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Networked Urbanism: The real learning begins when things go live | part II

Category: ⚐ EN+creativity+ecosistema urbano+network design+networkedurbanism+publications+urban social design

This is the second part (see the first part here) of our conversation with Paul Bottino, cofounder and executive director of TECH, Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. Here you can read the first part.

BT&JLV The learning experience includes the possibility to learn from consequences, mistakes, and successes. This methodology emphasizes the value of the process itself, in contrast to a teaching approach primarily focused on the end results. How would you value the process versus the end results? Can we introduce failure/uncertainty as part of the development of the learning process?

PB You are being charitable because we people have proven ourselves pointless predictors! And our ever-growing connectedness and complexity are going to give computer power and big data analytics a long battle before we get much better. So as far as I can see, the value is in the process, and the end results are more or less kaleidoscopic: when the twirling stops for an instant, we see a pattern, rationalize how we got there, codify explanations, and issue predictions based on the code. The twirl resumes and reminds us of our folly but we can’t give up the game and our illusion of control. My response is to emphasize good practice—valuing process over results—in the hope that more often than not good results will emerge from good practice. Part of any good practice is periodic reflection intended to prolong the period where one is open to discovering the right practice for the right situation. That reflection includes looking at how the failure and uncertainty inherent in the process affects our practice; asking how we respond to and perceive failures; and how we perform and make decisions and communicate in uncertain circumstances.

BT&JLV Think Big / Start Small are two of the ten guidelines for the course, and are also key concepts for innovation in general. Do you have any advice about how to fill the gap between the “think” phase and the “start” phase? What are the most common challenges in the transition between the design phase and the actual implementation of the project in the real world?

PB Your eighth guideline for the studio is a great start, “Act Now!” (and ask questions later and along the way). Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to transform thoughts and words into actions and to test them with people. It is the formulation of something that people can see, touch, and experience that stimulates the most useful feedback. It is much easier to close this gap with virtual designs than it is with physical, but you can shrink it with models and simulations. In the virtual cases, the transition isn’t a bright line but a continual back and forth—two steps forward, one step back—of testing with people and redesigning until you realize your test subjects have become users and you feel you’ve made a phase change to implementation. With physical designs and more complicated virtual designs, there are clearer phase distinctions and cut-over moments. The real learning begins when things go live. The greatest challenge I see designers face in these moments is handling the pressure and responding to the unforeseen requirements that are now coming from stakeholders external to the design team, whereas before they were self-imposed. These events stress the entire design organism, from the belief that what you are doing is valuable to the little details that make it work. The best teams use systems thinking and parallel processing to tend to the entire organism in order to be as ready as they can be for these moments.

BT&JLV Historically, design schools have been somewhat segregated from other disciplines, and have been considered to be niche institutions. In the last decade, design has emerged as an overarching discipline, and design methods (design thinking) are strongly influencing other fields. These methods are frequently adopted by a wide range of disciplines, from scientific to humanistic ones.
How would you explain this opening? Has the role of the designer shifted from designing a building or product to “enhancing society”?

PB Design thinking fits a classic technology innovation paradigm, which is it takes on the order of 30–years to emerge from inception to widespread adoption. Ideas spread faster now but the 30 year rule still works for big changes. Design thinking is “process know-how” that fits the broad definition of technology. I would trace its origins back to 1961 and the publication of Synectics by William J. J. Gordon2. So many factors contribute to where it is today but perhaps the two main ones are increasing complexity frustrating a purely analytical approach and the shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy where the emphasis moved from labor, equipment, and capital to people, engendering a natural embrace of the human-centered precept of design thinking. The designer’s role changed right along with that. With a focus on people, the essential question is not what to make or how to make it, it is why to make it; so inexorably, designers (which includes makers by many other formal names) engage the issue of why, embody it in their designs, and find themselves working at the highest level of value creation.

BT&JLV You work as an educator with students and professionals coming from various institutions, with different backgrounds, education, and expectations.
In your experience, do designers and/or students of design have special capabilities for creative problem solving?

PB All children have the basic capabilities and unfortunately it seems mainstream schooling retrains them to concentrate on solving right-answer problems with predetermined tools. Design students seem to have either never lost or have managed to reawaken the childhood ability to see things differently, dive into open-ended challenges and try to figure things out without knowing the “right” way. That and a healthy quotient of cultivated empathy and the energy to exercise it regularly is what I see setting design students apart.

BT&JLV Networked Urbanism provides students with a toolbox of 10 guidelines to use during the research process:

1.EXPLORE
2. RESEARCH
3. NETWORK
4. SHARE
5. BE OPEN
6. THINK BIG
7. START SMALL
8. ACT NOW!
9. COMMUNICATE
10. MOVE BEYOND

Which other ingredients would you add to it?

PB This is a tremendous set to which I’d add:

11. DECLARE your ignorance: embrace what you don’t know and can’t explain and cultivate it as an energy source to ward off the tendency to believe you have an answer before you do—and the tendency not to risk losing what you think you have.
12. DEFY known authorities: their dissonance is as good an indication of value as your adopter’s resonance.
13. FOCUS on the meaning of your design: value springs from metaphorical shifts.
14. NARRATE the story of your design complete with round characters, rich settings, true heroes, and real villains.

You can access the complete publication here

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Networked Urbanism: The real learning begins when things go live | part I

Category: ⚐ EN+creativity+ecosistema urbano+network design+networkedurbanism+publications+urban social design

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#networkedurbanism is a series of studios taught in the Urban Planning and Design Department at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design between 2010 and 2014.

The #networkedurbanism studio aims to bring network-design thinking to the forefront of design disciplines and strives to solve real-world problems on the ground, providing an alternative to the traditional approach of designing urban environments from a bird’s-eye view, and a single designer’s perspective. Networked Urbanism not only examines the physical dimension of the city, but also its social processes and fluxes, developing initiatives that generate spontaneous transformations and set up conditions for change.

The #networkedurbanism studio provides the framework for students to pursue their own interests, find their own means of expression, and create their own paths. They are encouraged to work with others, to create connections and to search for new problems and opportunities that underlie our society, visibly or subtly. Overall, they are expected to explore the city and design new tools to creatively improve urban life.

The following conversation with Paul Bottino is an excerpt from our publication Networked Urbanism, Design Thinking Initiatives for a Better Urban Life

Paul Bottino is cofounder and executive director of TECH, Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard.
TECH’s mission is to advance the understanding and practice of innovation and entrepreneurship through experiential education: by initiating, advancing and informing student projects. TECH helps faculty create and deliver innovation and entrepreneurship project courses, provides students with project support and sponsors and advises student groups working to build the Harvard innovation community.TECH is based on the belief that boundaries—between disciplines, people, organizations, and ideas—need to be crossed continually to create the insights that lead to innovations because socially useful and commercially viable advancements require the right mix of scientific and engineering knowledge, entrepreneurial know-how, and worldly perspective.

Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo (BT&JLV): TECH promotes experiential education, a pedagogical approach that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase their knowledge, develop their skills, clarify their values, and develop their capacity to contribute to their communities.
Networked Urbanism studio incorporates this methodology, requiring participants to leave their comfort zone in order to introduce them to realities in today’s society – outside the walls of Academia—in which designer’s skills are needed. Do you think that this non-academic, feedback-driven process should be used more often in design courses? Does it help to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among students?

Paul B. Bottino (PB): Absolutely. Though it is only non-academic in the sense of that word that means concerned solely with matters of theoretical importance. I consider it academic because it is central to learning, which is my chosen sense of the word. The kind of experiential education that my students and I practice does have practical ends as well as theoretical. But in a creative economy, where knowledge is the primary means of production, education is inextricably linked to practical ends. All of the educators and learners I know—be they at the lifelong, higher, secondary, elementary, or natural level—want to create useful knowledge for their desired ends, and those ends include everything imaginable on the spectrum of human experience. In my case, and I believe this is true of the Networked Urbanism studio, the end goal is to help build students’ innovative capacity.
In order to do that, educators and students must jointly go on an implicit knowledge exploration.

It is obvious but worth saying that knowledge about the future and the new designs that will inhabit it is not explicit, meaning you can’t enter search terms in Google and get answers, even if Google had access to every bit of knowledge available. Instead, it is a research process in which you craft a probe in the form of a design concept and take it to people to educe knowledge about it. If it is a new concept, which it must be to qualify as a potential innovation, then it is going to generate new thoughts. The designer takes those new thoughts not as answers, but rather as feedback. The endeavor of the designer is to transform concepts into value. Value is a utility function; it derives from the use of designs by some number of people. So the essential way designers create value is by engaging in a process of formulation-feedback-reformulation that transforms neurons firing into words, visuals, prototypes, and designs. In my experience, learning via this process is the only way to develop the kind of embodied knowledge that lasts and evolves. Willingly engaging in this full experience and being vulnerable to it is the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit. And, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., is quoted, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

BT&JLV Networked Urbanism encourages students to choose a topic at the intersection of their interests and society’s needs. They have to take the initiative and make decisions. Projects become unique and linked to their personal stories and many of them live beyond the term. This isn’t the traditional academic approach but it is a common entrepreneurial construct, and designers are increasingly expected to define both the problem and the solution. Do you think that “problem finding” skills have become a fundamental base for innovation?

PB Yes, most certainly. I would say those skills always have been essential to innovation, but it is probably more apt to call them something else because in many cases you don’t need to find the problem, it is in clear view. Consider certain diseases where the problems are well known—when a treatment or cure is discovered, invented, and developed, it is very likely immediately deemed an innovation. This is a process of innovation that occurs almost entirely by devising a new solution to an existing problem. I think it is fair to differentiate creative problem-solving, where the problem is given or known, from innovating, where it is not, yet still call creative solutions that are widely used, innovations. To this way of thinking, the full experience of innovating starts with some kind of finding—finding problems people don’t know they have or finding opportunities others don’t see. These kinds of findings emerge from change. Change causes uncertainty about the meaning of existing things and whether they are still useful and valuable. The designer interprets change, sees things differently, and creates new meaning and value. Because there is so much change, the possibilities are endless so it is essential to filter them through one’s values, interests, and capabilities to make a starting choice. This is wonderful for the educational experience because it supplies personal purpose, relevance, and intrinsic motivation to the exploration.

BT&JLV One of the crucial benefits during the Networked Urbanism studio has been the cross-pollination of students with many different backgrounds from all the programs within the GSD. Moreover, the collaboration with people outside of the studio enhanced the innovation of the projects exponentially, since students are required to build up connections with others, creating a network of advisors and professionals within the field, as well as existing and potential community members. Is interdisciplinary collaboration now a necessary ingredient for successful entrepreneurship and innovation?

PB It is probably too much to say that it is absolutely necessary in all cases because there will always be instances of people seeing things differently and innovating without too much assistance, but it feels like those are edge cases that are more and more extreme. More the norm is where the challenge is complex, and seeing and approaching things differently comes from a combination of perspectives and abilities. It is often hard for one person to see things differently. Some people are more agile than others at changing frames internally; most need collaboration and other inputs to do it. I think this is due to a combination of the way our neural pathways are formed and maintained and a lack of meta-thinking practice. That combined with increasingly specified knowledge domains and the training and concentration necessary to master those domains means collaborating with people from other areas, worldviews, and walks of life increases your chances of seeing things differently, getting the diversity of feedback you need and finding the knowledge resources you need to create value.

The second part of the conversation with Paul Bottino has been published in this post.

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100 en un día | 100 in one day | 100 in un giorno

Category: ⚐ ES+città+ciudad+creatividad+espacio público+participación+sostenibilidad+urban social design+urbanismo+urbanistica

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100 en un día es un festival de experimentación urbana que consiste en la implementación de 100 acciones urbanas en un solo día en una ciudad. La iniciativa nació en 2012 en Bogotá, lanzada por el Colectivo “Acción Urbana” y se ha replicado hasta hoy en 13 países y 28 ciudades en los 4 continentes, entre ellas Santiago del Chile, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro y Montreal.

100-en-un-día

Pero, ¿qué se entiende por acción urbana en el contexto de 100 en un día?
Una acción urbana es algo que:

+ tiene capacidad de poner en evidencia un potencial subestimado del carácter urbano de una ciudad
+ surge de reflexiones efectuadas directamente por los ciudadanos, tanto necesidades insatisfechas como deseos
+ se realiza directamente por iniciativas ciudadanas
+ tiene capacidad de concienciar y despertar el interés por lo común 

En Milán 100 in un giorno se realizará el próximo día 27 de Junio a partir de las 7.00 y con una duración de 24 horas. Las acciones urbanas a realizarse (juegos, performance artísticas, instalaciones temporales para deporte y ocio, etc..) serán propuestas directamente por los ciudadanos a través del formulario presente en la página web y durante una serie de workshops organizados in situ.

El festival aspira a involucrar de manera directa a la ciudadanía en el proceso de reimaginar su ciudad, dándoles la posibilidad de transformar activamente su entorno urbano hacia un modelo más sostenible y más enfocado a la escala humana.

Aquí va el vídeo (en italiano) que explica cómo funciona la iniciativa:

100in1giorno 8 from 100in1giorno on Vimeo.

La anécdota: 100 en un día es una de las referencias que incluimos en nuestro catálogo de buenas practicas en la fase de concurso del Plan Maestro del Centro Histórico de Asunción el pasado mes de Agosto.

¡Nos encanta esta iniciativa y esperamos que se difunda y se ponga en práctica en muchas otras ciudades del mundo, contagiando creatividad y capacidad transformador!

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Archiprix International – ecosistema urbano takes part in the Awards ceremony

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+creativity+ecosistema urbano+events+urban social design+urbanism

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In the past two weeks, Madrid has been the capital of the most innovative and vibrant ideas coming from the academic environment worldwide. In fact, Madrid was chosen for the 2015 edition of Archiprix International, a biennial event that involves all schools worldwide in Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture to select their best graduation project.

The event consisted of two sections:

Towards a middle-out urbanism

All participants were invited to participate in the Archiprix International workshop, that took place at ETSAM. These best graduates from around the world form a unique group of young talented designers. From surgical interventions to visionary statements: the best graduates from all over the world were invited to Madrid and challenged to develop plans and design proposals in a multidirectional approach to the city. The workshop was conducted by DPA-ETSAM and Los Bandidos AG and tasks were led by emerging local practices.

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We were invited to be part of the jury to evaluate the projects resulted from the 7-day workshops and to present our overview and conclusions about this work during the final Award Ceremony that took place at Cine Callao on Friday May 8th.

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In our talk we reflected on the topics that emerged throughout the different proposals and groups. In addition to this, we presented our vision of how designers and architects need to equipe themselves to be able to deal with contemporary urban issues, what we understand is the new designer’s role and the importance of incorporating new tools in architecture.

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Belinda Tato talking about the variety of topics related to architecture

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Jose Luis Vallejo explaining the concept of “one-man band” in architecture

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Iñigo Cornago talking about the importance of bottom up actions

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Four projects from the Archiprix workshops

Archiprix International Madrid 2015

Extensive presentation of the world’s best graduation projects, selected by 351 schools from 87 countries.

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Map of participants in Archiprix 2015

The jury comprised Eduardo Arroyo, Luis Fernández-Galiano, architect and editor of Arquitectura Viva, Anupama Kundoo, architect with her own practice in Auroville (India) since 1990; Zhenyu Li; and French landscape architect Catherine Mosbach. The jury reviewed all submitted entries at the ETSAM | UPM – Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, the co-organizer of the eighth edition of Archiprix International. The jury nominated 21 projects for the Hunter Douglas Awards and selected 7 winners out of these nominees.

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Winners of Archiprix International

Here you can have a look at all the selected projects and the seven winning projects.

The 9th edition of Archiprix International -2017- will be held in Ahmedabad, India.

It has been a great pleasure to be part of this inspiring event and getting a chance to see and hear how the most talented architects are thinking throughout the world.

We wish all of them the best luck for their brand new careers!

More info about Archiprix 

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Presentando local_in, nuestra renovada plataforma de mapeo colectivo

Category: ⚐ ES+cultura abierta+participación+placemaking+social toolbox+tecnologías+urban social design+urbanismo

¿Qué fue de whatif?

¿Estás buscando Whatif, nuestra herramienta libre de mapeo colaborativo?
Te contamos qué ha sido de ella.

Hace tiempo que no publicábamos nada sobre esta aplicación. De hecho ahora mismo no aparece por ningún lado: no está en nuestro portfolio, los buscadores no la encuentran, hasta en las redes sociales empieza a desaparecer. Sin embargo, el desarrollo dista mucho de estar parado. Al contrario: en los últimos meses el proyecto ha dado un importante salto cualitativo, desde el código mismo hasta el propio nombre. A continuación os contamos los porqués y los paraqués de estos cambios.

continue reading

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#WikipraçaSP, reinventando el espacio urbano en São Paulo

Category: ⚐ ES+ciudad+cultura abierta+participación+tecnologías+urban social design

Foto: Una de las asambleas de los miércoles del proyecto #WikipraçaSP - #Wikipraça Arouche, en el largo do Arouche de São Paulo.

Una de las asambleas de los miércoles del proyecto #WikipraçaSP – #Wikipraça Arouche, en el largo do Arouche de São Paulo.

¿Cómo sería una plaza que funcionase como Wikipedia? ¿Cómo se leería un espacio urbano en el que cualquier persona pudiese agregar párrafos, objetos, como en una entrada de Wikipedia? ¿Cómo sería la gestión colectiva de su contenido? ¿Quién redactaría las normas? ¿Qué procesos activaría la inteligencia coletiva?

Desde el nacimiento de Wikipedia, el término wiki (que significa ‘rápido’ en lengua hawaiana) se ha convertido en sinónimo de colectivo, de colaborativo. La enciclopedia hecha por pocos es vertical. La wikipedia cocinada por muchos es inteligencia colectiva. Lo interesante es que en los últimos años, el imaginario wiki y su método participativo (siempre asimétrico y algo mitificado) está impregnando todo. De la economía a la cultura, de la ecología a la educación. Y aunque tal vez no se pueda hablar del wikiurbanismo como tendencia o método consolidado, sí existen diversas prácticas que unen lo wiki y lo urbano. sigue leyendo

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Juan Carlos Cristaldo, socio local de Ecosistema Urbano en Asunción

Category: ⚐ ES+colaboradores+Plan CHA+urban social design+urbanismo

Juan Carlos Cristaldo

Juan Carlos Cristaldo

Hoy tenemos el placer de presentaros a Juan Carlos (Juanca) Cristaldo, un joven arquitecto y diseñador urbano de Paraguay que es ahora nuestro socio local en Asunción y con quien estamos trabajando en el Plan Maestro del CHA.

Juanca es graduado por la Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Artes de la Universidad Nacional de Asunción, en el año 2004. Ha concluido una maestría en Desarrollo Sustentable en la Universidad Nacional de Lanús (La Plata, Argentina) en el año 2008. Realizó estudios de postgrado en Desarrollo Urbano y Territorial en la Universidad Politécnica de Catalunya (Barcelona 2008), gracias a una beca de la Fundación Carolina. Entre el 2011 y el 2013 desarrolló un Master en Diseño Urbano en el Graduate School of Design de la Universidad de Harvard con el respaldo de una beca Fulbright, y del GSD Dean’s Merit Scholar award. En el GSD, fue colaborador de los siguientes grupos de investigación: New Geographies, el Urban Theory Lab y el Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure.

Participó en proyectos urbanísticos y de producción de viviendas de interés social en Paraguay y Brasil, y es actualmente director en la Dirección de Investigación de la FADA UNA. Además, forma parte del equipo de la cátedra de Diseño Urbano del Taller E en la misma institución.

Ha sido beneficiario de becas del Rectorado de la Universidad Nacional de Asunción y el CONACYT de Paraguay, y participado del programa Escala Docente de la Asociación de Universidades del Grupo de Montevideo, como profesor invitado en la Universidade Estadual Paulista y la Universidade Federal do Parana, en Brasil.

Como él mismo nos resume su visión profesional:

Estoy convencido de que la creatividad es el principal mecanismo para producir impactos positivos en contextos de bajos recursos, usando estrategias análogas en diversas escalas de intervención, reflexión académica y activismo. Sea desde una mirada territorial, o diseñando arquitectura o muebles, me apasiona contribuir a revelar posibilidades ocultas, potenciar sinergias, y encontrar aproximaciones positivas a problemas aparentemente insalvables. Trato de que mi trabajo ayude a revelar y potenciar la belleza del cotidiano, y apuntalar lo positivo que ya existe.

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

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

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.

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Presenting the 'Networked Urbanism' Book | Available Online for Free!

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

Book Cover Book Cover

After several months of work here in Madrid, collaborating with our associate editors at the GSD in Boston, we are happy to announce that the Networked Urbanism book has finally been published online and is making its way through the printing process!

We have been presenting the work of the “Networked Urbanism” students in a series of posts on the blog and they have been publishing many of their ideas and the results of their efforts on networkedurbanism.com, but having the book finally printed on paper is an important milestone considering that the book also contains 4 unpublished essays and an exclusive interview. For those of you that haven’t been following our updates during these years at the GSD, here comes the short story of the book and its contents.

The book is the product of three different studios taught by Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, in Boston, during Fall Term of 2010, 2012, and 2013. The three courses shared the same approach while focusing on slightly different topics; this approach, what we call network-design thinking, is an alternative to the traditional way of designing cities from a bird’s eye view, and a single designer’s perspective.

What is Networked Urbanism?

In today’s connected world, urban design can no longer be addressed from a singular perspective, but should result from an open and collaborative network of creative professionals, technical experts, citizens, and other stakeholder, we need to explore the new role of the designer as an activator, mediator and curator of social processes in a networked reality, but above all, we must develop and test tools that allow citizens to be active participants at all stages: before, during, and after the design process.

Networked Urbanism promotes the exploration of new tools that can become the catalyst to spark creativity and multiply the possibilities of interaction and connection among individuals in the search for more healthy and sustainable communities. The studio challenges future designers to develop initiatives that reconcile existing physical conditions with the emerging needs of citizens through network-design thinking, and promotes active participation in the redefinition of the contemporary city.

The pedagogical approach: the toolbox

The Networked Urbanism studio adopts a framework of experiential education that promotes learning through direct action on the ground and reflection in a continuous feedback loop. With this approach, students actively engaged in posing questions, assuming responsibilities, being curious and creative, investigating, experimenting, and constructing meaning. They became intellectually, emotionally, and socially engaged. This involvement produced a perception that the learning process is authentic, necessary, and real, as a starting point, the Networked Urbanism toolbox provided a set of guidelines that could be applied sequentially throughout the design process:

1. EXPLORE: Choose a topic at the intersection between your personal interests and societal needs.
2. RESEARCH: Become an expert on the topic.
3. NETWORK: Create a network—from citizens to experts—and explore connections at both the official and grassroots level.
4. SHARE: Confront and experience ideas outside your own desk: feedback is a treasure.
5. BE OPEN: Start with a detailed plan but be prepared to disrupt it, responding to its natural development.
6. THINK BIG: Focus on a small-scale design that has the potential of the larger scale, and design a strategic overall vision.
7. START SMALL: Any aspect can be the starting point; the concept will grow as your project develops.
8. ACT NOW!: Prototype and implement in real life at least a small but significant part of the design.
9. COMMUNICATE: Take your initiative to a broader audience.
10. MOVE BEYOND: How can you develop your project beyond the limits of the studio?

The book contents

GIF animation of the contents of the book

The book dives deep into the exploration of these principles, first through four essays: “Digitas Meets Humanitas” written by Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune; “A Different Design Education” by Lulu Li, a former student and creator of bikenapped.com; “Out of the Studio onto the Streets” by Scott Liang, Thomas McCourt, and Benjamin Scheerbarth, also former students and now entrepreneurs with their project Place Pixel; and “Reflection in Action” by Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo containing the famous 10 points of the Networked Urbanism Toolbox; and then with an interview on the importance of design thinking with Paul Bottino, the co-founder and executive director of TECH at Harvard.

The second part of the book contains 19 selected projects organized by their main area of intervention. Even if, obviously, they all can not be easily categorized under a single topic, the first projects are more focused on Environmental issues followed by the ones centered on Social interventions and finally by projects considering more the Digital realm, which are reconnected to the Environmental ones closing the conceptual circle of topics.

Until the printed version is released, you can read the book online and download it in digital format:

Enjoy!

If you want to explore the projects briefly, you can have a look at the list of posts with the projects organized by different thematic categories:

1- Bicycle Culture

2- Turning waste into resources

3- Active awareness

4- Better communities better places

5- Your digital opinion is importat to us

6- Physital social networks

7- Time, space, and memories

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Ecosistema Urbano Wins the Master Plan Competition for the Historic Downtown of Asunción

Category: ⚐ EN+Plan CHA+sustainability+urban social design+urbanism

We are very pleased to announce that our Master Plan proposal for the revitalization of the Historic Downtown District of Asunción, Paraguay (Plan Maestro del Centro Histórico de Asunción), in an international open competition held in the past months. We are surprised and thrilled with the great reception that the project has had, and eager to continue its development side by side with the people, the organizations and the institutions in the city.

The proposal aims to address the integrated regeneration of the city center in an inclusive way and turn the process into a reference, in a time when many cities are looking into other ways to approach their future.

Designing a process of change01-DIAGRAMAS_620

The city is a complex, always mutating organism made of many layers and links between them. Any action modifies the predefined conditions and can generate new processes which were not defined or even contemplated. Therefore we think that it is unwise, and even not entirely feasible, to analyze or design guidelines for many decades at a single time.

To bring this planning process closer to the ever changing reality of the city and its inhabitants, here at Ecosistema Urbano we propose the design of a “master process” which incorporates in its own functioning the tools to deal with complexity, conflicts and changes, and that will be supported by the diagnosys, plans, and projects already realized in the city during the last decades.

Just as cities like Medellìn, Porto Alegre, and Curitiba have become references, not only in Latin America but also worldwide, thanks to their commitment to innovative models of management and development, we believe that Asunción can become a world pioneer in promoting a sustainable, intelligent, and open urban development towards a direction that other cities are looking at.

Based on hundreds of real experiences

If the implementation of a process-based action plan is a novel approach for most cities in the world, it is also true that there are many examples and a wide background from which we can learn and through which we can confirm their enormous potential.

Diagram of the different topics or areas of intervention for the regeneration of the historic downtown district of Asunción.

Diagram of the different topics or areas of intervention for the regeneration of the historic downtown district of Asunción

For this reason we have conducted an extensive research on institutional (top-down) and citizen (bottom-up) initiatives that, according to a different way of understanding the city, have already successfully led to a new concept of life quality for its inhabitants. In this research we have included international experiences as well as local initiatives that are currently being carried on in the city of Asunción.

A preliminary selection of international and local top-down experiences.

A preliminary selection of international and local top-down experiences – click to view full size

The global vision provides us with knowledge, experience, and an input channel of creative and innovative dynamics that can overcome some limitations of the local context. The local gives us a closer point of view, more related to the specific needs of the city and its inhabitants and connected with their initiatives and most genuine impulses.

A preliminary selection of international and local bottom-up experiences.

A preliminary selection of international and local bottom-up experiences – click to view full size

From a space to work with the city

A traditional Master Plan is a fixed, static, document, but the “Master Process” that Ecosistema Urbano is proposing for Asunción is something dynamic that needs a place to reside, activate itself and be developed. Therefore the first action will be to launch a space from which we can drive the project together with the city.

INSTITUTIONS < ? > CITIZENS

INSTITUTIONS < ASU-LAB > CITIZENS

Diagram of the proposal, the ASU-LAB being the main conector between institutions and citiens, and the driver for the implementation of actions.

Diagram of the proposal, the ASU-LAB being the main conector between institutions and citiens, and the driver for the implementation of actions – click to see full size

The Asunción Open Lab (Asunción Laboratorio Abierto, ASU-LAB) space will function as a coordination node for the development of Asunción’s Historic Downtown district, providing information about it, hosting and programming educational and creative activities, and promoting citizen actions within the parameters defined by the 10 institutional actions described below. ASU-LAB will be the main and most visible node of the process, an “office for the change” where many activities essential for the success of the plan will take place:

Communication: Provide visibility, meet the key players and stakeholders, include them in the process and keep the city informed.
Mediation: Sit around the same table with different actors and stakeholders, resolve conflicts and join visions.
Connection: Link interests, create agreements between the parties, build networks and seek synergies towards urban regeneration.
Facilitation: Loosen bureaucratic constraints, ensuring that support, financing and government approvals reach the projects whenever needed.
Programming: Establish development times, schedule events, coordinate the efforts over time creating a common agenda for change.
Design: Co-design and launch low-budget and citizen-driven actions as quick experiments around the larger municipal projects.

Joining institutions and citizens

“Think globally and act locally” says one of the mottos of sustainable development. But this approach could be enriched by another couple of concepts: institutional management and citizen impulse.

Respecting and incorporating the corresponding roles and capabilities, ASU-LAB will be an interface between citizens and institutions, a place where the Municipality implements its plans, but also an open place where any person or group can propose a new regeneration initiative or join an ongoing one. It will also serve as a node for connection with private agents capable of giving economic support, with their investment and the development of projects, to the regeneration of the center.

Timetable for the coordination of big, structural interventions and small, dynamic urban actions. This will be an open document, still to be further defined.

Timetable for the coordination of big, structural interventions and small, dynamic urban actions – click so see full size

Institutional Initiatives

From the institutional side there is the opportunity to improve the city by developing large scale projects, equipping the city with new infrastructures, implementing the development plans and creating comprehensive urban policies to guide the city towards another future.
In order to provide a necessary infrastructure for downtown development, we propose a strategic plan with 10 actions that will help connecting the different areas, giving visibility to the process and ensuring the development of spaces with a distinct character that can act as vectors of change and as reference points in the city.

Estrategias de intervención a gran escala para articular el desarrollo del Centro Histórico y la relación de la ciudad con el río.

Large-scale strategies to connect the development of the Historic Downtown district and the riverfront – click to see full size

The 10 proposed institutional actions:

01. Asunción Biodiversity Reserve: Support the institutional initiatives to consolidate the San Miguel Bank as a Nature Reserve, this process is organized in different phases: environmental restoration, enhancement of biodiversity and creation of lightweight infrastructure for research, education, and responsible leisure activities.

02. Asunción Riverfront: Creation of an urban front that defines the edge and the facade of the city towards the bay, considering three different scales: the scale of the river, the scale of the infrastructures (the new waterfront road) and the human scale desirable for the future of Asunción. The designed density and the urban diversity considered in the proposal will encourage the spontaneous emergence of new kinds of creative economies.

03. Bicentenario Park: Integration and improvement of the existing project to increase its environmental qualities and the connections with the most representative buildings of the city and the country. Generation of a representative and open civic axis in the section of the waterfront facing the park.

04. Green Active Coast: Landscape and ecological regeneration of this area and creation of a large green lung in continuity with the Bicentenario park. The existing topography will be respected, the presence of water and the natural and artificial processes of water purification, as well as periods of flooding caused by the Paraguay river will be considered part of its identity. Active plans to support families living in informal housing in this area will be made, helping them become a part of the urban diversity of the new urban developments in the area.

05. Revitalization of the Chacarita Alta: Regeneration and participatory consolidation of this district using the experience and the know-how gained from the similar process in the San Jeronimo neighborhood, promoting microeconomics, education and neighborhood identity.

06. Ecological Corridors: Implementation of new longitudinal green infrastructures on sections of specific existing streets. They will connect the new riverfront through the large floodable park, attracting biodiversity towards the existing city center, embracing and reviving its most representative green spaces.

07. Civic Corridors: Civic corridors are a new network of public spaces in the streets, connecting the most prominent historic and governmental buildings. They will be created through interventions on these streets’ section, giving them a more institutional and cultural character. Signaling, beautification of the facades, street art, …

08. Urban Catalysts: New hybrid buildings that will be designed considering a high density and variety of uses and housing programs. They are tall buildings that take advantage of vacant lots or areas with degraded buildings that require a reactivation process. In the lower floors they will host commercial areas and equipments, functions capable of “making” the city. Their general function is to enable flexible scenarios and enhance urban diversity.

09. Dynamic Corridors: A network of public spaces mainly oriented at the creation of active urban settings and the generation of economic and cultural activity. They encompass current trade areas (Calle de la Palma, …), characterize other nearby streets, revitalize disused buildings and connect the new network of hybrid buildings or “catalysts”.

10. Live Harbour: Following the plan already started by the “PIA Cultural Citadel”, the port of Asunción will be reconfigured as a new cultural engine for the city, nurturing social interactions and economical activities. Representative buildings, such as the Customs and other adjacent construction, are integrated in the proposed civic and dynamic corridors.

General plan of the proposed urban structure (2025 - 2037), showing the dynamic, green and civic corridors, the catalysts, etc.

General plan of the proposed urban structure (2025 – 2037), showing the dynamic, green and civic corridors, the catalysts, etc.

General view of the proposal for 2025 and 2037.

General view of the proposal for 2025 and 2037.

Citizen Initiatives

Citizens are the very heart of the city, the only force capable of realizing any deep, long lasting change in the urban environment. In the proposal we select many local, bottom-up initiatives, undertaken with the spirit of urban involvement, participation, entrepreneurship, creative activism and care of public space by the very people who live it.

We propose to integrate the existing initiatives in the process, giving them relevance and institutional support, while at the same time incorporating lessons learned from around the world. In a process of urban-scale prototyping, we propose to start a series of temporary urban actions focused on issues such as security, urban image, comfort, environment, social interaction or the innovative economic development, keeping only the best solutions found during the process.

Iniciativas ciudadanas conectadas con el desarrollo del espacio público en el tiempo.

Citizen initiatives connected with the development of the public space – click to see full size

Some more images of the proposal:

Dynamic corridor, open to the traffic.

Dynamic corridor, open to the traffic.

Pedestrian dynamic corridor - evolution in time

Pedestrian dynamic corridor – evolution in time

We like to think of this project for the future of Asunción as a ñandutí: a symbol of knowledge and of local tradition, of diversity and color, of networking, of the encounter between tradition and creativity. A place where the city can intertwine visions and efforts to create an urban fabric more vivid than ever.

More about the call for proposals: www.asuncioncentrohistorico.com
You can also find it on Twitter and Facebook.