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Francisco Mota | eu collaborators

Category: colaboradores+⚐ EN

Today we introduce you to Francisco Mota, a young environmental engineer who has been helping us with our proposals for Voronezh and Asunción during the last months. The office felt a bit more boring the very moment he left back to Portugal!

Hi, my name is Francisco Mota and I’m a Portuguese urban planner/environmental engineer, vegetarian, environmentalist, stuff maker, and midnight poet. I like to surround myself with a creative environment, and I do believe creativity, passion and having fun are key for a good work, even if it is slowly killing you.

No cameras, please!

No cameras, please!

My interests are many. Sometimes I feel like what Fernando Pessoa said, tenho em mim todos os sonhos do mundo (I have within me all the dreams of the world, in The Tobacco Shop). I love to write and play music, and I would like to experiment with other types of creative professions. I’m also an art enthusiast, I like the kind that can, somehow, challenge or touch me. And I do have to say that 90% of Prado bored me to death. [Editor’s note: This is not part of that 90%, right?]

Most of my work wanders around sustainable mobility and urban planning strategies and solutions. Coming from an environmental engineering background has given me some good strengths. I’m quite sensible with ecological and environmental problems, all my education was moved towards sustainability and I enjoy working with data. Actually, I do believe that collecting and analysing urban data can provide us, planners and designers, some important answers. Other thing that also excites me about this field is the collaboration with professionals of different areas, we all have so much to learn and it can lead to bright results.

Since the moment I graduated I was looking for an international experience and I was really glad to meet Ecosistema Urbano and to have the chance to join them for a four month internship. They have a very interesting vision and approach on planning, with a great emphasis on the social and sustainable layers, and not forgetting the importance of creative ideas. During the internship I had the opportunity to work on three different projects: the Voronezh Sea Revitalization, where we had the stimulating task of finding a strategy for cleaning a contaminated reservoir and making it suitable for leisure activities; the Creative Placemaking in South Loop competition, where we developed an artistic/public participation idea to bring some light to the most boring city in Minnesota; and the development of a Master Plan for the historic downtown of Asunción that will make this paraguayan city be stunning.

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These four months were great and productive. I had contact with subjects and perspectives on city projects that I always wanted to try, and I did really learn a lot, not only from these projects, but also in the morning coffee breaks and from all the conversations we had while cooking lunch. We really were a small family there.

And there’s another thing, somehow beautiful and sad: the man is the only living being capable of changing and creating (this is, designing) its own ecosystem and, through centuries, we managed to create some amazing cities all around the world. The sad part is that somewhen we forgot to build them for ourselves. Nevertheless, I’m pretty optimistic about the future, once the change to turn our cities into sustainable, attractive and livable places is already happening. I want to use my skills and creativity to help this movement. If you share this vision and want to work together, please write me a line.

Cheers!

Occupation: Urban Planner and Environmental Engineer
Interests: Urban Planning, Mobility, Info-structures, Design, Sustainability,  Literature, Music
City/country: Lisbon, Portugal
Web: efemotasurbanstudies.tumblr.com
Social profiles: @efemota, linkedin
Check the Posts by Francisco Mota on this blog

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Networked Urbanism – Ecosistema Urbano workshop at Hong Kong Design Institute

Category: city+creativity+ecosistema urbano+networkedurbanism+social software+⚐ EN

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Last January Ecosistema Urbano was invited to Hong Kong to take part in activities at two different events. We were invited to give a lecture and run a workshop at Hong Kong Design Institute and also be part of the MaD ASIA FORUM 2015 program.

Hong Kong Design Institute is an educational institution that adopts a “Think and Do” approach through contemporary curriculum and active collaborations with industry. HKDI brings together the strengths of the Design departments and offers programmes spanning across Foundation Studies, Communication Design and Digital Media, Fashion and Image Design, and Product and Interior Design.

1_ HKDI

Our workshop aimed, not only at examining the physical dimension of the city, but also its social processes and fluxes, focusing in the quality of HK public spaces.

We believe that the reactivation of a public space cannot be addressed only by a conventional piece of art or urban design. A lively public space is a complex balance of overlapping layers which should also allow for improvisation and interaction; it is the platform for conversation and socialization and it should respond to the demands, desires and expectations of an increasingly plural society.

The transformation of a public space is not only about physically implementing a new creative urban environment, but also, and far more important, it is about building a community to support it, to care for it, to use it – before, during, and after its materialization. A designer’s role is not only to deliver high quality public spaces, but also to reflect on the many ways public space can contribute to foster or discourage social interaction. It is interesting to understand how the physical configuration of a space can condition our personal and social behaviour.

At ecosistema urbano we believe we have to work at different levels in order to achieve a healthy and sustainable public space. Our methodology focuses on three key factors:

Society. We believe it is necessary to empower communities to drive the projects that affect them, and therefore involve social layer in the design process, so social relevance can be guaranteed. It is necessary to invite citizens to take an active role in urban transformation.

Technology. We embrace technology as a means to enhance citizens’ interaction with each other and with the environment around them. As the digital-physical divide narrows and the possibilities multiply, technology becomes an increasingly significant element in urban social life.

Environment. Sustainability is not only an option anymore, but a must. Our work promotes the comprehension of the city as an open environmental classroom to raise awareness about ecological issues among citizens.

Within this framework, Jose Luis Vallejo and I led a 3-day workshop at Hong Kong Design Institute with students from the landscape program. The purpose of the workshop was to encourage students to reflect on the public space surrounding the school.

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The workshop consisted of three different actions:

FIRST ACTION

During the first task students had to explore the area, identifying both challenges and opportunities in the public space of this part of the city: East Kowloon, a newly built area with a lack of attractive public spaces. They had not only to observe and experience the space themselves but also to gather inputs and fresh ideas from other users and passersby.
In order to communicate and express their learnings and findings, they were expected to elaborate their ideas by producing a video.

WORKSHOP 2

Today’s strong culture in the use of new media pushes us, designers, to find innovative ways of communicating our ideas beyond the conventional disciplinary tools. The easiness of spreading information through social media, reaching out a larger audience, presents new opportunities of raising awareness about urban issues, increasing social interest, and building up a stronger urban culture.

The definition and the testing of these tools is a fertile creative space where students and future designers can find new opportunities for development and innovation, where not only the very concept is important, but also the skills of storytelling and narration.

We believe Design Schools should explore these new ways of communicating and transferring ideas and knowledge to bridge the distances between disciplinary language and society’s interests. It is necessary to develop the appropriate tools and to establish a creative and efficient conversation between us, designers, and the citizens, as we no longer can think about creating a healthy and sustainable city without their engagement.

Many topics emerged from this explorative approach: the space for the visually impaired, the lack of activities and programs, the monotony of the current design and existing solutions, etc.

You can watch the videos produced here.

 

SECOND ACTION

The second purpose of the workshop was to launch the Hong Kong version of the local_in platform, an online platform designed to publish geolocated messages: users write their ideas, opinions, proposals or concerns in 140 characters and classify them by category, tags and location so that they can be viewed, rated and shared in real time.

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The digital platform enables users to work at two different levels:

Mapping: situations, problems, opportunities through images, video, descriptions, etc.
Getting into action: posting their designs, strategies, and solutions to reactivate and dynamize the existing spaces.

There is a color code in which RED stands for problems or challenges and BLUE for ideas and solutions.

map 1
map 2
map 3

The interface is very intuitive and allows the user to visualize the information by topics and interests in any given area of the city. Students directly uploaded their findings and reflections to the online platform. The application is open source, designed and developed by Ecosistema Urbano and released under GNU GPL license.

The platform hongkong.localin.eu will remain online and open for further use by citizens.

 

THIRD ACTION

As a final and symbolic act representing the result of this reflection, a temporary balloon installation was implemented in the main public space at HKDI, the boulevar.

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A series of 500 balloons were put into place, red balloons standing for problems and blue for ideas, recalling the color classification used in the local_in platform.
The installation is a symbolic representation of the digital platform and the ideas shown were a selection of the many gathered by students during the neighbourhood exploration. The ideas written in the balloons drew the attention of other students and passersby, and many of them also became engaged in the process and decided to contribute with their own thoughts. This simple mechanism became a social catalyst, sparking conversations along the space, connecting people and encouraging the reflection about the space we live in, and finally also the ideal background for many selfies, instantly shared on the social networks.

MATRIZ

HDKI-arriba-SMALL

 

MaD ASIA FORUM 2015

In addition to this activity we also took part in the MaD ASIA FORUM 2015, a platform cultivating creativity and global vision among young people in Asia.

Founded in 2009, MaD (Make a Difference) inspires and empowers young people all over Asia to come up with creative responses to our time’s challenges. It has evolved as a collaborative platform of creative changemakers that works at the intersection of creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation and discovery to bring about positive changes in Asia.

MAD

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Jose Luis and I gave a lecture within the program and led two workshops titled “Designing Human Cities for the Digital Age” in which participants were challenged to interact and collectively think about ways of improving cities.

WORKSHOP MAD

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Here you can find an interview (in chinese) published in NHET magazine.

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Guillermo Aroca | eu collaborators

Category: colaboradores+ecosistema urbano+Uncategorized+⚐ EN

Dear all! Today we introduce Guillermo Aroca, a young architect who is collaborating with us from September 2014. He is bringing a critical fresh view of urbanism and architecture. A sharp observer who gives the perfect touch to our reports. Below, in his own words:

 

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I was born in Madrid in 1989 and I have always had a special interest for design, society and politics. I developed my passion for politics through my participation in the Model European Parliament (MEP), a debate program organized by the European Union.

I have learned architecture at the Architecture School of Valladolid and I have studied the fifth year of my career at the University of Technology and Economics of Budapest (BME). I have presented a selection of freehand drawings, photographs and collages that I have made during my career to the Association of Architects of this city (FUGA).

I began to practice as an architect at the architecture firms M57 and ODImasP, the former is based in Granada and the latter in Valladolid. I have also worked in the gallery of contemporary art Álvaro Alcázar, where I got in touch with the most active professionals in the Spanish creative scene.

In 2013, after volunteering in a Spanish NGO and submerging myself into the Spanish crisis, I conducted a final thesis project of a social nature, with the desire to serve the most disadvantaged part of the population.

During my stay in Ecosistema Urbano, I have developed an interest for urban social planning with citizen collaboration. These past months I have focused in the execution of a Master Plan for Asunción (Paraguay), I have also been working in the preliminary phase of the development of a Master Plan for Encarnacion (Paraguay) and a group working space in Barcelona. This commission has allowed me to mentally travel to South America without moving from my own city. Apart from learning how to trace a Master Plan full of content and without losing any attention to its design and appearance, I have also enjoyed an extraordinary work environment, full of great energy and fellowship.

In the future I look forward to further developing my passion for architecture, fashion, photography and writing. I have been able to cultivate these interests through various collaborations in many magazines, such as Curador, Doze and Metal Magazine.

More information at:
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The Bicycle as a Tool to Understand the City

Category: city+mobility+movilidad+sustainability+urbanism+⚐ EN

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Bicycle parking in Copenhagen, photo gently borrowed from Olmofin on Flickr

All the arguments are known. All the benefits of using a bicycle as a means of transportation have been discussed, on words, speeches, infographics, funny drawings, and all other sorts of communication. We all know it is an efficient vehicle, with zero fuel consumptions and pollutant gases emission, requires less space, eases traffic congestion and is good for one’s wallet and health.

However, the most valuable and meaningful aspect of this two-wheeled vehicle has not yet been discussed. Cycling is a really intimate way of blending with the landscape, urban or rural. The bicycle is, therefore, an instrument for understanding the city, being this a key factor for the future of urban areas.

In a car, the world is reduced. The driver is inside a box, focused on getting rapidly from A to B. He moves through sections of asphalt roads and highways. Everything that surrounds him is a secondary plan. The environment, the architecture, the landscape, the life. All part of a canvas blurred by the circulating speed.

In the city, the bicycle it’s not just a ride, it is also a tool, a device for understanding the city and experiencing the true meaning of urbanism.

Being on the side of those who believe cities should be (much) more human centered, more livable, attractive and sustainable is certainly not easy, especially if you’re living in a car-centered society. Have you tried to talk with your friends or family about these problems? Have you tried to talk about how much space in a street is reserved for the cars, compared to the little sidewalk? They won’t understand, most of them drive a car, they want their space, their parking spot. They still believe more and wider car lanes will ease urban congestion.

I cannot approach them, or any random citizen, about energy efficiency in cities, about air pollution; I cannot tell them that part of the solution is a system based on walking, cycling and on public transport. I cannot tell them that the key for urban sustainability relies on density or about how the highways had fragmented the landscapes (and this is clear in Lisbon).

It doesn’t matter how eloquent we are, nobody wants to change their lifestyle when they understand it as life quality.

And this is why the bicycle is such an important tool, as a way to experience urbanism. Go for a bike ride along the city with someone who’s driving a car on a daily basis and even the best sustainable cities presentation will fall short of this exercise.

They’ll see the world with different eyes. There’s so many cars here and they’re going too fast, he’ll say. This cycling track should be larger, but generally there should be more in this part of town. I never noticed this building before. Oh, this cafe looks very nice, let’s stop, thank god they got bike racks. And, all of a sudden, those problems are not that far away from their reality.

Here’s the deal, everybody was already liking to ride a bicycle since they were kids. We don’t need to sell it. It’s cool, it’s fun, easy and economical. It’s just a matter of trying, becoming thrilled about it, and maybe they’ll see the benefits of a car-less or even car-free living. It’s all about experiencing it.

And this elevates the importance of pilot projects in the city, the importance of giving the opportunity for citizens to enjoy and feel the city as their own. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s enlightened with life: a car-free saturday, a naked bike ride, some parklets or occupying a street for a month. Personally, I love when the traffic is cut in some random street, I instantly jump from the tiny sidewalk to the car lane. People will love it and the city will benefit from it, short and long-term.

This is what we need, less talk and more action.

A do-it-yourself bike lane in Asunción, Paraguay

A do-it-yourself bike lane in Asunción, Paraguay

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Ecosistema Urbano at MaD Asia forum 2015

Category: ecosistema urbano+events+news+⚐ EN

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Next week Ecosistema Urbano members Jose Luis Vallejo and Belinda Tato will be attending the MaD ASIA FORUM 2015, a platform cultivating creativity and global vision among young people in Asia.

Founded in 2009, MaD (Make a Difference) inspires and empowers young people all over Asia to come up with creative responses to our time’s challenges. It has evolved as a collaborative platform of creative changemakers that works at the intersection of creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation and discovery to bring about positive changes in Asia.

Tato & Vallejo will be running the #networkedurbanism workshop “Designing Human Cities for the Digital Age” on Jan. 31st and presenting their work on Feb. 1st.

We are excited to be back in Hong Kong and looking forward to knowing more about the city and its creative community!

More about the event 
The schedule 

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5 Cycling Apps Every Urban Cyclist Should Know

Category: bikeline+technologies+⚐ EN

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Photo gently borrowed from mcfarlandmo, under a attribution-non-commercial creative commons license

Remember Bikeline, our awarded idea for a cycling app? We’ve been thinking about it lately, and decided to make a post about some other smartphone apps that might be interesting for urban cyclists.

You may have already heard of names like CityMapper, Strava or CycleMeter. It seems like most of the cycling related apps available fall on the category of route planners, sports or trackers. So we decided to talk about other types of apps, both available or soon-to-be lauched.

BikeRepair

Every person that rides a bike knows that some mechanic skills will eventually come in handy. This app will teach you all you need to know about maintenance and repairing of your bicycle. It consists in 58 step-by-step guides and 95 tips and tricks, also about riding-related aches and pains. One important thing: all of these repairs don’t require special tools; in other words, it’s accessible to beginner cyclists.

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Platform: iOS

Price: 2.26€ / 3.20€

Website: www.bikerepairapp.com

 

Fill That Hole

Even if this app is only available in the UK, it had to be part of this list because it emphasizes the importance of public participation and collaboration for a better city. This app, developed by the National Cycling Charity, enables you to take photos of potholes (one of the worst enemies for a cyclist) and other hazards in the street, and uses the phone GPS location to send the info to the local authorities. A FixMyStreet for bicycles!

Platform: iOS, Android in development

Price: Free

Website: www.fillthathole.org.uk

 

RiderState

This app is a game that motivates you to ride your bicycle even more. In RiderState you’ll be conquering your street, neighborhood and city, based on how much and where you’re riding. The app will register your activity in real-time, and when you’re finished it will show a map of your conquered territory as well as stats of your game and ride, like the avoided CO2 emissions. Interesting take on mobility and gamification.

Platform: iOS Android

Price: free

Website: www.riderstate.com

 

Bike Tap

BikeTap was born from the effort to change the way people view cycling as part of their lifestyle, from recreational to social. It’s based on social interaction and basically you gain points and rewards by each trip you’re making by bike. You can challenge your friends for bike rides, arrange a meeting with them, know if they are going by bike or if the destination has parking infrastructures. Local businesses will be able notify users, and you can also know about trends in cycling. With this app you will find additional motivation through shared experience to get you cycling more often.

Platform: iOS (not lauched yet)

Price: Unknown

Website: www.vimeo.com/urbanfuturists

 

Kappo

While Kappo also means to encourage cycling by gaming, it is an interesting tool for institutions and governments as well. The concept is basically the same as the previous, everytime you ride your bike the app measures the time, speed and also weather and jumps. If it’s raining, for example, you’ll be getting more points to level up and more bikecoins to use on your profile. The graphics are very appealing and the game looks entertaining; you can compete with your friends, players from all around the world and also complete some very interesting challenging achievements.

Kappo achievements, profile and results pages

kappo achievements, profile and results pages

The most interesting part of Kappo is that, while it is a game for the users, it also provides data for the local authorities. They will get insights about local urban cyclists, being able to understand patterns and behavior, in order to act better towards their needs. A very interesting win-win model, with a (yet to be fully explored) potential around the ‘bikecoin’ concept.

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kappo cycling heatmap. from analytics page

Platform: iOS Android

Price: free

Website: www.kappo.bike

 

Bikestorming

The first thing we must say about this app concept is that the creator wants to make bike the most popular transportation mode by 2030. Bold statement! The second thing is that it’s all open-based. Bikestorming is (or will be) a collaborative platform intended to promote urban cycling everywhere.

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Different pages of bikestorming app

It’s designed to be fun and cool. Basically there is a Map and Missions. The Map shows more info available for urban cyclists than any other map, and the missions are a way to expand it. In other words, beside using the info of your city, you will also be posting about parking spots, safe streets or how do you integrate bike and public transport, among other missions. All the data is open to reuse.

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Platform: Soon to be on every smartphone and lightsaber

Price: Free

Website: www.bikestorming.org

Conclusion

Bikes have remained mostly the same during decades, but contemporary technology is slowly finding its way on everyone’s handlebar, with great potential. Apart of the visual aid and information that such apps can provide, there are also some interesting explorations of a sharing economy going on here. The mix of social coins, gamification, social interaction and crowdsourcing of urban data is a very promising one.

There are some limitations, though. For example, enabling your GPS (required for almost every biking app) while you ride may take you to your destination… and leave you with an empty battery.  As these applications get more popular, systems for in-bike charging will probably be popping up, as well as more and better ways to attach the phone to your bike.

This is just the beginning!

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Dreamhamar, selected as BEST practice by the Dubai International Award

Category: architecture+dreamhamar+ecosistema urbano+news+⚐ EN

Best Practice Database

Best Practice Database

This week we come with some good news in a row! Some days ago, we were notified that our project dreamhamar has been awarded as BEST PRACTICE by the UN at the Dubai 2014 International Award for Best Practices to Improve the Living Environment.

The Spanish submissions to this award have been highly appreciated: 62 of them were labelled as GOOD practices, 17 as BEST practices and 2 selected for the international AWARD.

From now on, the project will be part of the UN-HABITAT Best Practice Database. It’s our third project to join that list, together with the previously selected Plaza Ecópolis and the Ecoboulevard. The project will also be showcased in the Décimo Catálogo español de Buenas Prácticas and added to the “Ciudades para un Futuro más Sosteniblelibrary, CF+S” online library.

Here is a short video about the methodology (Dream Your City) we used in the dreamhamar project in Norway:

You can find more about the project on the www.dreamhamar.org website and on the recently published book “Dreamhamar: A network design process for collectively redesigning public space”, which explains the project’s actions and methods in great detail.

See the previous posts about dreamhamar.

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Ecosistema Urbano, first prize in the Voronezh Sea Closed Competition

Category: competitions+ecosistema urbano+eu:live+news+⚐ EN

Aerial view of the "Leisure Island"

Aerial view of the “Leisure Island”, one of the proposals

The Department of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Voronezh region decided recently to organize a closed competition in order to develop a strategy for the future of the Voronezh Sea, a currently contaminated reservoir. The aim was to gather ideas on the use of the reservoir so it can be more attractive for the population and be a resource for the development of the city once the water is clean.

Today we are pleased to announce that our proposal has been awarded the first prize!

Click on the image to see some cool panoramas of the Voronezh Sea!

Click on the image to see some cool panoramas of the Voronezh Sea!

The proposal developed by Ecosistema Urbano after being selected for the second round of the competition works at different levels, addressing both the diverse sources of contamination and the potential uses of the existing reservoir. Our vision combines various solutions bringing new opportunities for leisure and activities for people to enjoy and experience the lake.

Our proposal

Addressing the different sources of pollution by providing customised solutions for each of them. These actions are framed as Phase 0. Among the actions we propose to place macrophytes on the surface of the water treatment plant tanks. This action can improve the performance of the Plant up to 40% and it is more efficient not only in the short term, but also in the long run as it reduces energy consumption and requires low maintenance.

Working with floating macrophytes which can absorb many different contaminants. They would be located in the shallowest areas of the lake to stop algae from blooming and emitting a specific smell that comes from the reservoir in summer.

Floating macrophytes in action

Floating macrophytes in action

Creation of bathing areas both in the urban and at the natural environment of the lake, incorporating the macrophytes as part of the water purification system.

A series of floating mobile cleaning infrastructures. These barges help to control water eutrophication as it is important to reduce the amount of phosphorus. They have tanks filled with alum for phosphor sedimentation at the bottom and incorporate various leisure programs and possibilities on the top, so they can be used in different areas of the city during the summer season. At the same time, these floating barges include sampling and analysing systems so that real time information about the water conditions and quality is made available for everyone through the web platforms and mobile app, specifically developed for this purpose.

Floating mobile cleaning infrastructures

Floating mobile cleaning infrastructures

Two areas are proposed to be developed through Public-Private Partnership. These new developments will help to shape a new identity for Voronezh and a new relationship of the city with the water.

The first is a mixed-use zone including housing, offices, retail, public and cultural buildings etc. This new development must be a pilot experience incorporating all the current sustainable technologies, as well as incorporating good practices in water management. Rainwater and surface water runoff is collected and purified through small ponds with floating macrophytes for being used afterwards for irrigation. Pump system for ponds and aeration fountains receive energy from micro wind turbines located on the shore.

New development of a mixed-use zones at the lakefront

New development of a mixed-use zones at the lakefront

As a second development opportunity, ecosistema urbano proposes turning the existing Pridachenskaya dam into a Leisure Island with different activities, becoming a new infrastructure for the city incorporating clean water areas available for swimming and bathing. The island also includes bicycle and jogging paths, boat station for water-sports, urban beach, gardens and parks, playgrounds and sport facilities.

Typologies of cleaning and activity-hosting infrastructures

Typologies of cleaning and activity-hosting infrastructures

Next you can see some more images of the proposal, showing how water treatment and environmental regeneration could work together with social reactivation of the reservoir along the day and through the seasons.

Swimming-pools

Leasure-Island-Day

Leasure-Island-Night

Eco-path

Related links (in Russian):

EU project ideas
Results of the competition
Voronezh news

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The Urban Yoga on Kickstarter

Category: architecture+creativity+design+research+⚐ EN

Urban Yoga, Madrid. Photography by Emilio P. Doiztúa

Urban Yoga, El Campo de Cebada, Madrid. Photography by Emilio P. Doiztúa

The Urban Yoga, a project we wrote about this spring, is now live on Kickstarter. Anja Humljan, an architect who worked with us for some months here at Ecosistema Urbano, is doing an interesting architectural experiment where she is applying yogic philosophy into architectural design. She is developing a method for designing space based on subconscious sensory experience of touch, smell and hearing.

Urban Yoga, New York. Photography by Jaka Vinšek

Urban Yoga, New York. Photography by Jaka Vinšek

Subconscious sensory experience is our first means of communicating with the world as we learn it before the verbal language. The aim of The Urban Yoga is to ensure that architecture will continue not only to provide the world with pragmatic buildings or on the contrary buildings which are visually stunning but functionally useless, but to design with human in mind —to express fundamental truths of the human condition, including our dreams, imagination, and desires: not just those of the designers themselves, but also of those, who use it on a daily basis.

It’s not yoga. It is an architectural experiment changing the way we experience everyday situations by focusing on our body and senses.

What is the funding for? Anja is in the process of enrolling at The New School of Architecture & Design (NSAD), San Diego, from where she will be collaborating with the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) in further developing the Urban Yoga Method. Part of the money will be used to support this research, and most of it to print The Urban Yoga book in the best offset printing shop she can find. In this carefully edited book, which you can get by pledging on Kickstarter, you will learn more about the details of the project:

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The Urban Yoga book - available on Kickstarter now!

The Urban Yoga book – available on Kickstarter now!

The book includes a series of stunning and inspiring photos taken in Madrid, New York, Paris and Ljubljana, used as metaphors for the experiment: how do we perceive space if we surrender ourselves to it with our whole sensuous body and give ourselves up to feelings that are running through space? Check out the video below:

You can explore more on the project on the crowdfunding page:

The Urban Yoga on Kickstarter

If you like it, support the project and share the good word!

Urban Yoga Paris. Photography by Antoine Le Grand

Urban Yoga Paris. Photography by Antoine Le Grand

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Digitas Meets Humanitas: The Projects of Networked Urbanism | By Blair Kamin

Category: networkedurbanism+urban social design+urbanism+⚐ EN

Image by Flickr user Richard Schneider

Image by Flickr user Richard Schneider

The book ‘Networked Urbanism’ included this article by Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of The Chicago Tribune, who served as a visiting critic for our “Networked Urbanism” studio.

There was no Internet in 1938 when the eminent Chicago sociologist Louis Wirth wrote his classic essay, “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” Taking note of the phenomenal growth of such industrial cities as New York and Chicago, as well as the lack of an adequate sociological definition of urban life, Wirth articulated parameters of enduring relevance.

Cities should not be defined by the quantity of their land mass or the size of their population, he wrote. Rather, they were best understood by pinpointing their distinctive qualities: “a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals.” 1 That heterogeneity, Wirth observed, had the effect of breaking down the rigid social barriers associated with small-town and rural life. It increased both mobility and instability, causing individuals to join organized groups to secure their identity amidst the city’s ceaseless flux. “It is largely through the activities of the voluntary groups,” Wirth observed, “that the urbanite expresses and develops his personality, acquires status, and is able to carry on the round of activities that constitute his life-career.” 2

Image by Marco Rizzetto

Image by Marco Rizzetto

Implicit in his analysis was the notion that these networks would be formed through the technologies of their time: By letter, by telephone, by telegraph, by the newspaper, and, of course, by face-to-face contact. Amid today’s ongoing digital revolution, that part of Wirth’s otherwise prescient analysis seems antique.

In that sense, nothing has changed and everything has changed since the publication of “Urbanism as a Way of Life” more than 75 years ago. Half of the world’s population lives in urban areas; that share, the United Nations predicts, will rise to roughly two-thirds by 2050. As in Wirth’s time, urbanization has spawned acute problems, from China’s acrid skies to India’s vast slums. Yet while urbanites still ally themselves with groups, the means by which they do this has shifted entirely. Think of the recent spate of “Facebook revolutions.” Human communication is now overwhelmingly digital, and digital urbanism has become a pervasive part of city life, whether it takes the form of sensors embedded in highways or apps that let us know when the bus is coming.

The question is whether we are fully realizing the potential of these tools to improve the quality of the built environment and, with it, the quality of urban life. In short, can the virtual enrich the physical?

Image by Carlos León

Image by Carlos León

Madrid architects Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of the firm Ecosistema Urbano, believe in the value of this link and have set out to prove its worth through their practice and their Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) studio, Networked Urbanism. The architects belong to a new generation that decries the self-referential “object buildings” enabled by digital design. Yet like Frank Lloyd Wright, who viewed the machine as an agent of progressive social and aesthetic change, they see the computer as a friend, not an enemy.

This perspective has helped them realize such socially-conscious projects as the Ecopolis Plaza in Madrid, which transformed an old industrial site into a child care and recreation center that is as visually striking as it is ecologically sensitive. Tato and Vallejo have imparted this creative approach to their students and the students have run with it, as the impressive results collected in this book show.

The first thing that distinguishes Tato and Vallejo’s pedagogy is its starting points, which are unapologetically practical and local–an anomaly within the theory-driven, globally-focused world of academic architectural culture. Instead of parachuting in to some far-flung locale, their students engage the place where they live: greater Boston. This affords the students time for repeat visits to their project sites and a deeper understanding of people and their needs than can be gleaned on a lightning-fast overseas tour. But it would be inaccurate to characterize the process and product of “Networked Urbanism” as parochial. The architects subscribe to the philosophy of “going glocal.” As they have written, “every urban project is born in a constant movement between the direct experience and specificity of the local context, and the global, shared flow of information and knowledge.”

One of the “glocal” issues American cities face is the rapid expansion of bicycles as a mode of transportation–a stark contrast to China, where members of the new middle-class abandon bikes for the status symbol of a car and, in the process, worsen traffic congestion and air pollution. But the growth of urban cycling has brought a dramatic increase in bicycle thefts. The vast majority of these thefts go unreported to police because the stolen bikes are rarely found. The victims feel powerless. Harvard student Lulu Zhizhou Li used to be one of them. She’s had her bike stolen twice, once from the racks in front of the GSD. “When I started talking to friends about it, I quickly realized that most everyone has had some sort of bike theft experience,” she said in an interview with Harvard’s Office of Sustainability.

BikeNapped by Lulu Zhizhou Li

BikeNapped by Lulu Zhizhou Li

Li’s response was to design a successful online platform, “Bikenapped!,” which maps where bike thefts occur. The Web site allows bike theft victims to avoid these trouble spots, share their stories and perhaps even prevent future thefts. The interactivity afforded by digital technology is crucial to the enterprise, as one posting from August 2013 shows. “Flexible Kryptonite lock was cut between 4:30-6:20 p.m. at the bike rack outside Fenway movie theatre,” a victim named Deborah wrote about the loss of her white Vita bike with small black fenders, a white seat and a value of $550. “Busy intersection, loads of people. No one saw anything. Cameras point at doors, not bike rack.” The theater’s owners are now on notice that they should reposition one of their cameras. More important, Li has drawn upon her individual experience to frame a collective digital response, one that was technologically impossible when Wirth penned “Urbanism as a Way of Life.”

The students in Networked Urbanism have taken on other pressing problems of our time, such as the need for recycling that helps protect the environment. But waste doesn’t happen by chance; it’s a result of bad design.

Consider what two students came up with as they analyzed the very Bostonian problem of discarded oyster shells. The students, Jenny Corlett and Kelly Murphy, devised a way to break the cycle of restaurants mindlessly throwing out used oyster shells, which, in turn, wind up in landfills. Their solution: Collect and dry the shells, then use them to help grow new oysters and rebuild oyster reefs in Boston Harbor.

Aquaplot by Jenny Corlett + Kelly Murphy

Aquaplot by Jenny Corlett + Kelly Murphy

The plan would have a disproportionate impact because oysters affect many other species in their ecosystem. They improve water quality by removing algae, plankton and pollutants from the water. And the oyster reefs provide a habitat for small species like snails and shrimp, thereby increasing a region’s biodiversity. It’s hard to argue with projected outcomes like that– or with Corlett and Murphy’s marketing skills. Before their final presentation, they served their visiting critics oysters on the half shell.

Those who believe that architecture schools solely exist to teach students how to be heroic designers might smirk at such examples. Recently, the dean of one prestigious American architecture school provocatively argued that the problem of people complaining about object buildings is that people are complaining about object buildings. Making memorable objects, this dean said, is the core of what architects and architecture are all about.

Yet such a myopic world view privileges a formalist approach to architecture at the expense of the field’s rich social promise. Architecture isn’t a large-scale version of sculpture. It shapes the world in which we live.

The genius of Networked Urbanism is that it isn’t teaching students to be geniuses. It’s teaching them to be creative problem solvers, builders of smart digital networks and thus, builders of smarter urban communities. That’s a brighter, more responsible vision of the future than the dumbed-down version of digital urbanism you see on sidewalks today–people staring at their smart phones, lost in their own private worlds. In contrast, the projects of Networked Urbanism offer a new, intelligent way to form and vitalize the social networks that Louis Wirth identified as crucial to the continued well-being of urban life. Together, these designs confer fresh relevance upon the sociologist’s ringing declaration that “metropolitan civilization is without question the best civilization that human beings have ever devised.” 3

Blair Kamin has been the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic since 1992. A graduate of Amherst College and the Yale University School of Architecture, he has also been a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. The University of Chicago Press has published two collections of Kamin’s columns: “Why Architecture Matters: Lessons from Chicago” and “Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age.” Kamin is the recipient of 35 awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, which he received in 1999 for a body of work highlighted by a series of articles about the problems and promise of Chicago’s greatest public space, its lakefront. Another recent story is Designed in Chicago, made in China.

1. Footnote 1 Louis Wirth, “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” American Journal of Sociology 44, no. 1 (July 1938): 8.
2. Footnote 1 Ibid., 23.
3. Footnote 1 Louis Wirth, “The City (The City as a Symbol of Civilization),” The Papers of Louis Wirth, the Joseph Regenstein Library, Special Collections, University of Chicago, box: 39, folder: 6.