Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A festival for the built environment

LONDON. The London Festival of Architecture (June 19 to July 4) is a gigantic event spanning time and space in this metropolis.
On a short visit I only had a chance to see fragments of this celebration of the built environment. This year’s festival, the fourth biennial event since 2004, looks forward towards 2012 when London hosts the Olympic Games as well as back at 50 years of architecture in the city.
The festival is also a showcase for the art of building in other cities and countries that have been invited to show their stuff during two weeks of events, exhibitions and activities. Over all there are over 300 events during the festival.
I liked the photo exhibition (above) of 50 Years of London Architecture 1960-2010 in the Mall Galleries (it ended June 27). Organised by the Architecture Club, the exhibition showed selected works illustrating a cross section of new architecture in London over the past five decades.

1966 Centre Point on New Oxford Street, one of the first tall buildings in London.

1986 The Lloyds Building, the City's most unusual office complex.

2007 New Wembley, the national stadium for England's disgraced footballers.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Danish government dismisses road tax plans

COPENHAGEN. The leading party of the liberal-conservative Danish government will not allow the capital Copenhagen to introduce a system of congestion charges, a type of road tax aimed at lowering the number of cars on the city’s streets.
The local government of Copenhagen, lead by the social democrats, would like to introduce congestion charges as soon as possible as part of the city’s ambitious environmental policies.
But a representative of venstre, Denmark’s largest political party, says that the government will not allow this to happen, reports daily Berlingske Tidende.
The scheme will cost people who drive cars too much, according to venstre.
Swedish capital Stockholm introduced congestion charges on a permanent basis in 2007. License numbers are registered when cars pass unmanned control points (picture) at entrances to the city centre. Car owners are billed for the charges. Copenhagen would like to introduce a similar system.
The Danish capital seeks to profile itself as a global Climate Capital, but sometimes meets resistance from the national government. Copenhagen is knows as one the best cities in the world for bicycling and has ambitious plans improve public transportation further.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Green light for controversial Slussen revamp

STOCKHOLM. The local council in Stockholm has adopted a controversial plan for revamping the Slussen transit hub near the city’s Old Town. A plan for the project that was presented early this year led to an uproar.
Now changes in the design have been made, but the debate is far from over. The future of Slussen is bound to be an issue in local elections to be held in September.
The struggle over Slussen’s future has been going on for at least 20 years. This important transit hub from 1935 is literally falling apart and a major restoration is long overdue.
The first competition for a new design was held as early as 1990, but nothing happened.
In 2004 a new winner was picked after a competition said to be final. Plans were presented, and a new debate began.
Then, in 2008, it was all of a sudden announced that yet another competition would take place. Prestigious foreign architect firms were invited to take part together with leading Swedish firms. In early 2010 a revamped proposition by Foster + Partners and Swedish Berg architects was presented as the future Slussen.
But now hell broke loose with widespread protest and a heated debate. The new proposals included new buildings and a design that would block part of the view the Södermalm district towards the Old Town.
Politicians hesitated again and planners went back to the drawing boards to make changes. Now plans for some buildings have been scrapped.

Copyright: Foster + Partners/Berg Arkitektkontor
Part of the plans for the new Slussen, that now have been changed again.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A green tour of sewage pipes and poo bags

STOCKHOLM. If a walking tour that takes you to the city’s first sewage pipe or lets you see how good Swedes are at picking up dog poo, Stockholm might be the place for you.
The city is European Green Capital 2010 and as a part of that, city authorities are handing out The Green Capital Map to visiting tourists.
The map guides visitors to spots in the city that one way or another explains why Stockholm was selected as the first Green Capital ever.
Another way to experience green features of the Swedish capital is to use the Gowalla gps-positioning application in your smart phone. A short tour has been prepared for Gowalla and city authorities have also announced a competition where you share your favourite green spots with the help of the application.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Munich back on top of the world

RANKINGS. Some say they are meaningless, but I can’t help to like all those ranking lists of the best cities in the world.
Yesterday the summer issue of Monocle arrived in my mail with its yearly “Liveable cities index”. An old winner is back on top.
Munich, the well-connected and well-to-do modern metropolis of Bavaria, finished first in Monocle’s initial ranking in 2007 and is number one again this year.
From its excellent airport and public transportation (the metro, right) to the lovely summer beer gardens, Munich is a place to feel good about.
Copenhagen is in second place, just like three years ago. In the four Monocle rankings so far, the likeable Danish capital has finished 2-1-2-2.
The only new entry on Monocle’s top 25 list this year is Portland, the U.S. West Coast city that promotes bikes and public transportation ahead of cars. The Oregon city is in 22nd place.
Monocle’s top ten liveable cities 2010 (2009):
01. Munich, Germany (4)
02. Copenhagen, Denmark (2)
03. Zürich, Switzerland (1)
04. Tokyo, Japan (3)
05. Helsinki, Finland (5)
06. Stockholm, Sweden (6)
07. Paris, France (8)
08. Vienna, Austria (7)
09. Melbourne, Australia (9)
10. Madrid, Spain (12)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Danish architects wins landmark Swedish project

STOCKHOLM. Danish architects 3XN will design a landmark building in a prestigious redevelopment in the Stockholm suburb of Vällingby. The proposal from 3XN, a softly shaped building said to symbolize the human values characterizing the revival of the suburb, was picked by a jury that had four entries to chose between. The other invited competitors were Danish firm BIG and Swedish Wingårdhs and Tham&Videgård.
The building will lead into a new suburban development called Vällingby Parkstad on a site where Swedish energy giant Vattenfall will relocate from its present headquarters.
Vällingby was a model suburb in western Stockholm the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s now planned to be a new type of suburban core as Stockholm develops for the future. Vällingby Parkstad is seen as an example of a new type of high quality suburban residential district.
The 14-floor building’s curved design embraces the area and the lively shaped balconies opens up the structure towards the surroundings thus raising the park up in the air. The dense city structure at the base adds activity at eye level and life thrives on active roof tops and flowering balconies, according to the description from 3XN.
Construction is planned to begin in 2011.

Copyright: 3XN
The winning proposal for the signature building at Vällingby Parkstad.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Green capital becomes city of love

STOCKHOLM. The Swedish capital is buzzing with activity this week, as a two-week “festival of love” reaches its climax on Saturday with a royal wedding.
Stockholm is using the occasion – Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding – to promote itself through a packed program of activities, as hundreds of foreign journalists have come to the city to cover the royal festivities.
It is also the first time the city has used its status as European Green Capital 2010 for marketing purposes on a wider scale. In a big pavilion in the centrally located Kungsträdgården (King’s Garden) opposite the Royal Palace, the city is showing off its green ambitions with a full schedule of daily activities over the 14-day period of “Love 2010”.
When I dropped by there was a presentation of the recently adopted City Plan, which outlines the future development of Stockholm. Visitors can learn more about plans to promote electric vehicles (photo), take a sip of the city’s clean water and learn more about everything from recycling to investments in new infrastructure.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Study says bicycles won't reduce car traffic

STOCKHOLM. Increased use of bicycles in the Swedish capital would only have a minor effect on car traffic in the city centre, according to a new study from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
The study, reported by the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter online, says that bicycling as a means of transportation of its own is gaining in importance in Stockholm. But most of the car traffic in the inner city, 84 percent according to the study, consists of vehicles that made a journey longer than 15 kilometres. This traffic is not likely to be replaced by increased use of bicycles, according to researchers from KTH.
The report, part of a larger study of travel habits of some 55,000 stockholmers, looked at what it would mean if half of all shorter car trips (less than 5, 10 or 15 kilometres) were done by bicycle instead. The researchers assume that few commuters who drive more than 15 kilometres one way would switch to bicycle.
Therefore bicycling cannot be expected to solve traffic congestion in central Stockholm.
But the study still points out the benefits of an increased use of bicycles. It’s healthy, inexpensive, fast and good for the environment.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Waterfront living, with neighbours on the web

VÄSTERÅS. Summer is here and it’s the time of year when we really enjoy living in a waterfront development.
That is except for one thing, our neighbours.
We only see them in the summer, when they come in great numbers. They invade our balcony, where we want to sit and enjoy the view over the blue waters of Lake Mälaren. They usually come in the evening, when they are on the web for hours.
The spider web, that is.
Because I’m talking about spiders, which I have learned is a big problem in many waterfront developments like the one where we live in Västerås, an hour west of the Swedish capital Stockholm.
When we moved here I had heard that some spiders like new buildings close to the water. Now I know that for a fact.
I also know that we are not the only ones with this problem. When I visited Hamburg in Germany last year to see the giant waterfront development HafenCity I noticed the spider webs as I walked around at night.
I also happened to see a TV-interview on the German channel ZDF that gave some clarity to the issue.
Since HafenCity is the biggest waterfront development in Europe, they probably have the biggest spider problem as well. Therefore a researcher from Hamburg University called Anja Kleinteich had been hired to help find a solution to the problem.
In the ZDF-interview Kleinteich, an expert on spiders, explained that the main problem is the so called bridge spider (larinioides sclopetarius), which prefers to be near water. The bridge spider is also, unfortunately, probably “world champion of reproduction”, according to Kleinteich.
A female bridge spider can produce some 1,500 offsprings in just seven months, which explains a lot.
There is no simple solution to the problem, Kleinteich admits. One recommendation is to use types of lightning that attracts fewer insects. Covering holes where the spiders hide is another, as well as making it difficult for spiders to fasten their webs by having smooth surfaces and rounded “corners” on the building.

Monday, June 07, 2010

New bridges to connect cultural institutions

COPENHAGEN. The regeneration of Copenhagen’s harbour inlet has been one of the successes of the 2000’s in the Danish capital.
Now things will become even better.
The city has decided to build a number of bridges that will connect the Opera house with the Royal Danish Playhouse, two of the city’s cultural institutions, near the popular tourist district Nyhavn.
Visitors to Nyhavn will also get improved access to the waterfront along the neglected Havnegade (Harbour Street). A new urban space will open up as traffic along the street will have to give way for a promenade, outdoor seating and activities for the public.
This will be a boost for a couple of restaurants and bars in one of Copenhagen’s small architectural gems, an old custom house (the place is actually called Custom House, in English) on Havnegade (above).
The project is expected to be completed in 2012 to coincide with the opening of the new harbour bridge.
Daily Politiken reports that there is an ongoing fight between the City of Copenhagen and the Danish Ministry of Culture over the bridge project. According to the Ministry the City has promised to build a direct bridge from The Royal Danish Playhouse to the Opera. The solution now chosen by the city is a less expensive one where the two cultural institutions are connected through a series of smaller bridges via the Christianshavn district.

In the future you will be able to walk over to the Opera house in Copenhagen.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Sustainable Olympics not making Britain greener

LONDON. The 2012 Olympic Games in London were meant to inspire British industry and society to become more sustainable.
That is not happening, reports a green watchdog in its annual review on the games’ sustainability vision.
The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 gives the Olympic Delivery Authority, which is responsible for construction of venues and infrastructure for the games, high grades for its standard of sustainable design. But in its report the watchdog says that the benefits for Britain’s wider green economy could be lost before the games even begin unless “the knowledge in people’s heads is captured before they leave”, according to a story in the Guardian.
“Our main area of concern lies in the wider commitments that were made during the bid or just afterwards. Broad promises have been made in official documents: ‘to make the Olympic Park a blueprint for sustainable living’ and ‘to be a catalyst for new waste management infrastructure in east London. With the exception of a few worthy initiatives, there is no comprehensive plan to make this happen”, it says in the report.
Many of the venues, like the main Olympic Stadium (picture), are seen as good examples of sustainable design.
But much more has been expected from the London 2012 Olympics.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Building on the blue with a green profile

HELSINKI/DESIGNING THE FUTURE. Minimizing and improving efficiency in energy use is the latest trend in climate smart urban development.
Now Helsinki joins the race to be one of the world leaders in the field. Earlier this week, it was announced that the Kalasatama (Fiskehamnen in Swedish) waterfront development will be the testing ground for a large scale so called smart grid power network.
“We have the ambition to develop the new Kalasatama district into a global benchmark for smart cities and we look forward to implementing the best available technology together with our global partner”, says Seppo Ruohonen, CEO of Helsingin Energia, the public utility in the Finnish capital, in a statement as the news was announced.
Helsingin Energia will work in a joint development project with multinational power and automation technology giant ABB and the Nokia Siemens Networks to design and install a large-scale smart grid in the Kalasatama district (right, illustration copyright ALA Architects/City of Helsinki).
The project is part of a larger initiative to lift Helsinki’s environmental profile with focus on the sustainable and efficient distribution of power, according to a press release from ABB. The Swiss-Swedish company is involved in a similar project in the Stockholm Royal Seaport, an eco-profile development in the Swedish capital.
Kalasatama, “fishing harbour” in English, is one of several large ongoing or planned waterfront developments in Helsinki, where room for new residential districts have opened up since port facilities began moving to a location east of the city.
Eventually the district will have some 18,000 residents. Construction is expected to last well into the 2030’s. During the coming decades Helsinki will see major development projects on a scale few other cities in Europe can match. With a population near 600,000 (1.3 million in the metropolitan area), Helsinki expects to have built new homes for another 100,000 residents by 2040.
However, in the wake of the global economic crisis of the past two years, city authorities recently decided to temporarily put part of the development projects on hold. Investment plans will be re-evaluated and new decisions by City Hall are expected after the summer.
When things begin to move again, there will be several interesting projects to follow in Helsinki:
● Kalasatama, already mentioned above, will expand Helsinki’s city centre eastwards. A new metro station taken into use in 2007 will be the hub for the new district, where plans call for a diversity of housing types. New kinds of terrace buildings are planned to built where a power station stands today, representing a more daring architecture what has been the case so far in new Helsinki developments.
The waterfront of the district will be developed into new recreational areas.
● In the south western corner of central Helsinki, work is already under way to start construction in what used to be the Western Harbour. A district called Jätkäsaari (Busholmen in Swedish) will eventually provide homes for 16,000 residents and greatly expand the area of the city centre.
Jätkäsaari will be a continuation of the Ruoholahti (Gräsviken) district, developed in the 1990’s. With a canal running through it, this is a pleasant but un-spectacular district with excellent metro and tram connections with the rest of the city (above, left).
● Keski-Pasila (Central Pasila in english, Mellersta Böle in Swedish) is a planned as a new, or expanded, city centre three kilometers north of the present city centre. This is where Helsinki is making room for business expansion. A new high rise office complex is planned to be built on derelict railway yards and central Pasila will be developed as a new transportation hub.
● Two public transit projects will be of great importance to Helsinki in the future. The metro will be extended to the west, connecting Helsinki with neighbouring Espoo (Esbo), the capital’s most important suburb that has grown into the second largest municipality in Finland.
There are some delays in the project, and the new metro line is not expected to open for traffic until 2015.
At the same time a new Ring Rail Line is under construction. The line, expected to open for traffic in 2014, will provide important new commuter routes as well as rail connections to the Helsinki-Vantaa international airport.

This is the fourth and final article in a series of reports from Helsinki.

Copyright: Adactive Oy/City of Helsinki
The Kalasatama district will expand Helsinki's city centre eastwards.

A new metro line will connect Helsinki with neighbouring Espoo.

Copyright: Cino Zucchi Architetti/City of Helsinki
A new city centre for Helsinki; high rises in Central Pasila.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

City planning with a passion for the human scale

HELSINKI/DESIGNING THE FUTURE. If you have a hard time imagining a city planner as a passionate crusader, you haven’t met Mikael Sundman.
He is a recently retired senior planner from the Finnish capital Helsinki, where he helped shape the city’s development for more than 30 years. Sundman fought for the human scale in the urban landscape and his work made him a legendary planner.
“Urbanity means that opposites will meet; young and old, rich and poor and so on. When we build it has to be for everybody. That has been my main idea”, he says when we meet in Stockholm, a city he likes to spend time in.
I’m preparing a trip to Helsinki and Sundman (right) has promised to give me a background to recent and planned development in the Finnish capital.
As we unfold a big map of Helsinki, Sundman brings out a pen. He circles city districts on the map and scribbles down the years they were built. When I later come to Helsinki I just have follow Sundman’s directions on the map to get a picture of how Helsinki has developed over the past 30-40 years.
As I walk around in central Helsinki, I enter a second-hand bookshop where I’m glad to find an old copy of a small black-and-white book from 1970 that perhaps can be seen as the starting point of Mikael Sundman’s career as the passionate city planner.
As a young assistant at the Technical College’s architecture department, Sundman and another young colleague wrote a book called “Whose is Helsinki?”. In the book the young architects/planners describe how the residents of Helsinki are being run over by car-oriented city planning, and how the city centre is taken over by offices.
Already 40 years ago Sundman saw the dangers of a development that many cities still are just beginning to deal with.
He would soon get a chance to continue his struggle within the city planning system.
Sundman points at the map of Helsinki:
“Here you can see Magnitogorsk when you come to Helsinki”, he says, referring to a classic example of Soviet-Russian communist style city building in the Ural Mountains.
What he’s pointing at is a Helsinki district called Merihaka (Havshagen in Swedish), a 1970’s residential area dominated by grey, concrete housing blocks of a kind you would presumably find a lot of in Magnitogorsk.
“And this was our reaction to Magnitogorsk”, he says, pointing at Katajanokka (Skatudden) on the map, where he helped design the plans for his first residential district in the latter part of the 1970’s.
Beyond the famous Uspenski Cathedral, the harbour and some classic examples of Helsinki’s art nouveau (jugend) architecture, Sundman and his colleagues designed the winning plans for a residential district dominated by low rise houses in red brick. It was a clear contrast to the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s ideal of the modernist high rise suburbs.
“It was a return to the classic neighbourhood block. We wanted to have a mix of different social groups in the district. It’s a theme we continued on since then”, says Sundman.
He has worked on many district plans over the years. One of his favourite projects is clearly Arabianranta (Arabiastranden), a district famous for integrating art into the building process (I wrote about it last week, here).
Mikael Sundman comes from the Swedish-speaking minority in the bilingual Finland, and is therefore also proud of how the planning of Arabianranta helped create a small cluster of Swedish-language educational facilities and activities in the district.
As he continues to point out districts on the map, he encourages me to visit the suburb of Vuosaari (Nordsjö) on the eastern outskirts of Helsinki. Vousaari is the site for Helsinki’s new harbour, where cargo port activities are moving. This has opened possibilities for vast new waterfront developments in central Helsinki (more about that in a later report).
But that is not why I’m going there. Vousaari, at the end of the metro line, is a1960’s suburb that has had its share of social problems. Mikael Sundman now sees it as a good example of how you can turn things around through thoughtful urban planning.
“We wanted to lift the standard of the district through higher quality developments on the waterfront. It has had quite an impact”, he says.
On a warm and sunny early summer day, the impression is spectacular as I walk along the beach right in front of the new residential districts (right). The feeling is more Mediterranean than Nordic.
From a population of 14,000 in the late 1980’s the population of Vuosaari is expected to reach 40,000 in the coming decade.
“Helsinki has been allowed to develop at a pace that has been manageable. I think that has been essential. We have never felt pressure from politicians to speed things up”, says Sundman.
“And we as city planners have been given a lot of freedom in our work on the projects”, he adds.

This is the third in a series of reports from Helsinki.

Magnitogorsk in Helsinki; a 1970's development that inspired planners... design a new residential district on Katajanokka/Skatudden.

Living on the beach in the Helsinki suburb Vuosaari/Nordsjö.