Tuesday, March 31, 2009

two questions:

How is Ecological Urbanism different from Landscape Urbanism?

and what is Urbanism, anyways? I thought that urbanism implied an urban, ie large, scale. That doesn't implicitly mean a giant intervention into the city - tactical insertions into the city are urbanism as well - but it does imply an approach that examines design at a city scale.

The exhibit is provocative in that it suggests that the design of a chair is urbanism. The design of a coffin is as well. Landscape urbanism doesn't address chairs and coffins. Is that the difference?

Student Exhibit - VEGETAL CITY: dreaming the Green Utopia

Luis Miguel Lus Arana and Aude-Line Duliere, responsible for this week's great student exhibition sent me the following text and work. The exhibit was organized independently by a few students but meant to coincide with this week of Ecological Urbanism festivities.

VEGETAL CITY: dreaming the Green Utopia
A vision of the future biocity by Luc Schuiten

“But I also start here…: we are now beyond utopia; beyond Le Corbusier's utopia, to be sure, but beyond the very idea of utopia itself. We can no longer share the fundamental assumption that lies behind this image: that it is both possible and desirable to completely rebuild our cities and our societies according to some new and better model… “If we are "beyond utopia”, we have also reached the end of cities. I do not mean here that all cities are now fated to decay. I mean that we have reached the end of a whole era in history where the dynamism of civilizations was tied up with their capacity to focus their energies in great cities.”
-Robert Fishman
“The cities should be built in the countryside. The air is purer there.”
-Alphonse Allais.

The beginning of the millennium has been characterized by a growing awareness of the crucial role of the climatic changes on our future. UNESCO, Giec, the international summits of Rio, Johannesburg and Bali speak of the increasing need for a radical change in the behavior of our society. Nature is no longer considered as an inexhaustible manna from heaven but rather as an inevitable ally with whom we need to cooperate in the edification of a long lasting society.

In this context, the purpose of the esxhibition "Vegetal City" is to suggest another way towards a long lasting and bright future for the planet that may be possible through non conventional processes. The life to come has to be considered an attempt of reconciliation with nature that enables us to live together in a balanced harmony. The selection of works featured here is conceived as a progression in time and space, through Luc Schuiten's eye, focusing on Nature's presence as a model for a new way of building. The work of the iconoclastic Belgian architect Luc Schuiten (Brussels, 1944) brings in a visionary glance that parallels a certain secularization of the “green” approach to the city. Educated as an architect in the 60s, Schuiten has developed, in the last 30 years, a work that ranges from the hyperrealistic approach to architecture given by autoconstruction and the pursue of energetic efficiency, to the utopian urbanism of megastructures, from the field of comics and science fiction to the construction of ecological buildings, and from a démodé revision of Art Nouveau to the most recent theories of “biomimicry”.

Schuiten understands architecture as an organism, a living system where the logics of the element (the cell) are translated, in a net of growing complexity, to the design of the house, and of the very city. Starting with his early concept of the habitarbre (“inhabitree”), he has explored for over thirty years new ways to reformulate the relationship between man and dwelling, building and environment, city and landscape. Through his concept of archiborescence, his early projects for maisons biosolaires (bio-solar houses) and habitarbres (inhabitrees) led him to the design of the “archiborescent cities”, utopian projects where the vegetalistic style of his houses evolved into a reflection on the possibilities of the fusion between city and natural ecosystems.

With Archiborescence, which brings together architecture and arborescence as an echo of Paolo Soleri’s Arcology (architecture + ecology), Luc Schuiten shows a glimpse of what a different understanding of the interaction between technology and nature could offer us. As a counterpart to our increasingly digital reality, Archiborescence suggests the use of biotechnology as a tool to actually rebuild the link between man and nature through construction systems that evolve directly from nature. Far from the dark images of the cities of the future Luc Schuiten envisions a harmonious future gestated on a new use of the ecosystems where cities become living entities. In a time when utopia seems to have been discarded as a tool to rethink our way of building the future, those visions offer other models for the organization, form, and the very materiality of the cities that introduce the utopian twist of the 1960s in the ecologically concerned panorama of the new millennium.

-Luis Miguel Lus Arana (exhibition curator)

Luc Schuiten (Brussels, 1944) graduated from l'Institut Supérieur d'Architecture Victor Horta in 1967. In the late seventies, after working with Willy Vandermeeren and Lucien Kroll (1968-69), and spending one year constructing villages in the desert of Morocco, he started researching on the possibilities of the integration of architecture/city and nature. In 1978 he started his series of Maisons Biosolaires with his own house and atelier Maison "Oréjona" (Overijse, Brussels), which was followed by the equally autoconstructed pavillon à 7 côtés (1982), the project for the Maison Biosolaire de Ville (1979), the « Maison Camerman » (Rosières, 1981) and the Maison Dassonville-Monette (1990). Throughot these projects he developed a personal research on the stylistic possibilities of an Art Nouveau that evolved from nature. Parallel to these bioclimatic projects, the concept of «habitarbre» (inhabitree), first developed in the non-built project for the «Maison Cristal» in 1977, has been key in his conceptualization of archiborescence, an approach to architecture that uses as its main elements of construction living organisms, especially vegetal. According to the principles of archiborescence, Luc Schuiten has developed a substantial amount of utopian projects for archiborescent cities, such as “la cite des habitarbres”, “les cites des toits jardins”, “la cité des vagues”, the lotus city and others, where he uses at an urban scale Janine Benyus’s concept of biomimétisme. Along with these prospective works, since 1995, the Atelier Luc Schuiten has developed a series of projects for “vertical gardens” that introduce vegetation in the residual spaces of Brussels, as well as other projects for “green” infrastructures such as the toll gate for the Autoroute A-29 (1996). He has published three books on this topic: Archiborescence (2006), Habitarbre (2007) and Vegetal City (2009). Luc Schuiten’s unorthodox approach to architecture also permeates his works in vindicative, ecology related, art. Along with Raphaël Opstaële, Pierre Gonay, Claire Lamy, Johan Opstaële and Barbara Haln, he founded the group Mass and Individual Moving that erected the polemical Radioactive Monuments in Brussels, Hasselt, Utrecht, Amsterdam and Middelburg in 1976. Along with his brother, comics artist François Shuiten, he created the series Les Terres Creuses in 1979, featuring a variant of the same utopian and environmentally conscious themes, and working as a showcase for some of his architectural designs. Among other prizes, Luc Schuiten has received the Prix Robert Maskens for the Maison "Orejona" (1978); the first prize in the competition "Pour un habitat de qualité" organised by the magazine Architecture Belgium with une maison bioclimatique de ville (1979). His project for the housing building "Oxygène", his Maison Camerman (Rosières, 1981) and the Maison Dassonville-Monette (1991) were also prized in competitions organized by the Ministère de la Région Wallonne. Recent samples of Luc Schuiten’s work have been featured in the exhibition “Archiborescence: Architectures Organiques et Visions Utopiques” (Yverdon-les-Bains (Switzerland, October 29, 2006 – March 11, 2007), “Utopia: De L'atlantide Aux Cites Du Futur” (Mons, April 20 – October 28, 2007), and in the Congress “Utopiales: Climats” (Nantes, October 31 – November 4, 2007)

VEGETAL CITY: dreaming the Green Utopia
A vision of the future biocity by Luc Schuiten
Harvard Graduate School of Design, March 30 – April 4, 2009
Coordination: Aude-Line Duliere / Luis Miguel Lus Arana
Design and additional texts: Luis Miguel Lus Arana
Original Vegetal City Exhibition Concept by Luc Schuiten

All images © 2009 Luc Schuiten. Special thanks to Atelier d’Architecture Schuiten, Éditions Mardaga, Ana Flor Ortiz, Emilio Ontiveros, Rodia Valladares and Juan Mínguez.

Harvard Latin GSD
Harvard European Club

Contact: Luis Miguel (Koldo) Lus Arana: lusarana@gsd.harvard.edu / koldolus@gmail.com

Main Gallery - Ecological Urbanism Exhibit

Just uploaded some pics of the exhibit to the flickr pool.

But I had to comment on this:
I can bet this is the first coffin ever exhibited at Harvard University's GSD. This coffin seems to somehow capture the spirit of this whole thing better than any of the other work.

It takes a program and form we all think we know (and truly do not even want to think about) and does something new with it. The material is recycled and will, appropriately to its program, biodegrade in the soil and the new shape makes it so that less of that material is used. The scope is humble but it could have a big impact.

In this case it is definitely worth looking at the necropolis for inspiration.

green architecture

"green architecture is like teenage sex: everybody is talking about it, two people are actually doing it, and it lasts for 30 seconds."
- a quote from a discussion in room 518

Building for Disaster

When one thinks of designing with ecological principles in mind there is always a sense of bucolic harmony that comes to mind. Nothing challenges this notion more than natural disasters. We all remember the images from Katrina as this force of nature put tremendous pressure on the social, political, and built environment. In the gulf coast ecological design now means, in part, finding ways to mediate the threat posed to human infrastructure by nature.

trays editor Aron Chang has just posted a series of essays and interviews exploring re-building in the post-katrina gulf coast around a case study.

-Rebuilding Biloxi's Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art
This is a brief description of the effects of Katrina upon the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, which serve as an introduction to the articles that follow.
-Katrina and the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, Q&A with Marjie Gowdy
Marjie Gowdy was the executive director of the Ohr O’Keefe museum at the time of Katrina and in the years immediately following the storm.

-Katrina and the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, Q&A with Joey Crain
Joey Crain is the architect of record for the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum at Guild Hardy Architects.

-Katrina and the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, Q&A with Brian Zamora
Brian Zamora is the Project Designer for the Ohr O’Keefe Museum at Gehry Partners.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Given the impending conference on Ecological Urbanism I thought I'd take my college Ecology textbook out from under my computer (it currently serves as as excellent computer stand) and try and find a decent definition of Ecology. Ecology has always been an ill defined term to me. Before trying to tackle the definition of Ecological Urbanism I imagine it would make sense to gain a better understanding of the word Ecology.

According to Ecology, Fourth Edition, by Robert E. Ricklefs and Gary L. Miller, "Ecology is the study of the natural environment and of the relations of organisms to one another and to their surroundings." It's a pretty standard text, so I think the definition is a worthwhile one.

Based upon this definition, is ecological urbanism an urbanism in which the natural environment is emphasized and relationships between organisms and their surroundings is valued? Relationships and nature. Sounds pretty vague to me. Each of those words is loaded with layers of meaning and is tremendously problematic, perhaps to the point of meaninglessness.

The appeal of looking to the sciences for new methods of understanding urbanism is appealing, but is such an ill defined science such as ecology the best one to pick? Is it useful? Is it new? To be determined this weekend...In the meantime I wonder about other what other forms of urbanism might be worth pondering - geological urbanism? hydrological urbanism? neurological urbanism? Trendsetters, look out for organic chemical urbanism!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More platforms

Be sure to join and the flickr group and upload photos of the conference and exhibit:

to follow our twitter updates:

and to join us in facebook:

just posted this in my archinect blog

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sloterdijk on the "world house"

From a lecture given earlier this semester at the GSD by the philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk:
"We are simply not capable of continuing the old cosmology of ancient Europe that rested on equating the house and home with the world. Classical metaphysics is a phantasm on an implicit motif that was highlighted in only a few places, e.g., by Hegel and Heidegger, namely that the world must itself be construed as having the character of a house and that people in Western culture should be grasped not only as mortals, but also as house residents. Their relation to the world as a whole is that of inhabitants in a crowded building called cosmos. So the questions are, 'Why should modern thought bid goodbye to this equation of world and house? Why do we need a new image in order to designate how modern man lives in social and architectural containers? Why do I propose the concept of foams?'

"The simple answer is: Because since the Enlightenment we have no longer needed a universal house in order to find the world a place worthy of inhabiting. What suffices is a unité d’habitation, a stackable number of inhabitable cells. Through the motif of the inhabited cell I can uphold the spherical imperative that applies to all forms of human life but does not presuppose cosmic totalization. The stacking of cells in an apartment block, for instance, no longer generates the classical world/house entity, but an architectural foam, a multi-chambered system made of relatively stabilized personal worlds."
Sloterdijk would consider the term ecology outmoded, referring to a global "world house" that only makes sense in a classical metaphysics. Ecological urbanism may construe urbanism as part of a system out of scale with the types of interventions architects/urbanists are in a position to make. This may explain the unusual presence of public officials at the conference...

What is Ecological Urbanism...

Looking at the official site it occurred to me; this is too broad of a term. To get a sense of that, one does not need to look any further than the speaker list. Seems like anyone that has ever uttered those two words together is invited. The exhibit feels the same way, a LOT of things thrown together.

Perhaps, though, it is not a problem with the conference or its exhibit, but rather it is a problem with its name. It is not trying to find a singular definition or vision for ecological urbanism but rather many of them. To give the work and speakers room to maneuver the conference should really be thought as 'Ecological Urbanism(S)'. The conference will really try to create a pluralistic and complex ecosystem of ideas.

Instead we are left with the question: what is ecological urbanism to you? You will more likely than not find work and speakers that support your position. However, while you respond this question it is comforting to know that the term itself is inclusive and will include other ways of thinking.

Personally I find the idea of ecological urbanism most helpful when it helps create a design methodology rather than strict rules. Looking for such a methodlogy it is helpful to look at Charles Waldheim's Landscape Urbanism. In the book Waldheim begins to describe a methodology of design that takes ecology as a medium of constant change. Design is then left to frame and guide that change. I will be in the look out for practitioners that use this design method.

Furthermore, I am interested in seeing if Koolhaas brings up his study of Lagos. I have written about this study, and specifically the Makoko Slum, in my thesis blog. I wrote an extended look at the Makoko for the trays eco-zine that will come out next week.

quote from my blog:

"Koolhaas also mentions the informal community of Makoko in Lagos as a possible prototype for growth there and in other cities. He is interested by the way the community has grown around the bay to saw, store, and ship lumber. In Makoko we can see an intersection of ecological conditions, commerce, infrastructure, and community. This slum and Koolhaas' reading remind me of the diagram (above) I produced for the NICAestudio. This diagram was meant to say that the new housing in informal settings needed to be embedded with commercial and social activities and then critically set within the landscape. Furthermore, this reading also signifies an evolution of Koolhaas' urban/ecological views from La Villete..."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Work in Progress

The exhibition space in Gund Hall is beginning to show signs of what will surely be a theme of the conference: eclecticism. With a subject as open to interpretation as "ecological urbanism," it's no surprise see everything from industrial design to pharmaceuticals to mapping on display. Some things could be called ecological, some have an urban sensibility; one way of evaluating the success or failure of the conference will be whether or not there turns out to be any coherence to the conjunction of the two terms.

Before Conference I

Ecology can be understood as the relationship between several types within a confined field containing limited resources. An ecological reading defines the type as a singular occurrence or a symptom of a much larger sum of forces competing and complementing each other. Ecology attempts to uncover the forces behind an occurrence and to justify its physicality as a manifestation of the reconciliation of these forces at a certain point in time.

Ecology maps the ghosts of objects, it highlights areas where invisible footprints step on each other's toes, it promotes an image of competing fields in a constant state of re-form. It defines an ecological system by outlining coinciding edges and particularities, or niches within the field.


An Ecological Urbanism waits to be defined;  Ecology is derived from the Greek word oîkos, "house"; Ecological Urbanism means the logic of the house in the study of cities.

By this logic Ecological Urbanism is an attempt in uncovering the ghosts behind the materialization of architecture. Defining the hidden footprint of a project should outline the reasons for its occurrence, the sum of forces that were put together through design and assembly.

A more potent approach can focus on the manipulation of the ghosts themselves. By uncovering juxtaposing footprints new niches can be addressed, the fitness of types can be questioned and refitted in accordance with the dynamic nature of contemporary cities. 


This upcoming conference will be an attempt to define what Ecological Urbanism is. The challenge will be to find the balance between the footprint of the project which is in itself formless, and the constructed city which is all about form and how to keep the discourse connected at two ends; understanding the whirlpool of forces and how to effect it, and follow up on how the handling of these forces manifests its self in the city.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Missing protocols

Twenty-four hours separate Rem Koolhaas’s public lecture from that of Andrea Branzi’s at the Ecological Urbanism conference. Is it by mere chance that they were not confronted at the same panel, or was it for scheduling, ego or political reasons? It doesn’t matter. Invented transcripts of their dialogue speculate on what might have been a key moment for architecture. Or not.

RK: well, for me the notion of ecology is nothing but another excuse to consider what I am really interested in. In a way, you could say it’s architecture’s current pseudonym: a new way for it to try and regain control in a hopeless world.

AB: which takes us thirty or forty years back, even if we are reluctant to talk about those times…

RK: we definitely are.

AB: but if we consider what we were faced with at the time, that is not at all different in some ways. Architecture was powerless and impotent, the world was radically changing and a new direction was not in sight. So our choice was to use extreme denial of the very ability of architecture to influence life. At the beginning, it was done through a somewhat naïve aspiration that by doing so we can find architecture again, but then nihilism and negation grew..

RK: and the city has left the architectural domain, swung out of its control.

AB: yes, and technology took over. And automation.

RK: the perfect site for my voluntary prisoners. And a no-stop influence underlying the skepticism I never admit completely.

AB: It seems to me that professional narratives are always retroactive, meaning we can ask ourselves what kind of architects we became only by looking back.

RK: nostalgia means nothing to me.

AB: but this is not about nostalgia but rather about choice. Mine took me away from architecture while yours took you further into it. That is clear. I cannot tell however, which one of us stabilized architecture and which was the one that shook its foundations.

RK: maybe we did both at the same time.

AB: I guess you can never really tell.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blog Statement

GSD:ecologicalurbanism is an online platform created by students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) students to accompany the Ecological Urbanism conference and exhibition that will take place in April.

The platform is meant to document, react, criticize and debate the panels and discussions that will occur during the conference. Elaborating and reflecting on the issues raised at the event, students from the various departments will use GSD:ecologicalurbanism as an informal platform for building their agenda towards ecological urbanism: what is it now and what it might turn out to be.

While the platform is aimed to enhance the content presented at the conference, it is also conceived as a place for informal and peripheral content building that will complement processes of formal documentation. GSD:ecologicalurbanism will be fed by contributors in the weeks before, during, and after the conference and open to comments.

The Blogging team:

Matthew Allen, MArch I
Ilana Cohen, MLA
Yonatan Cohen, MAUD
Dan Handel, MArch II
Zakcq Lockrem, MUP
Quilian Riano, MArch I AP