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architecture : strategy and design

140213 / nuee, new urban evolution ensemble


N.U.E.E : New Urbanism Evolution Ensemble. The word 'nuee' is french for the english word 'flock', and refers to the self-organizing distributed governance of flocks, like birds.



As an instrument to develop points of action, a workgroup or association could be initiated. Provisionally I call it NUEE. The theme of this workgroup would concentrate on the question below :


"Question"
How can the process of urbanization be reorganized, integrating global aspects of governance in the mechanism of production, making it lean : creating more value for customers/inhabitants with fewer resources, so as to ensure that local energy amounts to global strategy.

"Observation"
The words 'danger' and 'opportunity' are widely thought to be united in the chinese character combination for 'crisis' (weiji). Although this is not completely true linguistically, it is true, figuratively speaking, that a moment of crisis can been seen as a moment when there is nothing left to loose, and so new opportunities can be found. Beyond improvement, one is freed from the fear of losing some things, and dedicated to winning other things. Over the last decade numerous crises have been announced : "global warming, rising inequalities, social unrest and violence and a fragmenting world order, with low trust in governments and business" (Georg Kell, executive director of the UN Global Compact, at Davos 25/01/14). The current crises (political, societal, financial, industrial, environmental) manifest themselves by out of control mechanisms : population growth, urbanization, inequity, social unrest, extremist attitudes, lack of security, lack of ideology, defective representation, lack of accountability, massive debts, depletion of energy and resources, energy precarity, carbon dioxide overload, global warming, etc.
Closer to home, in the context of urbanism, all of these phenomena can be felt more specifically. They are identified as suburbanisation, monofunctional ghettoisation, cultural segragation, lack of security, lack of green spaces, congested mobility, defective accessibility, insufficient public services.

"Interpretation"
In attempting to respond to the growing needs of an urban community, emphasis has been on delivering volume, inevitably. In order to be reactive at the scale in question, big chunks of development have been organized and institutionalized. But leaving the management (political or business) to a few dozen, the result has not taken the diversity of the question into account, leading to a negative client experience. If the public effort of community management were analysed as a business venture, we would quickly identify the unsatisfied clients. On top of that, the public and business services have run out of capital resources - has it gone so far that one would speak of a bankrupcy? The stakes are clear : creating more value, with fewer resources. Many of the problematic phenomena mentioned before can be studied in the light of what we might call a notion of 'economy of community participation'. An individual member needs a minimum of return on investment. The complexity of participation in contemporary communities, hinders individual members to have feedback on their participation, leading to disengagement and frustration. So to speak, parts of the population lie to waste, unused.
In a similar manner, territories lie to waste. Urban components of the last century, such as industries, infrastructures, amenities and housing projects, then managed by a multitude of local actors, now lie to waste. Upscaling and delocalising production and distribution, for bigger volumes, to cut costs, in search of bigger profit margins, has left the smaller urban components lying around, unused. As the global industry starts thinking about how to optimise their sources and their product performance, so should the pan-industrial practice of urban planning.

Could it be possible to activate the potential energy of waste-communities and waste-cityparts, improving the 'client experience' of the urban inhabitant? Could it be possible to complement the long term vision of community improvement, with short term projects that (re)establish participatory investment, satisfaction and responsability.

"Projection"
The mentioned manifestations could be described as impacts of a slow crisis, becoming inevitably perceptible. Fortunately, the situation in western Europe is nowhere near the explosive situation of the developping economies. This presents us with the opportunity to develop and test new models of distributed governance and production.
When we look at how the consumer industry innovates its products, there are interesting new concepts to be found. Service design, for one, seperates the use from the object, opening the way to optimization. An example : for making traffic safer and more fluid we've already thought of traffic lights. By optimizing their interaction with cars with the use of sensors, the amount of cars crossing the city is augmented without safety issues. Or the following question : I need to do the laundry, should I buy a machine, or should I timeshare it with my neighbours? Rather than optimizing the production of the same object, i.e. improve technology, cut costs, etc., service design investigates the usergroup, and improves the service aspect of a product. In stead of a long loop feedback, with altered production and distribution, and ultimately a user verdict, they look for a short loop feedback, and investigate the needs of their consumers. In stead of managing the product-volume, it is about specifying the product-value. Shouldn't city managers ask themselves the same question? The mechanisms of democarcy may well be too long-looped as well. When it comes to urban production and how it deals with this slow crisis, there are noteworthy developments in the production sphere, mostly concerned with energy consumption, such as government thermal regulations, improved conception and building techniques, alternative building and heating techniques, etc. It concernes mostly the "improve technology, cut costs" side of the subject. So how about the user investigation and the "client satisfaction"? It is very astonishing and inspiring to compare the slow-crisis-impacts, to how cities can react to sudden crises. The city of Christchurch NZ has known two consecutive earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, leaving the city in pieces. A enormous part of the active and productive city became dysfuntional. The community was devastated. Waiting for the insurance companies to unleash redevelopment, an organisation called Gapfiller, led by founder-director Coralie Winn, facilitated the use of vacant lots, to 'reanimate' the local community with events such as sports, culture, theater, farming, lounging, etc., to bring joy and good spririts to a town in shatters. Each event took place in an adapted site, realised with charity funds, eventually giving rise to the "Festival of Transitional Architecture". "The Ministry of Awesome" is an organisation that facilitates people with new ideas, so that they may find help in developping their ideas towards real business plans. The architect Shigeru Ban with Warren and Mahoney, designed and built a transitional cathedral from cardboard tubes, waiting for a more definitive structure. The Christchurch situation shows, by ways of a sudden crisis, the horrible preconditions that were necessary to change their idea of urbanism.
A short survey of comparible organizations, in lesser disrupted situations, deliveres an enormous amount of non-commercial and non-governmental initiatives i), with or without public or private funding, that have taken the path of "client satisfaction". There are also commercial initiatives ii), and there are governmental organisations that study urban innovation iii.). Service design in urbanism is potentially the most promising development to help us (re)develop our cities.

"Project"
I met in Bilbao with the Bordeaux city representatives, with the ZAWP organisation and a lot of creative minds, for a workshop on the Zorrozaure redevelopment. The idea of Adaptable Architecture was launched as an approach to redevelop the peninsula, leading to an idea called "The Umbrella Model", and a certain fertile soil was found. The umbrella visualised the usefulness of the short-term-projects of Adaptable Architecture, as a complement to long term urban strategies. A second meeting in Bordeaux, with more participants, specified numerous points, such as the need to act locally and 'immediately' initiating the learning process, to contact the strategic stakeholders, to pay attention to exit strategies, to link the short to the long term, to think programme and buildings, and to imagine funding, etc. There was a definite concensus of the feasability of the adaptable architecture approach as a low cost, and low risk laboratory for urban prototyping.
Another meeting, at the Darwin Ecosystem business community in the same period, brought me in touch with a Bordeaux based european funds manager, a London based creative process manager, a Zagreb bases cultural project manager and a team of the Dubrava Peoples University (HR). At stake are the (re)development of two buildings to become creative hubs in the city of Zagreb. Early projects in my career brought my attention to the non-permament nature of architecture : Calypso 2001, Stadswerven (Indurben/7PLY), Wimby. Together with other projects with a similar profile that can be found everywhere, these are examples of architectural practice. They make it transitional architecture tangible by real cases. If the dimension of community can be combined to this practice, we'll be on our way to "more value with fewer resources".

"Work group"
These references have culminated a cloud of considerations into this proposal : So as to ensure that local energy amounts to global strategy : Analyse the needs and potential of an existing territory, and an existing community. Analyse the qualities of existing urban masterplanning projects. Superimpose the plan represtation of the results, and propose potential matches. Propose a low cost architectural intervention to ensure minimal needs (acces, shelter, security), organize the area for it to function (provisionally / permanently).

1. SUSTAIN PROGRAMMATIC POTENTIAL / LONGEVITY
+ Analysing current general urban challenges,
+ Analysing existing local activity (cultural, sports, social, economic, public, private, etc), and find activities with a sustainable value, and encourage and empower local actors to live up to the promise of the urban futur.
+ Analysing the projected urban masterplan programme (critically), to know what programme will be needed for the urban futur.
= Superimpose both analysis and identify plausible projects.

2. SUSTAIN PHYSICAL POTENTIAL / PERMANENCE
+ Analysing existing urban fabric, for buildings that could potentially be adapted so as to host local activities in need of a roof,
+ Analysing the projected urban masterplan to understand the internal logics and identify places that could be considered an end-result of the adaptive strategy,
= Superimpose both analysis and identify plausible projects.

3. SUSTAIN THE PRACTICE / DISSEMINATION
Parallel to the work in progress, install a background learning activity, that will invite representatives of other international initiatives to present their experience and feedback. A round of lectures, a call for projects, school workshops, articles, publications.

i) livs.org.nz (nz), festa.org.nz (nz), ministryofawesome.com (nz), gapfiller.org.nz (nz), ponyride.org (us), exyzt.org (fr), construire.cc (fr), bruitdufrigo.com (fr), lafriche.org (fr), raumlabor.net (d), designforthelivingworld.com (d), veldacademie.nl (nl), recyclicity.org (nl), deverandering.com (nl), createbristol.org (uk), basurama.org (es), zawpbilbao.com (es), lae.hr (hr), thecity2.org (tedx), ... ii) charleslandry.com, charretteinstitute.org, darwin-ecosysteme.fr, lxfactory.com (p)... iii) urbact.org, laufenmanifesto.org, amsterdamsmartcity.com, archive-laval.carticipe.fr, adaptablefutures.com, ...