Dec 4,2010

"…if left to its own devices, and deprived of access to the larger political system, the arrival city will generate a defensive politics of its own. In Brazil, it took the form of the drug gang. In Mumbai, it is Hindu nationalism. In the arrival cities of Europe, Islamic extremism. The arrival city wants to be normal, wants to be included. If it is given the resources to do so, it will flourish; without them, it is likely to explode. The arrival city is not a static, fixed place. Rather, it is a dynamic location headed on a trajectory. It is within our power to decide where that trajectory leads."

From: Arrival City: The final migration and our next world, by Doug Saunders (2010; pg 75).

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Q

Nov 21,2010

West Edmonton Mall vs. South Edmonton Common
Both of these (google) map extracts are equivalent scale. 

West Edmonton Mall vs. South Edmonton Common

Both of these (google) map extracts are equivalent scale. 



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P

Historical Research - WEM

So, the project has started a little slowly, but I managed to get a copy of a facts & figures booklet for the mall at the Library.  Produced in 1988 it has a number of interesting facts that I wasn’t aware of:

  • The mall covers a piece of property equivalent to 24 city blocks or over 49 hectares (121 acres), is over a mile long, and with its two floors has a floor area of approximately 480,000 square metres or five million square feet. To put this into a little perspective (at least for me), I worked on the Calgary Courts Centre: which is 1 million square feet over 44 stories).  The sheer volume and area of WEM has set the scale of development in that area: block sizes are huge, streets are incredibly wide, and buildings (which are mostly single-family, small apartments and other big-box type stores) are built at a very low-density.  This is an area where walking to and from spaces is like imaging yourself in Le Corbusier’s Radiant City - sure, Le Corbusier thought about walking, by building sidewalks and speaking to ‘open space and greenery’ but as a pedestrian the large open spaces are inaccessible. 
  • the mall was built in three phases over a period of 4 years.  In each phase the mall doubled it’s size, adding more stores, but also recreation and entertainment in the last 2 phases.  This explains the mish-mash form of the mall, which does in all aerials (and when walking through) appear to be a succession of buildings and spaces that do not immediately relate to each other.  Development began in the east section of the mall, at 170 street, and spread west to 178 street over that 4 year period.  I’m going to look for aerials from that time period, but I’m guessing this was an edge condition in the city.  Beyond 178 street was probably mostly small housing developments, and not the built-fabric we see today at all (more to come).  The diversity in the mall’s built-form reflects the disjunction between the different time periods of development, and is not unlike the city itself where all parts do not necessarily meet at clean edges or appear to be a congruous blanket that has the same development type.  The city’s chaos is what is interesting to me, and where those moments of conflict between the different parts come together.  In google earth it appears to be a giant mass (the city and the mall), but in reality, it’s rises and falls are reflective of the movement in time.  
  • In 1988 there were 18 malls in the city (not counting St. Albert), today I count 10.  The building of WEM had a significant effect on where people in the city were spending their free shopping time - was it the draw of the large mall?  I’m going to say yes - but!  In the last 5 years or so (going by what I recall in shopping mall history in the city), many of the malls that managed to survive this last 22 years are starting another round of revitalization.  Southgate has completely redefined its image, drawing more ‘upscale’ clientele to a different range of stores.  Southgate is smaller, and has better and newer facilities (washrooms, decor, public spaces) in comparison to WEM.  Downtown has also revitalized itself, adding new stores to draw people and attempting to update some of its own facilities.  Both are accessible by the LRT, which makes it more accessible to teenagers, hipsters (who typically do not own vehicles) and seniors.  WEM has a major transit centre, but is mainly only accessible by bus and private vehicle.
  • West Edmonton Mall seems to be one of the last major public building projects in the city.  Since then, the activity of ‘shopping’ has been centered on more fringe projects - mostly South Edmonton Common, which is a collection of big-boxed stores spread over an area about equivalent to the area of WEM.

I think there’s some very interesting comparisons to make about time and relative size with other development in the city.  This will come. 

I think my first task is to start photographing.  I want to see what’s happening at the mall, and where this study can take me. 

Sources:

The Architectural Monolith of Edmonton

City of Edmonton, Department of Planning and Development. West Edmonton Mall Facts and Figures, August, 1988.



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T

Nov 14,2010

New Research

Now that my thesis is over, it is time for me to move on to that pesky internship and finding out what I’m really interested in. 

For my thesis I focused on global issues - how informal settlements can be developed using their own architecture as the basis.  I studied the informality of spaces, how people use and adapt their own environment to support themselves, and how the informal settlements are self-supporting machines that exist because they are necessary for the survival of millions of people. 

Now, I’m in Edmonton, AB. 

Where do I go from here?  I think the largest realization from my research, especially looking at the work of Saskia Sassen and Rahul Mehrotra, is that people use and adapt both the formal and informal world in order to survive.  In informal settlements, survival is mostly economical - how to make enough money to survive in the moment and to send to family members who might still be in the rural environment.  In the formal city, physical infrastructure becomes a mere background to the economic activities that support survival, while in the informal city, the built-fabric is modified to fit specific, live-supporting activities. 

What about Edmonton?  In winter, this is a harsh, lonely place.  Sunlight lasts for 6 hours a day, and the wind penetrates to the bone (no matter what kind of winter jacket you have on or how heavy your toque is).  No wonder we have so many malls here (10 or so), which doesn’t even start to include the countless strip malls and conglomerations of big box stores that surround our city.  We live inside our homes, our vehicles and the large spaces dedicated to shopping…

In the summer everything change.  Our shopping streets fill with people, festivals brighten public spaces all summer long, the River Valley becomes a playground for cyclists, walkers and runner alike.  We escape to the long summer days (oh, 18 hours of sunlight or so), and a dry heat. 

It’s those 9 months of winter though that can really take their toll on people.  West Edmonton Mall, one of the largest malls in the world (not the largest anymore by far thanks to developments in Asia and the Middle East), becomes an escape for the masses.  Shoppers, walkers, layabouts, workers, kids, teenagers, animals….

Is the WEM a mere background to the informal activities that happen in it?  What is the image of the mall - the architecture or the people who use the space?  Using photography and observations my plan is to start documenting the activities that happen within the mall.  How people use space… how rules and order are bent in order to accommodate all the activities that happen in it… are there varying activities?  I think so, that is my hypothesis at this point.  I will see though, and will use this blog as the forum for my results.  Perhaps in a series….

Anyway, I think this will move forward into asking the largest question of all - is West Edmonton Mall more than just a mall, is it a public space that should be considered equal to what is downtown or near Whyte Avenue?  It exists on the fringe of the city, and while most of us ‘city folk’ hardly trek that far west to just go inside a mall (especially at Christmas), it is used by a huge amount of people (wikipedia tells me 60,000 to 150,000 people visit a day).  As a city we have to accept the existence of this place, and try to use it to the city’s advantage. 

Can I take my global knowledge and apply it locally?  Let’s see. 



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T

Sep 27,2010

"There is no romance in rural life. Rural living is the largest single killer today - the greatest source of malnutrition, infant mortality and reduced lifespans."

Canadian journalist Doug Saunders has written a book called “Arrival City.”  Like my thesis, it promotes the importance of informal settlements in urban centres, and their sophisticated networks that support new arrivals to the city as well as permanent residents who begin to change their own lives. 

There is some excerpts in the Globe and Mail (from this past weekend), go read it. 

Another great quote, similar to how I ended my own thesis: “The arrival city is a machine that transforms humans.  If allowed to flourish, it will be the instrument to create a permanently sustainable world.”



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Q

Sep 22,2010

"

Providing modern energy to the very poor—the population that the United Nations seeks to reach in its Millennium Development Goals program—would require an annual investment of about $41 billion per year over the next five years, or just 0.06 percent of global GDP, said the report.

Tackling the larger goal of universal energy access— reaching all 1.4 billion people who lack access to electricity and the 3 billion relying on unventilated and inefficient wood, charcoal, and dung cooking stoves—would require only a modest increase in carbon dioxide emissions, the report calculated. That’s because the amount of fuel needed to address basic needs is small, and the opportunities for using cleaner energy are great. If the world takes the problem on, by 2030, global electricity generation would be just 2.9 percent higher, oil demand would rise less than 1 percent and carbon emissions would be just 0.8 percent higher than the world’s current trajectory.

"

The Solvable Problem of Energy Poverty

A side note from this quote: “The UN has called for nations to set aside 70 cents of every $100 generated by their economic activity to fight poverty. But only five European countries now meet that level of giving, and the United States, which has never agreed to the target, spends no more than 20 cents per $100 of GDP.”



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Q
/ Energy povery / developing countries

Jul 30,2010

The second part of this article gets really interesting, where the author speaks about the influence destruction of natural systems can have on a climate.  When these wetlands were destroyed, it not only displaced people from the area (and ruined their livelihoods) but also caused the region to become warmer overall - evaporating water from the surface and destroying agriculture. 

In truth, Saddam was not interested in the farmers. His real goal was to harm the Madan, also known as the Marsh Arabs. For thousands of years, the marshes had been the homeland of this ethnic group and their cows and water buffalo. They lived in floating huts made of woven reeds and spent much of their time in wooden boats, which they guided with sticks along channels the buffalo had trampled through the reeds. They harvested reeds, hunted birds and caught fish.
When the fishermen backed a Shiite uprising against the dictator, the vindictive Saddam turned their “Garden of Eden” into a hell. He had thousands of the Marsh Arabs murdered and their livestock killed. Any remaining water sources were poisoned and reed huts burned to the ground. Many people fled across the border into Iran to live in refugee camps, while others went to the north and tried to survive as day laborers. By the end of the operation, up to half a million people had been displaced.
via spiegel online

The second part of this article gets really interesting, where the author speaks about the influence destruction of natural systems can have on a climate.  When these wetlands were destroyed, it not only displaced people from the area (and ruined their livelihoods) but also caused the region to become warmer overall - evaporating water from the surface and destroying agriculture. 

In truth, Saddam was not interested in the farmers. His real goal was to harm the Madan, also known as the Marsh Arabs. For thousands of years, the marshes had been the homeland of this ethnic group and their cows and water buffalo. They lived in floating huts made of woven reeds and spent much of their time in wooden boats, which they guided with sticks along channels the buffalo had trampled through the reeds. They harvested reeds, hunted birds and caught fish.

When the fishermen backed a Shiite uprising against the dictator, the vindictive Saddam turned their “Garden of Eden” into a hell. He had thousands of the Marsh Arabs murdered and their livestock killed. Any remaining water sources were poisoned and reed huts burned to the ground. Many people fled across the border into Iran to live in refugee camps, while others went to the north and tried to survive as day laborers. By the end of the operation, up to half a million people had been displaced.

via spiegel online



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P

Jun 29,2010

Hey everybody,
So for the last month or so (or longer), I’ve been pretty hush-hush about my thesis work.  Not a secret at all, I was had to take some steps backward, and then push beyond what I had completed at the end of April. 
This is an image of one of three ‘methods’ for working with the fabric of the informal settlement, what I called the Appropriation in my presentation, but what has transformed into the Line.  Basically the act of taking an existing building, taking ownership of it, and then transforming the structure from a temporary to permanent.  The Line comes from mimicking the fabric of the street, a long market driven street at grade with living spaces above. The above is the end of the structure, where it meets a square used by the community of Koliwada. 

Hey everybody,

So for the last month or so (or longer), I’ve been pretty hush-hush about my thesis work.  Not a secret at all, I was had to take some steps backward, and then push beyond what I had completed at the end of April. 

This is an image of one of three ‘methods’ for working with the fabric of the informal settlement, what I called the Appropriation in my presentation, but what has transformed into the Line.  Basically the act of taking an existing building, taking ownership of it, and then transforming the structure from a temporary to permanent.  The Line comes from mimicking the fabric of the street, a long market driven street at grade with living spaces above. The above is the end of the structure, where it meets a square used by the community of Koliwada. 



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P
"In 2009, 327 Multifunctional Platform businesses generated $275,000 for rural residents. UNDP and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will install 1,400 new Platforms between 2010 and 2015 in Burkina Faso, benefitting 2.5 million people. Women who have invested in a Multifunctional Platform enterprise become more active in their community, showing up at meetings and pressing for change. They often use their extra revenue to contribute financially to community investments, such as the construction of new schools and kindergartens and the repair of wells."

Burkina Faso - Affording Women Opportunity through Simple Technology

How the simple installation of diesel-powered electricity in a community can transform the lives of many by giving them more time to pursue other interests in life.   



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Q

Jun 23,2010

Fixing a Road in Johannesburg: 26′10 Architects on Informal Architecture

This is a pretty relevant interview for me, and reveals some truths about attempting to work with informal settlements. 

It’s a pretty long article, but this is a section about 26′10 Architects actually attempting to complete a project.  I think it’s interesting because the ‘reuse’ of an existing building was actually one of the methods I proposed for providing space for program in the settlement of Dharavi. 

Can you tell me about the cinema project you worked on in Soweto?
TD: Yes. And that’s the project we formed our working relationship approach around. It was really down to budget—basically there was just no money. What we were asked to do is reinvent or reimagine this building that was a cinema for many years in Soweto. For forty-eight years it was really a cultural meeting point, and also the social life of the community. It was burned down and the building was stolen, literally, in a couple of weeks. It was just ripped apart. Once it was set alight people just recycled the building into their own houses. The context that we had to work in was mind-boggling. You very much start to question your role as architect as you experience the fragility of the context. We designed a scheme that was really additive, that could be done over many years, in phases, and tied to more cultural events. And even for that there wasn’t money. And we just thought, well, the sessions we had in our office, we’ll just transfer some of them to Soweto in order to recreate the place of cultural happening. And so weirdly, the site sort of regained its cultural significance. And then it got its own life again, and people started performing in it again.
Are they still using it?
TD: Not really. We had been lobbying the city government to at least secure the ruin, which they haven’t done, and the community itself has eventually decided to destroy it because at night it was a very dangerous place. So the front part of the ruin’s now collapsed. It’s a spectacular failure in many regards, but it also taught us some very valuable and hard lessons—you know, the limits of architecture and how it can actually just become a big liability sometimes. The building has to be staffed, programmed, managed, and this takes skill and money, which was exactly the lack. So we realized that in this context buildings and institutions need to grow around people’s needs and capacity, they need to evolve and be more adaptable. This is a fundamentally different insight into architecture which is taught, practiced, and mythologized as timeless, fixed, and finite….

It’s not a problem unique to South Africa. We were at a conference in London where a bunch of artists complained about exactly that. The government-sponsored Bilbao effect requires this spectacular building and these grand institutions, but it swallows up so many resources that could actually be used to stimulate real cultural invention. And in the South African case we have some real new hybrid post-apartheid identities to be formed. It’s not in the Tate Modern where new culture gets created, or the Guggenheim. That’s where established culture is portrayed. But new culture is created in the very in-between spaces, the most unlikely spaces. And it’s created by people, not by buildings.

AG: The main concept of that project was that the architecture follows the program. It’s not like the white elephant where you first have the building and then you try and put the program in. The idea was basically starting with the artifacts that were found on-site, just securing the ruin and leveling the floor. We worked on a dance and film program over five years that would increase in density and that would also sort of emerge. But unfortunately we could not get anybody to sponsor the money to secure the ruin. In fact, available city resources were all tied up in the construction of a symbolic square being built nearby to commemorate the signing of the Freedom Charter in 1956.

Therefore we ended up just painting a wall white and having a mobile film resource unit projecting movies. And it was absolutely magical, and exactly what the community asked for—it was bringing the cinema back to the area. It didn’t actually need a building, it just needed a projector and a film. If we had waited for the funding that never arrived there would never have been another film shown on this site.

That was a very important lesson for our practice. Architects are all trained to design these icon buildings all the time, but in fact one has to take a step back and think, what does the community need, and what can actually have the biggest impact with the minimal resources to be spent?

Via ArchDaily



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T