blu Marble V finch3d

Video available here

I only bumped into this artist because of a post he made on Instagram I read about on Dezeen. Influenced by the group finch3d and their Adaptive Plan 3d algorithm for designing houses Sebastian Errazuriz urged architects through his post to “continue to think and design “architecture” for more abstract systems” in fear that the nature of the profession is changing and fewer architects will be needed in the future.

The finch3d tool is actually pretty fun to watch: a house plan keeps changing while someone presses/slides different buttons of a grasshopper code. Yet I fail to see how that changes architecture. First of all, someone did write that code, probably an architect, choosing what parameters can be changed and how. The very choice of what can be changed is already intentional; it expresses the hierarchical thinking of its designer. By transferring this intentionality to a potential client you only allow him/her to think within a framework that is already set. Unless the client himself/herself writes this code, finch guarantees no more freedom in planning than before.

And by allowing/promoting the use of such tools to the greater public do we really think that we are being deprived of designing? Hasn’t it always been the case in anonymous architecture? US building code for example allows people to freely build their houses on their own as long as they comply to state regulations. So what if that person used the finch tool? And why is the finch tool any different in its conception that the state regulations? They both perceive design as in keeping up with predetermined rules.

So, do I think that architecture is an endangered profession? Do we really risk our jobs by evolving and expanding into new realms? Not really. Experimenting with different design tools has always been a core activity of our profession. But designing is not just designing space, is it? Because then, a code like that could definitely jeopardize what we do. We don’t design space: we design spaces for the people who use them. And it is the elusive nature of human thinking and being keeps us afar from any certainties. It is this incompleteness, the lack of a single answer that drives us and will keep on driving us to explore what it means to be fully human.

Image available here

And then I see Errazuriz’s breathtaking installation: a led lit image of the earth set in an urban void, an unexpected surprise event that invites viewers to contemplate on the “fragility of our existence.” (artist’s own words). And then I think: “go ahead and make as many codes as you like. You will never be able to codify the feeling/the sense of fragility of existence.”Because there are qualities and values in architectural designing that can not possibly be expressed algorithmically.

Architecture can never be generic, nor abstract. In that case, it isn’t architecture, it’s just building. Architecture in my understanding is site-specific, it is contextual, it is a means of communicating who we are not just in terms of our physical existence, but also in relation to others, it is transcendental, just like that earth image suddenly hitting you as you walk by. And if there is ever a code that does that, hell, I am gonna be the first to use it.

Vetements@Harrods: establishing new ethics for clothes production

Image available here

VETEMENTS  was started in 2014 as a French clothing and footwear “design collective” and brand founded by Georgian fashion designer Demna Gvasalia and CEO Guram Gvasalia in 2014. The brand was designed by a collective of their friends who had previous experience working for various known brands. Championing a more ‘pragmatic’ approach to fashion, Demna reflects the ‘down to earth nature’ that he says is reflected in what today’s youth wear. Operating from a philosophical and methodological approach to his designs, Demna propelled Vetements to world class status in just three short seasons (wiki).

Vetements is now trying to raise awareness on clothes overconsumption, overproduction and wastefulness by amassing tones of unused clothes on Harrods window displays. Clothing production is the second-biggest polluter on the planet and the company is trying to encourage companies to have their supply meet their demand.

For more information click here and here

Closing the Loop Documentary

Closing The Loop is the world’s first feature length documentary on the zero-waste / circular economy, supporting UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 on Responsible Production and Consumption. The film is presented by global sustainability expert Prof. Dr. Wayne Visser, in collaboration with Emmy and two time Telly Award winning director Graham Ehlers Sheldon. The film ranges across three continents and includes commentary from global experts and centres of excellence like the World Economic Forum and the University of Cambridge. A number of innovative circular economy cases are also featured in detail. The Circular Economy Club (CEC) is a communication and promotion partner of Closing the Loop. A film by Kaleidoscope Futures Lab. and Stand Up 8 Productions.

Garbage Dreams Documentary

Image available here

From the doc’s official webpage:

On the outskirts of Cairo lies the world’s largest garbage village. A labyrinth of narrow roadways camouflaged by trash, the village is home to 60,000 Zaballeen — Arabic for “garbage people.” The Zaballeen have survived for centuries by recycling Cairo’s waste. Members of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christian community, these entrepreneurial garbage workers recycle nearly all the trash they collect, maintaining what could be the world’s most efficient waste disposal system. Filmed over four years, GARBAGE DREAMS follows three teenage boys born into the Zaballeen’s trash trade: 17-year-old Adham, 16-year-old Osama, and 18-year-old Nabil. Laila, a community activist who also teaches the boys at their neighborhood Recycling School, guides the boys as they transition into adulthood at a time when the Zaballeen community is at a crossroads.

With a population of 18 million, Cairo — the largest city in the Middle East and Africa — has no sanitation service. For generations, the city’s residents have paid the Zaballeen a minimal amount to collect and recycle their garbage. Each day, the Zaballeen collect more than 4,000 tons of garbage and bring it for processing in their village, where plastic granulators, cloth-grinders, and paper and cardboard compactors hum constantly. As the world’s capacity to generate trash skyrockets, Western cities boast of 30 percent recycling rates — admirable, until you compare it with the 80 percent recycling rate the Zaballeen can claim.

In 2003, following the international trend to privatize services, Cairo sold multimillion dollar contracts to three corporations to pick up the city’s garbage. Shimmering waste trucks now line the streets, but these multinational waste disposal corporations are only contractually obligated to recycle 20 percent of what they collect, leaving the rest to rot in giant landfills. As these foreign companies came in with waste trucks and begin carting garbage to nearby landfills, the Zaballeen watched their way of life disappearing.

Suddenly faced with the globalization of their trade, Adham and Osama are each forced to make choices that will impact their futures and the survival of the Zaballeen community. Activist Laila sighs with despair: “They don’t see that we are poor people living off of trash. What are we suppose to do now?”

Filmmaker Mai Iskander provided this update on the plight of the Zaballeen since filming ended:

Unfortunately, the ability of the Zaballeen to both acquire and process Cairo’s garbage has become harder in the last few years. Cairo’s Zaballeen are still locked out of the trash trade by the multinational companies that arrived on the scene several years ago as part of the Egyptian government’s failed attempt to overhaul the municipal waste management system.

Five years after the multinationals took over, it has become abundantly clear that the privatized waste management system is not working.

One of the multinational companies’ contract was terminated because it failed to keep Cairo’s streets clean. With time, it became evident to the two remaining multinationals that they did not have the capacity to manage all of Cairo’s garbage or find a large permanent constant work force. As a result, the foreign waste companies started to contract some Zaballeen, allowing them access to the garbage in return for their garbage collections service. While these Zaballeen are pleased to once again have access to the garbage, they have not regained any percentage of the fees residents paid for their garbage collection service.

Egypt’s recent decision to cull the nation’s nearly 350,000 pigs (in an attempt to prevent an outbreak of swing flu in Egypt) wiped out a vital source of income for Zaballeen that came from raising pigs who fed off organic waste.

While the current economic outlook for the Zaballeen appears bleak, with garbage piling higher every day and with increasing pressure being put on the government to clean up Cairo’s streets, there is undoubtedly growing international and national interest in the Zaballeen’s industrious and innovative recycling practices.

The ‘Parques Biblioteca’: the Colombian way to achieving social development and cohesion

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
Image available here

They are urban complexes formed by buildings of modern architecture, with large surrounding spaces for public use, green, pedestrian and decorative. These public spaces give the urban complex the name of Park. The central building or axis of the complex is equipped with a library with high-tech computing equipment in broadband, justifying the name of the Library, and hence the compound expression “Library Park”. According to the municipal administration of the city of Medellín, “The Library Parks are Cultural Centers for social development that encourage citizen meetings, educational and recreational activities, the construction of groups, the approach to new challenges in digital culture. And they are also spaces for the provision of cultural services that allow the cultural creation and strengthening of existing neighborhood organizations. ” (wiki)

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
Image available here

Sergio Fajardo, governor of Antioquia, Colombia, and the mastermind behind the impressive edifices (…) Today (2014), he continues to push for educational opportunities across Antioquia (…) he discussed his current project to build 80 library parks in his home department (…) Building dignity and providing quality education for those in some of the department’s poorest communities has been a driving force behind Fajardo’s decision to build the library parks in underdeveloped neighborhoods like Santo Domingo and La Ladera and in towns like Anorí, which was overrun by guerillas for 50 years (…) Improving education in Medellín and Antioquia has also mobilized people living in these once-disadvantaged neighborhoods to study and dream of new opportunities.

Excerpts from Sarah McClure ‘s article: COLOMBIA: Building on Education, full article available here
The trees of inequality, violence, and illegality share a single root.
Image courtesy of Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, available here

Resisting Heathrow’s Expansion through Dwelling

Mural on the wall of an Indian restaurant in the center of Sipson, image available here

Resistance against the expansion of Heathrow Airport has been led largely by an off-grid, eco-utopian community (…) the protesters originally occupied the site of derelict plant nursery in 2010 (…) The principal living space has been created from a greenhouse dating from the time of the plant nursery, one of many that once populated the neighborhood and whose passing was lamented in the mural opposite the post office (…) Some of the dwellings within the enclosure take the form of tree houses (…) whereby beams are secured to trees in such a way that the rope does not cut into the trunk; as the trunk swells with moisture, the ropes slacken to accommodate the process. This ancient practice is indicative of a wider and reciprocal duty of care that exists between tree and protester (…) dwelling as an internal psychological state that can produce oppositional political effects (…) Here dwelling is not about oppositional action; it is about the inhabitation of a site in order to produce a quasi-autonomous sphere in which the politics of its occupants are performed (…) The consideration given to scale, quality, and the public display of lifestyle preferences might be counted as another form of the tactical knowledge that is being cultivated at Grow Heathrow (…) The process of becoming a permanent camp resident is protracted, requiring a series of trial periods; a tent provides the flexibility and portability to make possible these short-term commitments.

Nicholas Ferguson, Dwelling as Resistance, Places Journal, full article available here

Participatory Budgeting

Image available here

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a form of direct democracy at the local level, where all citizens state annually prioritized sectors to be financed before allocating investment resources in projects of their choice in those sectors. It has four key moments: diagnosis, deliberation, decision-making and follow-up (…) The epitome of PB is Porto Alegre (…) Five criteria required to qualify a PB: all citizens participate to the choice of the allocation of resources, this occurs at an administrative level of power (for example a town, but not a quarter), this process has to be repeated over years, a deliberation must take place in a specific institution, and finally citizens should be informed ex post of the status of the budget and the projects (…) The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of the PB process in March-April. From April until May, regional and thematic assemblies take place with the objectives of establishing thematic priorities by voting, electing councilors for each region, defining the number of delegates, and repeating the budget review for the preceding year at the local level (…) These meetings are open to all citizens and constitute the central and most inclusive component of the process (…) The five thematic areas discussed in the PB at city-level assemblies are: transport and traffic; education, leisure, and culture; health and social welfare; economic development and taxation; and organization of the city, urban and environmental development. (…) One of the main reasons why Brazilian reforms have moved so quickly after the dictatorship has been the passing of a new Constitution in 1988. This Constitution strengthened municipal autonomy, validated the participation of community groups in municipal decision-making, and attributed important social and economic policy functions to municipal authorities (…) there are four keys for a PB to be successful: a strong mayoral support, an active civil society, self-ruling given to citizens for the mechanisms of the PB, and consequent financial resources to fund the projects selected by citizens (…) The main findings are: a better allocation of resources (more equitably and appropriately distributed among sectors and communities), an increase in the financing of basic needs, and a more inclusive, less corrupted democracy.

Adrien Frank, An Overview of Participatory Budgeting, 2015