Thoughts on urban planning, city design, architecture, the built environment, social issues, Seoul, Korea, and soon... London


Toward utopia or not toward utopia? 

Two issues continue to trouble me: How can the outcomes of social analysis and critique of the city become translated into design? Should the urban planner/architect design for society's existing and expected needs, or for some sort of utopia (and if so whose -- the designer's)?

These two questions are linked, perhaps especially in the given historical situation of the present. Social analysis points out a problem (or, usually, problems) and occasionally alternatives or ideals. Let's look at the increasing privatization or growing control of public space in Europe (and elsewhere) in the 90s and the responses by social movements (many outlined in INURA's Possible Urban Realms). Out of the lessening role of the municipal authorities in managing public services, and a rise in the corporatization of the city, many spaces that were formally public were sold off to companies to run, making them semi-public spaces. In addition, the increase employment of surveillance and tightening of limitations on the times both public and semi-public spaces, made these spaces more and more alienating and simply difficult to be in.

So how does the architect/planner account or counter this in design? Especially when most are employed by the municipal authorities and/or big business developers?


Architects of the Parecon Society 

ZNet - Parecon - Architecture of the New Society

This article from Chris Spannos of Vancouver offers a good, in the quick, overview of past "visions" of non-capitalist city's/urban societies as well as the vision of the parecon (participatory economy) city and the role of the architect and planner in it.

The parecon vision is commendable and appealing, perhaps good to use a guiding light. Spannos only offers one sentence on how we can build the parecon city: "Transition from capitalism to parecon would have to begin with "building the new society in the shell of the old."

Fortunately, the source of a quote offers us some guidance: self-management. Tom Wetzel, in his article The City: From Self-managed Movements to the Self-managed City, cites community land trusts and similar organizations, as important mechanisms, particularly if networked, that can be used now to work toward the parecon city.


Architecture hit list 

Architect calls for Scotland's ugliest buildings to be torn down - The Herald

An architecture hit list is misguided/ing. Granted the buildings may be ugly and perhaps should be torn down for aesthetic or social reasons. But before rolling out the demolition ball, studies should be done to see if it would be more efficient (environmentally, financially, socially) to rework or, less preferably, simply let these buildings live out their lives. Should the buildings be torn down, measures first need to be in place to ensure their replacements will not be of a quality the same or worse.

Foremost in importance, however, is implementing good design in the first place. Second to that is the awareness that taste changes.


Bush speaks the truth! 

This from AP:

Bush misspeaks, says his administration seeking 'new ways to harm our country'

WASHINGTON, Aug 4. (AP) -- President George W. Bush offered up a new entryfor his catalog of "Bushisms'' on Thursday, declaring that hisadministration will "never stop thinking about new ways to harm ourcountry and our people.''

Bush misspoke as he delivered a speech at the signing ceremonyfor a $417 billion defense spending bill.

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we,'' Bush said. "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm ourcountry and our people, and neither do we.''

No one in Bush's audience of military brass or Pentagon chiefsreacted.

The president was working his way toward a larger point. "Wemust never stop thinking about how best to defend our country. Wemust always be forward-thinking,'' he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellansaid Bush's misstatement "just shows even the most straightforward and plain-spoken people misspeak.''

"But the American people know this president speaks with clarityand conviction, and the terrorists know by his actions he means it,'' McClellan said.




Anarchy Archives 

Anarchy Archives

Great resource! Even if you don't subscribe to the theories, informative information on some great thinkers and their thoughts. From Pitzer U.

"Architecture is a dynamo for the production of soft power." - Muschamp 

House of Games: "Architecture is a dynamo for the production of soft power."

Soft power is persuasive force, Hebert Muschamp writes. It "is not an exercise for fools. It takes strenuous exertion to generate soft power... It takes agon."


Look at me! - Landmark Buildings 

SocietyGuardian.co.uk Society Look at me!

Graham Morrison touches on a lot of good points in this article, and ideas it presents harkens to issues raised by both Bacon and Kevin Lynch (and even way back to Sixtus V). Landmark buildings have valuable functions, but too many -- as we see with the replication of the image -- depletes each building's significance and its ability to play an individual role, reducing it to a "one-liner".

From a city design point of view, landmarks have power as an organizing force in their capacity to draw and project energy. They standout in peoples mental images and (can) help create a sense of place (i.e. endowing it and, more importantly, its surroundings with a unique identity).

Morrison suggests a criteria of what constitutes a successful landmark -- an architectural icon: a building must be "visually impressive, workable and in keeping with their surroundings without compromising architectural integrity".

This, however, sounds much like the attributes most architects aspire (or should aspire) to when designing buildings. Obviously, not every building achieves this and many, despite the hopes of designers, are not made to be so on account of clients' wants. To play devil's advocate, what if every building made did meet this criteria, how would we fulfill the role architectural icons currently play? Silly question, really.


Polarization through London regeneration 

The main lessons to be learnt from the London section of INURA's The Contested Metropolis are short and bitter.

Essentially, there are grassroots and local initiatives to regenerate parts of the city, as well as top-down initiatives implemented -- or at least voiced -- by the central and municipal governments. Aspects of each occasionally coincide.

The texts, mostly written during or just after the creation of the Mayor of London's draft London Plan, point to disappointments. Essentially shortness in funding and support from governments for neighbourhood efforts and the lengthy times development plans require to take off deplete energies and the glue of bonds at the local level, meaning private developers and landowners tend to win the most influence over a project with little or no consultation or participation from those most directly affected – the existing communities.

This, in turn, more often than not leads to rises in property prices in a neighbourhood (and increase profits for developers), and as areas targeted for regeneration are usually poorer ones, locals are displaced. Michael Edwards' contribution gives a good analysis of the workings that effect regeneration and development from the global to the local. His argument stems from the basic premise that the same forces creating wealth for London (or at least for some of its citizens and businesses) also creates poverty for London (for far more people than those gaining wealth), thus resulting in further polarization.

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