Category Archives: B – Trends

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!

retrofitting suburbia in 3 steps

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(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:

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

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Aigle. Vehicles-only road

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Aigle. Crossing forbidden (but people cross here anyway)

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Aigle. Pedestrian underpass, not very appealing.

And here, some good examples:

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Aigle. Trees, sidewalks and outdoor cafés.

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Aigle. side street.

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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.

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

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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.

Refurbishing the 60’s masterpieces: two examples from Rome

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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

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(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 future of automobile infrastructure: Antonio Segni Bridge, Rome

Usually, a highway is a mono-functional road, designed to carry cars from one place to another at a maximum speed.  But, sometimes highways don’t carry so many cars as expected,  and other uses start to appear.

An example of the re-use of highways was the Antonio Segni Bridge in Northern Rome, the east-west road in the photo here below.

vigne-nuove

(image: microsoft virtual earth)

Designed to be part of the Milan-Naples highway, the Antonio Segni Bridge has survived as an isolated stretch when the motorway was re-routed on a more external path. Closed to traffic for almost ten years, it has become the favorite place for pedestrians and cyclists’ sunday strolls. When it was opened to motorized traffic, few cars passed on the Bridge, and pedestrian and cyclists still continued to use its sidewalks as a shortcut to reach otherwise far neighborhoods.

Some improvement could be made in order to make the bridge a more interesting place:

  • wider sidewalks and zebra crossings.
  • more pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhood.
  • a landscaped median.

Here is a similar example, from Minneapolis:

video: streetsblog.org

Tysons Corner turns into a downtown

“From ancient times, what made a city a city was how it functioned, not how it looked. And this is especially true today, for we have not built a single old-style downtown from raw dirt in seventy-five years.”

(Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, Chapter 2)

This is how Joel Garreau described in 1991 the trend in urban planning in USA and in most developped countries. Downtowns were a thing of the past, office parks, shopping centers, single-family houses and motorways were the future. One of the symbols of this “Life on the New Frontier” was Tysons Corner, an area capable to attract offices and retail, but lacking public space. (the description of Tysons Corner by Joel Garreau, is here).

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A typical Tysons Corner road (image: Microsoft Virtual Earth)

18 ans later, Tysons Corner has become one of the symbol of post-war urbanism’s excesses: the lack of public spaces forces dwellers and workers to go everywhere by car, and traffic jams occur every day.

In order to solve the problem, Fairfax county approved a master plan which will thansform Tysons Corner in an “old-style downtown”:

  • A new metro line to Washington,
  • a new series of pedestrian spaces,
  • smaller blocks and more through roads.

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(image: Tysons Tomorrow)

After Brasilia, another 20th century city reinvents itself.

further readings:

luxury trains come back to Italy

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(source image: flickr)

Luxury trains have come back to Italy. in 2005, SeaTrain has renewed some trains from italian companies FCU and Vesuviana and turned them into Roma Express and Napoli Express.

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(source image: flickr)

Rome Express runs from Civitavecchia Harbour to Rome S. Pietro Railway station, leaving passengers in the very heart of Rome, and avoiding them an unnecessary and potentially dangerous detour through Termini.

Napoli Express runs along Naples Metro lines 3 and 4, from Napoli Porta Nolana to Pompei, Ercolano and Sorrento. A shuttle bus is provided between Naples Harbour and Napoli Porta Nolana.

Transit Art: CEVA

Here in Switzerland, the ultimate decision on infrastructure and urban planning comes from people, so a good communication campaign is essential in order to promote a project. So, public administrations always put a big effort on promotion and communication, as in the case of CEVA, the new underground link between the Swiss and French railway networks in Geneva. In order to promote CEVA, the State of Geneva  has commissioned a series of video to student of Geneva Applied Art School. The results can be seen here.

(source: les urbanités)

Why place matters (Richard Florida)

(source: Creative Class)

Crowdsourcing the eco-district of Lausanne Blécherette: consuming

On september 10, another crowdsourcing session has taken place in Lausanne. This time, the theme was “consuming”: shops, energy, water, wastes. Here is a list of the wishes that came out during the session:

- Small independent shops rather than big chain suburban supermarkets (Most of people had few hopes that this would have been possible, the suburban model being seen as unavoidable).

- A farmers market and a flea market.

- Late-evening open shops.

- Finding a way to give a second life to used products still in good state (cradle-to-cradle).

- Encouraging (or even imposing) energy savings:
- bonus-malus policies
- laws forbidding unnecessary wastes
- make energy and wastes lifecycles visible

The whole session report (in French) is available here.

——–

Little by little, from these sessions (here is the previous one), something is emerging: there is a class of people which feels neglected by the actual market. They want a small-scale walkable city, with:

-urban, small houses, located in a vibrant, pedestrian oriented space,

-small, independent (but open 24/7) shops which can serve different needs (vegetarian, organic, local) and work as real third places,

-less energy wastes and more community.

——-

Next crowdsourcing session (“Moving”) on September 25, 20h00, espace Riponne, Rue du Valentin 4, Lausanne.