Lampposts covered in knitting, pop-up parks, and mid-20th Century housing painted with officially-sanctioned graffiti: from New York to Cologne, these are now ubiquitous features of the shift of cities across the world to an embrace of all things ‘creative’. It is now over ten years since Richard Florida’s ‘Creative Class’, which, as well as spurring policy replication on a global scale has led to a significant amount of critique and debate. With time, including the advent of, for example, the smart city agenda, it might be tempting to think of the notion of the creative city as being past its sell by date. Yet its ideals continue to hold sway and its discourse continues, even if almost impossible to untangle from the wider discussions about urban regeneration. The creative city is therefore something much bigger than Florida’s original prescription and has, when merged with ideals of policy-led gentrification and wider dynamics of the cultural economy, become a capture-all for reinventing what the city is and whom the city is for. This is a city-image that somehow brings together the tech industry, hip cuisine, and bike lanes into one cohesive entity. In its most caricatured form it is the city as portrayed through the likes of Monocle Magazine rankings as a picture-perfect world of beautiful people sporting fixed-gear bikes and lattes.
After the ‘Pop up park’: The Sphinx building and former Sphinxpark being readied for redevelopment, November 2013
In addressing the growing environmental issues and global population growth, the builders of tomorrow must understand and address city living as a viable solution to our modern day dilemmas. In learning from past cities that are unsustainable, unhealthy, unsafe, and a complete separate entity from the natural world, architects and designers alike have an opportunity to reform the future of city living for a healthier and happier urban standard. This optimistic urban reform seeks to ultimately return modern building culture to a healthier and more natural state, while maintaining equilibrium with the technological advances of the 21st century.
Maybe we were supposed to get this far in the human timeline of achievements, so that we may stop for a minute to examine the clouds of smog that have engulfed Beijing, or the bumper to bumper traffic of the carbon emitting streets of New York City. We live in an era in which we have the ability to harness natural energy and convert it into electricity, by means of photovoltaic panels, wind farms, and various water-related systems. We have the design capabilities to organize urban infrastructure that works with nature rather than against it; by means of storm water management, conservation of plant and tree life, and being mindful of the wildlife habitats that are typically destroyed in city development.
We also have the ability to go back and ‘revise’ our mistakes that have been left unattended in our urban mess through adaptive reuse design, in which we may readdress our grey cities with much needed green initiatives. In imposing a productive design upon a preexisting structure of little use or potential, we can create something spectacular out of nothing in a cost efficient and space-conserving manner. The New York High Line, for example, took what used to be an elevated railroad, and greened it into a park stretching 1.45 miles through the city. Simple, productive, cost efficient, and beautiful.
The Nature of Cities
Directed by Chuck Davis
Produced by Throughline Productions
“Part of our separation from nature is that we thought nature is something “over there” and where we live is not nature, and especially if we live in a cities.” (‘The Nature of Cities’)
This argument leads like a common threat throughout ‘The Nature of Cities’. The 50-minute documentary criticises the common notion of nature being something ‘over there’, instead of something we interact with; in cities, in our everyday lives – on a smaller or larger scale. Nature and cities are, can and should go together according to ‘The Nature of Cities’ – whether we talk about parks, living green walls, green buildings or car-free communities. The diversity of what nature in cities can be, is portrayed through various projects, as Timothy Beatly (sustainable city researcher and author) travels to many cities (mostly European ones), including Freiburg (Germany), Malmö (Sweden), Paris (France), Austin (Texas).
OMA’s proposal for the Axel Springer Media Campus (Image Courtesy of OMA)
“Today there is no reason that a need for such a building with workspaces exists, because you can easily work from your house and email it….” according to Mathias Döpfner (2013), CEO of media company Axel Springer. Springer is one of Europe’s largest publishing houses headquartered in Berlin and most well-known as publisher of German newspapers such as Bild-Zeitung and Die Welt. Despite this somewhat bold statement about the workplace, Döpfner’s firm has commissioned the Rotterdam-based architectural practice OMA founded by Rem Koolhaas to design its new headquarters in the form of a media campus in the centre of Berlin. Why commission a new headquarters if people can work from their homes using their mobile devices? A closer look at the demands of Axel Springer for their new headquarters in Berlin and the conceptualizations of OMA’s architects gives insight into how an office space is still conceived to be relevant in our digitalized and networked 21st century.
With the ever-increasing role of information technology, diffusing global networks and the flexibilization of labour, many changes in the patterns of work are occurring. As geographer Paul L. Knox (1987) has argued, the built environment is both an expression of economic, social and political relationships within society and simultaneously reproduces and modifies these relationships. The production of space is a practice that is intricately connected to social change. The way offices are designed today thus can tell us a lot about contemporary values and work practices.
The design for Axel Springer’s new media centre in Berlin presents a striking case. With on the one hand a company who “has mobilized architecture to help perform a radical change” (Rem Koolhaas, 2014) and on the other hand an architecture practice which aims to fundamentally innovate working environments and create “a workplace in all its dimensions”, the question has to be asked: which ideas are at the core of such a supposedly innovative modern workplace?
Dear Proto City reader, if you happen to be around Amsterdam this summer, there is this one place you really need to visit: De Ceuvel.
About a year ago, the Proto City team attended a presentation in which the plan for this creative space was presented. It seemed almost surreal: A heavily polluted piece of land in the north of Amsterdam, which would clean itself over the course of ten years. In the meantime, this land would be used as a creative incubator. Doesn’t that sound like the creative and sustainable dream of every modern city? It is therefore not surprising that the project won an area development challenge and was given the green light by the local authorities. The initiators of the project can use this piece of land for free for a period of ten years, clean the soil, and then leave the lot again.
Cape Town is currently one of the most touristic destinations in the world. It has been ranked #3 in Lonely Planet’s ‘Cities to visit in 2014’. Besides the stunning beauty of the city however, the city deals with a serious issue. African cities are generally ranked very high on the global list of most dangerous cities and Cape Town unfortunately is no exception to this rule. This situation – an extremely touristic but quite ‘dangerous’ city – led to the subject of our research which we conducted during a field trip in January 2014: safety perceptions and safety strategies of locals and tourists in Cape Town. With a group of five, consisting of human geographers and urban planners, we worked together, wrote blogs for the University of Amsterdam and presented our results at the University of Cape Town in the end.
View on Cape Town’s City Bowl from the Table Mountain
Tourists versus locals
During our research we interviewed 30 tourists from all over the world and 20 inhabitants of Cape Town’s city centre (referred to as ‘locals’) and analysed their stories. In order to get familiar with the contextual background, we held in-depth interviews with organisations involved in tourism safety and city planning, such as Responsible Tourism Cape Town. Their slogan is ‘’Join Cape Town’s journey to become a responsible destination’’. This is a cooperation of five organisations that made a formal commitment to one another in 2009, working on a way to responsible tourism. Every three months, they organize a forum in which the police, touristic organizations and the City Council exchange information about future policy strategies regarding tourism safety. We also interviewed an organisation that fully focuses on helping tourists that have been victimized. It is important to note that we did our research in Cape Town’s ‘City Bowl’, which is the centre of Cape Town. Crime rates are particularly high in townships, so the aforementioned ‘dangerous city’ image consists mainly due to these high rates that have a big impact on Cape Town’s crime rate as a whole. However, this does not mean that there is no criminality in the City Bowl at all. Continue reading
Singapore is an intriguing case to witness successful urbanization combined with rapid economic development: it is one of the most successful top-down planned societies. The smallest city-state of Southeast Asia made an unbelievable transition from a poor, isolated, and agricultural society towards one of the wealthiest cities in the world in merely five decades. However, this transition came at environmental costs, and now Singapore is plagued by environmental issues like flash floods, urban heat, a lack of fresh drink water, and high international energy dependency. This is no surprise since more than 5.5 million Singaporeans live on merely 700 square kilometres.
In Singapore’s top-down tradition, most environmental issues were initially approached rigidly, but changing conditions made some of these measures ineffective on the long run. In this contribution, I highlight some of Singapore’s new innovative approaches towards environmental issues that threaten the small city-state based on a study trip in January 2013 and a small explorative research project I conducted together with two fellow students. Continue reading
China’s last quarter century is characterized by a massive wave of rural-to-urban migration and currently over 250 million new urbanites have been absorbed into the urban cores. While the eye-popping scale and pace of urban expansion is dramatically changing the country’s spatial and economic structure, it is also directly affecting the ones living on China’s shifting grounds. This is the first contribution in a series that looks at how China’s current wave urbanization is touching the inner-city, the rural-urban fringe and the remote rural areas.
Outside of Europe’s Schengen Area, international boundary lines usually act as a hard line, preventing urban expansion at an unquestionable border point, such as that seen at the Mexicali-Calexico border towns in Mexico and the United States, respectively.
Point Roberts Border Crossing into Canada (Photo: Jean Baillargeon)
Meet Point Roberts, a suburb of Vancouver that sits on an exclave from the United States. Accessible by land only from the Canadian municipality of Delta, Point Roberts was unintentionally excommunicated by a rough approximation of what is now the Canadian-American border should be: the 49th Parallel. The result for the town of 1,300 is two international border crossings before being able to travel throughout the rest of Washington. Continue reading
Imagine a beach resort on the top floor of the world’s largest nomad tent. Think of a park shaped after a dove of peace and of a concert hall that symbolises a traditional Central Asian instrument. As a stark contrast, imagine these surrealistic buildings to be erected in extremely cold winters in the barren plains of Kazakhstan. Conceiving Astana, the peculiar city that houses these structures, as one of the most unusual places on this planet sounds very reasonable indeed.
The original name of Astana is Akmolinsk. In Soviet times, the sleepy town counted some 300,000 inhabitants and was infamous for its proximity to the ALZHIR, which was a Russian acronym for Akmolinsk Camp for Wives of Traitors of the Motherland gulag. In 1997, after Kazakhstan had proclaimed its independence, Akmolinsk was selected to become the nation’s new capital, which would be built in honour of its first and only president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Akmolinsk was then renamed to Astana, meaning capital in Kazakh language, and nothing would be the same again.
With its population having grown to 800,000, the sky is the limit in architects’ playground that is Astana. The two undeniable landmarks are the Bayterek Tower, understandably referred to as the Lollipop, and the presidential palace, Ak Orda, which is roughly eight times the size of the resembling White House. The long list of architectural eye catchers, many of which are designed by the likes of two celebrated architects, Sir Norman Foster and Kisho Kurokawa, also include ashtray-, lighter- and pyramid-shaped structures.