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Rethinking Public Spaces in Dhaka: an Urban Design Scheme

Category: ⚐ EN+city+design+dhaka+movilidad+urban social design+urbanism

Introduction: the Dhaka City Neighborhood Upgrading Project

During our trip to Dhaka, the last march, we wandered through public spaces and we experienced what it is like to be a pedestrian in one of the densest megacity of the world. Our assessment was clear: the capital of Bangladesh really needs to improve its public spaces. Because of the city’s urbanization pace, public spaces tend to be approached as an afterthought and become the residual and scarce space between the buildings. And, as such, it is usually lacking the most basic comfort, accessibility or healthiness.

Public place, however, is one of the most valuable assets of every city. A common ground where public life finds its way regardless of the economic or social status of its inhabitants. That inclusiveness is the basic condition for providing quality of life and equity, especially in a developing city like Dhaka. As we explained in our previous article “5 things you can do in Dhaka´s public spaces”, public spaces host a wide mix of uses. For the poorest in Dhaka, public space is also a place of livelihood, one of the only resources available for a large part of the population. They use public space as an extension of private space or as a place to make commercial exchanges, to organize public or private events, to do sports or to meet with friends, among many other uses.

In Dhaka, public spaces are inconsistent with their uses and don’t meet the inhabitant’s needs in a supportive way. Thus, through the Dhaka City Neighborhood Upgrading Project, we took on the challenge of rethinking public space and adapting it to the context of a dense developing megacity. The resulting combination of general principles, specific design guidelines, and sub-project maps is what we refer to as an Urban Design Scheme within this project.

Urban Design Scheme: A new typology of public spaces

The focus of this project is to invest in what is sometimes seen as the last priority in the urgencies of developing countries: public spaces. It focuses on the rapid improvement of streets, open spaces and public buildings. The proposed strategy has three main drivers: maximizing the benefit for disadvantaged communities, leveraging on the specific potentials of each place, and enhancing connectivity and capacity of building a larger system. Each intervention is considered in connection to a coherent network, as a way to scale up the impact of the proposed improvements in the daily urban experience of Dhaka’s citizens.

According to these goals, we proposed to rethink three typologies of public spaces:

  • Comfortable streets
  • Natural Open Spaces
  • Active buildings

In order to turn this “framework approach” into specific proposals, around 70 sub-projects have been identified: specific streets, open spaces, and buildings where these guidelines can be applied and tested during the forthcoming 5-year long implementation phase.

A map of the proposed locations and networks, colored by type.

Comfortable streets: Making urban space livable

At this project’s scale, which leaves out larger scale planning actions regarding complex aspects like traffic, the main challenge regarding the streets of Dhaka is improving their comfort and accessibility, especially for pedestrians, which most intensely suffer the current conditions. The “Comfortable Streets” approach seeks to improve climatic aspects, accessibility, safety, and walkability.

Recreation of a wide road with a “curbless” design, vegetation and urban furniture, improving walkability and comfort while respecting the flow of traffic.

Actions will vary depending on the dimensions, character and current situation of each street. Some streets will be newly developed, and others will be improved in certain aspects like pavements, sewage system, lighting or shading.

The general approach is to establish a “soft” delimitation of areas in order to improve safety and accessibility without completely denying the spontaneous flexibility of movements that can be observed in Dhaka. This is why, for example, we proposed a “curbless” design instead of creating elevated sidewalks… but that will be explained in our next post.

In order to improve resilience and mitigate floods, the proposal is to integrate passive water retention, drainage and infiltration systems in street sections. Another proposed action is adding vegetation to increase attractiveness, comfort, climate and the diversity of the local urban ecosystem. This natural shading will be completed with the installation of artificial shading (made of textile and/or bamboo structures) in several streets as a city-wide pilot project to evaluate their design, function, and maintenance.

 

Natural Open spaces: A more sustainable and resilient city

The scarce open spaces in Dhaka are one of the most valuable assets of the city. The “Natural Open Spaces” approach treats them as opportunities to reintroduce nature in the city, improving aspects like resilience through water management, air quality, attractiveness and general quality of life.

View of a Natural Open Space. A direct relation between the water and the street, and a strong presence of nature and people.

Under the definition of “open spaces”, different typologies can be differentiated: Playgrounds, parks, squares, ponds and jheels, and open spaces along the riverbank.

In order to create more continuous urban experiences and improve adjacent spaces, one of the first proposals is to remove walls and steps, connecting those spaces to the surrounding streets and between them, creating a network of public spaces at the scale of each neighborhood.

To increase the general quality of open spaces, they will be systematically equipped with urban services like public toilets, waste management facilities or drinking fountains.

The multiples jheels in Dhaka´s public spaces are an opportunity to integrate them as a unique landscaping feature and a system for stormwater management. Adding vegetation will increase attractiveness, comfort, climate, and biodiversity.

A flexible spatial design, combined with some permanent infrastructures and the installation of temporary structures, can support a greater variety of uses: street markets, small food and drink related businesses, meeting areas that enable sitting, resting or eating, sport facilities, play areas for children, open spaces for cultural events or for the concentration of big crowds, etc.

Active Buildings: Stacked public spaces with a rich mix of uses

In the highly dense urban center of Dhaka, there is a clear need for public facilities that enable the cultural, social and institutional life of the city as “urban catalysts”. Active Buildings are a new urban typology defined by the mix of uses, the sustainable design, the creation of open floors and the integration with urban services and public spaces.

View of an Active Building in front of a public space, offering flexibility, bioclimatic comfort and a sense of openness

These Active Buildings will be implemented in the existing network of community centers owned by the DSCC (Dhaka South City Corporation), and other buildings in vacant lots will be built.

Such buildings will permit the concentration of uses that could not find a place in the scarce public spaces and public building of Dhaka. Floors with permeable facades, shaded rooftops, and open ground floors will actually work as “stacked” public spaces with a higher level of comfort and security, making them accessible to children, women, elderly people, and other vulnerable urban collectives. These new public spaces will include sports facilities or areas for meeting and relaxing. Closed, more protected floors will host offices, libraries, computers and other equipment to enable educational, social or cultural activities.

One aim is to create more continuous urban experiences, by connecting the building with the surrounding spaces and the nearby streets. The ground floor will be left open, acting as a protected extension of the adjacent public spaces. It will increase the surface devoted to public spaces, enable a more flexible use and achieve more visibility and safety in the affected spaces, avoiding black spots. These new public spaces will integrate urban services like public toilets and waste management.

The buildings will be built according to bioclimatic principles, adding shading and vegetation on rooftop and facade to protect against the direct sunlight and to filter air pollution. Open floors and permeable facades will permit natural ventilation. Energy generation and water accumulation will be integrated at rooftop level in order to increase energetic sustainability and decrease their dependence on the city’s overloaded services.

Conclusion: Three Ways of Making Dhaka more livable

One of the main urban design related challenges in Dhaka was to think of new types of public places that can fit in the dense urban fabric of the city and meet the inhabitants’ needs. These three redesigned typologies of public spaces were proposed in the hope of improving comfort, security, sustainability, inclusiveness and several other aspects that can take a city towards the more general goal of livability.

In following articles we will dive into specific ways of approaching other important issues like traffic and walkability in congested cities, informal activity and use of public spaces, and gender inequality.

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Being a pedestrian in Dhaka

Category: ⚐ EN+city+dhaka+mobility+urbanism

Stuck between a street vendor, his living hens and a rickshaw (first mean of transportation in Dhaka), trying to cross a four-lane road in the middle of an intersection among clouds of dust… being a pedestrian in Dhaka can look like a risky adventure. Ecosistema Urbano experienced it when we were in Dhaka for the Dhaka Upgrading Urban Project.

In 2016, Dhaka was the 11th megacity in the world with 18.237.000 inhabitants. In 2030, the UN estimate that its population will be around 27.374.0001 inhabitants. In rapidly growing megacities like these, with large, unplanned neighborhoods, both private and public spaces are affected by dynamics determined mostly by the pressure of the local and global economy. Public space, in particular, tends to be approached as an afterthought and becomes the residual (and scarce) space between the buildings, merely regarded as the minimum right of way and thus becoming hugely dominated by traffic. Due to lack of planning, parks, squares or boulevards are nonexistent, and when they exist, the spaces consist of bare land, often misused and treated as dumping grounds.

Walking is the main form of transportation in the Greater Dhaka Metropolitan area since 37,2% of the trips are made by foot2. However, this mode of transportation is far from being the safest. Being a pedestrian can be very complicated as one may encounters lots of obstacle through his journey.

Walking in Dhaka’s streets

The typical narrow street in Dhaka features a continuous surface. There are no curbs, and the whole street can be used either by pedestrians or by light vehicles without much conflict. One of the most noticeable problems is the quality of the pavement. Most of the streets are made of concrete, sand and dirt and become unusable during the monsoon. The only obstacles are the steps that give access to the buildings, which have different heights, and the open drainage channels (side drains). Inhabitants often put “homemade bridges” above them. Street lighting can be found in some streets, but not all.

By Jorge Toledo

A street with an uncovered side drain // An example of a “homemade bridge” above the side drain.

In wider streets, pedestrians have to share the street with trucks, cars, rickshaws and street vendors. In this kind of street, there are usually sidewalks, separated and elevated from the traffic lanes by a curb. Part of the traffic lanes and sidewalks are typically blocked by piled goods, stopped vehicles, construction rubbish and hawkers.

Invaded sidewalks in Lalbagh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Dhaka Metropolitan city has approximately 388km of footpaths, 155 km of which are occupied by hawkers3 forcing pedestrians to step down the sidewalk and to use the traffic lanes where they must compete with cars for mobility space. There, they have to avoid parked rickshaws and streets vendors who sometimes also invade the road. Pedestrians have to step up and down the sidewalk to avoid obstacles. The elevated curb becomes an added barrier. Some streets can also be momentarily appropriated by inhabitants to organize events or for a mechanic workshop (see the previous article about “5 things you can do in Dhaka’s public spaces”).

Diagram showing pedestrian space in a street of Dhaka

Crossing the roads in Dhaka

Even if walking is the first mean of mobility in Dhaka, public space is not designed for pedestrians and is dominated by traffic. In some large avenues, there is no infrastructure to help pedestrians crossing the roads. In Attish Deepankar Avenue, for instance, pedestrians have to make their own way to reach the other side of the road. They have to cross several traffic lanes, separated by a central elevated strip, and a railway, avoiding several obstacles. By doing so, they draw small informal paths in the urban landscape that urban planners call “desire lines”. These desire lines can help urban designers to shape public spaces.

Desire lines crossing a street in Dhaka

Can you spot the desire lines?

Through the Dhaka Upgrading Urban Project, Ecosistema Urbano worked to improve liveability, accessibility and walkability in Dhaka´s public spaces. One of the challenges of the project is to make public spaces more accessible and visible, easier to move to and from and to increase safety for pedestrians. Some of the key actions towards this goal are:

Diagram showing a proposal for recovering pedestrian space in a street of Dhaka

  • Removing architectural barriers like steps, elevated curbs or open side drains whenever possible, in order to increase walkability and accessibility.
  • Widening or creating new pedestrian spaces.
  • Permeating limits, establishing visual and functional connections between spaces that are currently disconnected by the presence of physical barriers like walls. This specifically includes opening closed green areas to the surrounding streets.
  • Creating inner pathways in green areas or open spaces in order to enable more direct and comfortable routes for pedestrians.
  • Increasing visibility and protection of pedestrian crossings.
  • Adding greenery to increase attractiveness, comfort, climate and the diversity of urban ecosystems.

All these interventions are aimed to improve the pedestrian experience in Dhaka’s public spaces. Each intervention will be connected to a larger system or cluster. Public clusters, referred within this project as “neighborhoods”, are networks of public spaces or facilities created by connecting urban nodes with continuous corridors. Each urban node is a public space or a facility that could act as a driver for urban change. Those nodes can have different characters and uses: community centers, markets, playgrounds, parks, water surfaces and other singular spaces.

To know more about the Dhaka Upgrading Urban Project, read our next article next week about “An Urban Design Scheme to improve mobility in Dhaka”.


1. Bird, Julia Helen; Li, Yue-000316086; Rahman, Hossain Zillur; Rama, Martin G.; Venables, Anthony J.. 2018. Toward Great Dhaka : a new urban development paradigm eastward (English). World Bank Group.
2. Data taken from Dhaka Transport Coordination Board (DTCB), Ministry of Communications (MOC), Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Preparatory Survey Report on Dhaka Urban Transport Network Development Study (DHUTS) in Bangladesh Final Report (Appendix Volume). JICA, March 2010.
3. Data from the 2012 Strategic Transport Planning Report.

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5 things you can do in Dhaka’s public spaces

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+city+dhaka+mobility

As a recent project has led us to Dhaka, we are starting a series of posts to share with you some key topics and observations about this very interesting city.

Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, is one of the densest cities in the world, with 18 million people squishing in 1,528 square km. The average density of the central area of the city has reached a staggering 41,000 inhabitants per square kilometer1. The city is considered one of the least livable cities in the world, ranked 137 out of 140 cities2 in 2017. It is the lowest for any South Asian city surveyed, because of, among other things, air pollution, severe traffic congestion, bad sewage system, hundreds of slums and regular river floodings.

In such a dense and crowded city, the inhabitants make the most of each square meter, making public space a truly multi-layered and multi-dimensional entity. Public space is usually described as an inclusive space, open to everyone, formed by a network of streets, squares and parks. In Dhaka, because of the lack of private space, public space becomes an outdoor extension of living and working spaces. The boundaries between private and public places get blurred because of the way they are being used. Public space becomes a livelihood asset, a channel of flows and a place for recreation and social integration.

Ecosistema Urbano was in Dhaka for two weeks on February of 2018 to study Dhaka’s public spaces within the context of the Dhaka City Neighborhood Upgrading Project (we will write about this soon) and we were amazed by the diversity and intensity of uses in public spaces. Here are just five examples of things Bangladeshi people are doing in Dhaka´s public spaces.

1. Get a haircut enjoying a garden view

Source: Google Street view

In lots of developing countries like Bangladesh, proposing services (or goods) to customers directly in the streets is a good and easy way to make money for people with low level of income, usually migrants. It does not imply any shop or financial investment. Get an old chair, a mirror and some shading and you can offer good and affordable haircuts to pedestrians. This form of entrepreneurship is less risky and more resilient than opening a formal business.

Informal businesses in Dhaka are a huge part of the city’s economy as around 5.000.000 hawkers are working in public spaces3. Most street vendors work on sidewalks, in traffic intersections or even parks or fairgrounds at all times of the day. They contribute an essential service to all socio-economic segments of the population by offering low cost goods and services at convenient locations.

2. Attend a wedding

An ephemeral installation for a celebration in Azimpur Road, Dhaka, Bangladesh

The lack of private and public indoor spaces results in an important need of places to meet and organize events. Inhabitants appropriate public spaces for private events like weddings or celebrations, building bamboo installations for shading and privatizing entire streets for private use. Streets become an outdoor extension of private space, a place for social interactions.

This is why, in every narrow corner of Dhaka, you can find a pile of bamboo poles waiting for their opportunity to become a cheerful shading for any kind of celebration.

3. Repair your car

Outdoor mechanic workshop, English Road, Dhaka, Bangladesh

It is possible to find everything you need in Dhaka, if you know where to look for it. In some streets, it is possible to find car, truck or rickshaw4 pieces to repair vehicles and even people who would help you for a few Bangladeshi taka. This activity takes place on the sidewalks, often invading the traffic lanes, worsening the traffic congestion, forcing pedestrians to walk among the traffic and reducing the effective traffic lanes by half their size.

4. Play cricket

A cricket game in a playground in Dhaka, Bangladesh

There is a lack of playgrounds, parks and gyms in Dhaka. In this dense context, every open space becomes an opportunity to play and to practice sports. As a result, open spaces host lots of activities like street vending, recycling, begging or playing. These places can have multiple uses during the day, and one of the most typical ones is playing cricket. Bangladeshi people are great fans of this sport, brought by the British. A pile of old tiles can delimit a cricket field and some trees or an old wall can provide shading for an audience, turning a bare plot into a sport field. Dhaka’s inhabitants develop resilient tactics to make the most of every square meter and to overcome the lack of recreational spaces.

5. A street art visit

Rokonpur girls high school, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dhaka is considered one of the least livable cities, but some parts of the city can be more enjoyable than others. Some streets of Dhaka are very colorful, their walls taken by street art. This mural was made in 2014 during the FIFA World Cup by a group of 200 volunteers that transformed a regular street with a colorful space as a part of the Goal-E project to support their favourite football team. “Goal-E” stands for “goli”, a typical Bangladeshi lane. This kind of art is a way for the inhabitants of the neighborhood to reclaim public space and to appropriate the place.

Public space in Dhaka is a multidimensional entity: a space of appropriation, of socialisation, of exchange and a livelihood asset for the poor. All these uses of space are showing how resilient and creative inhabitants of a megacity can be. But public space is also the place for pedestrians, as 37.2% of the trips in Dhaka are made by foot5. In our next article, we will further explore the pedestrian experience in Dhaka.

6. And… a bonus

A goat? A butterfly? An angel?

You can indeed see strange things in Dhaka. Let us introduce you to… the goatterfly! This fairy-dressed animal, trying to find some food among the trash, sums up our impressions of this city: vital, complex, precarious and generally difficult to explain.

If you are curious and want to see more, we challenge you to dive into StreetView and let us know any other interesting situations you find.


1. Bird, Julia Helen; Li, Yue-000316086; Rahman, Hossain Zillur; Rama, Martin G.; Venables, Anthony J.. 2018. Toward Great Dhaka : a new urban development paradigm eastward (English). World Bank Group.
2. Ranking by Economist Intelligence Unit (2017).
3. Statistics from the Dhaka City Corporation.
4. Unmotorised light vehicle with driver
5. Data taken from Dhaka Transport Coordination Board (DTCB), Ministry of Communications (MOC), Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Preparatory Survey Report on Dhaka Urban Transport Network Development Study (DHUTS) in Bangladesh Final Report (Appendix Volume). JICA, March 2010.

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On Cities Workshop by the Norman Foster Foundation

Category: ⚐ EN+city+events+news

Norman Foster Foundation On Cities Workshop

Belinda Tato and José Luis Vallejo will be participating in the On Cities Workshop, organised by the Norman Foster Foundation, which will take place this week (18 to 22 June 2018) in Madrid. The workshop will focus on Autonomous Innovative Communities, selecting a district in Madrid as a case-study for a research project that will be developed throughout the week. The On Cities Workshop will include seminars, lectures, one-to-one tutoring and urban architectural tours to learn more about the context of Madrid and it’s districts. During the course of the workshops, participants will have the opportunity to engage with the Norman Foster Foundation’s archive and research projects.

Can each community locally produce all of the energy, food, and clean water needed for basic living—requiring no centralised infrastructure? Can humans transition from ownership to sharing, while living and working in compact, agile, supportive environments? This workshop explores the premise that emerging urban innovations can dramatically reduce resources consumed by cities while simultaneously creating more livable, entrepreneurial communities.

‘We are living in an era of extreme urbanisation and rapid global warming’, states workshop mentor Kent Larson. ‘The challenges of both call for more than mere incremental adjustments.’

After reviewing applications submitted by hundreds of candidates from around the world, the selection committee awarded ten scholarships to students from the following universities and institutions: American University of Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, United States; London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago de Chile, Chile; Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, Denmark; Technische Universiteit Delft, Delft, the Netherlands; Tongji University, Shanghai, China; Tsinghua University, Beijing, China; Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña, Barcelona, Spain and University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

These ten students will engage with a group of specialists through a series of seminars and lectures culminating in a five day workshop led by the Atelier mentor, Kent Larson, Director of MIT Media Lab City Science Group and Initiative, and his team. Nicholas Negroponte, Co-Founder and former Director of MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, United States will act as the Chief Advisor of the workshop tutoring the students through the research process.

The Academic Body spans a wide range of practitioners working in different fields interrelated with the City, including: Beatriz Colomina, Director of Graduate Studies, School of Architecture, Princeton University, Princeton, United States; Luis Cueto, General Coordinator for the Mayor in Madrid, Madrid City Hall, Madrid, Spain; Anupama Kundoo, Principal, Anupama Kundoo Architects, Madrid, Spain/Auroville, India; Winy Maas, Co-Founder and Director of MVRDV and Director of the Why Factory, Delft, the Netherlands; Tim Stonor, Managing Director of Space Syntax, London, United Kingdom; Leonor Tarrasón, Director of Environmental Solutions, Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Oslo, Norway; Belinda Tato and José Luis Vallejo, Founders and Directors of Ecosistema Urbano, Madrid, Spain/Miami, United States.

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An Overview to our Latest Projects in Latin America

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+Centro Histórico Abierto+city+Cuenca Red+ecosistema urbano+Plan CHA+Plan Encarnación Más+sustainability+technologies+urbanism

During the last year we have been busy with several projects and competitions (including the latest Open Shore project for West Palm Beach) which didn’t give us the time to look back and reflect on some of our projects from the last few years.

As maybe some of our readers know, Ecosistema Urbano has been working on several large-scale projects in Latin America since August 2014 when we won a competition to develop the Master Plan of the Historical Center of Asuncion, Paraguay. In 2015, we accomplished another significant project: the participatory process Centro Histórico Abierto for the transformation of the historical center of Distrito Central, capital of Honduras. We also worked on the transformative Cuenca RED project which acted on the Public Space Reactivation Plan of the Historical Center of Cuenca, Ecuador. After the first experience in Paraguay, we had another project in the city of Encarnación, giving origin to the Plan Encarnación Más, composed by an Urban and Territorial Planning and Sustainability Plan.

In these four cases, the urban issues and the peculiar situations that required our intervention were distinct yet shared many common features. More specifically, the enthusiasm and interest shown by the people directly and indirectly involved was apparent throughout all of the projects, but also the opportunities that these experiences have given us as an architecture firm, to test ideas, tools, and methodologies.

CONTEXT

Although they share the same area of origin, each of these cities has developed unique problems and issues. Some of these, such as the ones found in Encarnación, are physical-territorial matters such as the recent loss of the city center because of the controlled rise of the water level in the Yacyretá dam. That event led to the envisioning of a “Sustainable Development Plan” and  “Urban and Territorial Ordering Plan” in order to prepare the city for the future. In the case of Cuenca, the need for a new plan was determined by a series of big changes underway: the definition of a new model of mobility and the progressive emptying of population that afflicts the historical center, World Heritage Site since 1999, and headquarters of most of the commercial, touristic and economic city’s activities. In the case of Asunción and of the capital of Honduras, the project regards the transformation and the regeneration (both physical and social) of their historic centers. The Distrito Central is part of the development framework of the new urban axis “Choluteca River”.

SOCIAL

1 – Participation

The first of the projects’ common keys are connected with the theme of sociability, expressed in the form of participation. The citizens’ involvement, promoted both through a series of organized activities and through online platforms, has been one of the cornerstones of our work in Latin America. We involve citizens because we believe that the citizen is the only force able to achieve a deep and lasting change in the urban environment and so they should not be just a passive receptor of the changes promoted by the city’s institutions. That’s why in some cases, as in that of Asunción with the ASU-LAB, a space was created which could serve as an interface between citizens and institutions: a place for the execution of the city planning but also an open place where each person or group can drive a new regeneration initiative or attend a course.

Organized activities with the citiziens

Organized activities with the citizens

Participatory activities, such as workshops and events, have been geared to address representative members of the city such as children, university students, “active agents”, citizens and institutions. For each of these categories we have developed, project after project, a series of ad hoc initiatives.

Participatory process in Asunción, Encarnación, Cuenca and in Distrito Central

Participatory process in Asunción, Encarnación, Cuenca and in Distrito Central

For the children we created a “toolkit” with which we had them reflect on their perception of the city and with which they could propose their ideal vision for the city. The kit consists of portions of the city map on which they could draw and that, once recomposed, could recreate the overall image.

2 – Urban actions

These activities were followed by a series of urban actions so that the results could be shown tangibly in the city. In the case of Distrito Central, ideas were gathered in a week of workshops with 80 students from the three major universities in the city and have been translated into urban actions like “Las Gradas de la Leona“. The staircases are indispensable spaces in a city with a very distinct topography as Tegucigualpa. But in the city these vertical connections are often perceived as inhospitable, dangerous, and dirty places and therefore they are cut off from any kind of activity. The students’ work was aimed at legitimizing these stairs as a public space through cleanliness,  decor,  lighting, and the organization of a series of activities that achieved resounding success and participation.

Socialization along "Las gradas de la Leona"

Socialization along “Las gradas de la Leona”

In the case of Encarnación, one of the proposals that has distinguished our approach in this project was the inclusion of a series of pilot projects that accompany and translate into concrete proposals within the “Plan de Desarrollo Sustentable” and the “Plan de Ordenamiento”. Among these, one of the most successful pilot projects was the “Proyecto Piloto Bicisienda“, whose purpose is to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants by optimizing the use of alternative mobility and by raising awareness of the value of sports and recreation. Again we have sought the cooperation of citizens by promoting a series of initiatives (such as the construction of bike lanes in the city) in which the citizens could feel protagonistic.

Proyecto Piloto Bicisienda

Proyecto Piloto Bicisienda

3 – Informative events 

The disclosure of the participatory process to the citizenship, promoted both online through the project’s platforms and through open exhibitions, is a recurring phase in all four projects. We felt it important and necessary that each phase of the process was documented and could be easily accessible to all so that the citizens could be informed about the progress made in the project. Among these, the most scenic event, realized in Tegucigualpa, Cuenca and Encarnación, was the creation of a ” mosaico ciudadano“, a wall made of post-it notes with written words, phrases, and ideas about the city.

City mosaic in the several projects

City mosaic in the several projects

SUSTAINABILITY

Another theme of our projects in Latin America is sustainable development expressed in various forms: care and attention to the environment, the introduction of an alternative mobility system, the importance of education to the environment as an engine of sustainability, and the development of the project made in collaboration between private initiatives and institutional management. In the case of Cuenca, for example, our intervention was partly required as a consequence of the municipality’s willingness to define a new model of mobility for the historical center of the city consisting of ceasing car traffic in the center and building a new tramway system. This new model of mobility has direct implications for the current urban dynamics, as well as on the public space, as it tries to reduce the vehicular load of the city, giving priority to pedestrians and cyclists. This, and the creation of quality public space, led to strengthen the social, economic, and cultural role of the city’s historical center making it more pleasant for residents and locals. Our aim is to activate a historical center that promotes social, economic, and environmental development, as well as a more livable, habitable, and inhabited historical center.

Cuenca’s plan is divided into four aspects: an urban acupuncture strategy, which proposes small / medium-scale interventions to recover areas with potential; a development of a network of active courtyards, by transforming the typical patios of Cuenca in catalysts capable of generating new synergies, connections, and interactions between residents, visitors and inhabitants; a guide to the historic center re-design, which defines the main lines for the design of the public space; a process of socialization, to define the “acopuntura” and the active patios network strategies. The intervention strategy in the square “Mary Corilè” in conjunction with the creation of “La casa en el árbol” is part of the active patios network strategy. This square is an unused and degraded space, perceived by the residents as an unpleasant and dangerous place.

The square "Mary Corilè"

The square “Mary Corilè”

Among the several interventions proposed, such as the re-furnishing of the square, traffic closure, and the design of activities in collaboration with the municipality, there’s also the creation of “La casa en el árbol“, a space included in the existing trees of the square where educational activities in relation to the theme of the environment can be carried out. “La casa en el árbol” is set up as a space to get in contact and be familiar with the nature, built in harmony with the surroundings. Inside there are several “environmental” classrooms in which one can study natural resources such as sun, wind, and water. More specifically, one can study: a system of photovoltaic panels that generate the energy needed for the lights, rainwater harvesting structures, and urban gardens as environmental and ecological experiences for schools and kindergartens. It is, ultimately, an open classroom in which a new form of pedagogy built on the respect for the environment is proposed, in order to increase awareness of the natural resources and of their use, as well as increase awareness of existing technologies.


In the case of Asunción we proposed a strategic plan with ten actions in order to promote a connection between the several parts of the city through the development of spaces, named “corridors“, and of individual buildings, named “urban catalysts“, which might act as drivers of change and benchmarks within the city. The corridors are divided into three types: those “green“, which introduce a new green infrastructure in specific parts of the existing roads; those “civic“, which consist of a new network of public spaces along the roads in order to connect the most important historic and government buildings; those “dynamic“, aimed at creating active urban environments and encourage economic and cultural activities.

Configuration of a charateristic dynamic corridor

Configuration of a charateristic dynamic corridor

Among the actions of Asunción strategic masterplan one concerns the economic and landscaping regeneration of the “Green Active Coast”. Due to its topography, this area is subject to cyclical floods because of the rising water level of the Paraguay River. That forces the inhabitants of the informal settlements who live there to move temporally. While fully respecting the identity of the river and of the existing topography, we have proposed the creation of a green lung with a large sports area in continuity with the Bicentennial Park. We also promoted the integration of the informal settlements both within the urban fabric and in the areas of new urban expansion.

The Encarnación masterplan incorporates within its own name the concept of “sustainability”, since it is composed of the “Plan of Sustainable Development” and of the “Plan of Urban and Territorial Organization”. The “Plan of Sustainable Development” will establish the standards and mechanisms for the growth and for the future development of the city according to the criteria of sustainability. The “Plan of Urban and Territorial Organization” aims at directing the use and the occupation of the territory in the urban and rural areas of the municipality. Officially, the city will face in the next twenty-four years an increase of the population amounted to 62,000 people, for whom it will be necessary to provide a massive increase in housing. The model we proposed to face this need refers to the sustainable principle of “the compact city.” Through the identification of a physical border for the city’s urban growth, we have protected the rural areas from new settlements. Moreover, we encouraged, through private and municipal initiatives, the densification of areas already developed, by filling the vacant urban lots and expanding pre-existing single-family homes.

Example of urban densification

Example of urban densification


The new interventions follow the principles of the bioclimatic architecture: large overhanging roofs and vegetation as protections from the hot summer sunlight, the use of wind to moderate the hot and humid climate of Encarnación, the reuse of rainwater, and the increase of the vegetation to absorb CO2 emissions.

TECHNOLOGY

In all four projects, technology represented an important collaborative tool to promote our work and to enable everyone to be constantly updated on ongoing progress, but also as a support for the participatory process, so that the involvement of the citizens would not be exhausted with the end of the activities organized, but could continue to map needs, issues, concerns and initiatives for those interested.

For this reason we have developed a platform, called Local-in (formerly What if ..?), which has been adapted to each project according to their personality and to the peculiarities of each participatory process, while maintaining a common format. Local-in is a free and accessible to everyone application of collective mapping. In it, registered users can add messages, photos and geolocalised links, sorting them into categories and labels. It’s easily installable and customizable, in perfect harmony with the spirit of the projects themselves, and it can be found for each project under the name “AsuMAP” for Asunción, with the name “Encarnación Más” for Encarnación, as “Cuenca RED” for Cuenca and with the name “Centro Histórico Abierto” for Distrito Central.

 

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Atmospheres for Social Interaction | Workshop and lecture in Helsinki

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+city+events+news

Next Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th José Luis Vallejo will be giving an open lecture and leading a workshop at the Aalto University Department of Architecture.

The workshop will develop the topic “Atmospheres for Social Interaction”. How can we, as architects or urban planners, support the development of the social aspect of urban life?
Lecture and workshop by Ecosistema Urbano at the Aalto University Department of Architecture

Location: Lecture Hall A1 at the Lecture Graduate Centre, Aalto University
Lecture: November 23rd, 17:00h
Workshop: November 24th, 10:00-18:00h
Original call: www.groupxaalto.fi

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Ecosistema Urbano wins West Palm Beach Design Competition!

Category: ⚐ EN+⚐ ES+⚐ IT+architecture+city+competitions+design+ecosistema urbano+news+sustainability+urbanism+work in progress

We are very happy to announce that our project Open Shore is the winning proposal of Shore to Core, the international design competition to reimagine downtown West Palm Beach as a dynamic, resilient waterfront city! We are thrilled with the great reception that the project has had, and eager to continue its development side by side with the people and the institutions of West Palm Beach.

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Rain Plaza

Here we share the press release from Van Alen Institute:

Van Alen Institute and the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (WPB CRA) today announced Open Shore by Ecosistema Urbano as the winning proposal for the Shore to Core waterfront design competition. The Shore to Core competition invited international designers, planners and architects to envision what the future of the West Palm Beach waterfront could look like over the next 20 to 30 years, taking factors including populations, economies and the environment into account. The winning proposal will serve as a “vision board” for the city’s future, providing a starting point and framework to help the city adapt and make the most of the waterfront.

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Rain Plaza

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Plan

Selected from a pool of over 40 international teams and two finalists, Ecosistema Urbano’s winning proposal envisions a healthier and more resilient downtown and waterfront for West Palm Beach—a keystone city in southern Florida with a growing population of people in their 20s and 30s, as well as large Black and Hispanic populations. The competition proposals imagine new amenities that reflect the city’s emerging populations, and Shore to Core’s organizers believe that design is a crucial tool for tackling these evolving needs. The initiative included public consultation, and this input played a role in the jury’s decision-making process.

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Strolling on the Waterfront

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Aerial View

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Flagler Drive and the Cloud Forest Habitat Plaza

Ecosistema Urbano’s winning design answers Shore to Core’s call for a comprehensive, forward-thinking urban plan to make West Palm Beach’s waterfront a year-round destination for locals and visitors alike. The proposal includes what could be the first public bioclimatic domes in the U.S. adorned with hanging gardens. These domes create climatically comfortable spaces 365 days a year, thereby supporting a more socially cohesive city.

The proposal also illustrates how the city’s Banyan Garage could be upcycled into a mixed-use building with both public- and private-sector roles featuring adaptive climates suitable for a range of activities, including a farmers market, coworking spaces, and skyline viewing platforms. Additional amenities include vibrant thematic alleyways—with such features as a rock climbing wall, interactive exhibition space, and immersive foliage—that harness the cultural values and experiences unique to West Palm Beach, while also providing shade and introducing new elevated programming spaces

 

 

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Level 4 Open Air Plaza at Banyan Hub

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Farmers Market day at Banyan’s ground floor

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Social green space at Banyan Hub overlooking the downtown

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Banyan Hub | Section

Ecosistema Urbano will present their proposal to the WPB CRA board in May 2017. The CRA board will identify priority projects within the Banyan Garage and downtown alleyways, and then contract with Ecosistema Urbano. This process will be followed by outreach to the community about the individual elements that are scheduled for possible implementation in late 2017 or early 2018.

“The Shore to Core competition and resulting proposals truly offered insights into how we can plan a strong and vibrant future for our city,” said Jeri Muoio, Mayor of the City of West Palm Beach. “Ecosistema Urbano’s design was applauded by all as enhancing the waterfront and creating new, iconic experiences that incorporate our natural resources, cultural spaces, and inclusive urban atmospheres.”

“Ecosistema Urbano’s proposal addresses social cohesion in a compelling way by integrating locally responsive systems with a welcoming public space that will further diversify the city,” said David van der Leer, Executive Director of Van Alen Institute. “We’re thrilled that West Palm Beach is looking to the future and rethinking how to create a downtown that is uniquely theirs— a downtown that enhances the wellbeing of residents and visitors alike.

The runner-up design finalist, Perkins + Will, created a proposal focusing on community-building with a continuous waterfront park, extended Great Lawn, and the Banyan Garage revitalized as a multi-use civic space. Van Alen has synthesized the work of the finalist teams into a key findings document, “A Shore Thing: Key Findings from the Shore to Core Competition,” that summarizes the shared insights from all three proposals.

The Shore to Core competition has parallel research and design tracks: The aim of this structure is to understand how waterfront cities like West Palm Beach can become healthier, and to create design strategies that will make them more responsive to rising sea levels. The winning research team, Happier by Design, focused on how specific types of public spaces may increase the wellbeing of people who use them, and conducted a pilot study analyzing the health benefits of more complex and engaging urban landscapes.

By testing environmental psychology principals with tactical urban interventions, Happier by Design found that public space designs that boost feelings of fascination foster wellbeing. The research team also recommended that designers focus individuals’ attention on nature and create spaces that are both comfortable and interactive, including such features as movable seating and adjustable lookouts that frame the landscape. The team’s recommendations affirm the dynamic and engaging designs proposed by Ecosistema Urbano. The combination of innovative research and original design in Shore to Core reflects Van Alen’s mission to use research and design to inform the planning of new civic spaces.

 

To read the final reports, see:

Key Findings | Van Alen Institute
Open Shore | Ecosistema Urbano (Design Winner)


Happier by Design | Happy City, University of Virginia, StreetPlans and Space Syntax (Research Winner)
Adapt to Thrive | Perkins + Will (Design Finalist)

 

Competition Jury:

Raphael Clemente, Executive Director, Downtown West Palm Beach
Colin Ellard, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo, Department of Psychology
Patrick Franklin, President and CEO, Urban League of Palm Beach County
David van der Leer (Jury Chair), Executive Director, Van Alen Institute
Jeri Muoio, Mayor, City of West Palm Beach
Penni Redford, Sustainability Manager, City of West Palm Beach
Manuel Clavel Rojo, Clavel Arquitectos (substitute for Terry Riley, K/R Architects)
Jon Ward, Executive Director, West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency
Lilly Weinberg, Director of Community Foundations, Knight Foundation
Claire Weisz, Founding Principal, WXY Studio
Nancy Wells, Professor, Cornell University, College of Human Ecology, Design and Environmental Analysis Department

Ecosistema Urbano Team:

A multidisciplinary Madrid and Boston-based team comprised of principals Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo; Marco Rizzetto, Carlos León, Antonella Marlene Milano, Luisa Zancada, Jorge Toledo, Marta Muñoz, Pablo Santacana, Lola Pouchin, Maria Vittoria Tesei, Andrea Bertrán, Ana Patricia Maté, Lucía De Retes Cascales, Cristina Rodríguez, Elizabeth Kelleher, Lorena Tselemegkou, Luana Scarpel, Silvia Sangriso, Daniela Menendez, Julia Casado, Constantino Hurtado, Andrés Walliser.

 

To view high-resolution images for this project, including work by the winning team, click here

To view animated images of Ecosistema Urbano’s proposal, have a look here

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Ecosistema Urbano’s proposal for West Palm Beach… now published!

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+city+competitions+design+landscape+sustainability+technologies+urbanism

We are very excited to share with all of you the final document of our proposal for West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.A.

continue reading

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Making the Collective City: Reflections on Participatory Processes | Conference in Lisbon

Category: ⚐ EN+city+news

Participatory Workshop by Ecosistema Urbano

Next June 8-9th the conference “Making the Collective City: Reflections on Participatory Processes” will be held at the University of Lisbon, with João Ferrão and José Luis Vallejo as keynote speakers.

In contemporary society, a time marked by globalisation, social and economic instability, a weakening of administrative “capacities” and increasingly complex social dynamics, new actors are emerging to support the development of community initiatives. Within this context, the conference aims to promote debate and reflection on methodological approaches applied in Participatory Projects in Architecture, Urbanism and Design.

This international conference will be an opportunity to discuss participation in architecture and urbanism and its role in defining common practices, policy measures and urban management strategies, in order to respond to issues of urban governance and the social needs of inhabitants.

The conference will focus on two central themes: the theoretical perspectives on the co-production of cities, and new approaches and challenges for participatory processes. To add a practical note, José Luis Vallejo will be sharing our experience and approach, and the activities we developed during the last participatory projects we have taken part in.

Save the date! You can submit an send an abstract before February 28th 2017, or register until May 22th 2017. We recommment you to check the website, as some discounts may be available for early registrations.

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Ecosistema Urbano, design finalist of ‘Shore to Core’ competition in West Palm Beach

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+city+eu:live+news+urbanism

Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach waterfront

West Palm Beach waterfront – Photo by Ecosistema Urbano

Today we are excited to share with you that we have been selected as finalists for the ‘Shore to Core‘ design competition in West Palm Beach, Florida.

This competition, commissioned by the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and organized by the Van Alen Institute, was launched in order to gather innovative visions and develop forward-looking proposals for the future of the city’s downtown and waterfront area. Participants were asked to address in their projects, general issues that affect the area, from social transformation to rising sea levels, but also to deliver site-specific proposals for several locations: Flagler Drive —the waterfront—, some of the narrow alleyways, the Great Lawn and the city’s Banyan parking garage building.

We are to be one of the 2 teams selected among 41 teams —comprising 159 participants from 13 countries— to further develop our proposals. For us this is another great opportunity to rethink the way urban environment is connected —and responds— to society, culture, economy and the environment.

You can read other news about it and have a look at the official website:

Shore to Core | Van Alen Institute

We are now focused and working for the second stage of the competition, looking deeper into the urban challenges the city faces and transforming them into unique opportunities of improvement of public space and social life.