Urbaneering Utopia: A New Profession for the Design of Cities


February 7th, 2013 – Lecture

Speaker:
Maria Aiolova

Summary:
Maria began her lecture with the introduction of her Terreform One Lab, a school (established by herself) consisting of engineers, artists, architects, scientists etc, dedicated to develop sustainable design innovations. These students are to become “urbaneers” as she calls them, which are “multidisciplinary advocates whose job is to merge design, science and planning into urban environments.” The ultimate goal of the school is to establish “Ecotopia,” a sustainable re-development of our current condition.
Maria began to explain how her school was formed and renovated to meet the requirements needed to conduct the kind of experiments that they go through.  She then began to introduce some her latest projects, beginning with the rendition of Brooklyn, New York. The idea was to re-plan the city with a more sustainable and ‘organic’ approach, replacing roads with rivers, increasing productive agricultural land and green space as well as innovative ways to maximize water filtration.
Maria then introduced us to much smaller scale projects but pertaining to alternative ways of transportation. The XD lamb soft car is a design strategy to virtually eliminate the possibly injury and death by vehicle. The other concept was the Blimp Bumper Bus, a blimp that transported residents in a safer, faster, and easier fashion.
The next series of projects pertained to what she calls “whole ecology design.” This notion involves living infrastructure, capable of growing and “living” on its own. The first example included the Fab Tree Hab, which way the idea of growing shelter from trees and guiding/ manipulating it way of growing. The other example was the Meat House, a home that is made out of artificially made meat.

Personal Reflection:
I personally think Terreform One is one of the smartest and innovative design practices to date. Quickly touching back on previous seminars, the importance of architects working with planners, engineers, and residents was stressed in accomplishing proper design applications. Terreform one is prime advocate of this notion, as they involve more professions with a wider range of technique, and because of it they have established possibilities that really shouldn’t be possible right now. The idea of how they collaborate and design on multiple levels of scale is frankly fascinating to me.
However, as innovative, creative, and astonishing as some of their designs are, some of them I really don’t agree with. The Blimp Bus is a smart approach, but I think the concept is decades ahead of being brought into our urban condition. Even if it were created and brought into our present fabric, I don’t believe it would be accepted. Speaking of acceptance, the Meat House is another example I don’t necessarily agree with. To me the idea of living in something living just doesn’t sit well with me nor does it seem appealing. With this being said, its easy to forget the concept behind the design as opposed to form. All of their ideas pertain to smart, sustainable, innovative strategies that have yet to be explored nor introduced, and as it is so they are arguably pioneers of their practice.

bimp greenhouse

Photo 1 Taken From:
http://scyfilove.com/3351/terreform-1-brings-a-science-fiction-ecotopia-to-us/

Photo 2 Taken From:
http://inhabitat.com/video-grow-a-living-treehouse-with-terreform/

Agricultural Urbanism


February 7th, 2013 – Seminar 3

Group Members:
Mitchell McIntosh, Brydget Lewicki, Darylanne Hamelin, Samantha Brodick, Lindsay Ledohowski, Ellen Enns, Amanda Reis, Caleb McGinn, Anita Robles

Reading:
Webb, Nigel L. “Urban Agriculture: Environment, Ecology and the Urban Poor.” Urban Forum, Vol 9, Issue 1, pg 95-107.

Summary:
This article analyzes and depicts exactly how the ecological benefits that are generally perceived with urban agriculture differ from those that actually arise in reality. It takes a more thorough analysis on five types of ecological benefits that impact both the human environment and population.
The first of which is soil quality, by adopting particular cultivation techniques and by recycling waste material. “Trench bedding” is a concept that involves digging a trench of soil that is replaced with waste material in alternating thin layers. The resulting garden bed has shown to improve water retention qualities and fertility levels due to the integration of the composting concept. As this method is analyzed, its efficiency is not questioned. Instead, it focuses on the level to which this concept has not been adopted in given areas that have advertised themselves doing so. Given examples include Port Alfred and Port Elizabeth.
The second is the promotion and encouragement of self-reliance in the urban poor to produce their own food crops. The aim is to reduce dependence on food imports from surrounding rural areas. A retention of peri-urban land for cultivation purposes, development of (pre-existing and new) spaces within the city dedicated to urban agriculture, and to re-evaluate current agricultural land by replacing cash crops with food crops giving, the poor the opportunity to grow their own food and reduce the need for transported food from outside of the area. In addition, it encourages the poor to take care of the land and improve it as a result.
The third is an emphasis on the gains from urban forestry and fuel-wood.
The idea is generated from Lae in Papua New Guinea where a mill was set up with the aid from national and international development agencies. The outcome was free off-cuts to city dwellers but no mention of the distribution methods nor the extent to which the poor benefited from this idea.
The fourth is a general environmental improvement associated with noise, climate, and groundwater. There is a rising need/ emphasis “to foster resource saving and ecologically sound, sustainable, urban development.” However, no ideas have been generated to do so yet.
Finally, the last point analyzed is a heightened environmental awareness. This point ties in with all of them essentially, as a heightened environmental awareness creates an improvement in individual contribution and therefore the environment itself. “A sense of pride and achievement results in further efforts to upgrade and improve surroundings.”

Proposed Discussion:

Do you think inner-city residence are going to implement urban agriculture?

What are some of the benefits of including designers in the implementation of urban agriculture strategies?

Personal Reflection Generated from Group Discussion:
I think inner-city residence will and should implement urban agriculture as long as their urban fabric is capable of doing so. To try and force a concept into a framework where it simply cannot exist is setting up for failure. Take Winnipeg for example, our urban situation is relatively small and we have an obsession to sprawl outside of its perimeter. With that being said, one idea that was generated in class was to advertise benefits in support of the idea. One can obtain tax cuts or exclusive rights in some way or another could possibly influence the notion to take place, otherwise it simply wouldn’t.

I think that there are many benefits to including designers in the implementation of urban agricultural strategies, its just a matter of knowing how to pursue the most effective strategy. The key is collaboration, having designers, engineers, and planners work together and consider the needs and wants of the residence to design effective solutions. They simply should not design for the local but with them where a basic level of consideration and understanding becomes the first step.

Reading:
Drescher, Alex. “The Integration of Urban Agriculture in Urban Planning – An Analysis of the current status and constraints.” Annotated Bibliography of Urban Agriculture. Etc Urban Agriculture Programme, March 2003. Pg. 756.

Summary:
This article discusses the issues and problems as to how urban agriculture is failing to be incorporated into urban planning. As the article suggests, implementing land policies has become “not only politically and technically difficult, it can also be costly.” City residence typically have not responded well to planners designs/ wishes as they create their own series program of development. As a result, this directly correlates with urban poverty and food security, the urban land market, and issues related to sustainable land development. As the article suggests, the problem starts with a low recognition and interest in urban and periurban agricultural production from planner and politicians. They essentially provide native products as opposed to rural agriculture land and can save costs from imported food, and can reduce pressure to cultivate new rural land.

Proposed Discussion:

What do you think are some of the obstacles preventing widespread implementation of urban agriculture in poor neighbourhoods?

Personal Reflection Generated from Group Discussion:
I think it comes down to what it always comes down to, being money. If the money was there, anything would be possible, and implementation of urban agriculture into poor neighborhoods doesn’t sit at the top of the to do list in a lot of city’s. In addition to costs, there is a lack of education in which city’s don’t know the limits or the potentials of their land as to what they can or cannot do with it. A lot of design solutions are site specific (as touched on in earlier seminars), but there is a lack of understanding how to manipulate other design innovations to meet the standards of their own issues. There are a lot of ways to go about it, but just as the article suggests, if its not money or education it’s a lack of “recognition and interest.”

Photo 1:
Winnipeg Industrial Situation Years Ago
Manitoba Historical Maps. Winnipeg Industrial Development Map. Photograph. Flickr. February 1st, 1980.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/manitobamaps/2231151457/

winnipegfarm

Photo 2:
Port Elizabeth Farming
Vanessas View. IMG_1843. Photograph. Flickr. September 1st, 2011.
IMG_1843

Sustainable Site Planning

January 31st, 2013 – Seminar 2

Group Members:
Clair Davis, Jody Miller, Elyssa Wood, Tong Jiao, Madeline Sweetland, Erns Wall

Reading:
Bry Sarte. S. “Sustainable Infrastructure: The Guide to Green Engineering and Design.” John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2010.

Summary:
The article focuses on the notion as to how current sustainable site planning is flawed and in turn, how it should be done. The flaw begins with the separation in design between landscape (form) and system (function). Engineers have been given initiative to design function while architecture is left as an afterthought to accomplish form. As the article suggests, “form and function are never separate. Each form has multiple functions and each function takes many forms.” With this being said, there must be an understanding that the two are on an even level and must work together in order to achieve a sustainable environment.
The first thing that must take place in order to accomplish sustainable site planning is a series of studies on the site itself. The site must be understood as a living system, meaning a complete understanding of its elements and how they all work together. “The better we understand the complexities of the systems we build upon, the more we can harness natural energy, flow, and materials.” With this being said, there must be an understanding of the natural patterns of the site, involving inventories such as geological, soil health, hydrology, wetlands and hydric soils, open water bodies, biology, native vegetation, and so on. As designers, there is an importance to understand these in relevance/ context to the site that we are designing for so that structure and site can work as a congruent living system as opposed to being separate from one another.

Proposed Discussion:

Are there any ideas of how to plan and design local sites in a more sustainable way within the Winnipeg context?

Why isn’t Winnipeg making more of an effort for sustainable site development?

What are some ways that contextual analysis can be beneficial to the planning of the site?

Personal Reflection Generated from Group Discussion:
I think that the first question is hard to address without pinpointing an exact location within Winnipeg. As the article suggests, there are a number of inventories that play factor particular to a specific site, even though there are similarities within the region. With this being said, you can’t design for Winnipeg but instead you must design in context of the specific site (within Winnipeg) as no two sites are the same. Once you obtain a general analysis of the inventories, you can design in collaboration with the site to work as a congruent living system, which will lead to a much more sustainable outcome.
This in turn plays into the fact why Winnipeg is “not” seen as making more of an effort for sustainable site development. Obviously, to achieve a sustainable environment we must be specific to the site. When we look at Winnipeg, it has flaws just as any other city, but the scale to which we begin to achieve sustainability within a site is much smaller because we are typically a smaller city. With this taken into consideration, our changes are not as prominent as others, so even if we have taken appropriate steps in moving in a more sustainable direction, it is not as obvious as other projects in other city’s are because they are at a much larger scale. With this being said, we focus on our larger scale areas that need improvement such as Bishop Grandin. As brought up in class, there is a tremendous amount of wasted space in that particular location that has potential for sustainable development. The fact that it is just that, “un-developed,” is seen as a negative sense in our minds instead of an opportunity for potential.

With regards to contextual analysis, a good example of this was a lecture that we had earlier on with Kelly Beaverford that was used as an example in class. Her program focuses on building structures in Africa in which she herself learned first hand how important contextual analysis was to a place that has such a vast difference in both customs and expectations then what she was used to here in North America. For example, there were certain blessings that were required at certain stages in the building process. If Kelley was to ignore these customs, she was told by a local that the structure would be deemed haunted in a sense, and no one would use it. In addition, she could not decorate/ style the building in a typical North American fashion. Colors and textures had to stay relevant to site conditions to pertain to things such as mud and rain conditions so that the building would be easy to maintain and stay relevant to the landscape. The importance of contextual analysis became evident in her experience, as she had to adhere to both cultural custom and site specifications to establish acceptance.

Reading:
Naess, Peter, Nina Vogel. “Sustainable Urban Development and the Multi-Level Transition Perspective.” Environmental Innovations and Societal Transition, no. 4 (2012): 36-50.

Summary:
This article focuses on the various levels of occupancy within a given city and how they must be ‘transitioned’ to achieve a higher sustainable outcome. As the article suggests, sustainable urban development begins with identifying what is working and what isn’t. It’s a matter of strengthening and improving pre-existing structures and spaces that are parallel to a sustainable regime, and either dismembering or redesigning those that aren’t.
The article compares European site planning to that of North America and the vast differences in steps that each has taken, further distinguishing a variance in results and impact. European cities have identified the “negative environmental consequences of land consuming and sprawling urban development” in which there solution revolves around the notion of a compact city. By creating higher density, the transition focuses on transportation infrastructure, being a key target in improving sustainability. By improving transportation infrastructure, cities become less car dependent and travel by other means, which in turn become more practical as locations are in closer proximity. The article explains how its expensive to provide innovative solutions to transportation when dealing with low density, therefore a transition of pre-existing system and structures becomes the appropriate measure.
The article then proposes a solution as to how this transition theory can be analyzed and applied to any city which will distinguish necessary areas to improve upon. The multi-level perspective (MPL)  uses three distinct analytical levels to effectively analyze the degree of succession that the given city is having in its steps to achieve a more sustainable outcome.

Proposed Discussion:

Would you be willing to give up space for a small intercity habitat?

Why is Winnipeg still expanding into the rural areas instead of redeveloping urban areas?

Personal Reflection Generated from Group Discussion:
Personally, I would not be willing to give up space for a smaller intercity habitat, solely because I share the same mentality as all others. There is a common mentality that the individual shares, being that the individual cannot establish such a large and dramatic change. It comes back to the notion of scale and entitlement, that everyone wants bigger and better then the other, and no one is really willing to go backwards because there’s no urgent need for it.
If Winnipeg is analyzed specifically, in comparison to a lot of other cities we have a large amount of space to expand with no real restriction or parameters as to where to do it. This is solely due to how our city is shaped and situated. Both our urban fabric and economy allows us to build outside of the site with minimal cost compared to others, while still being in relatively close proximity the heart of the city. With this “availability” there’s no urgency to develop change, even though we know its heading down the wrong path.

 

Photo 1:
Pisanko, Dmitry. Untitled. Photograph. Flickr. June 14th, 2009.

Photo 2:
Pisanko, Dmitry. Untitled. Photograph. Flickr. June 14th, 2009.

Omer Arbel Office (OAO)


February 7th, 2013 – Lecture

Speaker:
Omer Arbel

Summary:
Omer came to the University of Manitoba to present a series of his works that are established without any influence or pre-conception of form. In turn, his notion of design focuses on procedure and systems with enough looseness for a design to come to be on its own. As a result, his designs are unique and ironic in a sense, as one would come to think that his designs would be simple and easy, but his process, thought, and outcomes suggests otherwise.

His first work that he presented and explored was Project 19, a unique process and development of sandcasting to form metallic objects in an imprecise fashion. His office (OAO) takes this sandcasting and overspills it, creating a unique shape every time they go through the process. From here they create a contrast between the course lava like texture as the bowl is polished to an almost mirror finish. The outcome is outstanding, appearing very simple and elegant yet organic and chaotic at the same time.

Another work that he shared was Project 28, a glass blowing technique that causes the form to invert within itself to a degree. This concept is done by reversing the process of typical glass blowing, as air is removed instead of added. The outcome creates bubbles of glass within bubbles of glass where each one is different in shape, size, and location. As a result, this project has revealed new potentials in the art, and created an outcome/ form that is unique every time the procedure is done.

One of the last works that Omer took us through was Project 41.1. As his other projects were developed without any ‘strings’ per say, this one had to meet a minimal set of requirements to meet guidelines of a particular competition. The competition called for a unique display installation to present a series of surrealist art pieces in a Vancouver art gallery.
Project 41.1 can be summarized as a mold, where hay bills encased by wooden boxes were sprayed with simple foam insulation. The boxes were of different dimension and not necessarily set amongst each other, creating crevasses between hay bills and boxes. As the foam insulation cures, it expands, and the crevasses and form becomes seamless. After the foam is completely solid, the boxes and hay bills were removed creating a linear encasing for the art pieces, contrasted with an organic and unpredictable texture surrounding each one. Ironically, the design became an art piece in itself, and lost the competition simply because it took away from the art pieces that it was intended to show case. To Omer and any designer, that kind of rejection is as good as any victory.

Personal Reflection:
Coming from a family of artists and being exposed first hand to some of the work and steps in creating art pieces, I thought Omer’s presentation was one of the most inspiring and influential of the year. He’s very modest when he presents his works, yet remains true to his intentions and process. The concept of designing through system as opposed to result is frankly a terrifying notion, but beautiful and pure at the same time. The beauty of his work is evident in the results of all of his projects, in which each one is different from another.

One of the things I truly appreciated in his work is his use of various mediums and canvas’. All of his projects explore potentials of glass, foam, metal, etc, and in doing so he defies the limitations of each one to create unique and elegant results. Typically an artist sticks to a preferred medium and does what he can to make it his/ her own, but Omer not only chooses to work with different ones but manipulates them in innovative ways to essentially redefine the art as a result.

Another thing that I appreciated in his work is the misconception that follows it. Revealing how his forms are created without seeing them, to the blind eye, appear rudimentary and simple. Yet in reality, there is so much skill that is involved to create the outcomes that he does, which becomes evident in his results.
With continuous exploration, trial and error, his pieces and potentials will continue to carry along an unpredictable and redefining element to them, which will do nothing but further his success as a designer and artist.

Mrechopark. Omer Abel. Photograph. Flickr. April 22, 2012.
omer abel

Biodiversity in the Next Century


February 7th, 2013 – Seminar 1

Group Members:
Tom, Livya, Kathleen, Stella, Kelvin, May, Zaenab, Larissa, Irene

Reading: 
Kowarik, Ingo, Andreas Langer. “Natur-Park Südgelände: Linking Conservation and Recreation in an Abandoned Railyard in Berlin.” 2005.

Summary:
The first reading entitled “Natur-Park Südgelände: Linking Conservation and Recreation in an Abandoned Railyard in Berlin” discusses landscapes of the post-war and the potentials that have arisen as a result.
The article isolates on Südgelände, an old freight railyard that essentially was left alone for four decades after the war, in which it arose naturally into a combination between woodland and rare herbaceous species. In just ten years (from 1881-1891) studies reveal that the area of woodlands had doubled from 37% to 70%. The issue with this from an ecological standpoint is that the woodlands essentially are consuming the herbaceous species, as the herbaceous vegetation provide habitats for a multitude of threatened, rare plant and animal species where as the woodlands do not.
The railyard has been transformed into a public park, as the original intention was to clear the vegetation and erect a new train station. In its time since, the Natur Park Südgelände has gained tremendous amount of public response and feedback.

Proposed Discussion:

Should humans intervene with the natural processes at work in the park or should they let nature take its course?

Should the park be open to the public and turned into a place for people to explore and spend time?

Could this/ is this area a good example of successful integration of park in an urban area?

Personal Reflection Generated from Group Discussion:
I believe the first question can be answered in two ways. The first of which regards intervention as destruction, the other defining it as integration. The park’s woodlands proportions are growing at an exponential rate that see the herbaceous vegetation eventually becoming entirely consumed. As mentioned before, these herbaceous species provide habitats for rare and threatened animal and plant species. With this taken into consideration, I think human intervention is necessary not just through integration nor destruction, but a medium between the two, being isolation. As the article discusses but in a different sense, a degree of zoning has been established. The park already has areas sectioned off from the public to insure health and growth of particular species. As studies have revealed an imbalance of vegetative growth key to succession of particular species, I believe the same principle must be applied not to isolate human from vegetation, but vegetation from vegetation. As hard as it may be, and perhaps as impractical, I believe that areas must be sanctioned and dedicated to particular types of vegetative growth (woodlands and herbaceous) while the public area can develop naturally as it has. This way vegetative species can still co-exist amongst each other without threatening a complete dominance of one over the other and sacrificing particular species at the same time.

With regards to the second question, I do think that the park should be open to the public and turned into a place for people to explore and spend time, but with given parameters. The site has cultural value, as it exists because of the war. This kind of poetry can’t be designed and establishes a historical connection back to the public. As far as I’m concerned the public has every right to explore and appreciate the site, but not destroy it. Nature has taken back and created a beautiful paradigm between human development and natural restoration. It has created a landscape that has written its own poetry and has done so on its own without human improvement nor care. As it has managed to become what it has without human presence, they have no right to dictate it but instead, appreciate it.

I believe this park is a successful integration of park in an urban area but there are particular aspects I don’t agree with. As the park has essentially formed itself naturally, I believe that incorporating design within the park should be done so with the same notion. For example, the article talks about and shows how the train tracks are used as the walk-ways to navigate throughout the site. To me this is a brilliant design integration as vegetation will not grow as strong between the track and it serves as a continuous reminder of the railway that used to completely consume the land before it restored itself after the war.
In contrast, I don’t agree with the art installations nor the renovations of the trains that exist within the park. I believe that this takes away from its identity and quality as a result.
The park is a perfect example of Mother Nature taking back and co-existing with human development and for that reason it is a rare and beautiful example of integrating park in an urban context.

Reading:
Pereira, Henrique,Paul W. Leadley, Vania Proenca, Rob Alkemade, Jorn P. W. Scharlemann, Juan F. Fernandez-Manjarres, Miguel B. Araujo, Patricia Balvanera, Reinette Biggs, William W. L. Cheung, Louise Chini, H. David Cooper, Eric L. Gilman, Sylvie Guenette, George C. Hurtt, Henry P. Huntington, Georgina M. Mace, Thierry Oberdorff, Carmen Ravenga, Patricia Rodrigues, Robert J. Scholes, Ussif Rashid Sumaila, and Matt Walpole. “Scenarios for Global Biodiversity in the 21st Century.” 2010.

Summary:
The second reading entitled “Scenarios for Global Biodiversity in the 21st Century” refers to the measures taken when analyzing future trajectories of biodiversity. The article suggests that there are three main steps/ processes that establish these models being: (1) scenarios of socioeconomic development pathways, (2) projection of direct drivers, and (3) projections of impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. As the article suggests, all three of which are directly correlated.
These models are constructed and used to analyze global terrestrial, freshwater, and marine biodiversity scenarios that are accompanied by a list of factors and catalysts. However, there is a degree of uncertainty with the findings of these models based on how they are done and the lack of models where they are needed to further the findings of others.

Personal Reflection Generated from Group Discussion:
I believe that even with the technology that we have at our footsteps, it will only proceed in being harder to dictate catalysts and accumulate results. As some of these models rely on data projected from ‘less developed’ ones, that is clearly one of the first issues. However, even if that was not a problem, I think that to calculate solid quantitative data in our present age is next to impossible. These models analyze ecosystems and gradually work there way down to dissect and analyze more specific components. The problem with this is the first stepping-stone. All ecosystems are directly affected by climate change, and as climate change is changing in unpredictable rates and ways, these models are flawed to begin with or continuously need to be re-issued to achieve more accurate information.

 

p hoto 1:
Only in RAW. Natur-Park. Photograph. Flickr. October 3rd, 2012.
Natur-Park

Photo 2:
Only in RAW. Natur-Park. Photograph. FLickr. October 3rd, 2012.
Natur-Park