Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Catching up with the World - a Hub for the UK


The defining airport for the last few decades has to be sent into retirement. Heathrow is at its capacity limit and with a growth expectations of only 1.5% also at its expansion limits. It has however, influenced largely airports around the world and was for many years the airport number one, both in terms of handling and standards.

Established in 1944 as a very big airfield and subsequently developed into the patchwork of extensions we see today. Terminal 5 being the latest completed addon, opened in 2008 and terminal 2 currently being under redevelopment. It serves as the Hub for the UK with 75 airlines flying to 170 destinations, Wikipedia. Interesting are the statistics, only about 11% are UK bound passengers, 43% are short-haul international passengers and 46% are long-haul international passengers.

Thames Hub airport proposal
Image by Foster + Partner taken from Dezeen / The new Thames Hub international airport proposal in the Thames Estuary to replace Heathrow by Foster + Partner and Halcrow.

It serves as a connection point between America and Asia as a stop over airport. With such a strategic location it is very valuable for business and trade and through passenger, business and fright it is the UK's connection to the world.

New and alternatives have been proposed over the last two decades. The problem really is not new. Officials and operatios have known about it for years. Options are to extend either Heathrow, the project is on the table for a third runway, or any of the other airports, second runways in Gatwick or Stansted as well as extending some of the smaller airfields around the capital. The other option is to build a new airport from scratch on the green field.

Thames Hub airport proposal
Image by Foster + Partner taken from telegraph.co.uk / The new Thames Hub international airport proposal in the Thames Estuary to replace Heathrow by Foster + Partner and Halcrow. The new Thames flood barrier is located strategically to the west of the airport proposal as an will regulate the water flow in and out of the Thames maximising the protected areas further up the river and at the same time serving as a tunnel for infrastructure to and from the airport but as a Thames crossing in general.

The green field option is the favourite currently since the private sector prefers the promis such a project bares that it has not the strings attached an extension might have in terms of legacy. The location currently in the spot light is the Thames Estuary,, being the least populated area in the South West potentially offering the opportunity for 24 hours operation whilst minimising the noise pollution over inhabited areas.

Several proposals have been put forwards including two floating airports. The latest proposal Thames Hub is put together as a private initiative by Fosters + Partners and economics consultants Halcrow. The proposal is nice and tidy, plausible and put forwards in a very rational manner. Fosters know how to do that sort of thing. THe firm has a lot of experience in delivering large international airport projects. They delivered Hong-Kong, Beijing and Terminal 5. Details on Wikipedia or a collection of images on Dezeen

The real interesting part of the project is not the airport but how they manage to tie it in with every other major infrastructure problem the UK currently faces. They claim to solve the problem for ports, rail water, flood defence, CO2 emissions, broadband and the imbalance between the north and south regions in the UK. If thats not an agenda!

Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Thames Hub airport proposal links across the UK and Europe
Image by Foster + Partner taken from the Atlantic Cities / The infrastructure side of the proposal extends right across the UK including links to main land Europe. From new high speed rail links (including visibility shields and integrated infrastructure media, water broadband and so on) and the proposed link across the Thames serving for flood defence, infrastructure and transport tunnel.

The project was presented at lecture evening at UCL by Sir Peter Hall, Huw Thomas from Foster + Partner and Andrew Price from Halcrow.

But its true, the UK actually faces a massively overaged infrastructure system that is constantly patched together poring in emergency funding to actually keep it going, but in no way to renew it. The country is in desperate need to renew these structures, but the real goal of course it to make the airport the essential piece of this task in order to build up enough pressure to get a tiny piece of the necessary changes actually built. This of course would be the airport.

cAKA_clockbank_2006-08-08.ai
Image by jafud / Proposal for a floating city in the Thames Estuary, including an international airport and a deep water access port for London. Developed by jafud 2006, the Bartlett. Part of this proposal was published in the book Cycles in Urban Environments: Investigating Temporal Rhythms
, by Fabian Neuhaus, 2010
.


Such an argumentation of course it no new strategy. Previous projects have tried to integrate new flood defence flood barriers for the Thames Gateway and ultimately London as part of a new International Airport in the Estuary. So for example Thames Reach Airport put forward in 2002, actually proposed more or less on the same location as the new Thames Hub by Foster + Partners. There was also the Thames Reach Airport project put forward in 2009. THere were however much older proposals for example the Maplin project proposed in the early 70s under the then prime minister Edward Heath. There are som many more including the ArKwAy project developed at the Bartlett's MSc Urban Design of a floating city in the Thames Estuary that would include a major new airport as well as a port. A very comprehensive summary is the parliament report Aviation:proposals for an airport in the Thames estuary, 1945-2012 - Commons Library Standard Note summarising the last 67 years of airport planning in the Thames Estuary.

Thames airport proposal 1934 outside parliament
Image taken from Skyscrapercity / Proposal for an airport above the Thames in the center of London just outside Parliement as published in Popular Science Monthly, March, 1934, p28.

The main problem is how the planning is done in the UK. As it is with pretty much all the large scale projects, the Government is doing nothing, it is the privat sector that is pushing it and finally delivering. The politicians have missed the opportunity 2003, ten years ago, because they could not decide. Now the new Government is also against everything and all options, but unable to come up with proposals for solutions.

This practice leaves the essentials and crucial UK infrastructure to be proposed, planned and delivered by the private sector. The result will be once more a cost effective business hybride that works, but is not at all innovative, nor is it ground braking or future proof. It will be just another quick fix, badly stitched together from pieces copied from examples from around the world (maybe UK companies have delivered them, but abroad they all work much better) and crucially it will be too late.

The private sector and comercial businesses can't be blamed. At least they deliver. It is not in their interest to look ahead when they are still busy maximising the profit they can squeeze out fo horribly run down but still profitable, with public money supported infrastructure pieces. To plan and organize a countries infrastructure, serving primarily its people should definitely be the governments business. They should be in charge of developing the strategies for the future, covering energy network and grid, transport infrastructure and communication networks as well as environment including disaster management and water security. Its a public job for the community to secure the essentials in a sustainable and future proof way definitely not a private sector job.

This does not mean the private sector can not deliver, nor pay for it. But the strategy has to be thought out an prepared by the politicians as a matter of national interest. However, this government is not gona do it, they privatise schools and the police force, why should they develop the national grid of infrastructure? Further more there is nothing that points towards the planning system being overhauled into this direction. The government will unveil plans to change the planning system very soon, according to an article on the BBC Planning system awaits overhaul in England, but its going exactly the other way. It will open the doors to planning free for all strengthening such private sector proposals and takeovers on a whole range of scales whilst at the same time again weakening any public authority's position. They are actively taking themselves out of the responsibility.

It is again in fact not far of the earlier example of crowd funding of projects on web platforms such as Spacehive as discussed earlier HERE. The new Hub for the UK will be built in a similar way. The first group that comes along saying the have the money to deliver it, will get the job, no matter what the project, nor which option they are proposing.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Crowd Funded Projects a Model for Planning?


The internet has opened up new resources for funding opportunities. Platforms to advertise projects and find sponsors and funders are developing fast. On such platform is Kickstarter, where developers can promote their project and ask for funding to develop prototyps and deliver products. Others are Go4funds, JustGiving or Profunder. They all have their specialities and niches but essentially they are all about projects and proposals that need to be funded.

A new project called Spacehive has come up in the UK with its own niche in this popular funding circus. The focus is on building projects as they call it neighbourhood improvement projects. As it says on the page "For people with inspiring project ideas, Spacehive allows you to pitch for support and funding from your community. For everyone else it's a refreshingly easy way to transform where you live: just find a project you like and pledge a donation. If it gets funded, it gets built!"

The founder Chris Gourlay describes the Spacehive as the world's first online funding platform for neighbourhood improvement projects. The project went live only last December (2011-12-07) and has so far listed a total of seven projects. These range from a Rooftop Aquatic Farm to a Dog Training Facility to the Community Centre project in Glyncoch.

As far as the projects range so do the costs. The platform has no cost restriction or a minimum. For examples the community centre wants to raise some £792,578 and the Revive North Pond project needs £42,320 or the Stokwell Urban Oasis needs only £2,952.

So far none of the projects have been successful. In fact the Glyncoch centre will be the first project to hit the dead line on the 30st of March. The projects currently needs a further £23'000 to go ahead next month. The next 22 days will be nerve racking for the project officials who desperately want their project to go ahead.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from gka.org / The existing community centre in Glyncoch built in 1977. Could do with an update no question about that.

The media has already responded to the project and BBC has reported from Glyncoch after Steven Fry has tweeted about it. The social media is quick in picking stuff like this up and once more Twitter was the media of choice to discover the Spacehive platform. With over 4 million followers Steven Fry tweeting about it is great promotion and the community hopes this will bring the project the remaining money in funds they are short.

The projects are however not purely community funded. The Glyncoch project for examples has already had funding of 95% when is was listed on the Spacehive platform. This funding is Government money the village was promised for a new community centre. Only the remaining £30'000 the project team is trying to raise on the internet for the new centre to serve the 4'125 strong community.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from spacehive.com / The newly proposed community centre for Glyncoch to be built for 7. There are no plans of or drawings, mentions of a program or what kind of facilities exactly it will offer. Its only a simple SketchUp image showig some building form the outside. Very difficult to see how it will unfold its qualities but it seems to be enough to try and rais substantial amounts of money.

Getting the public involved in local projects is nothing new interesting however, is the way the new trend on the internet is pushing terminologies and understandings of such projects. What does it mean if such a project for a community centre that is desperately needed is now promoted a crowd funded project. How does that change the responsibility previously carried by official government bodies and what does such a model mean for the next generation of urban project?

Platforms for crowd funded projects are nothing new as we have discussed above. THey work for software and app development, for products and now also have their big platform for art, but does it work for community projects? Can such a model replace the states responsibility to deliver and maintain standards in communities including infrastructure and facilities like a community centre.

The current UK Government will be very pleased if such a funding process takes off and becomes a model for other community project. It will mean that even in the delivery for public projects competition and free market can be introduced. Cameron could try and argue that the best promotion team could win any community the much deserved project with the add-on of ,if they can't, they don't deserve it. Let the crowd decide who needs what. It fits perfectly with the Tories plan to run schools privately as academies, privatise the police as outsources services to private security providers and now also let public projects be delivered privately.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from spacehive.com / A project for A Roof-top Aquaponic Farm for London! producing fish and vegetables is one of the other projects looking for funders on the Spacehive platform. This project will need £45,602 to go ahead. The project is promoted by urbanFarmersUK a project related to urbanfarmers.ch a Group based in Zuerich, Switzerland.

A state and especially a planning and urban development does't work like that. Values, excellence and quality are not something that is naturally delivered in the free market. Urban planners and practitioners have to stand for such qualities with their expertise. The future of our cities is not to be placed in the hands of lay people, for such important tasks experts should be put in place to develop such plans for the interest of the community.

The deliver should similarly be payed by the state or the local government using the taxes. People already pay a contribution to the community and this should be directed into such projects. The people from Glyncoch have all payed their tax towards this community centre and its not the point to now turn around and say well we are 30'000 short so all of your pay £10 extra and it will get payed. They already have payed!

Further more developing such funding options for urban development will change the responsibilities. The government will no longer be in charge and therefore also looses the power to controle what is happening. Who will be setting the standards and guidelines if the new road or bridge or dump is crowd funded? It will be very easy for large companies and businesses to manipulate such a process and get it don their way whilst ignoring all regulations and guidelines by pretending to work with the community.

Especially here in the UK it will be dramatic since the current development frameworks already are heavily influenced by private interests with the local authority and the government having very weak measures and tools to develop a community based vision. Other countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have much better developed frameworks and instruments for urban planning and community development.

It will be vital to strengthen the public official in delivering such community projects and bring back authority to plan ahead and deliver. This is the only way for consistent and sustainable development of the communities through out the country. The public can privatise these responsibilities they have to remain in the powers of the authorities.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Using Social Media Data for Research: The Ethical Challenges


Millions of users leave digital traces of their activities, interactions and whereabouts on the world wide web. More and more personal conversations and private messages are being shifted to these on-the-move channels of communication despite the many metadata strings attached. In recent years, the social science aspects of this data has become increasingly interesting for researchers.

Social networking services like Foursquare or Twitter provide programming interfaces for direct access to the real time data stream promoting it as free and public data. Despite signing acceptance of public rights these services have in their usage a predominantly private feel to it, creating for the user an ambivalence between voyeurism and exhibitionism.

What is the position of academic research upon using these datasources and datasets and how can academic standards be extended to cover these new and very dynamic in time and space operating information streams whilst protecting individual users privacy and respecting a high ethical standard?

In this presentation the use of digital social networks data will be discussed both from a user and from a processing for research standpoint. Examples of data mining and visualisation will be explained in detail developing a framework for working standards.

This talk will be presented at the lunchtime seminar at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, today 2012-03-14, 12h00-14h00, Seminar Room 1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road. The second speaker is Dr Sharath Srinivasan (Centre of Governance and Human Rights, POLIS).


Monday, 12 March 2012

Book - Infrastructure as Architecture


Infrastructure projects have grown into an important role in the public realm taking more and more responsibility in a social context. Over the past arguably hundred years more and more emphasis has be put in to infrastructure, being it transport services and facilities.

As a modernists take on the city technology was to be placed as the driving force behind planning and this of course shall also include infrastructural project. In fact especially here technology could be implemented with the help of additional arguments. Today, infrastructure is running as flag ship projects in many cases being put forward as statements both public and design wise.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from dpr-barcelona / Hans Hollein Aircraft carrier city in landscape, project. Aerial perspective.

The Jovis publication Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks, edited by Katrina Stoll and Scott Lloyd takes a detailed look at this position infrastructure has grown into and how architecture relates to it, thus implying that design has to learn from both in order to support a new take on projects.

The publication discusses the matter in essays organised in five topics. These are: Infrastructure Economy, Infrastructure Ecology, Infrastructure Culture, Infrastructure Politics and Infrastructure Space/Networks. Contributors include for example Dana Cuff from UCLA, LateralOffice, UrbanLAB, Alexander D'Hooghe and MVRDV.

The essays cover a range of topics and reach from the presentation of practical projects, built and planned to theoretical essays of the discussion. Thus there is a wealth of different views that are, as the editors argue: 'providing a framework for understanding the union of infrastructure and architecture'.

Of course it is on one hand a secret claim to but architects in the position to take on and reclaim design agency over infrastructure projects, but more importantly to discuss the dualities of presence and identity of building projects regardless of their function.

It is superbly interesting how this publication argues for a new take on infrastructure and how the argumentation might actually be point out what practice has already incorporated. Whilst the discussions around the relationships infrastructure is bedded into in the urban system is not new, there is a new approach being argued for. Modernists have taken it on at the beginning of the last century and in the 60s the Smithsons and Team X proposed a new take. More and more it grew into a systemic approach and whilst before it was always one or the other it is now being argued for as both, one and the other.

Appleyard and Lynch in A view from the Road already note that the road is producing scenery for the driver and the passengers it is at the same time dominating the landscape as a static bulky object. Alexander D'Hoogh is especially arguing for this in his essay contribution o the publication: The Objectification of Infrastructure: The cultural project of suburban infrastructure design.
This dualism of producing and being is the new aspect in this publication, but probably could in fact reach beyond. Testing this against current trends might revel a deeper interest of our times in this dualism and the fact that problems could have more than one state.

Infrastructure as architecture
Image taken from jonathandsolomon.com / Book cover. A preview of the publication is available from Jovis HERE. The Essay by Jonathan Solomon is available HERE.


Stoll, K. & Lloyd, S., 2010. Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Book - Housing Design


Housing design is the one field of architecture arguably being the most accepted core activity of architects. Building houses is architecture as such. The recent NAi publisher book Housing Design: A Manual by Bernhard Leupen and Harald Mooij is published in a second English edition. It picks up on the is core and very traditional architecture activity of building a house and presents designs across a wide range of types in a cultural context.

HousingDesign04
Image by urbanTick / Book spread showing the chapter introductino nad a summary of the discussed elements.Housing Design - A Manual.

The new publication is a revised English-Language edition and is based on the first Dutch edition published as Het ontwerpen van woningen in 2008. The new edition is extended in its content and, being translated to English, definitely open up to a wider audience worldwide.

In a series of eight chapters the publication develops a clear presentation of housing projects, of both built and some unbuilt examples. The chapters organise the projects in several categories. Other than most books on the same subject however, Housing Design does not try to press the examples into descriptive categories. The authors have chosen to group them into programatic categories characterising the process and the context rather than the project itself.

HousingDesign05
Image by urbanTick / Book spread Housing Design - A Manual. The example here is by DKV Architects, Kop van Havendiep (Lelystad, 2004) with detailed sectional drawing.

With this the presentation is more relaxed and less arbitrary in a range of different contexts. Where the descriptive categories often seem out of place the here used programatic categories support the reading of each examples in a wider context.

This is at the same time where the specific strength of this publication lies. It is not just a design manual, but a design reader. The examples are not just standing on their own as a separate entity. Each project is set in a wider context linking it in with a theoretical and practical background.

The book is therefore also great reading material. It is by no means a picture book or a flip book, but presents a systematical approach to the presentation of a range of housing projects in the context of architecture history and practice. In this the publication goes into great detail with the presentation and answering of problems drawing from a great source of architectural history examples. Under the subtitle belly for examples, the problem of the underside of a house if rised on piloties or has an underpass is discussed using Le Corbusier's Unité d'habitation and MVRDV's WOZOCO as examples. Similar the topic scenery and the design of interior spaces draws on Haussmann and Adolf Loos's Haus Moller and Das Prinzip der Bekleidung (The Principle of Cladding).

HousingDesign06
Image by urbanTick / Book spread Housing Design - A Manual. The example here is by Herzog de Meuron, Hebelstrasse 11 Housing (Basel 1988) as an example of a skeleton construction.

Each chapter starts with a theoretical introduction and presents a series of examples. Each with photo plans and drawings. Often this includes construction drawings such as sections. This allows the publication to go in to a lot of detail beyond just the floor layout, discussing construction problems in line with design and questions of aesthetics.

The book concludes in the chapter The Design Process in which three examples are presented as case studies. The discussed aspects are 'applied' or revisited as to how they accompany the different design stages of a project. With this the authors demonstrate that housing design is not simply about finding the right typology and developing a floor plan layout. They make the point very clear that architecture and specifically housing design is a contextual process.

HousingDesign02
Image by urbanTick / Book endsheet showing the different elements and parts of a house that are discussed in details. There are storys, core space, gallery, staircase, street infill and diagonal stacking amongst many others. The pictograms summarise the characteristics of each element very neatly and allow for quick reference and finding.Housing Design - A Manual.

It is a very beautiful publications. It feels good to touch and it is in its design quite complexe without overloading. Actually it looks plain, but with its use of metallic colours and specific fonts for different types of text it is rather playful in a supporting kind of way. The photographs are all black and white and so are the plans and drawings. Despite this no information the information is very clear and readable.

To summ up, this is definitely one of the great publications on housing design and worth having, not only if you are a first year undergrad architecture student. In fact it might be even too complicated for beginners. It might be even more insightful and interesting if you already know about architecture. With its many references and examples across architecture history it is a great reference as well as reading book.

HousingDesign01
Image by urbanTick / Book cover Housing Design - A Manual.


Mooij, H. & Leupen, B., 2011. Housing Design - A Manual, Rotterdam: NAI Publishers.