The MA Architecture + Urbanism course is the Manchester School of Architecture's taught postgraduate course which conducts research into how global cultural and economic forces influence contemporary cities. The design, functioning and future of urban situations is explored in written, drawn and modelled work which builds on the legacy of twentieth century urban theory and is directed towards the development of sustainable cities.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Alison and Peter Smithson: The Charged Void - Urbanism (2005)

Discussed by Gu Fang
The Simthsons made great contributions to European city planning and city development which were quite a positive philosophy at that time, although some projects have not been realised. “Buildings should be thought of from the beginning as fragments, containing within themselves a capacity to act with other buildings and be themselves links.” (Smithson, 2005) Urbanization is considered to be the product of a process, that is, from a point to a line, from a line to a surface, and then from a surface to a space. Although the urban construction is a fundamental principle, it should not serve as a model to copy and reproduce, every city should be integrated with the region's unique cultural, economic and political construction. Alison and Peter Smithson attacked the decades-old dogma propounded by Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius that cities should be zoned into specific areas for living, working, leisure and transport and that urban housing should consist of tall and widely spaced towers. The ideas of the Simthsons on city development used the clusters and street structures to match the city to the landscape. So, their philosophy was that the city should be fixed around the walls or some particular landscape. The Smithsons' projects put forward hierarchical form to reflect the contemporary city. For example, in the urban planning of Berlin, the extensive use of buildings and sidewalks, roads and green belts in an interspersed relationship, organised the city on a mobile grid. Following the line of the motorway, parking garages would form a shield against traffic noise. For the same reason, the ground tilts up along the sides to the feeder streets. The city has a downtown plaza, residents living in not suffering unsuitable living conditions, but also feeling the difference between the new city and the old city. They integrated this design philosophy into their urban planning, such as the Berlin Mehringlatz planning programs. The Mehringplatz had been one of three representative entries into the eighteenth-century expansion of Friedrichstadt. The project proposed to extend the existing line of events eastward from the Kurfurstendam to act as the social focus for the living areas, which in turn could extend a chain of events to serve the zones through which the line of the south tangential motorway passes. Route changes also enhanced the overall image of the city, and also strengthened the visual sense when walking on the street.
The Smithsons also proposed an idea of structuring a city or town by means of connective systems, such as those separated by a highway or a railway between the new city and the old town, and then used for soundproof through planting on both sides. Greenways link open spaces at the scale of the river and the motorway network, used for a green buffer placed in the middle of the industrial and residential areas, so people can break through it and the traditional combination of urban transport mode can provide a comfortable residential environment. Green channels directly connected to schools and hospitals, and other public facilities, so that they not only provide people with a comfortable use of the environment, but also provide sufficient oxygen for people to breathe. In short the green channels connect the various facilities in the urban areas, will occupy a great deal of land, but play a positive role. In a big city we were faced with an enormous mass of housing which, as one moves through it or uses it, is often so monotonous and confusing as to make one almost desperate. The Smithsons' work in the field of urban planning is a typical representative of British idealism, they wanted to build a city of their dreams, a castle in the air, but in the economic and cultural restrictions is not allowed. They wanted to build at Golden Lane in East London 'streets in the sky'. This complex group included a wide balcony on every third floor which, they hoped, the residents would use for children playing and chatting to neighbours like a traditional street. When realised at Robin Hood Gardens the project was plagued by structural flaws and a high crime rate, and was often derided as an example of modernist architectural folly rather than the role model for progressive social housing that the architects had hoped.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Last Première

Interviews with speakers from the DENSIFY MA A+U Symposium will feature in the last screening by MIES on Monday 20 May at 6.30pm at RIBA HUB Manchester. TRAILER

Monday 13 May 2013

Where are they now? At Gate 81, of course!

2010 MA A+U graduates Evangelina Liodaki and Gaia Zamburlini participated in the Gate 81 workshop at Preston Bus Station on 11 May 2013. Evangelina is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Manchester School of Environment and Development, and Gaia is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Salford School of the Built Environment.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

DENSIFY: report

The Fourth Annual Symposium organised by the students of the MA Architecture + Urbanism programme at the Manchester School of Architecture was held at CUBE Gallery in Manchester on May 2 2013.  Following on from three successful previous symposia Hive Minds 2010, Get Over It! 2011, and Consumed: 2012, this year's theme was DENSIFY and it explored responses to the issues around urban density in the twenty-first century city.
This year's chairman landscape architect Robert Camlin initiated the presentations by referring to Ruskin and evoking the idea of the 'book of the land', with the city as the epitome of human intervention in nature. Questioning the theme he asked whether, following the intensification bubble experienced in Ireland, the dense city might also be a fragile city. However with its value as a form of home the city is also a site of neighbourliness and culture and he concluded by asking if we are at a change point in how we make cities.
Patrick Arends of Mecanoo gave an example of the densification of a cultural programme by introducing the audience to the new Library of Birmingham, where the stacked forms visible on the exterior provide the foil to a great public interior space. Exploring the issue of context, a difficult subject given the city's varied urban form, he cited the history of Birmingham's metal trades as being the inspiration fore the gilded filigree of the new institution's facades.
Widening out the discussion to explore the cultural aspects of density, Rachel Cooper of the University of Lancaster remarked on the significance of design decision making and the life of cultural quarters over time. Her research had explored how people conceived of density, both as a positive factor and a negative one, and considered its effect on psychological well- being, remarking on the aspiration towards densification but the constant requirement for respite from its problems. The first scheduled debate then started with questions about the importance of volume, the centripetal pull of the cultural heart, issues surrounding the limits of proximity and the changing influence of new technology. Dependency on existing infrastructure was raised, as well as the lack of vision betrayed by the ubiquitous application of mixed use commercial development, and the role of the town as a space between city and country. Moving on to the consideration of formal and informal cultures, and the importance of a sympathetic relationship between the fabric of the environment and the drivers of procurement and development leading to the question 'how do we redefine the idea of profit? Rachel Cooper asserted that bats and underground tunnelling have their place in the managing of density.
After a convivial lunch David Height of Arup Associates talked about the constant movement of cities, changeful because, quoting from Geddes, their life is a drama. Talking about the research undertaken by Arup, in terms of energy resources and issues of human health, he questioned whether urban opportunities are a myth, a result of aspirations which cannot be met. Asserting that density is something human society needs, he asked what a flexible typology for density would be and 'how dense can we get?'
Cany Ash of Ash Sakula then discussed strategies to counteract the culture of waste, illustrating her practice's ideas with examples of design proposals for New Coventry Garden Market, Ovaltown 'zone of tolerance' (where anything was possible - in planning terms) and Plaistow high rise competition. These concepts were then further explored in projects for dense low- rise housing in Ouseburn (currently in the process of realisation), a provocative re-imagining of Leicester waterside and the Canning Town Caravanserai initiated in 2012.
The scene was then set for the final presentation by Marco Casagrande, whose work grew from his own despair with conventional practice. His strategy of 'urban acupuncture' was demonstrated by projects and realised work from Lapland, Venice, Yokohama, Montreal, and a floating sauna in Norway. In Taipei he redefined the illegal architecture through projects such as 'Treasure Hill' and praised the power of an 'army of anarchist grandmothers'. Since, in his view 'nature understands the city' his work reoccupied the relics of industrialisation and de- industrialisation to embrace the ruin with inhabitation, illegal communal gardens and farms, declaring that 'some architectural control must be given up'.
The concluding debate raised questions over mixed use and the scale at which it might be applied in relation to density, mining new value from existing contexts, and questions regarding the positive values of suburbanisation. A suggestion was made that a third generation city might be found in a densified suburb, performing an act of architecture with direct political engagement and anarchy as an architectural mechanism. Questions were asked as to what other cultural forms could provide a stimulating provocation towards densification and what are the limits of optimism in relation to education, environmental justice and equity. It was recognised that density is most a problem in the developing world, and it was proposed that architects were best used to create 'trojan horses' to achieve something covertly which would not otherwise be sanctioned. Finally it was agreed that research and design provide the potential to create the necessary new investment models and types of occupation that support a culture of whole life densification within the body of the city. * Reports on previous MA A+U symposia are available here, here and here
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