Australia`s Parliament House is about to get ring fenced


Just before the Houses of Parliament broke for the Christmas holiday they approved to increase security (or perimeter security enhancements as its known security jargon) at Parliament House by surrounding the roof and their lawns with 2.6 metre, 1.5 metre and 1.2 metre high fences at various intervals [pdf] which has drawn great ire from Australian architects including Glenn Murcutt and Australian Institute of Architects.

Why is there such outcry over increasing security at the centre of government in Australia? The design for Parliament House which was won by “Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp and imagined Parliament House that symbolically rose out of the landscape and could not be built on top of the hill as this would symbolise government imposed on the people…it was important that [it] be seen as extending an invitation to all citizens. The grand lawns of Parliament House allowed the public to be able to freely access and walk over the Houses of Parliament.” [1]. This grand idea that won the design competition provides an insight into the values of Australia, its cities, communities and people and is the main reason why so many architects and the public are voicing their opposition to the fence, whether in newspapers, blogs or on social media.

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Hyper-city | Hyper-density

Hypercity |
A hyper-city is has an overall density that xceeds 5,000+ inhabitants/km² often with city districts exceeding 30,000+ inhabitants/km2. Cities that fall under this definition include Mumbai, Paris, Nairobi, Hong Kong, Macau, Dhaka, Dar es Salaam, London, Manila, Stockholm and Shanghai [1] Most existing hyper-cities are located in Europe with some in Americas, the newer cities are those in Asia where the countries population is migrating on mass to cities from rural areas in search of a better life.

How is a Hyper-city different from a Mega-city? Mega-city are often defined as 10 million plus residents, however they could be spread across a large area with very low densities. It is noted that many Mega-cities fall under the definition of Hyper-city.

There are two types of hypercities, those that are established (over 100 years old) and those that new cities(developed in last 50 years). Both have separate issues relating to systems and building form(architecture) which will be discussed later.

SYSTEMS & NETWORKS
Hyper-cities are often touted as the answer to the mass migration from rural to urban landscapes. They are seen as more sustainable and efficient form of city where services(transport, health, utilities), commercial (office, retail, markets, trading) and residential (apartments, villas, mixed use) are all located within dedicated area and people travel short distances to and from work, commerce and recreation. However, this is where the theory and implementation diverge as there very few communities that actually live within a few minutes of their workplace. Often housing is purchased based on personal preference and circumstances at the time of purchase including cost of housing, family size, proximity to family, proximity to friends, with proximity to work often the last factor considered as people have become more transient in their careers often staying with the one employer for 2-5 years but living in the same house for 15-20 years. Therefore, transport systems require more thought and flexibility to allow for an transient workforce who may work in factory, then a hotel, then an office in their career or maybe all in the same day.

Systems and networks are key to hyper-cities – transport, utilities, open space, services and retail. Lessons must be learnt from new and established cities to create liveable places to live.
These systems and networks can be intertwined to allow for better living experience. Limiting a hyper-city to one form (grid, organic, network, hub and spoke, etc) creates an instant legacy that takes years if not decades to change. Hyper-cities should allow people to be able to live easily and fluidly.

TRANSPORT – The network than make or break a city
Transport of people, goods, services is key to the success of a city. The need for people to move to and from home, to work, to shop, to a service, to recreate, to home is only half the network. The other half transporting food (whether inter or intra city) and services is key and requires more study and implementation of different models. Public Transport and Individual Transport (cars, bikes) have not changed dramatically, in recent times car-sharing has started to develop. Hopefully, car sharing and autonomous cars will come together to reduce the need for individual car ownership. Imagine a city with a car fleet and very few car spaces – that’s acres of land and basements that are no longer required.

Public transport will always remain bus, train, tram(streetcar) with different modes (elevated, subway, BRT, etc). It is the network form and energy type that will create for more efficient low- carbon cities.

Transport of goods is key and currently uses large amount of energy to move goods to and from inhabitants whether at home, at the office or at the store. A change from the traditional form of logistics is paramount to reduce pollution and congestion. If we look at bulk container shipping we see a model that could work for hypercities. Container shipping is based on selling space on a ship and this comes down to the last square metre, they contract sell to anyone the space within a container to allow for most efficient use of space. Currently, in cities there are numerous couriers who use this method of transport as well but it is still inefficient. If hyper-cities use a centralised system of electric autonomous vehicles on a central system

FOOD
Food for residents is either inter or intra (coming from the city or outside whether another region or country). For a hyper-city to be efficient it requires a change in land use, form and mind set.

Landuse
Currently, most agricultural land near cities is under threat from development and is a source of cheap housing. However, large tracts of arable land are replaced with cheap housing and farmers moved to the fringes of the cities into less arable land. When planning a Hyper-cities there is a need to study, map and zone areas of arable land to allow the city to have a sustainable source of food. Also hypercities should map all areas of flood zone and waterways and allow this land to be used for farming rather than creating vast tracks of non-productive recreational land.

Form
The traditional form of producing food is often grown on flat arable land on the edge of cities or in rural areas. With technology hypercities can grow food in vertical structures with hydroponics and aquaculture. Also growing food on productive green roofs could sustain vast numbers of inhabitants allowing for reduced land and transport.

Change in Mindset
Food is often flown or trucked into a distribution centre and then moved by road to point of sale. We have moved from distributed small markets to now having centralised big box markets that require inhabitants to travel. The solution seems to be a change in the mindset of inhabitants to eat based upon season and also purchase online. Online purchasing of food in China and other countries is growing. With hypercities it is possible to create network systems and logistics to create an efficient system of food distribution. Although many residents will still wish to shop at the market there is a need to source as much of the food as a city needs from the local surrounds(within 100km) to reduce the impact of transportation.

LEGACY VS MONOTONY
The main issue that established hyper-cities have to address is a legacy of old infrastructure and systems. For a established hyper-city requires continual investment in changing systems and infrastructure. It also requires for community engagement to alleviate concerns about demolision, new infrastructure (roads, utilities) and increased density. New cities face less issues related to legacy systems and have to face the issue of how to efficiently(time and money) development and scale the city to meet demand of the influx of new residents. An ability to develop large areas of residential and commercial areas often leads to replication of architecture and built form and thus a monotonous landscape of similar tall towers with little variety in form, colour or spatial arrangement. Although these monotonous landscape create cheap housing, they also create a dehumanising effect due to scale and repetition. Thought needs to be given to planning controls, architectural controls and landscape design and quality to ensure new hyper-cities are places residents wish to live for the long term and create communities rather than moving for education or employment only.

To solve the legacy issue requires cities to develop methods of replacing, pigging-backing or improving systems. More research and planning is required to develop systems for power, information (web), refuse disposal and transport. These are the key areas where cities need to develop solutions that will be resilient.

Solving the scaling issue requires more thought and flexibility in planning guidelines. New cities in China are starting to realise that there is little to differentiate them from their neighbour cities due to the use of the same planning regulations, often the same developers and same construction companies develop and build cities within the same region creating the problem of not knowing when you’ve left one city and entered another. This is also has to do with the propensity to flatten large areas of land to allow for ease of construction often wiping out any semblance of landform.

CONCLUSION
Creating a city of over 5000+ inhabitants per km2 requires the ability of the built environment and allied professions to come together to develop new solutions to problems that allow for a city to develop organically and be resilient in its forms.

1. The largest cities in the world by land area, population and density | City Mayors Statistics
2. List of cities proper by population density | Wikipedia

Artificial grass is not the answer

Artificial Grass - Nature Fighting back | Flickr User jonsson
Artificial Grass – Nature Fighting back | Flickr User jonsson

“Artificial turf, therefore, is merely the next most obvious step. Now that we greet it with a shrug and a flop, designers need to push things further, finding solutions that aren’t replacements for everything that a lawn does, but for the many individual programs it has been forced to do.” – Alexandra Lange

Recently, Alexandra Lange published an opinion piece, There’s still one more park taboo to be broken at Dezeen that reviewed the role of lawn and in recent times the acceptance that artificial turf has gained in replacing the traditional lawn. Lange, cites various examples where Artificial turf has been used including the new rooftop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by landscape architect Gunther Vogt and Pier 2 at Brooklyn Bridge Park by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Continue reading “Artificial grass is not the answer”

Reading: San Francisco’s growing pains.

Cities can be seen as a construct of various systems or as an organism with various inputs, outputs that adapts to the environmental conditions. Cities have never-ending ‘growing pains’ (or shrinking pains) with a recent pieces of writing showing that no matter whether your in a developed or developing nation, cities continue to change due to the influence of people. “In the battle between tech and the city, should designers choose a side?” by Mimi Zeiger, “What Tech Hasn’t Learned From Urban Planning” by Allison Arieff.

With both these interesting pieces I found myself thinking about cities and how they change over time. What I kept coming back to is that tech companies change at phenomenal rate of speed, think about how you life has changed due to tech in the last five years – the smart phone, social networks, retail purchases and delivery, photography, and the list goes on. Now, think about how your city has changed in the last five years and you may have noticed small changes with urban renewal (or decay), but what is soon apparent is that cities change over decades and not years.

Tech companies thrive on change, the unknown and the pace of change; whereas cities and residents fear change and often why projects take years to come to fruition. The other reason is that budgets and investment at a private level (tech companies) is often easy to obtain and you only explain the problems and failures to a small group of investors with a large amount invested, whereas a city is large group of people with a small amount invested but demanding large amount from their city government in terms of information, services.  Therefore, tech companies often struggle to understand why San Francisco residents aren’t happy with change especially rapid change that has occurred over the last 5-15 years.

 

Not every project is a landmark competition winning project

Recently, I have been surveying World Landscape Architecture readers for their feedback on the design, content and user experience. I looked at some of the responses today and overall the feedback was good with some great insights on how to improve WLA. However, I think there are a couple of readers who miss the point of World Landscape Architecture with some reader comments about the level of design and build quality and also less projects from unknown designers.

When I set out to publish projects from across the globe the intention was to publish as many different projects from across the world – varying scales, qualities, and from different types of firms (landscape, urbanist, engineering, mega-firms to single designer shops). I feel that whether a small garden or large regional park or a urban masterplan that there is a need for landscape projects especially conceptual designs to published rather than linger on a shelf or hard drive somewhere never to see the light of day. Of course, there are some submissions that are of very poor quality and they are rejected, however I feel that we all need to see projects from across the globe to understand the profession and see how it is developing. Developing countries and design firms often don’t have the same finish as projects in developed countries(this is due to the skills of the builders) however, sometimes the designs and finished project give an insight into the culture and landscape of that place and nation.

Publishing work of various qualities allows the public and profession to see landscape architecture at it best and worst. I don’t make editorial comment or critique on projects as I feel that the text should be written by the designer or design firm. Should there be more project critique…of course, but there also needs to be a platform for work to be published by the designer unhindered by journalists, and editors. Although, I have made mistakes in the past by publishing text that was not of high-quality, often this was due to the text being written by the designer in their second or third language. I have also published text that was too much like a PR announcement, I am endeavouring to curtail these types of posts.

World Landscape Architecture will continue to publish projects that are not to everyone’s liking and expectations, but that is the beauty of the web and my publication; not all the projects are beautifully photographed places, some are raw places that we all experience on a daily basis.

Landscape architecture needs a voice that shows projects from not just the well-known design firms but also designers who are creating places across the world of varying scale and quality.

Thankyou to the readers who have given feedback for our annual World Landscape Architecture survey. If you would like to give feedback please fill out the survey or send me an email damian@worldlandscapearchitect.com with your suggestions.

China | more thought needed about urbanisation

Rapid urbanisation of millions of Chinese has occurred and will continue to occur over the next 25-30 years. There is a change in focus from mega-cities to smaller cities and towns as the country transitions from exports to consumerism based economy. What has changed in a urban design focus have to do with economy? In short, everything. China for the last 30 years has been focused on developing big cities and as we can see from the 10 mega cities developing in China that the increased density and hyper density are two different things. There is a limit to the a liveable population density and city size that can support without major environmental impact. Hyper-density is where we start to reaching over 5,000-10,000 people per square kilometre, once you get beyond this there is an environmental and sociological impact on the city. How do we change this?

The rural areas of China are being transformed into new cities, fast trains, inter-city roads and the push for urbanisation as a form of efficient way of providing work, housing, and food. But the question is the current model going to work – that is creating mega-cities (10+ million) and regional cities (5+ million) really the solution. They may be successful in terms of financial growth and GDP but fail in terms environment and liveability. Thankfully, it was announced recently that local officials will also have their success measured by level of pollution in their city. This is a step in the right-direction, however more could be undertaken for officials to be accountable for the liveability of the city.

Liveability includes not only GDP and housing, it includes access to services(health, education, transport), the amount and quality of green open space, pollution levels(air, water, soil). Green open space is on the increase but the quality of the space is often poor. With the spaces often large ‘beautiful green’ areas with little programming. They maybe successful from a environmental

I think China would benefit from allowing for more townisation rather than large urbanisation of rural areas. Building mega and smaller cities will in the long run create a shortfall in rural workers and continue the inefficient use of land with plot farming. Building towns with technical skill training centres in towns will allow for a smooth transition from small family plot farming to more efficient farming with higher quality, higher yield and high-revenue crops. More efficient land use is key to providing the fast growing middle class with the amount of food they will demand. Also changing land use and farming practices is one of the quickest ways to reduce pollution (air, water and soil).

Also hukou reform will occur over time and I see that the changes may occur in bigger cities first and then trickle down to 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier cities. I think that the biggest need is for a re-evaluation of how cities are created in China and whether mega-cities are the answer for the remaining 750 million chinese or is there hybrid model that can occur. I think the planning system would benefit from more flexibility and also more research and analysis of recent new cities.

Interesting things I read this week
China’s next chapter: The infrastructure and environmental challenge | McKinsey & Co
Urban planners eye China’s cities | People’s Daily
China to hold local leaders responsible for air quality | Channel News Asia
Hutong Vs. Highrise: A Photo Essay On China’s Radical Urban Changes | Gizmodo
Techno-utopias are wrapped up in their own visions of nature” | Dezeen

I have started reading China Greentech Report 2013: China at a Crossroads 中国绿色科技报告 2013:站在十字路口的中国 and will make a blog post later.