We are very excited to share with all of you the final document of our proposal for West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.A.
Tag urban design
March 23, 2017
February 6, 2017
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.
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.
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.
April 26, 2016
Last November we were selected, in collaboration with Transform.city, to participate in the Neue Copa Cagrana International shortlisted competition in Vienna (Austria). The scope of the competition was the urban revitalization and definition of the Master Plan in the area Neue Copa Cagrana defining an urban proposal and the relationship of this part of the city with the river.
We were selected along with other 8 teams, including renowned firms such as Dominique Perrault, AZPML, or West 8.
The context: Donau City, Vienna
The study area is located next to Donau City, on the left bank of the new Danube Canal, Neue Donau, passing through the city of Vienna. It is a neighborhood of mainly tertiary character with office buildings of great height, developed in the last 20 years, including the Vienna International Centre.
Despite the good connection with the city center, the large number of buildings and the excellent existing natural qualities, the area is almost deserted during day and night. This is mainly due to the lack of variety of uses, commercial facilities and recreational areas.
The proposal develops a series of strategies to revitalize an area that already has the optimal conditions to become a landmark for the city of Vienna:
1 – Increase density and urban mixture
The proposal aims to incorporate urban, commercial and leisure life at a time when Vienna is starting to look for other forms of identity for the river area. It is important to bring new residents to help to create urban activity throughout day and night, summer and winter seasons by permanent and temporary uses. The mixed-use and residential functions in the first row, including the urban boulevard, have the potential to complete and complement the existing urban fabric and establish, for the first time, the necessary connections to make Donau City a functioning and exciting neighbourhood.
The project proposes a high density urban prosthesis, combining housing, office, commercial and public space, in order to create an active urban spot connected to the surrounding, improving its identity and multiplying the possibilities of use.
The proposal seeks to make Donau City easier to be understood and perceived, with a clear connection to Danube river and its waterfront. Therefore, the proposal is the missing link to the completion of the Donaustadt and is, at the same time, the necessary catalyst to enable the urban regeneration in the area.
2 – Create new urban spots
Copa Cagrana will be an exciting new urban spot in Wien, which is perfectly connected to the city network thanks to the transport connectivity and subway line. Through the physical proximity with existing Donau City, Donau Insel and surrounding neighborhoods, the area will increase popularity and will offer more attractions to the users.
The newly created waterfront will be an urban catalyser with a variety of urban functions, with uses according to the seasons and day and night time:
The FILTER ZONE is a more quiet area free of commercial activities.
The TEMPORARY ZONE changes according the different seasons, with beach bars in the summer, pop-up restaurants, terraces and platforms, etc.
The WATERFRONT is an enjoyable walkable strip with piers and exciting water activities for summer and winter.
3 – Renaturing (urban+nature landscape)
A new urban and natural environment intrinsically connected with surrounding nature.
It will be the connecting environment between Donauinsel and Donau Park but also extending its limits over the water landscape of Neue Donau to create a vibrant and diverse waterscape.
4 – Digital Identity – web app strategy
It is important to create the communication channels in order to advertise and share information about the ongoing activities and as a way to share potential ideas to be implemented. This web APP is thought to work as a social network that provides information for the citizens of Copa Cagrana on what kind of activities they can do on this renewed urban area.
Users will be able to register and create a user profile, with this, they will have the opportunity of proposing activities that will make use of the beautiful surroundings and installations of this urban space. The commercial sector will also have their own space. They will have the possibility of creating a profile which will allow them to publicize their products and business, as well as invite and inform citizens about special deals, offers, events and other celebrations.
FIVE NEW URBAN ZONES
Seeking to achieve these four objectives, the proposal creates 5 zones acting together and related to each other:
Zone C+: Infiltration city
The energy of city life will splash towards Donau City and the urban plinth will extend its limits to bring activity and reconfigure the public spaces around the corporative and residential buildings. These urban tentacles will extend urban plinth limits with linear and small scale pavilions, pop-up stores and cafes, etc. reconnecting and renewing the pedestrian pathways of the Donau city.
Zone C: Social life city
Zone C proposal is the most powerful urban energy boost, as it provides a large amount of overlapped new programs and public spaces easily accessible at different levels.
Urban plinth: fragmented construction from 1 to 4 stories high, multiple programs with predominance of commercial spaces overlapped with public spaces at different levels.
Vertical ecosystems: housing towers with a myriad of different typologies to create a diverse neighbourhood. The housing units help to create a dense neighbourhood with urban life throughout the day.
Urban bridge: On the tenth floor, same level as the top terrace of the existing linear building of social housing, a bridge is creating connections between semi public spaces, with diverse programs within the vertical ecosystems.
Public peaks: the top floor of the different towers is also part of the network of semi public spaces within the vertical ecosystems. These spaces can hold multiple programs and part of their success will be the privileged point of view of the city (terraces, cafes, common spaces,… )
Zone B: nature city
This is a zone where nature is predominant and the urban plinth is melting its limits with the landscape. At the same time, the natural character of this area helps to make the transition between the bigger, urban scale of zone C and both the lower scale of zone B and the waterscape towards Donauinsel, combining natural areas with paths for soft mobility.
Zone A: Leisure city
Leisure cityscape to allow the transition between the formal city and the vibrant and ever changing new waterscape of zone C+. It will hold multiple permanent uses but also temporary programs and seasonal activities. There are multiple temporary and permanent uses in small buildings with similar language, as well as a new riverside walk that will extend to create a comfortable linear space. The relationship with water and the elevation difference will be resolved with a wooden platform that will act as an urban sofa to relax and enjoy the presence and proximity of the river.
Zone A+: Water city
Vibrant and ever changing waterscape in continuous evolution. It will extend the activities of the new urban spot towards the water.
+ water pier: permanent pier, water thematic. Light structure with indoor and outdoor spaces to allow the creation of different bathing experiences. The use will change seasonally, during the winter, outdoor and indoor climatized pools will allow the user to be in connection with the surrounding natural landscape while having a pleasant bathing experience.
+ ice pier: permanent pier, ice and climbing sports oriented. Light structure with a strong seasonal connection. During the winter, part of the structure will be a huge frozen and faceted vertical surface to practice ice climbing, while the lower platform will host different ice skating outdoor rinks to practice in connection with the water and natural landscape. During the summer the ice surface is transformed into a huge waterfall falling from the upper level into the river.
+The urban archipelago: big modular and floating ever changing extension of the waterfront. The different seasons and uses will dramatically transform its configuration. This mutant landscape is built with modular floating platforms/barges that can be combined to create larger flat surfaces if necessary. These platforms can be connected to the limit line of the waterfront to extend its surface.
November 22, 2009
This post is by you.
I am an architecture student from Germany and would like to share my last semester\’s urban design project with you. It was a group work focusing on the revitalization of a city quarter in the UNESCO-listed Old Town of Damascus, Syria. We proposed up-to-date housing in the traditional courtyard houses and a new cultural center on what has been urban wasteland for centuries. continue reading