At the turn of the 19th century, a British publishing house would release a book written by an English urban planner – a book with an optimistic title. The title of this book was To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, later reprinted as Garden Cities of To-morrow. The English urban planner in question was Ebenezer Howard – and this book would lay the foundations for what would later become known as the Garden City Movement. This movement would go on to produce green suburbs praised for their lofty aims, but it would also produce satellite communities that only catered to a privileged few.
An online search away from any computer are eye-level views of many of the world’s cities. This technology is powerful – allowing people to have an in-depth look at the cities they might one day visit, live in, or work in. It’s a useful tool for understanding buildings on a more comprehensive level than photographs. This technology is, of course, Google Street View – which recently turned fifteen years old.
A lot of people around the world would agree that we are currently in a climate emergency. The IPCC report, released last year, makes for difficult reading. Practitioners in the built environment have taken to direct climate action, with organizations such as ACAN and Architects Declare fostering carbon literacy and calling for designers to re-evaluate how they practice.
It’s an essential architectural element, one we tend to immediately take note of when we look at buildings new to us – the roof. The roofs that shelter the buildings we see in our cities today are diverse in their typology. Flat roofs are a common sight in the city centers of urban metropolises, hip roofs are a popular choice for dwellings around the world, and the gable roof is arguably the most common of all, a roof type popular in stylized depictions of what a standard house looks like.
When cities grow, fuelled by an expanding population, housing becomes an essential component of the urban character of a metropolis. Across the world, housing experiments have been propagated by governments and states, with mixed results, and undoubtedly mixed opinions. The Soviet-era housing estates of Central and Eastern Europe are particularly interesting in that regard. These mass housing projects have been dismissed as eyesores and viewed as unimaginative monolithic structures. The legacy of these developments, however, is a lot more complicated than that.
Almost seven kilometers from the green of Uhuru Park in central Nairobi, lies the informal settlement of Kibera. It is an area whose urban character consists of corrugated iron roofs, mud walls, and a complicated network of utility poles. Kibera, at this point in time, is a well-known place. Much has been written and researched on this “city within a city,” from its infrastructural issues to its navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In New Mexico, irrigation channels that have been in continuous operation for three centuries replenish and nourish the wetlands of the American Southwest. These channels are known as Acequias – communally managed water systems built on democratic tradition. Members of the community own water rights, who then elect a three-person team to oversee the channels. In Cairo and Barcelona, Tahrir Square and Plaza de Catalunya have acted as important sites for voicing political dissatisfaction. The Tahrir Square protests of 2011, for instance, resulted in the eventual toppling of an almost 30-year-old government.
There’s the iconic Cenotaph for Newton drawing, the evocative monochrome illustration by Etienne-Louis Boullée. There are the experimental drawings of Lebbeus Woods, evocative urban visions of a distant future. There are also the well-known drawings of Le Corbusier’s utopian Ville Radieuse. Drawing, and in turn architectural visualizations, have always been a useful medium with which to contemplate architectural concepts of the future. It is fascinating to look back at the architectural visualizations of the future done in the past.
It’s a ubiquitous architectural form. An architectural typology that spans centuries and borders, a staple across cultures. The tent. In its simplest form – it’s a shelter, with material draped over a frame of poles. It’s an architectural language that is intrinsically linked to nomadic living. Yurts, for instance, functions as an easily portable dwelling for the Kazakh and Kyrgyz peoples. At the same time, tents have proved a popular stylistic precedent for architects, the lightweight structures of German architect Frei Paul Otto being a case in point. The tent is a complicated architectural language – one that straddles the line between temporary and permanent, and one that also functions as a symbol of wealth and a symbol of scarcity.
The 22nd of March 2022 saw the twenty-ninth commemoration of World Water Day – as a worldwide water crisis continues to leave populations vulnerable. It is an extremely multi-faceted issue. Governance sadly determines water accessibility, with marginalized people disproportionally affected. Urban typologies are another factor. The over-pumping of groundwater sources to meet the water demands of Hanoi, for instance, has resulted in arsenic being drawn into Vietnam’s village wells.