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Archive for November, 2010

Today we launched a new version of the PAUME website, including an agenda, artist-in-residence, background information and much more. Anybody interested in contemporary and avant-garde art, with an emphasis on the urban, may be interested to check out our new website at this link.

We included a section with background information about PAUME and a movie that pays homage to the art that inspired us to start PAUME, including Van Dillens De Stad discussed earlier on this weblog.

Please note that PAUME is curating an evening at the annual Le Guess Who Festival in Utrecht, featuring The Tapeworm:

 

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Last week I discussed the usefulness of imaginations such as pictures and scale models in developing and framing the urban experience during the minor program Urban Studies at my university. I still think that urban planning equals communication but things can really get out of hand once the PR-staff gets creative. My friend Andres Dijkshoorn and I collected a fun list of horrible urban-PR-speak. Warning: may contain words inappropriate to any sane urban planner…

Promoting building projects:

‘Life is a good idea’ (slogan to promote the severely delayed up:town project).

‘Paris has the Eiffeltower’, we have 100hoog (slogan to promote the concrete-and-bricks 100hoog project).

‘Many facilities [..] that will add an extra dimension to your life.’ (slogan used to promote the expensive Twentyfourseven project).

‘Room for the happy view’ (slogan used to promote the Red Apple project where wide views are severely lacking at three of the four sides of the building).

“This building connects the various building surrounding it, with each other” (used to describe the new Rotterdam Centraal train station. Means: its height is the mean of the two building flanking it.).

‘… of international airs’ (suffix used to describe both a student lounge at my university and the pavement (!) and benches in the park of my university).

‘Unique living concept’ (Apartments, but more expensive. Slogan used to promote the Calypso project).

“Axis of knowledge” (Used to describe and connect the geographical positions of various institutions in Rotterdam; some of which actually have something to do with knowledge in the broadest sense of the word, but are only on an axis if you use a bent ruler on a crumpled map)

 

Generic PR-speak that is used way too often

‘Sustainable’ (1; word used way too often nowadays. Means: ‘we put a plant in the lobby’)

‘Sustainable’ (2; special mention here: a building that could be taken apart quickly so it was ‘therefore sustainable’.)

‘An icon / an iconic building’ (catchphrase used to promote anything bigger than a shed)

‘A prominent location’(catchphrase used to promote anything that is not hidden in a gutter)

‘A dynamic neighborhood that has retained its original character’ (catchphrase to hide the fact that this neighborhood is as bad as it used to be. And it is getting worse)

‘Majestic appearance’ (means: ‘we actually paid attention to some details of the building’)

‘Studio’ (means it has the size of a Ikea cupboard)

‘Characteristic’ (means that it severely lacks maintenance)

“Striking” (Signal word for mediocrity, instead of actually resembling something truly new and unique)

“Urban Landscape” (Abbreviation used to describe the nearby environment that consists of concrete building blocks)

“High level of public transport nearby” (Sounds good, until you realize this really means access to a bus or tram, which operates on an irregular schedule and is a good 20 minutes walk from you new house)

“This new form of transport utilizes the waterways in a modern way” (Boats, mainly occupied by tourists instead of the daily commuters which the city officials hoped to attract, navigate the river as they have always done since mankind learnt how to build boats, to drop of passengers).

More suggestions always welcome! Urban planning and architecture and cities in general are full of real inspiration so it is fun to pick a few examples where inspiration took the wrong turn.

 

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No words this time…

 

… But pictures instead (all pictures by me).

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Big, bigger, biggest‘ is a new research and discussion program by the AIR Foundation in Rotterdam and focuses on the question what big buildings do to cities. The program is founded on six hypothesis that cover the main aspects of big buildings and their role in big cities. Yesterday was the presentation of the program in the Groothandelsgebouw. We were invited to a series of lectures and a debate. The lecturers were Susanne Komossa (TU Delft), Job Floris (Monadnock) and Theo Deutinger. Theo Deutinger suggested that there are two types of big buildings: the eternal virgins that will stand untouched and unmodified, and the hybrids that allow modifications and connections with other buildings. His persuasive example was the Bijenkorf building that is being surrounded by more attached buildings. If the Bijenkorf building were to be demolished, the urban fabric would continue to function because of the other buildings that were attached to it. Eternal virgins, on the other hand, will leave empty patches of land when demolished and the urban fabric would have to be recreated from scratch. Deutinger called for ‘more sex between buildings’ because that would equal ‘more city’. His example was rather random but the sex metaphor worked quite well during the ensuing debate.

Big Building: 'De Rotterdam' designed by OMA, developed by MAB. It houses a hotel, apartments and offices that will be occupied by the municipal planning department.

The second part of the evening was a debate between Reinier de Graaf, (OMA), Mark Rabbie (Vesteda) and Jos Melchers (MAB). It was difficult to understand how they perceived their big projects (among others the big De Rotterdam, see picture above) as a functional element in the city. Reinier de Graaf may have given the clearest clue when he was asked what De Rotterdam building brings to the city. His plain answer was: “160.000 square meters.” So far for architectural narratives about buildings and contexts… An interesting evening, but definitely nothing more than a starting point for lots of discussions. And to start with one of the issues: is the whole idea about big buildings obsolete when we consider the lack of funds to build even small buildings in times of urban shrinkage? In other words: aren’t we talking about something that will not happen for a long while? At least I learned two new terms: ‘eternal virgins’ and ‘porositeit’.

Summarizing the evening in a word cloud. Thanks to Andres Dijkshoorn for taking notes of the architectural lingua franca.

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Follow this link to the website of the Vereniging Deltametropool or Deltametropolis Association. In their own words: “The association aims to develop, the in principal already present, deltametropolis in the West of the Netherlands.” The link will take you to a series of documents that map the historic development of the contemporary metropolis. Highly recommended! (but Dutch only)

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As the effects of the global economic cooling spreads to the public sector (where earlier bailouts, measures to dampen unemployment and special financial incentives to keep industrial sectors going are now being felt in the governmental budgets), the questions rise whether the contemporary city can stay out of trouble and how it will affect the city. The answer to first question is that no one escapes the consequences of the greatest economic depression in almost a century. The second question is much harder to answer. I had a number of discussions with experts recently and all had different ideas. But there was one thing they all said: the prolonged period of post-war growth will be replaced by a prolonged period of zero-growth or marginal growth – very alike the current Japanese situation. Again: what does that mean for the city? I try to get my head around the idead that in many cases (in Europe and the US, that is) we have seen the zenith of the city and that things go downhill from here. Let me try to explain that (from a European perspective, that is).

Source: The Economist, September 16th, 2010

The graph I think is important is the one on the right, taken from The Economist. It relates the number of cities to population growth. What it shows is that more and more people live in cities but that they are not moving towards the traditional city centers. Rather, the trend is towards the polycentric city, i.e. the conurbation of cities that are appearing everywhere. This (well-known) trend has caused the edge city where urban life is slowly creeping outside, leaving the downtown areas empty and devoid of life. The extent of this change varies but invariably urban planners have struggled with the consequences. There are two potential causes for a change: (1) population growth that needs to be accommodated by  the city because of lack of space elsewhere; (2) push factors that make the city more attractive in comparison to suburbia. As for (1), this is not going to happen. Western Europe and perhaps even the US will experience a declining population in twenty or thirty years time because of demographic change and a popular blocking of immigration. As for (2), it is clear that it is very, very hard to make the city look like a more attractive alternative than suburbia. There are very few instances where the flight to the suburbs was successfully curbed and channeled back into the city. A more recent Economist report shows that it is the suburbs themselves who are now subject to the developments that were thought unique to the city: poverty, mortgages that are not being repaid, lack of maintenance etc. This may act as a push factor away from the suburbs towards the city. But altogether I think that this is unlikely. So here it is: all recent urban plans I saw where based on the assumption that some sort of growth (demographic, economic) would propel the city back into the limelight. Now that this assumption has been slashed we need to rethink our urban strategies. What will the city look like in a contracting world? I would be happy to hear your thoughts!

Are we witnessing the evening of the city? Skyline of Rotterdam, picture by me.

Disclaimer: my view is obviously Euro-centric because Asia shows very different patterns and cities will continue to grow. But even there the main growth is not achieved in the traditional cities but rather in the ‘anonymous’ cities that have not claimed world fame (yet).

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