Category Archives: Thought

MSc Advanced Architectural Studies – graduate employability

A talk given at the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies – the “space syntax” MSc at University College London, 3rd September 2013.

Good evening, everyone.

Let me begin by paying tribute to the genius of Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. Not only for pioneering a theory – the theory – of architecture, but also for finding a way to teach it that has had such an effect on us all.

I’ve been asked to speak this evening about the issue of employability: does taking the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies either enhance or inhibit the job propsects of its graduates?

Here’s what I want to say:

First, I’d like to review the perceived problem of Space Syntax – why it’s sometimes viewed with skepticism and how that impacts at interview; second, the nonsense of this criticism: why do I even need to be up here to defend the course; third, the “Hang on, maybe there’s an element of truth here” moment; and finally a belief that we can’t rest on our laurels. Continue reading

AoU Landscape Urbanism notes & questions

These notes accompany a PowerPoint presentation Fragmented urbanism: the rise of Landscape Urbanism & the threat it poses to the continuously connected city

TS intro
This is a crucial moment for urbanism. In the UK, The Portas Review, highlighting the UK’s threatened high streets. Around the world, cities are growing faster than ever. But cities – as we knew them – are under threat.

First, from the car. Car-dependent urbanism is the principal form of urbanism on the planet. our cities have become so fragmented by road systems in the last century that it is now almost impossible not to be far dependent – not without a major demolition and reconnection programme.

Second, from designers, accepting of the car and intellectualising around this complicity.

The aim of this talk
I have been forming my own views about Landscape Urbanism and am looking to raise a discussion within the Academy of Urbanism and beyond. Do people agree with me? If so, how do we respond? If not, why not?

Summary of the Landscape Urbanism aesthetic
Parcels of grey wrapped by ribbons of green

Landscape Urbanism as anti-ecological
“If you have a culture that is fundamentally automobile-based, then an urban model that is anti-automobile is counterintuitive at best. There’s a strange precept these days that asserts that people will abandon their cars if we simply build cities that don’t accommodate them”.
Charles Waldheim

Notes
Island bio-geography.

Scale – JW.

Water.

Interim uses eg temporary food production. How can this be coded?

Layouts need to be walkable and workable.

Working with the grain of nature.

GRABS – green and blue spaces.

“It was good to find out about a new academic threat to good sense, and I very much agree with your doubts about the universal value of green space.

London Riots discussion at #lonconf

Darah Singh
Groups of rioters:
1. Motivators – of rioting
2. Aggressors – towards police
3. Late night shoppers

Simeon
Riots gave people unusual opportunities for power and control. Abnormal empowerment.

David Lammy MP
The risks of social & economic liberalism. Hyper individualism. The selfishness of greed. Poverty, choice, ethics, morality & vulnerability.

A policy idea for London
TS: reconnect London at its grass routes by focusing on disconnected housing estates – spatial exclusion. Work with local communities to educate those who have been given authority to direct their influence towards the right places. Not only the high streets but the catchments of the high streets: the housing estates.

“If we can get to flexible wood, I am totally going to cut my own leg off.”

Ashley Vance’s article in last week’s New York Times paints an enticing picture of a future in which 3d printing can conjure objects before us at the press of a button. A 3d Hewlett Packard in every home will spray up a new pair of Nike shoes in a few seconds. Science nonsense? Some might think so:

“Everyone thought I was a lunatic when we started,” says one entrepreneur.

That was then. Today, commercial 3d business is growing at a pace. Continue reading

Architecture: beyond art & science

Is architecture and art or a science? As Bill Hillier has argued, this is the wrong question. In fact it’s a silly question. Architecture is both art and science. He argues that architecture is total art and total science. In fact it’s more, because architecture engages with the everyday and the everyday is social, environmental and economic too. Continue reading

The several pleasures of building a bed

Spending the afternoon building a bed is an opportunity not only for construction but also for reflection. Or even rebuilding a bed – because what was there at the end was mostly already there to begin with. However, as with a recipe, the same ingredients can create a variety of outcomes. Flour, water and a few extras can make a Victoria Sponge or a thick glue – each has its usefulness; it’s a question of what is intended. Continue reading

Divided we stand

The quality of advice provided by planners and architects is as much the product of our education, our professional bodies and our office environments as it is our individual talents. The deep structures of our universities, memberships and working cultures have a profound influence on our personal processes of reasoning and acting. We are what we are fed – in the classroom, at the conference and around the meeting table. And what could possibly be wrong with that? Continue reading

Frayed at the edge (and at the centre)

At the edges of nearly all the world cities, and often at their centres too, are tracts of unplanned settlements. Labelled as slums, favelas and shanty towns, these are places that have been made largely without the intervention of planning. Their numbers are increasing as the planet moves from the field to the street and as urban populations reproduce. Continue reading

Hedging on the pedestrian

February and March are traditionally the Spring conference season and have taken me this year on speaking engagements from Millbank (with RUDI) to Earls Court (with the Academy of Urbanism), the Royal College of Physicians (with the Architectural Review) and, ultimately, to the giant property toyshop of MIPIM in Cannes (with CABE). In more or less relaxed surroundings the pre-Spring period has been an opportunity to sit down with peers, discuss current practice and swap notes on future plans. First off the lips of those there was the global credit crisis, with opinions divided. On the one hand there was general concern over the detrimental effects of restricted borrowing on property development. On the other there were a significant number for whom the financial downturn presents opportunities to spend squirreled cash. Continue reading

Reflective planning

One of the benefits of an international staff is that the office becomes quieter in the run up to Christmas as people leave for home. Since the New Year is an opportunity to take stock and think ahead, the directors took advantage of the lull. We devoted two days to “reflective planning”, a process of simultaneous backwards and forwards looking. We tested past successes and failures against the opportunities and constraints that we believe will shape our business in the years ahead. Continue reading

Diary planning

Three months ago, this column was written in a lazy chair and hot sun. Today it is the slow-running 0754 to Cannon Street. I am at least comforted by the thought that the week will end at the Academy of Urbanism’s annual awards lunch. With that carrot before me I count 23 separate meetings in the week to come. These include at least three “high pressure” events: a masterplanning workshop tomorrow with people we enjoy working alongside, the regular Wednesday Design Review Panel at CABE and a design meeting with a reasonably famous firm of architects on Thursday. Foodwise it is two dinners with the heads of our firms in Boston and Tokyo and, of course, Friday with the Academy at the Dorchester. All in all: a not unusual week for brain and belly. Continue reading