Wednesday, August 27, 2008

project-sky meets hong kong

The North coast of an island and the South portion of a peninsula. A sea which separates them and hundreds of transport connection which deal with ISOLATION. This isolated condition of either British or Chineses controlled Hong Kong has always played a role on its urban growth as the Factory of Europe, as well as developed a complex infrastructure for aeroplanes and ships. As a paradox, Communist China let more amount of its citizens travel to Honking, in order that they buy loads of former forbidden articles to make Hong Kong capitalist economy survive to eventual market crisis.
This consume fever is felt everywhere in the city: western people who try to find quality at better prices and eastern people who can access to unusual products.

The growth of Hong Kong is sum up in its spectaculars and advertisements; the first and smallest ones are attached to building façades, whereas the street void has been more and more invaded by new lights, signs, letters, neon and pictograms. Open street space has led to a virtual advertising ceiling / wall. A constant battle between each side of any street struggling to conquer the middle line.

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Hong Kong and Kowloon both turned the rain-forest landscape into a mountain and a valley filled with dwelling towers. Most impressive are the hills which have been obliged to lodge inhabitants into terraced streets and areas of sea surface which have been dried up for shopping surfaces. Stairs, ramps, and slopes are everywhere; as a result, horizontal itineraries become vertical climbing trips through the city-jungle.

A huge elevated escalator which cross over 10 streets tries to solve this handicap to mobility, as typhoons remain the only ones who can stop people from keeping on buying...

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Friday, August 22, 2008

S-MTA : Sky - Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Meanwhile, in NY, I was walking down Kenmare St. in Soho and ran into this mirror lying on the edge of a step. It was placed in a certain way that when you walked past through it, it seemed to be a big bright hole towards a cloud-filled underground world.

This kept me wondering and made me realize of that 3rd dimension previously discussed with Joseph Grima. We are living over solid ground, and other than subways and rats, there is nothing but rocks and soil.

(See crust)

Wouldn't it be great if you could find random sky-holes throughout the city just as we do subway entrances, only these lead not to a parallel position to where you stand, but to an upside down world where everything is foreign and undiscovered. Think Alice in Wonderland's rabbit-holes strategically placed along the city.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Joseph Grima on Project-Sky

During our time in NY, we sat down with New York-based architect and researcher Joseph Grima, director of Storefront for Art and Architecture. This becomes the first of a series of interviews to be done regarding Project-Sky and other relevant subjects that surround it. The result was an overwhelming insight on megacities, their future, and its inhabitants. Enjoy!

JG: Joseph Grima
JME: Jose Manuel Esparza
DFP: Daniel Fernandez Pascual
AU: Alvaro Urbano

JME: Being that you've lived in both London and New York, What are your thoughts on these cities and how would you say you relate to them?

JG: Something that I was thinking the other day, is how there is this whole new generation of people who don't necessarily spend their time in one city. They maybe live in NY but they spend just as much time elsewhere, but always inside cities and never outside the city. There's this coexistence of 2 worlds, the city and the extracity, which are not in 2 different places, there not distinct territories but they're kind of completely mixed up one and the other. The cities are just connected by airports and you can go fluidly from one to the other, skipping everything that's in between. And what emerges is a perception of something that goes even beyond the megalopolis. It's just one massive global city that you can flow between with very little consciousness of whatever's around it.

One of the things it think is really interesting about your project is that it exposes the fact that this is a very thin layer, they’re just like dots on the surface of the globe and even these dots are just 2 dimensional, totally horizontal all you have to do is look up and you are exposed to the fact that reality is 3 dimensional and that there’s kilometers and kilometers of air above, and there’s earth underneath you and you’re just kind of captured within this 2 dimensional reality that you assume to be almost limitless; and when your inside the city it could be continuous urbanism from here all the way to Berlin or to London for all that we know.

DFP: Regarding the different conceptions of societies and cities like London or NYC which 20 years ago were used as reference models for political or architectural movements to the world, and the fact that probably 10 years from now we’ll be living like Shanghai, and use this as a model for western societies, being they have lived a very concentrated development which we have lived in Europe or in the US in 100 years rather than in 5; Which differences would say they’ll be in the future for architecture and urbanism in the world? Who will copy who?

JG: One interesting thing is the semantic issue which relates to the word city. I think the word itself forms a lot of ideas of where we are, but if you think of one interesting fact, in some recent years there’s been this big whole tendency to try and look for a new word. Words like “conurbation” or “metropolitan region”. This kind of idea of something that’s not a city and is more than a city. It’s a region and at the same time not -a region traditionally would be rural in part- but this actually is a metropolitan region. So it’s something that’s as big as a region but at the same time metropolitan. These are those things that simply didn’t exist in a matter of decades ago. So there’s a semantic issue of how to talk about these things., how to visualize them in our minds, because we’re not really equipped yet on an experiential basis to be able to define them or to describe them even, so this is kind of an initial problem.

The interesting thing I think is happening is that new social devices are being invented and are coming to influence in the way people experience these cities. I had an interesting conversation with
Minsuk Cho, architect from Seoul, which is one of the cities in Asia which is expanding most rapidly and is undergoing this very rapid, not in physical terms but rapid social evolution. The way people are living in the city as the city becomes progressively wealthier, and he was saying there’s this emergence, he did a project in which he proposed a new type of inhabitant. Instead of inventing a new type of building or a new type of city, he invented a new type of inhabitant who didn’t actually live in a single place, but would simply be engaged in this perpetual derived around the city in which he would sleep in hotel rooms that you can rent for a matter of hours, for blocks or for hours; not like prostitution hotels, but like capsule hotels, and all these public baths where you can go and not just to wash yourself, but there’s also yoga classes and gym classes and cultural events happening, and maybe this is a 30th floor of a skyscraper. There are all these public internet cafes where you can go and be completely connected to the rest of the world. You can go to the cinema and even there’s this kind of totally versatile fluid way of living the city. You can even earn a living by doing this without having a fixed job. So it’s quite an interesting project in which it reinvents not so much the physical nature of the city but the way that it’s experienced by its inhabitants. And I don’t think architects should be so presumptuous to think they can reinvent people’s lives, but I think there are ways in which the city can be rediscovered and reinvented in a way without actually engaging its physical structure. Without saying cities like Shanghai are in sustainable or like the Pearl River Delta needs to be transformed into a sort of, which is what Dubai does, it kind of tries to recreate the Manhattan experience of density and so on. And maybe that’s not the only model, maybe there are other models that are more interesting and I think that your point is very good, that actually the west is going to be learning from the east. And suburban America might learn from suburban China.

DFP: Do you think this global inhabitant is much more related to this megalopolis because airplanes put you in touch with a citizen much further away than with rural inhabitants? Do you think these two worlds borders will disappear?

I think it’s a problematic. This of course, is a very very small minority of the world that really can just go to the airport and get in a plane and go somewhere. It’s insanely complicated for most of the world’s population. On the other hand I think that human being is a little bit like this famous internet generation motto which is “information wants to be free”, and that’s kind of the principle which has driven the web 2.0 evolution in a way. Ultimately I believe that human beings and culture and bodies also want to be free, and I think that it’s going to become increasingly difficult to contain and draw fences around mobility.

DFP: In this context, do you see huge skyscrapers and buildings as an interruption to this communication era. Is the way the city is planned thought for its inhabitants or against its inhabitants?

I don’t think verticality in itself is a problem, I mean it’s extremely complex and I think it’s very much market driven. Related to what we were discussing before this idea of the idea of the emergence to the global city which is connected by whatever means of transportation. Within this global city you can imagine all this different districts. There’s the luxury district, the working district, the industrial district, the services district. So, in a way what is emerging is like the Asian cities which are the industrial productive districts from which all the goods are sent by ship to the rest of the world. Then there’s in India this kind of Services district with all the call centers and software development companies and so on where everything is kind of like the nerve center of the information network. And then there are places like Manhattan and London which are the chic residential neighborhoods. London even more than NY has become some quite shocking how it’s not for wealthy British, it’s for the wealthiest elite of the whole planet. The wealthiest people from every culture are there. And in NY as well, the only people who can really afford to buy in Manhattan are the ultra wealthy class, and of course what’s happening is, these cities are becoming huge gated communities were there’s much less social diversity, much less exchange. Even though Manhattan is in a way an incredibly socialist city, with its huge amount of tenement apartments with city-regulated rents and so on. It’s traditionally extremely socialist, and this is crumbling bit by bit. London doesn’t have any of that. It doesn’t have many of those social parachute safeguards. In London it’s even more extreme in a way. So in sense, I do think the architecture is a problem because the architecture that is being built here is all high rise luxury condos, that’s what NY is becoming famous for. And that’s very problematic for the urban fabric and what it implies.

DFP: Which role would public space or street play in the way these inhabitants live the city in relationship to these high condos?

I don’t think at the end of the day, the high condos are architecturally a problem, I think that verticality and density are ultimately a good thing. I think the problem is a lack of social mix. As soon as it becomes to flat, and when the average wealth is extreme, all sorts of problems start to occur because there’s a schism with the surrounding neighborhoods to go across the bridge to Brooklyn or New Jersey and your kind of object poverty and that kind of contrast always spells danger and unrest.

And then in terms the way the city is inhabited I think that one of the great things about NY, and they’re some really great things about this city that kind of continue to live on. Like the fact there are so many small independent bars and cafes like Epistrophy which are run by just one or 2 people who make a good living and reasonable money in very small spaces. Independent, being that they’re not part of chains, and that’s what really keeps the neighborhoods alive. Services that aren’t too elitist, they’re not like chic clubs but just reasonable cafes, restaurants and that sort of thing; at least in this neighborhood. That’s something that NY has been much better in preserving than London for example, where that sort of scale of operation is being completely wiped out by chains and by very large restaurants that have a lot of financial backing. But yes, I think the great advantage of cities with very long history is that they have a strong instinct of self preservation, they’re very good of keeping, and surviving the ups and downs, and changes and so on. I think the DNA of this city is strong enough to be able to overcome the onslaught of the luxury condos that’s currently undergoing. But I it’s a problem, everyone wonders how far you can push the whole system before it starts to crumble under some weight.

AU: Would you say that the barriers that obstruct us to see the sky are more physical or psychological?

I’d say defiantly psychological.

And what do we have to do to change it?

JG: I think that the interesting thing about your sky project is the fact that it blends verticality and horizontality. Human being, being vertical, has a horizontal outlook on the world and the sky is inherently horizontal so it’s kind of parallel existence to our own. It’s really amazing actually how the great thing about your project, and I think the thing that stands out in the photographs, is how incredibly strong the contrast is with the surroundings. Your mirror basically succeeds in chopping out some pieces of sky and bringing them down into horizontal, and I think it really awakens people to how remarkable the sky is. The light level on the sky is so infinitely greater than the light level in all the surroundings. I really enjoy that contrast, it’s kind of like a wakeup call, and I think they are many little ways that art and architecture can do. I think that’s the great thing about art and architecture. I don’t think it’s up to the individual to find a way to incorporate this into their daily lives, the awareness of the sky. I don’t think it’s something that can be imposed or that we can architecturally invent buildings with 45% mirrors and suddenly everybody’s lives are changed. But I think that what your project does is remind people to simply look up.

I don’t’ think we should be necessarily too critical because it could become hypocritical very quickly. I mean there are worst periods in history than what we’re living in -despite the enormous crisis we’re facing-. There’s a lot that can also be done to improve. I think ultimately human beings want self optimization. It is possible to find a balance were we can still appreciate the great things about life and the great things about existence such as the sky above our heads without going into some sort of moralistic attack on the city. I mean, cities are great, and if you have the privilege of being in the position where you can travel to 5 cities in 3 months and do an art project, I think we should also be very appreciative of that and not be too critical. But I really like what you’re doing. Injecting a little bit of sky in the city. It’s like an urban collage.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Project-Sky meets Shanghai

With the phrase “instant-city”, it could be easy to sum up the late 15 years of Shanghai history. Until modern days, the city's ancient structure of low-rise traditional dwellings had survived to the most severe communist times. Soviet-style dull blocks were to be raised only in the outskirts. However the market fever has brought with it 40-storey buildings which settle down door to door with ramshackle 1-storey houses.

Sky is no longer to be seen from the street but by the reflection over Hi-tech façades. Inside the almond of the Ancient city, sky seems to resist, but the Bund has lost plenty of battles, and Pudong Area lost the war. China decided this riverbank to be the world finance reference centre, a Chinese hot-spot born inside the Great China, in order to end with the envies of foreigner Hong Kong. With this, all-traditional workers’ dwellings suddenly disappeared to leave space for the highest towers ever in Asia.

Furthermore, the Government has already planned 50 new satellite cities around Shanghai area over 200,000 people each, in order to fulfill this Modernity Anxiety.

Meanwhile, locals keep on living as their ancestors did. The limit of their own public space is the inner block with its tiny alleys. The boundaries of the block are left for “shopping windows”, while the whole social life is done inside them. Little shops, standing bars, table-games between neighbors, grills, drying clothes, … behind the limit line of the block, as if they were afraid of what is going on out there.

With a “lack of everything”, they know how to survive with the minimum resources. As seen in their multiple electric bicycles -the means of transportation for everyday life, the equivalent of pick-ups in rural Mexico-. Either used as family transport, office, goods-trolley, or as spontaneous taxis for foreigners.

...We could not resist and we had to rent one of those "electricycles" to give sky away with the mirror all around the city!

Traditional Chinese people are afraid of losing their roots with all these new developments. New middle points between contemporary skyscrapers and local noodles are to be negotiated. Meanwhile, they will have to deal with unusual situations, such as the latest hybrid typology of ancient temples, whose ground floor works as a shopping mall.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Project-Sky meets Tokyo

Among an organized infinity of nameless tiny streets, Tokyo showed its more interesting side with its advertisements and spectaculars over each wall.
the idea of constant buying/selling of Mexico, but turning the shouts and music in the air ... into icons and colors over plastic.

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A lot of tiny 45 degree mirrors are to be added to these blooming landscapes in many different places of the city.

In a dense mass of inhabitants, the lack of excessive skyscrapers gives us an idea of the local problematic to develop verticality. Earthquakes and real state.
Both phenomenons clearly take place at Ginza district. The present traces of former small properties are still visible, at the extremely narrow high buildings. Furthermore, the engineering problematic of earthquakes makes these slim objects to be independently constructed, therefore 20cm-GAPS appear in between buildings. Multiple sky-fingers seem to touch the pavement.

ADVERTISING is building the other city. The most perceptive view comes from the landscape barriers of thousands of colorful bulbs and leds; this streetscape may result apparently attractive because of its abstract character for foreigners. However, it ends up with the perception of night and day, as if everything were 24 hours and the lightning atmosphere hardly changes.

Consequently, the consumer trends make informal strategies of appropriation of space appear. On one hand the analysis of Atelier Bow-Wow's Pet Architectures defines a series of MICRO buildings which try to use all expensive rest pieces of public space, such as extreme triangle corners, the narrowest gaps between buildings,... for new spontaneous uses.
On the other hand, the informal city of homeless movements make them settle down in the surroundings of peripheral highways, which has been called the BLUE PHENOMENON. Its ramshackle appearance is due to a high lack of building materials and resources, but their quality in space and urban design remains in their intrinsic Japanese sense of dwelling.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Project-Sky meets Sao Paulo

In the same way as Mexico city, Sao Paulo decided on an advertising nudeness for itself.
Nonetheless, the discovery came from the city-view from above. Its tighten and compact urban design reduces the sensation of skyscraper existence when walking down the street. High buildings are their own barriers from seeing more high buildings and you only realize it by reaching the top of any of them. The helicopter is the main means of transportation of the private sector, whereas the public transportation system remains stuck.
By the side of one of its stuck main highways a 45 degree parapet was covered with mirror so that citizens could recover the street as a living space, beyond urban security paranoia.

Never before had the sky had such an important presence like in this city.
Neither because of its clean air condition nor the small buildings.
The ultimate trend to end up with public space in Sao Paulo comes from HELICOPTERS.

Helipads in Sao Paulo

There are two clearly differentiated cities: the FORMAL and the INFORMAL, and "public space" as we know it, exists only in informal favelas -where everything has a more social condition-. On the contrary, the formal city, with its fear paranoia, decides to abandon the street to occupy the heights with concrete constructions. The higher somebody lives, the more powerful one becomes.
As a result of insecurity in the streets and of Mr. L.C. urbanism theories, it is hard to walk down the street. Public transportation gets stuck in endless traffic jams and the subway net is quite inefficient for this megalopolis.
Consequently, the city seen from above becomes a cloud of private H-helipads with infinite helicopters buzzing around these spots.

Fortunately, the government eliminated all kinds of advertising above Sao Paulo high buildings in 2007. As a paradox, some neighborhoods loose the only reference points whose dull urban planning could once offer.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Project-Sky meets Mexico City

Horizontal Mexico City lead us to analyze the barrier of the second floor of the Periferico (beltway), as one of the most important conditioners of urban commuting. The advertising-less highway may even reduce the sense of an advertised landscape. As another huge spectacular, a piece of Mexican-day sky was projected over the cathedral during night, as a divine miracle! The intense Mexican little-market condition of interchanging goods made us give sky for free among the tianguis of la merced, shouting near any other seller. "CIELO GRATIS!"

Projecting day-sky at night over a 10-story building:

The first gastronomic contacts with this city remind us again of this in-order chaos we lived time ago. 20 million people living above a huge dried series of lakes, make the whole city tremble and sink.

Mexico City is located near the southern end of the plateau of Anáhuac, at an altitude of c.7,800 ft (2,380 m). The horizons of the city are almost obscured by mountain barriers, and the peaks of Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl are not far off. The climate is cool and dry. Much of Mexico City's surrounding valley is a lake basin with no outlet, and in the past during the rainy seasons, mountain runoff swelled the lakes.

Original and current limits of lake Texcoco under Mexico city

From the time when the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán stood on an island in Lake Texcoco—now the heart of the metropolis—measures have been taken to protect the city and provide for expansion by draining Texcoco and the other lakes, Chalco and Xochimilco. In the 17th cent. the Spanish viceroys, notably Louis de Velasco, the younger, initiated important works. In 1900 a central canal was completed, this reached to the headwaters of the Pánuco River. The Caracol [Span. for snail], a 12-mi (19-km) spiral canal fed in turn by longitudinal canals begun in 1936, acts as an evaporating basin, from which valuable minerals are taken.

Drainage and artesian wells have lowered the water table so that the surface crust, formerly supported by subsoil water, can no longer sustain the city's heavier buildings, which are sinking some 4 to 12 in. (10.2–30 cm) a year. Some of Mexico's finest buildings have been damaged, among them the old cathedral (begun in 1553 on the site of an Aztec temple) and the Palace of Fine Arts. Modern office buildings have been shored up with pilings.

In addition to being built on soft subsoil, the city is located in a region of high seismic activity. Earthquakes in 1957 and 1985 caused substantial damage. Overcrowding has also become a major problem in Mexico City, and traffic concentrations, combined with the surrounding valley's atmospheric conditions and Popocatépetl's sulfur dioxide emissions, have resulted in heavy air pollution.

Measures have been taken to attack the pollution problem, and some progress has been made. Since 1989 automobiles have been required to stay off the roads one business day a week. The city's buses have been completely replaced, many major industries have had to convert to low-sulfur fuels, and the government closed the oil refinery.

(Columbia Encyclopedia)

"Peripheral landscapes", by arquitectura911sc:

It raining cats and dogs! Performance delayed!
The mirror needed some repairs and improvements, both on the structure, which we had to have it completely welded by a plumber, and on the strapes.
Contacts with Mexican relevant thinkers are on process to arrange interviews and meetings.
Meanwhile, we decide where to give away sky by eating quesadillas, tacos, tortas, licuados,...
Three sky-phenomenons are to be explored in this amazing and rainy city:

1. PERIFÉRICO (Beltway / Ring road)
skyview over the second level of the "periferico"

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more beltways round the world:

(from náhuatl "tianquiztli") it used to mean "market" for the people from Meso-America. Currently, it is the Mexican word for the public itinerant flea market, which settles down in the middle of the city. The word inherits market traditions from pre-Hispanic civilizations, as well as the Aztecs and the Bazars from Middle East, which arrived to America through the Spanish conquerors.
The Colony of San Felipe de Jesús or Tepito in the north of Mexico city are known to host the largest informal "tianguis" of the world.

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Dating from 200 BC to around 800 AD this 'City of the Gods' once had over 125,000 inhabitants, and was the first urban center in Meso-America. But it was abandoned in the 9th century for unknown reasons. Theories include disease or volcanic activity.

Teotihuacán as an extraordinary megalopolis of its time, an exception in Meso-America, if compared to other prehispanic ruins:

- ortogonality in its urban design. (not organic, and therefore, sacred)

- rain and human waste drainage through piping

- holy temples towards SKY, and organized by its configuration.

- domestic dwellings isolated from urban context. each unit should be self-sufficient, only keeping its connection to the sky through their patios. on the contrary, Mayan houses used to profit from open space.

According to Stansbury Hagar, the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacán, as well as Gizeh pyramids with the Nile, were designed as a MAP of the SKY in terms of urban planning; its main Avenue, the Avenue of the Dead, would represent the Milky Way.

MEETINGS about Mexico Urban Planning and conditions of SKY with Alejandro Hernández Gálvez and Iván-Ludens.