Friday, 1 May 2009

Growing a Greener London

Actions: What You Can Do With the City is a recent exhibition at the CCA in Montreal, featuring several thought-provoking examples of informal urbanism and greening. The London based work of Guerilla Gardeners and What If , and the projects of the French group aaa (of Urban Act) stood out to me, for example. Like the exhibition 'London Yields', this was another prompt to collectively pursue more growing and greening of gardens in our patch of London.

I just noticed an edible garden being constructed in Weston Rise. Thornhill Bridge (N1) and Marchmont Street (WC1) are further potential locations in the local area where "actions" could be undertaken, and develop ideas from the Leeds urban wildlife and greening project in the previous blog entry below...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Holbeck Designs short-listed

Our London design team, comprising Annick Collins (superblue) Gregory Cowan and Natalie Skeete, has have been shortlisted for the Holbeck competition scheme submitted in February. (Design Week)

The competition entry prepared by Collins Cowan and Skeete proposes a triadic strategy of landscape, urban 'furniture' and a palette of suitable materials, where non-humans and humans will interact. The final result is due to be announced on the 28th of May.

Designing animal habitats for Holbeck Urban Village seemed an excellent idea for a collaboration on a design competition. Annick, my engineer colleague, and one of a trio with whom I had worked on the Ken Saro-Wiwa Mobile Memorial competition, agreed to collaborate at the end of 2008. Near Camley Street , a model inner city nature interaction space, we talked over a pint of London Pride about human-animal and animal-human interaction in this 'urban regeneration' area, and found consensus on issues like biomimicry, and human-centred urban design principles which might also allow birds to nest, bees to pollenate, and otters to hide from human residents of the area. Architectural assistant Natalie Skeete, who had been working in the same regeneration area by the Fleet, and on the new Kings Place building by the canal, joined the team, adding her experience of nocturnal animal architecture.

A discussion about the transdisiplinary work of OOZ was brought my attention by a neighbour commentating on the work. Geese, Birds, Fish and Bats had been studied and discussion ensued about human and non-human interactions.

Our team finalised and submitted our three part strategy proposal in February, and in March our team was shortlisted, among a field of competitors from Yorkshire, California, and beyond. We met by the canal again to consider the shortlisting, and offered the competition organisers the opportunity that we would engage the local community. Our process-driven design strategy, which combines urban landscape, animal 'furniture' and a code of materials will not easily translate into a photo opportunity. The press article says "The winner, who will be announced on May 28, will see his or her vision turned into reality and installed in Holbeck Urban Village ready for local critters to move in." But do the organisers understand the need to work with the existing resident human critters?

Whether our scheme will be suitable for building a photogenic prototype for the 'critters' - as the organisers envisage - remains to be seen.


Sunday, 15 March 2009


PBS has screened a 25 minute segment about rapid urbanisation, informal settlements, and recent development in Bogota. Although exaggerated in its style, and narrated grandiosely by Brad Pitt, the story of the reintroduction of pedestrian and bicycle priority for city transport is poignant, and Mayor Peñalosa's reassertion of the importance of human centred accessways, footways, cycleways, and public transport systems are explored. The introduction of walking programmes and bike lanes, and the political resistance to these by business is addressed, including the controversial but laudable practice of prioritising footway and cycleway construction for the majority over roadway construction for the few.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009


I was on a high after tasting the mild, fruity and spicy Brazilian grind of the day at Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden this morning, following a nine o'clock meeting. It was an appreciated pick up after the previous evening's amazing party for the 15th birthday of Stranger and Stranger, at a well stocked venue in Little Portland Street.

At the meeting with the Quantity Surveyor in Bloomsbury Square this morning, I was accompanied by a more experienced architect colleague, to see the tender documentation of a project in Kings Cross, which I would like to work on. Among many topics, we discussed facade detailing, window specifications, and changes of planning use in the building. I learned a little more about section 106 agreements. Tenders will close this week, and no doubt some interesting issues will arise around the contracting, costing and project planning, given the current climate of the construction and property markets.

Leaving my friend at Seven Dials, I returned via St Giles Circus and walked through the delightful British Museum court to Russell Square. Hordes of student teachers congregated around the brutalist front of the Institute of Education in Bedford Way, and I continued past Ghandi in Tavistock Square, through Woburn Walk, around Argyle School, and back to my office.Link

Thursday, 5 March 2009


Mid-afternoon, escaping the South Kensington traffic into Hyde Park, I cycled past two women walking in the sun by the Albert Memorial, and overheard one say to the other "...she was twenty four hours in labour..." I crossed through the Park, by the Serpentine Gallery, which appeared dormant but for a figure pacing the roof terrace on a telephone under the changing sky. I think it was the director, Julia Peyton-Jones, talking to Kazuyo Sejima in Tokyo about the SANAA summer pavilion.

I was returning, reeling slightly, from the ecobuild exhibition at Earls Court, where among thousands of products and presentations, I caught Bill Dunster presenting the impressive ZEDFactory projects, including RuralZED, and I learned something about Passivhaus principles, about T-Zero, and BREEAM, by finding the BRE stand.

Friday, 13 February 2009


Samsen Community, in Bangkok's Dusit district*, is the site of a study by current students in UCL Bartlett School's " Building and Urban Design in Development" course. At their Tavistock Square studio, I attended a presentation of the work, hosted by Professor Nabeel Hamdi and Supitcha Nong, in the institute which Prof Hamdi tells me began life long ago as the 'Tropical' unit at the Architectural Association. Students had mapped and profiled the informally-housed Samsen community, about 340 residential units, and have developed briefs around residents' needs, aspirations, and livelihoods.

Student responses applied a framework of "provide - adapt - enable - sustain", and projects ranged from a craft business incubator called "Thought Factory" and a livehoods programme for waste pickers, to urban public arts using Bamboo. Notions of linking with NGOs -although tentative- included reference CODI, EMPOWER and UNICEF. Materials recycling for craft enterprise and tourism were two shared themes of the projects.

*Dusit is described as a mini-European city, transformed by Rama V. from a former fruit orchard. (Lonely Planet)

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Lines of Flight: Sheffield

The Lines of Flight researchers' group at the University of Sheffield arranged a workshop on 28 January about Informal Architectures and Participatory Practices in Mongolia.

On the theme of Informal Architectures, we discussed:
• the informal,
• the idea of l'informe from Bataille (Bois and Krauss, Formless Zone:1999) - and the relation of form and informal, informal within the formal, etc.
• Informal Architectures (Black Dog:2008) the book,
• participants' notions of informal architecture and urbanism, belonging, and land tenure,
• 'institutional study' of informal settlements including by visiting university groups (WHO pdf).

On the theme of Participatory Process and practices,
we briefly reviewed a few VSO methods which were developed and tailored with Mongolian construction college teachers in a training workshop in July 2008
1. Focus Group Discussions - Бүлгийн Хэлэлцүүлэл
[each subgroup develops responses to a topic and reports to the wider group]
2. Participatory Presentations - Орон Нутгийн Шийдвэр
[each participant presents a few examples and everyone groups them]
3. Picture Stories - Зурган түүх
[developmental Heurisms communicated graphically]
4. Problem Tree - Асуудлын Мод
[root causes and effects 'fruits' of a problematic are mapped as a tree]
5. Thought Shower - Санаагаа Илэрхийлэх.
[free generation and discussion of ideas]

A suggestion to the Mongolian teachers was that some of the methods might be applied to teaching through two live architectural projects. Some of the work to site analysis stage in July 2008 was presented;
Site Analysis and Initial Discussion
Yarmag - Childrens Camp and Conference Centre
Site plan, site analysis
Site sections, site analysis
Captioned Site Photography - tested using the "Participatory Presentation" method in teams for selection and captioning.
Sketches, Collage
Accommodation Brief
Play space - defining play
incl interior, exterior, roads, gardens, ecological features, ecological footprint.
Market Appraisals; Play/Conference centres UB wide, International; Russia, China, Khazakstan etc
Agreed Precedent Studies - Structure, Roof of Beijing Airport (Foster)
Precedent Studies - Programme, Eden Project Cornwall (Grimshaw)
Precedent Studies - Conservation, Camley Street London Kings Cross
Precedent Studies - Theme Parks, Butlins Family Holiday Camps (UK)
(The college director / client suggested Beijing Airport, and students asked for successful foreign examples to study from 'my culture')
Questions arising in the Seminar
• Why weren't local / Mongolian / vernacular architectures studied as precedents?

Sanzai - Eco Houses - Эко Хаус
Background of project funding, private development.
Green standards, agreeing a standard of ecological sustainability
• Energy - Энэриг
• Transport - Тээврийн хэрэгсэл
• Pollution - Агаарын бохирдол
• Materials - Матэриал
• Water - Ус
• Land use and ecology - Талбай ашиглалт
• Health and well being - Эрүүл мэнд эрүүл саруул байх

Questions arising in the Seminar
• Could the ecological sustainability of the traditional Mongolian Ger be studied?
• Defining informal architectures,
• Activism, roles of local NGOs (eg MWFA, MWUA, GCSD) and International NGOs
• Collaboration and Participatory methods in Architectural Practices and Education

Possible actions:
• Further communication / contact in future - discuss ongoing projects with those involved

Here are some flickr pictures - including some shown in the 'lines of flight' seminar.
Lines of Flight Seminar space and participants.
Thanks to participants for a stimulating discussion. Please post/send comments.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Sheffield; Informal Architectures

Students at the University of Sheffield (Lines of Flight) have arranged a workshop on 28 January about Informal Architectures and Participatory Practices in Mongolia.
Recent pictures of the architecture school in Western Ulaanbaatar.
Alt Praxis (U Sheffield c.2007)

'Slumming' in Panchsheel Vihar and Chirag Delhi

Architecture students I met at London Metropolitan University are working with two informal settlements in India, Panchsheel Vihar and Chirag Delhi, which they visited at the end of 2008. These settlements are west and east of the Madapuri Stream, and between two of the seven ancient cities of Delhi. The latter 500m x 500m village has a population of 80 000, only three storeys (a density of 3200 persons per hectare). The students' collection of site information, surveys, analysis and photographs of these informal settlements forms the background for proposing improvements to public spaces.

Diverse precedent studies included one student reviewing Chandigarh*, Archigram and markets in Petaling Jaya. Her project connects many rooftops, with complex effect on private and public space thresholds. Another identified genial occupations of the street, but did not have a clear proposition for any improvement to the neighbourhood. I suggested projects might reference development of communities through local education organisations like SEWA, or like Mongolia's MWFA.

In an age of studios where images of even Panchseel Vihar and Chirag Delhi are accessible via google earth and websites, a student collage of an anonymous map profile caught my eye. In a clipping of an ancient map called "Terra Incognita", I recognised the coast of Western Australia. Like one by Robert de Vaugondy (Didier) 1756, only the west coast was distinct, which suggests it was from the 17th century, when Hondius was still drawing connections between Terra Australis Incognita and the Orient. As students grapple with cross sections of villages and of social strata, Terra Incognita takes on others meanings in 2009.

* Chandigarh conference (see also flickr photos)