Category Archives: planning

Reviving Newcastle

It can take a heroic effort to bring an ailing city district back to life but often all it takes to spark it off is one person or one small group. Marcus Westbury‘s efforts to revive Hunter Street, the ailing main street of the Australian industrial city of Newcastle (think rustbelt if you are not in Australia) have certainly been heroic. He is staging a “Renewing Newcastle” information night tomorrow night Wednesday 10th of September at 6:30pm. The venue is the Lock Up (next to the now derelict Post Office) at 90 Hunter Street Newcastle.

Vacant shopfronts in the Newcastle CBD should be opened up to community arts and not-for-profit groups, under control of a property trust that assists building owners with tax concessions.

The idea is simple enough, it’s worked before, but can it work here?

It was pretty amazing to watch the numbers rising on his facebook site when he sent out invitations so here’s hoping it will work. If you are anywhere near there make sure you attend.

Don’t be brutal to Robin Hood Gardens

solar pavilion

Some suggest that Alison and Peter Smithson were the first examples of starchitecture, as Norman Blogster calls the “more PR than architecture” careers of stylists like Hadid and Liebeskind. But when our reader Kristian Seier challenged us to find something bad to say about the Upper Lawn Pavilion (later known as the Solar Pavilion), their holiday house built in the early 1960s, we realised we’d simply forgotten that it existed.

solar pavilion

Which is inexcusable because not only is it one of the most admirable of the 20th century’s many glass box houses, it is also a rare example of adaptive reuse by great modernist architects whose attitude we admire even when we find their large projects unlovable.

Writing about the restoration of the Solar Pavilion, Jane Withers in The Observer tells us:

The Smithsons bought the property in 1958, part of a group of farm buildings including a stone cottage that had been served with a demolition order. Instead of razing the existing building, the new two-storey pavilion is superimposed on parts of the old structure. The old stone doesn’t just give texture to the new building – it also makes us look at the past with fresh eyes, as old parts are found in surprising places. A massive chimney wall – once the end wall of the cottage – now cuts through the upper and lower living spaces. The outdoor terrace was once inside the old house, so that a cottage window is now set in the garden wall to playful and slightly surreal effect.
The remains of the original cottage not only provide a framework to anchor the new wood and glass structure, they also root the new building in the local history. It is a wonderful illustration of the Smithsons’ ‘as found’ theory, where instead of the earlier modernist pursuit of gleaming newness, the architects reuse and reinvent the existing….
The startling aspect of Solar Pavilion is its utter basicness.
A few years earlier, in 1956, for the seminal pop art exhibition This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the Smithsons contributed Patio and Pavilion, a shed made of second-hand wood and a corrugated plastic roof. They intended it to be read as a symbolic habitat embracing what they considered basic human needs – a piece of ground, a view of the sky, privacy, the presence of nature. Solar Pavilion embodies such thinking about the fundamentals that nourish not just man’s physical but also spiritual needs.

“Reuse and reinvent the existing’? Doesn’t that sound like the perfect description of what we are on about?

solar pavilion
Ioana Marinescu)

During the restoration in 2003 Sergison Bates had to add a kitchen and heating – apparently man’s physical needs did not extend to heating, stoves (they cooked on a fire outside) or beds (they slept on mattresses on the floor upstairs), a lifestyle Allison Smithson described as “camping in the landscape”.

solar pavilion
Ioana Marinescu)

She documented their trips to the house in her solipsistic book AS in DS (ie Alison Smithson in her Citroen DS). Wendy, who hates camping, is horrified by this while I find it incredibly admirable, it appeals to some deep spiritual need of mine. Or maybe I’m just a jaded dilettante and so were they, but I don’t think so. The point is that unlike the starchitects they were never about style, they were about solutions to problems of living.

And that led to their theory of “streets in the air”, based on their opposition to modernist planning that carved cities up into quarantined functional areas.

As younger members of CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) and, by 1956, as founding members of Team 10, they were at the heart of the debate on the future course of modern architecture, demonstrating a broad concern in the social environment and advocating for buildings that were specific to their location and purpose. Rather than the CIAM understanding that cities should be zoned into specific areas for living, working, leisure, and transport, the Smithsons argued in favor of mixed use within the same area. They conceived mid-rise housing as ‘streets in the air’ to encourage sentiments of belonging and neighborliness, rather than isolated slab-like towers. They believed these goals could be achieved at differing levels of human association: house, street, district and city. (Harvard University Library Smithson Archive)

Unfortunately, when they tried to put it into practice the result was Robin Hood Gardens.

robin hood gardens

Doomed from the start by a bad location, poor construction and dysfunctional welfare tenants, the streets in the air only facilitated criminal activity. The project turned into a high profile disaster and their careers crashed.

robin hood gardens

But looking back on it, the theory still seems sound.

And now Robin Hood Gardens is threatened with demolition. If it goes, their only remaining major projects will be Hunstanton School and the Economist Plaza.

Robin Hood Gardens looks shabby but so do Zaha Hadid’s buildings already,

robin hood gardens

that’s what happens to buildings if you don’t maintain them.

Since Erno Goldfinger’s equally dysfunctional Trellick Tower has now become a fairly desirable residence could a similar outcome be possible with Robin Hood Gardens? The current residents love it even if it is noisy, run down

robin hood gardens

and generally intimidating in its grimness. It’s a potentially divisive question even in this household on the other side of the world, Wendy says knock it down, I say no. And since I’m writing this and she’s not, I’ll commend BD’s on-line petition to you where you can sign up with your fellow luminaries to petition for its listing and preservation.

And just remember this quote, at CIAM’s 1953 Congress the Smithsons wrote:

“Belonging’ is a basic emotional need – its associations are of the simplest order. From ‘belonging’ – identity – comes the enriching sense of neighbourliness. The short narrow street of the slum succeeds where spacious redevelopment frequently fails.”

The return of the dispossessed

(Photo Sean Hemmerle)

You will have noticed that we’ve been updating our links since new year. While trawling our bookmarks we noticed a thread of links about apocalypse that we discussed in our last post but also about attempts to adapt to catastrophes/war/dystopias, providing visions of a future that is all too possible.

Beirut seems to be the test bed of cataclysmic adaptation. The most interesting Beirut link, because of its clear personal tone, is the unbuilt architecture blog, the source of this image

which did the blog rounds recently.

After destruction through war or any other inhumane deployment of technology, capital and energy, we are left with sites, minds and societies unbuilt. Leveled to the ground. Making room for denial, doubt and a divided society. Understandable but unacceptable. This condition needs those who dare to envision perspectives beyond the ruins…

Bullet holes adaptively reused as art or lighting? or their public space project?

Unbuilt do their public space project in Beirut’s dysfunctional public spaces but the lack of public space is common throughout the developed world, a physical reflection of the atomised social pathology. First world cities increasingly consist of private spaces pretending to be public where you are welcome only if you have money to spend,

(Photo helixblue)

places like Boca Raton, Florida where the only genuinely public spaces are the roads.

ArtAfterCrisis, ” a weblog reporting on the role of art in crisis areas” also visits Beirut. Author Chis Keulemans describes his mission to document creative adaptation

I am interested in the ability of artists and intellectuals to reinvent society after the peace has been signed or the dictator has been toppled. How does their work reflect the horrors of the past? How do they reclaim public space in their cities? Do they contribute to or criticize the new collective identity of their society? How do they communicate with the world outside?

Talking about Hassan Choubassi’s map

of the (fictional) Beirut Metro he says

Riëtte, my girlfriend and photographer, spent hours with Choubassi visiting several of the most prominent stops on his fictional Metro Map: places that were crossroads on the demarcation line between the Christian East and the Muslim West parts of town during the civil war of 1975 to 1990.

How do these places look today, and what were the stories behind them?

Adaptive reuse is the only possible way to live in a war torn city.

In the book Traces of Life (2003), the result of a research [Tony Chakar] did with colleague Naji Assi and their students of architecture into the maze of a poor laborer’s neighborhood called Rouwaysset, he describes how densely populated slums like these create their own urban space. ‘The relationship of a building in Rouwaysset with the surrounding buildings and spaces is a relationshiop of mutual and continually renewed violence – a violence that both defines the shape of these buildings and spaces and is defined by them.’

What strikes me is the use of the word violence. Building places for people to live, eat and make babies in is not usually associated with violence. And he is not talking about the violence that may come with the razing down of whole neighborhoods to create spaces of power (like in Ceausescu’s Bucharest) or commerce (like the Jakarta shopping malls), he uses the word to describe the day-to-day push and shove of new additions to existing infrastructure, the perpetual festering of concrete, glass and iron that goes on so stubbornly in Beirut, that it makes it seductive – here more than in many other cities – to compare it to a living organism. Layer upon layer, it grows into a never-ending palimpsest of histories.

Finally, there is a section about Beirut in Worldview,

a web-based project of the Architectural League of New York that invites architects from around the world to present reports on what is new and interesting in architecture and urbanism in their cities, with a particular focus on cities and regions that are not adequately reported on by the mainstream architectural press.

Elie Haddad edits the section on Beirut and he comments

Some historians have attributed the destruction of the city to a latent hatred for what Beirut had come to represent for many of those living on its margins, i.e. an exclusive concentration of economic and political powers that reduced the rest of the population to a condition of subservience. In one post-war documentary, a militiaman candidly recounted the feeling of satisfaction that he and his comrades felt as they entered one of the grand hotels, heretofore a symbol of those in power, and violently took their sweet revenge on the place and all that it symbolized.

Therein lies the warning that cities like Beirut pose, that the exploited and dispossessed will have their revenge. The most immediate and effective solution to global warming would be the immediate and complete destruction of western industrial consumerist society. The disastrous consequences of consumerist greed are now being visited unfairly on the vast majority of the planet’s population who never received any of its benefits. Who could blame them for the most violent retaliation, especially as the destruction of our industrial economies would put an immediate end to the source of all emissions?

(Photo Abdallah Kahil)

Anyone who believes that would be impossible has not learned the lessons of Vietnam, Afghanistan and now Iraq, that a low tech society can always ultimately defeat a high tech military. And a low tech society will be best adapted to survive the next few centuries of chaos.

The joy of apocalypse

Recent announcements by Exxon-Mobil and George Bush indicate that we are now moving out of the climate change denial phase and into the sabotage-and-delay-by-spurious-solution phase (with a good dash of solutions-that-are-worse-than-the-problem like nuclear power and sunlight blocking). It all means that serious catastrophe looks increasingly likely.

We don’t really believe it will end in apocalypse but it’s worth thinking about complete apocalypse if only to get the full range of possible consequences clear in your head. After all, right now much of the developed world, particularly the US, is behaving as if the slightest change (eg less cars, more public transport) will be equivalent to apocalypse.

(Havana. Photo unpeuplus)

The reality is that even genuine and enormous catastrophe is not the end, humans are amazingly adaptive and some places have already had to face the problems that still lie ahead for the rest of us. Cuba has already had its peak oil crisis with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early nineties. Ironically, almost 40 years of US economic embargoes may have made it the society most likely to survive intact, with lots of empty highways ideal for cycling.

(Photo Lauras512– check out her Cuba cycling holiday)

Culture change discusses the Cuban example and suggests Plan B for survival where adaptive reuse will be the order of the day

Depaving is a vast opportunity to free up land. There is more paved land in the U.S than officially designated wilderness. There is unused pavement even with the vast numbers of unnecessary motor vehicles today. Driveways and parking lots are easiest to remove. Tearing up roads is harder because of the deeper and harder road bed. However, trees can still be planted in roads and former roads.

On the other hand Dmitry Orlov is grimly hilarious on the lessons the US might learn from the Soviet experience of national collapse and the adaptation necessary to survive.

In all, I expect drugs and alcohol to become one of the largest short-term post-collapse entrepreneurial opportunities in the United States, along with asset stripping, and security.

And while we are talking about hilarious, the Anthropik Network‘s advocacy of primitivism and survivalist tribalism is whacky if not downright sinister but their 30 Theses make for a thought provoking read. One bit we can agree with is their catchcry that “First, civilization is fragile, and second, humans are not”. Of course, as they point out, we all see these things through our own prejudices

He isn’t alone in seeing what he wants to see of course – the Viridian camp sees a shiny green future awaiting us in the post oil world, old school oil guys like T Boone Pickens see a exploration and drilling bonanza, energy industry investors like Matt Simmons and Henry Groppe see soaring energy prices, gold bugs see rampart inflation and soaring gold prices, ferals and hippies see a return to living closer to nature, socialists see the revival of marxism, conspiracy theorists see government/elite conspiracies and the rise of the new world order, primitivists see the collapse of industrial civilisation and human dieoff, libertarians see an opportunity for the market to bring new energy sources and technologies to us, fascists see an opportunity for a return to authoritarianism and some of the uglier approaches to population control used by their ilk in the past, economists see supply and demand issues being resolved by energy prices, military-industrial complex members see the need to militarily dominate the energy rich regions of the planet, end-times Christian fundamentalists see another symptom of the impending rapture and survivalists see an opportunity to say “I told you so” and finally get to use the skills and tools they’ve spent their lives practicing for.

You’ve just got to remember that whatever you are being sold

it can sometimes be hard to tell if it’s a joke

or if they are serious (from the National Atomic Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico, photos by Life on the Edge). Have a happy apocalypse!

Going batty

The world was does not belong only to humans, notwithstanding the deluded ravings of right wing religious extremists.

We share it with a still unknown number of other species and most of them can be pretty awe inspiring once you get to know them better.

What better way to spend your life than trying to make the world better for them rather than worse as we have for the last few thousands of years? (Photos:JJ Kaczanow/Bat Conservation Trust). The Bat House project by 2004 Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller sets out to do exactly that.

Although not an adaptive reuse project in the strictest sense of the word, it is an attempt to adapt the environs of the city of London to make it a more bat friendly place.

Jeremy Deller and the Bat House Project Partners are pleased to invite you to join a collaborative initiative to imagine and design a home for bats in London.

The Project highlights the potential for architects, builders, home-owners and conservationists to work together to produce wildlife-friendly building design. It connects the worlds of art and ecology to encourage public engagement with ecology issues. The Project builds on the Mayor of London’s policies to raise awareness of urban biodiversity and to support the survival of London’s ten bat species.

Each month there is a challenge and the first, ending on January 15, 2007, asks What is it like being a bat in London?

Imagine you’re a bat in London. Where do you hang out? What do you see, feel, hear, eat, need? What attracts you? What gets in your way? Use any medium you like to communicate your idea .

Like Natalie Jeremijenko’s rooftop for pigeons, this is another example of art that gets our stamp of approval.

Floating world

All this dutch design brilliance may soon amount to nought. Approximately 60% of the Netherlands are lower than sea level, not a good place to be in a century where sea levels may well rise 5 metres or more. Many studies are pessimistic about the country’s survival while others are already planning for a floating world,

from the domestic scale

to entire communities and even cities.

In a very real sense they face one of the greatest adaptive reuse questions imaginable – can the technology of seacraft really be adapted to the scale of an entire city? Is it even worth trying?

The technology is developing and prototypes exist already, such as this floating airport in Tokyo Bay. But despite its enormous scale it is puny compared to the scale required in the Netherlands. And not just in the Netherlands.

Here is a proposal for floating communities in a flooded Thames Estuary,

including the return of the adaptively reused hulks of superannuated ships and other vessels like oil rigs.

There is even a Seasteading movement which aims to adapt oil rig technology to create floating communities at sea.

It all seems a strange approach to the problem of climate change. Are we a bit naive in thinking that a more effective approach might be to make everything smaller rather than larger and to simply move somewhere else rather than waste scarce resources fighting the inevitable? Or is the explanation that there is money in grandiosity and none in downscaling? Will humanity end up like those lung cancer sufferers who still smoke even on their deathbed?

Big things

We live midway between a number of huge abandoned industrial sites.

Ten kilometres in one direction is Portland with its cement works closed since 1991,

and ten kilometres in another is Lithgow blast furnace, site of the first steel production in Australia, abandoned since 1928.

About thirty kilometres away as the crow flies is Glen Davis with its shale oil refinery abandoned since 1952. And that is just the big sites, there are numerous smaller ones.

Its part of what attracted us here and explains why we have an obsessive interest in similar abandoned sites around the world. What can you do with these things? Depending on how you look at it they are either disasters or they are fantastic assets that open up all sorts of possibilities. And we aren’t the only people facing this dilemma.

Look at the famous Bethlehem Steel Works, in Pennsylvania, left stranded by globalism. These works once produced 23 million tons of steel per annum but now lie rotting.

As its passionate supporters

struggle to produce plans for adaptive reuse,

at least some people treasure it’s sublime industrial-gothick beauty.

But there are some great success stories in the adaptive reuse of big industrial sites. We’ve mentioned Duisburg Nord’s gasholder concert hall before but it is just one small part of an enormous site adaptively reused as a park.

You can even climb its chimneys. We’ll do more on it in the future.

In the UK Wilkinson Eyre Architects won the Stirling Prize in 2001 for Magna, its conversion of a steel mill in Rotherham UK into a science learning centre. They constructed four pavilions inside the 400 metre long main building,

here is the earth pavilion

and this is the air pavilion. The pavilions are packed with interactive science exhibits.

But not everything is perfect. Once again, one of our pet hates, their web site is another of the world’s worst, full of flash animation rubbish, hard to navigate, poor content and basically just a monument to some web designers ego. A real pity.

And apparently the roof leaks and it’s a very difficult place to clean. As in other human activities (like wars), reality always catches up on you.

The hungry mile

The current redevelopment of East Darling Harbour to create some of the most expensively mediocre real estate in Sydney also produced an attempted piece of culture history whitewashing, the renaming of Hickson Road. This roadway surrounded by cliffs and warehouses has always been colloquially known as The Hungry Mile in memory of the day labourers who once worked on the wharves under the notoriously humiliating “bull” system that exploited workers by forcing them to compete with each other every morning for that day’s work. The bull system only finally ended during the Second World War as a necessary concession to the wharfies legendary union leader “Big Jim” Healy.

With redevelopment looming, higher authorities decided that a new more appropriate image was needed and renaming Hickson Road something like We Love Real Estate Developers Road seemed a way of breaking from this embarassing history. Fortunately a public campaign by the Maritime Union eventually rescued this small bit of workers’ heritage and it will now officially proudly bear the name The Hungry Mile. However, I suspect that it will eventually become known as The Greedy Mile in honour of it’s new residents. Demonstrating how awful the alternatives may have been, the whole area of the redevelopment has been named Barangaroo, a bizarre bit of patronising “aboriginal kitsch”, as former PM Paul Keating called it, if only because it was not the aboriginal name for the area. But we digress. This is leading somewhere, stick with us.

Ever since the ending of the wharfies bull system there have been no day labourer pickup sites in Australia, no more hungry miles, but that may be about to change. Recent legislation that Americanises Australia’s industrial relations laws will now almost inevitably lead to the reintroduction of day labour and similar pick up sites for day labourers (and incidentally, don’t you love the way the extreme right adaptively reuses words, so that reform, which once implied “progressive improvement” now implies “reactionary return to long forgotten and barbaric forms of exploitation” hence Australian PM Howard’s constant weasely talk of “industrial relations reform”). As the link above shows, labourer pickup sites are usually not very pleasant places.

In the US, especially on the west coast, day labourers’ gathering spots are a regular and sad sight, impoverished men hanging around on certain street corners in hope of a few hours work. Public Architecture, who project managed the Scraphouse, have developed a trailer adapted for use at day labourer pick up sites.

It has two toilets and sheltered seating. It’s a great idea but despite its obvious practicality in some sense it is like an artwork that brings out into the open the barbarity of the system that it aims to ameliorate, and you can’t help feeling that it will be universally opposed by local authorities who would rather blame the victims of the system.

Public Architecture comments

While the contributions of day laborers typically go unseen, most cities’ inability to accommodate them within the urban infrastructure is highly visible. There exists an unmet need and role for design to significantly enhance informal gathering spots, organized centers, and general efforts. According to the 2006 National Day Labor Study, “Worker centers have emerged as the most comprehensive response to the challenges associated with the growth of day labor.” However, our analysis indicates that the costs and resistance associated with the construction and operation of a permanent worker center run high.

It’s an age old tactic, degrade people, then attack them for their degradation. Their solution attempts to return some dignity and control to the labourers

Our mobile centers will accommodate waiting day laborers, organizational meetings, classes, and sanitation facilities, without requiring staff. This unit will be built by day laborers themselves, and deployed at informal hiring sites. Day laborers will be instructed about its use and maintenance. Local organizations will be given the opportunity to schedule on-site classes including English, legal assistance, and civil rights workshops. All steps will be documented for the second phase—a multi-faceted public relations campaign.

Sometimes something as small as the adaptive reuse of a car trailer can do all that. We wish them all the best.

And incidentally, while we are talking about Public Architecture, check out their granny flat design, or Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) if you are a bureaucrat.

It makes extensive use of adaptively reused industrial materials:

The wall system is a prefab insulated aluminum panels developed for commercial refrigeration buildings. The primary fenestration are glazed garage doors that enable the small dwelling to open to the adjacent private garden. The planted roof offers low runoff, high insulation, and is a nod to the rear yard context.

Rear yard on the roof…hmmm…sounds like the casbah to me, but the casbah is moslem, and all moslems are terrorists, so that’s a terrorist backyard they’re talking about and a terrorist granny flat and if that’s a terrorist granny flat then it must house a terrorist granny….or….maybe I should stop reading the US media, it’s warping my thinking.

Unnatural gardening

The sad saga of the Thomas Street, Box Hill garden that was posted on Lucazoid’s site got us looking at urban agriculture.

The residents had turned the entire backyard into an organic vegetable garden only to discover their landlord was a lawn lover who considered they had damaged the property. The whole garden had to be ripped out and the lawn replanted – not everyone appreciates the adaptive reuse of their lawn.

There is another great Australian urban gardening site here describing a garden near the centre of Bendigo.

Being a sports hater I particularly liked the argument against sport:

Industrial agriculture triumphs when it comes to eliminating labour costs. I have a simple answer to this: STOP PLAYING SPORT! Middle-class folks now spend five to twenty hours a week at the gym!!! Football players train twice a week and devote at least one day of their weekends to football. Convert this “labour” to gardening – end of labour problem.Three in ten hospital beds are taken up by victims of sports injuries! Sport is pointless, dangerous, mindless and unproductive and most sports, in fact, are nothing but training for warfare and perpetuate a militariastic culture. My panacea for the world’s ills is stop playing sport and take up gardening – then in future efficiency calculations count all labour hours as “recreation”.

Right on!!! And any reader naively thinking that carpet can be adaptively reused as a weed suppressor should check out the reasons his site is named half an acre of carpet.

But lawn-loving landlords notwithstanding, not everyone disapproves of urban farming, in fact some cities actively support it. And increasingly there are more technological versions of urban farming like this project to adapt a trailer as a glass house for hydroponic gardening.

But why stop at small scale efforts, think big! If cities are the problem why can’t they become the solution, that is the key to the adaptive reuse philosophy. Why not use city buildings for farming or even build skyscraper farms?

The Vertical Farm Project has been advocating the development of vertical farming technology and documenting all aspects of the concept, but we have an ingrained suspicion of high tech solutions to problems that are basically caused by human greed and that ultimately require socio-political solutions.

However, problems should also be looked at from all angles and often need more than one solution. Anyway, even combining office and farm in one building would be pretty good….why not adaptively reuse the city?

We’ll take the high road

The crazy proliferation of highways has left a century or more of rail infrastructure redundant. As it languishes it often turns into the only nature reserve in highly urbanised areas.

The High Line in New York is a typical example. If you’ve ever been to Chelsea you’ve probably seen it. It’s a mile and a half long and runs through three of Manhattan’s most dynamic neighborhoods: Hell’s Kitchen/Hudson Yards, West Chelsea, and the Gansevoort Market Historic District.

When it was built in the 1930s, these were industrial areas, now they’re fashionable art and creative areas. The Friends of the High Line are proposing its reuse as a park but public space of any sort is a difficult issue in the US where fascist ideologues errrr I mean Republicans, have often reduced public space to little more than roadways. (Yep, I’m talking about you, Boca Raton!) Even in highly civilised New York they are having trouble but let’s hope they succeed because it’s a great project.

But as always, Paris was there before New York. In the early 1990s, the city of Paris successfully converted a similar elevated rail viaduct

near the Bastille opera house into a 4.7 kilometre pedestrian walkway called the Promenade Plantée.

It crosses the entire 12th arrondissement from the Place de la Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes at the eastern edge of Paris. That’s the thing about Paris, it’s a civil society and a public space, not just a place.