CITY BREATHS

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Sandwich shop, Jodenbreestraat, Amsterdam, 1965. One of the last remaining buildings in the Waterlooplein area, which was torn down in the 1960s.Image by Ed van der Elsken. Courtesy of Annet Gelink Gallery.The exhibition Amsterdam! Ed van der Elsken is on display at Amsterdam’s City Archives until September 14.

Sandwich shop, Jodenbreestraat, Amsterdam, 1965. 

One of the last remaining buildings in the Waterlooplein area, which was torn down in the 1960s.

Image by Ed van der Elsken. Courtesy of Annet Gelink Gallery.

The exhibition Amsterdam! Ed van der Elsken is on display at Amsterdam’s City Archives until September 14.

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We Own The City - Enabling Community Practice in Architecture and Urban Planning

Here’s the sneak preview of the book We Own The City by CITIES and published by Hong Kong University Press and Trancity*Valiz.

I contributed to several parts of the book, mostly by interviewing renowned Dutch architects Winy Maas (MVRDV), Caroline Bos (UNStudio), David Gianotten (OMA) and Bart Reuser (NEXT architects) about how they allowed community/democratic input in their design processes.


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Explore Everything: A Subversive Urban Critique

For Failed Architecture, I reviewed Bradley Garrett’s fantastic book Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City.

Bradley Garrett’s Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City is a book that goes beyond simply pleasing ruinistas and adventurers. Besides portraying the scene, the author uses urban exploration as a lens to critically look at urban issues.

The full review can be read here.

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Nocturnal City

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Today I came across a piece on Guardian Cities titled ‘Cities are losing their smell' by Oliver Wainwright. It reminded me of the fascinating book  (and catalogue to the similar-titled exhibition) Sense of the City (edited, and curated by Mirko Zardini). The book is divided in chapters about alternative ways of experiencing and managing the city, using other senses than just vision. Next to interesting chapters about a.o. the seasons, the sounds, the surface and the air, the part about the nighttime in cities really stuck with me. Here’s the introduction to that chapter. The image is from Paul Morand’s book ‘Paris de nuit: 60 photos inédites de Brassaï’.

The city has long been dominated by the eye. Our urban experience, even our memories, are rooted above all in images. The predominance of vision has been accompanied by the systematic banishing of odours and sounds, so that we rarely associate our urban experiences with the scent of a plant, the smell of food, the noise of a harbour, or the sound of a language. On the contrary, the harder we work to create a visually varied and interesting urban environment, the more we imagine it as silent and devoid of smells.


Even the night, traditionally a time of darkness and silence, has slowly been colonized by the eye. We have been able to cross the frontier of darkness with the help of artificial lightning, which offers us an illusory sense of security. So dependent we are on vision that it is only by prolonging it into the night that we feel secure in our ability to understand and control our surroundings. We may, however, overlook the fact that the electricity which makes it possible for us to illuminate our cities today, and thus to see clearly around the clock, also powers the close-circuit television cameras that permit the city to keep us under constant observation.

Hence the same physical space of the city forms the backdrop for two parallel urban realities which are similar, but different: the daytime city and the nocturnal city. The city that is revealed to us at night is a more abstract place in which unexpected vistas of streets, parks, buildings, or details emerge, while similar ones suddenly vanish. The extension of vision throughout the night has gone hand in hand with an extension of urban life to a 24-hour cycle - exceeding the organization of our days into 8-hour shifts which was the ambition of the modernists.

Thus, lightning has slowly eroded the unique conditions that darkness offered us - the ability to hide, the silence, the oblivion. Yet only through darkness, through the temporary blindness produced by the fading of the light that enables sight, are we able to recapture the experience of the other senses. In the darkness, noises are suddenly amplified, odours are intensified, and we even rediscover the sense of touch. So perhaps there is an alternative strategy for experiencing the nocturnal city. Instead of colonizing it for the eye, we might take advantage of the darkness for a time, forgetting about vision and rediscovering and remembering other sensorial experience.

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City vs. Urbanization

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An interesting passage from the great book ‘Brussels - A Manifesto. Towards a Capital of Europe’, about the difference between city and urbanization, civitas and urbs, and the citizen member and the individual.

"With the development of infrastructure as the primary core of modern cities, the understanding of the human settlement as urbs -as simple aggregation of disconnected units linked together by the controlled flows of mobility - has used the city as an outlet of economic development where social practices are exclusively devoted to the cycle of production and consumption. Today the notion of urbs must be solely considered as the matter of fact of the city - as its indisputable productive machinery where technology is the neutral ground of city development towards the better. The emphasis on urbanisation as the only precondition for “cityness” must be understood today (especially as a symptom of the limitation of the meaning of inhabiting the city) within the horizon of economic opportunities with no space left for what must be seen as the potential main antagonist force to economy: political action. In opposition to the concept of urbanisation as the ultimate fate of the city, we raise the concept of civitas. Civitas is the symbolic agreement of a community to share space, thus developing civic coexistence. If as matter of fact, civitas and urbs can and should coexist as balanced factors of the city; as matters of concern, they must be intended as opposing meanings of human inhabitation. The opposition between civitas and urbs, between city and urbanization, is represented by the potential opposition between citizen and individual.

The apparently “old” distinction between the bourgeois and the citizen can be seen today as the difference between the individual, who seeks his expression in urbanization, and the citizen member, who consciously participates in a collective way of living. Yet even more bluntly, this distinction is carried by the sharp difference between urbs and civitas, individual and city, urbanization and city.

The individual inhabits urbanisation by the pursuit of his or her desires of self-satisfaction and mobility, without any consideration for the collective dimension of the city in which cohabitation demands responsibility and confrontation. The citizen defines his desires by taking into account the space of human cooperation and solidarity, seeing it as the ultimate meaning of city coexistence - as what city means precisely in opposition to urbanization.”

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Decades ago, the city was the theatre of political debate and class conflict; whereas today, as the middle class grows, it is a dumb backdrop to mass servitude towards the apolitical democracy imposed by the market. Facing this reality, we need to reformulate an image for the city form against the totalizing space of urbanization.
Brussels - A Manifesto. Towards the Capital of Europe (p.33)
The Berlage

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How Long is the Life of a Building? Tallinn’s Linnahall

linnahall_1 Fading appreciation, changing values and demands, associations with troubled pasts, structural decay, rampant property development and other trends can lead to the abandonment, neglect and disappearance of architectural legacy, even that of an entire era. Such was the starting point of the 2012 Estonian contribution to the Venice Architectural Biennale, asking the question ‘How Long is the Life of a Building?’. It explored the abandonment of various modernist buildings from the soviet era in Estonia, showing remarkable and daring designs which were the architectural highlights of the soviet era in Estonia. However, most of them have fallen victim to changing times and struggle with new realities. Failed Architecture also led a research workshop on one of the country’s most well-known architectural icons from late 1970s. The catalogue of the Estonian contribution in Venice is a broad collection of perspectives dealing with the lifespan of architecture, ranging from topics such as structural decay, the re-appreciation and re-use of formerly neglected architecture, the heritage potential of modernist architecture and the importance of time and life in Japanese (re)building habits, to critique on the production of urban space. The complete catalogue is accessible online. The focus case study of ‘How Long is the Life of a Building?’ was Tallinn’s Linnahall, an enormous and monumental former concert hall on a prominent location right by the sea. Completed in 1980 for the Moscow Olympics’ regatta as the ‘V.I. Lenin Culture and Sports Palace’ (it never hosted sports events, only major cultural events), it is currently almost completely abandoned apart from being used as a training ground for policemen and narcotic dogs, and it has a helipad for the city’s helicopter connection with Helsinki. Linnahall’s spatial setup and severe decay make it resemble a Mayan ruin from the outside, but its interior still reflects some of the 1980s soviet glory. Photographer Ingel Vaikla captured the anachronistic object in modern-day Tallinn for ‘How Long is the Life of a Building?’ and generously shared the photo essay.

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Is the Architectural Profession Still Relevant?

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Automated design processes, critique on the profession’s culture, DIY-design and wider trends put pressure on the social and public relevance of the architect. On the other hand, architects are crossing boundaries, taking up new roles and experimenting with other approaches, while other professionals reinforce the importance of architecture. Melbourne-based architect, researcher and broadcaster Rory Hyde explored these developments in his book “Future Practice”, by interviewing a wide range of people that observe and practice new strategies for making cities work. I talked to him about these individuals, the architectural profession and other forces that shape our surroundings. Will architecture dissolve into other professions or will it be able to recalibrate itself?

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Filed under urbanism Architecture

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“In the Glasgow media the death of a high rise is marketed as progress”

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Plean St Flats, Yoker.  ©www.chrisleslie.com

Early 2012, I visited Red Road, an impressive housing estate consisting of eight high rises in the north east of Glasgow, built in 1967 to house about 4,700 people. They were once the highest flats in Europe. By the time we were there, two of them had already been emptied and party stripped, awaiting demolition. The other six are to be torn down by 2017, as part of Glasgow’s larger regeneration plan. Red Road is not the only part of the city on death row. The regeneration scheme will bring significant change throughout the city, especially to eight condemned areas that are seen as outdated and problematic. Glaswegian photographer, filmmaker and visual artist Chris Leslie started documenting the disappearing buildings, areas, communities and stories in 2007. This resulted in The Glasgow Renaissance, a multimedia project with a large emphasis on the current and former residents and the memories of the places that have to go. I talked to Chris Leslie about his project and Glasgow’s regeneration.

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Definition of a City #12

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Bosporus, Istanbul Landscape by Gijs Kast (from the book Başıboş).

"Cities are—and have always been—highly differentiated spaces expressive of heterogeneity, diversity of activity, excitement, and pleasure. They are arenas for the pursuit of un-oppressed activities and desires, but also ones replete with systematic power, danger, oppression, domination and exclusion. Mediating the tensions between this dialectical twin of emancipation and disempowerment has of course been the bread and butter of urban planners, designers, social engineers, architects and an assorted array of visionaries since the earliest days of urbanisation."

   - Swyngedouw, E., & Kaïka, M. (2003). The making of ‘glocal’ urban modernities. City7(1), 5-21.

Kindly shared by Francesca Miazzo, Director of CITIES.

This is part of a series of definitions of cities featured on City Breaths. The aim is to collect definitions from different perspectives. The definitions will tell us something about what the role of urban space is in sustaining human life, the way we experience and perceive urban space and the sensations it creates in us. You are welcome to add more interpretations. The other definitions can be read here.

Filed under urbanism