Category Archives: 1.4 – public spaces

Urban Beaches

Summer approaches, time to pack our stuff, fill our car and leave for a long long trip, that wil take us, after several hours, to a nice beach very far away…

(image: wikipedia)

Or maybe not. Why do we have to travel so much to find a place that makes us feel good? There is another solution, cheaper and nicer, that can change our town in a tropical island: the Urban Beach.

Close one of the main streets to cars, fill it with sand, put deck chairs all around, add a swimming pool and some bars serving cocktails and the job is done!

(image: flickr)

The most famous urban beach was for sure Paris, with its Paris-Plages, but now the idea is spreading all around: Vevey- Plage, Flon-Plage in Lausanne, Trop’yc in Crans-Montana

Did you like this idea? rate it on cooltownplaces.com!

Basel, Gundeldinger Feld

Today, I’ll take you to Basel, at Dornacherstrasse 192,where an old factory has been transformed into a neighborhood center, Gundeldinger Feld.

The history of this place could be the same as many other places around the world: a 19th century factory in the inner city suddenly moving to the suburbs in order to look for more space, an urban void opening up in the neighborhood, maybe some developer buying the buildings in order to turn them into  expensive lofts… But here the story takes a different path. The architectural firm INSITU, composed mainly of people living in the area, develops a project willing to promote local, indipendent business and improve the cultural offer of the neighborhood. They submit their proposal to the factory’s administrators: a Limited Company, composed of the architects themself will buy the buildings, renew and rent them to the different businesses.

Most of the architects from INSITU have previously worked in Africa, and thus they apply here most of the principles developped in their African experiences:

  • reuse of buildings in a way that minimizes the changes in the structure;
  • use of massive materials (concreetes, bricks, wood), easy to repare and with a long lifespan;
  • possibility, for a large and diverse population, to come and enjoy the area.

Today, Gundeldinger Feld includes a mixture of activities and business, including:

The central alley. The restaurant Eo Ipso on the left, offices on the right.

Details of the central alley. Here, all the works have been a new pavement for the alley, some flower pots and some bike racks. Thanks to laws in Basel encouraging car-free projects, no parking space is provided within the area.

Flower pots are not fixed. Customers can move pots as they like, and give their own touch to the alley.

Blinde Kuh restaurant, and its Braille-labeled bottles. In this restaurant, all waiters are blind, and people eat in complete darkness. Definitely worth trying!

A hall waiting to be renewed.

Another hall, turned into a public library. Lots of the factory equipement (cranes) are still on place.

The Rock-climbing training hall. Here too, cranes and other industrial equipements are still visible.

What lessons could be learnt from this project? Here are mine:

  • sustainable development won’t be made of futuristic materials (for example, we can compare Gundeldinger Feld with this project still in Basel) or over-determined, Le Corbusier-style projects, but of simple, reproducibile solutions. (more readings on this subject are on the website “emergent urbanism“)
  • In order to be accepted from the main audience, sustainable development has to be fun: somebody will adopt it because of their environmental committment, some others just because it’s fun or convenient. And all together, all these people will make the business thrive.
  • Small business need small rents, but not too small rents. Too expensive rents will make the area accessible only to the most luxurious brands, while too cheap rents will let small business survive without caring too much of their customers. And projects like this need business who take care of their customers!

Did you like this place? Vote for it on Cooltownplaces.com!

New BRT under construction in Rome

Wandering around the web, I discovered today a good news from Rome: A brand new BRT opening in the south-east of the city. The new infrastructure will start from ANAGNINA subway station and extend further east, passing through Cinecittà Est and Tor Vergata. All details of this infrastructure are here (PDF).

ATV Map

(image: Roma Metropolitane)

Almost all the line will run along a highway, with the exception of the first kilometer, along Via Ciamarra. In this first kilometer, some interesting interventions will be made.

2

4

5

6

9

(source photos: skyscrapercity)

Thanks to this intervention, a previously anonymous road turned into a sort of Spanish Rambla.

Will it become a new center for outdor activities, like similar projects in San Francisco or New York?

We’ll see. In the meantime you can give your opinion in the poll:

Mixed-use Suburbs

Some days ago, at the conference “desperate houses” at the EPFL, I heard about a  research, realized by the architectural firm Raumbureau, saying that, in the suburbs, around 1 over 5 houses is refurbished as office space.

If this tendence goes on:

  • Little by little, suburbs will become true villages with offices, shops, post offices, sall hospitals… (a similar project was shown at the conference),
  • Density is not the only solution to urban sprawl, other solutions (much more “open source”) are available,
  • The houses in Aigle, which I saw some days ago, can become something really interesting in a few years!

100d1565

New Urbanism vs. Suburbanism

retrofitting suburbia in 3 steps

2768079174_40e43f742d_o

(photo: flickr)

This month, everybody talks about suburbs (and about the prominent feature of suburbs, cars): some posts on RSR website (here, here and here), the last edition of the forum Ecoparc: So, it’s the right moment to talk about this subject, and to propose a strategy to align autorities and developers’ interests.

1 – Complete the streets

First step, completely in the hands of public powers, is completing the streets. In many cases, people drive instead of walking because roads are designed for cars rather than for people. Let’s see some examples:

100d1520

Aigle. Sidewalks are too small. Pedestrians are not protected from traffic

100d1516

Aigle. Vehicles-only road

100d1518

Aigle. Crossing forbidden (but people cross here anyway)

100d1530

Aigle. Pedestrian underpass, not very appealing.

And here, some good examples:

100d1626

Aigle. Trees, sidewalks and outdoor cafés.

100d1566

Aigle. side street.

100d1542

Aigle. Landscaped entrance to the shopping center (with bus shelter included)

2 – Allow and promote mixed-use developments

In this case too, public powers have the choice. A good zoning code should allow suburbs to be reconverted into  mixed-use districts, in order to reduce distances between houses, shops and workplaces.

100d1566

Aigle: houses on this side street could be easily turned into shops.

2767227923_82af5aaa88_o

Garages: this space could be easily be turned into shops or ateliers

(image: flickr)

3 – Crowdsourcing

The first two steps were were dedicated to public powers, the third one is dedicated to developers. Single-family houses and cars are, above all, industrial products, sold with a well-established marketing policy. So, mixed-use development should be marketed focusing on things that single-family houses couldn’t offer: common spaces, a vibrant community, walkable neighborhoods. At the same time, mixed-use development should keep the image of a customized house in a natural environment, image that made the single-family house so popular.

A good way to achieve this goal could be crowdsourcing: build a Cohousing or Coworking community, organize events in order to make future cohousers/coworker meet (i.e. a few-days trip) then go on all together to a developer  in order to build our dream’s  home. And the community could create new synergies and promote new features, like co-buying and mobility plans.

Ada Lovelace day: Jane Jacobs

Today is Ada Lovelace day, a day in which each blogger should talk about a woman who changed the world in her field: a good occasion to talk about the person who gave the biggest contribute to contemporary urbanism, Jane Jacobs.

XIX and early XX century were the century of machines, a century in which the mainstream idea was the possibility to explain everything as the sum of a series of deterministic movements. Cities were explained on the same principles, and deterministic solutions were proposed to solve the problems concerning urban development.

drancy_-_les_premiers_gratte-ciel_de_la_region_parisienne_

(image: wikimedia commons)

Jane Jacobs was the first to show the limits of this approach, showing how it led to a car dependent, socially impoverished society. Against the deterministic approach of mainstream architecture, she proposed an approach based on life sciences,  stating that cities grow in the same way as living organism do.

Most of her battles were against new expressways and neighborhood destructions, and now most of her ideas are supported by the new urbanism and complete streets movements.

For further readings:

Refurbishing the 60’s masterpieces: two examples from Rome

1784989406_2603236453-bf48863707-b-528x3511

The city within a building – Mario Fiorentino

In the last 50 years, we have built a massive amount of buildings, experimenting techniques and philosophies as never before. Reinforced concrete, cheap energy and cars allowed us a freedom to build that we never experienced before.

Now, many of the ideas behind them look outdated, and the building themselves are approaching the end of their lifecycle, and , so, deciding of their future will be one of the main challenges architects will face in the next years.

  • What shall we do with buildings that are growing old, need a massive renovation, but are a strong part of our heritage? Shall we save them as they are, adapt them to our comntemporary exigences, or admit they are too old and too expensive to be restore, and tear everything down?
  • In 50 years, will we regret our choices concerning the 50-years old buildings we decided to destroy, to keep or to renovate?
  • When we build our contemporary building, how shall we consider their future?

Let’s start with an example: La Rinascente in .

La rinascente

(photo: skyscrapercity)

Architects: Franco Albini/Franca Helg
Client: La Rinascente
Location: Rome, Italy
Project year: 1957-1961


(video: Fjfm)

La Rinascente is considered as one of the Italian Modernism’s masterpieces. Located in a strategic place, just outside the historic town, La Rinascente imitates the classical decoration of the surrounding buildings using a steel-framed structure. Every element of classical architecture is recreated in steel, and has a specific role in the building structure: the horizontal beams become trigliphs, the vertical beams columns and capitals, and the maintenance rails become the building’s main frieze. The space between columns is filled with precast concrete panels, featuring a white-and-red, waved texture.

La Rinascente is a masterpiece whose preservation will be problematic in the near future. Conceived in a period in which energy was cheap and environment was not a major concern, the building depends heavily on artificial lighting and air conditioned, and has almost no windows. Adapting it to current energy standards implies a massive refurbishment, and will hardly be possible without providing sources of natural lighting, opening windows on the façade and changing some of the features of the building.

Let’s go on with another example, still in Rome, but this time in the suburbs: Corviale.

(photo: flickr)

Architect: Mario Fiorentino
Client: IACP (social housing institute)
Location: Rome, Italy
Project year: 1972-1982

1784989406_2603236453-bf48863707-b-528x3511

(image: flickr)

(image: flickr)

Promoted as “The city within a building”, Corviale takes the principles of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, and reunites all of them into a, 11-storey, 1-km long single building, hosting 1200 apartments and 6000 people. 5 main stairways allow people to enter the building, and a secondary network of stairs and walkways spread throughout the entire building. The 4th floor was reserved to shops, offices and small business, allowing the community to be entirely self-sufficient. All apartments would enjoy an optimal solar lighting, and an amazing view over the city of Rome.

To further show the experimental tone of the intervention, a special signage was commissioned, as well as 5 sculptures, to be positioned in front of the 5 main entrances.

(video: Fjfm)

Even though the architects had full freedom, and even if the building had an enthousiastic review from both public authorities and the press, it turned into a complete failure: the 4th floor was never able to attract shops and business, and little by little got squatted, turning into a “flying favela”.

The other floor had a similar destiny: given to low-income families, they became a big ghetto, and now the entire building is considered as “The symbol of a failed utopia”.

All along the years, lots of different programs have been established in order to improve the inhabitants’ lifestyle: shopping centers all around the main building, schools and sport facilities, and an animation program, including a street TV and an incubator for young entrepreneurs. Some programs shave succeeded, some others have failed, but none of them has been able to turn Corviale into an appealing place to visit and live.

And, 30 years later, concrete is starting to crack.

(this post was originally published on ArchDaily.com)

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 7/7

50 years after the first Unité, this model seems already belonging to another era. The strong separation between the building and its surroundings, the sensation of living in an all-artificial environment, and an almost complete identification of the Unité d’Habitation with social housing have made this model quite undesirable. The destiny of the millions of Unités scattered around the world will be one of the major problems for XXI century urbanists.

romateatromarcello01

Rome, Theatre of Marcellus, probably a model for the evolution of the Unités (image: wikimedia commons). Originally a Roman Theater, in the Middle Ages it was reused as a mixed residential-commercial building.

Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982. Just like in the Theatre of Marcellus, spaces have been reused over time: the abandoned commercial spaces have been squatted and turned into dwellings.

2237113568_8433930c37_b

Rome, Laurentino 38, 1973 (image: flickr). When it was conceived, the district followed the rules of the Urbanisme sur dalle: the road network at the lower level was supposed to be dedicated to cars, while, on the upper level, 11 elevated roads (the so-called “bridges”) were supposed to be dedicated to pedestrians and filled with shops. At the moment, shops have moved to street level (note the kiosk at the extreme left) while the upper level has been squatted and turned into dwellings. In 2006, 3 over 11 elevated roads have been demolished.

886263980_f8c4192923_o1

Paris, Beaugrenelle, another case of Urbanisme sur dalle (image: flickr). Shops and activities have deserted the pedestrian level and moved at street level.

2668538168_6b163fff59_o

Paris, Beaugrenelle. the street level (image: flickr).

2643045294_f48ba7e9b4_b

Paris, Beaugrenelle, shopping center (image: flickr). All the complex is undergoing a major renovation: the slabs covering the roads at the grounds have been removed, and the shopping centers have been rebuilt, with new entrances at street level. All the details about this project can be found here.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 6/7

Promoted as a standard, easy-to-build product, The Unité d’Habitation concept spread all over the world after WWII. The first 5 units (Marseille, Firminy, Rezé, Briey and Berlin) built by Le Corbusier himself became the standard for almost all public housing project between 1950 and 1990.

The more the model was spread along the world, the more it changed from the original concept. Most examples use a simplified version, colloquially known as Panelák or Plattenbau.

Another transformation of the Unité d’Habitation was the so-called Urbanisme sur dalle (urbanisme on slabs). Instead of being raised on pillars one by one, buildings were raised in groups, with an elevated ground floor between them.

paris-olympiades-wikimedia

Paris, Les Olympiades, 1969-1974. The elevated ground floor, dedicated to pedestrians (image: wikipedia).

gare-des-gobelins

Paris, les Olympiades, 1969-1974 (image: wikipedia). The whole district is raised on pillars. Roads pass under the district and lead to garages.