Design as Politics PhD Nurul Azlan in IIAS newsletter

Protest and public space in Kuala LumpurKuala_Lumpur_Malaysia_Bangunan_Parlimen_Malaysia-02 copy

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 09.57.58

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 10.00.42

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

Tomorrows lectures Room AScreen Shot 2015-06-01 at 21.19.02

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 21.18.48

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

pena2317139b

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 21.18.48

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. 

 

The New Town on Gebiedsontwikkeling.nu

New Towns Then and Nowc-55464b183dc1f

We have recently started again our public lecture series ‘The New Town – From Welfare City to Neoliberal Utopia” in collaboration with the international New Town Institute. Eric Burgers – A reporter from the independent Dutch platform Gebiedsontwikkeling.nu attended the first lecture and wrote a nice piece about it:

On 21 April, Michelle Provoost (director INTI International New Town Institute) en Wouter Vanstiphout (professor Design as Politics) kicked off the lecture series at the TU Delft Faculty of Architecture. New town building is often associated with the post-war period, the 50’s and 60’s of the 20th century, when urban growth worldwide was often accommodated by creating new sizeable autonomous urban environments from scratch. But, as Vanstiphout points out, there are older examples of how entire urban environments are created purposefully (and top-down). As the planning structure of Washington D.C. and other capital cities clearly show, new states tend to plan and build new capitals as material symbols of state ideals. ‘Washington’s layout is the layout of US democracy.’

Garden cities
Governments are however not the only forces behind new town planning and development. Social movements, looking for alternatives for institutional urban planning, are responsible for some of the most innovative planning developments in the 20th century. Prime example is the garden city model by Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928). Combining the qualities of urban and rural communities he designed a new type of residential area, away from the disadvantages and drawbacks of industrial society and based on specific notions of social organisation, such as self-sufficiency. Vanstiphout: ‘From the twenties and thirties onward, the garden city model was appropriated by governments of all political creeds at home and abroad and thus became a basis for shaping the post-war welfare state.’ The idea that towns, cities and even an entire country, can be spatially, economically and socially restructured and reorganised by building up society from the household upwards, became a central notion in spatial and housing development. In the Netherlands, new towns, connected by new infrastructure – from telephone lines to motorways – and with all the functions and amenities that go with the welfare state clearly designated, were for several decades destined to help shape and epitomise modern society, populated by more or less egalitarian communities, ‘the whole functioning as a single state-driven machine.’ Continue reading

New Publication: Bedside Manners

bedside2Click on image to open publication

Here it is: a brand new Design as Politics publication ‘Bedside Manners’ about the extramuralization of healthcare in the Netherlands.

In this publication –originally written for MacGuffin magazine – Wouter Vanstiphout explains how the Dutch health care system is currently shifting from large government controlled institutions to a system in which the amount of care given inside large facilities is being minimized, making sure that people can stay at home longer. Big institutions built to house the old and infirm are making way for healthcare new style with hospitals that resemble towns and homes fitted out like medical wards.

This developments mean an enormous challenge for architects: to redefine the buildings and places left behind by the transformation of the healthcare system, and to design new healthcare facilities that do not just work as isolated institutions, but that can intensify the role of the neighbourhood as a meeting place, a place of social integration and of course a place of innovation.

Also interested to take up this challenge and develop new concepts for Healthcare in three Dutch cities? Join our MSc2 Architecture studio ‘We Care a Lot!’ starting in September! More info here

UPDATE! Graduation Studio: Meet Your Maker – Industry, Architecture and the City

MYM-Poster_A4_land def high

We are very happy to announce the studio brief for our 2015/2016 graduation studio: Meet Your Maker – Industry, Architecture and the City!

Meet Your Maker: How an Industrial Renaissance can bring back business

The upcoming Design as Politics graduation studio is centered around the manufacturing industry; in other words, the making of things.

After the devastating effects of the crisis in financial economics, focus is gradually shifting back to the real economy, an economy of production. Western industrialized countries have seen increased offshoring over the last twenty years, but this tide is turning. Re-shoring, or bringing back production from low labour cost countries, is increasing in numbers. Combined with the retrofitting and embedding of existing industry, this is becoming one of the key programs of the future city.

This studio reflects on the political consequences of this emerging trend, both globally and locally. It examines questions related to the comeback of manufacturing, future work models, industrial paternalism, industrial and scientific parks, and factory architecture. It explores new models for work, renewed craftsmanship, and the factory of the future, and helps define the role of manufacturing in society.

What have been the consequences of offshoring for western cities and towns? What will the consequences of re-shoring be for western cities and towns? How will this development be integrated in our cities? And what are the consequences for workers in developing countries where goods are now being produced?

The studio includes lectures, workshops, and a field excursion to Barcelona; to explore its highly industrialized metropolitan hinterland and to talk first hand with industrialists, policy makers, and designers involved with the manufacturing industry. What do re-shoring, factory design, and renewed craftsmanship mean to them? The results will be presented there to stakeholders both local and from the Catalan government. The studio is framed within the approach of Design as Politics; critical, bold, and design based research.

Ready to be a Design as Politics master graduate? send us an email telling us what you would like to design in the context of the return of manufacturing. Include your motivation to join this studio (max. 1,5 A4 / 600 words), and some examples of your previous writings and designs. NEW DEADLINE: 6th May 2015.

Design as Politics MSc2 Studio! We Care a Lot!

WCAL Poster A4-land

Great news! We have an amazing new studio starting in September 2015, and lasting untill January. It’s a MSc2 studio within the Architecture Master, focusing on the transformation of Dutch neighborhoods through the overhaul of the Healthcare system. In this studio we will be working for the Office of the Chief government Architect of the Netherlands (Atelier Rjjksbouwmeester), with the International New Town Institute, and three fantastic architectural practices, on real locations, with real clients, and real results. Students can sign up from early May. We’ll keep you posted with updates. Click here for more info