Urbanism: the conscious and unconscious investment in place.

The Landscape Imperative

Fantastic Photos of life on Mars at:

Surely this is a call to the shovel? What enormous effort and missed opportunities!  A mountain range pushed through the cookie-cutter mould of american subdivisions.

Terraces awaiting McMansions.

Terraces awaiting McMansions.


What is interesting is the post development images. Green Oases in the sage brush? Certainly verdant verges, trees and pools sprouting from the sand and gravel. Perhaps if we set ecological fundamentalism to one side we actually have an improvement in the bearing capacity of the land? One wonder the resources gathered to maintain this; and what it could look like in another formation, even resource neutrally. light-lake-las-vegas-16-zoom


OECD Dreams

Call it Shardism! The march of the big developers is gathering pace. The great chess pieces of capital are drifting dalek like from CAD world, through bureaucratic tunnel, to glassy turgidity. Not quite turning a blind eye in polite circles we none-the-less seek to protect the naivety of  the next generation in the academy. Here we are still fooled into thinking that the idealised renaissance city is a vibrant force, its polite mercantalism some how analogous to our own global marketisation. Or we take abstractions of the good life from this aestheticised past, calling it the human touch, we seek to implant it upon development of an altogether greater scale.

Refreshing then, to hear an interview like this one: Here is a little insight into the dark world of developer pleasing mega architecture, free of the usual obfuscating notion of the architectural common good or traditionally defined “duties to the city”.  A clear, eyes-wide-open definition of an urbanism that is directly responding to a set of economic realities, un-idealised and pragmatic.

It shows us where the orchestrating strings of this urbanising force really reside; Those big developers who are “only used to doing high-rise, high-density.” And indeed we are told “That’s all they can do and that’s all they’re interested in doing.” From Aedas then, we can look forward to more top down crowd pleasing, the society of the spectacle writ large in deep reservoirs of generic floor plates and gleaming LCD saturated retail experiences.

More pandering to global capital: “It’s going to be a lot easier to take chunks of land at transport interchanges and develop this at high density than it would be to spread medium density across the entire city. It’s easier to upgrade infrastructure in one place that to do it all over.”  And this perhaps is the most revealing, a recipe for a network of mega-projects, canary wharfs linked by jubilee lines. This is the architectural theory of today’s prevailing political economy made concrete.

Beautiful Diagram: Urban Epicentre. Those radiating lines represent place of course. Our shared values, our collective striving manifesting the genius loci!

Beautiful Diagram: Urban Epicentre. Those radiating lines represent place of course. Our shared values, our collective striving manifesting the genius loci!

Meanwhile Paul Mason in the guardian implores: “Now imagine the world of the central scenario: Los Angeles and Detroit look like Manila – abject slums alongside guarded skyscrapers;”  (

Perhaps a rather alarmist reading of the OECD’s latest paper (, but read alongside that Aedas interview, it seems this reality is already being visualised, orchestrated, dreamed.

Dreamers of a more democratic Urbanism can hope that Mason’s parting words will be accompanied by similar alternatives in the everyday concrete realm:

“The ultimate lesson from the report is that, sooner or later, an alternative programme to “more of the same” will emerge.”



Antidote to the Wretched

Have we become the grass to the relentless grazing of nomadic multinationals? Has the city, it’s populations variously supported or ignored, become a crop to be harvested, a mine to be exhausted through the promotion and sale of private commodities? Something has flipped; we used to invest in place, create places for people rather than engineer systems for the mere redistribution of resources away and up the chain.

Strange freedoms: Are we digital nomads merely subject to the financial weather? Or are we being farmed?

Strange freedoms: Are we digital nomads merely subject to the financial weather? Or are we being farmed?

A leap here, to something I just read: “… most Roma live below the poverty line….There is not a vast amount of money to be made in hawking carpets, shifting deckchairs, selling trinkets. Working seasonally rather than for steady wages is tough, but it’s neither illogical nor reprehensible. it may even be preferable to the forms of psychic servitude and clocked on torment that capitalism inflicts on so many people.”(Sukhdev Sandhu, Guardian Review, 01.02.14) This both striking for its poetic damning of zero-hours-life and by the plausible equivalence it draws between a group struggling outside of the system and those who ostensibly toil within it (strivers?)

What compensates for the evisceration of income security and a stable middle class? We fought for the great public spaces and quality in civic life throughout the mid 20th century with varying degrees of success. The battle for accessibility is next to lost, as we are asked to fight, struggle and strive for  access to public spaces, services and institutions.

The city’s virtue stems from its wide embrace. Unlike the fenced, owned partitioned countryside, it can and has offered collective amenity to those with very little through the simple device of private and public alike addressing a single shared public space. For those of a humanistic persuasion this is surely a call to invest in this common tapestry, to fight against the channeling of all urban actors through the private unit.

If this phase of capitalism is characterized by yet more insecure labor, more “free-lance” modes of working; then surely this democratic space becomes even more important. A tax for those international institutions that have lost their sense of responsibility to the individual? An investment that offers the monetary and environmental economy of a shared resource? The creation of a democratic space?

Abandoned Farm

Future Project: The abandoned farm hostel.


Independent People, always living encircled by a haunted dark horizon, a mind dogged by scarcity. Our old Saab rumbles by the historical remains of the tension between settlement and a landscape of upheaval. Perhaps a little more prescient; a culture receding from the face of climate change and desertification.


Hard Austerity: From the Abandoned Houses Project

Hard Austerity: From the Abandoned Houses Project -linked below


We have an idea. Let’s return to one of these places and build. These stark concrete ruins provide the perfect foundation for a little architectural play. Their stark openings imply intrusions, subtractions, sprouted timber constructions, a widow’s watch against an encroaching dust storm from a glacial plain.


Usefulness: Iceland’s very own Nordic tourist route of architectural intervention, a bit of modern artifice on the land. A place to dwell on an otherwise roving itinerary. Indeed a moment to think about dwelling in this landscape which is irreversibly defined by settlement.


So a summer then, with a small team, adding and subtracting, and working, on the edge of a landscape on retreat.


It is surely the next step from this fantastic lyrical project:


Europan 12

ASDAK’s Europan 12 entry investigated the potential for an inclusive, bottom-up Urbanism in the town of Haninge outside Stockholm. Our playful, esoteric, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, scheme received a special mention and this rather lyrical synopsis from the jury:

“This project gives life to a very specific planning of every part of the site and it is very suggestive in the catalogue of urban situations that is able to show. Maybe there are even too many, but looking at them not as a project, but as collection of experiences, the configuration of these characteristics areas is a challenge concerning the possibilities of imagination about how our cities could be. It deals with a sensitive taxonomy of urban units: the “colour canyon” or the “enchanted forest” are examples of this. It is appreciated that these strategies include the lakeshore and try to reorganize in an ambitious way the urban space in multiple perceptive or more specifically haptic dimensions.”

Here follows the full proposal manifesto:

Can we build a city that reflects the plurality of our hopes and relationships?

Water, Forest, Apartment, Road, Parking, Shopping. Each of our daily activities is mapped out on the ground in Haninge, as if our private lives were subjected to the same categorization and measurement as a taylorist workplace. If we so rigidly divide, categories, and define our public lives, what separates our time from work time?

Haninge is a single gesture, a simple and misleading division of life into constituent parts. It lacks the diversity of thought and intention that accrues in real cities and places. If it is to survive as vibrant moment in the poly-centric city, than it needs new ideas, new thoughts, made physical, made liveable.

Haninge Idag

Haninge Today

We propose a catalogue of interventions: some dramatic, some less dramatic, that aim to stir up the neatly packaged functions of today’s Haninge. These interventions act at different scales to break open the rigid planing along Gamla Nynäsvägen to allow for possibility, growth, and representation.

We believe that it is important to use the existing structures where possible. To add more than we take away. This way, we increase the diversity of ideas and histories, rather than repeating the pattern of destruction of the old in favour of the new. The past deserves a place in the new city as much as the future.

But this future must be a flexible and evolving organism. Every city is made up of key parts, arranged to create a greater whole. The house, the apartment, the garden, the balcony, all combine as a collection of physical representations of individual dreams wishes and lives. If we wish this unit to be truly representative, it must be accessible to all and be flexible to the changes and desires of all. In short, these representations should not occur only through the homogenising influence of large commercial interests. The city must become a pluralistic landscape a space we all feel like we have a stake.

The proposed catalogue of an interventions can be divided into two categories,

BLENDING aims to blur the strict linear nature of the spaces along Gamla Nynäsvägen with 5 alleyways; the Natural Bridge, the Market Town, the Colour Canyon, the Market Garden and the Enchanted Forest. Each alleyway has a distinctive character accentuating unique locations in the plan, and unique departure and destination points.

INTERVENTIONS are a series of architectural actions that bring life and variation into the spaces between these 5 passages.

The Nature Bridge

The Nature Bridge

…And the competition boards:


Slack Space

A little seam here in the tradition of Constants New Babylon; a wish to build life’s big-ness into the urban frame.


The late 20th century campaign against the narrowing, prescriptive, frame of homo-economicus saw a spreading out of living spaces into formerly disused warehouse or out onto the land in experimental settlements. This, we accept now, was the vanguard of gentrification; new life breathed into disused area of town by various creatives.


However, we do not replace these places which have become ossified by new wealth; these spaces for creativity and experimentation creep out of the reach of those with the time and commitment to use their potential.


If we were to build these spaces now, what would they look like? What form would a new landscape of creativity look like, a new urban landscape?


Maybe something like this:

The endlessly long apartment landscape a Van-Eyck playground for the urban dweller stacked like shelves.

The endlessly long apartment landscape a Van-Eyck playground for the urban dweller stacked like shelves.

An un-prescriptive yet specific internal landscape

An un-prescriptive yet specific internal landscape

A serviced grid, penetrated  by surreal light voids.

A serviced grid, penetrated by surreal light voids.

Thin Urbanism

Welcome to Hammerby; where all is as it seems…..


We seem committed to a thin Urbanism; the purvey of architects and planners who are tasked with delivering a “vision” of a new community, i.e. the picture of the 19th century Urbanism that apparently sells.


A walk through the older phases of Hammerby is a pleasant diversion; a landscape actually designed for Coffee Shops and restaurants that struggle to cling on in what is still a dormitory. Where a developers arm has been twisted hard enough to eak out some other kinda of business space than profitable, sell-able, flippable housing, the units are too small to accommodate the turbo global capital that actually feeds and supports are lives.


A few minutes walk up the road; hashed out, cut off and dispersed by a car landscape, our real cathedrals of commerce gather. Our friends, Macdonalds, H&M, Clas Ohlosson, ICA. They squat open mouthed among a hive of activity; pushchairs among chains of cars. This is half of today’s city.


Developments like Hammerby must rise to meet this challenge. Otherwise they become guilty of the same pastiche as Florida’s “Seaside”. A thin urbanism to which the air and space of Stockholm’s Miljonprogram offers an equally compelling counter.

someone's watching you

what happens next?

Priceless Land

A thought experiment: What if all land prices were equal?


“Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.”  Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, 1796.

The implications of this are well beyond this blog but perhaps it is time to think more radically about our relationship to land and property.

An article in this mornings’ Dagens Nyheter added yet another tired voice to the debate surrounding Stockholms housing crisis: . Yet another classical economist wading in. One can understand hos perspective but the abstraction of his arguments and his lack of references to the experiences of other cities surely weakens his favored solution.

It is clear that the current system as currently implemented is grinding along ineffectively and producing strange distortions. But surely if we look at other cities, and indeed markets, that wholesale marketisation of housing provision is an equally flawed solution. We need not look further than London and the UK; hardly a model of stability and just distribution.

Liberal Spaces

Here in Sweden there is a little rebellion going on against the endless reproduction of neo-new-urbanist urban extensions. It seems we have grown tired of the planned city, and are spooked by the shadows of the “miljon program” in its cheaper incarnations.

What do we want: MORE SHEDS!

Where do we want them: EVERYWHERE!

Sheds! A simultaneous reaction to both the curious brutal monotony of developments such as Lilleholmen Quay and the Swedish Pleasantville landscapes of Hammerby-sjöstad.

Sheds! A shortcut to Authenticity.

As a team member of ASDAK’s submission to this year’s Europan: i can admit my own dalliance with the shed, or shed cluster if you will:


ASDAK Europan 12, Haninge

How else could you resist the insulting categorization of the 70’s suburb into live (in a the apartment block equivalent of a bookshelf) consume and work?

And our project has good pedigree, que Delta X: 

slaktschema delta X

Delta X plan in Norrköping, Sweden

It seems an obvious response to the sins of centralized planners: Let the people decide! Recreate the Medieval Village! Give the People rights to plots! But where is the line between Liberal space and Neo-liberal spaces?

Sweden has a long tradition of urban planning; it would be a shame to throw away the power of that tool to come to a collective ideas of what is “good”, a hierarchy of values.  But in the meantime, the work of Delta X looks like it could inject some desperately needed life into Sweden’s’ endless suburban mono-cultures, just as historical allotments and cabins in Stockholm relieve an otherwise homogeneous urban form.

The New Humanism

Something of the Ralph Erskine rises again! Practices such as Studio Weave, Nodo17, Lacaton and Vassel and even Hezog and DeMeurons latest goofier incarnations are showing an inclination towards the Van Eyck! Even Edouard Francious in his otherwise snooty canon owes a debt to the garden-shed and the allotment.

There’s a pattern in these half made DIY store balconies, pop up cafes, and hastily screwed together window boxes. It is a crude craft, all this stuff tacked onto our lives little components. It almost seems a compensation for all that abundance provided by a world of super slick computer aided manufacture. A trend has been born; can we hold it dear? Does it have some principles we can carry with us to critique all this junk we are complicit in spewing out into the world, or at least we can temper this stream. We can ask for demonstrative humanist tendency to be expressed in those sketchup models laying in out trays.

Look here (see below) at this cranky form, a desire for idiosyncrasies, a desire for the ad-hock:Image.

The eccentric as an expression of the hand made, playful, esoteric.

Here is a desperation for the unpredictable. A willful diversion from the typical-floor-plan-standard-detail-aluminum-extrusion-curtain-wall-revit-bock-kit-of-parts city. It is not the same as the commercialism of FAT or more obvious appeals to the spectacular. Instead I think it is grown out of a search, a good hard look, at the everyday, at some “folklit” cliches, a search for an every-man authentic. It is more amateur than Ikea, more accreted parts than icon. More human than machine.