Friday, April 30, 2010

Russian president gets green welcome

COPENHAGEN. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the Danish capital Copenhagen earlier this week, and as usual the Danes took the opportunity to demonstrate their ambition to be the climate capital of the world.
President Medvedev was taken on a tour of the city’s first public carbon neutral building, the so called Green Lighthouse on the University of Copenhagen campus.
I also spent the week in Copenhagen, doing interviews for my project on the Nordic capitals. I will write a series of blog reports from the Danish capital in the next couple of weeks.
On my way from one new development to another, I jumped off the buss to get a glimpse of the Green Lighthouse (right) on a quiet backyard near the busy Tagensvej. The CO2-neutral building, which opened late last year in time for the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, has become one of the symbols of the city’s green ambitions.
The round building stands as an example of what sustainable construction of the future can look like. When it was opened last year, a representative of the university said that the building isn’t an example of “rocket science” but rather of “common sense”.
Three quarters of the energy savings in the building are obtained by its design, for instance an optimal use of sun light. The building is positioned for maximum use of the sun for heating and light. Automatic systems for heating, cooling and ventilation keep energy use at a minimum.
The Green Lighthouse is a public-private venture meant to serve as an example for Danish developers of how they can contribute to Copenhagen’s ambition to become the world’s first carbon neutral capital.
The building is used as a student service center.

Copyright: Russian Presidential Press and Information Service
President Dmitry Medvedev (right) on a tour of the Green Lighthouse.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Iconic buildings in the shadow of each other

LONDON. Every city wants an iconic building that becomes a well-known trademark around the world. A big city usually has several, many of them historical buildings that have been around for ages.
For the past 10-20 years architects have, with the assistance of new computer technology, been able to outdo each other in their ambition to secure the iconic label with buildings that twist and turn in mindboggling ways.
On the way back to my hotel in London recently, I stopped to look at a big hole in the ground where one such building is under way.
It’s called The Pinnacle and it will spiral 287 meters towards the sky in London’s financial district, a few blocks from Liverpool Street Station.
This is how the architect, Kohn Pedersen Fox, describes the project:
“The tower’s complex tapered geometry – resolved through advanced computational parametric modelling – comprises inwardly planar surfaces, which are linked by conical surfaces.”
Looking at images (see below) of the future tower, you could also describe it like this:
Take a piece of thick, triangular paper, roll it tightly together and raise it like an imaginary tower.
The Pinnacle will dominate the skyline and overshadow what is now the symbol of London’s financial district – Norman Foster’s “the Gherkin” (right) from 2004. That is of course not the real name of the building, which is usually known as 30 St Mary Axe after its address.
This 180-metre circular tower must be one the most beautiful tall buildings in the world, but it now runs the risk of being dwarfed by other, taller buildings.
These are, by the way, interesting streets to walk around if you like to see unusual buildings. Just a short stroll from “the Gherkin” you’ll find the Lloyd’s Building (left) from 1986, one these “inside-out” buildings (think Pompidou Centre in Paris).
It’s hard to take your eyes off this building, designed by Richard Rogers. Like a shining factory in the midst of strict office buildings it stands out not because of height but because its peculiarity.
Pipes, tubes, ladders and lifts run on the outside of the building. It shows the anatomy of a building deprived of its protective skin.
The Pinnacle will face tough competition in these neighbourhoods. Size will not guarantee victory in the coming architectural beauty contest.

30 St Mary Axe will be dwarfed by taller neighbours.

Copyright: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and Cityscape
The Pinnacle, swirling towards the sky, will dominate London's skyline.

The Lloyd's Building is one of the most unusual in London.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

US cities getting ready for streetcars

TRANSPORTATION. On Wikipedia it’s called The Great American streetcar scandal (a k a The General Motors streetcar conspiracy), the history of how many American cities lost there streetcars some 50 years ago.
According to these theories it was a scheme by General Motors together with a tire company and two oil companies, all with interests in an expanded dependency on automobiles, that brought down public transportation in many American cities.
With the American automobile industry in crisis, streetcars now seem ready for a comeback in cities across the United States. New Urban News reports that 22 cities around the country now have plans for streetcar lines that could go into construction within two years, all thanks to new policies introduced by the Obama Administration.
This will of course not happen without discussions and political fights.
The Washington Post writes about protests against plans for an extensive streetcar network in the U.S. capital. Work has already begun on parts of the system and streetcars made in the Czech Republic (left) have been bought.
But protesters claim that wires and poles for the streetcars would be ugly intrusions to the grand vistas of this magnificent center of power. To their support they have an 1889 law that bans overhead wires in the historic city, according to the Washington Post.
This could slow the implementation of the streetcar network and increase its cost.
But the Post argues that this is the time for Washington, D.C., to take the lead and inspire other American cities to introduce quiet and pollution-free public transportation like streetcars.
“But the deeper issue here is Washington’s relation to the nation. Do we want to preserve the early 20th-century sense of ourselves as a grand, imperial city that overawes tourists? Or do we want to be a model city for the 21st century, a place where visitors from across the country and around the world can be inspired by innovative experiments in sustainable urban life?”, asks the newspaper.
The plans in Washington call for so called “hybrid” streetcars that run on batteries through sensitive areas where there would be no overhead wires that interfere with the views. But most of the 60-km network would have the wires.
Portland, Oregon, has long been a leader in sustainable urban development in the United States and has an extensive streetcar network. Now major cities like Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta are planning for streetcars, as well as smaller cities like Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Copyright: The District Department of Transportation (this photo and above)
Tracks on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1962, the year streetcar service stopped in Washington.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Celebrating 100 – with a few questions

This blog saw first light a hundred days ago. It began as a spin-off from a project I’m working on where I look at the Nordic capitals and their ambitions to be leaders in modern urban development.
Now I’m getting obsessed. We are in the midst of an era of dramatic development in many cities around the world, and I hadn’t fully realized the proportions of this. One expert described these changes as the biggest since the end of World War II.
I just got back from London, where I saw some of the huge regeneration projects going on as the city gets ready for the Olympic Games 2012 (the person to the right is me in front of the Olympic stadium in Stratford).
There will be a series of reports on this in the blog later on.
Stockholm and Copenhagen, two of the cities in my project, compete to be known as the most climate-friendly and liveable cities in the world. Oslo is working on a facelift of historic proportions and in Helsinki they say the city is going through the biggest changes in a hundred years.
I was supposed to have spent last week in the Finnish capital, but all flights were cancelled due to the ash cloud from Iceland. Perhaps I was being punished for not including Reykjavik in my project. I’ll go to Helsinki a few weeks from now instead.
Old harbour fronts and derelict industrial sites are being redeveloped as many cities grow within their present borders. Ambitions are raised when it comes to urban planning and architecture, with mixed results.
No project is presented without the word sustainable included in its description.
This trend can be seen all over Europe. In some places it’s done on a huge scale, like in Hamburg where the HafenCity development will be crowned by an iconic new concert hall (left). Some times it’s on a smaller scale, like the harbour front development where I live west of Stockholm.
In the United States the debate is growing over how to end suburban sprawl and create lively, sustainable urban centres instead.
During a trip to the American Midwest in October last year I saw this going on even in places like Fort Wayne, Indiana, where spent a year as an exchange student a long time ago. It was very encouraging.
Writing this blog has just been an experiment to see if anybody would read it. I haven’t done much to spread the word about it.
When I go to Google Analytics (a great tool for bloggers!) for the statistics, I’ve been encouraged to see that I have a small but rather steady group of readers spread out in some 60 countries in all parts of the world.
I’ve had a little over 1,000 unique visitors, which isn’t a lot. But more interesting is that many of these visitors seem to come back regularly and spend enough time on blog to read my stories.
So now I’m getting curious. Who are you?
Who’s the regular visitor(s) in Virginia that spend an average of more than five minutes on the blog each visit? Who in Cambridge, that great English centre of knowledge, finds it worthwhile to spend an average of 19 minutes on each visit?
Who reads this in Canada, Chile, Serbia or the United Arab Emirates?
If you have a minute, I would really appreciate some feedback.
What makes you read this? What could I do differently? What should be the focus of this blog?Anybody interested in some form of cooperation?
You can write a comment below or send me an e-mail (see e-mail address in the column to the right).
Soon my project will be finished and I’ll have to make a decision on the future of the blog.
Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Urban ambitions: Plans for greener streets in downtown Fort Wayne...

...and silos converted into modern residences in the old harbour of Copenhagen.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"World class cities: bling and banality"

ARCHITECTURE. With many cities going through rapid growth, there are worries that identity and beauty will be lost to bland modernity in identical developments from Hamburg to Helsinki.
In Stockholm and elsewhere, local politicians want to create “world class cities”.
What’s wrong with that?
“A great deal is wrong. Why? Because it’s yet another manifestation of ways in which cities are beginning to resemble one another all too closely, whether rising from Scandinavian archipelagos, tidal Cockney rivers or great plains remote from the sea”, writes Jonathan Glancey, well-known architecture critic of the Guardian, in a column in BD online, “the architects’ website”.
Glancey has been invited to participate in an international discussion on the subject in Stockholm in early May. He sets the tone in his column, where he stresses that the joy of great cities lies in their differences.
He warns that cities run the risk of being harmed by globalised architecture and planning, when politicians and planners aim for the “world class” label.
“World class cities”, writes Glancey, “spells architectural bombast, bling and banality”.

Friday, April 23, 2010

More "copenhagenizing" in New York

URBAN PLANNING. When New York mayor Michael Bloomberg hired Danish “urban quality consultants” Gehl Architects three years ago he started a small revolution in the city’s streetscape.
Cars were banned from parts of Broadway and Times Square was taken over by pedestrians. The metropolis on the Hudson wanted to be more like Copenhagen, a city where bicyclists and pedestrians are given priority.
Bloomberg and the city’s Department of Transportation have listened carefully to Jan Gehl, the well known Danish urban design consultant, and his colleagues.
The pilot project on Times Square has been made permanent. The amount of bicycle lanes in New York has been doubled and the work to make the city more pleasant for its inhabitants and visitors continues.
New York Times reports that the Bloomberg administration now is ready to move ahead with radical measures on another major traffic corridor – 34th Street (above) in Midtown Manhattan. Plans call for this congested street to be cut off in the middle.
A new pedestrian plaza will be created between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, right in front of the Empire State Building and near Macy’s department store.
Buses will be allowed through the plaza in a special bus lane. All other traffic will be stopped.
Gehl Architects are involved in urban improvement projects all over the world, from Mexico City where they are introducing bicycling to the celebrated regeneration of central Melbourne in Australia. Gehl often refer to their work as “copenhagenizing” cities.
The project on Manhattan’s 34th Street is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An old master brings out the paint box

LONDON/DESIGN: RENZO PIANO. For a place so full of life and energy, with such a stimulating mix of cultures, the impression of London can sometimes feel rather drab. Grey skies are common, so are grey buildings.
If that is the way you see this metropolis, be prepared for a minor shock if you accidently end up on Saint Giles High Street just a block away from the crowds at Tottenham Court Road tube station.
As you turn the corner you will run into a block of new buildings painted in such bright colours that you’ll think you’re in the middle of a giant fruit basket. It is lime green, apple red, orange and lemon yellow.
Somebody brought out the paint box, and that somebody is none the less than the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano who wanted to create a “joyful heart” in the centre of London.
A local returning after a few years abroad wouldn’t believe his eyes. Five years ago the site was still occupied by a dull office complex housing staff of the Ministry of Defence. Nobody took their eyes off the street back then.
Rowan Moore in the Observer described Central Saint Giles, as the development is called, like this a few weeks ago:
“It’s like a script of a B-movie (which never made it to production, for obvious reasons) in which giant mutant chewy sweets have, following a radioactive accident, invaded the world.”
That might be interpreted as a bit negative, but Moore actually seems to like the buildings as you’ll see later on.
The old office complex was torn down to give way for the new project and its buildings of mixed sizes and colours. After some controversy over the design of the new complex where the mayor of London (Ken Livingstone at the time) wanted something big and the Borough of Camden (where Saint Giles is located) wanted something not so big, the compromise turned out to be these buildings that are modest in size but make a big impression with its colours.
The new buildings will be mixed-use with homes, offices and retail. A courtyard, described as a piazza by Piano, that will be open to the public creates a new urban space where people can take a break to relax, eat or drink coffee.
Constructing is near completion and the contrast between new and old is striking. This area, just a short walk from the madness of Oxford Street shopping, is typical of the London that is an urban mix of medieval streets and modern offices.
Across the street lies St Giles-in-the-Fields, a parish church from 1734.
Central Saint Giles is one of many examples of the ongoing regeneration of London. Another can be seen at the nearby Tottenham Court Road station.
In his review of the project, Rowan Moore of the Observer becomes more positive after the initial shock.
“Central Saint Giles will be one of a number of commercial-civic places that have sprung up over the past decade, and one of the better of them. It is dignified and refined, and the talk of transparency and openness is genuine.”
The colours, he writes, can probably be explained by Piano’s ambition to “draw attention to the overlooked location by making a bit of a splash”.

Central Saint Giles adds a splash of colour to an old London street.

The colours even rub off on the side streets.

St Giles-in-the-Fields; eternity in the midst of modernity.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The largest shard of glass you'll ever see

LONDON/DESIGN: RENZO PIANO. This is not a city of skyscrapers, and it never will be.
Italian architect master Renzo Piano knew this, of course, when he set out to design one of Europe’s tallest buildings right in the center of London. Soon this building will dominate the skyline of this huge city, but not merely by its height.
It’s the shape that will make the Shard of Glass, the popular name for Piano’s 305-meter tower, so special.
Like a slender, extremely tall pyramid the building will reach for the sky right next to London Bridge Station, one of the city’s busiest spots just south of the Thames River. The glass exterior, in the form of eight huge “shards” as Piano calls them, will define the shape and visual image of the 72-floor tower.
The concrete core of the building is now some 20 stories high. The Shard of Glass is expected to be completed in 2012, just in time for the Olympic Games in London. It will be one of many new symbols of a great metropolis reclaiming center stage.
In a couple of weeks I will come back with a series of reports on the regeneration of London.
Even the critics of skyscrapers in London seem to like Piano’s addition to the cityscape.
“While generally suspicious of skyscraper incursions in London, this one is going to work for me: shiny, sparkly, cheeky, original and a bit kitsch”, wrote the Guardian’s sharp London blogger Dave Hill a few weeks ago.
“I’m planning to visit on day one. Will wave”, wrote Hill.
London’s boisterous mayor Boris Johnson uses the Shard of Glass in his speeches as an example of the city’s resurgence.
“I’m thinking of moving in just for the view of France”, he is often heard saying.
The tower will be a mixed-use building with offices in the wide base at the bottom, a hotel further up and residences at the top. The public will have access to the building and a viewing gallery near the top is expected to become one of London’s top attractions.
In an interview presenting the project, Renzo Piano underlines the special circumstances for a tall building like this in London.
“I don’t believe it is possible to build in London a tall building by extruding the same shape from the top to bottom. It would be too small at the bottom and too big at the top…the shape of (this) tower is generous at the bottom without arrogantly touching the ground, and narrow at the top, disappearing into the air like a 16th century ship’s pinnacle of the mast top of a very tall ship.”
The Shard is described as one of the most technologically advanced towers ever built. Its sustainable features include a triple-skin glass façade containing computer-controlled venetian blinds the will shield occupants from sun and reduce the need for air-conditioning.
Heat generated by computers in the offices will be used to help heat the hotel and apartments above. It is said that the building will use 30 percent less energy than other comparable buildings.
“Fractures” between the “shards” will provide ventilation for winter gardens throughout the building.
But the main sustainable feature of the “vertical city”, as Piano calls it, is its location. Occupants are expected to use public transportation and the huge building will only have room for 47 cars.
The project includes redevelopment of the train station concourse and bus station, and a new public square that will improve a neglected urban space where some 200,000 people pass through every day.
Renzo Piano, who has his workshop in Genua, is one the world’s most respected architects. He rose to fame with the Pompidou Center in Paris in the late 70’s. One of his latest achievements is the hailed Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.
He is presently working on, among other things, a spectacular new art museum in Oslo, Norway.
Tomorrow we will look at another Piano project in London, a colourful addition to the city nearing completion.

Copyright (this photo and above, right): Sellar Property Group
The Shard of Glass will dominate London's skyline just south of River Thames.

Construction of the tower's core is well underway near London Bridge Station.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Danish capital puts focus on pedestrians

COPENHAGEN. The city known as the bicycling capital of the world will now aim to become a pedestrian’s paradise as well.
Not that Copenhagen is a bad place to walk around. Here you will find the famous Strøget (below), one of the original pedestrian streets of the world, nice parks and regenerated harbour fronts perfect for a pleasant stroll.
But now politicians in Copenhagen’s City Hall want to take walking in the Danish capital a step further by introducing a Pedestrian Strategy with the goal to increase walking with 20 percent by 2015.
“Copenhagen has long had a strategy for the bicyclists, public transportation and car traffic. But pedestrian traffic has been overlooked and therefore it is now necessary to have a strategy that will get more Copenhageners to walk more. It is both healthy to walk and it doesn’t pollute, but it also helps create more urban life”, says Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard, Mayor of the City’s technical and environmental administration to daily Berlingske Tidende.
The Pedestrian Strategy will be completed by this summer and City Hall expects that concrete measures to improve walking could be introduced in 2011.
Some of the things that could be expected are improved conditions for pedestrians going to and from public transit stops and more connected walking routes and short cuts throughout the city. Tunnels with inadequate lighting, and increased security for pedestrians are other areas that could see improvement in the future.
The new Pedestrian Strategy will also be part of the planning for all new developments in the city.
Since this blog puts some focus on the friendly battle between Copenhagen and Swedish capital Stockholm over which city is the most liveable and eco-friendly, we note that the new comprehensive plan for Stockholm that was adopted recently was headlined “The Walkable City”.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pod cars to connect Swedish universities

STOCKHOLM. A few years from now visitors to Stockholm may be able to travel like they did in old science fiction movies, in driver-less so called pod cars on elevated tracks.
If you can’t wait that long, you might be able to try it at London’s Heathrow Airport later this year when a small personal rapid transit system will be in operation.
About 50 years ago, enthusiastic proponents of eco-friendly futuristic travel saw the personal rapid transit (PRT) as the way to replace the polluting cars of modern cities. The idea never caught on, the main reason being the high cost of investing in something that was untested and by many seen as an unrealistic idea.
But now the world might be ready for PRT and its small, light, electric vehicles (the pod cars) that run on elevated tracks.
Proponents of the system in Stockholm are hoping for a green light and funding from the Swedish government later this year to build a pilot project called Via Academica that will connect the University of Stockholm with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, two leading research and educational institutions both located in the north eastern part of he city.
The system would be provided by the U.K.-registered South Korean company Vectus that has a test track in Uppsala north of Stockholm.
The pod cars would seat four passengers. Instead of taking a taxi, you just enter your destination at one of the PRT-stops and a vehicle will arrive shortly, with your destination on a display. The pod cars run on elevated tracks four to five meters above the ground.
The system at Heathrow airport will be run by a Welsh company called ULTra. It will connect the new Terminal 5 with a business car park just north of the airport. The 3.9 km system is planned for 21 vehicles.
Another system is underway in South Korean city Suncheon. Transit advocates in Boston, Massachusetts, are trying to generate interest for a system to connect local universities, an idea similar to the plans in Stockholm.
Nobody expects pod cars to replace the automobiles we now have on our streets anytime soon. But PRT systems could provide an interesting option for private travel in public transit style.

Copyright (this photo and above right): Vectus
Pod cars, seating four passengers, provide pivate travel in a public transit system.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An architect's homage to African cities

LONDON. Africa is the only continent I haven’t visited and like many other I know little about most of its major cities.
Earlier this week in London I got a chance to take a quick tour of more than 50 African capitals, from Tunis in the north to Maseru in the south. My gratitude goes to the Africa-born and London-based architect David Adjaye and his herculean effort to document buildings in all African capitals.
The result is on display at the London Design Museum in the form of hundreds of snapshots showing all types of buildings in African cities. The exhibit Urban Africa, which opened March 31 and ends September 5, is Adjaye’s way of letting us get a taste of some of the most unknown major cities of the world.
The 43-year-old David Adjaye is an established star on the world architecture scene, with his fame enhanced when he last year won the commission to design the National Museum of African History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
The exhibit aims to give an overview of the urban environment of the African city. For Adjaye, born in Tanzania where his father was a Ghanaian diplomat, the project has also been a return to his roots. Moving around with his family, he lived in several African countries during his childhood.
Over the past ten years, Adjaye has tried to visit every one of the 53 African capitals. He missed one, Somalia’s chaotic and dangerous capital Mogadishu, due to security reasons. The project began as an exercise, as he puts it in the presentation of the exhibit, “to piece together fragments of memories, documenting where I was born and grew up as a child”.
The exhibit starts with a bright, yellow room with maps and facts of Africa. The visitor can then choose to see Adjaye’s images either in a slide-show on multiple screens, or in the form of hundreds of snapshot-sized photos pinned to the walls.
His trips were not planned in detail and he didn’t look for certain buildings to record. Adjaye would approach each city without preconceptions and just jump into a local taxi and criss-cross the city for days with the digital camera as his sketchbook, as he puts it.
With his pictures Adjaye wants to “depict the overlooked and understudied African city as a complex, dynamic and successful environment where people live and work”.
Despite the problems African cities face, Adjaye sees the rapid urbanization of the continent as an opportunity rather than a humanitarian crisis.
“In the next 10 years, people are going to be shocked by what they see coming out of Africa. There’s a renewed sense of modernity gripping the continent”, Adjaye says in an interview in this weeks issue of Newsweek.

Urban Africa/David Adjaye, 31 March-5 September, Design Museum, Shad Thames, London.

Copyright: David Adjaye/Design Museum, London
Asmara in Eritrea, with its old Italian architecture, is one of the unknown capitals of Africa.

Touring Africa with the help of David Adjaye's snapshots of the continent's capitals.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Danish researchers warn of rising sea levels

ENVIRONMENT. Coastal cities around the world will have to prepare for sea levels that will rise more and quicker than previously expected. Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, together with Chinese and British colleagues, warn that sea levels will rise with up to 1,2 meters in the next 100 years, reports Danish daily Politiken.
That is considerably more than earlier estimates by the United Nations panel of climate experts (which in turn has been accused of exaggerating figures, and has admitted mistakes, in the constant controversies over climate change).
The Danish researchers have used other methods to come to their findings. A quick and sharp reduction of CO2-emissions is the only way to limit the rise of sea levels, according to the researchers.
Copenhagen (left) is one city that could be affected by a sharp rise in sea levels. Larger coastal cities in Asia could fare much worse, and the island nation of the Maldives is under threat of disappearing under rising sea waters.
An OECD-report (Competitive Cities and Climate Change) from 2008 gives examples of how U.S. coastal states could be affected by higher sea levels. A 0.3 sea level rise would erode approximately 15 to 30 meters of shoreline in New Jersey and Maryland, 30 to 60 meters in South Carolina and 60 to 120 meters in California.
In popular waterfront developments around the world, measures are taken avoid damage by floods. In the HafenCity development in Hamburg, for instance, bottom floors of residential buildings are occupied by garages.
But rising sea levels cause all kinds of concerns. In Stockholm, another example, there are fears that the important underground station in the Old Town could be flooded.

The Thames Barrier protects London from floods.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Swedish capital promotes electric vehicles

STOCKHOLM. The City of Stockholm together with Swedish energy giant Vattenfall has presented a joint effort to introduce electric vehicles in the Swedish capital. A number of producers are ready to have their electric vehicles on the Swedish market early next year.
“Electric cars are a very important component in Stockholm’s ambitions to continue to be a strong and dynamic growth region at the same time as we lower our impact on the climate”, says Ulla Hamilton, vice mayor for environment and traffic.
The City of Stockholm and Vattenfall are taking the initiative for a joint procurement framework for both businesses and municipalities in the larger Stockholm region. The idea is to put pressure on distributers of electric vehicles by offering them a large number of potential buyers.
At a presentation earlier this week a number car manufacturers, Volvo was one of them, demonstrated cars that would ready for market introduction during 2011.
The City of Stockholm has a goal to be free of fossil fuels by 2050 and the vision “Electric Vehicle City 2030” is a way to reach that target. By the end of 2011 there are plans for some 250 charging points for electric vehicles in the city.
By 2030 Stockholm wants to set an international example in both the number of electric vehicles in the city as well as in the number of charging points.
Danish capital Copenhagen presented similar ambitions late last year as the friendly Nordic rivalry in eco-friendliness continues.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Three winners in Oslo museum competition

OSLO. It will be one of the signature buildings dominating the new face of the Norwegian capital, but we will have to wait a few more months before we know what it will look like.
The jury of an international architecture competition to choose the design for Norway's new National Museum yesterday picked three winners in a race that initially had 237 participants.
The three winners are invited to take part in a continued phase of competition and negotiations with the governments building agency Statsbygg. The final winner well be chosen by August 2010.
The new National Museum will be one of several cultural institutions that will line the Oslo Fjord, where a huge redevelopment is going on along the waterfront. You can read an earlier report from Oslo about that here.
As the first winner of three, the jury named the entry Forum Artis by German architechts Kleihuis + Schuwerk. The main element in their concept is a long, horisontal bright hall that, according to the jury, will form a contrast to the vertical mark of the area.
The second winner was a design called Urban Transition by Danish firm JAJA Architects consisting of five conneced, rectangular building of different sizes.
The third winner was long established Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects with Trylleesken, a design dominated by a huge cube in line with the Oslo City Hall right next to the future spot of the National Museum.
The new museum will be located behind an old railway station that is home of the Nobel Peace Center, between the popular waterfront development Aker Brygge and Oslo's City Hall.

Copyright: DiizGroup/Statsbygg
The new National Museum in Oslo could be a bright horisontal line in the cityscape.

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Americans prefer urban living

URBAN TRENDS. A house in the suburbs and two or more cars in the garage has for decades been the preferred way of life for many Americans.
But more and more US cities, and citizens, now seem to listen to proponents of so called smart growth as interest for urban living is rising sharply across the country.
Builder magazine, that covers the home building industry in the U.S., reports that residential permits in downtown and close-in suburbs more than doubled since 2000 in 26 of the nations largest metropolitan regions.
The trend is very visible in major cities like New York and Chicago, but also in smaller cities like Portland, Denver and Sacramento, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency qouted by Builder magazine.
Many U.S. cities are putting more emphasis on smart growth measures like increased walkability, bicycle paths, investments in public transit and residential developments in attractive locations near city centres.
There is also an increased demand for urban-style neighbourhoods. Changing lifestyles, economic factors and smaller households are some of the factors behind this trend.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Laboratories for the urban age

URBAN TRENDS. Urbanization is a must for economic growth and social development, according to a new UN report on the state of the cities of the world.
With cities growing faster than ever before and in some places generating growth at a pace hard to imagine, one of the great challenges of the future will be to plan and design rapidly expanding metropolitan areas around the world.
That future is already here in many major cities.
The best example is probably Shanghai, a city that has gone through monumental changes over the last 10-20 years.
“It is a city moving so fast that it is possible to see the impact of theory on practice like nowhere else in the world”, writes Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum in London, in “The Endless City”.
The book documents “The Urban Age Project”, a look at urban development through the examples of six global cities by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society.
Shanghai is getting ready for its moment of glory – the Expo 2010 that begins next month with its giant exhibition on the theme “Better City, Better Life”. In some 200 pavilions, countries and cities from around the world will showcase their best examples of life in the Urban Age.
In “The Endless City” Shanghai is called “the urban laboratory”. Change has been so fast that things that were built ten years ago are already ancient history. Shanghai is also the symbol of China’s new wealth, with its skyscrapers telling the story.
Shanghai has gone through the greatest transformation of a piece of earth in history, according to an American architect who is quoted in “The Endless City”. Since the early 90’s, the city has experienced a yearly growth averaging about 15 percent per year.
The city is now a major player in every aspect.
Not all cities in the developing world are as blessed as Shanghai, something underlined in UN Habitat’s report “State of the World Cities 2010/11: Bridging the Urban Divide” which was released recently.
But many cities have become more important than the country they are located in. According to UN Habitat, the top 25 cities in the world accounted for roughly 15 percent of the world’s GDP in 2005. This share increases to 25 percent of the world’s GDP when the top 100 cities are included.
Tokyo alone accounts for almost two percent of the world’s GDP, while London’s GDP is higher than that of Sweden or Switzerland.
Major cities in smaller countries often dominate their country’s economy completely. Seoul, for instance, accounts for over 48 percent of South Koreas GDP.
This will continue to draw people to the world’s cities and by 2050 three out of four human beings will live in cities.
In dense places like Shanghai, a city that in particularly crowded places has a density nearly ten times that of London, this will be a challenge.
“The question is this: how do we create cities that are not just containers for tightly-packed populations, but pleasant and equitable places to live?”, writes Justin McGuirk in an interesting piece on the subject in the Guardian. Part of his answer is this:
“Now that city-making has become a priority, politicians need to have faith in designers.”
Perhaps urban planning is the answer to many problems of the future.

Photos from Shanghai by Hanna Steinvall
Imagine if you could take a crowded, run-down city like this...

...just clean it up a little bit and then transform it into a spectacular...

...modern metropolis like the Pudong district that symbolizes the new Shanghai.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

No end in sight for sprawling cities

URBAN TRENDS. While sustainable urban development has become trendy and politically correct in many countries, sprawling cities remain a big problem in parts of the world where urbanisation is most intense.
In a recent report a United Nation agency points out that urban sprawl has become an issue in many developing countries. UN Habitat names cities like Johannesburg, Cairo and Mexico City as examples of major metropolitan areas where sprawl has become a cause for concern.
In its report “State of the World Cities 2010/11: Bridging the Urban Divide”, the UN agency says that urban sprawl in many developing countries comprises two main, contrasting types of development in the same city.
One is characterised by large areas with informal and illegal patterns of land use. This is combined with a lack of infrastructure, public facilities and basic services, and often is accompanied by little or no public transportation and bad roads.
Mexico City is an example of this. In a study done by the London School of Economics a few years ago, it was said that 60 percent of the nearly 20 million inhabitants of Mexico City live in illegal and informal housing.
The other pattern is a form of “suburban sprawl” with residential zones for middle- and high-income groups in search of a better lifestyle where the car is the main means of transportation.
This type of suburban sprawl has long been associated with North American cities. But with Barack Obama in the White House, urban sprawl has become a political issue in the United States.
Obama is seen as an “urban president” advocating denser cities and public transit over car-oriented suburban sprawl. His opponents call this an attack on the American way of life.
With the rapid urbanization in many parts of the world, UN Habitat sees risks with continued sprawl in growing urban regions.
Sprawl will add to urban divide causing social segregation along economic lines. Various parts of cities will differ in wealth and quality of life, as the poor move in one direction and the better-off in another.
“In a nutshell: sprawl is a symptom of a divided city”, the report says.
UN Habitat writes that urban sprawl in developing countries occurs because authorities pay little attention to slums, land, services and transport. Authorities often lack the ability to predict urban growth and therefore fail to provide land for the urbanizing poor. This drives people to makeshift homes in the periphery of cities.
While urban sprawl is a growing problem in the developing world and seems to become more and more of a political issue in the United States, many European cities are now growing within their existing borders through densification and development of derelict industrial and harbour sites.
Cities like Hamburg and Oslo, just to give two examples, are going through transformations of their city centres through huge waterfront developments.
London, another example, is one of the world’s most dispersed major cities. But now the city is growing within its borders, primarily in eastern parts of the city where the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics is generating growth.
That will be an example to follow for other major cities as they move into the Urban Age at full speed.

Copyright: UN Habitat
Johannesburg, an example of a sprawling city.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Forget big cities, think endless cities

URBAN TRENDS. When UN Habitat recently released its report on major trends in the rapid urbanisation of the world, there was one figure that underlined the scale of things.
While we are getting used to the thought of major metropolitan regions with 20 or even 30 million inhabitants, the United Nations agency for human settlements is now talking about mega-regions with populations of up to 120 million people.
This mind-boggling figure reminds us of the pace of development of what has been called The Urban Age. More than 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities – by 2050 that figure is expected to be 75 percent.
In its “State of the World Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide”, UN Habitat talks of huge urban corridors of cities pushing beyond their original boundaries and merging into massive new conurbations.
These are the new mega-regions and the best example – or perhaps worst? – can be found in Southern China.
The Hong Kong-Shenzen-Guangzhou mega-region is, according to UN Habitat, home to some 120 million people in a continuous, seemingly endless city.
“When you travel there you can’t tell when you go from one city to another”, says Lamia Kamal-Chaoui, an urban issues expert at OECD who is now leading a study of the region.
She spoke recently at a seminar in Stockholm on the growth of the Swedish capital. Just to remind her hosts of what they are up against, Kamal-Chaoui mentioned the development in the Hong Kong-Shenzen-Guangzhou mega-region (using a population figure of “only” 50 million).
Stockholm wants to be a world leader in fields like information technology, life sciences and environmental issues. But Kamal-Chaoui told the audience not to underestimate the competition from regions in countries like China.
“They have high skills, and they put a lot of focus on research and development. In the southern China region I have seen a number of clusters for environmental research, for instance”, says Lamia Kamal-Chaoui.
The endless cities of the new mega-regions will be a driving force in future development. But they will also hold all sorts of challenges.
UN Habitat mentions one new urban corridor that raises issues. In West Africa, from Ibadan and Lagos in Nigeria to Accra in Ghana, spanning roughly 600 kilometres through four countries, a cross-border endless city is rapidly developing.
The UN report points out that while these mega-regions, urban corridors and city-regions reflect the emerging links between city growth and new patterns of economic activity, they are in danger of creating a new urban hierarchy and further patterns of economic and social exclusion.
The endless city is not a new phenomenon. The corridor stretching through Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington on the American east coast has long been an example of large cities forming an even larger unit.
The same has been seen in Japan for many years where for instance Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe forms one mega-region likely to hold 60 million people by 2015.
In Europe, we often think of Berlin as the largest metropolitan region in Germany with some five million people. But the polycentric Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region in North Rhine-Westphalia has some 12 million inhabitants, if you count all cities from the old Ruhr industrial area to Düsseldorf and Cologne on the Rhine.
And in the Netherlands more than half the country’s population lives in the conurbation known as Randstad (“Rim City”), which consists of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and a number of smaller cities.
When I was a schoolboy, geography was my favourite subject and I took great pride in knowing all cities with more than a million inhabitants.
That knowledge is obsolete today. The big city as we new it is part of history.
The future belongs to the endless city.

Copyright: UN Habitat
A market i Accra, Ghana, part of a new mega-region stretching to Nigeria.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Tower? Sculpture? Iconic attraction?

DESIGN. The design story of the Easter weekend was undoubtedly the unveiling of Anish Kapoor’s twisted tower that is expected to become the symbol of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“A big vertical invitation to London”, said London Mayor Boris Johnson in a promotional video announcing the decision to choose Anish Kapoor’s tower for the Olympic Park.
In the presentation of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, as the official name will be, the 115 metre-tall structure is called a sculpture.
Kapoor’s says that the closest comparison would be the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You just have to imagine the Eiffel Tower painted in red and its steel structure twisted into an enormous knot rising towards the sky (right, image copyright: Arup).
“He (Kapoor) has taken the idea of a tower, and transformed it into a piece of modern British art”, says Mayor Johnson in a personal reflection over the £19 million project.
“Of course some people are saying that we are nuts in the depths of a recession to be building Britain’s biggest ever piece of public art.”
The project’s main sponsor is the international steel company ArcelorMittal. CEO Lakshmi Mittal was introduced to the idea at a chance meeting with Boris Johnson in a cloakroom at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Anish Kapoor, born in Bombay but based in London since the early 70’s, won an international competition for the commission with the structure he designed together with famous structural engineer Cecil Balmond.
The idea behind the project is to build an attraction in East London that will last beyond the 2012 Games.
“With £ 9.3 billion going into the Games, we need to do everything we can to regenerate the area and to ensure the crowds are still coming here in 2013 and beyond. Our ambition is to turn the Stratford site into a place of destination, a must-see item of the tourist itinerary and we believe the ArcelorMittal Orbit will help us achieve that aim”, says Mayor Johnson in his personal reflection.
Anish Kapoor says that the ambition with the design has been to convey a sense of instability and a tower that could be viewed differently from different parts of the city.
The idea is getting generally favourable reviews in the British press.
Jonathan Glancey, the Guardian’s architecture critic, calls it a genuine eyecatcher.
“What an extraordinary thing this is: a strange and enticing marriage of sorts between the Eiffel Tower and Tatlin’s Tower (an unbuilt Soviet Russian monument designed in 1920 that would have dwarfed Eiffel’s), with the Tower of Babel as best man”, writes Glancey.
“It’s anti-bling, and its brusque form will be either loved or hated”, writes The Independent in a comment.
Rowan Moore in the Observer voices some concern over the project.
“It is the most extravagant example yet of the idea that a big, strange object can lift tens of thousands of people out of deprivation. This idea has had some successes, but the Orbit could mark the point at which it overreaches itself and we decide to try something different in the future”.
Anyone who has seen the public affection for Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate-sculpture in Chicago will recommend you to wait until the tangled steel of the Orbit is in place before passing judgment.