Comments: (0)

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

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

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

Comments: (0)

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

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

GSDbook_654

#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.

Comments: (0)

Archiprix International – ecosistema urbano takes part in the Awards ceremony

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

archiprix_madrid2015-960x576

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.

facts

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.

16891768904_d76e02e80e_o

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.

16894228313_1e2b89d780_o

Belinda Tato talking about the variety of topics related to architecture

17326816098_4c8c7693d6_o

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

17512386842_5025feb3be_o

Iñigo Cornago talking about the importance of bottom up actions

gif-4-projects

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.

map

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.

winners

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 

Comments: (0)

ecosistema urbano en Beyond Building Barcelona Construmat

Category: eventos+noticias+tecnologías+⚐ ES

Construmat

El próximo 22 de Mayo, Belinda Tato, en nombre de ecosistema urbano, participará en la mesa redonda “PROACTIVIDAD” en la Feria Construmat dentro del Bloque de ponencias INNOVACIÓN, BIM Y DISEÑO.

Desde Beyond Building Barcelona-Construmat se quiere impulsar el Área de Innovación para que la industria de la construcción conozca los nuevos escenarios que se presentan gracias a la aplicación de la tecnología para la producción de espacios habitables sostenibles e inteligentes.

Belinda compartirá mesa junto a Victor Kuppers, licenciado en Administración y Dirección de Empresas y Doctor en Humanidades y dedicado a la formación por vocación. Entre otras actividades imparte conferencias a padres sobre “Gestión del Entusiasmo en la familia”.

Tenemos curiosidad por saber cómo se desarrolla el debate y esperamos poder contribuir positivamente a perfilar esos nuevos escenarios en los que se ha de mover el arquitecto.

Aquí puedes consultar el programa.

¡Nos vemos en Barcelona!

IAAC_MAA_SCHOLARSHIPS_620

Comments: (0)

Colectivos para una arqueología del territorio – conferencia y exposición en Lisboa

Category: arquitectura+ciudad+noticias+urbanismo+⚐ ES

Programa_VF-1

El próximo Martes 19 de Mayo, Belinda Tato participará en la conferencia internacional Colectivos para uma arqueologia do território, una actividad que se realizará en el ámbito del programa de doctorado Arquitectura dos Territórios Metropolitanos Contemporâneos del Instituto Universitario de Lisboa ISCTE-IUL.

La organización de esta iniciativa está a cargo de la unidad de investigación DINÂMIA’CET. Los objetivos del encuentro son: la consolidación de una línea de investigación sobre los territorios contemporáneos; la percepción de la nueva organizaciones colectivas de arquitectos; apertura del debate académico sobre los temas emergentes relacionados con la actividad de los arquitectos. Asociado a este evento también se celebrará una exposición de obras originales entorno al tema, estando las actividades insertadas en el Congreso internacional Optimistic Suburbia. 

Otros participantes del evento incluyen a Pedro Bandeira, Zuloark, atelierMOB, José Castro Caldas, Jorge Bassani, Projecto Warehouse y FAS-Fundo de Arquitectura Social.

La exposición estará abierta desde el 18 de Mayo al 5 de Junio.
Aquí puedes consultar el  programa del evento.

¡Nos vemos en Lisboa!

Comments: (0)

Networked Urbanism – Ecosistema Urbano workshop at Hong Kong Design Institute

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

10958296_1056673877683503_5161312059683376810_n

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

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

1_ HKDI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10955686_522751844532711_7015857717189480662_o

The workshop consisted of three different actions:

FIRST ACTION

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

WORKSHOP 2

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

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

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

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

You can watch the videos produced here.

 

SECOND ACTION

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

gif-intro

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

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

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

map 1
map 2
map 3

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

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

 

THIRD ACTION

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

inflar-2

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

MATRIZ

HDKI-arriba-SMALL

 

MaD ASIA FORUM 2015

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

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

MAD

_DSC0375

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

WORKSHOP MAD

stickers

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

Comments: (0)

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

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

Image by Flickr user Richard Schneider

Image by Flickr user Richard Schneider

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

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

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

Image by Marco Rizzetto

Image by Marco Rizzetto

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

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

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

Image by Carlos León

Image by Carlos León

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

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

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

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

BikeNapped by Lulu Zhizhou Li

BikeNapped by Lulu Zhizhou Li

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

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

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

Aquaplot by Jenny Corlett + Kelly Murphy

Aquaplot by Jenny Corlett + Kelly Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments: (0)

Norway: Next Version | Lecture in Bergen by Ecosistema Urbano

Category: events+news+urbanism+⚐ EN

Belinda Tato will be lecturing next Thursday,  September 11 at the USF Verftet cultural centre in Bergen, Norway, together with 8 other speakers.

Kollasj_620

The conference, organized by the National Association of Norwegian Architects, will explore the relations between the cities, the suburbs and the rural areas, trying to gather insights on how to make them more productive, locally driven and sustainable while preserving Norway’s own character and exploring new lifestyles.

More info (in Norwegian): www.arkitektur.no/kurs6

Comments: (0)

Travelling Ideas of Open Space Design and Planning | Ecosistema Urbano lecturing in Copenhagen

Category: events+news+⚐ EN

World in Denmark 2014

Next June 12 Belinda Tato will be lecturing in Copenhagen at the 10th International ‘World in Denmark’ Conference, which is hosted by the University of Copenhagen and carries the title ‘Nordic Encounters Travelling Ideas of Open Space Design and Planning’.

The lecture, entitled ‘From ego-design, to eco-design towards network design’ fits among the proposed topics of liveability, welfare and democracy. Belinda will explain the office’s approach and experiences based on the projects we have developed in the Scandinavian countries and many other places across the globe.

Here is a brief description of the topic of the conference:

Landscape architects and urban designers from Denmark and the other Nordic countries have increasingly become exporters of design solutions to places like Beijing, New York and Christchurch, while Copenhagen repeatedly receives awards for its liveability. Nordic planning is often promoted as particularly human, ecologically sustainable and democratic.

However, looking beyond the immediate branding effect, what themes and values, methods and challenges are current in Nordic urban space design and planning in these years? Where are the gaps between imaginary and reality? How does the  nordicness relate to what is going on in other regions and cultures and what does it potentially have to offer? Which movements, paradoxes, conflicts and challenges exist? Where are the blind alleys? And how do these current trends reflect traditions of design and placemaking?

The issue goes beyond Denmark and the Nordic countries. It concerns what it means to intervene in cities and landscapes in a global era. What happens when western designers work in places whose local languages are new to them? How do general ideas about improving cities migrate and mutate, synergize and conflict in the encounter with specific contexts? What are the potentials and losses of producing traditions – such as the Danish or Nordic – in open space design and planning?

Interested? Check the official site and the programme (PDF)

Comments: (0)

#networkedurbanism: design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

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

Last year we introduced a pink #networkedurbanism banner on the right hand side of our blog. Although we briefly mentioned it in previous posts, we never formally wrote about this banner and what is behind it.

networkedurbanism

networkedurbanism

What is it about?

#networkedurbanism is a series of courses we – Jose Luis Vallejo and Belinda Tato- have taught for the last four years in different Universities:  Harvard GSD (2010, 2012, 2013), University of Alghero (2013) and Portland State University (Winter 2014).

#networkedurbanism studio aims to bring interdisciplinary problem solving to the forefront of our work by working on real-world issues and providing an alternative to the traditional way of designing cities. Networked Urbanism blends critical theory with hands-on practice, progressive thinking with social engagement, and research with reflection in action. The studio provides the framework for participants to find their own interests, their own means of expression, their own paths.

Due to the nature of this course, the results and outputs are extremely different as the topics selected by students mainly respond to their own interests and aspirations.

#networkedurbanism design thinking methodology

The ‘toolbox’ of the course includes 10 guidelines:

01. EXPLORE: a topic in the intersection between personal interest and “real” society needs
02. RESEARCH: become an expert in the topic.
03. NETWORK: Create a network (from citizens to experts). Explore the official side but also bottom up visions.
04. SHARE: confront and experience ideas outside your own desk, feedback is a treasure.
05. OPENNESS: start with a detailed plan and be prepared to disrupt it responding to its natural development.
06. THINK BIG: Design a strategic overall vision.
07. START SMALL: Focus on a small scale design that has the potential of the bigger scale.
08. ACT NOW!: Prototype and implement into real life at least a small but significant part of the design.
09. COMMUNICATE: reach a broader audience.
10. BEYOND: How can I develop my project beyond this term?

With this approach, and during the different courses, we have obtained great results. We are aware that working with real issues, real problems and creating connections with professionals is quite challenging, especially considering the time constraint of a term. But at the same time we truly believe that getting out of the designers’ comfort zone, and being exposed to real life, having to provide ambitious but feasible solutions give the students the skills and power to better face reality after they finish this stage of their education. Moreover, some of the ideas/projects developed within these studios continue beyond the course, in many cases becoming the professional thread for the students, who naturally grow as entrepreneurs.

Documenting processes and publishing results

In order to document the processes and the results of the different courses we created, with help of Wes Thomas and Montera34, a specific website where students could upload images, texts, documents and videos along the different stages of development of their projects.

You can browse the contents by their authors —to follow a specific project—, by courses, or by keywords that summarize all different topics or issues the projects have been addressing.

Networked Urbanism website - clic to visit

Networked Urbanism website – clic to visit

We are currently working on a book that will be published by Harvard GSD as a compilation of the projects produced at the studios we taught there in the Urban Planning and Design Department.

On a shorter term we are going to produce a series of posts which summarize some of the projects developed. Some of the topics that are more present are: PLACEMAKING, DIGITAL, MAPPING, WASTE, MOBILITY, RESOURCES, AWARENESS, EDUCATION.

In the meantime, we invite you to surf the web to see the results, that we hope you find inspiring:

networkedurbanism.com