Tag Archives: urbanism

New Urbanism vs. Suburbanism

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.

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(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

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Now, many of the ideas behind them look outdated, and the building themselves are approaching the end of their lifecycle, and , so, deciding of their future will be one of the main challenges architects will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

Architecture and complexity

One of the things that create a great built environment is complexity. When facing big projects, most of the architects have tried to recreate a complexity in their buildings, with a big effort and not very satisfying results.

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Moshe Safdie, Habitat 67 (image: wikipedia)

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Frank Gehry, MIT Stata Center (image: wikipedia)

Another option allows a better result with lower effort. Instead of planning every single element, we can just design some “seeds” of the building, then wait. Even when seeds are simple, the result turns often amazingly complex.

An example of this kind of architecture is the Quinta Monroy housing project by Elemental.

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Quinta Monroy, just before the arrival of the dwellers (image: ArchDaily)

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The same view, some months later. dwellers have arrived, and have modified houses to match their needs. As a result, all houses are different from each other.  (image: ArchDaily)

For further reading:

How to create a private space without using fences

This image (Geneva, square Pradier, via Microsoft Virtual Earth) shows how to create a calm square and give privacy to a block without using fences or corner buildings. The four external building act as a screen and separate the square from the through traffic of the surrounding roads. Access to the backside of the external buildings is still possible by two straight alleys that run behind the external buildings. The two internal buildings separate these alleys from the central square: to reach the square from the exterior of the block, two turn are always necessary, one from the surrounding roads to the alleys, and a second one from the alley to the square.

Sustainable district: from idea to reality

If you are interested in living into a sustainable district, and want to know more about the path that leads to the realization of such a district, the University of Lausanne is organizing a seminar about sustainable urbanism on september 4-5, 2008.

some issues that will be dealt in the seminar are:

- How to manage an ecological improvement that will be livable and socially acceptable at the same time at the same time.

- How to keep in the city a good living standard for everybody

- How to put in practice a sustainable urbanism in comlex programs, integrating several urban issues: land availability, urban structure, public space management, public services, mobility, water, energy and waste management, green spaces and urban spaces management, governance etc.

inscriptions are possible until August 15, 2008. all details are avilable here.