Wednesday, December 31, 2008

PHREE Accolades

....Speaking of Jason King and his blog Landscape + Urbanism, I am delighted to find out that PHREE Urbanism made his year end top twelve for "New Idea for 2009". Thanks Jason!!

Now I'm feeling a little pressure...

Happy NYE and PHREE Update

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick note here to say:


I know I have been lazy the last couple of weeks in providing posts and updates. I'm going to have to blame that on (a) holiday down time and reconnecting with the fam, (b) playing with and researching my new toys, and (c) my parents who, upon my arrival in the US for the holiday, promptly put me to work installing wood floors and flat screen TVs and the like, an apparently endless task. It's been a lot of fun though--haven't done much manual labor in the last few years and it reminds me about the responsibilities of being a full-fledged adult, something it seems I've been avoiding.

A short update on PHRWEE: thanks to Jason King's response to the series and his knack for editing acronyms, we have dropped the W and changed the name to PHREE (pronounced FREE) which is a lot catchier and likely to become the IT buzzword of 2009. PHREE Urbanism baby--that's how we'll roll in Twenty-Oh-Nine. BTW, while I am attempting to provide a synoptic view of the PHREE Urbanism movement, you should follow King's prodigious blogging output in order to see it unfold in real time.

I will be continuing the series in the next day or two, although I might slip something else in first, just to keep up the sense of anticipation...a dramatic pause, if you will.

In the meantime, have a great 2009!

Saturday, December 27, 2008



Finally, here it is. The moment we've all been waiting for. Throughout the past few posts I am sure you have been asking yourself "Geez, this Post-Humanist_ReWilded_Eco_Ethical_Urbanism stuff sounds really neat. How can I become a PHRWEE_Urbanist?" Well, here you are: The Top Six PHRWEEU Design Strategies.

1. From “Towers in the park” to “Tower IS the park.”

2. Get a Pet.

3. Fill the Void
aka Green is the New BlaNk

4. Eat Your Home.

5. Start a flood.

6. If you can’t beat 'em, DESIGN 'em.

Over the next few days I will go through these strategies one-by-one, providing more in-depth descriptions, case studies and references for each.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


History + Theory 102

Bank of England, designed by John Soane, Aerial view by Joseph Gandy

Today we will be looking at Owen Hatherley’s “Living Facades – Green Urbanism and the Politics of Urban Offsetting,” in MONU’s Exotic Urbanism issue. It is a great article that takes a rather cynical viewpoint of the recent sustainable design efforts. His article is important for two reasons—to caution us of the appropriation of PHRWEEU imagery by governments and corporations to provide a positive public representation of their ‘eco-friendly’ actions (if they even exist in the first place), and to remind us that the history of “green” design goes back farther than most of our historical amnesia will allow us to remember.
Hatherley begins with an allegorical recount of the completely shocking and grotesque story of Josef Fritzel. It turns out that part of Fritzel’s positive public image was reinforced by the fact that he built and maintained his very own… roof garden!! In this introduction Hatherley succinctly summarizes the issue of using a green veneer as a political strategy (the Trojan 'Green' Horse of Strategic Engagement):
Although it is obviously crass to extrapolate from the life and inclinations of this inhuman character to the wider issues of ‘green’ urbanism, it does suggestively make a certain connection. On the surface we have a sign of civic-mindedness and environmentalism, and on the inside…we have an unimaginable barbarism.

Bank of England,designed by John Soane, rendering by Joseph Gandy

Hatherley then goes on to remind us that the concepts of green roofs, living facades, and vegitecture are not actually all that new. He points out that green roofs and living facades have actually been around since the days of Romanticism. He describes how architects during the Romantic period would design new buildings “as if they had always, already been overtaken by undergrowth, fronds, weeds cracking cement and stone. John Soane…commissioned the draughtsman Joseph Gandy to render his new Bank of England…as a crumbling, overgrown relic.” Hatherley then gives us an abridged history of how these concepts have infiltrated and evolved in architecture and literature over the last couple of centuries, including J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, John Foxx’s The Quiet Man, and the exotic jungles of Brazilian LA Roberto Burle Marx, placed in direct contraposition to the hard-edged concrete edifices of early modernism.
From Hatherley’s article we can easily postulate a couple of questions Contemporary PHRWEEU practitioners will have to contend with as this burgeoning discipline defines itself. How is PHRWEEU different from these historical examples? How can it differentiate itself from the co-opted versions demonstrated in Hatherley’s argument of the political offsetting of sustainable design?
As for the questions about political offsetting, I think Hatherley makes a strong argument for rethinking the role of the ‘green’ in ‘green design.’ When speaking about the living facades now in vogue, Hatherley suggests that
this is a remarkable transparent semiotic strategy, wherein by sticking natural materials onto a building’s fa├žade, the impression is given that it is somehow in tune with nature rather than a hugely expensive, unsustainable waste of energy and resources. It is by no means clear that renewable technology itself is so picturesque.

It reminds me of a recent comment on archinect which offered a critique of MVRDV’s latest competition winning entry regarding the weight of the soil and planting, the additional strain it will place on the buildings structure, and invoking Buckminster Fuller’s approach to highly efficient, materially minimal structures. These arguments bring up another question for PHRWEEUrbanists: in the end, which approach is more sustainable?
MVRDV - Gwangyo Power Center, via Bustler

For the question about history, I would argue that what is different with the new PHRWEEU compared to the architectural fantasies of the Romantics (which would later inspire Speer’s theory of the ruin-value of architecture) is that what is now sought are strategies of immediate nature, immediate wildness, and immediate ‘ruination’ (for the last point listen to Libeskind describe his latest skyscraper for New York). PHRWEEU is looking to coexist with the natural world and encourage positive productive benefits through increased diversity, instead of allowing ruination be a state that is returned to after we obtain our use-value from a structure and abandon it to entropic processes.

Tune in later this week for more from PHRWEEU. Until then, I look forward to hearing comments, criticisms, questions, and suggestions from all of you.

Best Wishes and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 19, 2008


Theory 101

While you can find a plethora of treatises regarding sustainable design, the more extreme form of PHRWEEU is an emerging phenomenon. Still, Post Humanist Rewilded Eco Ethical Urbanism is exhibited in many recent articles, projects, and competitions, which I am sure that you are all familiar with--probably much more so than me. There are two articles that I particularly want to discuss to provide a background of PHRWEEU: Stefano Boeri’s “Down From the Stand: Arguments in Favor of a Non-Anthropocentric Urban Ethics,” published in the first issue of New Geographies, which discusses a lot of the ideas floating around and the issues involved; and Owen Hatherly’s “Living Facades – Green Urbanism and the Politics of Urban Offsetting,” published in MONU’s Exotic Urbanism issue. In this post I will discuss Boeri’s article.

Boeri writes:

The support for a non-anthropocentric ethical outlook implies the application of a new idea of urbanity, seen as humanity located within a spatial context where cohabitation with the kaleidoscope of life is sought not a preordained hegemony of power. This implies an equal distribution of conditions linked to social mobility, experimentation with the cohabitation of different species, and building a different relationship with the components of the natural world. We need to think about an urban politics based on inclusion, which protects principles and values that affect the future of the whole planet and its ecosystems.
Boeri then goes on to describe three potential strategies for this new urban politics: re-naturalization of urban spaces, cohabitation with various animal species, and finally, to develop a new understanding of human relations which learn from these ideas of bio-diversity and bio-politics and deal with issues of globalization and increased diversity and social mobility. The first two strategies sum up what a lot of the projects that have inspired the idea of PHRWEEU—projects like Farmadelphia by Front Studio and City Zoo by Liam Young (Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today).

A key concept of Boeri’s article and these recent projects is the idea of rewilding, from the field of conservational biology. Wikipedia defines rewilding as “passive and active activities intended to result in the reintroduction of extirpated or once-native species back into natural landscapes.” A more extreme version of rewilding is called Pleistocene rewilding, the subject of a recent WIRED article. According to WIRED, “Today, the idea that you can use those same animals, or modern analogs like elephants and Przewalski's horses, to restore an ancient ecosystem is called rewilding, and it goes far beyond conservation. In theory, we could re-create conditions that last existed when mammoths walked the earth and the environment was healthier and more diverse.” Many PHRWEEU designs are looking to do just that—restore urban environments to their natural states by re-introducing flora and fauna to those ‘blighted’ areas.

Boeri’s last strategy is important to keep in mind—let’s make sure that the new PHRWEEU does not distract us from working to reduce the inequalities and injustices that still exist within the human race.


What Humanism means to me is an expansion, not a contraction, of human life, an expansion in which nature and the science of nature are made the willing servants of human good.
John Dewey, What Humanism Means to Me
There is no denying the fact that we are entering a new design epoch. We have seen the zeitgeist, and it is green*. While just a couple of years ago you could still claim to not be interested in sustainable design these days those words would be considered blaspheme. Over the past several years a steady stream of design conjecture has given rise to a new design paradigm which attempts to recalibrate the (not so) delicate (im)balance between us (humans) and the rest of the world (everything that is not us or produced by us, but more than likely is probably consumed by us); an attempt to place us within the ecosystem rather than over it.
This demonstrates a much different attitude towards the world and our place in it than has previously been exhibited. According to John Dewey, the great American philosopher, humanism means bending nature to our will. This attitude prevailed during the last couple of centuries and has gotten us to the sorry state of affairs we have arrived at today. Global warming, peak oil, environmental degradation, mass extinction; the list goes on and on. Artists, architects, landscape architects, and urbanists have been rising to these challenges in a methodology that goes over and beyond mere sustainable design. Much like the radical shift in thought from a geocentric to a heliocentric model this means a displacement of humans from the center of the design and development ethos (or at least a sharing of the center?). Over the next few posts I will look at the theoretical underpinnings and various strategies of this new movement, which I am calling:


More catchy than “sustainable”, right?

*Why green? Why not blue, or white? Are vibrant blue skies and crisp white snow capped peaks also not important?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mines || The Last Frontier?

Diavik Mine, Canada, via NPR
It's hard not to look at a photograph of a mine and get inspired. Well, maybe mortified as well, but, yes, somehow strangely inspired. Maybe it is the megastructuralist that lies within...I mean, look at these images of Diavik Mine in Canada, featured in an NPR article today. They look like a land_art-megastructuralists wet dream: a massive earthen superstructure just waiting to be infilled, modulated, and plugged-in. Actually, if you flip through Justus Dahinden's Urban Structures for the Future, many of the projects resemble the mine's not so subtle topographic deformations (both innies and outties). Take Chaneac's Crater City for example. It is basically a series of man-made mines served straight up.
Chaneac's Crater City (1968) via Athens 9

Of course the catastrophic transformation of the earth's surface that occurs as a result of mining's processes are awesome, surreal, and sublime. NPR's article says that to create the Diavik Mine they "had to drain a lake and then build a 2.5-mile dike in order to create an open-pit mine." I am reminded of John McPhee's passage in Assembling California which describes the rapid progression of mining technology in California, from pan handling to hydraulic sluice mining, and how drastically it transformed the landscape:
As the mine tailings travel in floods, they thicken stream beds and fill valleys with hundreds of feet of gravel. In their bleached whiteness these gravels will appear to be lithic glaciers for a length of time on the human scale that might as well last forever. In a year and a half, hydraulic mining washes enough material into the Yuba River to fill the Erie Canal...Broad moonscapes of unvegetate stream-rounded rubble conceal the original land.
The NPR article says that "The Canadian government has stringent environmental controls and required precise details about how the mining will affect the wildlife and the countryside. Diamond companies also have to show how they're going to close their mines safely even before they're open." (emphasis mine) That is an interesting fact for artists and architects interested in intervening on such a large scale. Land Artists such as Robert Smithson come to mind, as well as Landscape Architects such as Alan Berger's Drosscapes and Shlomo Aronson's Negev Phosphate Works. Smithson once said that
the world needs coal and highways, but we do not need the results of stip-mining or highway can become a resource, that mediates between the ecologist and the industrialist.
Mirny Diamond Mine, Serbia, via Reformers and Puritans
How else can we envision the use and renewal of the industrial process of mining? I'm interested in learning more about this, so if you know of any interesting examples please let me know. One thought that comes to mind relates to my earlier comments about megastructures. Since there is actually a lot of mining and quarrying takes place in urban and suburban areas, can we envision the possibility of creating new geographies of domestic occupation?
Herbert Bayer, drawing of Mill Creek Canyon
Herbert Bayers' drawings for his Mill Creek Canyon earthwork offer a poetic vision of the prosaic operation of cut-and-fill tht could offer a solution. How about taking the excavated earth and create new urban topographies? We could vastly increase our inhabitable surface with this technique. Take a look again at the Diavik mine photos--each step in that mine is 100 feet tall, tall enough for a 7-10 story building. Start by constructing a habitable mountain from the refuse as the mine is excavated and then once the mine is tapped, fill it in and create a light-filled subterranean city. In the end maybe it would look something like this.

What Buildings Make You Want to Jump?

Ever wish that buildings would just move a little more? Instead of picking up a gun why not just come at it with the parallax attack? Do like the traceurs and turn buildings into your own artful obstacle course and maybe that will do the trick. I know parkour has been around for a while so I'm not introducing anything new, but the video I just found on JDS' blog of people jumping all over PLOT's Mountain Dwellings in Copenhagen is pretty entertaining so I want to share it with all of you.

It also made me think that maybe architects should join other professions and come up with a new useless statistic, say an annual "Top Ten Buildings that make you want to Trace, Climb, or Jump."

So now I ask all of you: What buildings most inspire you to jump, crawl, climb, tace, run, walk, or dance on them?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

EcoCity Policy Study :: China - United States

From ecocity media I learned that the US and Chinese governments are teaming up to do a ten year study on EcoCity Policy, or Ten Year Energy and Environment Cooperation, as they call it.

Part of the agreement includes the creation of strategic EcoPartnerships between US and Chinese corporations and academic institutions:
  • Building upon the announcement made at SED IV, the United States and China signed the Framework for EcoPartnerships under the Ten Year Framework, aimed at developing new models for energy security, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability in both countries. The following seven initial EcoPartnerships were announced:
    • Energy Future Holdings Corp. and China Huadian Corporation;
    • Denver, Colorado, USA, Ford Motor Company and Chongqing, China, Changan Auto Group Corporation;
    • Wichita, Kansas, USA and Wuxi, Jiangsu, China;
    • Floating Windfarms Corporation and Tangshan Caofeidian New Development Area, Hebei, China
    • Port of Seattle, Washington, USA and Dalian Port Corporation, Liaoning, China;
    • Greensburg, Kansas, USA and Mianzhu, Sichuan, China; and
    • Tulane University and East China Normal University (ECNU).
Specifically regarding EcoCities, the agreement states:
The United States, through the Department of Energy, and the People's Republic of China, through the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Construction, agreed to conduct an EcoCity policy study, strengthen capacity building, promote science and technology development, and design an EcoCity demonstration project under the Ten Year Framework;
(emphasis mine)

hmmm...I wonder how I can get on board to help design the EcoCity demonstration project...that sounds awesome!