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A Day at New York’s BMW Guggenheim Lab: A Grassroots Example of Creative Urban Development

Category: open culture+Uncategorized+urban social design+⚐ EN

In Manhattan, on the corner of Houston and 2nd avenue, there sits an empty lot between two brick buildings. For nearly a century, the lot has existed as a eye-sore for its neighbors, and a nest for lower east side rats. However, today it exists, cleared, paved and transformed into the temporary host of the BMW Guggenheim lab.

Between gratified walls, a massive steel structure, flat screen monitors and a speaker’s podium hosts guests and events that critique and inspire new ideas about 21st century creative urbanism. I had been meaning to visit the BMW Guggenheim lab since, while in Germany this past summer, a friend told me about it’s opening. After New York, the structure and monitors will be traveling to Berlin, and then on Mumbai. In fact, the structure and events are scheduled to travel around the world to 9 major cities for the next 6 years.

And what will become of the lot on Houston and 2nd? As I am currently researching the temporary use of vacant urban spaces, this question had been on my mind. I arrived in New York, serendipitously in time for the “What’s Next” discussions at the Lab. it turns out, the vacant lot owns a history of transformation efforts that extend beyond this past summer and BMW or the Guggenheim’s involvement. First Street Green, a local community organization made up of neighbors and friends of the area, has been trying to clean up and redesign the lot as community space for several years.

I choose the right time to visit. The day’s events kicked off with an address from First Street Green’s President, Robert Graf, who spoke a bit about the history of the 33 East first street site and their efforts to work with New York City Parks and Recreational facilities (who has owned the property since the mid 20th century) to clear and adapt the space to neighborhood needs. Next, friends of First Street Green, architects Jorge Prado and Silva Ajemian of Todo Design, presented a potential blueprint for the future of the site. Melding local neighborhood interests and the larger interests of New York City, they suggested a simple split-level architectural design: half community center and half park-space that would integrate the activities on the bustling Houston street with the first street neighborhood.

Then a representative from Art in the Parks, a project headed by the Department of Art and Antiquities, gave a presentation about the type of sculptures and installations that have been showcased throughout New York’s parks in the past. This presentation was meant to suggest the potential for the space to be used for arts viewing. A young, neighborhood boy raised his hand – and then the real discussions began. “What about the kids?” He asked, “we don’t want to look at sculptures, we want to play sports in our neighborhood”. It was quickly acknowledged that whatever becomes of the space, it will have to meet the needs of the surrounding residents, first and foremost.

It seemed the perfect transition into the presentation “It’s My Park”. The Hester Street Collaborative and Partnership for Parks were presented by Jordan Pender, who explained placemaking – the community benefits of citizen involvement in urban development plans. Along the same lines as the What If Cities initiative at Ecosistema Urbano, Partnerships for Parks now has an online interface called “People Make Parks” which encourages communities participate in the design of their park, incorporating tools like “Design Hoops”, “story map”s and “wish objects”. Lastly, Graem Sullivan, director of the School of Visual Arts and The Pennsylvania State University spoke about the significance as Space for making place for questions.

After a lunch break and a on-site game of Urbanology (it’s great, play it online here), the activities on site switched to a visioning wall workshop. Several tables laid out giant foam puzzle pieces and writing and decorating tools. Speakers, listeners, and passer-bys were encouraged to write their own ideas about what could exist in the space post-BMW/Guggenheim Lab. The puzzle pieces took structure, and the sculpture chart grew in idea potential that raged from Mobile Gardening to Music performance.

The puzzle pieces, we were told, would be presented to the 1st street community, who would lay the ideas in order of preference. The site’s development would depend on this input.

I observed two major take-away points from the First Street Green day’s activities:

First, the potential in the flexible use of raw spaces. Architects Prado and Ajemian suggested a “soft “structure for their proposed community center. Natural materials and a simple structure would allow for later construction or deconstruction. In other words, the architecture of the site could be planned from the beginning to adapt to neighborhood needs. Art in the Parks suggested the idea of installation, not murals or permanent sculpture to share the space. This art form could temporarily expose the neighborhood (and New York’s visitors) to contemporary visual art during periods of the year that the space is unsuitable for lengthy outdoor activities.

Second, the potential of socially engaging tools to integrate local (and larger) communities in urban development plans. These tools give all members of the community, regardless of age or educational status, the ability to impact the future of their shared space. Community members will likely care even more for a space they’ve invested thought into. The more stakeholders in a project, the less likely it will fall into disuse or vandalism.

Ecosistma Urbano is well acquainted with the notion that fluid communication between designers and the communities in which they work is one of the most important aspects of 21st century, sustainable urban development. At DreamHamar’s digital and physical labs, similar social tools are being introduced.

The history of the 33 East first street is, in itself, proof of the potential in communities to develop grassroots urban change. Until mid-October, if you’re in New York, I highly recommend checking out the BMW Guggenheim lab

If you’re in New York some months, years from now, it will interesting to see what becomes of the 33 East first street site as well.

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Dordrecht Energy Carousel: Exploring playground potential

Category: competitions+ecosistema urbano+⚐ EN

Ecosistema Urbano’s energy carousel, created for the Carve design contest for the Dordecht space, Governeurs Plein, has been designed to serve as meeting place for different age groups. As a forest of revolving rope swings that hang at different lengths, the hanging rope seats towards the center of the structure accommodate smaller, younger children, while taller, older children may grab onto the shorter ropes on the outside.  the kinetic energy that is released by the children’s hanging and turning on the ropes is captured via carousel structure and stored in a battery underneath the play site. "> When the park begins to lose light, the carousel’s battery supplies energy  to light up the structure. When the speed of play increases, the lamps will light up brighter. The color of the lights also change according to how much energy has been generated for the battery on any particular day. Over the past year, the design for the Carousel was developed with three phases. You may view the planning documents here: continue reading

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ecosistema urbano wins competition for unconventional play object

Category: competitions+ecosistema urbano+⚐ EN

Last year, the Amsterdam design bureau Carve developed a plan for a new public square in Dordrecht, The Netherlands. Carve specializes in the design and engineering of public space for use by children and young people. Their plan for the new square in Dordrecht, named Governeurs Plein, included five open spaces for the addition of unconventional play objects.

In cooperation with the Centre for Visual Arts in Dordrecht, Carve invited 10 design firms to develop inventive, resourceful and multi-age friendly objects to complete their final design for Governeurs Plein. Ecosistema Urbano and the nine other bureaus invited submitted the following Proposals: continue reading

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From Brown to Green: Development of London´s 2012 OLYMPIC PARK

Category: city+sustainability+⚐ EN

Olympic game development is  rushed,  expensive and large-scaled.  Now, more than ever, winning the right to host Olympic games also comes with large-scale responsibility. Olympic game hosts are given the opportunity to present their country as leader of the current  times –  and in our time, its becoming more and more obvious that such large-scale development must be carefully pursued by the sustainability conscious.

London took this challenge and ran with it. The new East-London Olympic park that will soon boast world-class sporting facilities for the 2012 summer Olympics was once, not too long ago, just an unvisited, industrial wasteland. continue reading

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Buckminster Fuller Institute assesses our work at Ecosistema Urbano. [The Buckminster Fuller Challenge]

Category: competitions+ecosistema urbano+urban social design

As a current semi finalist for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge award, Ecosistema Urbano is proud to share the Buckminster Fuller Institute’s Summary Assessment with our readers. We are always excited to read that others believe in the potential of our work to inspire and engage architects and residents to become active agents of change. You can find Ecosistema Urbanos complete Semi-Finalist profile here

Ecosistema Urbano is an architectural firm located in Madrid, Spain led by Belinda Tato (@belindatato), Jose Luis Vallejo (@jlvmateo), Michael Moradiellos (@terapiasurbanas) and Domenico Di Siena (@urbanohumano). The core of their proposal centers on contributing to an emergent practice of urbanism that responds more fluidly to the nature of contemporary urban problems. “Creative Urban Sustainability” is the theoretical framework that scaffolds their endeavors, which include built prototypes, an online platform for citizens to engage with their cities and Web 2.0 tools for design practitioners to engage with each other. The idea is simple: combine innovation, creativity and action to generate urban solutions.

Three projects they recently launched highlight their approach. The first is the Plaza Ecopolis pilot, a demonstration site focused on water issues and on transforming local cultural norms. It features a macrophyte water treatment system integrated into a complex of buildings (including a kindergarten) built around a plaza. The second is the What If Cities web platform that asks citizens to imagine what their cities could do and be. Anyone can download it as open-source software and modify it for his/her town/city. It is currently being used in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. The third is a blog and TV station they launched as a solution generator and mode of exchange for fellow design practitioners. continue reading

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Beyond the beats: the U.S. city that’s shrinking faster than any other

Category: city+migration as mutation+urbanism

Detroit is known by many as the birthplace of techno, a reputation that has preceded the shrinking city among music-savvy youth for 20+ years. Like most twenty-something Americans,  I have never really considered visiting the city of Detroit – that’s why, when i was asked “what Detroit is like” while living in the other techno-capital, Berlin, I didn’t have much of anything to say – except for something along the lines of “i hear it’s pretty cold”. continue reading

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Design Blogs to Bookmark

Category: design+eco-blog+⚐ EN

We’ve put together a bit of information about some of the top environmentally responsible design blogs (in english) out there. Bookmark them and share your comments! Networking via blog platforms develops design ideas and forwards ecologically-minded efforts.   Enjoy!

You can find the direct links to the websites here:

inhabitat

treehugger

mocoloco

Jetson Green

The designers accord

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Tallest Building in the U.S. Becomes Solar Farm

Category: sustainability+urbanism+⚐ EN

When people get to talking about the greenest city in the U.S., they’re usually referring to Portland, Oregon, which boasts an exceptionally, historically environmentally conscious, pro-active citizenship. Chicago, with its famous theater, symphony, and Navy Pier bi-weekly summer firework displays,  is usually acknowledged for its art and music.

However, Chicago deserves more recognition for its architecture, which has, in recent years, boasted some of the greenest (and I mean this quite literally) initiatives in the country. Like many U.S. city Mayors, Richard M. Daley announced his intention to make Chicago the greenest city in America. He began this transformation by transforming the Chicago City Hall rooftop into a green garden. Other Chicago dwellers followed suit, greening up businesses and homes with vertical and rooftop gardens.By 2009, Chicago was the city with the most LEED certified buildings in the country.

This week though,  we’ve learned that Chicago is taking its environmentally friendly architectural history one step further. The Willis Tower, formally known as the sears center, will be adding a vertical solar farm on the 56th floor.

The Willis tower is tall – really tall. In fact this ¨planting¨ means there will soon be a vertical solar farm on the tallest building in America!

While Chicago is definitely not the most environmentally conscious city in America, as it lacks the extent of aggressive sustainable development policies and pro-active citizen initiatives that Portland owns, Chicago’s leadership in promoting ¨green¨ architecture is really something special.

Chicago is the city of the arts – it’s a visual city. Adorning the tallest building in the country with solar panels represents and promotes sustainable development  as a partner of the American city.

The 1.3 million tourists who come to gape at the willis building each year will now have a bit greener of an image of what 21st century urbanism can be. I propose the addition of a vertical  garden next…

(Vertical garden at Caixa Forum, Madrid)

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From America the slowpoke to Life at the speed of rail

Category: competitions+design+⚐ EN

The top 10 fastest trains in the world belong to Asia and Europe. Number 10, the MLU00, which ran at a speed of 248.9 mph in 1987 was engineered before I was born. As an American in 2011, it’s pretty embarrassing that our fastest train is Amtrak’s Acela Express, which travels the not-so-far distance between Boston and Washington, D.C. and only reaches speeds of up to 150 mph. On top of this, If I were to take the fastest trip from Boston to Washingtion DC today, a 6 hour, 32 minute journey (I know because I just did the search), It would set me back $235.00, but a 1 hour, 40 minute, heavy-Co2-emitting flight with JetBlue would cost me $149.00 – which is  $95.00 less… continue reading

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ecological design fundamentals: comprehensive resource, waste and space management

Category: architecture+design+fundamentals+⚐ EN


What is Ecological Design? comprehensive resource, waste and space management

Featuring: Terreform ONE

Beyond “sustaining” the urban landscape to endure the lifestyles of future generations, ecological design envisions long-lasting urban waste-management techniques and, as the world’s population  climbs, long-lasting urban space-management techniques.

An average of 50 million people migrate to cities around the globe each year. As they do, more and more outside (rural) resources are being transported to cities while more and more waste is being transported out of cities to keep their populations comfortable. As global environmental and social pressures build under this unsustainable system (meaning, it won’t last – we’re drawing resources at a faster rate than they grow, and the waste is building up somewhere faster than it’s decomposing), new visions for urban consumption, waste, and space management are needed. To be clear, urbanism is not the problem we’re facing- the current design of urban spaces is. Built to serve the automobile, urban areas, as they exist today, promote the existence of an artificial boundary between the “city” and “nature” that have made it easy for urbanites to ignore their impressive impact on outside communities. continue reading