REX Principal Discusses the Process of ‘Slow Architecture’

by Rebecka Gordan

Recently, internationally acclaimed architect Joshua Prince-Ramus guest lectured on "slow architecture" at The NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, Calif.

"We are at a time when architecture should slow down and let ideas gestate, and that means that architecture can actually be doing things," he said in the lecture. "It’s not so much about form versus functionality. Rather, it’s about doing both and doing them a lot and doing them well—and that’s how we should be talking about architecture."

The REX team.

Prince-Ramus is principal of REX, an architecture and design firm based in New York City. He was the founding partner of OMA New York — the American affiliate of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in the Netherlands — and served as its principal until he renamed the firm REX in 2006.

The motto of the firm is to "design collaborations rather than dictate solutions." The idea is that the false notion of "starchitecture" diminishes the real teamwork that drives celebrated architecture. Another aim is not to rush to architectural conclusions. According to the firm, the largest obstacle facing clients and architects is their failure to speak a common language. By taking adequate time to think with the clients before commencing the traditional design process, the firm claims that they can provide solutions of greater clarity and quality.

The Seattle Central Library for Seattle’s 28-branch library system was completed in 2004.

During the lecture, Prince-Ramus described the process of designing the famous Seattle Central Library from 2004. On that project, his team identified competing notions of what a library should represent: a place for media or social responsibility. REX developed a design that didn’t exclude either but rather took into account the library’s need to evolve over the years according to changing priorities in the media and digital space and its role as a community center.

The library includes a reading room, book spiral, meeting platform, living room, staff floor, children’s collection and auditorium.

The "Mixing Chamber" in the Seattle Central Library.

Prince-Ramus also talked about using this approach in designing the new Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The process resulted in a versatile space that allows the theater to offer a variety of staging options, including sections that can merge with and incorporate the outdoor space.

The Dee and Charles Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District.

To increase company cohesion, back-of-house spaces dedicated to performers and administrators are intertwined. The aim was to facilitate interaction.

"We moved things around that are normally constrained so that the audience could engage with different parts of the building and even the real world during the performance," he said. "The result is that the theater and its audience have many different opportunities for interaction."

Credits: Images from REX.

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Art-Based Activism in Russian Cities

by Shriya Malhotra

Downloadable bulletin. Source: Partizaning
Partizaning, a new group of artist-activists based in Moscow, is practicing a unique form of tactical urbanism in Russia. Their creative projects encourage residents to participate in improving their cities using accessible tools, limited only by their imaginations.

As a project, it stands apart for its use of art in public spaces — both on streets and online — as well as in its approach toward improving cities through participatory, grassroots engagement focused on social and environmental issues. The website is a forum to share ideas and inspire people to organize events and projects that reclaim city streets while pushing the established limits of arts practice. Through analysis, critique and documentation of street art, urban interventions and social activism, it provokes thoughtful dialogue and action towards instigating change.

At the intersection of simultaneous evolutions in street art and social transformation, Partizaning blurs the boundaries of ecological sustainability and participatory urban planning by using art as a tool for action. The long-term goal is to establish a social arts movement, using a variety of artistic, DIY and tactical urban interventions, to create change, promote participation and improve cities around the world.

The Partizaning "residence" in a shipping container. Source: Partizaning

Tactical Urbanism and Participatory Action

Partizaning takes an interdisciplinary approach that brings art together with environmental, social, political and urban activism. In an effort to promote participation and re-planning of urban spaces and create dialogues that are creative and interactive. This effort bridges research and practice, past and present, critique and implementation. Several aspects are in line with what is increasingly becoming known as "tactical urbanism."

The strategy goes something like this:
  • Identify the problem.
  • Envision how it can be solved — or just do it yourself (e.g., fixing street lights, creating bicycle routes).
  • Leverage media attention to share this information or collaborate with governments and businesses to realize the solution. This includes strategically using mass and social media for exchange and collaboration.
The strategy is also in line with a growing participatory urbanism witnessed in cities around the world. People are increasingly questioning ownership of public spaces and how planning decisions are made. Brooklyn-based DoTank, for instance, is an "interdisciplinary organization that works to improve the commons by being a Do-Tank, as opposed to a Think-Tank, for urbanism." Their project #whOWNSpace addresses conflicts arising out of the privatization, commercialization and militarization of public space.

Street signs project in Amsterdam. Source: Partizaning
While the approach is new, grassroots community-based organizing in Moscow is a part of the city's history. In the past, self-managed groups and community-based organizations have sought to improve their homes and neighborhoods through a variety of efforts and activities. However, a key difference in the Partizaning strategy is to leverage art for expression and to engage the community using media and social networks to spread ideas and strategies. This allows people to connect beyond the limits of their locations and collaborate across the city, or world, to promote more livable cities. Partizaning recently installed a series of street signs featuring social critique in Amsterdam. Here is a map of the project. The group is inspired by situationism and makes use of psychogeography with the aim of social change.

Partizaning's activities have developed organically with the evolution of art history, street art, urban interventions and contemporary activism in Moscow and similar trends witnessed in other cities around the world. For instance, street art has changed over time and can now involve local communities who use streets as a forum for public expression. It now also includes urban interventions and 3-D public art, such as performances. Similarly, environmental and political movements in cities are increasingly creative and activist, with the Internet as a new forum for collaboration, expression and change-making. Leveraging the potential of street art — including public and urban interventions — creates immense possibilities to challenge the status quo.

"Objects," a book series by Igor Ponosov on Russian street art from 2000-09. Source: Partizaning

Street Art as Public Participation

Street art generally receives little thought, dialogue or analysis, particularly in Russia — the Partizaning website is an effort to change this. Instead of putting street art in galleries, it promotes the idea that artists aspire to create their works outside and make them useful. In this way, it is partly a call to other artists to be involved in their cities. It is also a call to residents to use the website as a forum and resource to share, collaborate and address their situations.

Partizaning challenges the dichotomy between street art and fine art, and the aspiration of street artists to move away from the streets and into galleries and museums. This is partly a response to Moscow’s monopolistic art market and lack of used public spaces. It also highlights art as public participation and emphasizes the need to be active on the streets to do more for the environment and society.

Participants in Delai Sam, a week of DIY activities — including many art interventions — aimed at raising environmental awareness. It takes place every 6 months, and the next one will be in Moscow from Apr. 14-22, 2012. Source: Partizaning

The project and strategy have emerged from the Russian tradition of revolutions and grassroots activism as a response to monarchies and autocratic rule. This tradition is also that of a non-conformist culture. Many ideals of socialism remain salient, without holding the failures of the system against it. In the tradition of kitchen table meetings, Partizaning is driven by citizen interest, activism and engagement— rooted in a strategic and revolutionary framework and an effort to critique, analyze and participate in the public realm and in public spaces.

Public Spaces: Streets and Online

A street is perhaps the most democratic and open of urban forums. In a city, the physical street is our lowest common denominator — all residents interact with the streets, the most basic of public space. People write on walls when driven by passion or lack of alternative venues for expression. Because of its open format, street art represents a powerful form of expression and holds immense potential for collaboration, information sharing and change-making. Through works such as installations, guerrilla gardening, street signage and mapping projects, Partizaning is motivating Muscovites to strategically leverage the language of art as a tool for expressing themselves, raising awareness and improving the city.

In ways similar to public streets, the Internet offers an online forum for expression and collaboration that is perhaps unprecedented. Streets have become so controlled and formalized that expression, interaction and collaboration is now, in some ways, easier online. Partizaning seeks to use its website to exchange ideas, strategies and experiences with other movements around the world who are not satisfied with the status quo. It also aims to be a place for critical dialogue and constructive re-imagining.

As an interdisciplinary, participatory and art-based movement, the strategy has the potential to help people in cities across the world to creatively engage with and ultimately change their communities and cities.

Shriya Malhotra is an urbanist from New Delhi, India who believes in arts-based participation and mapping to create better cities. She writes for Pattern Cities and is an editor at Partizaning.

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Mexico’s Construction Spree, in Pictures

by Melissa García Lamarca

Livia Corona, a photographer from Ensenada in Baja California, spent four years exploring former Mexican President Vicente Fox’s electoral promise of building two million homes for low-income families across the country. During Fox’s six-year presidency, which ended in 2006, more than 2.3 million homes were built at a mind-boggling rate of 2,500 homes per day. Most of these developments lack public amenities such as schools, parks and transportation systems, and there are few commercial establishments, such as banks and grocery stores.

Corona's photos illustrate the rapid-fire transformations of social and ecological landscapes across Mexico, making visible this country’s urban development on a massive and daunting scale. She has a remarkable ability to capture the effects of this transformation upon individuals, exploring what happens in homes nestled in a uniform expanse of development.

More of the "Two Million Homes for Mexico" project can be viewed at Culture Hall. Learn more about Corona's other photography projects on her website. She will also be exhibiting her work at the Valencia Institute of Modern Art's "Ciudad Total" exhibition from May to July 2012.

Credits: Photos from Culture Hall.

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Projecting Memory and Possibility on a Building Facade

by Rebecka Gordan

Being a city dweller is often conditioned by memories. Walking through a familiar city, we see things that newcomers don’t. Remembering scenarios from our past, we picture ourselves in squares and alleys, younger versions in the memorable dramas of our lives.

If we know our city better, we even imagine the history that is not our own. Collective memory makes us visualize events like political speeches, demonstrations or perhaps hostage dramas, like the one at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm. This was the origin of the so-called Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages express empathy towards their captors. Similarly, in cities that capture us, we do what we can to feel at home. We crave history and collective memory for a sense of belonging.

Last weekend, the City Museum of Stockholm hosted a large-scale video installation called I.R.I.S. A 3-D projection took viewers on a journey through the architectural history of the museum and transformed its facade into the ornamented version originally intended in 1683, with balconies and stately statues.

Filmmaker and multimedia artist Jesper Wachtmeister also wanted to play with history and challenge our imagination. What would happen if the ornamentation was extruded and pushed out in the air? What if you could see through the wall? Or send text messages to speech bubbles that appeared from the windows? What if the facade was made of plate glass?

The result was a mind-blowing experience. A crystallized surface turned into a mirror-glass facade, reflecting the site and suggesting faraway places. The facade was reversed and cracked, changing color and shape. Adding these kinds of projections in our cities might help us see our surroundings with fresh eyes and even reduce some fears or prejudices. Instead of clinging to history, we would dare to accept new visions side by side with the familiar.

Wachtmeister has become renowned for his documentary films and art projects, often with architecture as a theme. Among his most famous works are "Test Site: North American Desert Culture"(2010), "Great Expectations: A Journey Through the History of Visionary Architecture" (2007) and "Kochuu: Japanese Architecture, Influence & Origin" (2003).

Credits: Photos from Solaris Filmproduktion.

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MAS Context: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Urban Design

by Iker Gil

MAS Context covers.

During the first weeks of 2009, a new initiative started to take shape in the design office MAS Studio: an initiative to share the most remarkable ideas and work with the public, produced by designers for people interested in the future of the place they live. The goal was to embrace collaboration, explore new formats of distribution and think in a critical way about the issues that affect how we live. Ultimately, this initiative aimed to generate a collaborative culture of design in the city were it was produced, Chicago, as well as in other cities around the world.

This curiosity and desire to discuss urban issues from a design perspective translated into a series of essays, interviews and case studies that would become the first issue of the design journal MAS Context.

Interior spreads.

Since then, we have produced 13 issues dealing with topics that influence and inform the way we engage with the places where we live, work and travel, including themes of "information,""amusement,""network,""speed" and "conflict." These issues have featured 150 contributors from around the world and cultivated a readership from 144 countries. Besides the quarterly issues, we produced "University Works," a book featuring 50 architecture projects from 10 universities around the world.

Every issue is centered on a single topic, based on the following core ideas:
  • Approach each topic from the point of view of several design fields
  • Combine different communication techniques to provide a comprehensive view
  • Share each issue through a variety of media types to reach a wide audience

Cover of MAS Context 13 / Ownership, illustrated by Klaus.

Our latest issue deals with the theme of "ownership." As we describe in the journal, the concept of ownership — the exclusive rights and control over a property — has existed for centuries and in all cultures. Whether state, collective or personal, ownership is one of the most determining factors not only in defining our built environment but also in shaping our society.

But what if the way we live has changed? Can we redefine ownership to adapt to the needs of society? Can that redefinition provide new opportunities for our built environment? This issue is dedicated to examining ownership in our current culture, ancient traditions, legal systems and the physical environment. It explores the concept of ownership in two main areas: intellectual and cultural ownership, and legal and physical ownership. The 13 contributions featured deal with aspects of tradition, identity, creativity, copyright, occupation, privatization, excess, reconfiguration, legality and consumption. They range from urban analysis, architectural proposals, strategic interventions and personal documentation, to discussions and illustration of the role of ownership in intellectual property and in fostering creativity. They address and provide a possible approach to ownership and redefine the concept itself.

MAS Context : Analog included presentations from emerging and established designers, exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol, and a bookstore by Golden Age.

In this year’s issues of MAS Context, we plan to continue to concentrate our efforts in four areas: Content, Design, Events and Outreach. We want to focus on storytelling, with a new set of topics and establish a strong visual experiential relationship between digital, printed and physical events. We also plan to organize events related to the topic of each issue, and host MAS Context : Analog, our one-day event in Chicago. We aim to build and strengthen our network of contributors, readers and supporters around the world to facilitate a fruitful discussion about key issues, both locally and internationally.

In a time of economic and cultural restraint, MAS Context is demonstrating that forward-thinking ideas exist and need to be widely shared and critically discussed.

Iker Gil is an architect, director of MAS Studio and editor-in-chief of MAS Context. He is also an adjunct professor in the School of Architecture at UIC and recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club.

Credits: Images from MAS Context.

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Jiang Jun Examines Housing in China

by Natalia Echeverri

Jiang Jun, editor-in-chief of Urban China Magazine, gave a talk on Chinese housing at the SCOR "Social Housing - Housing the Social" symposium in November 2011. His presentation, "China Housing: The Dilution and Reformation of Collectiveness," is a fascinating summary of transformations in Chinese housing over the past century.

Agricultural China: Courtyard House. Source: Urban China

Jun argues that housing in China coincides with the structure of families, explaining how both have changed through societal restructuring. He categorizes housing paradigms as representative of three general eras: Agricultural China (feudal society), Industrial China (post-revolution) and Urban China (post-1980).

Industrial China: Danwei (Socialist) Compound. Source: Urban China

Jun shows how housing types in each of these eras reflect different economic, social, political and cultural influences. For example, the courtyard house associated with Agricultural China was privately owned, economically self-sufficient and organized by family or clan. The Urban China housing paradigm is framed by government policy and global real-estate speculation.

Urban China: Residential Complex. Source: Urban China

While Industrial China certainly doesn't end in 1980, industrialization fueled the transition from rural to urban that characterizes China today. Jun adds that China is now shifting from production to consumption, and the influence of this process on families and housing is beginning to emerge.

It is worth watching the video of Jun's lecture (embedded above) for more detail on his research and historical insights on housing in the world's most populous nation.

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Echoes of Falling Water in Wright’s Unbuilt Projects

by Hector Fernando Burga

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water (1935) is among the most renowned architectural icons of the 20th century. In this post I consider renderings of three unbuilt projects that came after Falling Water, revealing a lineage of design elements that reappear in different forms and contexts.

In his rendering for the Morris House (1945), Wright continues to link built forms with their natural environments through a careful consideration of topography. In the rendering above, the building's location defines its dynamic composition. Wright introduces curved windows to provide expanded waterfront views and allows local vegetation to adorn the roofs and balconies. Like Falling Water, the building is a stylized extension of the surrounding landscape.

Falling Water is clearly visible in the rendering of Cottage Studio for Ayn Rand (1946). The slate base, vertical circulation shaft and cantilevered slabs are revisited almost dogmatically. However, unlike the elegant balance of projecting slabs in Falling Water, these slabs thrust boldly from their wooded terrain toward a single point on the horizon. Rand's worldview seems unmistakably reflected in the design.

In Point View Residences (1952), characteristics of Falling Water appear in a large apartment building. Wright uses rhythm, hierarchy and balance to prevent the scale from overwhelming. Intermediate floor slabs with decorative cladding give life to the facade. Terraces and balconies extend in a welcoming gesture from the building's hillside perch. A simple base lifts the apartments up to crown the terrain.

In these renderings Wright creatively reformats elements of Falling Water, showing that the building is more than an independent flash of inspiration. It is also one of many layers in the development of a design sensibility that reverberated in new settings, in response to new challenges.

Credits: Renderings from Treasures of Taliesen: Seventy-Seven Unbuilt Designs.

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Life After Nuclear Disaster in Kazakhstan and Japan

by Anna Fogel

The cover of TIME in Japan. Source: TIME
I observed the one year anniversary of Japan’s devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident on March 11 in Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. Semey, as it has been officially renamed, is a remote area in the northeast of the country that is most famous as the USSR’s largest nuclear weapons testing site. Over a 40 year period, the Soviets tested 500 nuclear weapons underground and above ground before officially closing the site in 1991.

Sitting in my hotel room in Semey, I read articles in many of the major newspapers and magazines observing the tragedy in northeast Japan. After the water receded and dust settled in mid-March 2011, more than 20,000 were dead, tens of thousands were homeless, and the world had watched the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. One year later, many had hoped there would be more progress in rebuilding and recovering. Ninety-five percent of the debris is still waiting to be disposed of, and 350,000 people remain displaced. There is little consensus on how, where and what to rebuild near the evacuation zones, and there is a huge challenge ahead of removing the radiation that leaked into the soil, water and atmosphere. There is still a 20-kilometer exclusion zone covering now-abandoned cities, such as Okuma. This will be reviewed in March, after which certain areas may be considered uninhabitable for decades.

Beyond the physical rehabilitation, there have been psychological effects across Japan. In some of the earthquake-hit areas, residents have higher rates of insomnia, psychiatric problems and suicide. Across the country, from Tokyo to Hiroshima, people talk about the loss of confidence in their community, their government and their country. There is a sense of confusion and uncertainty about how Japan can move forward and recover.

While I am not suggesting that Semey is a comparable experience or model for northeast Japan, it is interesting — and in some ways comforting — to think about what Semey has become more than 20 years after nuclear weapons testing was completed. The city of Semey, located near the border with Russia, about 100 kilometers from the official testing site, is now industrial and trade-driven. While there are serious long-lasting impacts — including higher rates of cancer, impotence and birth defects — there is a common view that nuclear testing is a feature of the area’s past and not its future. Semey is still a poor, economically depressed part of Kazakhstan, but the city has grown in recent decades to a population of 300,000. It is the site of one of the oldest churches in Central Asia and the site of a multi-million dollar bridge over the Irtysh river, which the Japanese government funded in the last decade.

Houses in Semey with a backdrop of the cement factory. Source: Anna Fogel

The disasters in northeast Kazakhstan and Japan have generated strong political activism in places not known for political involvement. The anti-nuclear movement, "Nevada Semipalatinsk," was formed in 1989 and attracted thousands of people, becoming one of the largest movements in the former Soviet Union. It eventually led to the closing of the site in 1991. Semey is still actively involved in anti-nuclear discussions; this was the site where five countries signed the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone agreement in 2006. On March 11, 2012, anti-nuclear demonstrations took place in many major cities in Japan, including one in Tokyo that drew 30,000 protestors.

The nuclear crises have raised broader questions about the future of nuclear power. Prior to 2011, 30 percent of Japan’s energy needs were met by nuclear power. As of March 2012, only two of 54 reactors are now running, and all could be shut down by April depending on the results of ongoing safety reviews and due to local opposition. The government has committed to reducing the country’s reliance on nuclear power. In Kazakhstan, there are now conversations about building a nuclear power plant, and many have advocated for Semey in discussions about potential sites. Although there is strong local opposition in Semey, it is not a politically powerful area, and the future is unclear. More broadly, there are conversations throughout Central Asia’s developing economies about the future of nuclear power and potential sites for future plants.

The 21st century bridge over the Irtysh River. Source: Anna Fogel

One year after the tragedy in Japan, and more than 20 years after nuclear weapons testing in Semey, both regions and the entire world is trying to figure out how to move forward, how to provide energy for its people and at what human cost.

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MoMA Rehouses the American Dream

by Alex Schafran

One would be hard-pressed to find a more jarring juxtaposition to the new exhibit "Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream" than the venue itself: New York's Museum of Modern Art. MoMA is pre-High Line Big Apple contemporary, with glass, steel and high-end patrons. It is located in a very high-end neighborhood, a far cry from cities like Rialto, Calif., and Cicero, Ill. discussed in the exhibit. One is far more likely to be standing next to a Carioca discussing her new downtown condo than suburbanites wondering about foreclosure or falling property values. At $25 a ticket, an hour of museum entrance fees on a typically busy weekday could probably buy an entire block in many of the hard-hit suburban communities across the country.

That said, it is high time that a high-profile American cultural institution took on the question of housing and the future of the American Dream, and the exhibit does an admirable job of asking some important questions. The project began at the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University. In classic architectural style, it emerged first as a pamphlet and then as the "Buell Hypothesis," an ode to manifestos and monographs past that combines Socratic dialogue with a scrapbook of American housing history and an urgent call to rethink the American Dream.

The goal of the exhibit is urban — this is not just about housing, it argues, but about cities. Its hypothesis is: "Change the dream and you change the city." Doing so requires "a different kind of public conversation" about housing, dreams and cities. In addition to featuring arty displays of this hypothesis as textual object, the exhibit features the grand designs of interdisciplinary teams of architects and non-architects that seek to test it. Five places were chosen: Rialto, Calif.; Cicero, Ill.; Keizer, Ore.; Temple Terrace, Fla.; and The Oranges in N.J. Teams did extensive research, and their renderings of a rebuilt and re-imagined suburbia appear in the exhibit.

Model of "Nature-City" by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood of WORKac.

To their credit, what emerged were not simply architectural renderings. The Keizer team included planners, economists and one of my favorite urban law theorists, Harvard's Jerry Frug. The "design" of this 21st century rendition of Ebeneezer Howard's dream includes ideas on taxation and ownership structures. The other four models include ideas on energy, water, transportation, land use regulation and microeconomics. Some of them are spectacular, especially the neo-Garden City model from Oregon.

Rendering of "Nature-City."

Unfortunately, most of these ideas get lost in the pretty models and large-scale renderings, buried under architectural gloss and the dominance of design. I have the utmost respect for the goals of the Buell Hypothesis, and I would argue that most of us at Polis are attempting to engage in a new public conversation on urbanism. However, I question the degree to which the exhibit pushes this conversation forward. Perhaps it is my own distrust of high architecture, or of architecture and architects as the primary drivers of this conversation. Much is made in the Buell text of the history of modernism and public housing, a history that made many non-designers like myself inherently distrustful of a conversation about changing cities that seems to foreground physical models.

There is also little engagement with the fact that much of what made Howard's Garden City idea great was his re-imagining of property ownership and local political economy, not simply his ideas on design. In fact, the fate of American suburbs and the hardened fiction of the American Dream stems in part from the ways developers and urbanists used Howard's design model but threw away his anarchist ideas about ownership.

The failure of this exhibit to highlight a fact that it clearly knows, and instead fall back on the enticing eye candy of design, is all the more frustrating because of its location. New York City has long been home to some of the most innovative ideas in collective property ownership, from co-ops to mutual housing associations. Needless to say, the towers surrounding the museum are reminders of a different kind of "ownership," debt-fueled speculative capital markets whose global center is only a few miles to the south.

If you want a more complete story of the American Dream, walk down one flight of stairs and take a look at a piece MoMA commissioned from Diego Rivera in 1931, aptly titled "Frozen Assets."

Credits: Images from

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Documenting ‘Re-Migration’ in Istanbul

by Andrew Wade

Born to a Dutch mother and Turkish father, photographer Ahmet Polat is a visual storyteller who documents the lives of Dutch-born Turkish youth and their yearnings for identity and opportunity. Driven by his own dual heritage, Polat spent several years completing "... Neither here nor there ...," a set of work that traces the lives of Turkish youth who were born, raised and educated in the Netherlands and later "re-migrated" to Turkey.

An image from "Kemal's Dream," an exhibition of Polat's work at DEPO in Istanbul. Source: DEPO

Each photograph distills not only a moment of transition and dislocation, but also the persistent struggle to establish a relationship with a familiar yet foreign society and culture. Those profiled overwhelmingly adopted Istanbul as their new home, seduced by the city as the greatest outlet for their ambition and international perspectives.

Polat's work is on view at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam until May 7 and at DEPO in Istanbul until April 21.

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Women’s Voices from Quito

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Source: Municipality of Quito

Since Nov. 25, 2011, coinciding with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Municipality of Quito in Ecuador is leading an innovative and inspiring campaign called "Cartas de Mujeres" (Women's Letters). With support from UN-WOMEN, GIZ and other public and private organizations, the campaign invites women from all social backgrounds to share testimonials about their lives and write about a better world without discrimination and violence against women. The campaign's aim is twofold: making society aware of the crude reality that many, if not most, women live in our sexist world and contributing to debate and public policy toward eradication of this pandemic.

The campaign was an initiative of the city of Quito, but has reached a national scale — it has gathered more than 11,000 original letters, according to the latest counts. The campaign is already exhibiting its results in Quito's Contemporary Art Center. Once it is over, the most representative stories will be disseminated through radio and television and even become cinema productions. The most important expectation from the campaign, though, is that the city's government policies on gender will be inspired by real problems and effective solutions coming from these letters.

Source: Municipality of Quito

The letters exhibited make readers realize the burden that sexism means for the society as a whole, not only for victims of discrimination and violence. These stories show how discrimination and violence against women destroy whole families and inhibit or hinder half of the population from developing their talents and contributing to development.

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May I Have a Seat, Please?

by Min Li Chan

Wandering the streets of Hong Kong, you'd be hard-pressed to find public seating on the sidewalks, especially when you're meant to be going somewhere or doing something in this vibrant, relentless city. On weekends, communities of domestic helpers create their own makeshift Sunday seats — a transient sprawl of living rooms, if you will — on the floors of plazas. These are demarcated by cardboard boxes for walls, picnic cloths and household paraphernalia.

When I set out to The Creators Project in San Francisco this weekend, my mind couldn't help but hop across the Pacific to the memory of my fatigued muscles, aching for a sanctioned surface to sit on in Hong Kong. Just outside the venue at Fort Mason, a complex of renovated military buildings, seats were not only in abundance, but also part of an oeuvre of public art in the form of functional urban sculptures: If you were tired from meandering through the weekend's extraordinary exhibition of technology and art, you could settle into a seat nearby.

One appeared to levitate.

Source: Min Li Chan

Another embodied the struggle to rise up from detritus and scale a wall.

Source: Min Li Chan

Sitting, as a physical act that is at once mobile and stationary, has had a fascinating place in the history of cities: from Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus, to petitions for the right to sit on sidewalks. Today, urban environments almost demand shared public spaces and public seating — where there is bustle, it seems inhuman to deny the possibility of taking a moment's pause. San Francisco's recent "Pavements to Parks" initiative transforms wide, unused zones of streets and public rights-of-way (which make up 25 percent of the city's land area) into mini-parks, or "parklets." As San Francisco Great Streets Project reports:
Parklets offer a unique opportunity to widen a sidewalk, providing public space for people to sit and relax. Parklets do this by building out a platform into two or three parking spots so that the grade of the sidewalk gets carried out into the parking lane. On the platform, some combination of benches, planters, landscaping, bike parking and tables and chairs (in certain locations) all come together to provide a welcoming new public space.

Source: Inhabitat

Parklets with seating could be a welcome addition to streets in Hong Kong and other cities, creating restful, social and entertaining public space for residents and visitors alike.

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K.C. Sivaramakrishnan on Urban Renewal in India

"Last Tree(tment) of Gurgaon." Source: Pastalane™

"'India lives in its villages,' a saying attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, has long characterized the Indian mindset. That India also lives in its cities and towns and is as much a part of its economic and political reality, came to be recognized only two or three decades after Independence. But recognition is only an initial step. In India, urban growth and management have been rarely at the centre of development planning.

"There is also a cycle of development in India which shows that planning and availability of resources are often in an inverse relationship. When there is little money, planning is pursued, policy pronouncements are made, and legal and other prescriptions are formulated. But when money is available, projects take priority and planning is forgotten."

K.C. Sivaramakrishnan, from "Re-visioning Indian Cities: The Urban Renewal Mission," 2011

This is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don't necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We welcome you to add others.

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Habitat 67: Cube Housing in Montreal

by Anna Fogel

Source: Habitat 67

In response to a post on the Cube Houses in Rotterdam a few months ago, a reader commented that they reminded her of Habitat 67, another cube-inspired housing project. I decided to look into the concept, design and current status of Habitat 67. The project was initially designed for Expo 67, the 1967 world’s fair in Montreal, where housing was one of the main themes. Moshe Safdie designed Habitat 67 while an architecture student at McGill University.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although they are visually and architecturally different, I immediately recognized the resemblance the reader had seen between the Cube Houses and Habitat 67. Habitat 67 is a community of 146 homes composed of 354 greyish cubes. It forces us to consider the cube in a new light, much as the Rotterdam Cube Houses do, and to consider the meaning behind the cube as an architectural base. The Cube Houses convey dynamic whimsy in their positioning, whereas Habitat 67 maintains an unconventional pragmatism and stability.

Source: Canadian Architecture Collection (CAC), McGill University

The Cube Houses and Habitat 67 focus on creating a community of cubes, both overlooking ports (Habitat 67 overlooks the Old Port of Montreal, and the Cube Houses overlook the Old Port of Rotterdam). Both complexes focus inwards in many ways, with internal shared common spaces, gardens and walkways, while communicating externally with anyone who passes by.

Source: Habitat 67

Safdie's design offers quality high-density living space. While he also hoped to create a model of affordable housing, high demand has pushed up the price of these homes. Like the Cube Houses, Habitat 67 is still inhabited, and residents continue to adapt it to their lifestyles and needs.

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