New Towns Elective Course 2016: Havana Open City

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We are very happy to announce that our New Towns elective course in collaboration with the International New Towns Institute will start again in April 2016!  In this special edition, we’ll be focusing on Havana, the capital of Cuba. Enrollment for this course starts next Monday, 23 November.

Havana is a city at the cusp of enormous change; the communist government is gradually opening up its economic system, while the United States are relaxing their boycott. This means that one of the most beautiful historic cities, with one of the most spectacular positions around a deepwater bay on the Caribbean, is open for the forces of the globalized economy.

In its existence of more than half a century shielded from capitalist pressures, it has however developed some unique characteristics and strengths. It has one of the most complete systems of urban agriculture, managing to feed virtually the entire city. It has a healthcare system based on prevention which makes it both cheap and effective. And its beautiful 17th century downtown area is one of the most impressive examples of development through heritage conservation. When Havana will change, will these qualities survive, or will they be sacrificed to a neo-liberal redevelopment strategy? The question this project wants to answer is how Havana can have its own specific form of urban transformation, that will redefine its strengths,in the context of an open society and an open economy. With INTI we will try and answer these questions by focusing on one of Havana’s youngest and most adventurous areas, the New Town of Alamar, large urban area with mainly prefab apartment blocks with 90.000 inhabitants, on the eastern side of Havana.

The project will consist of a number of lectures, a two week study trip together with the International New Town Institute, the CUJAE University of Havana and the Embassy of The Netherlands in Cuba. More info here

Real Architectural Solutions For Health Care In Dutch Neighbourhoods

We care a lot! How about you?

Humanitas, a nursing home in Deventer, the Netherlands, accepts local students to live in their home for free, under one condition: the group of students must spent 30 hours each month with (some of) the 160 senior residents. The project aims to create positive social interactions, beneficial to all inhabitants of Humanitas, both students and elderly. By doing this, Humanitas intends to improve the liveability and ‘community feeling’ of the residents of the nursing home and neighbourhood. According to Humanitas managing director, Gea Sijpkes, ‘students bring the outside world in’.

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Today, a trend of decentralizing healthcare can be recognized. Budget cuts by the Dutch government have made it increasingly difficult to get a subsidised place, with the paradoxical consequence that some nursing homes are left with empty rooms. This current ‘emptying out of the care homes’, the closing down of medical centres, and the shift to providing healthcare at regular homes instead of moving people into care homes, creates lots of vacant real estate in the middle of our cities and communities. As a result also social functions are disappearing. This has an especially large impact on areas built in the years after World War 2, in which neighbourhoods where carefully planned around nursing homes and other social real-estate.

Much international attention was paid in the news about the young students moving into the nursing home in Deventer. Considering this a social solution, would it also be possible to come up with spatial solutions in order to redefine buildings and places left open because of the transformation of the healthcare system? How can a neighbourhood be intensified as a meeting place? And how can architectural design contribute to social integration and innovation between the young and old?

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The Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands (de Rijksbouwmeester) has asked Design as Politics to start a research and design project to explore the spatial dimensions of the changing health care system as part of his programme ‘Oog voor de buurt.’ We have involved some of our best students, the International New Town Institute and two talented young designers to conduct this research. Two locations have recently been selected as our case studies. In close collaboration with the involved municipalities, the health care organisations and other related insititutions we will look for option to find new ways to strengthen the relationship between the nursing house and the neighbourhood. The aim is to find solutions that can be applicable to other locations as well.

Read more about this project on the website of the Chief Government Architect (in Dutch):

Who Builds Your Architecture?

transforming global workforces


While looking at work in relation to architecture at this year’s theme of the Design as Politics graduation studio, we of course came across the fuss again about Zaha Hadid’s Quatar World Cup Stadium. Even more interesting is that the debate that arose around this project, triggered Laura Diamond Dixit, Tiffany Rattray, and Lindsey Lee to focus their contribution to the Istanbul Design Biennale on migratory paths of workers as well as working processes in design and construction.

In 2014 many people disagreed with the comments of star-architect Zaha Hadid on the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar. It was announced that more than 1200 migrant workers had died during the construction of the Quatar World Cup Stadium, which Hadid had designed. Probably, no one was more critical on Hadid than reviewer Martin Filler from The New York Review of Books, denouncing her carelessness to the estimated one thousand laborers who had died.


However, Hadid had a disparagement suit against Filler and told the BBC during an interview that there had not been any problems in Qatar. She considered it not the duty of the architect to deal with the terrible conditions of migrant construction workers laboring on multi-billion dollar projects. According to Hadid, architects don’t have the power to do anything about this.

Is Zaha Hadid mistaken about having no influence on worker’s conditions regarding the buildings she designs? How can architects ensure human right protection extended to those who build architecture worldwide? How do architects, designers, engineers, manufacturers, consultants, production line workers and others contribute to building processes, and who takes responsibility for the illegal migrant workers?

In a project exhibited at the Istanbul Design Biennale, visitors can discuss and experience what participation in an architectural complex building implies in the context of global mobility. In this project the convergence of global workforces on a building site is illustrated in schedules and maps, supported by reports from sources such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documenting all sorts of issues in regard to migrant construction workers. The migratory paths of workers as well as processes in design and construction are imagined, and connected to ideas on solution and intervention. Could this exhibition pursue architects, like Zaha Hadid, to advocate for better working and living conditions on building sites around the world?


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Upcoming Public lectures

lets work lecturesLets Work Urbanism Poster

We have two amazing public lectures coming up next week as part of our graduation studio Lets Work! – Industry, Architecture and the City.

The first is on Monday 29 September, by Design as Politics professor’ Wouter Vanstiphout about the theme of this year’s graduation studio and what this means for Architecture and Urban Design. Albert Kahn’s daylight factory, Cedric Price’s Fun Palace, the precariat, robotization, off- and onshoring, the share economy. It’s all part of this brand new Design as Politics lecture! So join us on Monday 28 Sept. at 08:45 in Room B at the TU Delft Faculty of Architecture.

For the second lecture we’ve invited Economic Geographer and Urban Planner Ronald Wall – head of the Urban Competitiveness and Resilience department at the Erasmus University. Ronald will give an interesting perspective to the topic of work and urban development. He will talk about the relationship between global and local economic development, urban competitiveness and what this means for the design of our cities. The lecture takes place on Tuesday 29 September at 15:45 – 17:15, , TU Delft Faculty of Architecture, Room B

Lecture Ronald Wall

Wall is specialised in urban economic development, city network analysis and urban planning. He worked for various mayor urban planning offices like OMA, MVRDV and West 8 as well as for the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) –  working on planning in China, Ghana, South Africa, South Korea and various European countries. He worked for the Berlage Institute / South Korean government on the development of a new town in South Korea and worked with Volume/AMO and the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, on research concerning Middle Eastern cities and their economic networks with other cities around the world.

Design as Politics PhD Nurul Azlan in IIAS newsletter

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Design as Politics’ PhD candidate Nurul Azlan wrote an interesting article in the Newsletter of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) about protest and public space in Kuala Lumpur. Read it here below:

‘Mansuh! Mansuh! Akta Hasutan!’ (Repeal! Repeal! The Sedition Act!) chanted the lawyers marching towards the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 16 October 2014. This protest, organised by the Bar Council, was one of the latest events since the 2007 Bersih rally kick-started a renewed protest culture in Malaysia. Most of these protests happened in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, even though since 1998, most government functions have moved twenty-five kilometres away to Putrajaya, a purpose-built administrative capital built in the heyday of the mega-projects of the 1990s. Despite this, the wide boulevards of Putrajaya remain relatively bereft of public claim-making acts, save for a few protests now and then.

The world’s first Intelligent Garden City
Political protests aimed clearly at particular authorities customarily take place where the authorities in question are. This is why protests take place in front of the White House or No. 10 Downing Street. In the Netherlands, which also has two ‘capitals’ like Malaysia, protests happen equally in The Hague, the seat of government and also in Amsterdam, the commercial capital, depending on the cause. Not so in Malaysia, where Putrajaya hardly ever invites those wishing to demonstrate.

An instant city built over the span of ten years, Putrajaya prides itself as the world’s first Intelligent Garden City, claiming on its website that it advances Ebenezer Howard’s concept of the ‘garden city’. Just like Brasilia, Putrajaya is typically Modernist: the programs are separated accordingly in different precincts, and as an antidote to the notorious congestion of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya was planned with ease of driving (but not mass transit) in mind, hence a network of wide roads connecting the precincts. The centre of Putrajaya, a hundred metre wide boulevard, is lined with grand buildings which house ministries and government departments. A series of squares, or nodes, are placed intermittently along this strong axis, marking the importance of the Palace of Justice, the Ministry of Finance and finally the Prime Minister’s Office Complex, which is preceded by Dataran Putra (Putra Square). An overcrowded mall, away from the boulevard, becomes a focal point of convergence for those living in Putrajaya, and the public transport interchange is situated on the outskirts of the city, serving both Putrajaya and its equally desolate neighbour Cyberjaya, once envisioned to be Malaysia’s version of the Silicon Valley.

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Activists and protesters in Malaysia informed me that even though the government sits there, Putrajaya is not the preferred location for protest because of the lack of accessibility, the single use of government functions, and also the coarse urban fabric of huge and ill-defined open spaces, made worse by the lack of shady trees. Dataran Putra is not really a square in the conventional sense, as its perimeters and form are not defined by the structures enclosing it, unlike Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in Kuala Lumpur which functions more like an outdoor room. The huge square, with its intricate Middle Eastern patterns, is best appreciated from above, but the quality of urban spaces is better measured at pedestrian level.

A huge volume of people would be needed to fill in the spaces for the image to be impactful, and the logistics of moving a huge number of people to a place not accessible by public Transportation is problematic, not to mention conspicuous. The single use program also means that before and after protest, protesters would not have anywhere to go for respite and refreshments. During protest, should a clash happen, the big wide spaces make it more difficult to escape and hide from the authorities. The difficulty to protest there, and the fact that Putrajaya claims to be an Intelligent City, brings us to the current debate of the Smart Cities concept, where the drive to be efficient should not turn us into an Orwellian society. This analysis of high-tech surveillance to anticipate and avoid public disorder, however, does not apply to Putrajaya, which has managed to do it through town planning and with low-tech means.

Kuala Lumpur, the old capital
On the other hand, out-of-town protesters could take the night bus to Kuala Lumpur, arrive the next morning, do other activities while melting into the city crowd, attend the protest, get refreshments post-protest, and then take the night bus back to wherever they came from. Or they could stay in one of the many hotels in central KL. Thus, the organisers are free to focus all their attention on the running of the rally itself. This is all possible due to the accessibility; the bus station is within the protest area, and central KL is well-served by rail and town bus transports; the mix of programs allowing for other activities before and after protest; the tight urban form allowing easy walking distance and the maze of backstreets for escape.

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Kuala Lumpur grew organically from a mining town founded in the mid-19th century into the capital of Malaysia. The centre of activities in the early days was at the confluence of Gombak and Klang Rivers, and it was from these river banks the city grew. Its tight urban form was shaped by the fine-grained blocks of mixed-use shop-houses, and this was matched by the imposing British administrative buildings arranged around the Padang, a staid rectangular square, made all the more imposing due to the contrast with the narrow streets of old Kuala Lumpur. The Padang, renamed Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), is one of the contested spaces of protest in Kuala Lumpur, along with other spaces of national importance such as Stadium Merdeka (Independence Stadium) and the Parliament, where the recent Sedition Act protest took place.

This is despite the speedy rate at which shopping malls have taken over as ‘public spaces’ (I am using the term very loosely here) for people living in Malaysian main cities (on the ExpatgoMalaysia website you will find a list of top twenty shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur). In the controlled pseudo-urban environs of Publika, one of the newer shopping malls (it is on the list), you can even sample a slice of vibrant ‘public space’, albeit without the mess and friction you would get on a real street. But protest in a shopping mall, no matter how much it looks like your bog standard public space, is almost impossible due to the private nature of the place. In 2011, protesters who gathered in Suria KLCC, the shopping mall at the base of the Petronas twin towers (once the world’s tallest building between 1998 and 2004, the towers are also part of the mega-projects of the 1990s) were met with threats of legal action by the management of the shopping mall, citing that the protest disrupted the business operations of their tenants. Ironically, the protest, called Kill the Bill, was about the Peaceful Assembly Act, which as the name suggests, regulates public gatherings in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, in addition to serving as the theatre of dissent for political protests, the urban spaces of old Kuala Lumpur continue to thrive as new immigrants use them as public spaces. The socio-spatial patterns of Kuala Lumpur have changed, and in doing so, it remains unchanged by delivering its historic functions of hosting new immigrants.

Public space, public life
Prior to protesting in front of the Parliament in October 2014, the lawyers had held a similar protest in Putrajaya in 2007. The busses carrying them were blocked by the police a few kilometres away from the centre, and as a result, the lawyers had had to walk longer to reach the Palace of Justice. Compare this to the 2014 event, the meeting place at Padang Merbuk was only one kilometre away from both the Parliament and the closest rail station, and the Bar Council office and many law firms are in this area. In Malaysia’s often scorching heat, this difference is crucial for a good turnout. During my fieldwork, I alighted at the Masjid Jamek LRT (Light Rail Transit) Station at 10am, and joined the black and white throng heading towards Padang Merbuk. Shortly before 3pm, I took the LRT to Suria KLCC, for another meeting.

Accessibility, mixed-use programs, and well-defined and comfortable urban spaces are also criteria that define a good public space, although the discourse on liveability is normally framed in the perpetuity of everyday life; living, working, playing, and shopping. The notion that the ideal space for protest is the same ideal space for other urban activities, further cements the role of protest as an integral part of public life. One might argue about the effectiveness of treating protest as a day-outing, as those in Kuala Lumpur seem to do, but the point of a political protest is to broadcast grievances via disruption of the everyday, hence gaining the attention of the authorities in question, and also to instil awareness and hopefully gain support from those watching on the side. Being able to do this is part of public life, and as it also has the same spatial requirements of other urban activities, should be treated as such. The availability of high quality urban spaces, where public roles could be played, should take precedence over the proliferation of shopping malls. Perhaps by going to the streets to protest, the trend of substituting public space for shopping malls will start to reverse, and hence, the role of the public will change again from being consumers to citizens. Perhaps, the picturesque and ‘intelligent’ urban spaces of Putrajaya will also become actual public spaces.

UPDATE! Tomorrow’s lectures relocated to Room A

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We have two amazing Design as Politics / International New Towns lectures scheduled tomorrow afternoon! We’ll start at 13:45 with a lecture by Design as Politics’ Wouter Vanstiphout about two late/postmodern New Towns: Milton Keynes in the UK and Cergy Pontoise in France, followed by a presentation by the architect and professor at the Technical University of Cuba, Jorge Pena at 16:00.

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Jorge will not just talk about Havana as it is, but especially about the major changes it will go through and is already going through now that the country is opening up economically and politically, and the harbour will be moved from old Havana to another location, opening up huge development opportunities for this beautiful but fragile city. Jorge will be introduced by Michelle Provoost, director of the International New Town Institute – the co-organizer of this event. More info here

Hope to see you all tomorrow afternoon in room A


Public Lecture by Jorge Peña Díaz


On Tuesday 2 June, Jorge Peña Díaz (architect and professor on Urban Design at the CUJAE University of Havana Cuba) will give a lecture about the recent past and near future of the fascinating city of Havana, the capital of Cuba, entitled: Havana 2015 – Paths and patterns of urban development. The lecture addresses the current patterns of urban development in Havana, using the results of the project Atlas Urbano de La Habana (Urban Atlas of Havana). This project consisted of the mapping of Havana as a research tool in order to understand both the specificities of the current urban situation and the milestones it has followed. This analysis allows to understand the impact of the economic and political crisis of the 90´s in the urban structure of Havana. It also shows the fabric on top of which both internal structural changes and foreign factors have been and will be operating.

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The lecture also addresses the most pressing urban questions that Havana is facing at this moment, among which is the transformation of the harbour of Havana. The historic harbour, dating back to the beginning of colonial time, has functionally been replaced by another harbour, leaving the old harbour to be redeveloped. Now that Cuba is opening up to the outside world, which direction will the transformation take? Will it remain true to its heritage value and Cuban identity or follow the commercially profitable way of generic leisure harbour development?

Michelle Provoost will give an introduction to Jorge Peña’s lecture, on the links between Havana and INTI‘s students exchange program. The New Towns near Havana have an interesting background and urgent challenges to be solved. At the moment of Castro’s Revolution in 1959, the urban development of this bustling metropolis came to a grinding halt. While the city was in the midst of the transformation into a second Las Vegas or Miami, all investments were nationalised and development stopped. The only new part of the city built by the communist regime is the infamous Alamar, a Soviet-style New Town for ca. 100.000 inhabitants, which has become well known for its urban agriculture and its hip hop scene. Seen as a unattractive place to live, the crumbling Alamar is in urgent need of new ideas to connect it to the maelstrom of development that Havana will see.

Jorge Peña Díaz is an architect and professor on Urban Design at the Department for Architectural and Urban Design, Faculty of Architecture, CUJAE [Technical University Havana], Cuba. He is teaching on Planning and Heritage conservation and is also head of the Research Group for Urban Research and Action. Apart from his university work, Jorge is also a member of the Expert technical committee for research on urbanism and housing policy of the Ministry of Construction, a member of the experts advisory group for Havana´s city planning and guest Expert to the COST Urban Agriculture Europe Project, RWTH, Aachen.