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Rethinking Public Spaces in Dhaka: an Urban Design Scheme

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

Introduction: the Dhaka City Neighborhood Upgrading Project

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

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

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

Urban Design Scheme: A new typology of public spaces

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

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

  • Comfortable streets
  • Natural Open Spaces
  • Active buildings

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

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

Comfortable streets: Making urban space livable

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

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

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

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

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

 

Natural Open spaces: A more sustainable and resilient city

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Three Ways of Making Dhaka more livable

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

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

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Metropoli Novissima | Exhibition in Naples

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+events+urbanism

If you are visiting Naples you have until the 15th of November to see the Metropoli Novissima, an exhibition dedicated to successful interventions in suburban contexts featuring architectural and urban international projects. Curated by Prof. Cherubino Gambardella and promoted by the Annali dell’Architettura e delle Città Foundation, the exhibition has a free admission at the Monumental complex of San Domenico Maggiore.

Structured as a unique urban route and conceived as a travel card, the exhibition accompanies the visitor through suggestions and ideas from some of the most interesting case studies of urban design and architecture, with a special focus on processes and scenarios that unite cities.
The exhibition is the last moment of the debate promoted this year by the Fondazione Annali dell’Architettura e delle Città which, under the curatorship of Prof. Cherubino Gambardella, has chosen to investigate the topic of suburbia and its environmentally sustainable development, starting from Naples and Campania, at the center of political debate and planning process, aiming then at opening the debate worldwide. Professionals from all over the world have been called to provide their vision of possible interventions in suburban areas, offering a comprehensive view of the evolution of marginal spaces and underlying social dynamics.

Ecosistema Urbano is among the designers invited to present works related to environmental sustainability and urban activation. Ecosistema Urbano’s projects displayed at the exhibition are the Eco-boulevard, an urban recycling intervention in the outskirt of Madrid, Spain, aiming at creating a comfortable public space following the principles of bioclimatic design; Cuenca Red, an urban activation project developed in parallel to a participatory process, leading to the definition of an urban strategy and the design of 6 pilot projects in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador; Open Shore, a complex project proposing actions at different scales to reactivate the Downtown of West Palm Beach, Florida, and redesign the its limit between the natural landscape of the lagoon and the urban environment.

In Metropoli Novissima more than forty designers are called to present new scenarios and resources for the so-called “difficult places”. Other designers invited to share some of the most important works on urban renewal are works by: Alejandro Aravena, Archea Associati, Stefano Boeri, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Andreas Kipar from LAND, Francisco Mangado, Piuarch, and Sauerbruch Hutton, with scenarios that go from Paris to Moscow, from Johannesburg to Sichuan, from San Paolo to Milan.

More information at:
http://www.annaliarchitettura.it/comunicati-stampa.html
https://casabellaweb.eu/2018/10/09/metropoli-novissima/

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Being a pedestrian in Dhaka

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

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

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

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

Walking in Dhaka’s streets

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

By Jorge Toledo

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

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

Invaded sidewalks in Lalbagh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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

Diagram showing pedestrian space in a street of Dhaka

Crossing the roads in Dhaka

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

Desire lines crossing a street in Dhaka

Can you spot the desire lines?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Turning alleyways into active pedestrian passages | Open Shore Project

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+design+ecosistema urbano+urbanism+work in progress

Part of the Open Shore Project was to create a lively urban ecosystem nearby the shore of West Palm Beach, and one of the things that interested us the most was a dark and dirty alleyway near the Banyan Hub. When a city lacks public spaces, every corner, shore or even an alleyway can become a part of the urban ecosystem. These secondary narrow streets are unique opportunities for transformation.

This is how we proposed to activate this space:

The passageways

From Service Alleyways to Surprising Passageways

The alleyways will undergo a rapid activation process ranging from temporary interventions to the development of permanent structures and spaces to host new programs. Walkability, security, and comfort will be the first priorities to be addressed by means of active and passive climatic mitigation, new waste disposal and lighting systems, etc. Activities will disperse later into adjacent public spaces and buildings and these revamped ‘passageways’ will become thematic routes connecting different parts of the city. keep reading about the passageways!

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Banyan Hub: A new urban ecosystem for West Palm Beach | Open Shore Project

Category: ⚐ EN+architecture+design+ecosistema urbano+urbanism+work in progress

The Banyan garage is envisioned as a new beacon for activities in downtown. This hybrid and flexible building will be open to the public all day long and will be an active presence in the city, producing culture, knowledge, and goods, while attracting businesses, talent, and innovation with its attractions.

Its configuration allows many different uses to coexist, which also makes it flexible to permit future changes in use.

It is a permeable building, open, and accessible to all citizens, a true part of the city from the ground floor to the public roof terrace. Its bioclimatic design, based on a green permeable facade and two big thematic courtyards -natural and digital- will provide pleasant internal climate moderation throughout the year while reducing environmental impact and management costs.

The Banyan Hub is, not only tightly connected to the street: it takes the street and its energy inside and makes it one of its core features. Folding, twisting and ramping up towards the open terrace on the roof, this new kind of street provides a unique urban-like experience inside the building, but also retains many of the features of an ordinary street.

Section of Banyan Hub, an Urban Ecosistem in the Heart of West Palm Beach

Areas of the building will be open to the public at anytime. The building may be accessed by many modes of transportation such as pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, and light vehicles. It connects different uses along its path — from businesses to cultural spaces to public plazas.

Prioritizing public accessibility is integral in ensuring that this project has a landmark presence in West Palm Beach. Banyan Hub is envisioned as an urban ecosystem where users can satisfy their wants and needs without ever having to leave the building. Banyan Hub is sure to set the tone for the future of West Palm Beach as a collaborative, sustainable, and creative city.

The Banyan Hub includes a series of public spaces located at different levels connected by a re-envisioned parking ramp which provides access to different spaces and twists around the courtyards.  

+A flexible square at ground level which consists of an open hall connected to the surrounding streets and to the passageway at the back of the building.

+A covered but open air plaza at an intermediate level of the building, right where the two courtyards begin. This space is the heart of the Hub and plays a crucial role in its climatic conditioning and cultural activity. 

+A top terrace, overlooking the lagoon which offers a panoramic view of the natural environment and of the whole downtown. Relaxing and breezy like the decks of a cruise ship, it is and an ideal place to begin a stroll through the building and along the waterfront.

 

One of the most important qualities of a city is the ability to evolve by changing its uses and its physical configuration according to the needs of the society that lives in it. The Banyan Hub materializes these principles as it being conceived in a way in which changeability is the only constant. It will remain open to transformation by its managers and users, embracing evolution as a way to stay useful and relevant. This will be achieved by introducing changeable programs and spaces between fixed elements, and designing movable physical delimitations and reconfigurable technical infrastructure.

Change is the only constant

The rich mix of different uses in close proximity helps create situations where activities can complement and benefit each other. This also gives a special character to each part of the building, enabling interactions that would not take place in a conventional building.

In order to become the everbeating heart of West Palm Beach, Banyan Hub will include a diverse and complementary set of programs, balancing the type of activities, desired level of comfort, need for equipment, and profile of the participants throughout the day. The scale of the Hub allows the coexistence of various uses, bringing together diverse age groups, interests, and communities.

Management & Stakeholders

The Banyan Hub operational model could be developed as a public-private partnership. The main partners could be comprised of the City, private companies, non-profits, athletic associations, and other organizations. This would beg the creation of a managing board which would share the funding, ownership, and decision making responsibilities of the building.

This board would take care of the construction and later lease spaces and equipment to other urban stakeholders. It would also create working committees for logistics and maintenance, programming, communication, and participation. It would serve as a mediation entity between institutions, the general public, entrepreneurs, and other potential partners.

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An Overview to our Latest Projects in Latin America

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

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

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

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

CONTEXT

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

SOCIAL

1 – Participation

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

Organized activities with the citiziens

Organized activities with the citizens

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

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

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

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

2 – Urban actions

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

Socialization along "Las gradas de la Leona"

Socialization along “Las gradas de la Leona”

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

Proyecto Piloto Bicisienda

Proyecto Piloto Bicisienda

3 – Informative events 

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

City mosaic in the several projects

City mosaic in the several projects

SUSTAINABILITY

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

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

The square "Mary Corilè"

The square “Mary Corilè”

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


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

Configuration of a charateristic dynamic corridor

Configuration of a charateristic dynamic corridor

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

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

Example of urban densification

Example of urban densification


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

TECHNOLOGY

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

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

 

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Open Shore Project for West Palm Beach | #1 Strategy to Trigger The Change

Category: ⚐ EN+competitions+ecosistema urbano+sustainability+urban social design+urbanism+work in progress

As we announced a few months ago in our previous post,  our project Open Shore is the winning proposal of Shore to Core international competition.

Open Shore is a complex project that addresses many different topics in an effort of providing solutions to several challenges that the city of West Palm Beach shares with many other cities. For this reason, we decided to present more in detail our project in a series of 3 posts dedicated to the three main points of the proposal: #1, Strategy to trigger the Change; #2, Waterfront: celebrating unexpected public space; #3, Banyan Hub: a city into a building.

Before going into detail of our proposal, it would be useful to introduce the context of the city of West Palm Beach.

As reported in the Shore to Core Competition Website, West Palm Beach is a young city that is growing quickly. Many associate this region with a large retirement community, but there is also a growing population of people in their 20s and 30s, as well as large Black and Hispanic populations. The city’s downtown and 10-mile waterfront present an opportunity to develop new amenities that reflect the city’s emerging populations, and design is a crucial tool for tackling these evolving needs.

The design competition asks: How can we reimagine our downtowns to make them more engaging and vibrant? How can cities collect information that informs future adaptation and growth?  How can we facilitate social interaction among diverse groups? How can the built environment improve residents’ physical health,  mental health, and social capital? 

Today we present the first post of the series, starting the narration of this exciting experience. This first chapter introduces the previous analysis and the general strategies that informed the design of the project areas.

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Ecosistema Urbano wins West Palm Beach Design Competition!

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

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

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Rain Plaza

Here we share the press release from Van Alen Institute:

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

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Rain Plaza

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Plan

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

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Strolling on the Waterfront

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Aerial View

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Ecosistema Urbano | Open Shore | Banyan Hub | Section

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To read the final reports, see:

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


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

 

Competition Jury:

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

Ecosistema Urbano Team:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World | Book and Interview

Category: ⚐ EN+publications+sustainability+urbanism

Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World book

Last year we were contacted by Vanessa Miriam Carlow from the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism to make an interview for the book Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World. This book is dedicated to the significance of rural spaces ‘as a starting point for transformation’. Different international experts were asked to reflect on rural spaces from an architectural, cultural, gender-oriented, ecological, and political perspective and ask how a (new) vision of the rural can be formulated. As the introduction states:

In an urbanizing world, the city is considered the ultimate model and the measure of all things. The attention of architects and planners has been almost entirely focused on the city for many years, while rural spaces are all too often associated with visions of economic decline, stagnation and resignation. However, rural spaces are transforming almost as radically as cities. Furthermore, rural spaces play a decisive role in the sustainable development of our living environment—inextricably interlinked with the city as a resource or reservoir. The formerly segregated countryside is now traversed by global and regional flows of people, goods, waste, energy, and information, linking it to urban systems and enabling them to function in the first place.

Today we are publishing the interview, answered by Belinda Tato. If you find it interesting, there is much more in the book! We recommend you to get a printed copy here. Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Q: Your office name, ecosistema urbano, brings with it a certain tension that somehow combines unexpected contrasts. How did you come to this name and what do you want to express with it?

A: It took us a while to choose a name or concept that communicated our interests and the complex reality of urban issues we face. We found the idea of ‘ecosystem’ an appealing one, its definition implies a group of interconnected elements formed by the interaction of a community with their environment. This relationship between the natural and the artificial aims for a balance between these two worlds, and reflects the issues we care about when designing architecture and practicing territorial and urban planning.

Q: In your presentation, you said that during your studies the planning approach mainly focused on infrastructure and the physical environment. How would you describe the situation today?

A: I believe there is a clear shift between the object-focused educational approach from the nineties towards a more polyhedral approach and understanding of cities and design that is happening today. There is a growing interest in considering processes and interactions and taking the social, cultural, or economic aspects into account leading to more comprehensive and ambitious proposals to transform reality.

Q: Which approach does your office have today? How would you describe the current role of the architect and planner?

A: That is not an easy question to answer briefly! We recently made an effort to try to summarize our approach and the result is a kind of manifesto in ten points.

Urban. Social. Design. Three words that describe our dedication: the urban context, the social approach, and the design understood as an action, an interaction, and a tool for transformation. Understanding types of behaviour and processes at different levels is crucial.

Creativity is a network. In a globalized world, creativity is the capacity to connect things innovatively and thus we understand that the protagonist of the creative process is not just a team but an open and multi-layered design network.

Community first. Cities are created and maintained by people for people, and urban development only makes sense when the community cares about it. We work to empower the communities to drive the projects that affect them, so social relevance is guaranteed.

Going glocal. Just as cities have residents and visitors, and planning is made at different scales, 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.

Accepting –and managing– conflict. Participation, like conversation, means letting all the points of view be raised and listened to. Public debate only makes sense if all the stakeholders are involved. Every project affecting the city has to deal with both opposition and support, consensus and contradiction.

Assuming complexity. Encompassing the complexity of the urban environment requires simplifying it. Instead, we prefer to admit its vast character and understand our work as a thin layer –with limited and, at times, unpredictable effects– carefully inserted into that complexity.

Learning by doing. Our experience grows through practice. We know what we can do, and we challenge ourselves to do what we think we should be doing. We solve the unexpected issues as we move, and then we take our lesson from the process and the results.

Planning… and being flexible. Urban development is what happens in the city while others try to plan it. We think ahead, make our dispositions, but we are always ready for reality to change our plans… mostly for the better. Rigidity kills opportunity, participation and urban life.

Embracing transdisciplinarity: We assume that our role as professionals is evolving, disciplinary bonds are loosening, urban projects are complex, and circumstances are continuously changing. This requires open-minded professionals, flexible enough to adapt their roles and skills and to use unusual tools.

Technology as a social tool: Today’s technology enables us to better relate and interact with each other and with the surrounding environment. As the digital-physical divide narrows and the possibilities multiply, it becomes an increasingly significant element in urban social life.

Keeping it open: Open means transparent, accessible, inclusive, collaborative, modifiable, reproducible. Open means more people can be part of it and benefit from it. These are the attributes that define a project made for the common good.

Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World book

Q: From your presentation, it emerged that the integration of the local conditions—as a climatic and social issue—represent an important focus of your work. How do you rate the relationship between global-local influence in relation to the architectural or urban design?

A: This is a very interesting question, and one we have asked ourselves several times. We have worked mostly abroad during the last years, and over and over we find the same situation where we have to balance the local and the global dimensions of design and planning. Local conditions are always the main terms of reference for our work. They give accuracy and pertinence to our proposals. They not only determine the boundaries we have to respect, the resources we have available, or the particularities we have to take into account, but also the potential for improvement that each particular place has. Local context is a source of invaluable site-specific knowledge, even if that knowledge is not always conscious or apparent, especially to locals. Opening a project to participation is a great way to make local values stand out and locals become self-aware… if you are able to ask the right questions and then read between the lines, of course. But relying solely on local conditions rarely provides the best solutions. You usually find situations that have become stagnant precisely by the lack of confrontation and external feedback. Then you need to confront the local ‘ways,’ often loaded with prejudices or relative narrowness, or with something else. And that is where global influence comes into play: the contrast, the opposition that clears concepts, breaks groupthink and gives a relative measure to local values. Global is the mirror that local can use to become self-conscious. We could speak of bringing knowledge from the global to the local, or even generating local knowledge by confronting it with the global. But it is also creativity that is being created or transferred. The ability to connect, articulate, and interpret different contexts is crucial whenever a new approach is needed and local conditions have proven insufficient to deliver it.

Q: You showed us some practical examples of your current work, which pursues sustainable approaches in terms of water recycling systems for the kindergarten in Madrid or climatic adaptations for the Expo pavilion in Shanghai. What opportunities do you see for the implementation of sustainable planning tools or strategies in larger, urban scale projects?

A: Urban planning and urban design have a great impact on people’s lives, shaping the way we live, move, relate, consume, etc… In addition to this, its impact will be of a long term as it is less ephemeral than architecture. For these reasons, it is important to design integrating with nature, its cycles and processes, taking advantage of the environment and optimizing interventions.

Q: Let us take a closer look at the countryside: in the current city-centered discourse, rural spaces are often dismissed as declining or stagnating. However, rural spaces also play a critical role in sustainable development, as an inextricably linked counterpart, but also as a complement to the growing city, as extraction sites, natural reservoirs for food, fresh water and air, or as leisure spaces. Do we need to formulate a (new) vision of ‘ruralism’? What would be your definition of the future rural? What new concepts for the rural exist in Spain?

A: When talking about ecosystems, it is crucial to understand the interwoven connections between the urban and the rural, and how they relate and affect each other in a critical balance. Although the urban expansion has some environmental consequences, there are also some interesting phenomena happening. As today’s IT keeps us connected and allows us to work remotely, this neoruralism enables us to have a renewed vision of the territory and its possibilities, offering development opportunities in towns that have been abandoned for decades, for instance in Spain. This new trend is transforming these abandoned towns into new activity hubs, creating a new migration flux from cities. It will be possible to measure the socioeconomic impact of this activity in a few years.

Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World book

Q: The once remote and quiet countryside is now traversed by global and regional flows of people, goods, waste, energy, and information, interrelating it with the larger urban system. Is a new set of criteria for understanding and appreciating the rural required? How would you measure what is rural and what is urban?

A: In a globalized world with an unprecedented ongoing process of urbanization, and under the impact of climate change and global warming, it is becoming more and more difficult to precisely define the limits between the rural and the urban as the urban footprint is somehow atomizing and gobbling the rural. Cities are the combination and result of the simultaneous interaction between nature and artificial technology, and their ecological footprint expansion forces the extraction of natural resources from even further sources, with obvious environmental consequences. At the local scale, it is necessary to point out the close relationship between the way a city relates to its environment, the way it manages its natural resources, and the quality of life it can provide to its inhabitants. This could be summarized as: the more sustainable a city/territory is, the better its inhabitants will live.

Q: What role do villages and smaller towns have in a world in which the majority live in cities? Could you comment on and describe a bit about the situation in Spain or the other countries you have been working in?

A: In cities, innovation and creativity concentrate and emerge naturally. The rural environment also requires people willing to create, to innovate, to connect, etc…. This creative ruralism could lead to the creation of eco-techno-rural environments, which would provide some of the features of the rural combined with specific services of the urban…the perfect setting for innovation to take place!

Q: Which role could the rural play at the frontlines of regional transformation and sustainability? What are the existing and potential connections between urban and rural spaces?

A: The rural could provide a complementary lifestyle for people fleeing from the city to re-connect or re-localize. At the same time, we would need to explore and expand technology’s possibilities, pushing its actual limits, and foreseeing potential new services that could enhance life in the rural by making it more diverse, fulfilling, and even… more global.

Q: And what role can urban design play in preparing rural life and space for the future? Is the rural an arena for ‘urban’ design at all?

A: I think the challenge would be to create the conditions for social life and interaction. We do have the conditions for that activity to happen digitally, but how can we foster social activity in low-density environments? Would it be necessary to create small urban nodes in the rural? These issues are interesting challenges we have to face conceptually and design-wise.

Are you interested in this topic? You can get the book here…