Posts tagged architecture

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Is the Architectural Profession Still Relevant?


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?

Read more …

Filed under urbanism Architecture

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Amsterdam’s Morphology, A History

Amsterdam, today.

All cities have a unique story to tell about their spatial history. So does Amsterdam. The layout of the inner city canal ring was even inscribed on the World Heritage List by Unesco in 2010. Lately, I have been doing some research into the Dutch world heritage sites - most of the sites have to do with land design, water engineering and planning - which inspired me to look at Amsterdam’s old and new urban patterns with fresh eyes. Here is a little visual history of the city’s planning.

Amsterdam, 1538 (looking from north to south).

The pre-1600 inner city today.

Above is one of the oldest known painted or mapped cityscapes of Amsterdam, by Cornelisz Antonisz from 1538. The map is basically upside down, with Amsterdam (that evolved from a late 12th century fishing settlement) looked at from the North. The dam in the centre is now Dam Square. The city is walled (on the left side at Zeedijk and on the right at Singel). The pattern of the old city is still intact, with some of the waterways now paved.

The first big extension plan was formed in the first decade of the 17th century. Because the city was literally full after the Golden Age started, it was decided to build a canal ring around the old city and move the defence wall outward (over 1km eastwards and almost 1km to the west). The canal ring was built in two phases, one starting in 1610 and one starting in 1660.

A 1657 map showing the large canal ring extension (south side up).

The canal ring today (take a look at how green it actually is).

The first extension of the canal ring (from Brouwersgracht in the west to Leidsegracht) was a huge relief to the city, releasing the pressure on its land. It was filled up quickly with some of the richest Europeans migrating to one of the classy canals. The second extension (completing the concentric half to the east) was finished by the time the city’s immense prosperity had already started to decrease. It took almost two centuries (until around 1900) before all plots laid out were built on. De Jordaan was also part of the first canal ring extension. It was a planned segregation, with the three canals built for the rich (especially Heren- and Keizersgracht), and the Jordaan area built for the poorer workers and industries.

De Jordaan today (it is located on the very right of the 1658 map above).

The city’s economy only really started growing again in the second half of the 19th century. That is when plans for expansion were made again. The first residential bit outside of the canal 17th century extension was built in 1870 (as part of an 1866 plan than never was executed except for this part, because it turned out to be too expensive). This was the northern part of the current De Pijp area. The city expanded concentrically in these years after, according to the 1876 Plan-Kalff.

First 19th century expansion of De Pijp

The 1876 Plan-Kalff

Staatsliedenbuurt, part of the 1876 Plan-Kalff.

The next large expansions were undertaken between 1920 and 1940, consisting of Plan Zuid (South), designed by Berlage, and Plan West. These developments included a lot of Amsterdam School architecture.

Plan Zuid.

Plan Zuid today.

Plan West with the respective architects of the building blocks.

Plan West today.

After WWII, several big urban plans have been realized. Much of it, realized between 1951 and 1966 was the execution of the General Extension Plan of 1935. Most of these developments are based on early modernist ideals. 

General Extension Plan.

The functionalist Slotermeer, a result of the General Extension Plan.

The Bijlmermeer was built just before 1970 and is considered one of the most radical post-war plans in The Netherlands. Part of it has already been demolished because it turned out to be not as utopian as planned.

Bijlmermeer plan.

Bijlmermeer today.

Lately, Amsterdam turned to the water, with the KNSM-Island (1990s), Java-Island and IJburg (both 2000s) being the largest expansions. Currently, the second part of IJburg is being built. In the near future, Amsterdam wants to house the increasing population mostly by densifying the existing city.

Java- and KNSM-Islands.

IJburg (a few years ago, GMaps seems to be behind some five years).

Amsterdam, 2040

Filed under Amsterdam Berlage architecture canals history planning modernism city urbanism

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Model of INTRAPOLIS (1969)

Currently, the exhibition ARCHITEKTONIKA 2 is running at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof. It shows some great pieces from well-known names, from purely architectural visions and designs to more poetic works and photography.

I really liked this one: Walter Jonas’ INTRAPOLIS. Jonas initially worked as a painter, but turned towards urban issues. In response to seeing slums and favelas, he developed INTRAPOLIS, a concept of funnel-shaped buildings that were to create a social focus in dense urban areas. The buildings were to be 100 metres high with a diameter of up to 230 metres. They contain 700 flats, housing up to 2000 people. A basic ‘urban unit’ should consist of three of these buildings. The number could be extended.


In 1970, the West German ministry of construction and the West German national tenants’ association had the goal of constructing the buildings. The project was never realized, however, due to lack of funding.
Despite of Jonas’ preoccupation with social issues, the designs were criticized from a Jacobs perspective, saying they didn’t take into account the urban fabric and lacked diversity.


Filed under modernism visionary Walter Jonas Germany architecture Jacobs urbanism

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An Artist’s Impression: Larissa Fassler On Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor

"Kotti", 2008, by Larissa Fassler

While doing preliminary research on Berlin’s Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum, we came accross the amazing artworks of Larissa Fassler, a Canadian artist living in Berlin. Her works are inspired by everyday life in cities, and focus on perceptions, patterns and human behaviour within the built environment. She uses traditional architectural instruments such as drawings, models and maps, but adds anthropologic layers and personal impressions to them. The results are fascinating cityscapes that combine the hardware and software of a city: a mapped aggregation of the actions and perceptions of the users within the architecture they inhabit. She also worked on Kottbusser Tor, and the Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum, which is the topic of our 5-day workshop in Berlin.
"Kotti", 2008, by Larissa Fassler

"Kotti" is one of her works, consisting of a scaled model and drawings. The scaled model is a representation of the publicly accessible spaces of the NKZ and its surrounding area. The cartography drawings include a wide variety of information, from the number of people crossing and the places were people urinate to the current weather and the locations of the food stalls. It seems to be a combination of a mind mapping, community mapping, and ethnographic research.
"Kotti Revisited", 2010, by Larissa Fassler

We wanted to know more about Larissa’s inspirations, impressions and ideas regarding Kottbusser Tor and the Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum, and she has been so kind to answer some questions.

MM: You have made artworks of other places before working on Kottbusser Tor. What triggered you about Kotti that made you want to get into it and make artpieces on it?
LF: Before beginning work on my sculpture and subsequent drawings of Kotti, I had done two other pieces focusing on urban architecture. The first Hallesches Tor and the second Alexanderplatz are both works that are based on underground sites. At that time I was interested in looking at the subterranean spaces of cities that contain public life. In 2004 I moved to Keuzberg not far from Kottbusser Tor and ‘Kotti’ became a place that I used and passed through daily over a period of years. This over-scaled, monolithic concrete structure, an amphitheatre-like space, held such a clash of people― punks, dogs, addicts, tourists, street-drinkers, commuters, shoppers, Turkish business owners, charity-workers, beggars, buskers, families and artists. It was a place of noise and chaos, of forced-tolerance, of misunderstanding and clashes all pressed together in an array of derelict passageways, plazas, stairwells, tunnels, platforms and aboveground walkways. Rather than constructing a model based on the positive masses of the buildings, I wanted to built and define the public space – the negative volumes – in the tunnels and between façades, following the surfaces of sidewalks and plazas, and leaving the rest as empty voids. By creating an inversion of the classic planning model I wanted to make visible the in-between, uncertain and transient spaces that delineate public life.

MM: What do you like about Kotti, and what do you like less?
LF: I like the complexity of the place - socially and historically; its liveliness and chaos; the mix of shops, cafes and housing; its atmosphere - it is a place for anyone, for everyone.
What I like less is the traffic and the traffic circle. Moreover, some of the back passageways, especially on the north-east side, behind the shops and below the first balconies. It can feel quite dangerous there and one can find oneself suddenly alone and not visible to people on the street or to the inhabitants above. Also, I don’t like the fact that the rents are going up and low-income residents are being forces out.

MM: Did your impression of Kotti change after working on it?
LF: I came to respect it more as I learned about its history, mostly from the Keuzberg museum and archive (Bezirksamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg) which is based just behind the NKZ.
During the time I lived nearby (2004-2008) the shops in the NKZ kept failing - a flower shop for example couldn’t survive. Commuters wouldn’t stop at Kotti to shop and the residents couldn’t afford the goods of the shops moving in. Today shops - especially cafes and lunch places seem to be doing good business but I believe this has to do with the fact the the area is gentrifying and many people now using Kotti have more money.

MM: Do you think anything should change about Kotti or the NKZ?
LF: I worry that the rents are going up. The area is becoming popular, cool, even hip and the people who have been living there for decades are being moved out.  I think low-income residents must be better subsidized and/or rents better controlled to allow people to stay.
I think as well some sections of the NKZ could be redesigned to be safer, lighter, more accessible and to increase visibility - more “eyes-on-the street”.

MM: In what ways do you think Kotti/NKZ has failed? And in what ways do you consider it a success?
LF: Even within an absurd architecture that blocks light, shuts off streets and sight lines, is too high, too narrow and creates dark passageways and blind corner, there is a lot of life and energy and many different communities. I don’t think Kotti has failed. It is definitely not pretty but I believe it succeeds it being a thriving, changing and energetic place.  

I initially wrote this post for Failed Architecture.

Filed under Berlin architecture art anthropology community maps urbanism

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Lebbeus Woods (1940 - 2012) - Contemporary Art Carries His Legacy

A collage by Jeroen Kramer, from the City Dust series.

Today, Lebbeus Woods died at age 72. Woods has made many conceptual drawings in which he expressed ideas about space, architecture, futures and the designs of systems. Even though I’m not an architect, my eyes always stay locked on the drawings.

Today, I also - while browsing through the book MEGACITIES - bumped into the drawings of Jeroen Kramer, from the collection City Dust. Until today, I didn’t recognize the resemblence with Lebbeus Woods’ works, and although it is not mentioned in Jeroen Kramer’s introduction and texts, I’m sure Woods has been an inspiration there. 

Below are some of Woods’ drawings.

Same Difference

Labyrinthine Wall for Bosnia

Conflict Space


Geoff Manaugh published a great interview with Woods on his BLDGBLOG in 2007, you can read it here.

Filed under Lebbeus Woods Architecture Art space future

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How Architects Affect People’s Lives

One the nicest movies I have seen lately is Medianeras. It’s a film set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and revolves around two main characters - a man and a woman - who live in high-rise buildings right opposite each other. As the back of the dvd says, “while they often don’t notice each other, separation might be the very thing that brings them together”.

I’m not going to say what the whole movie is about, you should just watch it. What I wanted to share is how the male protagonist, in the first few minutes of the film, introduces 
Buenos Aires and explains how he experiences the urban environment surrounding him. This is accompanied by some beautiful shots of Buenos Aires.

The following lines particularly struck me: 

"Buenos Aires is growing uncontrollably and imperfectly. An overpopulated city in a deserted country. A city in which thousands of buildings rise into the sky. Arbitrarily. Next to a tall one, a small one. Next to a rational one, an irrational one. Next to a French one, one without any style at all.

    These irregularities probably reflect us perfectly. As esthetic and ethical irregularities. These buildings which adhere to no logic, represent bad planning. Just like our lives: we have no idea how we want them to be.” 

    “We live as if Buenos Aires were a stopover. We’ve created a ‘culture of tenants’. The buildings are becoming smaller to make space for even smaller ones. Apartments are measured by their number of rooms and range from five rooms with balconies, playrooms, servants’ quarters and storerooms, to one-room apartments known as “shoeboxes”. Just like almost all man-made objects, buildings are made to differentiate between us. There’s a front and a back side. High and low apartments. Privileged people have the letter A or sometimes B. The farther back in the alphabet, the worse the apartment. The promised view and brightness rarely coincide with reality. What can be expected of a city that turns its back on its river?” 

    “I’m convinced that separations, divorces, domestic violence, the excess of cable TV stations, the lack of communication,  listlessness, apathy, depression, suicide, neuroses, panic attacks, obesity, tenseness, insecurity, hopochondria, stress and a sedentary lifestyle are attributable to architects and builders. I suffer from all of these illnesses except suicide.”

The pictures are all screenshots from the movie. The quotes are translated from Spanish, of course.

Filed under architecture psychology sociology high-rise movie

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Greedy City

A postcard the Failed Architecture team ran into in a London bookstore, after returning from a workshop in Nottingham.

Filed under capitalism architecture London

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Wouter Vanstiphout Talks About Architecture and Politics

Banlieue in Argenteuil, Paris. (image: Ludovic Maillard).

Australian Design Review published the wonderful interview Rory Hyde did with Wouter Vanstiphout, Architectural Historian, professor of Design as Politics at TU Delft. It is also part of Hyde’s new book Future Practice.

In the interview, Vanstiphout talks about the role, responsibility and liability of architects, and the forces that shape a city. One example that he found in his research is that of the direct correlation between Corbusier-esque high-rises in the peripheries of French cities and the riots that took place several years ago. He says:

"So there is a kind of tentative conclusion that I am working on: I don’t think it is the design or the spatial qualities that we added to these places that are the problem, but that these places are still being seen as ‘projects’. What all these areas had in common was that they had been vilified for years already, and all of them had been treated in the press and by everybody as ‘failed’ pieces of the city. And somehow the dominant rhetoric became that we have to ‘solve’ them by demolishing them. I think that the demolition plans of these areas are just as tabula rasa as the principles on which they were once built. The idea to demolish housing projects in order to solve social problems is just as megalomanic as building housing projects in order to solve social problems."

So it is not so much Le Corbusier who is to blame, but it is the Le Corbusier in us who is to blame. Because if you say that something is a failed city, it means you can also say that something is a successful city, meaning that you speak about cities as business plans. If it’s in the red it’s a failure, if it’s in the black it’s good. And this is ridiculous! It’s like talking about people as successes or failures depending on how much money they make."

Rotterdam’s Calypso project: big development gone wrong. One of the examples Vanstiphout often refers to, in which the ‘dark matter’ keeps the city in a chokehold.

Vanstiphout also claims that the visionary part of architecture is important, but that this very part of it currently is completely bankrupt and empty. According to him, it now has more to do with speculative designs, contrasting to ‘real’ visionary architecture of the 1930s and 1970s.

About the politics of design, the ‘system’ controlling urban development, and how to deal with it if you want change, Wouter Vanstiphout says:

If you really want to change the city, or want a real struggle, a real fight, then it would require re-engaging with things like public planning for example, or re-engaging with government, or re-engaging with large-scale institutionalised developers. I think that’s where the real struggles lie, that we re-engage with these structures and these institutions, this horribly complex ‘dark matter’. That’s where it becomes really interesting.”

The full interview can be read here.

I initially published this post on, related to the event Failed Architecture #09: Sell Out Cities.

Filed under architecture politics economy social reality

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Failed Architecture #7 | Ruin Porn: The Beauty of Failure

Andrew Moore, Ballroom of the Lee Plaza Hotel in DetroitBallroom, Lee Plaza Hotel, Detroit. By Andrew Moore ©Reflex Art Gallery

Talks and Q&A | Wednesday May 9 | 20:00h | English | 5 euro

In previous editions of Failed Architecture, we have primarily looked at the why, how and when of failed architecture, trying to get a grasp of the various dimensions of failure and to understand according to whom certain buildings or built environments are malfunctioning. This time, we will try to figure out why many people like to see and talk about failed architecture and whether this influences the future of failed buildings.

Aestheticization of modern ruins is popular: we love romantic, wistful pictures with perfect compositions and dramatic light, beautifying decay and mortality. Over the past years, the number of so-called urban explorers has grown, visiting or breaking into derelict buildings. Just take a look at the infinite number of pictures of abandoned buildings, ruined factories and rundown train stations on Flickr and other websites and blogs. These ruinous structures seem to be much more to us than just piles of rubble. Detroit is the primary example. The extreme case of decay, deindustrialization and poverty after a prosperous century has become the mainstream case of failure fixation and a popular subject in picture, writing and film. Where does this fascination come from? Why are we so preoccupied with failure in photography, urban analysis, literature and other media? And does this obsession help or obstruct attempts to restore urban ruins and learn from past failures? These and other questions will be answered.

Rob Funcken, Psychiatric Hospital in BloemendaalPsychiatric Hospital Bloemendaal. By Rob Funcken.

We have invited several guests to discuss the beauty of failure with us:

Hans Aarsman is a photography journalist, photographer and writer. Aarsman will analyze forms of failure photography in order for us to understand the underlying motives of the photographer and the collective love for beautiful decay. 

Rob Funcken is a Brussels-based photographer, graphic designer and former urban explorer. He has been invited to talk about the act and glamour of urban exploring, and why so many people are intrigued by the act of urban exploring and the photography connected to it. 

Kim Bouvy is an artist working with photography and text, exploring the ways our urban environment is perceived and valued and how that again is being reflected in visual culture and architecture and urbanism. 

A fourth speaker is yet to be announced.

Location: De Verdieping / TrouwAmsterdam | Wibautstraat 127 | Facebook

(Source: failedarchitecture)

Filed under failed architecture architecture Detroit Amsterdam ruin porn decay industrial photography

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I’m deeply aware of the misfit between my profession and the current moment. There is an enormous amount of technology that undermines the legitimacy of building or physical space, and so I’m deeply aware of the vulnerability of architecture as a plausible activity or discipline. And for that reason what I think architecture can still do, or ought to focus on, is to represent moments where collectivity is an attractive experience rather than an imposition. For me libraries have that incredible quality. Each of us can be motivated by our own motivations, but nevertheless sit together in a room like that, that is an exceptional experience of sharing even though you are completely alone. That is for me what the most interesting part of architecture can be.

Rem Koolhaas speaking at the New York Public Library  

New York Public Library ©Andy Cross

A Daily Dose of Architecture

via pdsmith

(via theageofthecity-deactivated2012)

Filed under architecture theory people place making interaction

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ECO-BRUTALISM and how contemporary architecture (criticism) leads to the deadening of space

The new Cooper Union Building in New York (©Ahmed ElHusseiny). According to PPS, “architecture critics praise it with absurd language that is disconnected from the reality of how the building makes people feel. The arrogant 1 percent fail to understand how the 99 percent react.” 

The ideas and publications from PPS are always impressive, focusing on how to actually create places for people, rather than for capital or anything else. Their very focus is on the human aspect of space and how places and buildings can create and strengthen social networks and communities. Their last piece is about contemporary architecture and how it more often than not numbs space. The article calls for extraordinary places, rather than iconic architecture.

According to Fred Kent, who has written a wonderful article on the PPS website, new buildings that have received the mose acclaim, are only so because their designers have built in some “green” or “sustainable” elements. In fact, however, these pieces of architecture remind us of Brutalist architecture, with a uniform disregard for human scale and for connection to the surrounding streetscapes.
While the architecture is “purporting to address the pressing ecological needs of our species and our planet”, it is “often too dismissive of the needs of people.” 

Kent criticizes architecture criticism in general as well, saying that this elite division of journalism is being too easy on contemporary architects. Hailed buildings are often highly isolated and turned inward, creating dead spots in the urban fabric, rather than being inviting, facilitating social networks and creating community places.

The New York Times building is seen as a succeful piece of extraordinary architecture, being very public and relating well to the surrounding streets. ©JLeon

The article ends with a summing up of buildings that DO work and are examplary cases of ‘Architecture of Place’, but also showing a hall of shame with architecture that is only harming public space.

The piece on the PPS website is an absolute recommendation. It is also great reading material to take into account for the Failed Architecture series, making ‘publicness’ or ‘connectedness to public space’ an indicator for succesful architecture.

Filed under Brutalism architecture failed architecture place making place public space

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Ryu Itadani’s Hand Drawn Urban Interpretations

Omotesando, Tokyo ©Ryu Itadani

Japanese, Berlin-based artist Ryu Itadani creates colorful interpretations of (mostly real world) cities, giving crispy-cartoonesque urban impressions.

Hong Kong ©Ryu Itadani

Youchien ©Ryu Itadani

Tokyo ©Ryu Itadani

Omotesando Hills, Tokyo ©Ryu Itadani

first seen at Magical Urbanism

Filed under art city architecture

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Definition of a City #2

Ghangzhou - Small Alleys Near Shamian Island ©Beschty

"A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go."
        - Rebecca Solnit, in: Wanderlust: A History of Walking 

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 definition of a city urban theory walking architecture urbanism