Category Archives: Failed Utopias

Lets Work! Da Lang Fever 2.0

DaLang151127_FASHION VILLAGE_FINAL_WEB Click on image to enlarge

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.


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.


Sam Jacob, Wouter Vanstiphout and Kieran Long in Conversation

MK Gallery

On October 9th, the MK Gallery invited Design as Politics Professor Wouter Vanstiphout and Architect Sam Jacob – the curators of this year’s British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale – to discuss the development of their exhibition, A Clockwork Jerusalem, with Architectural Historian and Broadcaster, Kieran Long.

A Clockwork Jerusalem explores how the international influences of Modernism became mixed with long standing British sensibilities. and how traditions of the romantic, sublime and pastoral, as well as interests in technology and science fiction were absorbed to create a specifically British form of Modernism.

The exhibition focusses on the mature flowering of British Modernism; the moment it was at its most ambitious socially, politically and architecturally, but which also witnessed its collapse. A variety of large scale projects offer insights into the way architecture was central to manufacturing a new vision of society at a scale inconceivable in today’s Britain. It explores how the modern future of Britain was built from an unlikely combination of interests and shows how these projects have changed our physical and imaginative landscapes.

Hoog Catharijne’s Concrete Rigidity

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Last month Design as Politics, together with Failed Architecture and the University of Amsterdam, organized a workshop and debate on the redevelopment of Utrecht’s central station area, and the adjacent Hoog Catharijne business and shopping centre. The workshop and debate focused on the financing models behind large-scale real estate projects and the historical roles and responsibilities of architects and planners in designing these. Our aim was to discuss Hoog Catharijne’s original and current redevelopment plans with experts, students and local stakeholders as part of the Design as Politics graduation studio ‘Follow the Money’.

Jan Loerakker and Tim Verlaan of Failed Architecture wrote a nice piece about the events. Read more…

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 14.06.07

Great news! You can now watch the documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth online at An essential part for you Design as Politics education!

It began as a housing marvel. Two decades later, it ended in rubble. But what happened to those caught in between? The Pruitt-Igoe Myth tells the story of the transformation of the American city in the decades after World War II, through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development and the St. Louis residents who called it home.

The film analyzes the impact of the national urban renewal program of the 1950s and 1960s, which prompted the process of mass suburbanization, emptying cities of residents, businesses and industries. Those left behind, like the residents of Pruitt-Igoe, faced a destitute, rapidly de-industrializing St. Louis, parceled out to downtown interests and increasingly segregated by class and race. Domestic turmoil was wrought by punitive public welfare policies; the paternalistic Housing Authority was cash-strapped; and the downward spiral of vacancy, vandalism and crime led to resident protest and action during the 1969 Rent Strike.

And yet, despite this complex history, Pruitt-Igoe has often been stereotyped. The world-famous image of its implosion has helped to perpetuate a myth of failure, a failure that has been used to critique Modernist architecture, attack public assistance programs and stigmatize public housing residents. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to set the historical record straight…to implode the myth.

Debate – The Concrete Obduracy of Hoog Catharijne


With Failed Architecture, we’re organizing a workshop on Hoog Catharijne, the iconic late 1960s business and shopping center in Utrecht, focusing on the financial models behind large real estate projects. You’re cordially invited to join the wrap-up, with student presentations and a debate about the role/responsibility of the architect. Panelists: Nanne de Ru, Wouter Vanstiphout and Tim Verlaan.

The construction history of the privately initiated redevelopment scheme Hoog Catharijne, located in Utrecht’s inner city, is a classic example of how public and private actors attempted to work together in the field of urban planning during the post-war era. Ever since construction started in the late-1960s, the business and shopping centre was contested for its allegedly grim appearance and destructive influence on the local shopping climate. However, in terms of retail revenues (for shop keepers inside as well as outside Hoog Catharijne), the redevelopment scheme has proven to be extremely successful, additionally freeing Utrecht from its image as a provincial backwater.

Now, forty years after Hoog Catharijne’s grand opening, public and private actors are working on a thorough refurbishment of the shopping and business centre. Commissioned by a whole range of real estate parties, architects and planners are making Hoog Catharijne even bigger and better, despite the insecure future for real estate and retail markets. Hoog Catharijne seems to be turning into a city on its own.

During a two-day workshop, organized in collaboration with Failed Architecture, students of the Design as Politics graduation studio ‘Follow the Money’ will explore financing models of real estate projects such as Hoog Catharijne, and the historical roles and responsibilities of architects and planners in designing these.

On Tuesday 28 January, the students will present the outcome of the workshop followed by a debate/panel discussion on the role and responsibility of the architect in this type of large real-estate projects

17:00 – 17:45 Presentation By Design as Politics Students
17:45 – 19:00 Podium Debate with:

Location: Tu Delft, Faculty of Architecture, Room K
Time: 17:00 – 19:00

Residential Francisco Hernando, Seseña, Spain

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Last week we kicked-off our new graduation studio ‘Follow the money – Finance, Architecture and the City.’ In order to illustrate the complex entanglement between money and architecture, we showed our students a selection of case studies, amongst which the case of Residential Francisco Hernando in Seseña, a municipality in the Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha, just 40 km south of Madrid.

Until the late ninety nineties, the area of Seseña was mainly used by its residents for coaxing grain and corn out of the dry earth. However, in the midst of the Spanish real estate boom, when the first new housing developments popped-up in the area, Seseña, for the first time, aspired to become a working-class dormitory town, targeting (young) professionals who could not afford Madrid’s housing prices.

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The idea for the development came from real estate tycoon Francisco Hernando also known as ‘Paco El Pocero’ (the Sewer man) – a self made millionaire, born into extreme poverty, who started his career by unblocking sewers, and likes to tell journalists that he didn’t have a proper shower until he was 22. (here a fascinating documentary by Cuatro). Hernando presented a plan to construct a small city, consisting of more than thirteen thousand affordable, but spacious apartments, in an area called El Quiñón, a five hundred acres piece of land just off the highway that runs from Madrid to Andalucía. He named the complex after himself – Residencial Francisco Hernando – and dedicated it to his family by constructing a giant bronze statue of his parents in the middle of the town and naming the main park after his wife “Maria Audena”.

02Francisco Hernando in tront of parents Statue

Development of the first apartments started in 2004, for which Hernando’s company Onde 2000 borrowed various billions from banks, amongst which the international bank Santander, and the local saving banks (in Spanish Caja): Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM) and Caja Castilla-La Mancha. Both cajas were, not entirely coincidental,  rescued by the Spanish central bank, a few years later. During the years that followed several dozen new apartment blocks, each eight or ten stories high, rose from the dust, and in September 2007, the less than half built complex was opened with a large party including a rock concert for around 5000 guests. A few months later, the Spanish economy started to crumble…


When the Spanish real estate bubble burst, as a result of increasing interest rates, only half of the complex was constructed and less than 2000 houses were actually sold. Due to insufficient funds of Onde 2000, the construction at Seseña was stopped and the banks seized various apartment blocks as a return on their investment.

Today the whole complex looks more or less deserted, planned shops and supermarkets are shuttered, the promised swimming pools are dry and the sporting fields browned over in the baking 40-degree summer heat. The apartments, which were selling for 221.000 euros in 2008, are now being sold by bank Sandander for below construction costs and are currently on the market for 65,000 euros.


This project is symbolic for many real estate developments in Spain during the period 1996-2008, when housing prices grew astonishingly, leading to extreme optimism, large urban developments and speculation. In this period, Spain constructed more houses than the UK, France and Germany together, while the construction sector accounted for a fifth of all jobs created. When the housing bubble popped in 2008, Spain became one of the worst affected countries. Across the country there are a million vacant dwellings like those at Seseña making it the core cause of the country’s economical crisis. In Seseña only few apartments were sold, most of them now uninhabited. The Spaniards that bought them with 100 percent mortgages, or as investments for their retirement, are in the impossible position to compete with banks to offload them for huge losses. As for Francisco Hernando, he tried to move his business to Equatorial Guinea a former Spanish colony in West Africa, and is now trying to hit ground in Saoedi-Arabië.


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Can we benefit from failure? Can dystopia be productive? Is there a future for architecture criticism? These and other questions will be asked during the event ‘Failed Architecture#10: Beyond Failure’ on Thursday 13 June, in Trouw/De Verdieping, Amsterdam.

The event is organized by the research platform Failed Architecture who have been exploring the dark sides of architecture and urbanism, from long neglected industrial ruins and abandoned new towns to Britain’s riot-torn neighbourhoods and the corporate takeover in sell-out-cities. For Thursday they invited speakers as Ole Bouman, Matthias Böttger and Darryl Chen to explore a wide range of perspectives on the possible successes of failure, the resilience of architecture and the architect’s responsibility in a ravaged world.

Integral part of the evening will also be a discussion on the role of architectural magazines, based on former Design as Politics student Jan Loerakker’s article The Day Architects Stopped Reading Newspapers, on how  presenting and scrutinizing architecture influences the way we think about cities.

The night will end with drinks and failed architecture music.