • involves using green building materials and technologies for better water management, reducing temperatures associated with the urban heat island effect, and remaking post-industrial sites to create new urban precincts for living, working, and recreation
  • as residential neighbourhoods get more dense it will be increasingly important for people to have access to nature, outdoor green space for exercise and recreation, and even views into green areas that provide visual relief – designed urban landscapes are cultural products that reflect shared social values and attitudes

“Landscape architects work basically on the horizontal plane. And architects are working on the vertical plane. The outdoors not the indoors, materials that change over time not static, natural not cultural”. More trees, water features and quiet places, obvs, but see also the landscape architecture padlet – it doesn’t have to mimic ‘nature’ in a tamed way. I’m thinking  the High Line, Central Park’s vertical gardens; and from my own experience the gardens in the Walkie Talkie and Copenhagen Towers in Ørestad. Last but not least, the Green Walkway (architects) behind Rigsarkivet, at the moment CPH’s most enchanting place for me.

Some comments re the absence of the sustainability word. Back to resilience, which feels rather less agenda driven and more multi-dimensional. The Gdn’s recent article on Vejle (“the Manchester of Denmark”), with lots of references to Rotterdam, highlights issues around social resilience with some stonking comments.

The weekly summary was perhaps a little on the defensive, stressing that “many different approaches will be required to implement ‘green’ planning, designing, and building for cities of the future” – I couldn’t agree more. A number of comments centred round cultural differences and the need for a “‘both and’ not ‘either or’ approach to culture” – ditto.

Technology in the city

What role does technology play in creating an enchanting liveable built environment? We will explore this question via our case study, the Central Park development, and look through the lens of industrial design and its connection with other design and planning professions.

There’s a section on 3D printing, but nothing on smart cities. Padlet activity: Identify your favourite product or object that you love and cannot live without. The product should have been designed for a specific purpose. Tell us why this product or object is indispensable for you.

More interesting, a section on the poetry of technology and “the role of technology in making cities beautiful”, which at Central Park consists of a wind driven public artwork called Halo, living walls and the heliostat. Activity: Identify a vital technology in your environment. It could be visible or hidden. Discuss what ways it enhances your life.

Largely skipped. The comments are going to be centred around Central Park being technology driven, there’s not going to be a meeting of the minds. It’s an important theme though – tech ain’t going away and we can’t wind the clock back. See the sections on re-storying nature from #FLremaking.

The weekly summary took the “technology embraces a broad sweep of topics and concerns” line, with an interesting point around technical obsolescence.  In Central Park the overall site (landscape), buildings and technological elements (Heliostat, Trigen and green walls) will all experience differing lifespans, of which the tech’s “no doubt” will be the shortest.

The human scale: the relationship between the inside and the outside

“In Week 6, Inside Out, we zoom to the human scale and talk to the concepts of the interior room vs urban room (exterior).” I was so excited about this, implying as it does that not everything has to be human scale (that’s anthropocentric talk!) that I got stuck in a week early. Inevitably it was a bit of a disappointment.

Three themes are central to interior architecture:

  • interiority – all the pieces that shape an interior and the way that interior coherently and creatively is ‘place-making’ through its setting of interior; the way we operate and live in these places; encompasses all the facets that unite to form great interior environments
  • human scale – a relationship created of people to purpose to rooms, and the appropriateness of a scale to a purpose; public space versus private space, a town hall versus a lounge room; the scale of a private place is usually more related to human scale and people at a fine-grain level, the way people engage with a space through the level of touch, and at a relationship of hand scale; public space is a scale that relates to cities or urban proportions, a much larger grain, large meeting places for many people
  • circulation – the patterns that people move along in life, and specifically how these patterns are crucial to the success of interior spaces that we conceptualise and design; also relates to scale and how people circulate vertically and horizontally in an effective and poetic way in our interior spaces

A discussion of the One Central Park apartments, interior versus urban, presents a view of the nature of scale and how the room is defined from the scale of people to the scale of a city and how these relationships of scale to ideas are utilised by interior architects as underpinning qualities of these rooms:

The corridors of One Central Park are an example of the way poetry is being used in the conceptualisation of the design. They build a drama and an enchantment to the way that people would experience those corridors as they move through them. The theatrical nature of the corridors of One Central Park have been used as a design device to really amplify the difference between the public spaces and the private spaces.

Passing over the “the approach of raw, organic luxury” and “high speed luxury design approach influenced by sports cars and yachts” in the apartments brings us to a Padlet exercise: “Thinking about your own home or an interior you like, the materials and finishes, describe the character that it represents. Does this space correspond to a raw, organic luxury like Koichi’s design, or the contemporary and sophistication of William’s approach, or something very different?” That’ll be the last then.

Moving on, a discussion of interior and urban rooms:

Each type is defined by boundaries. However, the interior room is about shelter, order and comfort, the urban room is about civic activity.

Padlet exercise: “Drawing on what you have learned, select a building with which you feel a close connection, and share the experience of moving across the inside-out threshold. Do you sense a change of scale? Do the materials and lighting influence the experience? What emotions does the circulation pattern evoke?”

Finally, how do we make hyperdense cities of the future green, liveable and poetic? Can you identify the parts of your city that are green, liveable and poetic, as you now understand these considerations in light of this course? What if you had the power and influence to change things, what would you propose to make your city more green, liveable and poetic?

Enchanted?

The course glossary (see week 1) highlighted issues of discourse. The content and hence tone of the course was different and wider than prevailing sustainability dogmas, leading to some discontent. But just what is enchantment?

The course team may have taken their enchanting inspiration from Jane Jacobs, who got a nod in week 1, but the rest of it certainly didn’t feel classic Jane. Some participants’ expectations of enchantment were not met, and many criticised the emphasis on one, rather gentrifying, site. For me the course challenged Gehlite Danish discourse in a refreshing way, although the end result did not enchant.

Enchantment is a recurring theme in UK place and nature writing as well, kicked off perhaps by Towards re-enchantment: place and its meanings (2010; The Ecologist).

In his essay in the book, A counter-desecration phrasebook, Robert Macfarlane calls for “a vast glossary of Enchantment that would comprehend the whole earth, that would allow nature to talk back to us and would help us to listen” (source), while in Landmarks (2015) he expresses his anxiety for the way that technology “has bequeathed to us an inadequate and unsatisfying relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves too”. Read him on Generation Anthropocene, and see The Big Interview with Adam Scovell.

David Cooper took issue with some of this on the Poetic Places launch event, and convened an event on Digital re-enchantment (Eventbrite) on 11 June to explore whether digital technologies can, for writers and readers, facilitate a re-enchantment with the world, looking at how landscape writers have drawn upon digital technologies in their creative practices. Examples:

  • experimental use of Twitter as a literary space, viz: take a photo of where you are in the Peak District – sum it up in one word – tag with #enchantthepeak – tweet
  • creative use of digital technologies to reimagine the Peak District

See also Richly Evocative’s review of the Balham Literary Festival. And, in another approach, can ‘gamifying’ cities help improve them?

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