AA Landscape Urbanism 09/10
Dredging Identity Lingang
AA Landscape Urbanism 09/10 â€˘ Dredging Identity
AALU Teaching staff: Eva Castro (director) Alfredo Ramirez Eduardo Rico Douglas Spencer Tom Smith Student: Nicola Saladino
Iconography and identity
3 ponds option
6 ponds option
Water fingers option
Earthwork strategies and principles
Original master plan
New coast line
â€œA drop of water from heavenâ€?
New lakes and islands
Distribution of uses
Islands and seabed topography
Costs of urbanization
Main canals and topography
Dredging the main canals
Water system. Original conditions
Topographic formations. Wind simulations
Water system. Current conditions
Branching system parameters
Resulting branching system
Measuring the quality of the environment
Resulting land value
Tactical resistance and its significance for Landscape Urbanism
FOAâ€™s London Olympic Park
Densities and land distribution
Functional clusters and water treatment
Road network and public transport
General master plan
Medium density residential
Medium-low density residential
Possible growth scenario
Brasilia. Original plan (1956)
Dubai, Palm Jumeirah. Construction finished in 2006
Dubai, The World. Under construction (due to the economic crisis that hit the promoter, the future of the development is now uncertain)
Jiading City and its Formula 1 circuit. The design takes inspiration from the Chinese characters for “Car” and “Above” (as the first sign of Shang-hai)
Iconography and identity Since Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown wrote Learning from Las Vegas, the role of iconography in architecture has been analysed many times and there are many famous examples of constructed â€œducksâ€? all over the world,1 but only in recent years iconography seams to be popular also in urbanism. When Lucio Costa designed Brasilia, in 1956, he used a very clear geometric structure, recalling the figure of an airplane, but, wether intentional or not, the metaphor was irrelevant for the understanding of his project. Nowadays, instead, after the advent of Google Earth, the satellite views of a territory have become an important element of its identity. In the context of China, where the process of industrialization forces the creation of new cities every year, urban designers seem to rely more and more on iconography as an easy means to achieve stronger local identities. Dubai demonstrated that the iconic element can be profitably used for a marketing strategy (and recently all the cities fight to place themselves on a map), but I have my doubts about its real spatial implications. Can a geometry that is only visible from an airplane, produce any tangible effect in the spatial perception of a pedestrian? My project focuses on a city, Lingang, that falls into the category of new iconic urban development. 1 To see the role of iconography in contemporary architectural practice, please read the essay FOAâ€™s Oplympic Park in the appendix.
Regional location Lingang is located in the metropolitan area of Shanghai, 50 km South East of the capital centre. The city has a privileged position on the head of the Yangtze River Delta with views over the bay, the Huangpu River and the Shengsi Archipelago. Shanghai has one of the biggest ports in the world but its expansion is limited by the shallow bed of the Huangpu river: the biggest cargo ships have to wait for the high tide to enter or exit the port, reducing its operational capacity. In order to overcome this problem, the central authorities decided to create a new deep-water harbour on the Yangshan Islands and connecte it to the mainland through the 32 km long Donghai bridge. The new port gives Lingang a crucial role in the economic growth of the region. 7
1 9 6 0 6 00
central city new cities new towns central villages
1966 plan In the last ten years Shanghaiâ€™s population increased by 2 million people, reaching 18.6 million inhabitants in 2010. The concentric growth of the city and the strong dependence of the peripheries on the city centre constantly expose the metropolis to great problems of congestion. In order to respond to this situation and contrast effectively the demographic pressure from the inner poorer regions, the government established the 1966 plan, which aims to shift the future growth of Shanghai from a monocentric model to a polycentric decentralized urban network. Lingang is one of the 9 new cities that were then created in the metropolitan area. According to the plan, the city should develop an independent economic agenda, providing all the services and activities that the daily life of its inhabitants require.
A network of highways and primary roads connects Lingang to the Yangshan Port and Shanghai Pudong International Airport, within a radius of 35 km. Its strategic position makes the economic potential of the new city considerable also on the international scale. Therefore, the central government gave it the status of Special Economic Zone (SEZ), thus allowing foreign investments for the development of a new industrial pole. A Free Trade Zone has been created where the Donghai bridge connects with the mainland and a huge logistic park is being developed to manage the exchange of containers coming from and to the port.
Site conditions The new city will occupy an area of almost 300 km2. Approximately half of this surface (on the East side) is constituted by newly reclaimed land, while the inner part is characterised by the presence of an agricultural pattern of irrigation canals and linear villages. Before the urbanization occurs, the reclaimed land is a sort of wasteland with no trace of human intervention apart from the temporary appropriation of some fields close to the villages, mainly used to grow vegetables.
Linear villages The site is partially occupied by linear villages which are strongly connected to the canal system. China has a long history of wise water management and the agricultural canals are key elements of the urban space: in fact, they provide irrigation, transportation and public space. The linear villages are very valuable not only for their architectural and environmental beauty, but also for their strong social identity. The plan of the local government to relocate all the rural population in the new city centre would destroy not only a few hundreds houses, but a very characteristic life style.
introduction Industrialization can definitely be an opportunity for the area, but the development of an industrial city should reduce as much as possible the traumatic impact on the local community and the farmers should be given the possibility to choose weather they want to work in a factory or keep with their former activity. The scope of my project is to achieve the economic goals of the original master plan using a tactical approach that takes advantage of the potentials and minimizes the side effects of the industrial development.1 1 To clarify the importance of a tactical approach to the economic agenda of the government, please read the essay Tactical Resistance and its significance for Landscape Urbanism in the appendix.
Following the 1966 plan, in 2002 Shanghai city-planning department organized an international competition for the design of Lingang. The contest was won by the German office gmp (von Gerkan, Marg und Partner). In the original master plan “the whole city structure is based on the metaphor of an image of concentric ripples, formed by a drop falling into water. In line with this allegory, the utility structures are ordered in the form of concentric rings spreading outwards from the central Dishui Lake”.1 When creating a new city, Chinese authorities are very keen on achieving a strong identifiable character. After different (scary) experiments on the reproduction of European architectural styles - other cities in the region have been directly inspired by Italian, French and German models - Lingang was probably the first Chinese experiment on iconic urban design. 1 From gmp website
original master plan
“A drop of water from heaven”
original master plan
Distribution of uses The economy of Lingang is strongly associated with the Yangshan port so most of its industrial sites depend on the new logistic centre. While the residential areas and offices are concentrated on the East coast, specially around the lake, huge blocks of industry are spread around the site, leaving big green buffer areas in between. Such centripetal distribution of uses augments considerably the distances between different functional areas. The commuting of the workers from the city centre and the movement of the goods from and to the new logistic area can easily create important problems of traffic congestion.
City centre The city centre follows the same scheme of big monofunctional blocks that we just saw for the whole site. Most of the public functions are concentrated around the Dishui lake, while the residential quarters are segregated to the outer rings, in big square neighbourhoods that house around 13,000 people each. The density of the residential blocks is too low to allow a profitable commercial ground floor, thus all the communal services are concentrated around central plazas. With such a regular and rigid geometrical scheme, the risk of hyper-standardization, quite common in new Chinese developments, is contrasted with a dubious strategy: each neighbourhood is assigned a different theme, taking inspiration from port cities as different as Dubai, Rotterdam, Tokio, Los Angeles, etc. The public space is over-dimensioned and its monumental scale does not help generate the strong local identity that the competition proposal was promising. The lake seems too big to provide interesting views across it and its shore is quite desolated, while the main public axis is so wide that the monumental buildings along it hardly have any relationship with each other.
original master plan
original master plan
Phasing strategy Currently in its first phase of development, Lingang, already hosts around 100,000 inhabitants. The geometrical scheme of the master plan does not allow any flexible phasing strategy and the structure of the city could hardly make sense before all the phases are completed. Furthermore, the location of monofunctional packages quite distant from each other forces the construction of all the infrastructures at first, generating a difficult financial situation for the promoters: the initial investments can only be recovered at the final stages of the development and the commercial success of the operation becomes an unpredictable long term bet. My proposal takes the fully developed first phase as the starting point for an alternative growth strategy.
Green spaces Another goal of the initial competition was to create a new model of green industrial city, but the final proposal seem to confuse a “green city” with a “city with lots of green spaces”. The low density of the built areas does not provide the critical mass of people to support these huge public spaces with regular activities and not surprisingly, during our visit, they were completely deserted. Furthermore, the maintenance costs for such artificial green environments is extremely high and the lack of proper irrigation transformed the parks into big surfaces of burnt grass and unhealthy plants. If, rather then decorative spaces, the green areas were used as productive landscapes, their maintenance costs would be considerably reduced, eventually becoming even profitable and they could help generate more public activities around them (market places, educational spaces, agritourism, etc.)
1 potential green productivity Total area
Average yearly rice production
Total yearly rice production
Per capita rice consumption
Potential population feeded
original master plan
2 km 1 0.5 0
Density distribution Water bodies are usually loved by the promoters because they contribute to increase the land value without generating the big maintenance costs of the green areas. In Lingang, the whole city centre is built around the new Dushui lake with dubious spatial benefits (see pictures at page 20) and ignores completely the presence of the sea. In fact, if the whole city has a very low density, the sector along the sea shore has an even lower one. Similarly, the small ratio of privately owned land strongly reduces private investments and increases the public costs of the operation.
original master plan
Costs of urbanization The reclaimed land is fully state-owned until the development starts and the state sells it to semi-public primary promoters (in this case, Shanghai Harbour City Development Group) that take the responsibility of the urbanization, divide the buildable areas into plots and sell them to private secondary developers. The costs of the initial land reclamation and the urbanization are reflected in the payment of a special tax associated with the purchase a new property.
original master plan
As we saw, Lingang has a very low density (0,43 in the city centre, but even lower in the rest of the site) and the distances are quite considerable. The high costs of the reclamation and the infrastructural development make the whole urbanization process a very expensive one, strongly affecting the final sell price of the buildings.
From a purely economic point of view, the inefficiency of gmpâ€™s master plan is clear when one compares the cost of urbanization of one of its residential neighbourhoods with an efficient high-density city (in this case a fragment of Barcelona 19th century Ensanche).
original master plan
Modern residential buildings undoubtedly have different standards of illumination and ventilation then Cerdaâ€™s blocks and Chinese regulations are quite strict in this sense, leading to smaller dimensions (the standard block in Lingang is 66 x 66 meters with the buildings width limited to 13.2 meters); nevertheless a denser model would clearly guarantee a more profitable distribution of the general expenses.
Water system. Original conditions The region of the Yangtze River Delta has very strong tides and the water level normally varies from +2 to -2 meters, generating a wide buffer zone with specific salinity levels and a quite valuable ecosystem of salt marshes. Before the land reclamation, a big portion of the territory was occupied by such tidal area and the local economy partially depended on fishing activities, taking advantage of the natural conditions. The rest of the site was divided by a grid of agricultural canals, where the more irregular geometry of the North - South canals shows a long term sequence of sedimentation. The farmers traditionally used the tidal cycles to irrigate and give nutrients to their fields: when the high tide pushed the fresh water of the canals backward, it is relatively easy to provoke controlled floods that are very beneficial for agriculture.
Land reclamation In 2002 the government started an ambitious reclamation of 70 km2 of land from the sea. In the process, the Dishui lake was formed as the central point of the new city development. A 4,5 meters high dyke was built along the former low-tide line, protecting the area from the extreme spring tides that often occur during the typhoon season. The new artificially stabilized shore line, though, destroyed all the original ecosystem and negated any relation (even visual) between the inner land and the sea.
2010 final reclaimed surface: 70 km2 35
Water system. Current conditions After the land reclamation, the territory was left with a quite different water system. The construction of the new dyke made impossible the old natural interaction between the canals and the sea, so all the water courses were canalised into underground drainage pipes in order to avoid the construction of expensive dams. Only the area around the Dishui Lake was planned to have a superficial drainage system, which collects all the rainwater into the lake and expels it through a single canal during the low tide.
Current topography The region was originally very flat and the reclamation made the terrain slope even lower, generating some problems of water stagnation along the sea shore.
Flood risk The Yangtze River Delta has a very humid climate, characterised by strong precipitations during summer. Even considering the optimistic hypothesis that the new underground drainage conduits could deal with all the water coming from the canals, no superficial system has been developed to take care of the rainfall. The new topographic conditions make the drainage even more difficult and generate serious risks of flooding during the wet season. The solution of this drainage problem is the starting point for my alternative master plan proposal.
4 lakes option Looking at the existing conditions, the water system developed for the lake area (terrain slopes draining towards the lake and controlled canal to expel the excess of water) look like en efficient model to be exported to other parts of the site. The first simulation takes into consideration the possibility of creating 3 more ponds, located in the areas of greater water stagnation. The new concentric slopes improve the drainage capacity of the terrain, thus reducing the risk of flooding.
7 lakes option If a second row of ponds is created further inland, the drainage capacity becomes even higher. The use of dams to control the water flow of the outlets allows to dig the ponds at the sea level, augmenting considerably the slope of the terrain.
Water fingers option The last hypothesis is inspired by the original agricultural water system. The creation of wide water fingers, that connect directly to the existing canals, generate new transversal slopes that can take care of the rainwater flow.
From the previous simulations and after some technical investigation, a new strategy is set up to deal with the earthwork required, according to the following principles:
Longitudinal drainage improvement Moving the coast line towards inland improves the terrain drainage capacity by increasing its longitudinal slope
Transversal drainage improvement Dredging new canals allows the additional formation of transversal slopes
Earth volume equilibrium In order to minimize the high cost of the dredging and earthwork operations, all the earth volumes involved must come from within the site area
Earth settlement improvement Earth movements generate an increase in the volume of the ground, mostly due to a process of aeration. The air and the water trapped in the new porous make the natural settlement process very long. The wick drain technique â€“ which basically consists in â€œinjectingâ€? small plastic pipes into the terrain in order to drain it through a process of capillarity - allows a much faster settlement, thus shortening the times of soil preparation.
Cheaper building foundations Reclaimed soil has low mechanic resistance and usually builders are forced to reach more stable strata with deep foundations, increasing considerably the costs of construction. The possibility of accumulating soil during a sufficient period of time generates a natural phenomenon of compactation that improves the structural performance of the ground. Once the soil is stable, the substitution of a certain volume of earth with a building of the same mass does not generate any further settlement, thus allowing the use of cheaper shallow foundations. 49
Earthwork strategies and principles
Keeping in mind the earth volume equilibrium principle a flexible phasing strategy is developed to address the possible temporal evolution of the city growth. Phase 1 A series of new lakes is dredged in proximity of the coast line, with the formation of new islands and the creation of small hills inland.
Phase 2 a new system of canals is dredged to give continuity to the existing network. Once the drainage problem has been solved the land is now awaiting for urbanization. Some portions of the territory could be used by local farmers to develop urban agriculture or simply as temporary productive landscapes before the construction process begins.
Phase 3 Since the industries are the economic drive of the city, the initial construction would be centred on industrial sites. Together with the creation of industrial clusters a system of wetlands is developed to treat their waste water. In order to improve the mechanical properties of the ground, the volumes of earth coming from these operations are accumulated on the future residential sites, where higher buildings require stronger foundations.
Phase 4 New residential developments takes place in the previously prepared areas. 51
Project abstract This project aims to create a dynamic system of multifunctional clusters that can adjust the future changes in the growth of the city. The solution to the drainage problem gives the opportunity to create a new network of canals and water bodies that organize and structure the new urban fabric, becoming a crucial element for the public space. The new design maximizes the coast line, generating a higher land value that partly compensate the costs of the dredging and earthwork needed.
new coast line
New lakes and islands In the first phase of the project development new lakes are dredged and a new group of islands is created. In order to optimise the dredging, the geometry of the lakes responds to the current topographic contour lines (i.e. digging where the level of the terrain is already lower) and the new flood control system takes advantage of the existing dyke; readapting it with the introduction of new dams. The original 4.5 meters high flood barrier is split into two different lines: one at +2 m that deals with the daily water level fluctuations, and another at + 4.5 m, which deals with spring tides (those occurring when strong storm waves add up to a high tide)
Waves The regional climate is characterized by a strong dominant wind from South-East. The waves created by this wind come all the way from the ocean; they have a long distance to build up, accumulating energy, and become a potential threat for the coastal developments. This wave simulation, though, shows how Lingangâ€™s coast is fully sheltered by the Shengsi Archipelago. Such natural protection considerably reduces the temporal incidence of exceptional water levels, thus allowing the new flood control dams to be open 99% of the time. The constant exchange of water between the sea and the new lakes, would therefore provide a good oxygenation, improving the quality of the water, thus allowing wild life to take place.
new coast line
Depending on the depth of the excavation and the volumes of earth involved in the different phases, various dredging techniques could be used on site. The excavation process can happen in dry conditions (probably the cheapest option), with the use of scrapers and other dry earthwork machinery. Once the water table is reached, water would start filtrate from the ground but strong mechanic pumps could take care of it. The connection to the sea and the perforation of the existing dyke is left to the very last phase of the operations and can be dealt with the use of backhoes and grab dredgers. The island formation, instead, would take place with a combination of earthwork machinery and suction dredgers, unloading from the sea with the rainbowing technique.
new coast line
Islands and seabed topography A fast look at the views across the Dishui lake and towards the sea makes clear to me that gmpâ€™s master plan gave priority to the wrong element. The new lakes would be smaller than the original one in order to reinforce the visual interaction across them and, more importantly, the topography of the islands would offer a much stronger landscape in the background. The depth of the lakes is pushed to the extreme (around -15 m in the bigger ones) in order to favour the formation of internal currents that would improve the quality of the water and generate the biggest possible reserve of soil to be used for the islands formation. To respect the earth volume balance, the resultant topography is still quite limited, thus most of the slope is concentrated along belts of public space that rise on top of the adjacent urban fabric, offering views to the sea even from the more internal areas.
new coast line
The quality of the water in the new lakes is crucial in order to develop a functioning ecosystem, quite different from the complete artificiality of the Dishui lake. The new waterfront is therefore divided into areas of maximum human activity - the central public space of the future city - and areas of more natural dynamics. The plantation of mangroves helps cleaning the water coming from the canals, while some salt marshes on the sea coast attract the wild fauna, thus favouring possible future fishing activities. Each lake is provided with some hard-surface shore to allow the development of touristic port activities, while the beaches are located in the points of better solar orientation. On the sea coast, some floodable platforms are created between the +2 and +4.5 m levels, generating public activities in the otherwise empty buffer zone. Finally all the connection points between different lakes have reinforced ground to allow steeper slopes, reaching higher seabed depth that improve the navigation and the water circulation across the basins.
new coast line
The creation of the lakes produces a new topographic condition inland. The resulting level differences are evenly distributed between the last existing canal and the new coast line. New canals are then dredged: some respond to the natural runoff of the main existing water courses; some others are generated going backwards from the strategic connection points.
main canals and topography
Dredging the main canals
Dredging phasing As I said in the beginning, the aim of the project is to create a dynamic system, able to adapt itself to the needs that the future growth of the city generates. Differently from the original master plan where most of the infrastructure is developed at once, this scheme allows to separate the different phases of growth, thus spreading the initial economic investment in time.
main canals and topography Each phase is fully meaningful in itself and the final site configuration can be adapted to the real evolution of the city. In other words the economic success of one phase provides the funds for the following one and the â€œmachineâ€? can be stopped at any given time without compromising the quality of the output.
In a completely flat environment even a small hill can become an important spatial reference to help people orientate themselves and can generate an interestingly diverse public space. The new topographic system will help structure the urban fabric and will provide green spaces and public facilities throughout the whole site. Furthermore, in the Yangtze River Delta climate, ventilation is the only natural means to achieve comfortable physiological conditions during the humid and hot summer. The new hills should therefore canalise the wind coming from the sea and make it penetrate as much as possible inland, providing ventilation to the residential areas and improving the quality of the air, by washing away the pollution produced by the factories. ->
main canals and topography
Topographic formations. Wind simulations
In the first image, the topography literally follows the path of the main canals, creating a strong link between the two main elements of the inland public space. Such geometric configuration, though, is too impermeable (not only to the wind) and produces negative wind shadow effects. The following tests start breaking and folding the topographic lines, facilitating more and more the penetration of the wind, while keeping as much as possible the connection between the hills and the main canals.
main canals and topography
The following simulations help decide the final configuration of the hills.
In the final output, the hills acquire different dimensions and heights, adapting themselves to the functions that each specific area requires. The steepest slopes are placed on the North side, leaving a more gentle gradient on the illuminated South face. A terracing system optimizes the earthwork, matching the final geometry with the operational platforms used by the machinery. At the same time the presence of horizontal surfaces allows a bigger catalogue of activities and eases the integration of big public buildings (sport venues, cultural and leisure facilities, etc.).
main canals and topography
Branching system parameters The final step of the earthwork operations is the creation of a new network of secondary canals. While the main canals were directly responding to the new topography and the original water system, the secondary canals have a different logic: they are related to the final plot sizes and the functional requirements of each area. A parametric approach to the problem allows testing different configurations. The distance between canals can be fixed for the whole system, thus generating a homogeneous distribution of water across the territory or can vary according to specific necessities: either a stronger drainage problem or a higher water requirement in a specific zone can originate more or less subdivisions. Since the secondary canals are responsible for the final geometric organization of the urban fabric, a similar branching system is used also on the islands, where the water system is substituted by the new road network, â€œirrigatingâ€? all the surface from the centre.
The final branching configuration has a general module of 140 meters between canals and 120 meters between roads, respecting the scale of the existing agricultural pattern. The resultant plot size can adapt to most of the city functional requirements. In special cases, such as heavy industries or particular public buildings that require bigger widths, though, one or more canals can be diverted without affecting the general configuration. A series of dams is built along the coast line to regulate the interchange of water with the lakes. In order to reduce the number of dams and minimize the costs, the secondary canals are branched back in the last sector into fewer outlets.
Resulting branching system
Measuring the quality of the environment The land is now finally ready for urbanization. In order to establish a rational functional distribution, it is important to analyse the value of the newly generated landscape. The site is therefore divided into cells and the quality of the environment is measured as a function of the distance between each cell and the different environmental elements present on site.
Resulting land value The measurements of the quality of the environment are them added up, with different factors reflecting their importance. In the absence of other less tangible parameters, such as specific political strategies that are not part of this investigation, the natural conditions, together with the proximity to the existing city centre directly generate an index of the land value. Not very surprisingly the sea shore results as the most valuable area and the dark blue is all concentrated inland, but interesting and not always predictable results are given in the whole spectrum of colours in between the two extremes.
It is now the time to go back to the original master plan and analyse its programmatic distribution from a numeric point of view. The aim is to respect the original figures, reorganizing the functional clusters in a more flexible way. A study of the different levels of pollution establishes compatibilities between different functional zones. While most of the heavy industry has to be isolated from the residential areas, some lighter industrial activities can perfectly be integrated into a denser urban fabric. The original built-up areas1 are then translated into land occupation by assigning different density values (from 0.5 for the heavy industry to 1 for the residential areas). Even using quite conservative figures, all the original program fits in the area of the newly reclaimed land, thus allowing the full preservation of the existing linear villages. 1 The declared goal of the master plan is to reach a population of 800,000 inhabitants by 2020; gmpâ€™s proposal, though, does not reflect that figure in the plans: the volumes proposed in the drawings could host just 300,000 people: where would gmp locate the rest of the housing is a mystery. My proposal, instead, takes into consideration the whole surface requirements for 800,000 inhabitants.
Densities and land distribution
The proposal aims to eliminate the programmatic segregation of the original master plan, thus reducing the commuting distances and avoiding functional disequilibriums that often derive in deserted spaces at certain times of the day. While it is clear that the industrial sites should not become too big, an excessive fragmentation would also have negative results: in fact, the functional clusters have to reach a certain critical dimension to allow a profitable synergy between the different phases of the productive chain. The heavy industry is placed inland in direct relationship with the existing primary roads, favouring its connection to the logistic centre and the Yangshan port. To make the industrial area more â€œpermeableâ€?, some corridors of light industry and housing are generated along the main canals, taking advantage of the green hills to separate themselves from the most polluting industrial sites. The excavation of new ponds increases the quality of the environment in some inner areas - thus justifying the introduction of higher-density residential quarters - and creates another important element of diversity. Separated from the polluting factories by a buffer area of clean industry, the denser multifunctional blocks, hosting most of the residential, commercial and office surfaces, are located along the lake shore. Rather than setting a uniform pattern of densities and heights, as proposed in the original master plan, the dimensions of the urban fabric respond to the quality of the environment and the location of the public transport nodes (the two elements being strictly related). Finally, some low-density, low-rise residential developments would take place on the oceanic coast, allowing clear views to the sea from the inner high-rise buildings. Many of the industrial activities included in the master plan require some water consumption. The canal network is therefore split into two separate systems of clean and industrial water. All the industrial sites are provided with one water input and their output is treated by a series of wetlands before it is reintroduced into the clean water system.
Functional clusters and water treatment
Road sections The road network is crucial for the efficiency of the industrial areas and despite the organic geometry of the branching system, an effort was made to create a simple geometric structure. Two main principles are applied: - In order to avoid the important barrier effect that the primary roads produce on the public space (as clearly shown in the picture), the main roads are split, whenever it is possible, into two separated lines of alternated directions. Thus, a road of 3+3 lanes becomes two roads of 3 lanes, which are much more easily crossed by pedestrians and allow stronger interaction between the urban fabric. - The public space is concentrated on the better illuminated North side of the canals, leaving most of the traffic on the opposite shore. 87
The primary roads are divided in two groups: the East - West roads, that follow the main canals, and the North - South roads that follow the contour lines of the terrain, creating a regular subdivision of the site. The first ones host both traffic directions, while the second ones are organized in alternated flows. The public transport creates a quite homogenous grid, with more connectivity along the waterfront, where the density is higher. On the islands, a ring system runs along the first green belt, providing access to all the coast line. Finally, the main canals and the lakes offer the opportunity for the creation of some public water transportation, which could help decongestion the main roads during the peak hours. The road network can be built together with the earthwork and can easily adapt to a phased development.
Road network and public transport
The aim of this master plan is to control the mechanisms of growth rather than achieve a specific final configuration. A hierarchical structure, like the one proposed by gmp, not only is not flexible, but ends up creating a clear division between the centre, where most of the public functions are condensed, and the periphery, where the neighbourhoods often become desolated dormitories. The more the city grows, the bigger the distance to the centre and the more social inequalities are generated (on a bigger scale the banlieus in Paris are a clear example of such dangerous disequilibrium). Searching for a more flexible growth model, this project proposes a â€œdiffuseâ€? urban centre along the new coast line. The functional role of the city centre is evenly redistributed to the different neighbourhoods. Each one of them is provided with all the basic services, while specialized areas would be created for the more specific programs. The new environmental conditions seem strong enough to generate a unique local identity with no need of monumentality and the waterfront, green hills and canal system provide more than enough space for social aggregation. Lingang could become a city of neighbourhoods, where the social dynamics could recall the lifestyle of the cited linear villages.
General master plan
A process of proliferation allows to visualize the new city. Because of their prototypical nature, the components do not aim to recreate specific geometries; instead, they try to materialize the most important spatial principles. While the built volumes stay in the generic field, the mechanisms that regulate the public, semi-public and private spaces are quite specific. In the case of the heavy industrial sites, the idea is to generate a corrugated envelope that, while providing optimal ventilation and illumination to the interior, creates a continuity with the public space facing South. All the traffic and logistics are concentrated along the South side of the canals, leaving the North shore for bicycle lanes and leisure activities (given the workersâ€™ very limited free time, some green space close to their working environment could improve their quality of life).
When the industrial spatial requirements allow smaller spans and heights and the production processes are cleaner, different uses can start mixing up in the blocks. These components explore the possibility of locating offices and housing for the workers (often provided by the industrial companies themselves) on top of an industrial podium. The continuos public space on the North side of the canals can sometimes expand and â€œclimbâ€? on the roof of the lower buildings, interacting with the residential volumes. The thick podium on the ground floor is important for the economy of the construction, as it helps maximize the volumes of the excavated soil, thus allowing cheaper foundations. (see p. 49)
Close to the lake shore, the density becomes considerably higher and the blocks present all the functional spectrum of a city centre: clean industrial production, commercial activities, public facilities and parking areas are placed on the ground floor in direct relationship with the street, while the offices and residential spaces are located in linear volumes on the higher floors. A â€œporousâ€? platform guaranties good conditions of natural ventilation and illumination to the offices and public facilities in the lower levels and generates a series of courtyards that give a special character to the neighbourhoods. With the same porpouse, the limits between the public and the private space is blurred, with the creation of semi-public terraces on the first floor.
Medium density residential
proliferation components The low density of the existing residential quarters strongly reduces the presence of commercial activities on the street level. Fully residential buildings often have impermeable ground floors (as the ones shown in the picture) that hardly generate any life on the sidewalks. The denser blocks in the rendering, instead, could provide all sort of public activities on the street, thus favouring social interaction.
The very rigid volumetric scheme of the original master plan, with homogeneous heights and widths is probably quite popular among the promoters: in fact, they can reduce costs by cloning the same building typology all over the place. A thematic square at the centre of each quarter, though, could hardly be enough to create the essential diversity that a living neighbourhood requires not to become a mere dormitory area.
In the islands, the importance of the landscape conditions the distribution of the densities and the orientation of the buildings. The height in proximity of the sea is limited in order to guarantee clear views also to the inner rings and a terracing system embeds most of the built volumes. When the density grows, the podium gradually absorbs different uses and residential buildings start growing on top of it. Following these principles a new city can now be proliferated...
Medium-low density residential
Possible growth scenario
Tactical resistance and its significance for Landscape Urbanism “Our ‘sophistication’ hides major symptoms of cowardice centred on the simple question of taking position – maybe the most basic action in making the city.” Rem Koolhaas, What Ever Happened to Urbanism1
Introduction The term ‘tactical resistance’ refers to a new approach to urban design which aims to detect the specificity of a territory and protect the local interests from centralised top-down master planning, which often responds only to short-term economic agendas. A study of the book The Practice of Everyday Life, by Michel de Certeau, will help understand the relevance of tactics in the urban processes and will place tactical resistance in the spectrum of possible attitudes that urban designers develop in order to work in such a context as the urbanisation of China. More specifically, a fast look at the current social and political situation of the country will demonstrate how the practice of Landscape Urbanism could use tactical resistance to readdress globalisation and minimize its environmental and social side effects.
Tactics against strategy According to Michel de Certeau, our society is characterised by two possible behaviours: the tactical and the strategic. Strategy is the means for institutions to implement their power. It postulates a ‘proper’ locus, “a place that can be delimited as its own and serves as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and objects of research, etc.) can be managed.”2 On the contrary, a tactic is the instrument for individuals to find their way within the system, in “a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus. No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power.”3 A strategy is conservative and rather stable because it belongs to an established apparatus, while a tactic lacks of predetermined structures and “operates in isolated actions, blow by blow. (…) It must vigilantly make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the proprietary powers.”4 If strategies constitute the victory of space over time, tactics rely on “a clever utilization of time, of the opportunities it presents and also of the play that it introduces into the foundations of power.”5 1 Koolhaas, What Ever Happened to Urbanism, p. 967 2 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, pp. 35-36 3 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 37 4 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 37 5 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 39 118
The distinction between spatial immobility and temporal instability embodied by strategies and tactics is crucial to understanding the innovative approach of Landscape Urbanism. The unprecedented rapidity of the urbanization that China and some other Asian and African countries are undergoing seriously challenges the ability of traditional urbanism, based on an atemporal conception of space, to control the process. Rem Koolhaas claims that what has finally “killed” urbanism is “the fact that very few of the processes and operations that take place today can take place in the form of a plan, the classic product of urbanism. So we should find another product, another form that is more credible.”6 In other words, traditional urbanism seems to be stuck in its strategic model and the immobility of plans reflects its inability to face the constantly changing conditions of contemporary cities and the uncertain results of some urban processes. Landscape Urbanism, instead, offers a new model, where the urban is understood through time and its performative potentials and tactics are consciously used to deal with territories that are continuously evolving. The design tool that Koolhaas is referring to could possibly be what in Landscape Urbanism is called the ‘prototype’: its multiscalar and parametric nature allows it to adapt to different contexts in space and time, responding to local specific conditions while establishing at the same time a macro relational system. In a text published in S, M, L, XL, Koolhaas goes back to the problem of urbanism and pictures the need of a new discipline that in many points recalls the distinctive characteristics of Landscape Urbanism: “If there is to be a ‘new urbanism’ it will not be based on the twin fantasies of order and omnipotence; it will be the staging of uncertainty; it will no longer be concerned with the arrangement of more or less permanent objects but with the irrigation of territories with potential; it will no longer aim for stable configurations but for the creation of enabling fields that accommodate processes that refuse to be crystallized into definitive form; it will no longer be about meticulous definition, the imposition of limits, but about expanding notions, denying boundaries, not about separating and identifying entities, but about discovering unnameable hybrids; it will no longer be obsessed with the city but with the manipulation of infrastructure for endless intensifications and diversifications, shortcuts and redistributions – the reinvention of psychological space.”7
Tactics and anti-globalisation Strategy against tactic is also the contraposition between the centralised producer and the dispersed consumer. The producer generates strategies that aim for the maximum efficiency, which is to say the production of the smallest variety of products for the widest possible market. To reach this objective it needs to control the audience; thus, thorough the constant creation of new homogenous needs, it creates a uniform market. Such systematisation is based purely on quantitative parameters: the final goal of the producer is the maximum amount of sales. On the other end of the production chain stands the consumer, who by definition belongs to the market, but can resist its homogenization, finding his freedom in the ‘qualitative’ approach to the product. Consumption is tactical because it “does not 6 Rem Koolhaas, as quoted in Zaera Polo, Finding freedoms: Conversation with Rem Koolhaas, p. 30 7 Koolhaas, What Ever Happened to Urbanism, p. 969 119
Tactics and urbanism
manifest itself through its own products, but rather through its ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order.”8 Nowadays we live in a system which seems almost monolithic, with capitalism being the only successful economic model: it is a globalised market where individuals all over the world are under the same strategic pressure by multinational corporations. Recently, Copenhagen Climate Change Conference showed that the political powers are (still?) too weak to control such pressure - sustainable long-term policies had to retreat in front of short-term economic agendas. If, according to Certeau, “the weaker the forces at the disposition of the strategist, (…) the more the strategy is transformed into tactics,”9 anti-corporatist forces necessarily have to move through tactical paths. The no-global movement seems to understand this point very well. It lacks a clear hierarchy, it does not always have a clear unified position, it does not have a scheduled agenda, but thanks to its flexibility it is able to move within the system and reassess its goals constantly. A new political idea primarily needs visibility to spread around the public opinion. The no-global movement found two different canals of communication: the internal, using what Naomi Klein calls “the anarchic pathways of the Internet”10 and the external, sneaking into the official media. The Internet made possible its beginning, in 1999, when 50.000 people unexpectedly gathered up in Seattle during a World Trade Organization forum to protest against the role of the corporations in the exploitations of developing countries. Then, during a decade, the movement took advantage of the presence of the media in official summits (WTO, FMI, World Bank, G-8…) to appear on the first pages of the newspapers and the TV news. Through its gained visibility, the primary objective of a greater public consciousness about globalisation and its side effects has been achieved. A more ambitious step should come now. That would be to enter the mechanisms of the political power to be able to influence its social and economic policies. On the macro scale the no-global movement already found some receptive audience: countries like Brazil, for instance, have already included a considerable part of its programmatic points in their governmental agenda and sponsored them internationally through the G-20 summit. Nevertheless, I think that far greater results would be achieved if the movement were able to diffusely influence the micro scale of the urban processes, where all the implications of globalisation enter our everyday life. This is the field where the no-global movement and Landscape Urbanism meet: the social and environmental issues of the no-global movement can be brought up to the practice of urban design through the discipline of Landscape Urbanism.
Resistance “A tactic is an art of the weak”11 and the weak by definition does not benefit from the established power. This condition, though, can lead to very different degrees of resistance. At the same time tactics are just one possible way of implementing such resistance, whenever it takes place. The weak can either limit himself to a mere survival, or try to improve his conditions. In the first case he will develop just a passive resistance to cope with the hardship of his daily life; in the second case his effort will be put in a longer-term struggle to either subvert the system or become an influent part of it. A crucial point about tactic is that is does not aim to sabotage and take over; instead it tries to influence the power in such a way as to fulfil its needs, behind an appearance of conformity.12 Therefore tactical resistance occurs only in the latter situation, 8 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, pp. XII-XIII 9 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 37 10 Klein, Rebels in Search of Rules 11 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 37 12 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 39 120
The relationship between urban designers and power (both the political and the economic) has always been controversial. As Rem Koolhaas asserts, “through our hypocritical relationship with power – contemptuous yet covetous – we dismantled an entire discipline, cut ourselves off from the operational, and condemned whole populations to the impossibility of encoding civilizations on their territory – the subject of urbanism.”13 As a weak player in the urban process, an urban designer has to mediate with stronger powers. This confrontation can lead to completely different attitudes. On one extreme stands the opportunistic behaviour of carelessly executing the authority’s will; on the other stands the inflexible rejection to accept imposed conditions, a position that usually implies resignation. Once again, tactical resistance occupies the middle ground, the place of compromise: through a constructive dialogue, the designer recognises opportunities rather than impositions. China has a very peculiar political and economic situation and designers have to deal with a huge potential market under the restrictions of a non-democratic regime. Despite some improvements originated by the international opening of the country, full civil rights in China are still a mirage. The recent arrest of Liu Xiaobo just confirms the routine of jailing dissidents with the charge of inciting to subvert state power.14 This lack of freedom is also evident in the process of urbanisation that the country is undergoing. As David Harvey explains, “in China millions are being dispossessed of the spaces they have long occupied – three million in Beijing alone. Since they lack private-property rights, the state can simply remove them by fiat, offering a minor cash payment to help them on their way before turning the land over to developers at a large profit. In some instances, people move willingly, but there are also reports of widespread resistance, the usual response to which is brutal repression by the Communist party.”15 In a context in which open political opposition is out of the question and the rights of the local communities are irrelevant when they clash with the top-down strategies set by the central government, tactical resistance seems the only realistic way for Chinese people to pursue their right to the city, expressed by Harvey as the “right to change ourselves by changing the city.”16
Tactical resistance against what? Globalization is an irrefutable phenomenon and its repercussions on our daily life can have very different natures. Far away from fighting against globalisation tout-court, we should identify its detrimental effects and try to correct them, playing with the rules of system itself. This point seems to be clear to most anti-globalists, as it is confirmed by Klein: “When protesters shout about the evils of globalization, most are not calling for a return to narrow nationalism, but for the borders of globalization to be expanded, for trade to be linked to democratic reform, higher wages, labour rights and environmental protections.”17 Through a brief analysis of current Chinese urbanization I shall try to point out the social and economic challenges that could be addressed by a tactically resistant urban design.
13 Koolhaas, What Ever Happened to Urbanism, p. 967 14 Associated Press, China sentences Charter 08 founder Liu Xiaobo to 11 years 15 Harvey, The right to the city, pp. 35-36 16 Harvey, The right to the city, p. 23 17 Klein, Rebels in Search of Rules 121
when the weak manages to infiltrate the authority.
Long term investments against market speculation Because of its peculiar political situation, China is a sui generis capitalist country. Harvey explains that neoliberalism has created “new systems of governance that integrate state and corporate interests, and through the application of money power, it has ensured that the disbursement of the surplus through the state apparatus favours corporate capital and the upper classes in shaping the urban process.”18 This contiguity of powers is generally dangerous; in China it becomes dramatic because, as Klein claims, the Communist Party has transformed the country in a corporatist state.19 90 percent of the richest population is represented by the children of senior officials and one of their main financial sources is the land market.20 An independent research reveals that “in Shanghai, nine of the ten largest property developers are owned by senior officials’ children.”21 When the administrative and the economic powers belong to the same people the city development is inevitably driven by the logic of commercial profit and the right to the city falls into the hands of private or quasi-private interests.22 Harvey states that urbanisation is the process where capitalists reinvest their surplus product.23 The problem with Chinese urbanisation is that it is often treated merely as a strategy for economic growth through industrialisation. Urban planner Huang Weiwen explains that Chinese “Government policy has been driven by the industrialisation of the national economy, with urbanisation only a by-product with disruptive side effects.”24 This policy gives birth to cities that are just big dormitories for migrant factory workers. Any small alteration in the equilibrium of the global market produces big social tensions. When the sub-prime crisis started in the fall of 2008, the western market shrank and it was not able to absorb all the products coming from Chinese factories anymore. Many of these were forced to close or drastically reduce their workforce: all of a sudden entire cities were abandoned. Another quite specific characteristic of Chinese urbanization is the incredible real estate speculation that lies behind the process. During our field trip to the region of Shanghai, I had the opportunity to follow what seems to be a very common procedure in the local real estate market. In the newly planned city of Lingang, 400 hundred new dwellings were put up for sale. 14.000 applications arrived in a few days and the developer had to organize a lottery to establish the possible future owners. The lucky winners had to gather the money for the flat and pay cash within few days. Lingang is said to be a dead city where nobody really wants to live. It is hard to cover its huge distances and nowadays basic common facilities are not developed yet, but speculative eagerness did not seem to care about the poor quality of its urban design. Out of those 400 new owners very few will actually end up moving to their new flats. Most of them bought the property to sell it on in a few years, when a high inflation will have substantially increased its price. Many new cities in China are deserted during the first months, or even few years, as a negative result of real estate speculation. This situation is worsened by the economic dependence of local administrations on their land market. Mckinsey Global Institute estimates that “over the past decade land sales have contributed to more than 60 per cent of some Chinese cities’ annual income.”25 When local governments become real estate developers, speculation substitutes urban planning. Professor Zhang Jie explains how money-eager local governments often “designate a new area for duplicated development even if there may 18 Harvey, The right to the city, p. 38 19 Klein, Naomi, The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, p. 190 20 Mo, 90 Percent of China’s Billionaires are Children of Senior Officials 21 Mo, 90 Percent of China’s Billionaires are Children of Senior Officials 22 Harvey, The right to the city, p. 38 23 Harvey, The right to the city, p. 25 24 Huang, Urbanisation in Contemporary China Observed, p. 31 25 Liauw, ‘Leaping Forward, Getting Rich Gloriously, and Letting a Hundred Cities Bloom’, p. 9 122
The crisis that hit western banks was mainly due to the bonus-based logic of fast-revenue financial investments. Short-term economic agenda produces cycles characterized by constant speculations and periodic crises. A corporation could possibly afford the explosion of a speculative bubble, because overall the gains during the positive periods cover the temporary loss, but for a government the social costs of such a crisis are huge. Hopefully the current recession will generate a new approach to urban planning too and the benefits of a well-planned development will finally be measured on a longer term. In an economic model where endurance plays an important role, a well designed city will generate much more added value.
Identity against standardization In her book, The shock doctrine, Naomi Klein speaks about the attempts of some governments to ‘electroshock’ their population and build a new economic order on the basis of a tabula rasa. Such strategy is probably taking place in China, where the urban policies of the Communist Party seem to aim to a complete erasure of people’s identity. Mao’s famous slogan ‘Destroy the old to establish the new’ has been quite literally implemented in the majority of Chinese cities during the last decades, causing the almost complete disappearance of historical vestiges from their urban centres. History is quite a difficult theme to approach for an urban designer. Rem Koolhaas is very critical about historical identity and considers it a burden that often drags down the performance of the cities, trapped in their dependence on the historical centres.27 But while he claims that the final goal of new urbanism is the reinvention of psychological space,28 he seems to forget the crucial role of historical identity in our perception of the space. I am obviously not trying to defend the value of the old as ‘picturesque’, but rather the importance of its presence as a mirror where we can confront ourselves with different models and understand our contemporary situation. While bulldozers take care of the destruction of the urban historical identity, the policies on migration take their part in the weakening of the strong social identity of the villagers. In the last decades people from the countryside have been moved all over the country to new satellite cities, sometimes thousands of kilometres away from their homes, to provide workforce to the new industrial developments. Stuck in their rural status, they are not allowed to gain an urban hokou and are not entitled to any of the city basic welfare; thus after a few years in the factories, they usually move back to the countryside. Nowadays the so-called ‘floating population’ counts up to 150 million migrant workers.29 In a crucial text on contemporary metropolis, Koolhaas affirms: “What if this seemingly accidental – and usually regretted – homogenization were an intentional process, a conscious movement away from difference toward similarity? What if we are witnessing a global liberation movement: ‘down with character!’ What is left after identity is stripped? The Generic?”30 The generic city seems to be the perfect terrain for the multinational corporations that need standardization to better control their market. 26 Zhang, Urbanisation in China in the Age of Reform, p. 34 27 Koolhaas, The Generic City, p. 1263 28 Koolhaas, What Ever Happened to Urbanism, p. 969 29 Liauw, ‘Leaping Forward, Getting Rich Gloriously, and Letting a Hundred Cities Bloom’, p. 10 30 Koolhaas, The Generic City, p. 1248 123
have been low actual usage of previous similar developments or some lands still available.”26
How can we resist this standardization if the established power has declared a war against historical and social identities? The answer possibly lays in what Landscape Urbanism calls ‘material identity’. Each place has its own specific natural conditions. Through the technique of ‘indexing’, urban designers can recognize their potentials and generate an urban strategy that is driven by their maximum performative capacity. In a specific moment of the market in which the word ‘sustainable’ seems to be fashionable, material identity could generate urban developments that are able to resist globalization while being economically attractive.
A special case: the Villages in the City The Villages in the City could be easily associated with Tactical Resistance for their condition of infiltrating into new generic urban fabric. In the last ten years, following a reform in 1998, Chinese government has drastically reduced its intervention in social housing for the urban areas. In the current situation the ViCs are the only affordable housing solution available for migrant workers. Some architectural firms, like URBANUS, are developing projects to preserve the ViCs from demolishment.31 In their proposals, they use a ‘sponging’ technique to deal with the overcrowded urban fabric, allowing new oxygenation and re-establishing standard hygienic conditions while preserving the big typological diversity that generates interesting spatial features. Such operations, though, seem to be rather romantic approaches to the problem. In fact, they not only clash with the commercial interests of the real estate market that spots in the ViCs cheap urban soil to develop, but they also face an internal resistance since the sponging inevitably causes a big reduction of their housing capacity. In my opinion the only economically feasible way for the state to generate good affordable housing without taking a direct role in it would be to apply new building policies that set a minimum percentage of social housing in new commercial developments – something similar to what happens in many European countries. In this way the developer is given the opportunity of a profit even on soils occupied by ViCs, while it deals with the housing of the migrant workers.
Environmental sustainability against cheap productivity China is now one of the most contaminated countries and the greatest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, but a big part of its emissions depend on its industrial activity, which is finalized to produce goods for the western market. Globalization means that western consumers are somehow responsible for the environmental costs of Chinese rush for cheap industrial production. To tackle this problem I can think of two different strategies. On the one hand, anti-globalists could put pressure on western governments to generate new trade policies that benefit eco-friendly industrial productions and penalize polluting ones. On the other hand they should penetrate Chinese internal market to influence urban planning strategies. As we already saw, industrial development is the great engine of Chinese urbanization. New urban policies cannot deny the crucial role of industries in contemporary China. The cost of pollution, though, is not only huge for the public health, but also 31 Meng, Urban Villages, p. 59 124
Urban designers should then find an alley in the government to implement industrial plans that are more sustainable, as the logic of the highest productivity does not reflect all the actors in the play. Speaking about the generic city, Koolhaas explains that it “is never elaborated, is not improved but abandoned. The idea of layering, intensification, completion are alien to it: it has no layers. Its next layer takes place somewhere else, either next door – that can be the size of a country – or even elsewhere altogether.”33 This is another aspect of Chinese urbanization that has huge side effects on the environment: buildings and sometimes even cities are planned not to endure but to be replaced as soon as the social and economic conditions change (many have a life of just 10 years). A sustainable design is one that looks for the minimum production of waste and this logic of disposable architecture is incredibly detrimental for the environment. The ability of Landscape Urbanism to generate models that are able to adapt to different conditions in time, seems crucial to propose new sustainable models for the country.
Conclusions Urbanization in China offers a unique combination of problems and opportunities. Resisting the forces that drive such urbanization would be quite a conservative and unproductive approach. We live in a capitalist globalized world and the market is something that architects and urban designers have to deal with. A tactically resistant designer is able to canalise the market to meet the interests of the common citizens. The capitalist logic of profit cannot be denied, but the social and environmental effects of urban design should be put into the picture. If we could evaluate them from an economic point of view, we could probably state that in a long-term a good sustainable urban design brings more economic benefits than a short-term market-driven one.
32 Aldama, China perjudica la salud 33 Koolhaas, The Generic City, p. 1263 125
for the country’s economy: Communist authorities estimate it to be around 10 percent of China’s GDP.32
FOA’s London Olympic Park The limitation of representational architecture is that the project becomes very unequivocal, with very limited resonance because the image or the story takes precedence over the organization. Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera Polo1
The engagement with clients and public media – in other words of power – originated an evolution into our projective methods towards an incorporation of iconography and meaning. Alejandro Zaera Polo2
Introduction On July the 6th 2005 the International Olympic Committee selected, against all the odds, London to be the venue for 2012 Olympic Games. London’s bid was based on the Olympiad as the engine for the urban regeneration of the whole East London. Such regeneration was reflected in the masterplan for the Lower Lea Valley designed by a multidisciplinary consortium composed by EDAW and FOA among other teams. I shall present the original Olympic Park masterplan, analyzing the main points of its urban strategy and I shall try to detect FOA’s specific contribution, reflecting upon the importance of iconology in the design process and the market economy.
The Olympic Games and East London regeneration Two examples had been carefully taken into consideration to plan London’s Olympic bid: Barcelona 1992, where the Games achieved to catalyze a systematic modernization (in a good sense) of the city - that is somehow still going on with the more or less successful examples of the Forum 2004 and the 22@ district – and Sidney 2000, where “the incorporation of sustainability principles established the ‘Green Games’ precedent.”3 With these antecedents in mind, London presented its bid as focused on a rigorous legacy plan and a sustainable green strategy. Thus the Olympic Park became just a small piece of the Lea Valley transformation, within the much wider system of the East London Green Grid, “a network of interlinked, multi-purpose open spaces with good connections to the areas where people live and work, public transport, the Green Belt and the Thames.”4 (fig. 1)
1 Diaz Moreno; Garcia Grinda, Complexity and Consistency. A Conversation with Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera, p. 19 2 Zaera Polo, The Hokusai Wave, p. 32 3 Olympic, Paralympic & Legacy Transformation Planning Applications, p. 63 4 East London Green Grid, p. 6 126
The Lower Lea Valley masterplan As we said, the main principles for the Olympic bid were sustainability and the Games legacy. The project of the Olympic Park, therefore, was inserted in the Lower Lea Valley masterplan, which was strategically conceived in two parallel scenarios: one with the Olympic Games effectively going on in the area, the other without the Olympiad. (fig. 2) The area affected by the masterplan was characterized by the important presence of the river Lea and its canals, the only fluvial system in London left to its original meandering conditions, though unfortunately “colonised by industrial and waste processing uses”6 and strongly fragmented by imposing transportation and service infrastructures. In both scenarios the River Lea became the centre of a new green corridor that finally connected the Upper Lea Valley Park, north of Hackney Marshes - with its important ecological system based on filter beds, marshes and reservoirs – to the Thames. The new park would then become “a transect between core city and rural hinterland.”7 (fig. 3) As its designers state, the masterplan was based on “three principles: the integration of the urban fabric with the waterways; the construction of a park, regenerating waste lands; the creation of one hundred new bridges across the waterways, roads and railways as stitches between the existing neighbourhoods.”8 The role of the new park would be not only to provide new green spaces, but also to improve the connections between areas which used to be separated by the former industrial waste lands. Overall the masterplan seems well structured: a good mixture of land uses avoids the problems of big mono-functional blocks (long-distance commuting, high traffic, big areas left “dead” at night, etc.), the massing strategy carefully relates the density of each area to the proximity to the open spaces and the public transport, and the new neighbourhoods are well connected to the existing road infrastructure. (fig. 4) But, if the ambitious goals of the authors were to “reintroduce to London the concept of living with water,”9 transforming the Lea Valley into a “new model of environmentally advanced urban development,”10 then I miss some more daring solutions to take full advantage of the river and its canals and transform them not just in leisure opportunities, but more importantly in performative elements (for transportation, energy production, climatic control, etc.).
5 East London Green Grid, p. 3 6 Design Statement: Olympic Precinct & Legacy, p. 16 7 Lea Valley Regeneration & Olympic Masterplan, p. 8 8 Design Statement: Olympic Precinct & Legacy, p. 17 9 Design Statement: Olympic Precinct & Legacy, p. 18 10 Lea Valley Regeneration & Olympic Masterplan, p. 8 127
FOA’s London Olympic Park
In this sense, the proposal of the Olympic Park at Stratford could help transform East London in the focus of the future expansion of the city, which, according to Richard Rogers, one of the promoters of the East London Green Grid plan, will create in the region up to half of London’s new homes and jobs.5
The Olympic Park masterplan An important step in the masterplan design process was to identify the most suitable area to develop the Olympic Park: the entire Lower Lea Valley, 2 by 6 kilometres long, would be too big to allow pedestrian movements between different venues and guaranty the security of the whole precinct. Furthermore a dispersed Olympic site would not contribute to achieve “a powerful sense of place”11 and “that critical mass which is so important in creating an Olympic spirit.”12 The clear consequence of these considerations was therefore to concentrate the venues over an area which covers approximately a third of the total surface of the masterplan. The northern end of the Lower Lea Valley offers the greatest number of waterways and a quite varied topography, which could contribute to generate a suggestive and identifiable natural setting for the Games. The visual spectacle of the Olympic Park is magnified by the position of the main entrances, located along three big bridges, at high topographic levels. The visitors would enter the precinct from a panoramic point, enjoying an overall view over the Olympic Park and discovering with surprise the main stadia, semi hidden till the last moment. The position of the venues was decided according to their walking distance to the main stations, guaranteeing an easy access from the public transport network, but at the same time a certain separation between them to avoid dangerous bottleneck effects and to allow a “passive management”13 of the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected on any single day. A central axis, parallel to the river, leads to the eight main venues, while training and service facilities are located on the perimeter of the site. The linearity of the Olympic Park is meant to generate the maximum flexibility during the design process, allowing some “venues to be plugged in or removed as the Olympics strategy develops.”14 More importantly, such scheme clearly contributes “to spread the value of these facilities and ‘touch’ more of the adjacent communities.”15 In my opinion, one of the best strategic decisions of the masterplan was to determine the future of the Olympic venues and facilities in the legacy plan, detecting the needs of the neighbouring communities in order to avoid “white elephants or windswept empty plazas.”16 This operation lead to the creation of temporary structures for those venues which would not fit in the new urban fabric and semi-temporary structures for those which would need to be rescaled to meet the needs of their post-Olympic use. The recent failure to functionally readdress Beijing Olympic Park (with the oversized Olympic Stadium empty during most time of the year and the Aquatic Centre sadly converted into a shopping mall) can only reaffirm the validity of this objective. In the same line, a clever flexible urbanization strategy would allow on the one hand to reuse most of the back of house facilities and embed them into the new urban fabric, defining a high density edge for the new park; on the other hand, to reduce the paved areas after the Games to avoid “the post game blight of windswept empty plazas conceived for crowds of half a million people that will never gather in that place again.”17 The final result in the legacy plan seems to recall some local successful precedents, like Highbury, an urban stadium peacefully inserted into a dense urban fabric. (fig. 6-7) Despite the presence of supposedly impressive architecture (which suffered big budget cuts, though, due to the crises), the characterizing element of the Olympic Park will be the water. In the last decades, the ecology of this part of the river Lea was seriously damaged and often concrete dykes substituted the original gently sloping banks. This engineering solution was meant to increment the available land for industrial uses, but generated serious problems in the hydrologic equilibrium of the river, magnifying the effects of recurrent fluvial floods. 11 Design Statement: Olympic Precinct & Legacy, p. 14 12 Design Statement: Olympic Precinct & Legacy, p. 20 13 Design Statement: Olympic Precinct & Legacy, p. 14 14 Design Statement: Olympic Precinct & Legacy, p. 15 15 Lea Valley Regeneration & Olympic Masterplan, p. 12 16 Lea Valley Regeneration & Olympic Masterplan, p. 7 17 Lea Valley Regeneration & Olympic Masterplan, p. 9 128
Finally, a considerable number of bridges plays the crucial role of guarantying the continuity of the Olympic concourse across the waterways. With the same pragmatic spirit that underlies the creation of temporary structures for the venues, most of the bridges are designed with additional elements that augment their capacity during the games, but can be easily removed afterwards to avoid negative shading effects in the areas underneath.
Design evolution In the first stages of the Olympic Park masterplan, FOA was part of a multidisciplinary design team formed by architects, landscape architects, urban designers and engineers. In 2007, under not very clear circumstances, FOA quit the job and a few months later the final stages of the masterplan were assigned to a different consortium. I had access to four different sets of graphical documents about the evolution of the project, three produced with FOA’s collaboration and the fourth correspondent to the construction documents finally approved. Given that the overall urban strategy does not sensibly change in the different proposals, I shall concentrate on the architectural scale of the project, where FOA’s contribution is more recognizable, and the different stages produce the bigger differences. In the competition proposal (2003), one can already identify two of the key elements of the project: the absolutely linear distribution of the venues and the alteration of the original topography in order to merge the stadia with the ground, creating some sort of volcanoes. The Olympic concourse is still not defined, though, and there is no clear indication of how the precinct is going to be connected to the adjacent urban fabric and green systems. In the same way the buildings, possibly because of their constraining tectonic, do not seem to interact at all with the river. (fig. 5) In the following proposal (2004), the waterways take a more prominent role, literally wrapping the Olympic Stadium, and the concourse appears as the unifying and distributing element of the park. Taking inspiration from the meandering geometry of the river Lea, the main axis becomes a fluid element of connection between the venues and the different sides of the park. Such analogy is taken to its extreme consequences, creating multiple ramifications in the paths and strongly affecting the design of the bridges. If the redundancy of paved areas can actually contribute to better manage the crowd, creating smaller and more controllable groups of people, the “fluidification” of the bridges makes them work in a very inefficient way, as they cross the river diagonally, augmenting considerably their span. If the main goal of the designers, though, was to “visually ‘carry’ the concourse across rivers and other obstacles,”18 then this stage of the project produces the clearest effects of continuity. (fig. 6-8) At this point, the masterplan was to be presented to the public. As Alejandro Zaera Polo explains, in order to avoid threatening the public with premature architectural images, the project was presented “via the usual set of vague and popular imagery, more aimed to convey to the general public the festive atmosphere and the regenerative values of the perspective London 2012 Olympic Games rather than potentials of not-yet-designed architectural proposals”19 – which in fact were not part of the tasks included in the appointment of the masterplan. (fig. 9) Still according to Zaera’s reconstruction of the events, Deyan Sudjic, architectural critic of The Observer strongly criticized those images for their lack of architectural aspirations. In a reaction that clearly witnesses the strong power of the media in 18 Olympic, Paralympic & Legacy Transformation Planning Applications, p. 120 19 Zaera Polo, The Hokusai Wave, p. 37 129
FOA’s London Olympic Park
The creation of the new park is therefore also an opportunity to enhance the quality of the river ecological system, restoring former wet lands and creating new linear reed beds parallel to the deeper navigable waterways. The channels will be widened and the topography of the banks will be modified to create a series of degrading terraces that, in dry conditions, will allow a more direct contact between the new public spaces and the water and, in rainy periods, will became an additional storage volume of water to mitigate the flooding.
publicly sensible projects, FOA was then commissioned by the Olympic Delivery Authority to provide the “Look and Feel of the Games”.20 The result of such appointment was a series of renderings in which the whole Olympic Park is revised under the unifying visual metaphor of the muscles: the river, the concourse, the green spaces and the buildings all become part of a multidimensional system of muscular fibres. (fig. 10-11) In a completely different context, when describing their famous Yokohama project, Moussavi and Zaera explained that “circulation can literally shape space” and went on stressing the “consistency between the no-return [distributional] diagram and the surface as a geometrical argument.”21 Few years later, this rigorous indexical approach seems to have completely vanished, leaving on the ground an artificial topography of very dubious performativity. In fact the ‘muscular system’ does not seem to have any organizing function – it barely influences the movement of the people along the central concourse – but rather becomes an ornamental element. To create a stronger interaction with the river, FOA creates a new artificial island and stretched even more the bridges, in a possible attempt to produce the ‘fibre effect’ also in section. At the same time the muscular motif proliferates along all the horizontal surfaces, colonizing including the green areas along the river (which are in fact one of the most elaborated surfaces), in an attempt to give a continuity to the project that actually ends up going against the main functional goals of it. In fact, if in the legacy park the amount of paved areas should reduce drastically and the paths be rescaled, it is hard to justify such an unnecessary quantity of paving in areas which should be left as wild as possible. In another of his essays, talking about operative topographies, Zaera underlines the importance of blending “the natural and the artificial into a complex organization, neither through arbitrary techniques nor by using the picturesque approach.”22 In this case, though, I think that the imposition of iconography over other projectual criteria did produce a totally arbitrary effect. The architect then criticizes Olmsted for reproducing geometries out of imitation of natural systems,23 but in this perspective FOA falls into an even bigger mistake, also just ‘imitating’ another natural system, but with a much less rigorous approach and the result, far away from being complex, seems closer to an exercise of landscape gardening than to a project of landscape architecture. Despite these critiques, though, one can’t deny an interesting attempt to eliminate the dichotomy between the built and the natural environment - is an urban park anything close to a natural environment anyway? The buildings are not “floating on a sanitized, separated platform,”24 but rise directly from the ground with almost no superficial interruption. My doubts in this aspect would only refer to the existence of a supposed added value in the use of the muscular shapes for the architecture of the stadia. In any design projects one has to measure the pros and cons of the different options on the table and the final decision depends on the priorities adopted. In Zaera’s words, FOA was asked “to deliver the architectural ideology needed to represent Britain in from of the International Olympic Committee.”25 There is not just architecture in this sentence, but ideology – this word sounds so weird in Zaera’s discourse, as we shall see later - and just in those terms one can understand such big turn in the evolution of the design. He goes on saying: “We knew by now that the real question here was to deliver an image able to spark broadsheet headlines if we were to quell the rumors of our boring and bureaucratic approach to urbanism, and our incapacity to deliver exciting architecture.”26 Maybe boring and bureaucratic urbanism is the one that seriously deals with the regeneration of the area, taking the Olympic Park as an important legacy element in the broader urban strategy and does not convert it into the setting of a global TV show. But this is only my personal consideration and apparently it is not shared by the majority of the public opinion, as the 20 Zaera Polo, The Hokusai Wave, p. 37 21 Moussavi; Zaera Polo, The Yokohama Project, pp .11-13 22 Zaera Polo, On Landscape, p. 133 23 Zaera Polo, Foa Code Remix 2000, p. 124 24 Zaera Polo, The Hokusai Wave, p. 37 25 Zaera Polo, A Scientific Autobiography, p. 15 26 Zaera Polo, The Hokusai Wave, p. 37 130
What happened afterwards in the closed environment of the design consortium is not clear, but, as a result of some supposed internal conflicts, FOA quit few months later, “frustrated by the focus on budget rather than design” and afraid that “the design quality of the plan had been dumbed down.”28 After his winning performance with the popular audience, Zaera possibly had to face the critiques of his colleagues who were not so interested in the strength of the visual message as in other more functional aspects of the design. The planning application delivered to the authority in 2007 still reflects some memory of the fibre motif, though reduced only to the paved area, where it creates some green pockets that could actually be useful to create some shaded areas during the Games. The geometry of the concourse is simplified, one of the waterways that embraced the main stadium disappears and the bridges are straightened. In a clear effort to prioritize efficiency and cost reduction over spatial effects, the organic relation with the water and the continuity of the concourse across the river is unfortunately strongly weakened. (fig. 12) The final version of the masterplan goes even further, clearly separating the paved concourse from the green spaces and reducing the bridges to accidents along the paths. It is difficult for me to see this final design version as the most successful in terms of spatial qualities and I have strong doubts about its adaptability to the legacy park. (fig. 13)
Criticality or opportunism? Considering FOA’s curriculum, it seems clear that from the Yokohama project to London Olympic Park there has been an important shift in priorities. As it was many times explained by the authors Yokohama was the result of an academic experimentation that unexpectedly won an international competition. Ever since, Moussavi and Zaera possibly turned their back to academia (at least in terms of experimentation) and focused more on their professional production; thus, FOA grew into a more pragmatic, market-driven practice. As Zaera explains, the architectural “practice is defined by the search for opportunities rather than truths,”29 and the fundamental issue for contemporary architecture is “to be able to operate beyond a fixed system of values and conventions, in order to survive the constant changes of conditions in which we have to operate.”30 In other words, his post-critical approach does not generate a somehow still committed ‘projective’ model, like the one Somol and Whiting propose,31 but a rather opportunistic one that allows to move freely in the floating conditions of the market. Nowadays “the crisis of representation and objectivity triggered by modernity and in particular by the advent of globalization has put into question the transformative capacities of ideology and utopia.”32 Zaera, therefore, chooses “a market model rather than the bureaucracy model, which has characterized classic criticism,”33 – maybe forgetting that it is the same bureaucracy which stands behind the idea of the Olympics as an opportunity for urban regeneration. FOA “monumentalizes, then in exemplary ‘post-critical’ fashion, the neoliberal consensus regarding new ‘opportunities’ opened up by technocorporate globalization.”34 27 Zaera Polo, The Hokusai Wave, p. 37 28 Miller, Vikki, Olympic Masterplanner Quits 29 Zaera Polo, A World Full of Holes, p. 310. Curiously the sentence appears just in the Spanish version of the article. 30 Zaera Polo, Foa Code Remix 2000, pp. 127-128 31 Somol; Whiting, Notes around the Doppler Effect and Other Moods of Modernism 32 Zaera Polo, The Politics of the Envelope, p. 101 33 Zaera Polo, A World Full of Holes, p. 310 34 Martin, Critical of What? Toward a Utopian Realism, p. 3 131
FOA’s London Olympic Park
renderings were very successful and “everybody immediately understood the geometry of the project and we even made some headlines: ‘London puts muscle into its bid,’ reported the broadsheets.”27
Indexicality or iconography? In past years, one of FOA’s main objectives was “to produce consistency in the process of construction and material organization rather than in the plastic effect.”35 In order to achieve this goal, the indexical process seemed to be the most adequate instrument, as it allowed to “design, synthesize and proliferate specific histories and scripts for a project; introduce a sequential development rather than deploying a form or an image.”36 In more recent times, though, Zaera formulated a new contrasting manifesto: “Our hypothesis here is that the consistency between the material and the significant will have a brighter future when mediated through form - that which mediates matter and substance - rather than through signs, indices or other modalities of coded transfer. Rather than embracing the contingent, ambiguous nature of shape as an alternative to the hermeticism of indexicality, we forecast the development of a discipline of form with a double agenda, operating simultaneously as an organizational device and as a communicative device. This direction could be explored to sustain the future growth of the discipline, to expand architecture’s audience to include a public component, which the form argument has traditionally avoided by locating itself exclusively on a disciplinary plane. By opening form into the reprocessing of identity and iconography, we can perhaps sustain a re-empowerment of the architect as a relevant expert with a public dimension, rather than a hermetic - even if seductive - practitioner.”37 On the contraposition between the indexical and the iconographical, Felix Guattari explains that “what characterizes a diagrammatic feature, as compared with an icon, is its degree of deterritorialization, its capacity to transcend itself, and to constitute its own discursive chains.”38 Precisely the deterritorialization of the index makes the architect too hermetic for the general public and denies him/her the opportunity to gain a dominant position in the global market. In a capitalist society controlled by the media that moves towards the homologation of the audience, the use of universal icons is just another form of standardization to implement the total control over the market. From his opportunistic position, Zaera then abandons indexicality and embraces iconography to better interact with the economic power.
Conclusions As we saw, London Olympic Park masterplan can be analyzed under two different lights: on the one hand it constitutes an interesting approach to the legacy strategy of the Games, on the other, it is an important step in the evolution of FOA’s practice, in which the architects take full awareness of the power of the mass media and find in iconography a successful strategy of marketing.
35 Zaera Polo, Foa Code Remix 2000, p. 123 36 Zaera Polo, Foa Code Remix 2000, p. 125 37 Zaera Polo, The Hokusai Wave, p. 39 38 Guattari, The Three Ecologies, p. 143 132
FOAâ€™s London Olympic Park
Fig. 1 The masterplan inserted in the wider contexts of the Lea Valley (right) and the East London Green Grid (left) 133
Fig. 2 Competition proposal (2003) Olympic masterplan (on the left) and No-Olympic masterplan (on the right) 134
FOAâ€™s London Olympic Park
Fig. 3 Aerial view of the Lower Lea Valley at the original conditions 135
Fig. 4 The Lower Lea Valley general masterplan (2004). Land use distribution 136
FOAâ€™s London Olympic Park
Fig. 5 Competition proposal (2003). Aerial view 137
Fig. 6 Second proposal (2004). Olympic masterplan 138
FOAâ€™s London Olympic Park
Fig. 7 Second proposal (2004). Legacy masterplan 139
Fig. 8 Second proposal (2004). Aerial view 140
FOAâ€™s London Olympic Park
Fig. 9 Second proposal (2004). First attempt to produce an image of the Olympic Games 141
Fig. 10 FOAâ€™s vision of the Olympic Park (2006) 142
FOAâ€™s London Olympic Park
Fig. 11 The Olympic Stadium and the iconography of the muscles (2006) 143
Fig. 12 Planning application (2007). Olympic masterplan 144
FOAâ€™s London Olympic Park
Fig. 13 Final design (2009). Olympic masterplan 145
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Published on Oct 25, 2010