Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Lisbon the Place to Be - Some Toughts


This will be some relate, but maybe thrown together rumbling over a trip to Lisbon with bits and pieces of a conference and various thoughts and discussion extracts that link to this particular context. Being on the road usually brings up numerous new perspectives and lines of thought that might initially not be directly related to anything in particular but later on might as well find their way into a more contextualised form.

Visiting places as a tourist can often be quite frustrating. You are always the outsider, you stand out unable to step in to the secrets of the place. Scratching the surface and trotting the main paths with your fellow visitors. The guides direct you to what ever thousands of visitors have seen before tell you a little about the history but never really what you want to know and leave you in the dark about the real local narratives and secrets.

Lisbon Oriente Station
Image taken from skyscraper city / The oriente train station in Lisbons new quarter built by Calatrava for the expo in 1998.

See a place and learning about a place are quite some different things. This visit to Lisbon makes no exemption and the best probably is to accept and keep on walking, with open eyes continuously processing and combining trying to fit the puzzle pieces together reshuffle and attempt a new combination, establishing links both in terms of orientation and local practice whilst sucking ip the atmosphere of a quite unfamiliar place.

Its usually the subtile elements and little details as compared to the familiar context that stand out the most. Here in Lisbon as compared to London these are the sound, the smell and the space of the city. The three are probably diametrically the opposite of what you'll find in the UK and especially in London.

Strong smell are common in Lisbon and you can find them everywhere usually before if at all you will find out about the source. From pleasant to truly awful there is everything. In terms of the sound, based on the dramatic differences in terms of space, architecture and topography the sound scape appears to have very different qualities. There is a lot more transition noises from activities blending into one another. A lot more activities take place in semi public spaces with a lot of balconies and loggias being involved. Then there are taler building and different street with-building hight relations transporting sounds into upper levels of buildings you might not associate normally with a ground floor situation.

Spaces are vast here in Lisbon. From the airport gates to the tube stations, train stations or university reception areas, everything is triple the size one would possibly assigne for the usage. Very impressive and completely changing the way enclosures are navigated used and finally perceived. Spaces flow a lot more here.

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One of the talks at the 7VCT conference here at the Nova University was on Biomimicry and the promis of sustainable design based on such a concept. Various very beautiful and striking reference images were sown by Guorreiro during a tour do force of visually linking biological structures to urban physical form.

The occurring question of course immediately is as to how can one explain the linking of organic to man made other than visual similarities? Especially if we look at the creative capacity of people, the factors of decision making of the individual, also resulting in a cultor of space and space making.

Prof Mike Batty put it nicely in his comment during the sessions discussion time that in terms of energy consumption and optimisation of 'the' spatial problem this can be the result. With such a explanation the visual argument is extended and especially moves away from a direct comparison where people and cars in the road shall be see as blood cells transporting goods to the houses.

There is no doubt that there are similarities but there also are striking differences. Of this the capacity to take decision being one, but also the longevity of persistance being an example. if a mouse dies the same cells are very unlikely to reemerge as a mouse since the new baby mouse grows insed its mother, for the mouse being a mammal. However, a house is very likely to be built on the very same plot since this plot is guarded by boundary lines and the neighbouring property is likely to be owned by somebody else and at a very different stage of its live cycle (maybe there is a thing with local similarities though). This results in the discussion around boundary and finally organisational rules as sit would be extended to the discussion about culture and society in the next step. How do people live together in cities. Rules govern the structure, but they are not universal, its a trade off and locally emerged in regards to very specific conditions.

Taking this further these very same conditions however allow also for her consistence and persistance of the urban structure for a long times much beyond the individual inhabitant. Thus guaranteeing the built urban structure to develop and persist at a very different time scale. It is not down to a single planing act or the work of a generation that cities are stil there, but to the fact of social structure and the inscription of social structure manifested in physical form that lead to the continued existence of cities.

Cities rarely dye. Although there are some examples, there are even more stories of cities being rebuilt after great disasters. The earthquake of Lisbon being one or te fire of London. Nearly every city had its great fire actually , see the Wikipedia list of Fires. There is a very particular resilience about cities they don't often die. Although thinking of it it might be the case that there are some examples to be fond.

The point is though that there are structures in place managing the functionality beyond the individual how ever important the single cities might be. This is what the pattern of activity and everyday structure is describing, inscribing activities in the urban morphology. THe word most overused in the past two years in this particular context is resilience. The capacity to withstand impacts and forces running against the everyday structure of the place.

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To come back to the paper presented at the conference about the similarities between organic as in natural and planned as in organised one of the examples was the plan of Lisbon before and after the earthquake of 1755. The intention was to show how similar 'natural' growth is to planned growth since the planned result bears similar to the previous setting. The question being what is order and how does it emerge.

Lisbon map before 1755
Image taken from strangemaps / The city of Lisbon just before the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of the existing city. The square and the gates to the city are already established structures. So are the linear streets following the topographical conditions.

This comparison makes an interesting example for what the organisation of order can produce. However, to argue based on this that there are similarities between 'natural' growth and 'planned' growth.

There are clear restrictions linking the two stages of the urban fragments. The first image shows the old city of Lisbon just before the earthquake in 1755 and the second plan shows how the planners headed by Manuel da Maia laid out the rebuilding plan. The bold option with a complete restructuring of the Baixa area was chosen by the king as the plan to be implemented.

Lisbon 1785
Image taken from intbau / The city of Lisbon after the replanning following the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of the existing city.

Still as seen in many examples of reconstruction efforts, for example in London after great fire and after the second world war bombing with some of Abercrombies plans for the restructuring of the city, there are a lot of constraints that can not just be swept away as if it were a fresh plan. Landownership and established routes as well as other infrastructure or topological conditions make the rebuilding more of a puzzle task than a grand design effort.

There are of course some top down examples of restructuring such a Hausmann's Paris plan or maybe some water dam projects in China were restructuring at such a scale is taking place.

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Of course being in Lisbon makes it worth mentioning agani the visualisations developed by Pedro Cruz for the city traffic. These were covered in earlier posts HERE and HERE. The data stems forma survey covering traffic on the roads of Lisbon recorded over the period of one month. These animations developed in processing using explorative algorithms together with testing a range of analogies. Visually these representations are very captivating and stimulative in a number of ways. and on top it just loks pretty, very important too.

Having experienced a little bit the city of Lisbon over the past two days let me read these renderings in a different way. Some of the arteries have an distinct image attached and lend to read the network in relation to the topography and feel for urban identity.

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