Friday, 8 June 2007

New York 2106

[via City of Sound's excellent coverage of the Postopolis event]

Great work by Terreform - a studio formed by Mitchell Joachim and Michael Sorkin, reimagining New York in 2106.

This proposal inverts the existing urban form of greater New York, the grid of streets becoming the site for building, and the current city blocks the zone for "greenfill".

"We propose transformation via a radical strategy: the reversal of figure and ground, of public and private property. We begin with citywide “greenfill,” the immediate transfer of half the aggregate of street space from the vehicular to the pedestrian and public realm. Later, the streets become building sites and, as new, highly autonomous, buildings grow in intersections and wind their way down streets and avenues and through vacant lots, the old, deteriorated, fabric will fade away to be replaced both by an abundance of productive green space and by a new labyrinth of irregular blocks, a paradise for people on foot. Fast movement will be accomplished underground in a superbly modernized subway and along the rivers and new cross-island channels. The city streets – extended in their length but reduced in their area – will support a marvelous technology we know to be just over the horizon, some fabulous and slow conveyance summoned with a whistle or collapsed into a pocket."

This radical inversion will theoretically allow New York to be become self-sufficient in it's vital necessities including food, energy and waste processing.

The plan proposes a radical greening of New York, with rivers/ canals bisecting Manhattan into 4 smaller islands.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Modern movements in Mass Transit

While the idea of a Car Free Helsinki might be a little ambitious, there seems to me to be a growing sense that we have let cars dominate our cities and town planning for too long, and that this acquiescence to the cult of the car should end.

Correspondent to any change in the level of cars on our roads must come innovation in public transport, or Mass Transit as the Americans like to call it.

A great slideshow in BusinessWeek magazine shows a selection of recent innovations in transport alternatives, from an automated metro for Dubai to Personal Rapid Transport at Heathrow, and the new Fastech 360 Shinkansen which are expected to travel at 360 kph.

Meanwhile, Good magazine unveils "Five innovations in urban transportation that you won’t find in America, yet". Most of the ideas presented there are as much about thinking laterally as any technological fix.

"Subways are expensive—in fact, an 11-mile, 21-station addition to Athens’s subway system, opened in 2000, cost more than $3.6 billion. As a result, subways are often limited to high-density areas in order to recover their costs; even then, most systems require a substantial subsidy."

(I took this quote to heart when thinking about the plan to create a new Metro line to the East of Helsinki, joining up the chain of islands. Bridges would be a much beeter idea).

Most of these ideas are a long way away from traditional transport policy. In NYC, Mayor Bloomberg famously said: "We like traffic, it means economic activity, it means people coming here."

Resisting the power of the automobile creates new design opportunities for urban areas. An article at, Designing Cities for People, Rather than Cars…, looks at the example of Bogata Columbia:

"In response to these conditions, we are seeing the emergence of a new urbanism. One of the most remarkable modern urban transformations has occurred in Bogotá, Colombia, where Enrique Peñalosa served as Mayor for three years, beginning in 1998. When he took office he did not ask how life could be improved for the 30 percent who owned cars; he wanted to know what could be done for the 70 percent–the majority–who did not own cars.

Peñalosa realized that a city that is a pleasant environment for children and the elderly would work for everyone. In just a few years, he transformed the quality of urban life with his vision of a city designed for people. Under his leadership, the city banned the parking of cars on sidewalks, created or renovated 1,200 parks, introduced a highly successful bus-based rapid transit system, built hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths and pedestrian streets, reduced rush hour traffic by 40 percent, planted 100,000 trees, and involved local citizens directly in the improvement of their neighborhoods. In doing this, he created a sense of civic pride among the city’s 8 million residents, making the streets of Bogotá in strife-torn Colombia safer than those in Washington, D.C."

Perhaps by 2050 we'll look back and see the domination of our cities by private automobiles as a peculiar aberration, or will we still be in love with the car, and continue to let it dictate the shape of our urban future?

London 2071

"Perched between brooding mountains and surrounded by vineyards, the Portuguese town of Vila Real may seem a world away from the chaos of central London."

First noted on BldgBlog, a recent article in the Guardian looked at London in the year 2071 from a climate change point of view, and estimated that it's climate then would resemble that of Portugal now.

They warn that average temperatures across Britain will reach 3C higher than today, peaking at 5C higher in the south-east. Night will offer little respite.

Each 1C of warming takes an extra hour to dissipate, so the south could feel as warm at midnight on summer evenings as it does at 7pm today. Summer rain on the south coast could be down to just half current levels, well over 40% down across the rest of England and about 30% down in Scotland. Winter rainfall in scattered eastern parts could peak at more than 30% above current levels, and is likely to fall in heavy bursts.

With this reduced rainfall levels, England would have to pipe water in, perhaps down from Scotland.

A map by scientists from the International Centre for Research on the Environment and Development in Nogent-sur-Marne, France, and the University of Bremen, created a map, replotting the position of 12 European capitals based on their projected climate futures. Whilst Oslo and Stockholm are both predicted to have Spanish climates, the prediction for Helsinki is more that of a mid-European city like Prague.

As BldgBlog points out, the architecture of northern cities like Helsinki will have to change gradually as it acclimatises to the new temperature and rainfall patterns.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

London 2066

When you start looking, you find urban visions of the future everywhere. Here's a drawing of London 2066, as envisioned by Zaha Hadid for Vogue magazine in 1991.

Inspirational stuff.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Real Time Rome

First exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Real Time Rome from MIT's SENSEable City Lab is an attempt to map the city via it's network of mobile devices, including phones, buses and taxis, in an attempt to understand urban dynamic, perhaps with a view to unlocking new ways to view cities and plan future development.

"In today's world, wireless mobile communications devices are creating new dimensions of interconnectedness between people, places, and urban infrastructure. This ubiquitous connectivity within the urban population can be observed and interpreted in real-time, through aggregate records collected from communication networks. Real-time visualizations expose the dynamics of the contemporary city as urban systems coalesce: traces of information and communication networks, movement patterns of people and transportation systems, spatial and social usage of streets and neighborhoods. Observing the real-time city becomes a means to understanding the present and anticipating the future of urban environments. In the visualizations of Real Time Rome we synthesize data from various real-time networks to understand patterns of daily life in Rome. We interpolate the aggregate mobility of people according to their mobile phone usage and visualize it synchronously with the flux of public transit, pedestrians, and vehicular traffic. By overlaying mobility information on geographic and socio-economic references of Rome we unveil the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements. These real-time maps help us understand how neighborhoods are used in the course of a day, how the distribution of buses and taxis correlates with densities of people, how goods and services are distributed in the city, or how different social groups, such as tourists and residents, inhabit the city. With the resulting visualizations users can interpret and react to the shifting urban environment. Real Time Rome respects individual privacy and only uses aggregate data already collected by communication service providers; also, it is hoped that the exhibit will stimulate dialogue on access and responsible use of such data."

More from a PDF:
"From an individual’s perspective: what would be the best and most crowded place to drink an aperitivo in Rome? And what would be the fastest way to reach it by car, taxi or bus? From a general planning perspective: how do cars and pedestrians merge in the city? Where and when are urban resources squandered in traffic jams? How do tourists inhabit the urban realm? What is the pulse of the city and how is it affected by special events, such as the World Cup victory celebrations? The Real Time Rome project synthesizes data from communications and transportation networks into visualizations that help us decipher patterns of daily life in Rome. With aggregate information from mobile phones, made available through the innovative Lochness platform by Telecom Italia, the project interpolates the combined activity of people and presents it synchronously with the flux of public transportation and taxis. By overlaying mobility information on the geographic references of a city, Real Time Rome unveils the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements."

Generally when it comes to visualising infrastructure we look at transport networks: road, rail, canals etc, but neglect these invisible networks of information systems, the dynamic urbanism of data flows. As more of our lives are mediated to virtual domains, a true understanding of a city must also take into account the data infrastructure and non-physical communication structures as well. Helsinki is well placed to present a virtual datacity intertwined with the physical site of roads and walls.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Car free Helsinki

Could Helsinki be the first major city besides Venice to forbid personal automotive transport? While small scale car-free zones exist such as in Copenhagen, and many European cities (with Gent perhaps the most extensive car-free area), many of these decisions are based on practical considerations within medieval streetplans.

Helsinki already has a small car-free area on the island fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Too often, being car-free is seen as a Luddite, retrograde step, with visions of Amish buggywhips. But Helsinki could show how it might be a progressive, technologically forward step to forgo personal automotive transport in favour of cycling, walking, mass transit. Developments in communications technology are already profoundly affecting modes of working, refiguring the role of a central business district, and lessening the transport strain of a twice-daily rush hour.

Reducing the dominance of the car offers up two exciting possibilities for the development of Helsinki in 2050. Firstly, it would allow the arterial routes to become multi-functional zones, combining transport links, linear parks and high-density housing. Secondly, it could help prevent sprawl and suburbanization, and increase the housing density in the centres. Shrinking the city becomes a positive step.

If this sounds like New Urbanism, don't be alarmed. Unfortunately, most car-free concepts, such as are suspiciously regressive. I'm not proposing an ersatz, cosy Leon Krier-esque townscape, nor the banal, venal pedestrianisation that bedevils the UK's car-free areas. We can explore new typologies of streetscape, intertwined combinations of transport, housing, commercial space and parkland. Streetscape would no longer be defined by a building line separated by 12-20m for a two-lane blacktop.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Tokyo Fibercity 2050

Issue 63 of JA magazine projects possible pathways of development for Tokyo, Created by Prof. Ohno Hidetosh and his laboratory at the Univesity of Tokyo, it aims to create a new planning paradigm that will address environmental problems and demographic changes. The idea of the 'Fibercity' is adopted, describing structures that extend in a linear fashion such as transportation and communication networks - basically referring to speed and movement. This challenges the harmonious atomic model of traditional Western planning by recognising that mobility is now the central characteristic of conurbations and proposing exchange and interaction rather than production as the basis for structure.

The 'Fibercity' concept extends into four urban design strategies, Green Finger, Green Web, Green Partition and Urban Wrinkes, each of which project an attempt to change Tokyo by manipulating spatial fibres. The journal describes and illustrates these strategies in detail, as well as showing various historic, contemporary and projected aspects of Tokyo.

While as a sprawling metropolis Tokyo has a different set of circumstances, many of the design strategies could also be applied to Helsinki. Aspects of these design strategies echo Alexander's Pattern Language - eg number 3 City Country Fingers.

The Fibercity web site describes a Fiber as follows:

"A Fiber can be understood as an organizing grain or thread, in terms of city form it is a linear space."

"Fibers are spaces with velocity."

"Each of four urban strategies for the realization of the fiber city, namely Urban Wrinkle, Green Web, Green Partition and Green Finger is a strategy for altering the character of the city through careful manipulation of existing linear elements, or fibers. It should be noted however that these strategies are not only aimed towards a single purpose, but rather address several interrelated objectives, including: the reactivation of the city, disaster mitigation, amendment of transportation policy, and the enrichment of green space."

"Fiber City is flexible like fabric, made up of many textures, and upon inspection consists of repeating analagous patterns of different scales that have a fractal character."

Friday, 23 March 2007

City as Playground

A generation of children are growing up totally disconnected from their environment. A great article at BoingBoing highlights some new initiatives to "reclaim the idea of outdoor play for kids".

The article links to a piece by Richard Louv called "No Child Left Inside", an evocative clarion call to greater engagement with outdoor activity.

"To some extent, the movement is fueled by organizational or economic self-interest. But something deeper is going on here. With its nearly universal appeal, this issue seems to hint at a more atavistic motivation. It may have something to do with what Harvard professor E. O. Wilson calls the biophilia hypothesis, which is that human beings are innately attracted to nature: biologically, we are all still hunters and gatherers, and there is something in us, which we do not fully understand, that needs an occasional immersion in nature. We do know that when people talk about the disconnect between children and nature—if they are old enough to remember a time when outdoor play was the norm—they almost always tell stories about their own childhoods: this tree house or fort, that special woods or ditch or creek or meadow. They recall those “places of initiation,” in the words of naturalist Bob Pyle, where they may have first sensed with awe and wonder the largeness of the world seen and unseen. When people share these stories, their cultural, political, and religious walls come tumbling down."

As the BoingBoing piece continues, in Germany there are 'Waldkindergarten,' kindergartens based in the woods where the kids spend all day.

At a slightly more prosaic level Pott Row First School, in Norfolk, England, is giving every child waterproof clothing and aims to have half it's lessons outside.

The facts are that children play far less outside than ever before, despite evidence that there is no greater 'stranger danger' now than ever before, though dangers from road traffic are certainly a valid factor. Will children disconnected from their external environment grow up to be adults with no sense of place and belonging?

"Yes, there are risks outside our homes. But there are also risks in raising children under virtual protective house arrest: threats to their independent judgment and value of place, to their ability to feel awe and wonder, to their sense of stewardship for the Earth—and, most immediately, threats to their psychological and physical health."

But the concept of city as playground can be extended beyond children and into adulthood. Skateboarders and free runners ('parkour' - examples here and here), for example, view and engage with the city in a totally different way than that devised by architects and urbanists.

We can overlay opportunities for fun and exploration over the urban and natural fabric of the city. PacManhattan for instance, treats city blocks as part of a grid for a virtual reality game, using Wi-Fi and cellphones to spatialise the video game. Other augmented reality games, or so called alternate reality games such as Perplexcity overlap and combine fictional narratives with real world places. Nokia have dabbled in the ARG market with the imaginativly titled Nokia Game

The brief for the Greater Helsinki Vision is very concerned with environemntal issues, and makes great claims to Helsinki's natural beauty. Any visions we have for Helsinki must balance landscape with townscape. We should explore new typologies of both the urban fabric and built form that seek to break down these artificial distinctions.

Let us break the artificial, temerous divide between rural and urban, real and virtual, and regard it all as landscape, a playground.

Team Helsinki

Thursday, 22 March 2007

SWOT: Business & the Economy


  • Metropolitan area centre of Finnish economic activity.
  • Rapid economic growth has put Finland in a strong economic position. 15 richest countries in the world.
  • Strong innovation based economy.
  • One of the world’s most competitive economies.
  • Lowest inflation rate in Europe.
  • Belief in the power of social capital and cooperation is a major competitive advantage.
  • One of the world’s most advanced countries in terms of exploiting the potential of IT.
  • Continued investment from public and private sector in R&D.
  • Cooperation between universities and private sector R&D.
  • Continued investment in education and training.
  • World leader in mobile communications technology.


  • Remote location and small population have historically been economic challenges.
  • High rate of unemployment.
  • High consumer prices


  • Technological advances removing barriers to international trade.
  • A global example that a commitment to social equality need not disadvantage a country’s economic performance.
  • Projected growth of biotechnology sector centred on Viikki.


  • Increasing inequality in levels of personal income.
  • Dominance of the communication sector leaves economy vulnerable to downturn.
  • House price volatility has damaging affect on wider economy.
  • Aging population a challenge for continued income growth.

SWOT: Transport


  • Clean and efficient public transport system with international reputation.
  • Good park and ride system.
  • Low ticket prices on public transport.
  • Expanding commuter rail and metro system.
  • Public transport system increasingly running with environmentally sound vehicles.
  • Extensive cycle network.
  • Metropolitan area has good international transport links for passengers and cargo.
  • Good rail links through Russia to China and the Pacific Coast.


  • Energy consumption per capita on transport twice that of European average.
  • Low population density makes average journeys longer.
  • Public transport weak in cross city directions resulting in increased traffic congestion.
  • Rush hour congestion in suburbs.
  • Sea lanes freeze in winter.


  • Intensified urban structure would make public transport provision easier to provide.
  • Opportunity to be a worldwide leader in the implementation of sustainable public transport.
  • Bridge link to Tallinn would make overland link to the heart of Europe and symbolically link Helsinki to Europe.


  • Population growth leading to increased congestion and vehicle emissions.
  • Underinvestment in public transport.

SWOT: Housing


  • Relatively low number of areas with concentrations of poverty.
  • High quality, inclusive public sector housing with strong international reputation.
  • Public sector housing in physically good repair.
  • Public sector housing policy promotes social equality.
  • HITAS system provides affordable housing for middle income earners.


  • Lack of joined up regional housing policy resulting in a shortage of available land for new public housing.
  • Shortage of sites for new housing puts upward pressure on house prices.
  • Disincentives for municipalities to provide sites for new housing.
  • Urban sprawl.


  • Decline in perception of public housing in relatively early stages.
  • Opportunity to be at the forefront of innovations in housing design that responds to changing social and environmental priorities.
  • Low population density provides opportunity for growth on intensified existing urban sites.
  • Potential trade off between local income tax and property tax to stabilize house prices.


  • Emerging ghettos in the east of the city.
  • Private sector housing prone to price instability. Boom and bust.
  • Increased social issues in public sector housing (vandalism and crime) may result in those who can moving out leaving this as a housing of last resort.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Soft City

Quoting from this article about Amsterdam;

According to the French urbanist Lefebvre ‘the right of the city signifies the right of citizens and city dwellers, (...), to appear on all the networks and circuits of communication, information and exchange.’ We need to re-imagine what a real Creative City would look like. Let the first condition be that it’s software runs on programming that is ‘open source’.

This article and further ones on Amsterdam in Mute are worth reading for all of us. Amsterdam is a good example for us (as is Barcelona) because it is self consciously pursuing these policies which are in effect unspoken policies in Helsinki at the moment, and it is important that we don't fall into the 'branding' of Helsinki like Amsterdam in its IAmsterdam pr seems to be doing. There are though ideas behind this that are really useful in the last few posts over here. What does a Helsinki Operating system mean for transport, infrastructure and nature and the inhabitants of Helsinki? How do we enable the people to get more out of their operating system and reinvigorate the physical and social tissue of the city.

open source

Kosmograd opened the discussion of the potential for the city to manifest as an operating system. Currently a city runs a number of applications- transport, telecom, security, social customs, etc. in multiple ways. The example of the travel guide was offered as a means of explaining how to use a city to the new visitor.


What strikes me about this paradigm is that while uniformity and standardisation might be good for computer operating systems, it's not such as good thing for cities. We want our cities to be unique, to have their own identity, however confusing non-residents might find it. And yet architecturally cities are becoming more and more blandly similar, and increasingly the typologies suggested by urban masterplanning exercises are about overlaying the same identikit forms over the underlying terrain.
Given that Helsinki is the birthplace of Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system (originally conceived as a portable OS), might we be able to apply a different approach to urban masterplanning to the operating system of Helsinki? The philosophic cornerstones of Linux: interoperability, portability and community might serve as a good set of guiding principles for any mid-21st century city.
Along the these lines, Kazyz Varnelis had a recent post regarding the open source city. What is a city to be in the world of network culture? He cites a recent talk given by Rob Kitchen on "Code/Space". Kitchen observes that the spaces of everyday life are increasingly coded by software. So beyond your daily interaction with your computer, so many other means of life are increasingly run by software - elevators, cars, streets, communicaton and entertainment networks, and on and on. Kitchen and Martin Dodge have written a paper "Code and the Transduction of Space" which explores this condition.

Varnelis asks:
But what is code? And why should architects care?
The historic example here is Lawrence Lessig's famous line - Code is Law. Throughout Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace he also invokes the field of architecture. This is no accident. Lessig’s goal, in resorting to an architectural framework, is to underscore the constructed nature of both built environments and cyberspace, as Kitchen and Dodge suggest, environments are increasingly the product of code. Architecture, code, and law are increasingly melding into one.
For architects, the consequences are clear. Regardless of what the "Make it New" crowd wants, building codes, design review guidelines, historic preservation ordinances, protective covenants, together with the demands of the financial and real estate markets are creating a condition in which a building is virtually pre-determined before an architect ever sees it (if he or she ever does). Architects frequently lament this condition, but what if instead we agree with Kitchen and Dodge that code is a fundamental constituent of our culture. What then?
Well, to start, we realize that if these spaces are increasingly given by code, as Kitchen and Dodge suggest, they are also coded, active spaces. In other words, the old idea of the space invested with meaning is now replaced by a performative space with a certain capacity for producing situations.
This is a very big sea change. One example of a big break (as kosmograd cites) is Christopher Alexander's idea of design patterns. Design patterns suggests that architecture can be made up of endless combinations of existing solutions therefore debunking the dead end of the "new".
Software engineers are already well on their way with this idea.

One other great new example is Architecture for Humanity's Open Architecture Network.Hundreds of projects have been uploaded and thousands have registered. It's a great mission so perhaps the open source is happening as we speak.

sources: Kazys Varnelis

Thursday, 15 March 2007

urban planning and the design of fear

Not so long ago, architects were obsessed with the notion that globalism, the Internet and sophisticated new building technologies were opening the way for a more fluid, transparent landscape in which walls would simply begin to melt away...Things didn’t turn out that way. -NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF

So begins a recent piece in the NY Times regarding a trend in city planning that is looking more medeival at every turn. The article centers on fear as a design factor that is increasingly looking permanent in major cities such as New York and even London. Call it the 'green zone' effect. Fence building around the globe is booming along borders but urban fences are beginning to sprout or simply remain permanent even though they have been intended as temporary for one reason or another. We have historic examples such as Wall Street or Thom Mayne’s Caltrans District 7 headquarters building in Los Angeles but new occurances are evident in Miami, London, Jerusalem and infamously now with New York's "Freedom Tower". The "Freedom Tower", far from being a symbol of enlightenment is a windowless fortified concrete base decorated in prismatic glass panels. It is a monument to paranoia. Not what the original designers had in mind. All of this can perhaps be written off as an American post-911 phenomena.

However, as Ouroussoff observes:

Like their 13th- to 15th-century counterparts, contemporary architects are being enlisted to create not only major civic landmarks but lines of civic defense, with aesthetically pleasing features like elegantly sculpted barriers around public plazas or decorative cladding for bulky protective concrete walls.
These tendencies could be easily adopted throughout the globe as urban centers face new challenges related to new immigration populations, energy resources, and developments in global technology and trade.

As noted on this blog, "the number of foreigners living in Finland has quadrupled over the past fifteen years. This is partly to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of borders, Finland joining the EU, and the internationalization of Finnish companies and Finnish society". As Helsinki's population begins to expand and incorporate more and more people it will need to make efforts to not only prevent a wide income disparity - which it has had success with - but allow for urban design that promotes growth through incorporation and participation of traditional citizens as well as new citizens. Interaction of diverse communities is the key. Separation only serves fear.

image: Freedom Tower design, NYC