1. Amanda Levete’s MPavilion
Figure 1&2: MPavilion design by Amanda Levete
The 2015 MPavilion has revealed its design, featuring thin carbon fibre columns with petal-like composite canopy that moves with the wind, acknowledging its brief for “a structure that responds to its climate and landscape.” What I like about this year’s design is that the temporary structure does not just provide shelter but also explores other opportunities such as audio devices & night lighting. Inspired by forest canopies, Amanda Levete wants her design to “subvert the norms of immovable”; “embrace and amplifies such distinctions”. You can also listen to an interview by Architecture Review with Amanda Levete and MPavilion patronage Naomi Milgrom.
2. Lesson from Seoul
Figure 3&4: Before and after pictures of Cheonggyecheon downtown park
In mid 2000s, the city of Seoul, South Korea made a gutsy move, tearing down a 1960s elevated, interstate highway through the heart of downtown and replacing it with parks, sidewalks, public bicycle system, reorganised bus lines & subway system. The quest to move away from a car-oriented city and lifestyle has not been without struggle. Its biggest opposition were the heads of companies in such high-rise buildings whose conveniences tie with the existing highway. The general public at times is also skeptical about the plan, perceiving such infrastructure as a symbol for modernity and progress. Almost none of them today, while jogging along this urban oasis, remember that there once was a highway here.
Figure 5-7: Renders of MVRDV’s scheme for Seoul Skygarden
Not stopping there, Seoul has eye on another 1970s highway that is beyond its service years, launching design competition to turn it into useful space, which was won by MVRDV. Dubbed “Seoul Skygarden”, the winning scheme proposes to transform over 1km long former elevated highway into an urban nursery with 254 species of trees, shrubs an flowers. Organised in alphabetically order, the design makes legible such natural diversity. The new overpass also reduces walking time to Seoul’s Central Station by more than 50%, with financial benefits in the long run. Who says urban highway are here to stay?
3. Quality of Life
Figure 8-11: Top 4 most livable cities: Tokyo, Vienna, Berlin, Melbourne
The “Oscar” of cities has recently been announced, with Tokyo taking home the “most livable city in the world” prize. As much anticipated as it is controversial, this year Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey introduces 22 new criteria, such as price of a three-bedroom house, the cost of a cup of coffee, access to outdoor, closing time of bar etc. These new benchmarks put strong emphasis on the cost of living and quality of urban outdoor. Copenhagen, 3-time winner and last year champion, took the hardest hit, dropping to No.10 due to increasing living cost. Meanwhile, Vienna has climbed 11 spots to No.2, and Sydney jumping from 11th to 5th place. You can listen to a recap of the top 25 cities, or “The Urbanist” podcast on Vienna, Hong Kong and Melbourne.
Of course, just like any other rankings, controversy always ensues, quite expectedly because each system has its own criteria, accessed by different juries, comprised of different individuals and be presented to the public, each with their own set of opinions. The trick is to be aware of such diversity, and to see from the other’s point of views. Only then can we learn something new. Aarian Marshall from CityLab has listed “the top 6 reason to be wary of city rankings” in her article on CityLab, hoping to demystify the “most livable” phenomenon.
It is the question i often ask myself when it comes to buying books or ebooks. While it is obviously each person’s preference, science might have a say in the debacle too. Researchers say that reading onscreen encourages “nonlinear” reading, or skimming, which is fine for emails but not for important forms of reading. The level of attention also seems to drop for e-reading than on paper while distraction occurs from apps, advertisements etc. Kindle is as close as it gets to traditional paperback, although study from Anne Mangen of Stavanger University suggests that kindle readers are less capable at reconstructing the plot than traditional paper reader. One classic argument for-paper is that reader can feel the tactility of the book as well as how far into the story are they, all of which make it easier to create a mental map. That is not to say that we should all throw away our ebook readers, but to use both for their own strengths. There is evidence that dyslexic people read better onscreen. Apps developments also help us to better manage our reading skill, such as Asymmetrica – an extension for web browser that subtly separates sentences into chunks of texts to aid our reading comprehension. Chris Nicholas develops the apps based on a simple logic: “just like we recognise a word faster than a number of individual letters, the same goes for phrases and clauses”. We are in an age of information overabundance, the challenge is indeed how we process them efficiently and effectively.
Figure 12: Asymmetrica aids reading speed by breaking up sentences into chunks of words
Figure 13-14: The Gwangju uprising pictured by Na Kyung-taek in 19809; Tahrir Square during Egypt Revolution 2011
Roundabout is a design product as utilitarian as it is political. Sternberg Press recently published “The Roundabout Revolutions”, a book focusing on answering the question: “How did an urban apparatus put in the service of authoritarian power became the locus of its undoing?” In May 1980, the Gwangju uprising took place at a roundabout in the city center, the start of an eventual overthrow of the military dictatorship in South Korea. Its famous picture taken by Na Kyung-taek from the roof of the occupied Provincial Hall has since become the symbol of “liberated republic”. Many more uprisings also shared the location similarity, such as in Tunisia, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Syria; giving rise to several speculations. One is that roundabout is the intersection of large axial roads inwards and outwards, hence protesting at such pivotal point means that the whole city is effectively locked down. Secondly, roundabout often contain monuments, statues of the existing regime. Last but not least, Jonathan Liu, author of “Roundabouts and Revolutions” put it half-jokingly: “what better place to stage a revolution, after all, than one built for turning around?”
Other traces include the UK Budget 2015 revealed; this year top 300 architecture firms; (dissapointing) shortlist of this year’s Stirling Prize; Japan dodging the Zaha bullet by calling off Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium and starting over from zero; Andrew Maynard’s (refreshing as always) interview on how he “plays with the rules”; announcement that Alejandro Aravena – one of my personal hero – will direct next year Venice Architecture Biennale; another massive announcement – Andy Warhol & Ai Weiwei exhibition is coming to Melbourne in December; plan to pave the road with recycled plastic in conjunction with roadside noise barriers that generate solar power in Netherlands no surprise , Denmark’s wind farms cementing its domination in clean energy by producing 16% surplus of energy during the day and 40% surplus overnight in a day – excess that being sold to Germany, Norway and Sweden; Nike and Adidas’ race to create knit shoes that waste less material; Melbourne developers “doing more for less” by jointly submitting for six 40-storey towers, Ivy-league ultimate BBQ design, a crowd-funding PhD research by Marcela Uliano da Silva on “golden mussel”, and a history lesson on how TGIF culture comes about.
Project of the Week
Quinta Monroy – Elemental
Quinta Monroy has been an ongoing influential project for my own architecture journey. The approach is borderline practical, even mathematical but also innovative, flexible, and sensible. Elemental is a group of architects, engineers, social workers, and contractors led by architect Alejandro Aravena. In 2003, the Chilean government commissioned the group to create housing for a community of nearly 100 low-income households on a 1.25-acre site in central Iquique, a desert city in northern Chile with a population of 200000. The budget is $7500 per unit for land, infrastructure, and building. The aim was to settle the families in the same site, instead of displacing them to the periphery. The logic was: with the given budget, instead of building one low-standard house, they would build half a good one. The question then was: which half should be built? Over a period of nine months, 93 basic reinforced-concrete units were built. Each was equipped with the barest of basics: plumbing but no fittings for kitchen and bathroom, an access stair, and openings for doorways. Things that cannot be built by the residents. Once the modular outlines were completed, residents moved in and began finishing and customizing their spaces at their own expense and at a pace that their incomes allowedl adding color, texture,… The prototype has since erected well over 1000 expandable units in Latin America and beyond.