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The London Evolution Animation

Human-ities · Performativity · Philosophy · Public Space

What Urban Planners Can Learn From a Hindu Religious Festival

What they don’t tell you about Varanasi, probably India’s holiest city, is that in addition to being filled with sacred temples, mischievous monkeys and bearded ascetics, it’s also full of waste of all kinds: mountains of fetid cow and other, much worse kinds of dung, muddy tributaries of dubious origin, mounds of fast-decaying flowers, shards of shattered clay cups. As I left the utter squalor of Varanasi, a permanent and ancient city of four million, for a temporary religious celebration of even more people nearby, I could only imagine the enormous crowds, inescapable filth and utter chaos that it would produce.

It was January, and I was headed 80 miles west to the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, a Hindu religious festival in which tens of millions of pilgrims come together at the convergence of two real rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna, and one mythical stream, the Saraswati. They stay for all or part of a celebration—this year’s would last 55 days—that is the largest single-purpose human gathering on earth.

In the mythology of the Kumbh Mela, gods and demons fought for 12 days over a pitcher (kumbh) of nectar of immortality from the primordial ocean, and the nectar spilled onto the earth at four different places, including Allahabad. The gathering (mela) takes place every three years at one of the four locales in a 12-year cycle—a day of the gods’ time corresponds to a year of human time—with the largest (maha) celebration in Allahabad. The first written record of its occurrence dates to the seventh century A.D.

Excerpt from an article written by Tom Downey at the Smithsonian. Continue THERE

Architectonic · Design · Social/Politics

Weaponised Forms

“Every room is a new battle. […] Avoid cities if you can. If you can’t, avoid enemy areas. If you can’t do that, avoid entering buildings.”— Israeli officer quoted in US Army urban warfare manual, as reported by Vernon Loeb

Avoid cities if you can. I can’t find the original source for this quote, but it has made its way into both Disarming Iraq and The Resilient City, where I first read it. It certainly is an evocative sound-bite, so I really hope someone actually said it. As P.D. Smith explains in his ‘guidebook for the urban age,’ cities were always designed as war machines. The original meaning of polis was ‘citadel,’ and the very form of early cities was carved out by “the defensive wall,” their “most prominent and visible feature.” He continues,

“Elaborate fortifications turned early cities into military machines – soaring watchtowers, gates protected by symbolic lions and bulls, battlements, walls wide enough for three chariots, ramparts, moats and ditches.”

While modern urban warfare has moved on from the simple symmetries of fighting off the enemy at the gates, today’s city is no less a war machine. Indeed, war has now seeped inwards, splintering the citadel a thousand ways.

Excerpt from a text by Jad Baaklini via The State. Continue HERE

Architectonic · Design · Social/Politics

The Gruen Effect: The birth of the shopping mall and how a displaced architect accidentally changed American cities

Victor Gruen was maybe the most influential architect of the twentieth century: He is regarded as the father of the shopping mall. How fundamentally his concept would change the world was something that not even this immigrant from Vienna, who was noted for thinking big, could have foreseen. In the nineteen fifties, Gruen built large-scale “shopping towns” in the suburban sprawl of the United States. Based on the model of European city centers they were not only to facilitate shopping but also to strengthen social ties in the isolated suburbia with a mix of commercial and social spaces. However, in the context of an increasingly consumption- and speculation-driven economy the polyfunctional shopping center turned into a gigantic sales machine, which had a formative impact on the development of cities all around the globe. Thus, in architecture, the Gruen Effect describes the maelstrom introduced by seductively designed sales spaces that makes us give up purposeful shopping and get lost in the shopping experience. Since the principles of the shopping mall have little by little been transferred to downtown areas, today this phenomenon produces the city as the place of commercialism, the staging of lifestyle, distinction and event; it outlines the creation of a type of downtown, which serves the gods of consumer culture and defines consumption as the prime principle of urban planning. Text via.

A documentary directed by Anette Baldauf and Katharina Weingartner.

Via The Fox is Black

Architectonic · Human-ities · Social/Politics

Urbanization Is Not the Problem (Dealing With It Is)

While the rest of the world is urbanizing, Latin America is urbanized. The region has four of the world’s 19 megacities (cities with populations over 10 million people) and 78% of all its people currently live in urban areas. Latin America’s concerns over urbanization, therefore, are based on the substantial amount of people currently in cities as opposed to the anticipation of populations to come. For example, of the one billion increase cities will experience by 2025, the United Nations estimates Latin America will only add about 127 million to its population. This is not insignificant for sure, but the slower rate of urbanization does change the nature in which urban planning occurs.

Excerpt of an article by Vanessa Leon, at Urban Times. Continue HERE

Architectonic · Art/Aesthetics · Projects · Public Space · Sonic/Musical

Unfinished Modernisations – Between Utopia and Pragmatism

Unfinished Modernisations is a collaborative, long-term research platform on architecture and urban planning. It brings together partners from both institutional and non-institutional sectors from South-Eastern Europe: TrajekT, (Slovenia), Umetnostna galerija Maribor (Maribor Art Gallery) (Slovenia), the Croatian Architects’ Society and the Institute for Contemporary Architecture, Zagreb (Croatia), the Belgrade Architects Society, Belgrade (Serbia) and the Coalition for Sustainable Development, Skopje, (Macedonia). The initiators and authors of the concept of the project are Vladimir Kulić and Maroje Mrduljaš.

The project is aimed at fostering interdisciplinary research on the production of built environment in its social, political and cultural contexts. It encompasses the countries that succeeded former Yugoslavia, spanning the period from the inception of the socialist state until today. The topic of the 14 researches is the way in which divergent concepts of modernization conditioned architecture, territorial transformations, and urban phenomena. The project seeks to detect effective, resilient, and socially responsible models of architecture and urban planning in socialist Yugoslavia and its successor states. Special attention is going to be paid to critical re-reading of modernization processes and contextualization of local architectural and urban planning concepts within the framework of international evolution of architectural discourse. While largely unexplored and lacking appropriate interpretation, many of the models created in the region were original and experimental and may be used as inspiration for a progressive current practice both inside and beyond the regional borders. The project also seeks to reconstruct an important segment of the shared history of Central and South-Eastern Europe and to strengthen cross-cultural respect and understanding through trans-national collaboration and mobility.

Unfinished Modernisations will be carried out through a variety of activities: 14 researches, 5 conferences (Zagreb, Skopje, Beograd, Split, Maribor), exhibitions, publications, and interactive web-site/blogs. All these efforts will culminate in a final exhibition in Maribor (Slovenia), the 2012 Cultural Capital of Europe, which will give the project broad European exposure.

Text and Image via Unfinished Modernisations