page 04 - 12
Essay by Stephen Graham
page 13 - 14
page 15 - 16
page 17 - 20
page 21 - 27
Interview with Iain Macrae
page 28 - 30
Subway Shantytown in New York City
page 31 - 38
Interview with Marcel Smets
page 39 - 40
Studio Roosegaarde’s Smart Highways
page 41 - 42
page 44 - 46
Reconnecting a post-military terrain vague
page 47 - 50
Interview with Carolyn Steel
page 51 - 52
Re-engineering the legendary river
page 54 - 57
Guest Reviewer: Charlotte Newman
uncube's editors are Sophie Lovell (Art Director, Editor-in-Chief), Florian Heilmeyer, Rob Wilson, Elvia Wilk and Jessica Bridger. Graphic design: lena Giavanazzi.
uncube is based in Berlin and is published by BauNetz, Germany's most-read online magazine covering architecture in a thoughtful way since 1996.
Stephen Graham, urbanist, geographer, author and networked city infrastructure expert looks at our ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude towards the facilities that we use to define ourselves as ‘civilised’.
“The secret ambition of design is to become invisible, to be taken up into a culture, absorbed into the background. […] The highest order of success in design is to achieve ubiquity, to become banal.”
- Bruce Mau, “Massive Change”
By sustaining flows of water, waste, energy, information, people, commodities, and signs, the massive complexes of contemporary urban infrastructure are the embodiment of western Enlightenment dreams. They are the dreams of the control of nature through advances in technology and science that are a prerequisite to any notion of modern ‘civilization’. Through their endless technological agency, these complexes help transform the natural into the cultural, the social and the urban, yet the more developed and complex the infrastructure, the more hidden they tend to become; driven underground and ignored – until something goes wrong.
As the great demographic and geographic shift of global urbanisation intensifies, humankind will become ever more reliant on functioning systems of urban infrastructure. Indeed, the very nature of urbanisation means that every aspect of people’s lives tends to become more dependent on the infrastructural circuits of the city to sustain individual and collective health, security, economic opportunity, social well being and biological life. Moreover, because they rely on the continuous agency of infrastructure to maintain normal life-functions such as eating, communicating or waste removal, urbanites often have few or no real alternatives when the complex infrastructures that support these needs are removed or disrupted.
Infrastructural elements thus provide the fundamental background to modern urban everyday life. This background is often hidden, assumed, or even naturalised. This is most common in wealthier, western cities where basic access to a suite of communication, energy, water and transport systems have been to some extent universalised as the basis for modern, urban, citizenship.
In conditions where continuous access to key infrastructure circuits has become broadly the norm, anthropologists Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh-Star stress that “good, usable [infrastructure] systems, disappear almost by definition. The easier they are to use the harder they are to see. As well, most of the time, the bigger they are, the harder they are to see.” Within social scientific writing about cities, especially, the vast infrastructural circuits of the city have often emerged as little more than “the forgotten, the background, the frozen in place” – a mere technical backdrop that is the preserve of engineers only.
When infrastructure achieves such a status as a ‘black box’, few modern urbanites venture to understand the inner workings of the technology or the giant lattices of connection and flow that link these network access points seamlessly to distant elsewheres.
How many of the world’s burgeoning billions of urbanites, after all, routinely consider the mass of servers, satellites, glass fibres, routers – and, indeed, electrical systems – that bring our ‘virtual’ worlds of play, socialising, e-commerce or communication into being? Or the global supply chains that populate a supermarket shelves with produce?
In many cities of the Global South, by contrast, access to energy, water, waste, communications, and transport services is anything but assumed. In such places, especially in informal settlements, large parts of the population must continuously improvise to gain reliable water, power or sewerage supply. Often these are simply not available. This means that basic infrastructural politics infuse urban life in such contexts. It is crucial to stress then, that, beyond the discourses of the powerful, infrastructure services have, according to urban geographers Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Rutherford, “always been foregrounded in the lives of more precarious social groups – i.e. those
»Such events render the huge material systems of infrastructure as instant
ruins of modernity.«
with reduced access or without access or who have been disconnected, as a result either of socio-spatial differentiation strategies or infrastructure crises or collapse.”
It is equally important to question western histories which suggest that relatively standardised and ubiquitous infrastructure grids tend, over the history of a city, to become generalised and universally accessible as cities become more modern and as infrastructures are regulated to cover all spaces. In many cities of the Global South, for example, access to networked infrastructures has always been highly fragmented, highly unreliable and problematic, even for relatively wealthy or powerful groups and neighbourhoods.
In contemporary Mumbai, for example, many upper middle class residents have to deal with water or power supplies which operate for only a few hours per day.
Their efforts to move into gated communities are often motivated as much by their desires for continuous power and water supplies as by hopes for better security. The pervasiveness of such infrastructure disruptions in Mumbai is used by the city’s boosters to invoke major infrastructural edifices and large-scale demolitions of informal settlements, as they strive to overcome continuous infrastructural disruptions. In so doing the aim is to become ‘more global’ or ‘the next Shanghai’, an example of a city that successfully leveraged infrastructural change for modernisation and development.
This means that in many world cities, infrastructural circulations are not rendered as mere ‘technical’ issues which simply merge into the urban background. Far from it: Their politics dominates urban life and urban political discourses to a powerful extent. Where infrastructure is absent or can only supply needs sporadically, it is highly present and visible – a constant open question in many people’s lives and a tool for development.
The startling counterpoint in the areas where the rendering of taken for granted energy, communication, transport and water grids as ‘normal’, culturally banal, invisible, even boring, is that it takes the sudden interruption or disruption to such systems to make them visible on the urban scene. Such events render the huge material systems of infrastructure as instant, albeit often temporary, ruins of modernity. When the web site is not available, electricity is blacked out, the subways cease to move, or the tap fails to deliver clean water, the infrastructural backstage of urban life becomes startlingly visible. Whether through technical malfunctions, or other means, interruptions in resource supplies in the contemporary city quickly breed a sense of emergency. The ‘black box’ of the infrastructure system is thus momentarily opened; the politics of infrastructural assemblages become a sudden preoccupation within media and public debate.
It is worth considering a few examples to help illustrate this point.
In the Spring of 2010, the interruption of global airline systems by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull filled the world’s newspapers with detailed technical analyses of how jet engines deal with ingested dust. The cascading disruptions and devastation of urban Japan through the Fukushima earthquake-tsunami-nuclear catastrophe a year later filled the same newspapers with detailed cross-sections of different styles of nuclear reactor, highlighting their various levels of resilience to power outages.
»Infrastructure disruptions render the arcane worlds of technically-facilitated mobility both visible and highly political.«
And the unintentional severing of a transoceanic fibre optic line off the coast of Egypt by an Egyptian fishing trawler in February, 2008 – which instantly brought to a halt much of the digitally mediated economy of Dubai, Mumbai and beyond – fleetingly revealed the global strands of interurban cable which bring the supposedly ‘virtual’ world of the internet into being.
As well as being experiences which tend to destroy any prevailing myths about the ‘technical’ nature of infrastructure, infrastructure disruptions render the arcane worlds of technically-facilitated mobility both momentarily visible and highly political.
Stephen Graham is Professor of Cities and Society at Newcastle University's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. He previously taught at Durham and MIT, among other universities. His most recent books are Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructures Fail (Routledge, 2009) and Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (Verso, 2010). His next book, Vertical: The Politics of Up and Down (Verso) is currently in preparation. To read more on the subject of this essay, see Stephen Graham’s essay “Disrupted” in Urban Constellations, Ed. Matthew Gandy (Jovis, 2011).
Sources for this article include:
Bruce Mau, Massive Change, London Phaidon, 2003. pp. 3-4.
Geoffrey Bowler and Susan Leigh Star (2000), Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences, Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press.
Susan Leigh-Star (1999), “The ethnography of infrastructure”, American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3), 377-391. 379.
Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Rutherford (2008), “Political Infrastructures: Governing and Experiencing the Fabric of the City,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume 32.2 June 2008 363–74
Bowker and Leigh-Star even define the tendency to “becomes visible upon breakdown” as one of the eight characteristic of technologies that are socially constructed to be ‘infrastructure.’ See Geoffrey Bowler and Susan Leigh Star (2000), Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences, Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press.
See also the author’s recent edited book, which seeks to do exactly that: Graham, Stephen (Ed.), Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructures Fail, New York: Routledge.
But infrastructure disruptions also present a major opportunity to understand cities better. By removing the complex, stretched-out flows that continually sustain modern urbanism, such events, paradoxically, work to make such flows more visible – before they are rendered into the urban background once ‘normal’ service is resumed. Critical analysis of urban life needs, therefore, to exploit infrastructure disruptions as what sociologists call ‘heuristic devices’ – opportunities for learning in ways that render the banal and ordinary as contested worlds of dynamism and action that are absolutely crucial in constituting the contemporary city as process. Events where taken-for-granted movements of energy, water, waste, commodities and communications are interrupted are much more than ‘technical failures’: they are windows into the remarkable processes that sustain urban life.
They seek to “desegregate academic knowledge by mixing graphic and film arts with traditional knowledge-sharing disciplines such as astronomy, geophysics, oceanography, climatology, biology, archaeology, history and humanities.”
Their holistic and humanistic approach gives a deliberate spaceship earth perspective – one that developed in the collective consciousness of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when NASA began sharing images of our planet taken from outer space. The aim is to reinforce the massive impact humanity is having on this blue marble hurtling through space with nothing but an impossibly fragile-looking skin of gases to protect it from death and the void. By communicating and disseminating a unified vision of the world rooted in hard science to a wide audience, the Globaïa team hope to raise awareness about the “mutually protective relationship between humans and nature.”
One aspect of environmental thinking that has been considered relatively late in the urban ecological network is the importance of the street. In most cities streets, or rights-of-way, represent the highest percentage of urban land use. The City of Portland, Oregon has been a leader in the rethinking the enormous role that streets play in urban ecology.
Portland’s planners realized that a key component lay in the urban runoff coming from city streets and ultimately being piped away into creeks and streams. As part of Portland Metro’s ongoing street research program, Community Design+Architecture, led by Clark Wilson, was commissioned to extend the streets program beyond traffic, pedestrians, and buildings and to consider urban storm water management. A series of standards was put forth and pilot projects began to emerge, forming the Portland Green Streets Initiative.
The simple idea was to allow for streets to drain into a series of small green spaces prior to entering drains and pipes, thus allowing more water back into the earth and slowing runoff during peak rainfalls. This also irrigated plant life, filtered pollutants, increased natural habitat and decreased the need for new sewer pipes. As a result, not only were there aesthetic improvements to what are often perceived as leftover spaces, but Green Streets also engaged society with the notion of water surface runoff and its consequences.
There are many projects and studies dealing with urban storm water management, but the impact of local projects like this (cities such as Chicago and New York, have begun to follow Portland’s lead) has introduced the important notion that infrastructural systems can be manipulated at a local, personal level, which represents a shift in how we as a society relate to our streets, communities, watersheds and infrastructures.
Iain Macrae, Head of Global Lighting Applications Management at Thorn Lighting, a worldwide supplier of outdoor and indoor lighting, spoke to uncube about how lighting is used to control both the flow and attention of people in retail and public spaces.
How is the role of lighting changing in the context of other contemporary urban infrastructure facilities?
Lighting has developed from an expensive luxury to a common physiological expectation: we now expect light at any time and lighting that is good. And we often value light over energy, evidenced in the public realm by the revolt over public lighting switch-offs. Safety, security and comfort still carry more lighting value than energy-saving at a personal level.
What are the future challenges in your view?
Lighting technology is undergoing a revolution. The development of LED offers better light at reduced energy at a time when commercial sensation using lighting carries huge impact on public awareness.
LED lighting should improve the quality of lighting in most spaces but some applications, like high-end sports lighting, may lag behind as the technical challenges are overcome.
Whilst we understand how to create effective and beautiful lighting, we are only just beginning to understand how artificial light affects our mood and well-being.
We know light can affect mood, emotion and sleep, but as yet don’t understand just how much, or how changes in technology will affect this. More research is needed.
The idea of controlling people or crowds has rather sinister overtones but in buildings such as concert venues and sport stadiums this must be a necessity. Are there particular methods involved?
Controlling people with light can be positive, and can be done with four methods. You can use dynamic lighting to match and affect emotion, for example the rhythm of lighting at a concert coupled with the beat of the music can raise heart rate and lift spirits. The second method of control is well-known in retail lighting. You can use the colour and amount of light to draw focus onto products and affect people’s choices.
For instance, if you light raw beef with a light source that has a slightly red tinge, then the beef looks richer, redder and more appetising to most. If you add three to five times the amount of light to a product compared to its surroundings then the effect is quite dramatic and people’s eyes will be drawn to that area of focus.
The third method of control is more subtle. It calls on our inbuilt desire to follow direction and movement. So if you pulse light in one direction, people will prefer subconsciously to travel in that direction. Though not perfect, we found in a retail park in North East England that reversing the direction of light could influence mall shoppers’ direction of travel. You can also use lines of static lighting: horizontal lines of light in the ceiling running across a mall, means people will prefer to divert off to the sides towards the shops. This is not science and is difficult to prove nor heavily used, partly because in retail malls for one thing shops themselves are also attracting attention and hence confuse the research. Having said that, it has been used in airports to try and divert passengers from a quick dash past duty free into the sales areas.
Finally, you clearly use light in crowd control during emergencies. Where power fails to a building you light the exit routes and provide clear exit signs to show the way out. There is no real science here, you provide just the right amount of light to see the way out and reduce panic. When these routes are the only way out then people will follow them.
How does light control function at a practical level in a large building? Can you give an example?
At the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice, designed by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, our lighting performs many more functions than just lighting the building. The exterior lighting advertises the venue, lights the paths and steps, and highlights the entrance. Once inside the lighting is designed to help you navigate the space and find your seat. Along the way concession stands use a warmer colour or a higher level of lighting to focus your attention and hopefully make a sale.
Inside the arena itself there is lighting to the seating, to enable you to find the seat and to see your neighbour.
Iain Macrae graduated in mechanical engineering and somehow found his way into lighting. Since starting with Thorn 25 years ago he has gained many years manufacturing, application and technical experience in a wide range of projects across most market sectors. Macrae is Immediate Past President of the Society of Light & Lighting and the Head of Global Lighting Applications Management for Thorn Lighting working with an international team directing application design and strategy, co-ordinating work on lighting standards and supporting new product development and marketing. He speaks on a range of lighting subjects both at the Thorn Academy of Light and across the world.
Finally, if the stadium has to be evacuated we provide enough light to get tens of thousands of people out of the stadium without panic. That means providing more light than in any normal building during an emergency, as large crowds panic easily. In most stadia we provide 50 times the lighting level along the escape routes compared to a simple office block.
Can and will light do more in the future – especially in the huge buildings or building conglomerations that are emerging architecturally?
Light is already doing more. The ability for us to control LED lighting, to change its colour dynamically and to do so in complex scenes means many buildings have more than just simple architectural schemes. The future technologies such as OLED may allow us to create lit panels and wall, floors, and so on in different ways. The future of lighting and control of lighting in and on buildings over the next ten years is really exciting. There is a downside of course. Imagine if we add spectacular lighting to every building. The lighting eventually becomes the norm, or we overload the senses, too much of a good thing. There is still a place for subtle yet beautiful lighting; the old designs still work even if the technology to achieve them has changed.
In these spaces, they cooked meals, brushed their teeth, and went above ground for the day’s work, usually collecting, recycling, or finding items to sell. This troglodyte shantytown functioned as a little community. Everyone knew their neighbors, visiting each other to compare “houses,” and staying with each other in times of need. Among them were runaways, people who had lost their families and homes, addicts, and former addicts counseling each other and working to eliminate drug use in the area.
The documentary follows the 1996 eviction when Amtrak reactivated train service through the tunnel. Singer, along with photographer Margaret Morton and anthropologist Teun Voeten, worked with the Coalition for the Homeless to help secure housing for the tunnel residents. During this time, the residents fought to remain in the tunnel rather than transfer to a shelter, expressing concerns for violence and drug use on the surface. Due to increased security, there are very few, if any, believed to be living in the tunnels today – but no one seems to know for sure. With over 51,000 people in New York City still living in homeless shelters each night, and the failure of the shelter system to provide an adequate safe environment for them all, many continue to find new solutions by repurposing architecture in order to find a place to return to and call “home.”
Shifts in the complexity of infrastructural design and the rise of public awareness and agency, from the micro to the macro scale, have changed conditions for construction and design, bringing design to the fore. Marcel Smets, professor of urbanism at KU Leuven, former State Architect of Flanders, Belgium and author with Kelly Shannon of “The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure,” spoke to Jessica Bridger about the rise of the designer, and why escalators might be better than cable cars.
What is the relationship between huge elements of infrastructure and the human scale, and how must design mediate?
As the great urbanist Manuel Sola Morales used to say, design is important at the scale of the kilometer and at the scale of the centimeter. That summarizes what infrastructure is about – whichever kind of infrastructure we are looking at, be it at a regional scale or the scale of a city, it affects people in a very personal way. How it transforms, inhibits or enlarges their mobility, for example, or in the way that its physical intervention impacts their daily lives – it is always at the scale of the individual. I think that if we are not designing infrastructure at both the scale of the kilometer and the centimeter, then we risk missing the real issues.
Has the way that we construct and conceive of infrastructure changed as a result of apparent increased awareness of its consequences?
In recent decades we have seen the results of actions that come from the bottom-up in the form of action groups of all kinds, reacting against a wide range of projects across the globe. We have seen this effect grow as people have become more educated and aware of how to change the world around them and how to stop things they don’t like. Large infrastructure projects in the 1950s and 1960s in western Europe and North America were the concern of – and controlled by – technocrats and politicians who imposed huge projects on society, supposedly for the good of all and the progress of modernity.
It is now almost impossible to realize a large piece of infrastructure without discussing it with all the stakeholders involved, because consensus is now required for such projects.
Typically we think of engineers as the authors of infrastructure projects. If we think of stakeholder engagement or the idea of the human interface, is this changing into something we associate with design?
Engineers used to design all pieces of infrastructure – for example, the US Army Corps of Engineers or the French Administration Ponts et Chausées designing highways. Typically you could do a university diploma called civil engineering that led to the design of infrastructure. The field was viewed as one of technical criteria in combination with economical criteria, and of course without really looking at the effects on the city. Or, if considered at all, the effects were only considered in terms of creating greater accessibility in a global, regional and national network, hence the tendency to bring motorways as close as possible to urban cores and so on.
Now things have shifted to a position where that method has become unacceptable. Even more, the complexity of current infrastructure projects has become much too difficult for the engineers. They are simply not trained for it. This is why designers, architects and landscape architects have increasingly become the central protagonists in the creation and design of infrastructure. These professions are good at solving multiple problems at the same time. Design is about solving spatial problems within difficult programs and the ambitions of the client – and not just clients like the government, but also clients from the bottom up. By necessity, designers have become much more important in the creation of infrastructure. This started when big engineering companies began including a landscape architect within their group to make themselves more credible, but now the landscape architects, the architects and the designers are leading these projects and groups, especially during the design phase.
Where is this happening?
When I was the state architect for the government of Flanders, I saw a lot of competition presentations for infrastructure projects, and in all of the groups it was always the designers who were the spokesmen. Of course the technical and economic members of the teams had to do their work, but the ones who had to “win” the pitch for the group were the designers. This is relatively new and has arisen over the past ten or fifteen years.
Marcel Smets is a professor of urbanism at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. He has been active in the area of history and theory with monographs about Huib Hoste and Charles Buls, as well as reviews about the development of the concept of green suburbs in Belgium and the country’s recovery after 1914. He has written articles of architectural criticism for publications such as Archis, Topos, Lotus, and Casabella, and has served as a jury member for many competitions. He was a founding member of ILAUD and visiting professor at both the University of Thessalonka and Harvard University’s GSD. He has also sat on the scientific commission of EUROPAN since its inception.
He was the chief developer of the widely publicized and highly praised transformation of the area around Leuven station, and for town planning projects which include Antwerp city center, Hoeilaart, Turnhout, Rouen, Genoa, and Conegliano. Currently, Smets’s research focuses principally on landscape and infrastructure.
Christoph Gielen is a photographer who specializes in exploring the intersection of art and environmental politics. Gielen’s award-winning work has been featured at TEDtalks and at the BMW Guggenheim lab, extensively published, and exhibited internationally.
All images in this article are part of his book:
Ed.: Christoph Gielen
with contributions by Galina Tachieva, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, Susannah Sayler, Johann Frederik Hartle and Edward Morris.
96 pages, 95 images
hardcover, 29.5 x 25.5 cm
Jovis Publishers, 2013
How else has infrastructure changed? Can infrastructure ever be more than just a delivery system, and have designers influenced a kind of “value added” proposition for infrastructure design?
The economic and financial crisis that we are living in has had consequences for public expenditure. If we look at the things public budgets can pay for now, they tend to only be necessities – not things judged to be superfluous. Infrastructure is often seen as an absolute necessity. For example, if there are limited funds for beautification, or parks, plazas, or landscapes, because they are seen as superfluous – regardless of whether they truly are or not – designers are realizing that if there is only money for infrastructure then why not make the infrastructure also a park or a public space? The attitude is “why not make city life better through the infrastructure?” and this idea of combination helps to get designers more involved. This might not be new – for example, Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace in Boston is a network of parks as infrastructure – but the trend is certainly increasing.
What is an example of a recent project where the design and infrastructural elements have come together in a way that you find exemplary, in a way that improves the urban environment?
The Veronica Rudge Green Prize for Urban Design was just awarded by Harvard University to two projects: the Metro do Porto in Portugal and to the MetroCable cable car project in Medellín, Colombia. But it is the escalators in Medellín, which connect the favelas to the ground level, that are really the one of the finest projects to be realized recently. They connect the favelas with the metro system, and the city with the favela, strengthening community connections. At the landings between escalator sections other programs such as schools or libraries, provide program elements to anchor the circulation. The escalators seem to make a better urban environment than the cable cars, where the point-to-point system with stations is not as continually active as the escalators, which function almost like footpaths. Projects like these have had a profound effect in Medellín, where drug and gang activity has been driven out through changes in mobility systems. That is amazing. p
One of the biggest challenges to the widespread use of electric cars is their charging capacity. Instead of resolving the problem within the vehicle, this proposal would incorporate induction coils under the asphalt to recharge electric cars as they drive, thus creating a collaboration between the car and the road.
One aspect that these proposals overlook however is human interaction. Roosegaarde’s speculations understandably focus on the roadway itself, but the opportunity to rethink pit stops is ignored. Furthermore, advancements in GPS and car technology point toward a future in which cars require no driver, thus allowing passengers more freedom to interact than ever before. If a car could drive itself, one might question the necessity of Roosegaarde’s idea for features such as dynamic paint that indicates road conditions for drivers – or the need for roadway signage of at all. p
Over the last 100 years, buildings have increasingly expressed the previously hidden ducts and services cores that help them function: a trend epitomised by Rogers Stirk Harbour+Partners’ 88 Wood Street in London.
The services plugging into or flowing out of a building and their coordination have become an increasingly key element, and sometime generator, of architectural design. Indeed buildings could be characterised as primarily organs that utilise, convert or direct the vascular flow of services into usable functions or new forms.
And throughout the 20th Century, architects grappled with the problem of how to deal with the growing tsunami of different services hitting their buildings: the new need to accommodate the flow of all the different mediums of gas, electricity and data around the structure, in addition to accommodating and sheltering the physical movement and daily routine of people themselves.
Early attempts to hide or disguise services as traditional architectural elements gave way, with the advent of modernism, to their polemical expression – ‘house as machine for living in’ and all that – although this so-called ‘functionalism’ was often in practice more symbolic than literal. A key trope became the use of glass, supposedly democratising space through transparency: allowing the breakdown of old hierarchies between served and servant, or service and spaces. This led to the foregrounding, even celebration, of building mechanics and functions, as a key design generator in architecture, notably with the High-Tech movement of the 1970s.
88 Wood Street by Rogers Stirk Harbour+Partners is a sophisticated late-twentieth century expression of this trend. An office building, rising progressively from eight to eighteen stories, the ‘neutrality’ of its in-situ concrete floor plates are ringed with lightweight, steel-frame service towers, pulled-out and expressed, containing the toilets, service ducts, lifts and fully glazed stairwells. These are further emphasised by brightly coloured vertical elements, their colours echoed in the boldly hued air intakes and extracts at street level. On their website, RSH+P sum up the guiding principle behind this building’s design, as: ‘transparency allowing a startling level of legibility of its technology and constituent parts.’
The British architect Peter Beard, with his practice Landroom, specialises in built work within sensitive landscape contexts. Since 2003 he has developed and implemented a series of projects around an area called Rainham Marshes on the Thames Estuary just east of London. The wetland site – a former military firing range – is a typical marginal landscape, or terrain vague. Abandoned and isolated, it had developed its own rich ecosystem with a wide variety of flora and fauna. In 2000 Rainham Marshes became a nature reserve and Beard and his team were tasked with introducing public access to the marshland and a new educational field centre there via a series of trails, bridges, pathways and cycle paths.
The job of reconnecting this post-military landscape to the local public transport and road network with minimum impact to the wildlife was a delicate one.
Carolyn Steel, architect and author of ‘Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives’, talks to uncube about the extraordinary disconnect in our relationship with food and the food systems that supply – and shape – our cities.
You often refer to Ambrosio Lorenzetti’s fourteenth-century painting, ‘The Allegory of Good and Bad Government’, which shows the passage between a city and its surrounding countryside, to illustrate this fundamental relationship: as you’ve pointed out cities and agriculture developed together, so the flow of food and the need to transport it into cities, has always been around.
Yes. And this idea of flow is very apposite as it is precisely where my thinking is taking me now: the circulation of food as a constant flow of nutrition and energy – encapsulated at a basic level in its passage through one’s own body.
We have to eat every day, but the flow of food is a bit like a river that can be diverted one way or another, through choice – do I shop at a chain supermarkets or look at the other options? We have to make these choices much more consciously.
The invention of cities created what you call the ‘the urban paradox’.
As soon as you’ve got a city, you’ve got a problem, because feeding a city is not an easy thing to do. And the bigger it gets, the harder it becomes to feed.
You’ve always emphasised the importance of the distribution rather then just the production of food.
The control of the flow of food, not the production, is power: it’s all about logistics. Originally, when the distribution of food was as big a problem as the production of it, you had to have small compact cities with everybody able to physically access the food.
Carolyn Steel is a leading thinker on food and cities. As an architect, she has been a member of the architecture practice Kilburn Nightingale since 1989. Her book Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives, (Vintage, 2008) describes how food is key to the ‘urban paradox’ at the core of civilization. She is a visiting lecturer at Cambridge and Wageningen Universities and has taught for a number of years at Cambridge and London Metropolitan Universities and the London School of Economics.
One of the main problems you identify is the way the flow of food has become invisible.
Yes. I think that’s the most profound issue that we’ve got: people don’t see food, except at the packet end, and therefore don’t value it. We’ve created political and economic structures to allow the fantasy of cheap food to exist.
Food hasn’t got less important, but we behave as if the problem of feeding ourselves has been solved, which clearly it hasn’t. I mean, yes, there is plenty of food flowing through our cities now, but we are basically trashing the planet in order to make this happen. As Raj Patel points out in his book ‘The Value of Nothing: how to reshape market society and redefine democracy’, a $2 hamburger actually costs $200 – if you factor in all the costs of climate change, soil degradation, pollution, Type 2 diabetes: you name it.
You describe food as a design tool to be used.
In the past, food literally shaped cities. It was the dominant issue in planning: you didn’t found a city until you had sussed out whether you could feed it. It’s no accident that most great cities are at the mouths of great rivers. But once the railways came along this profound relationship changed. We entered what I’ve called the ‘a-geographical age’: which roughly corresponds to the last 200 years. Later, with the car – firstly in the USA – cities became so spaced out that the flow of food was divorced from the city altogether – and the big out-of-town supermarket was invented, which is anti-urban: you leave the city to get food.
But we are now moving into a sort of ‘neo-geographical’ age, when the importance of food is once more becoming relevant to where we live and how we live. It’s no accident that food planning is a new and rapidly emerging discipline. The realisation is that food is something that a planner might just want to think about! p
“Worship Ganga, asking for happiness and good fortune, and she will bring you heaven and salvation.”
- Padma Purana v. 60.3
Sacred and vast, the Ganges river basin is one of the world’s most populated areas. It straddles India and Bangladesh with some 400 million people living along its banks, drinking from it, relying upon it for transport, and worshipping it. Yet the Ganges is sick, ranking in the top five of the world’s most polluted rivers despite the massive annual monsoon floods from a metre of rainfall, and the river, 2,525 kilometers in length, has long been unable to adequately support the massive density of humanity that surrounds it.
The hydrology of the Ganges is very complex, involving as much underground as overground water. In 1975, researchers Roger Revelle and V. Lakshminarayana likened the river system to a huge apparatus and proposed a masterplan for developing its full irrigation potential.
EP Vol. 1 - the Italian Avant-Garde: 1968-1976
Editors: Catharine Rossi, Alex Coles
With contributions by Paola Antonelli, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Andrea Branzi, Carlo Caldini, Alison J. Clarke, Experimental Jetset, Verina Gfader, Martino Gamper, Joseph Grima, Alessandro Mendini, Antonio Negri, Paola Nicolin, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Catharine Rossi, Vera Sacchetti, Libby Sellers, Studio Formafantasma, and Ettore Vitale
Sternberg Press, New York, 2013
224 pages, 42 colour
39 b/w illustrations,
21x12.5 inches, softcover
Charlotte Newman is the manager of the AA Bookshop. She has been a specialist bookseller for over 10 years, instrumental in developing the Koenig art bookshops in London. She established the AA Bookshop at the Architectural Association, London in January 2009, orchestrating its relocation from a basement to a beautiful Georgian ground floor room at 32 Bedford Square, WC1.
Bookmarked welcomes its first guest reviewer, someone with a real overview of what’s out there book-wise: Charlotte Newman, Manager of the AA Bookshop at the Architectural Association in London. She’s chosen some current top tips and an old favourite, kicking off an occasional series of guest book reviewers from the best architectural bookshops around.
The Italian Avant-Garde is an engaging reader of recently commissioned writings and interviews discussing this period of Italian design and its legacy, with an impressive range of contributors including Paola Antonelli, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Joseph Grima and Michelangelo Pistoletto, amongst others. The book design by Experimental Jetset consciously takes the format of a standard paperback to present the content, including a wealth of illustrations dispersed satisfyingly throughout, so it acts as a visual reader of the era too. With EP – the name of planned book series of which this is the first volume – the editors aim to create a publishing equivalent of the ‘extended play’ record, more in-depth than a magazine but more accessible than an academic journal: an aim here successfully achieved. A highly readable reader.
Cedric Price Works II
A Publications, London, 1984
Softcover, 116 pages
24.5 x 24.5 cm
ISBN-10: 0904503453 / 9780904503456
This very rare book on the work of Cedric Price is one of my personal favourites. This is the original book published by the Architectural Association to accompany an exhibition in 1984, re-published by Wiley as the Square Book in 2003 (also out of print). The main body of the book has index tabs that each contain a thematic selection of Cedric Price’s works and projects, beginning with a written introduction by him for each section. The projects are beautifully presented with diagrams and clear descriptive text. We have one copy available in the AA Bookshop! But for CP fans, next year sees the AA publishing the first major two-volume critical overview of his work, edited by Samantha Hardingham. For more details see the AA Publishing catalogue.
Druot, Lacaton &Vassal
Tour Bois le Prêtre
Ruby Press, Berlin, 2012
80 pages, paperback
29cm x 42cm
It may be a book which won’t fit easily on a shelf, but this one’s large slim format is ideal for telling the story of this retrofit project: the transformation of a run down tower block on the outskirts of Paris, realised at less cost than its planned demolition and re-build. The residents saw their living space increased by 40 percent and were able to remain in their homes during the renovation. Starting with the history and ideas behind the project, this book then takes you into the residents’ homes, with double-spread photographs showing intimate glimpses of the generous living spaces filled with natural light even on an overcast day, and interviews with residents on their experience of the process of seeing their homes transformed. Make table space for this book and be drawn into this important project.
A Dictionary of Color Combinations
Seigensha, Kyoto, 2011
15 x 11 cm
354 pp. Full colour
Japanese (some English) text
The seminal 1933 six-volume Haishoku Soukan by artist, teacher and kimono designer Sanzo Wada (1883-1967) has been successfully re-worked into a practical, hand-sized pocket book. The volume is organised into sections of two, three and four colour combinations, each with a reference number, followed by an index of every colour with its name in Japanese and English – plus combination references listed alongside them. The last section has five swatches of each of the 159 colours so they can be cut out for testing your own combinations. It is beautiful book and a fantastic tool for architects and designers. Buy at least two copies: one to use and the other to keep!
Issue No. 16:
November 29th 2013