Archive for ‘Western Europe’

April 23, 2012

Interacting with fountains – Anna

When I went to Boston, just before coming to Bard, last summer, my favorite moment in the couple of days I was in the city was when I saw the Rose Kennedy Greenway fountain. Seeing all these children playing with the water, and constantly being exited, scared, running around etc was absolutely delightful. But it was also a real revelation to me: Not only were children running around ON the fountain, but it was actually designed purposefully FOR people to interact with the fountain. For me, this was a totally foreign concept: All of the fountains I had seen so far, had always been beautiful sculptures, meant to be admired from afar,  sculptures. If one had any contact with them, it was to drink from them (In Rome, for example, a city  filled with small fountains, they have filled a historical role as the main source of drinkable water to the population as a whole, which would not otherwise necessarily have access to it), and tolerated was leaning against them, but even dipping one’s toe is usually prohibited. And here I was with people IN the fountain.

For me this is particularly exhilarating because I come from a culture which uncomfortable with the very notion of interacting with nature in the Urban landscape: Parks are strictly fenced, even when with low, small barriers, one knows that he-she is not to go on the grass(one of the reasons being the so-called delicacy of it. Most of the time, a lawn will carry the sign “Au repos”- “resting”). For this reason we have benches and ironl chairs, in the Tuileries or Luxembourg, or Palais Royale gardens for example. There will be this flamboyant fresh grass in front of you, but you have to stick to the iron chairs.

This idea of not interacting with the water is something I have often thought about when seeing the I.M Pei fountains outside of the Louvre: Their general shape is that of triangles, but the lanes separating them are so narrow, that sometimes it feels(especially when it is really hot, and the air makes things a little blurry) like people are in the water! Most of the time though, unfortunately, it is only an illusion.

The idea of having people in the water, actually, has been brought to France! I went to a conference  two years ago, given by the highly influential landscape designer Michel Corajoud, who directed the re-habilitation of the Garonne  banks in the city of Bordeaux. The part of the project he talked about was one that he lead in collaboration with the fountain designer Jean-Max Llorca. On the Place de la Bourse(name of teh square), every 15 minutes the stone is covered by 2 centimeters of water, which then reflect the surrounding architecture. After that, the water drains through small holes, while new water is sprayed in the air, creating a mist. The whole is controlled by computer systems, and the water is stored in an under-ground system. The rediscovery of water, and of the architecture, through the use of the water, is fantastic. But, as a video on youtube said, what really is amazing is the sense of magic, of fun, and most of all, of liberty.

April 16, 2012

Waterway within the Villette Park – Anna

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The parc de la Villette is situated in the far North-Est part of Paris (19th arr.), on the land that used to be the largest slaughterhouse of Paris which covers 125 acres of land. It was created as a high-point of culture, housing the Paris conservatory of music, a large music museum, a science and engineering museum, and numerous theaters, concert halls, book-stores and cultural centers, as well as many different thematic gardens and playgrounds, and occupied by several large open spaces which accommodate free concerts and film screenings. It is right on the Ourcq Canal, which streams down to the Canal de la Loire, and then to the famous Canal St-Martin, going through popular but very dynamic and emerging neighborhoods. It is lined up by many bars and cultural centers.

In 1982 Bernard Tschumi won a competition to design and oversee the conceptualization and construction of the Park. As part of the design, he envisioned a grid made-up of red structures which would both mark the different points in the park, but also accommodate facilities. He also imagined many different spaces to implement around the existing buildings. Here, I will focus on the place that the infrastructures around the waterway take in the Park.

Many of the structure are rather elusive as to their actual functionality, and resemble more demonstration of architectural beauty and artistic expression. They actually hold many different functions, such as toilets, administrative buildings, and vending points to sell food especially useful during outdoors events. With their very blunt, red color, they create a network that is very recognizable, and create a real unity within the different places. They also hint at the theme of slaughterhouse, which is present if one actually pays attention to the different historically preserved parts of the sites, such as the paved areas, the rails, and the large storing houses. But what is overly shocking is how frank the color is considering the background, environment that surround it which’s color is precisely the complementary color of red: green. Although many of gardens do seem quite “wild”, the concept of the Villette actually acknowledges its position as being manmade, the garden as being the product of a conscious cultured, human mind. Each garden has a theme, such as “the garden of shadows”, the “mirror garden”, the “garden of childhood fears”…T he park is subtlety design to create a true work of explicit and fully accepted collaboration between the man-made and “natural” elements.

It is very interesting to see how both the natural elements and that which were provided by the architect function together. The riverside is lined by a paved way and a structure which is very industrial inspired, with its steel structures and the receptiveness of its elements of construction. But the structure plays a double function: It both creates a shelter from rain and/or sun, and is a balcony, from which people can also stroll. The Villette is a place of leisure, which’s use is mainly “walking around”. Rather then multiplying the use of furniture, the park creates has shelters and long fields in which one can lounge(at last! to the contrary of any other typical French park, in which it is prohibited to touch the grass, and in which one has to confine to benches)was designed for constant, slow flow throughout the whole space. The paving way takes part in this aspect of the park: Just like the canal, it follows the areas preceding the entry into the “official park”, leading way into the space. The cobblestones are elements that are also present in all of the other canals, and they lead way into the space, following the river, so that one actually arrives in the park without really realizing it. In fact, if one thinks of those stones as being the emblematic elements of Parisian streets, there literally is a street running though the park, along the river, yet, it is done rather seamlessly. It feels completely natural to walk from the city, to the canals, and into the park.

The esthetic of the park is interesting in that it contains quite a contradictory esthetic. On the one hand there is the harshness of the colors(red, green, grey), of the structures(very geometric), of the planning of the different elements in space(a grid, arbitrarily “dropped” on the grounds), and the straight ness of the general shape of the water, which have all led to analogies made by critics to constructivism. But it is also inherently playful: Red, after all is not the dullest of colors, the steel which is suspended on the side of the shelter/Balcony has been bent to create shiny waves, and every one of the red structures is different. The elements around the water echo it, in that although they are irregular like the cobblestones and the curved steel, they are all lined-up, restructured and regular. The water is moving and tempered, but it is still contained within very regular and straight banks. All of these elements  are coherent with the spirit of this high place of science and arts, and thus demonstrate a certain excellence and rigor, but are also very playful, open to all (most events are cheap or free), innovative, and creative. The water with its symbol as being timeless but which also flows seems logical within the context and it is adorned with the architectural elements which frame and underline these different aspects.

April 9, 2012

Suburbs in France: A complex subject matter –Anna

While the word “suburb” comes form the Old French suburb or Latin suburbium, from sub- ‘near to’ and urbs, urb- ‘city.’, the origin for the French word, banlieue, holds deeper implications: it immerged from 13th century Feudal France, and was used to designate the land possessed by a lord, which was thus regulated by a higher and sovereign power. The term “banlieusard”(suburban) itself appeared out of a conflicting matter. In 1890 elected representatives from both Paris and its surroundings got into a conflict, and over the quarrel, the Parisians used the term as a way of calling their opponents names, as a way of calling them old fashioned and unrefined, opinionated. Nowadays, the term is used to designate anybody living in the Banlieue, which simply refers to areas around a city. In France, banlieue designates a very wide range of types of places. It is nonetheless very significant to look at the stories of the words that are used, as they carry a lot of significance in the modern world.

When you talk about “banlieues” to French people they will mostly think of the highly condensed blocs that are outside of major cities. These mainly contain the working class, and are more and more populated by recently immigrated people (mostly of Northern Africa, and more recently of West-Africa) who live outside the city in usually highly condensed blocs, often social housing, and come to the city to work. This sense of the word began to really be commonly used during the 19th century, but most of the blocs which form the landscape we know today appeared in the 1950s.

Very rapidly the word has taken-on a stigma, one which refers to the difficulty of these populations to integrate the social system, be it because of the massive unemployment that appeared in the 1980s, or because of the diverse discriminations, because of their origins, but mostly because of their social status. Today Banlieues are often equated to “quartiers sensibles”(sensible quarters), or “les quarties”(the quarters, thus putting a radical distance between the normal portion of society and just “those quarters”). Many such projects were constructed and promoted during the 1980’s(which we could call the second wave, from what I understand, after that of the 1950s), under the socialist governed nation presided by Francois Mitterrand. Yet, many where very badly constructed, with the goal of being as effective as possible, but usually overlooking a quality of building, which has left us with very poorly constructed buildings (which have since then been re-constructed without hardly ever evolving).

Nevertheless, the full picture is not at all as simple as that. The territory called banlieues are constituted of a varied spectrum of spaces, which actually includes a much wider range of the population, which does not conform to the idea of the poor, working class, often dangerous and excluded suburbs that we often talk about.

Many “pavillions”(little houses, often mass-constructed specifically for the suburbia) were constructed in a wave in the 1970s, and have formed a major means for cheap and “green” housing, which had a boom during the in-between world period. They have presented, like in the US, the realization of dream of the middle-class for a cheap and larger space than available in the city. They often lack of a consistent center, and many are dependent on large supermarket which are outside of their limits.

If we take the example of Paris, for example, the multiplicity of forms that agglomerate around the city are overwhelming. One feature that is striking is how close and condensed the city and the suburbs are, and one often walks from the Capital to the suburb without even realizing it. Many are the very poor, highly condensed, often stigmatized projects that we have seen at the beginning(like La Courneuve, Bobigny), yet, right next to those are also richer suburbs(next to Montreuil is Saint-Mande). They are also Suburbs that are very rich, with large houses(like Neuilly, where Sarkozy comes from), and the “zones pavillionaires” which resemble very middle class, suburbs, like in the US(like Montgeron).

Contrarily to the US, many of French suburbs do not depend on cars: The RER, a metro system which is much faster and stops less then its counterpart which only runs within the city’s limits and its closer suburbs, runs through the further suburbs, all the way to the country side and far-away suburbs(for example, the B line even runs to Versailles). It is a system which nonetheless carries many problems: It is often completely overcrowded and runs late, and whenever they are strikes, it is the first element that is blocked.

We have seen how complex it is to grasp on a clear constitution of the “suburb” in France: They are extremely varied in shape and construction. The harsh reality of the suburbs, such as one could witness during the uprising of 2005 in Clichy-sous-bois, during which very violent fights between the inhabitants and the police, and car-burnings took place, has also projected an image which carries a lot of significance to the social context and problems carried in those neighborhoods, largely stigmatized and marginalized by the government, but has also created an image that has forged an oversimplification of the concept of suburbs in France, and also in a way marginalized and unfortunately devaluated those living in these projects.

March 12, 2012

Portrait of a wonderful yard-sale in the Parisian area – Anna

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Pulling onto last class’s topic of street vending, I would like to talk about one experience of street vending in the Parisian region. In France there is a very strong culture of tag-sales, in which people sell old cloths, furniture, toys and jewelry…Each neighborhood usually has, in Paris-often during the spring time, when the sun is up and it is not as likely to rain- at least one week-end where people have the opportunity to sell their belongings. Here, I would like to give an account of my favorite off all.

Montreuil is a suburb situated right against Paris, on the lower east side of the city. It is said to be one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in and around Paris. Its population is of a great diversity and is comprised of many newly arrived immigrants, mostly of African origins, from the Countries of the Maghreb and of Western Africa, which have a very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. It is also an area of high level of drug dealing, and one does not really walk around in most of Montreuil at night. Some areas feel very sketchy and many buildings are insalubrious and being squatted, others have become high places of culture. There are no galleries or museums, but many artists reside in Montreuil and have open studios. Sometimes these artists and architects have even designed their habitation and it is frequent to see small artistic installations here and there. The municipality is has for a long time been communist. There are many little bistros and cafes where locals often naturally put-up gigs; improvised parks frequently spring up everywhere in vacant spaces, and the cultural life is palpable.

In June, the city organizes a “vide-grenier”, literally an “emptying of the attic”, or small flee-market. On this occasion, the residents are invited to put-up a small stand, or cloth on the ground, in front of their residence. On this occasion, people sell whatever they don’t need anymore, much like people in the states put-up a yard-sale, only here, everybody does it at a fixed date and at one place. They are stands held by whole families, others comprised of bands of old coupes, and others of little children selling their toys. Usually, boys stay together and sell their video-games and baby-toys, while little girls sell their “girl-toys”, like make-up, dolls, cloths…They are also often adolescent groups selling all types of things from their house given by their parents, happy to see them “working”(in France, working under the age of 18 is prohibited). What is incredible is if you think of very small children who are left alone in the street. This seems completely natural when you are there, and you don’t think twice when you have to find the change yourself in their little box. But this is, in the eye of the media, the most dangerous area in and around Paris. This is made possible by the incredible strong sense of community one can sense during this little festival. Everybody talks to everyone, stands are held amongst neighbors, everyone “tutoies” everyone (as opposed to the “vous” which one usually has to employ)…They are also little stands in which one can buy, for nearly nothing, traditional drinks and snacks from whatever the country the neighbor who is selling it is from. One can always get very strong ginger juice called Gnamakoudji, or some “bissap”(a hibiscus flower drink) both of  which are very refreshing on these hot days of June. Other surrounding activities include concerts, often held by young teen-age bands. There is also a long street which is traditionally covered by a long quilt, for which people take off their shoes. Many young children hang-out there, and often only a couple of parents supervise the group. The rest of the street is usually covered by chalk drawings. On the same street is a table on which one can find free things and a couple of tables for the representation of local youth associations, which are often surrounded by large groups of kids and adolescents.

It is absolutely wonderful to see how easily people interact, invite you to try-out cloths in their home or studios, how easily one can bargain and get cheap things. For what this market really is about is not money or shopping at the lowest price. It’s about meeting your neighbors and getting the whole community together on the streets. Although one may at first stance think of a flee market in Montreuil as being dangerous, I see nothing of violence manifested here, nor do I see any trace of tension between the different ethnic groups. Rather, I see an organic, fluid, friendly environment where people feel safe, at home, where children can run around alone, where I am invited in people’s house spontaneously (a very un-French thing to do) and where the streets are, in a “visually chaotic” manner, real propellers and witness of harmony.

February 26, 2012

Inhabitants, shapers of their city- Anna

Much of the thinking and talking that has been going on in class, through the readings, discussions in class or on the blog and with Janette, have been centered around the idea of the public space as being a place of union the city or town’s inhabitants, and on the sense of belonging of the people to their town or city. While colonial cities play on the notion of power in order to create social division and hierarchy, we have seen that on the contrary in a city of democracy those things are to be avoided. While with the Panopticon and the watch towers in NYC have been proven source of authority and fear, in the Fall kill Creek project we want to create a way of making people secure but also comfortable.
One of the major points that we can take from all these discussions and ideas is the central idea, to my sense at least, of dialogue with the inhabitants of Poughkeepsie. I think that on the one hand we should be able to position ourselves as “experts” in the field of urbanism and rehabilitation of spaces, and in this case of creeks and other urban water sources, in order to be able to give realistic and responsible propositions, create an environment that will best suit our goals, while creating a sustainable solution that will thrive in the long-term(i.e. the question of flooding and pollution). But on the other hand we should, as Antonia and Marina have pointed out, create a true discussion with the inhabitants of Poughkeepsie to hear what they envision.
Here are a few of the projects that I have been thinking of ever since the blog-post “Public art and the shared experience of beauty” written by Jack and then our conversations on the politics of building over the past weeks. I think that if we can discover people’s thoughts and dreams we could create something that springs from the wishes of Poughkeepsie residents.
On the little island of Burano, each house is painted by its owner, with the color of his choice, traditionally with the paint remaining from the boat’s finish.

This idea has been furthered by the Mayor of Tirana, Albania (Europe), Edi Rama, in a collaboration with his best friend and artist Anri Sala, who, as part of a large project of re-habilitation of the city, invited the owners of the buildings to choose as a community the color of their building. This project brings people together and gets them involved directly in the construction of their city. It is incredible to see how much faith Rama and Sala have in the power of color to create hope for a better city!
On the same note, the very well acclaimed WoZoCo project in Amsterdam by the MVRDV architecture studio, found a creative solution to maximize the space they were given, by creating large balcony-spaces, and, here again create “customized” spaces, that create a sense of individuality to the different units and apartment.

Last but not least, and maybe the most appropriate of projects vis-à-vis the Fall Creek project, is the incredible project by Urban-Think Tank, who had to create economically intelligent project for the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela to respond to the community’s need for transportation and ways to access to the city and its resources, but also the problems of density, and the barrios’s lack of center.

I find it really interesting to see how the team played with the social divisions on the different scales and managed to use the topography of the environment and its complexities in a creative way, for the purpose of their goals. An incredible field-work, which, as we can see, starts with the problems and needs of the community to find creative solutions based on what the people expressed as needs.

February 19, 2012

The utilization of bridges in the re-valorization of a small town – Anna

Yverdon-les-bains is a charming little town in Switzerland, which is crossed by many little rivers. Unfortunately, the city’s urban planning did not take in account this rich resource, and the water wholes were un-valorized by the community. The town launched a competition for graphic designers and architects in order to shift the situation. Laurence Madrelle’s team comprised of architect, designers, photographers and writers won the competition, not to surprisingly, as the French group specializes in the revalorization of public spaces through visual signs. For the project, the team traveled to the town, and was particularly impressed by a “network” of bridges. They decided to focus on highlighting the presence of these bridges in order to revitalize the w

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hole landscape. First of all they thought about recreating an environment that would tackle all of the senses: They decided to create a real experience of crossing the bridges. They thought about planting odorous plants, have different types of lighting on each of the bridges, and maybe even installing interesting sounds or music points. They also recreated maps of the town, which focused on the bridges. Their concept was that if the bridges are visible enough, they should not have to be signalized by panels, which are “cheap” and “old fashioned” and would interfere with a direct visual contact to the actual setting. Instead, they decided upon having the maps printed out in informative booklets, or to be viewable on the internet and an iphone application. An interesting way of using existent infrastructure by, simple means and common sense, shifting the public perspective of the urban environment!

February 12, 2012

Is it really possible to give a sense of the “objective” in a city? – Anna

One experiences a space differently whether he is tired or awake, happy or sad, and weather it is cold and rainy or warm and sunny. We can then ask ourselves: Is it really possible to talk about space in an objective way, or do multiple versions reside in each person’s mind? This question came to me as I was traveling alone in Italy for a few months. I was on a trip to work on several organic farms, and stop in villages and cities in between in order to witness the incredibly rich architecture and arts.

Now, the way I approach traveling and walking around any type of landscape is generally very contemplative. I pay close attention to smells, textures, sounds, the way light hits stone, the way buildings reflect in fountains, and also the particular way people interact between each other. I would rather spend a long time in deserted spaces that have remained “authentic” and rusty, then those that are polished and packaged for the pleasure of tourists. I would rather stare at a beautiful crack for a while, or at a pigeon taking a morning bath rather than take an array of pictures of monuments as to catalog where I had been.

However, before going back home I went to stay in Rome with some friends of mine for a few days. There, I consciously decided to do exactly what was expected of me in this city: be a tourist. I planned a very tight schedule, with strategic routes, sight-seeing in all of the main monuments, hills, streets, restaurants, gelaterias, gardens and houses.

Although I have since seen many pictures of Rome’s monuments, and have reviewed my pictures, I can remember specific moments much less clearly then other places where I had stayed the same amount of time but had adopted the opposite attitude I found it the city hard to relate to. I did not construct and imaginary “relationship” with the city. I found it very crowded, loud, and impersonal.

But apart from thinking of how to take into account all the factors that determine how we experience a city or the county side, how far does the common language go? One example might be interesting to take in consideration to find-out: A bunch of computer-scientists and engineers from the University of Washington got the idea of using the huge amount of data provided by the picture browsing website flickr in order to recreate a mapping of the cities monuments and even its streets. The result is a huge array of pictures that come in a whole for a common discourse. One can move in all directions around the pictures and “take a walk” in a virtual Rome. Even if we all have our takes on what a city “feels like”, maybe we can still create a common language about the physical aspect of a city, while still embracing all of its complexities in how it appears in different lights and perspectives according to the weather and the season.

In addition, the team created thanks to that first step a 3D synthesis of the mapping:

February 6, 2012

Le Peripherique Problem and Defining Paris: Sam Miller

For years, the city of Paris was defined by many of its dwellers by the distinctive highway that separates the metropolitan zone of Paris from its suburbs. Known as Le Peripherique, this idea of Paris was a quick and easy way for people to discern the Haussman construction of Paris, and all the accompanying rich history and architecture, from the newer but not necessarily charmless sub-areas. Some called this a bit elitist because those within Le Peripherique seemed to look down on those on the outside. A phenomenon of segregation and bias based on simple city planning began to emerge. This would not last.

For the most part, those within the Periphique cared not of the definition between their world and the outer limits, but an elite upper class who believed in the magic of the architecture and superiority in terms of historical signifigance (there is no doubt a ridiculous abundance of historical landmarks within the periphique) found themselves in a battle to keep their Paris a completely separate idea from anything outside the Periphique. Building codes had long prevented any new, possibly catastrophic buildings from disturbing the charm of urban Paris. However, when Tour Montparnasse, a hideously out of place skyscraper, was built within the periphique, the Parisian elitist world was turned upside down. No longer could they revel in the charm of having a city of homogeneously beautiful and evocative belle epoque imagery. Many protested but to no avail.

Is this the future of Paris? I would hate to have more “tours” of this sort popping up within the perephique but at the same time, I feel rather snobbish avoiding urban progress. Preserving the beauty and history of cities does not have to be so elitist, but when it does become as such, the fall of the elites seems all the more pleasing. I hope that in the future I can return to Paris and gaze across its mansard rooftops uninterrupted by eyesores like Montparnasse and I think the people of Paris hope similarly. This, however, simply won’t be achieved through snobbery. The same goes for old LA, an aesthetic that makes me want to don a fedora and my best Humphrey Bogart impression. Old city motifs CAN intermingle with new, but its very important not to drown the old.

What an eyesore! Quel Dommage!


February 5, 2012

Paris: A City of Belonging-Anna

Thinking of which streets I like walking on and of the reasons why that is so, my first thoughts go to quite similar ones as those that Gowri found: I like lively streets, where one feels a sort of openness and belonging, ones in which the very concept of life and genuine sharing and generosity are central to the identity of the neighborhood. It is one where you can meet your friends and also make new acquaintances, no matter how futile they are.

But I think there is another factor that comes in account, and that is the question of identification and ease. When I think of the one street, or area I love the most, I immediately think of those that are back home, in Paris. Interestingly enough, the streets I think about are not those of my neighborhood, but of the quarters I love the most. Those streets are part of the old, windy, medieval style Paris. They are the streets in which everything is twisted and bent. The walls are not vertical in the least if you look at them carefully. Of course what really stands out is the stone, in different forms, that lies everywhere. They are cafés and fruit-vegetable vendors, and very small grocery stores, almost all of which are of the Magreb.

I think I enjoy these streets because I feel hugged by the walls, because I find it comfortable to walk through them. I am not lost in a crowd, so I am not insignificant, but I am not alone. I can be in my world and be with myself. The buildings guide my path, there is not an incredible amount of space to go left or right on the small sidewalk, but there is air. There is air because stone is a material that breathes, because the buildings are never more then 5 or 6 stories high, and because the climate is cold for the most part.

I think it’s my natural environment because I identify with the architecture of time. I like to think that all the things that constitute a place have their right to be where they are. Everything in those quarters (neighborhoods) of Paris have lived through so many things, so many changes that have distorted their appearance that in a way they gain a melting, and therefore belonging to the environment. Even piss on a wall is part of this process. This is what is so fantastic about stone: It is movable, changeable, multi-layered.

It also has its smells: different whether it is shiny or rainy (when it is damp, stone has a wonderful smell). I have never asked myself whether Paris was artificial or a simple mirage, because, in those areas, it feels natural. Yes, things have been destroyed and reconstructed everywhere, and yes they are gaps between buildings, and none of it fits perfectly like a puzzle such as in the most part of New York City, but it somehow feels like that’s the way it ought to be, and that each part has greeted the next.

Maybe if the model of the Parisian café was constructed, that it has lasted so long and that there are so many, it is because of the idea of a sociable place, to drink the “verre de l’amitie”, but also it is a place to take the city in, to watch over our territory, we have made it ours, simply because we always realize how much it is, whether we hate it or not at that moment, a place which is home.

December 12, 2011

Shrinking Cities: Eastern Germany: “The Future is Less.” -Myan Melendez

On November 9th, 1989 the Berlin Wall, which along with the Inner German Border had effectively divided Eastern and Western Germany for 28 years, was torn down. With the opening of the wall came the mass migration of over 1 million Germans from Eastern German cities to the West. Many Eastern towns and cities watched their neighborhoods and commercial centers decline as their populations plummeted.In 2003 the East German state of Saxony-Anhalt proposed a sort of contest branded as the International Building Exhibition (IBA) in which the state offered to sponsor architects and designers who could come up with innovative plans to deal with shrinking cities in a productive and sustainable manner. Not only will these proposals be displayed within the exhibition but, they will also be directly implemented in the communities most effected by urban shrinkage. Two of the most surprising major urban revitalization projects being enacted are: “city islands” and giant contemporary art pieces replacing derelict buildings. The concept of “city islands” is explained as follows: “Buildings will be cut out and in the empty spaces we will insert countryside.” This concept was initially conceived by a local resident when IBA polled the community for suggestions and input on prospective projects. The resident of the consolidated city of Dessau-Rosslau recommended extending the beauty of one of Dessau’s UNESCO world heritage sites -The Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Werlitz-to the whole of the city. In another shrinking city within Saxony-Anhalt contemporary artists are helping to ameliorate the effects of urban shrinkage by erecting giant, house size art pieces within the city center that is skirted by a major roadway. The art pieces create the affect of “a kind of drive-through art gallery — an outdoor exhibition rather than urban wasteland.” Contrary to most popular notions of urban re-development which stress the importance of constructing new buildings and infrastructure to encourage new investment, IBA’s urban renewal policy is one of downsizing and reuse.,1518,688152-2,00.html

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November 28, 2011

Street Art, Violeta Borilova

I am researching urban art in Barcelona. I came across a Youtube video of an interview about graffiti from a non illegal perspective. The owners of street shops have always been irritated by the graffiti written on their metallic shutters which appeared overnight, after the owner had spend their day cleaning up. What occurred to some owners and graffiti artists, was a new business consisting in adapting the graffiti form, and using it as advertising. As the owner of the Tabacos shop said, graffiti artists respect each other, in the sense than when there is a wall, or a shutter with a design, others do not touch it (generally speaking, there is always some vandalism). What occurred to this owner is to contact a street artist and ask him to design something on his shutter that will promote his business overnight. What this has created is the idea that graffiti can be legalized when there is permission from the owner himself. The concept of street art being legal is controversial. If an option is to ask permission form the owner himself which will then legalize it, questions of who owns what becomes complicated. In other articles there was the argument that the street is for everybody to enjoy, and graffiti was not to be part of it because it destroys the designed and planed sidewalks, walls… Also there is the argument that the streets are owned by the government which is responsible for cleaning up the graffiti. The government of course, is not in favor of graffiti since a lot of money is being wasted in paint.

This made me think of Senntett’s article, Flesh and Stone. There is a quote on page 18 which says:”The body moves passively, desensitized in space, to destinations set in a fragmented and discontinuous urban geography.” He brings up the idea that streets are designed to be followed in a specific manner. The destinations through which one has to walk are set up by paths, bridges… Since the streets are designed to be followed in a certain pattern, it perhaps takes away the personality of the walker. Instead of being able to walk through desired paths, the walker is being controlled by a set geography. In my opinion, what street artists are doing, is enhancing the already set path. As Larry Ford said in his Spaces between buildings: “The cost of designing one exterior wall is simply a lot lower than the cost of designing four, and especially if each wall is to be beautiful, symbolic, detailed, and functional in its own right. More often, most walls are basically banal.” A lot of walls are banal, generally painted in white or gray tones, street artists see the opportunity to decorate this spaces. In a news report a street artist was interviewed and he said was that one of the reasons he painted was to catch people’s attention to their surroundings.  The walls are plain and most people don’t pay attention to the buildings, or the walk itself. He argued that by painting, he catches people’s attention towards the spaces between buildings, and the building themselves. This argument I believe it to be very true. When walls are plain, and people just walk by each other and not look up, makes the journey quite monotonous. However, if walls are decorated with art, which does not have to permanent but is instead renovated overtime, this planned city will have a character which reflects that city’s identity. I believe this will make people become more aware of their surroundings, and perhaps will become more active  in their city. The most difficult question is however, is to make the differentiation between artistic expressions, and personal signatures or meaningless/vulgar writings.

Sorry, the video is in Spanish.

November 13, 2011

“A Farewell to Pavements”— Shared Space

“A Farewell to Pavements”

“Is it a mad idea to turn roads and pavements into one great big shared space? London’s grandest cultural artery will shortly find out…”

November 8, 2011

Housing Problems-adam skinner

Here is a documentary that I watched in a film class last year about slums in England. 

November 4, 2011

Shrinking Cities- Armaan Alkazi

With the Shrinking of Cities all over the world, more and more urbanized land is being left vacant. This land, which is often a eyesore also opens up a huge array of possibilities in this new urban playground. Dozens of projects have sprung up trying to deal with these new spaces, whether through urban farming or new urban art, they all aim at urban renewal. I believe when looking forward to what we can do, it is important to appreciate why urban decay took place in these cities. The answer, in part, is the flying around of capital. Most of the cities currently in decline Detroit, Manchester, Baltimore etc were once industrial powerhouses. They were built up by huge capital investments for mass production of goods and were destroyed once it became more profitable for companies to move elsewhere. The cities were built to service the global market and were created around the assumption that they would always be competitive. The cities did not focus on small scale, local industry and commerce which has to be rooted in a specific place. Their inability to build a (somewhat) self sustaining entity is what has allowed them to get destroyed.

The way forward, I believe, has to be rooted in small scale,sustainable and people centric production. Capital is not emotional towards its effects, its movement will always be controlled by where it can be most quickly reproduced. Networks of small industry and commerce on the other hand, that are grounded on a human scale, understand that in an economy the producers matter as much as the consumers. These networks and bonds are what create communities and communities are far harder and more resilient in falling then big corporations.

But perhaps the best way to explain why these cities have ended up this way is by quoting Marx. “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks. Marx


October 31, 2011

“Cities of Silence” ~ Chad Rosenbloom

In his Prison Notebooks, Italian Marxist and social theorist Antonio Gramsci offers some interesting insights on the origins of the modern capitalist enterprise and the nature of political power, attempting to explain why workers’ movements in Italy and Germany had so willingly capitulated to the rulings elites.  In the section of the book that focuses specifically on Italian history, Gramsci analyzes the complex relationship between town and country, describing how the political and socio-economic developments of the “Risorgimento” era (Unification of Italy) in the early 19th century caused an antagonistic relationship to crystallize within civic spaces between the “rural type” of person and the “self-styled urban type.”

The following is a quotation from the Quaderni:

“Does the agglomeration of the population in non-rural centers, which is almost twice as great as in France, demonstrate that Italy’s industrialization is double that of France?  Urbanism in Italy is not purely, nor ‘especially’ a phenomenon of capitalistic development or that of big industry.  Naples, which for a long time was the biggest Italian city and which continues to be one of the biggest, is not an industrial city: neither is Rome – at present the largest Italian city.  Yet in these mediaeval-type cities too, there exist strong nuclei of populations of a modern urban type; but what is their relative position?  They are submerged, oppressed, crushed by the other part, which is not of the modern type, and constitute the great majority.  Paradox of the ‘cities of silence’” (P. 91, Italics added).

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“Cities of silence” is a reference to a sequence of poems by Italian poet D’Annunzio describing the fading importance of twenty five different urban spaces in Italy during the course of the Risorgimento.  The “paradox” that Gramsci mentions concerns the shrinking significance of city-states which at one point in time were “glorious” or prosperous societies.  These spaces became mere villages of “secondary importance” to the growing industrial centers.

October 29, 2011

Making Art from Shrinking Cities

The University of California, Berkeley  began a research project on shrinking cities in 2004 and from that research they defined a shrinking city as “a densely populated urban area with a minimim population of 10, 000 residents that has faced population losses in large parts for more than two years and is undergoing economic transformations with some symptoms of a structural crisis”(from Planning Shrinking Cities by Justin B. Hollander). Shrinking cities have become a global pattern in the past 50 years as cities that were dependent on manufacturing begin to deindustrialize. Should we fight the decline in population and falling economic markets in these cities to preserve social history? Should we accept the decline and have urban planners re-organize cities to cope with the shrinking population?  Is it even possible to use modern planning tools to shrink cities? There are many social, political, and economic sides to shrinking cities but nothing substantial has happened in any shrinking city to either resist or foster the inevitable down-sizing. Instead most of this phenomenon has caught the attention of artists in different ways in reaction to this new kind of space.

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Detroit has become a hub for artists who need a cheap place to live and large studio space.  Artists in the neighborhood have started to build up the neighborhood by taking over houses, maintaining them, and thinking of innovative ways to further the area. Shrinking Cities have also brought a different art movement in Europe. The devastating shrinking cities in Europe instigated a major art project by the German Federal Cultural Foundation to further dialogue around shrinking cities.  Since 2002 photographers and researchers have concentrated globally on demolishing urban infrastructure and residential improvements.  They focused on four cities: Detroit; Halle/Leipzig, Germany; Manchester/Liverpool, England; and Ivanovo, Russia.  The result is an exhibit that circulated globally in 2007. This exhibition documents the economic, social, and cultural change that has coincided with the physical changes of shrinking cities.

Further Information:

Planning Shrinking Cities by Justin B. Hollander

More on Shrinking Cities Exhibit

New York Times Debate on Shrinking Cities

Shrinking Cities Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit

October 26, 2011

Remapping/Rediscovering the city

I recently watched a video called “Remapping Westminster,” in which a girl had her friends draw lines on a pieces of tracing paper with the directions, “Please draw one line with any degree of squiggle-ness or straightness without taking your pen off of the page.” She then placed the pieces of tracing paper over a map of London and followed the newly created routes and thus rediscovered the city. The video-maker describes this process as “at once using and rejecting the map.”

It is a wonderful idea, and reminds me of the Italo Calvino story we read, Esmeralda, in which the people of the city would take new routes everyday as to evade monotony… see something different with each walk. One girl in the video remarks, that she is in the area “so much, [she] never really look at it as a nice place to be, [she] just look at it as a place [she] has to go to to get to things.”

The girls are still using the map to direct themselves around the city, but are rejecting the planned routes of the map, and thus creating their own maps. This video is the first in a series by the video-maker. It seems fun, try it yourself.

October 26, 2011

Urban slums as the latest dining/nightclub experience-Myan Melendez

A review of the nightclub:

The saunalike dance floor of this Brazilian festa is always packed with an under-40 crowd grinding to bossa jazz and samba rap. They make some of the best mojitos in town here, and if you get bored its entrance literally faces the door to le Gibus, another fine dancing destination. A favela, incidentally, means “slum” in Brazilian Portuguese. Open Tuesday to Thursday 8pm to 2am.

I came across this website as posted on one of my Facebook friend’s walls. The friend expressed great discomfort and outrage with the idea of Brazil’s notorious slums being re-imagined as a hip dining and nightclub experience in Paris.

Revelers at Favela Chic, Paris

The space is decorated in a hodgepodge of colorful prints and mismatched furniture reminiscent of the ramshackle appearance of extant favelas. Everything in the club also has a purposefully rundown vibe. It’s sorta up in the air as to whether this club was meant as a celebration of the rich culture that has sprung out of a notably bad situation or if it is a tactless mockery of such. It is well known that favelas suffer from extreme poverty and social inequities. Favelas were first seen in the late 1800’s when former soldiers erected shanty towns outside of Rio de Janeiro in an effort to petition for their unpaid salaries. Later newly freed slaves took refuge in these burgeoning shanty towns when they could not find housing anywhere else. During the 1970’s there was again a boom in favela populations as rural Brazilians moved to cities in search of better opportunities. In the past decade or so government efforts in Brazil have led to a diminishing of favela life.

October 21, 2011

Amsterdam Red Light District – Grace Diliberto

I will never forget the time my father made me walk through the Red Light District in Amsterdam during a family vacation to Europe a few years ago. Architecturally similar to any other area in Amsterdam, complete with the narrow, four to five story ornate buildings and canals, the Red Light District is a place of its own. Tucked neatly away into the depths of Amsterdam, it is a place of blatant, uninhibited sexuality, or, more specifically, prostitution. A man can simply stroll down the street, lined with red-lit cubicles with a glass front, each containing a scantily clad woman. Then, in order to solicit sex, he can simply enter the glass case and pull down a shade to cover the front.

At the time, and still now, this entire facet of Amsterdam culture was difficult for me to wrap my head around. Having spent my entire life in the U.S., where prostitution is illegal and, therefore, typically occurs in a much more discreet manner, the difference in prostitution in Amsterdam was startling. In Amsterdam prostitution is placed so blatantly and openly in the spotlight, a fact which I imagine must put an interesting spin on the relationship between gender, sexuality, and the city.

October 17, 2011

City structures benefits on Women’s confidence- Jose Mendez

The gender inequality on urban space has been a topic considered by many urban space specialists. There has been a many research and theory about what is the relationship of gender and urban landscape. Unfortunately, women are affect mainly affected about this gender inequality on a urban space perspective. One urban factor that contributes to the gendered space is urban mobilization. In other words, women will never be expected to walk by themselves past 8pm in certain urban areas because of their own safety.  This is the reason why many activists think that at the moment of creating a new urban space women’s point of view and interest should be considered. If women interest are considered, then their sense of safety will increase, which will cause them to go to their destinations without concerns.  In fact, a study in a few towns in Netherlands shows how the landscape and physically structure of cities affect the exposure of women to the public space. They studied how this town called Vlissingen in which they proved “to have a low degree of integration and street liveliness on the main route railway station to the marked square,” which is shown on the map. In here we concluded that this urban landscape does not promote social activities of people, which limits people interaction. Therefore, the streets will feel more desolated and women more unsafe. On the other hand the city Maastricht provided the totally opposite indication. This city “scored best in the Depthmap analysis,” which means that there were more social activities happening. The reason for this is how the city itself is designed; the main route is in the center of the city, which exposed local neighborhoods to interact each other. At the same time, this main route connects the east and the west side of the city, which create easy mobilization.

Masstricht city

Vlissingen City

Finally, this chart shows how in the city Vlissingen since there are less living activities happening women will restrict themselves to go to the public life. There is a 27.5% of the women who only exposed themselves to the public life during the evening. On the other hand, on Maastricht there is a 48.1% of the women who went out to the public life.