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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.

Masdar Springs From The Desert

“The environmental ambitions of the Masdar Initiative – zero carbon and waste free – are a world first. They have provided us with a challenging design brief that promises to question conventional urban wisdom at a fundamental level. Masdar promises to set new benchmarks for the sustainable city of the future.” Norman Foster of  Foster + Partners

I remember seeing a post about Masdar in the past, back during the height of the Dubai construction orgies when it seemed like every week there was a new project coming out that was fantastic this, super-sized that!  Given that I had a bit of an anti Dubai stance, (take a look back at the Dubai tag and you will see how little attention I paid to it) I have to admit that I wrote Masdar off as just another mega project of a dubious nature. Well it seems that I am now playing catch up on this project as it is in fact being built and it is a significant chapter in the development of new sustainable cities.  My attention was re-piqued after a colleague of mine sent me a link to a New York Times article in the Critic’s Notebook about the opening of the first phase of Masdar. They also have an awesome photo slide show given that they were able to fly a photographer over there.

The New York Times takes issue with the fact that the city is at this point essentially a gated community and identity is not helped by its construction techniques.  Visitors to the city drive through the desert until they reach the blank wall of the city.  While the city wall has a function and basis in sustainable design; enabling the raised city to capture desert breezes and regulate transportation functions to its lower level.  It reinforces the perception that this is a city for elites, and not a city for every one.  Of course given that the city just opened and its first residents are only now moving in the government (who happens to be the landlord) still has time to make sure that the city houses a cross section of society.


Upon arrival to the city a visitor must leave their car at a parking garage just inside the city’s edge. All transportation functions within the city are covered by a fleet of driver less cars that navigate through a series of tunnels at ground level, below the main pedestrian level of the city 23 feet above.  Once the transportation system comes online a fleet of hundreds of personal transportation pods that have been likened to the transportation pods in 2001: A Space Oddessy will transport people and goods around the city by following the destination commands inputted by users through a simple LCD screen interface.  It’s a method of separating circulation functions that Le Corbuiser first envisioned and would have loved to employ in many of his residential projects.

The design aesthetic for the city is a combination of modernism and traditional aribic architecture.  Laboratories and office spaces are predominantly hosted in large concrete buildings that have been clad in panels of ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene. Residential buildings tend towards the traditional and appear similar to the Terra Cotta construction techniques found across the Middle East.

By way of design the city aims to tackle one of the biggest issues in the modern day Middle East; obesity. Elevators from the lower levels are tucked out of sight behind stairwells, and on the main level the only way to get around is by foot.  It’s a design response to the growing problem of obesity in the Middle East as anyone can afford to travel by car to escape the heat does so.  The city also uses traditional wind towers to funnel winds down to street level, and orients the streets at an angle to the suns trajectory in order to maximize shade. On top of all of these features the city is also aiming to be one of the first truly solar cities.

Some of the public spaces will also feature reactive architecture: international architectural firm LAVA (Laboratory for Visionary Architecture) won an international design competition for its proposal to utilize a series of giant umbrellas base on the sunflower principle that open during the day to provide shade, store heat, and then close during the night opening the public squares to the sky and releasing their stored heat.

It is impossible to see the city as anything other than visionary in the way it approaches new city building.  While the Times is correct to raise questions about its utopian purity and its creation in isolation from the real city that lives next door, the Times also ignores the fact that brand new from scratch cities is a reality for the next century.  Experts agree that in order to handle the world’s growing population at least 20 new cities will need to be constructed, predominantly in the Asia, Africa and the Middle East in order to handle the world’s growing a urban population.  In Korea New Songdo is being used as a test case for a fully wired its city, and in the middle east Masdar is most definitely a test case for a carbon neutral city that responds to the constraints of its environment.  It is entirely likely that future cities combine the lessons learned from both in their construction.

From Foster + Partner’s Website:

The Masdar Institute

The Masdar Institute (MI) is the first part of the wider Masdar City Master-plan to be realized and creates a focus for the entire programme, as well as setting the context for subsequent development. Initially, five MSc programmes will be established and as well as undertaking research with MIT, Masdar faculty members will be able to work within the Masdar Research Network. The MI campus embodies the principles and goals of the Masdar City Master-plan to create a prototypical and sustainable city, one in which residents and commuters can enjoy the highest quality of life with the lowest environmental footprint. All developments within the city are to be carbon neutral and zero waste.

The buildings are oriented to provide optimum shade and reduce cooling loads. Shaded colonnades at podium level exploit the benefits of exposed thermal mass and transitional thermal spaces are integrated to mediate between internal and external zones. Facades are designed to respond to their orientation and photovoltaic installations on every roof are combined with carefully positioned photovoltaic panels to shade streets and buildings. Green linear parks adjacent to the buildings capture cooling night-time winds, with wind gates employed to control hot winds. The ventilation strategy for the streets and night time cooling is further enhanced by wind towers and courtyards.

Pedestrian circulation is primarily at podium deck level, where a shaded route throughout the campus is provided. The buildings within MI are made up primarily of laboratories and residential accommodation, supported by a gymnasium, canteen, café, library and landscaped areas that contribute to the campus environment and forge a new destination within the city. The laboratories – and the interactive laboratory space – are at the heart of the development and offer the optimum flexible, column free space possible within the strict loading and vibration criteria. The residential element further integrates the principles of the master-plan and provides one, two and three bedroom apartments in low-rise, high-density blocks. These complete the master-plan street-scape and urban form, while acting as a social counterpoint to the intense laboratory environment. Source

NVS: The Biggest Mall in the World

Promotional video for The Dubai Mall.

“A new center of the earth, the Dubai Mall! …. Step through four different entrances into the mall with a difference”

Mayne warns Dubai set for ‘ecological disaster’ – Building Design

Oh my it looks like I am breaking my Dubai rule yet again, of course once again I am doing it to be a negative Nancy. Maybe we should just call this the Dubai Reality Check week! Over at Building Design there is an article on Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne, who announced in his address to the World Architecture Congress’s Cityscape Dubai conference that Dubai is building itself up for an ‘ecological disaster’ if it continues on the path it is currently taking.

The architect stated that the dominance of the private sector in the gulf state has led to a serious lack of overall planning and that this combined with the sheer speed of development will lead to a major crisis in the future.

Its true really, do we have any idea what kind of traffic patterns we are going to see from the residents of a building like the Burg Dubai? While the building has a number of built in amenities it isn’t likely that they are all going to just stay inside. Since most of the city is being built all at once, just what is it going to look like at the ground and on the human level once its done.

Mayne goes on to say;

“There is no connected tissue,” he said. “It might work today, but the prognosis is not good for the future.

“It’s not going to work on many levels, from social to infrastructure and ecological. It’s going to be a disaster in ecological terms.

“The political class is no longer in charge of cities… which means there is no planning. Los Angeles is a prototype for that. The private sector rules. It takes hours to get downtown in LA as there is no public transport.”s

Of course this is true and not true. The political class owns the private sector here. Nakheel properties, is owned by the Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem. So one could argue that the political class still exerts a pretty hefty hand in affairs. The article is worth checking out.

burjskyline

Mayne warns Dubai set for ‘ecological disaster’ – Building Design

The Manpower Behind the Monuments

Photo by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Photo by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

It takes an army to build a monument, many of the worlds greatest were envisioned by kings and the fabulously rich, but the actual construction is often done by the poor, the disenfranchised, and in some cases ‘the owned,’ just ask the ancient Egyptians. Unions and fair pay tend to make glorious monuments overpriced.

One of the things that I have been in some way trying to do is avoid posting too much about Dubai. For the most part its a topic that I feel is blogged to death and at Urban Neighbourhood we are trying as best as we can in this electronic world of bits and bites to come up with at least semi original content. We have broken this avoidance in the past with mentions in the Heliotropic Houses article and the Lilypad Article.

Today we are going to break the ‘rule’ again, but not to fawn over yet another mega mall or the worlds next tallest building, today we bring you an article from The Guardian about the people who actually build all these monuments. The thousands of migrant labourers. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad brings us an article about his journey into Mousafah, a labour camp that these workers temporarily call home, they certainly will not be welcome to stay when they are done. To tell a story about what it is like to be the hands that build the towers and islands that are making Dubai so famous.

“Once they arrive in the United Arab Emirates, migrant workers are treated little better than cattle, with no access to health care and many other basic rights. The company that sponsors them holds on to their passports – and often a month or two of their wages to make sure that they keep working. And for this some will earn just 400 dirhams (£62) a month.

A group of construction engineers told me, with no apparent shame, that if a worker becomes too ill to work he will be sent home after a few days. “They are the cheapest commodity here. Steel, concrete, everything is up, but workers are the same.”

The article is worth the read it makes the amazing speed at which Dubai is being constructed a little more understandable and a little less fantastic.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad visits the impoverished camps for the men building the skyscrapers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi | World news | The Guardian

Photos on flickr

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