Category Archives: Debate

A City of Comings and Goings – E-Publication

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We’ve got a brand new Design as Politics E-publication for you! A City of Comings and Goings – about the spatial implications of migration.

In this publication, originally written for the Dutch urban design magazine De Blauwe Kamer, Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost discuss that the way we deal with the current refugee crisis and the locations on which we house those that seek refuge, reveals a wider problem concerning the flexibility and absorption capacity of our cities. They argue that by isolating the refugee crisis we deny the fact that migration has become a fact of life. It will only increase in decades to come and  we should look at the broader phenomenon that concerns not only those fleeing war or poverty but also well-paid expats, migrant workers, nomadic students, architects who travel from city to city and even Dutch workers whose existence has been rendered unpredictable by a more flexible labour market. This asks for different ways of planning our cities in order to deal with demographic fluctuations.

A city of Comings and Goings is a research project initiated by Crimson Architectural Historians and executed in collaboration with the chair of Design as Politics and The Berlage Center for advanced studies in architecture and urban design at TU Delft. A Dutch version of this text was originally published in the Blauwe Kamer Jaarboek Landschapsarchitectuur en stedenbouw 2015.

Wouter Vanstiphout is Professor at the TU Delft Chair of Design as Politics and partner at Crimson Architectural Historians. Michelle Provoost is director of the International New Town Institute and partner at Crimson Architectural Historians.

Lets Work! Da Lang Fever 2.0

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In the Fall of 2015 the Design as Politics graduation Studio ‘Lets Work!’ visited the Chinese City of Shenzhen on a factfinding excursion. Part of our visit was focused on Da Lang  – a migrant neighborhood in the north of the city. The International New Town Institute, who is working in Da Lang for many years, helped us to set up an amazing program. In order to  thank them for their great efforts, we made this poster as an virtual addition to INTI’s contribution to the Shenzhen Biennale titled: Da Lang Fever 2.0, which is focused on the transformation of a vacant hotel into a place for the empowerment of  migrant workers.

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Shenzhen can rightfully be called the ‘Manchester of the 21st century’ since, just like the northern English town in the nineteenth century’, it is the capital of the current industrial revolutions. It is the place where the most important industrial activities take place, where innovation happens on a tremendous pace and where the urban form, the social structures are most affected by industry’s transformations.

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But Shenzhen is of course also a a consciously planned community, based on the twentieth century model of the New Town. Therefor it is also one of the places in the vast international network of New Towns kept up by the International New Towns Institute, with which our faculty has a close relationship. INTI had been working for some years with the community of Da Lang in the north of Shenzhen, a typical Shenzhen collage of rationally planned factories, densely packed and more organically grown urban villages, that is now making a fast and sometimes harsh transition from pure manufacturing to more design and knowledge based activities. This means that many of the existing urban villages, with their low educated migrant workers communities are threatened with expulsion and the demolition of the urban fabric.

In the middle of this contested urban situated, lies a gigantic, monstrous neo-classical husk of a never opened hotel. INTI has been working with the local community to use this building as a base where the lively culture and entrepreneurship of the urban villages might take root and express itself to the outside world, as a way to assert the value and existence of the existing community, and defend it against the blind replacement with another, rocher class of workers.

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In a day long workshop on the site, and then further design workshops in Delft, the students of the grad studio, translated INTI’s ambitions into an architectural/economic scenario for the building, filling up its endless cavernous halls and long hallways with cultural, economic, domestic and community programs.

The ambition was to show how a building like this could become a hub for a community with many different identities and activities, and could harmonize its existing qualities and people, with the exciting new future it faces as a center for design and fashion based industries. Also the Design as Politics students and tutors used this scenario as a way to report on the mind boggling richness, the density and the inventiveness that they found on the streets and in the buildings of this most dynamic of New Towns.

Our intervention questions the ability of the current top-down approach to planning. to fully regenerate the neighborhood whilst maintaining its identity. Our proposal considers how the hotel structure could be repurposed to create some of the socio-economic conditions necessary to regenerate the neighborhood whilst also incorporating the needs of the existing population of migrant workers. To achieve this, an accessible space catering for all the daily activities of a migrant worker is provided. Spaces for education, production, consumption, dwelling and leisure are provided, as well as the urban circulatory infrastructure needed to engage with though surrounding area. Through the integration of different programmatic functions we believe an active, collaborative environment may be nurtured giving opportunities to migrant workers to acquire the necessary skills and equipment to become entrepreneurs.

The design for the hotel in Dal Lang is not just a group design for the reuse of a building, but also the mémoir of a trip.

 

A debate about the future of Rotterdam

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Design as Politics professor Wouter Vanstiphout will join the debate ‘Roterdam, the neverending story’ on Thursday (21 Jan) at 20.00. Together with Zihni Özdil he will respond to an essay by Paul van der Laar, Eeva Liukku and Jacques Börger about the future of Rotterdam.

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“Rotterdam is a cold, unfriendly, ugly and sombre city.” This is what inhabitants told social psychologist Rob Wentholt about Rotterdam in 1968. Wentholt researched the reconstruction of the city after the Second World War and the perception of inhabitants about the city centre. He interviewed people from different neighbourhoods and presented his work in the book ‘De Binnenstadsbeleving en Rotterdam’.

After the bombings of the Second World War, Rotterdam was rebuilt rapidly into a modern, functionally furnished city with an extensive transport network. In 1950, 1955 and 1960, the municipality of Rotterdam celebrated these results with big events: Ahoy Rotterdam, Energy ’55 and the Floriade with the Euromast. The municipality aimed at making people proud of their city again. In the second half of the sixties, however, these feelings seemed to change. In 1966 a movie came out about Rotterdam with the title ‘Stad zonder hart (city without a heart).

Nowadays the picture is completely different again. Rotterdam is booming. The number of inhabitants is growing and Architectural icons like the new Central Station, the Markthal, and off course Holland’s biggest building ever, ‘The Rotterdam’ by Rem Koolhaas have led to international recognition. According to the Lonely Planet Rotterdam is even one of the best destinations for a city trip in 2016.

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But how do we prevent Rotterdam from becoming just another touristic flagship of city marketing? And how to maintain the city’s rough edge, which gives character to this city that, is never finished? And what do the inhabitants of Rotterdam actually think about these recent urban developments? What could be the future for this city? Is Rotterdam going in the same gentrified direction as many European capitals? And what does this mean for local residents?

To find out the answers to these question, Museum Rotterdam, the Willem de Kooning Academy and Rotterdam viert de stad! are repeating Wentholt’s research 75 years after the beginning of the reconstruction of Rotterdam by asking Rotterdam’s inhabitants about their experience of the city. What exactly is Rotterdam celebrating after these 75 years of reconstruction?

Wouter Vanstiphout and Zihni Özdil will discuss the future of Rotterdam in the Timmerhuis on the 21st of January. The debate will be led by Rineke Kraaijenberg and starts at 20.00 h. You are welcome to join!

A Different Approach To Migration

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While many European countries, cities and villages are discussing how to solve the ‘migrant crisis’, the rural village of Riace in the South of Italy has found its own way to turn the influx of immigrants and refugees to revive their shrinking village. We at Design as Politics wonder what other places in Europe can learn from the approach in Riace? Why are migrants for example not located in areas where work is available? Can we deal with the refugee crisis not only as an isolated problem, but also as a far more widespread phenomenon? And can we think of ways to bring multiple interests into the picture? … We don’t know the answers yet, but will for sure keep (re)searching, discussing, and talking about this issue. We have an event coming up this week together with Crimson Architectural Historians, and more to come next year, that’s for sure! We’ll keep you posted.

Along the coast in Riace, a small rural village in Calabria, Italy, signs are placed saying: ‘the beach and the sea are free for those who come here to swim, and for those who arrive here swimming.’

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Riace – once an almost abandoned village, which was in danger of becoming a ghost town as people left to northern Italy for jobs during the economic growth – has today secured its own future by offering homes and jobs to migrants who arrive in the village. At this moment over 400 hundred refugees and migrants from twenty-five nationalities are living in Riace and make up one quarter of the total population.

Welcoming refugees allowed the village to preserve basic public services such as schools, as well as shops and businesses that had almost all vanished. “Without foreign children, this school would have remained closed” says teacher Maria Grazia Mittica. “But the number keeps changing. Because foreign children come and go.”

According to the mayor of Riace, Domenico Lucano, the arrival of these people creates optimism – both for the people who arrive, as for the citizens of the village itself. “Whatever the challenges, this has to be a better solution for migrants than being locked up in a holding center where their children cannot go to school.”
Some years ago, the mayor of Riace contacted the owners of since long uninhabited houses asking them to make the houses available for refugees and migrants. The houses would be refurnished and a little rent would be paid. Most of the owners agreed. A foundation was established, named ‘Citta Futura’, which would receive 30 euros per day of the Italian State, intended for housing, language training, medical costs and workplaces. The Citta Futura hands out token that can be exchanged for food in local shops. The refugees receive monthly 250 Euro for their daily needs. They can earn additionally 500 Euro if they work. Special workshops are established where migrants can learn old crafts.

30 Euro per day per migrant might seem like a lot of money, but staying in a huge refugee camp costs about 70 Euro per day per migrant. The Riace funding comes from a national protection programme for refugees and asylum seekers, SPRAR, and is granted for one year stay for each new villager. If the year is over and the refugee has not found employment at that time, s/he has to go. According to Lucano, 10 percent of the migrants can stay after one year in the village. Others look for jobs elsewhere in Italy or abroad. It seems sad that many of the people have to leave after one year of living in Riace, but they at least have had the opportunity to learn the language and a profession, while they also have had access to medical care. Conversely, they keep the village alive. Without these people, Riace would be an empty town.

Riace might seem like an extreme example, but we think lots of European cities can learn from the approach of this village in Calabria.

Can we for example locate migrants in areas where work is available to them, like in Riace? In the Netherlands the majority of the refugees are staying in thinly populated parts in the northeast, while most job vacancies are located in the Randstad. This makes it very difficult for migrants to learn the language and to integrate.

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Can we deal with the refugee crisis not only as an isolated problem, but also as a far more disseminated phenomenon, and can we think about how to bring multiple interests in the picture? Migration has fundamental causes and it is an illusion that one can solve the refugee crisis by strengthening borders and finding ‘regional solutions’ as some people are arguing. Refugees and migrants spend over a billion euro a year in order to reach Europe, while Europeans pay a similar amount to keep them out. Europe’s restrictive immigration policy has been a windfall for the companies that serve it and for human smugglers. Can’t we use this money for creative solutions instead of paying these companies and smugglers?

The real problem in our cities, countries and societies today is not migration, but the inability to take in and adapt to new residents. By looking at the refugee problem in isolation we are denying that migration has become a fact of life and one that will not increase in the coming decades.

Announcements and upcoming events:

  • The first event around this topic  will already take place this week in the New Institute, together with Crimson Architectural Historians, Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost will discuss the  Spatial Implications of the immigration Crisis.  Reading Migration – Nieuwe Instituut, Thursday 17 december 20.00 – 22.00.
  • Starting in January next year, we will host a series of seminars around the spatial dimensions of migration at the Berlage – Center for advanced studies in Architecture and Urban Design. More info Soon!
  • At the beginning of next year we will publish a Design as Politics Long Read on migration and design – coming soon!
  • In the course of next year we will organize a symposium on his topic together with the OTB Research institute for the built environment. More info Soon!
  • And more… (but you’ll hear about that later)

Who Builds Your Architecture?

transforming global workforces

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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.

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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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Sources images: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/14/qatar-reform-labout-laws-outcry-world-cup-slaves ,   http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/al-wakrah-stadium/ ,   http://www.e-flux.com/journal/who-builds-your-architecture-an-advocacy-report/.

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.