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Neighbourhood News Roundup

Editors Note:

Recently we made an executive decision here at Urban Neighborhood to revamp the way that we deliver news about what is going on in cities around the world, as you can see from previous Neighborhood News installments we used to provide  the first couple paragraphs of the article in full with a picture and then hyperlink you over to the actual article at its source.  This was all well and good but ultimately a rather labor intensive process for content that was essentially a redirect to other news sites that were not providing any incentive. In order to make it easier to do the round up and therefore be more consistent with our installments we are switching over to a method more commonly found on entertainment websites and some of our favorite architecture blogs. So without further adieu here is your news round up for the week.

Hong Kong has decided to shell out some major bucks in order to build the worlds largest cultural district, the West Kowloon Cultural District is a publicly funded project with a price tag of 2.8 billion to be… well approximate… the intention is pretty simple, its plans on using the development to become Asia’s World City.

Since Dubai isn’t paying the the architectural big bucks any more architects like Rem Koolhaas are looking East and Rem has decided to jump on the aforementioned West Kowloon Cultural District gravy train to pay the bills. Rem has a proposal that is ether cultural appropriation or paying tribute to China’s Village history, depending on how you look at it.

The city of Chicago is about to loose out to New York once more, until now it might not have been the biggest city in America but it has had the country’s biggest building for decades, in a couple years One World Trade center is going to take that title away. There was hope that the title transfer would be short lived with the plans for The Spire, then the firm behind it filed for bankruptcy. At least they still have Oprah.

In Green News India has come up with a novel idea to use children to power its parks and playgrounds, now that we have your attention its isn’t as nefarious as you think, the city of Chandigarh wants to use kinetic energy from playground equiptment and solar power to light up its green spaces.

Skyrise Greenery, a website dedicated to green roofs and green spaces integrated into the built form presents its winners for the Skyrise Greenery Awards 2010.

Most tourist bureau’s concentrated on happy and fun but the Cambodian government has decided to take another route and concentrate on its dark history to pull the tourists in. The Atlantic writes about how the Cambodian government plans to develop Anlong Veng a sun-baked, mine-riddled frontier town into a theme park devoted to the Khmer Rouge. A regime that was responsible for murdering almost every in Cambodia who would be between the ages of 25 to 50 if they were still alive today, just in case yo have no knowledge of world history.

Over in Russia Ivan Marchenko discusses the poor state of architecture and the multitudes of unforgettable places that make up the capital and wonders if the sketches presented by designers for the central city are just tomorrows slums being proposed today.

Mason White presents an essay on ‘The Productive Surface’ for all you academics that discusses the shape of our environment and asks questions like “What does architecture and landscape already produce — intentionally or otherwise? And how is that component managed by design?”

For the cartographers and map lovers among us Think Big has a collection of strange maps that range from proposals  fill in the east river to create a Greater New York, to a composite map of European stereotypes.

Huge Tunnel Boring Machines

Have you ever thought about the tunnels that run under our cities? The size of some of them is pretty huge, well huge tunnels require huge tunnel boring machines. Dark Roasted Blend, the provider of great coffee break info has a special report on these behemoths. Here are a couple teaser photos click on the link below to see the full set.


via Dark Roasted Blend: Humongous Tunnel Boring Machines

Neighbourhood News Feb 2 2009

Viet Nam Net

French-Vietnamese artist unveils city of the future

An overseas Vietnamese artist’s vision for a cultural city of the future may be one step closer to fruition as many local architects praised it as a bold and creative vision that reflects his whole-hearted love of his home nation.

Stemming from his ambition to embark on a vast project to honor the source of the nation and symbolise Vietnam’s unique culture, Tran Van Liem, a French painter of Vietnamese origin, has spent 20 years developing the plans for Van Lang City. After living abroad for more than 30 years, the artist returned to Vietnam at the end of 2008 to deliver a lecture on the project.

The basis of Van Lang City’s design is rooted in Oriental philosophy, contained by a circle measuring 1,800m in diameter. The city would be capable of accommodating about 1 million residents and would possess eight, spoke-like boulevards leading from the rim of the circle to a central plaza.

Two of the city’s major landmarks are the “Thien tu thap” and “Hoang tu thap” towers, dedicated to Lac Long Quan and Au Co – the legendary ancestor of the Vietnamese nation. The tower dedicated to Lac Long Quan, distinguished by its square foundations, symbolises Yang-Heaven, whilst the tower dedicated to Au Co with circular foundations would represent Yin-Earth. Read More


Los Angeles Times

New Capitol Visitor Center: not a capital idea

Here at Urban Neighbourhood we came to a similar conclusion

With a half-a-trillion dollars of stimulus spending on the way and real-estate developers mired in what could turn out to be a decade-long slump, the federal government has emerged in recent months as this country’s only viable patron of large-scale construction, at least for the foreseeable future.

So here’s an idea: How about taking a careful, critical look at Washington’s recent architectural track record?

A good place to start is D.C.’s new Capitol Visitor Center. In fact, when it comes to the aesthetic and financial perils of government-sponsored architecture, you could hardly invent a more perfect cautionary tale than the one embodied by this grandiose complex sunk into the east side of Capitol Hill. Read More

'Fort Book' gets a Makeover

The Library is an Excellent Example of Brutalist Architecture

The Library is an Excellent Example of Brutalist Architecture

In the news this week the University of Toronto has announced a $10 million dollar donation to the renovation of the Robarts Library. University grads Russell Morrison, 85, and wife Katherine Morrison, 83, announced the gift last Tuesday.  The gift will go towards the $40 million renovation project for the library which is currently ranked fourth among academic research libraries in North America behind Harvard, Yale, and the University of California at Berkeley. S The project committee will remove states that while there has been long-term support for the acquisitions budget, the university has seen enormous growth in the student population.  When the library was first opened in 1973 the university of toronto’s student body was less than half than that is currently served by the library.

Interior of the Rare Books Library by Chu Hefner (via flickr)

Interior of the Rare Books Library by Chu Hefner (via flickr)

It appears that the renovation of the library will be undertaken by Diamond + Schmitt Architects, though I must admit that I’m not certain of this as all I could online was a PDF document for the Library Commons First Nations House of Learning at Thomson Rivers University that listed the renovation under the Dianmond + Schmitt Architects team credentials. S

The regional library was designed by Warner Burns Toan and Lunde, specialists in library planning, the association with Mathers and Haldenby Architects, in the Brutalist style of architecture that was popular on university campuses through the 1960s and 70s.  The building was listed on the Ontario Inventory of Heritage Properties in 1997.  Library currently stands at 14 stories tall with two flanking six story wings; the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and the Faculty of Information Studies.

The renovation plans reviewed by the Universities Design Review Committe, and some of the suggested improvements, which included infilling the existing recessed balcony spaces and further introducing glazing where precast panels exist were resisted by the committee.  The committee argued the changes to the material palate on the interior and the exterior structure would undermine the significance of the buildings architecture.

“Libraries are the font of creativity on campus and it is vital that students have high quality spaces to study, collaborate and research,” Mr. Morrison said. “We view the renewal of Robarts as an opportunity to contribute to the foundations of education, advance groundbreaking ideas, and dramatically improve the quality of student life.” S

The renovation is planned to take up to three years in the project will include new study spaces, reading rooms, and a new center for the map, data and government collections.  The project plans to do this by renovating existing spaces and there will be a new $34 million dollar wing added of once renovations to the existing structure are complete.

Ground Floor Plan, Existing and Proposed

Ground Floor Plan, Existing and Proposed

Floating nuclear power plants: Power where you need it, When you need it

Concept Drawing of the Academician Lomonosov

Concept Drawing of the Academician Lomonosov

There is an article over in engineering news online about new russian technology which could help South Africa meet its medium-term energy needs.

You may or may not be aware that Eskom, South Africa’s state owned power utility is operating near i’ts maximum. The utility’s reserve generating margins are pretty much at zero and this is unlikely to change in the next five years until new base load power stations start coming online from about 2013 and onwards. South Africa is already feeling the effects of the lack of capacity and is afflicted by rolling black-outs. The official term for them is “load-shedding,” anyone who has lived in an area beset by rolling black outs is aware of what a disruption they can be both to life and too the local economy.

The country is in a bind in that there is no way for it to see any additional capacity to the system before 2012. That date isn’t even the new baseline plants but the potential start up date for a number of short term co-generation projects, these plants are joint ventures between Eskom and the private sector to build small gas-fuelled power stations to help cover peak periods.

However Russia is currently building the worlds first FNPP or Floating Nuclear Power Plant. The main devision of Russia’s State Nuclear Shipbuilding Centre, Sevmash began construction in 2006 and will see the first boat completed in 2010. It is possible that South Africa might be able to convince Sevmash to lease them an FNPP. Though currently the first is earmarked to stay at Sevmash and power the companies facilities, along with ‘the local social infrastructure,’ oh and it also will generate heat to be used in the community and desalinate water. The company has a second boat in the works but it is also earmarked for use in the East Siberian Sea. However the Russia government has made suggestions that it would be willing to lease one of them to South Africa for a couple of years.


The idea of a number of these floating nuke stations being used to provide power in areas that need it is an intriguing one. The possibilities for their use in area’s that have maxed out their capacity or after a natural disaster gives flexibility to the worlds power grid that has until this point never existed.

Of course the idea of a floating nuke station is likely an environmentalists nightmare, not to mention the potential security concerns that come with having a nuclear plant that isn’t sitting on solid ground and therefore could be approached from underneath. The KLT-40S is however reported to be a well-proven design and is already employed in a number of nuclear icebreakers. The gross power production of a KLT-40S is 35 MWe. To give you a comparison the Western GeoPower Unit at The Geysers Geothermal Field in California will be 35 MWe. Each FNPP with be comprised of two KLT-40S nuclear reactors built on top of a 20,000 ton non-self propelled barge with a length of 140m and a beam of 30m. It should be noted that when the FNPPs are towed the reactors will be off line and emptied of nuclear fuel. I mean you would have to be a true idiot to risk getting a working nuclear power plant caught in a storm at sea.

Whether or not you agree with it the FNPP is coming. The Russian News and Information Agency, Novositi, reports that Russia considers the FNPP to be a ‘Vital element’ in the national energy programme.


The Urban 1%

I had this idea last year after the conservative government decided to drop the GST by an additional 1% in what was the biggest tax cut that no one noticed. Sure when they initially dropped the GST from 7% to 6% it was a big deal and everyone knew about it but when the government decided to improve things for the average Canadian (polish their image) by dropping the GST an additional percentage point to 5%, most people I talked to didn’t even notice. I thought that it was a bit of a shame since it didn’t really help stimulate the economy or do much of anything for those of us not making giant purchases. Even companies don’t really benefit much as they get an input tax credit on GST so they only pay the GST on the goods that they sell but get a credit on the GST they had to spend to buy in initially, only remitting the difference.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it didn’t help anyone. I mean sure, it helps a bit… but unless you are spending a lot of money it is not going to help that much. I tried to think of other ways that that 1% could have been re-purposed in such a way that would benefit the average citizen and the economy. That’s when the 1% for cities came to me. Instead of another percentage cut that no one would notice, why not direct the 1% to a jurisdiction in the country that needs the money, specifically the cities, towns, and municipalities that generate wealth and desperately need funding to maintain their capacity to drive the economy.

The Urban 1% proposal that I would like to put forward to our political leaders (and if any of them decide to hop on this proposal and make it their own they will have my vote in the bag) would be a direct return to the economic value each municipal area makes. It’s a simple formula really; for every purchase, for every goods and services sale, one percent of that value is returned to the community that generated it. There is no squabbling about how much money each area deserves to get. The area gets whatever it earns. Is it not fair and democratic that those areas whose infrastructure and services are strained by generating wealth maintain their ability to do so and share in the benefits?


The 'Hotel Of Doom' Awakes!

The Hotel of Doom!

The Hotel of Doom!

The infamous 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang has awoken from its slumber and is once again seeing construction work. It has been reported that Egypt’s Orascom group has been contracted to refurbish the top floors of what has been termed by some as the ‘Hotel of Doom.’ Construction originally started in 1987 and it was thought that the tower was a jealous response to the South’s Olympic construction boom. The structure is 105 stories high and, if it were fully finished, it would contain 3.9 million square feet of floor space. Kim Ill Sung started construction to show off the state’s burgeoning economic power. Had it been completed it would have been the tallest hotel in the world at that time, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost one of its main economic benefactors and could no longer afford the price tag for the project which varies depending on the source (the Wiki entry estimates the bill at US$750 million according to Japanese newspapers; the Reuters article lists South Korean sources as suggesting that the structure would cost close to 2 billion to finish the structure and bring it up to code.)

The structure has been panned by critics as a horrible design, completely unrelated to the city surrounding it.

It is not a beautiful design. It carries little iconic or monumental significance, but sheer muscular and massive presence,” said Lee Sang Jun, a professor of architecture at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Design Aesthetics aside, the building is a great example of ‘Blade Runner’esque, futuristic architecture and is notable for being one of the few (partially) constructed examples of communist super architecture.

The North Korean Government used the hotel extensively for a number of years in its ideology, with it appearing on North Korean stamps before it was finished, and it was boasted about extensively in state media. However, after construction work ceased, the hotel came to be seen as a symbol of the state’s failure to become an economic power and was airbrushed out of pictures of the capital and, according to foreigners living in the North Korean capital, that even though the structure is so massive that it can be seen from anywhere in the city, it was impossible to get anyone to talk about it at all.

While it is unlikely that the current construction work is to ‘finish’ the Hotel, it appears that the top levels are going to be adapted for some sort of use. Perhaps Dr. Evil decided to lease some space for a new lair.

Check out the Reuters article here.

The Wiki entry is here.

France's Big Bridge

The Millau bridge in France currently holds the record for the worlds tallest road bridge. At a towering 343m (1,125ft) at its highest point, it is definitely not for anyone afraid of heights. The bridge crosses the River Tarn and the valley of the same name and has been termed by some as “one of the most breathtaking ever built.” source The bridge was designed by architect Norman Foster who wanted it to have the “delicacy of a butterfly”… “A work of man must fuse with nature. The pillars had to look almost organic, like they had grown from the earth,” the world-renowned British architect said in an interview with regional daily newspaper Midi Libre.

The Bridge was constructed by French construction group Eiffage – that built the Eiffel Tower. The bridge was built to relieve the traffic bottlenecks that frequently occurred in the french town of Millau by connecting the two portions of route A-75 which is a major artery to the Mediterranean.

The bridge is also impressive for its embedded electronics, the structure contains 30 km of high-current electrical cables, 10 km of low-current cables, 20 km of fibre optics, and a total of 357 telephone jacks to allow maintenance workers to speak with the command centre and with each other while doing work on the bridge.

The structure also has some is state of the art safety infrastructure. There are sensors embedded in the pylons, deck, masts and stays. These sensors can detect the smallest movements in the structure and keep track of the both the structures resistance to, and degradation that occurs naturally overtime. The sensors are able to detect movements down to the micrometre, and are designed to take as many as 100 readings a second. In high wind conditions the structure is designed to constantly monitor the viaduct and its reactions. There are also, two piezoelectric sensors intended to gather traffic data, such as: the weight of vehicles, average speed, and density of traffic flow. The system is intelligent enough to categorise its traffic into fourteen different types of vehicle.The construction of the bridge was done with a number of segments prefabricated. The pylons were poured and constructed, and a couple of intermediate temporary pylons were also put up, then prefabricated deck pieces were pulled across the piers using satellite-guided hydraulic rams that moved the deck 600 mm every 4 minutes. The masts were then pushed out over the new deck, that was erected on top of the pylons, connected to the deck and the temporary pylons removed.

The construction of the bridge faced some opposition from international and local groups; including the WWF, France Nature Environment, the national federation of motorway users, and Environmental Action. Opponents argued that the bridge would never break even, even with the toll, they also argued that the bypass would negatively affect the town and its economy, and that the toll would cause motorists to bypass the bridge.

Some of these predictions have turned out to be very untrue, the town has approved more then 100 building permits in the 18 months following the viaduct’s construction, three of which are for new hotels, and the town has experienced and economic boom termed “the viaduct effect” and two other neighbouring industrial zones have also seen economic expansion that is attributed to the bridge and reduction in travel times.

Either way this Viaduct is a truly impressive structure and the pictures confirm it.