Sweets Hotel Amsterdam

Archidose #1007 has some pictures of a Sweets Hotel (Weigbrug) in Amsterdam. The Sweets hotel chain turn old bridge houses into apartments in a kind of distributed hotel. I saw Archoses post while I was thinking about writing up my visit earlier this year to Amsterdam. It’s a city I love, I lived there for some time and met my wife there, and its a great city to talk about from many angles. This is just one project which gives a taste of the interesting urban innovations alive and well in the city.

 

Misfits’ Inflexible House

My new favourite blog misfits’ architecture posted about Yemeni traditional housing under the title The Inflexible House.

You might know about Yemeni buildings from famous photos of cities like Shibam or Al Hajarayn, where 500 year old medieval skyscrapers rise up with tapering walls clumped together often on rocky outcrops. Nothing looks quite like them and also on the inside they are perhaps quite different than how you might imagine1.

They have no spatial hierarchy on the inside just essentially the same plan repeated upwards. Ground floor is for storage of food and 1st floor with main reception room and kitchen off of it, above that are the floors for the family but there is no hierarchy, no ability to subdivide just larger and smaller sized rooms stacked onto of each other. Its inflexibility of plan opens it up to a different type of flexibility which a standard modern western house lacks;

There’s much that’s good in the Yemeni convention of building a house having all floors the same plan and deciding later how to use those spaces. Some patterns of use are more established through custom or necessity but the spaces can still be reallocated to suit temporary situations such as the visit of a relative or longer-term changes such as an eldest son marrying. This is simply how these houses are lived in and part of it is because they can be lived in this way. Changing the use of a room involves no architectural trauma because the houses weren’t planned to have a hierarchy of spaces. – misfits’ architecture

The apartment building designs I have been involved with in Finland over the last few years are all about culturally arbitrated spaces designed for specific purposes. An eight floor Finnish apartment block will have a sauna block on the entrance floor with a bomb shelter space in the basement both of theses generated from specific Finnish cultural assumptions, fear of imminent attack by the Russians and a culturally required love of the Sauna.

Apartments within the block must all have balconies though not necessarily bedrooms at all, with wet room bathrooms, larger apartments will have their own Sauna and the biggest apartments are on the top floors to maximise price per meter. Kitchens and Dining rooms as separate spaces from the living room have virtually ceased to exist. All this means that the main living space is super flexible within certain spatial bounds and that apartments can’t really accommodate much more than couples or nuclear families living in a certain type of way with a certain set of contractual obligations (a mortgage!) as there is no privacy within these types of apartments.

Quite standard Finnish layout with 1 bedroom, balcony, kitchen incorporated into living space and a sauna, all under 50m2.

Other types of living, co-housing, lodgers, multi generational families even kitchenless housing don’t fit at all into these programmed plans. I’m not saying that any of these ones are better than what we have now only that these different programmes and housing types could inspire different more practical and more flexible ways of living and in turn adding variety and value to our cities. The Yemeni inflexible house could inspire more flexible planning in modern housing still.

  1. See Misfits’ amazing post about Yemeni Architecture here []

Reimagining The Olympics

Pyeongchang, South Korea, built a brand new Olympic stadium to host the Winter Games this year. The 35,000-seat stadium cost $109 million to build. And it will be used just four times before it’s demolished. -(Vox)

This is an appalling waste of money, but still cheaper than the cost of maintaining a useless stadium for years after the Olympics have gone. This stadium had been designed to be dismantled but it’s story points to an interesting history and future for the Olympic Games.

Read moreReimagining The Olympics

Cities are not Computers

We must also recognize the shortcomings in models that presume the objectivity of urban data and conveniently delegate critical, often ethical decisions to the machine. We, humans, make urban information by various means: through sensory experience, through long-term exposure to a place, and, yes, by systematically filtering data. It’s essential to make space in our cities for those diverse methods of knowledge production. And we have to grapple with the political and ethical implications of our methods and models, embedded in all acts of planning and design. City-making is always, simultaneously, an enactment of city-knowing — which cannot be reduced to computation. -Shannon Mattern, “A City Is Not a Computer,” Places Journal, February 2017. Accessed 31 Jan 2018. https://doi.org/10.22269/170207

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh. (Amazon us/uk).

Welcome to the world of the Burglar, its a different one from the world we live in. To them the buildings we live in and use as we are supposed to are full of possibilities, treasure, secret entrances, underground exits, alternative uses.

A Burglar’s Guide covers a historical spread of daring heists, the exploits of George Leonidas Leslie, The hole in the ground gang, and the Roofman1 to name a few. It looks at the art of lock picking, talks to burglars who know the fire codes so well they can read the apartments inside from looking at the fire escape stairs.

“burglars are idiot masters of the built environment, drunk Jedis of architectural space.”
― Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City

We also see the people pitted against the burglars, from the LAPD helicopter patrol pilots, the designers of saferooms, the burglar trap houses built by the British Police, and in the process we get a flavour of the ever evolving game of cat and mouse they play.

This book could neatly be placed alongside Mike Daviss’ City of Quartz,  Hollow Land by Eyal Weizman, Ground Control by Anna Minton, and theorists from the Situationists onwards and its a punchy and worthy addition to this reading list.

Geoffs insight is that with Architecture comes the Burglar and also those that try to prevent burglars. This ‘misuse’ of Architecture is also another way to see design and the built environment. Its a fun snapshot of many interconnected ideas and it could be another way to explore and think of  the city for all of us.

Links:

  • webcast of Geoff talking about the book.
  1. I particularly like the Roofman as he breaks into MacDonalds Restaurants using his knowledge of their layouts and procedures. As MacDonlads follows the same formulae in every place he can make the same burglary again and again! His burglaries are Simulacrae of the perfect Macdonlads burglary that would work in every MacDonalds on the planet maybe? []

Cricket Bread

Last November Finland updated the regulations covering food preparation to allow for insects also, a few days later at our lunch restaurant a bowl of cricket popcorn was served. It actually tasted really good, though I might have had my eyes closed to eat it! There are plenty of reasons why societies that otherwise have social taboos about eating bugs might want to start to change. The moral questions around animal husbandry and slaughter, the environmental effort for the same amount of protein, about 12 times less, makes it attractive as a foodstuff, it’s easy to see why the UN recommended it.

Meanwhile Fazers, Finlands largest Bakery group came out with a bread that had powdered crickets added. Crickets in Finnish is Sirkkä, and so Sirkkäleippä was born. Although the breads rollout is limited to major urban centers in Finland right now due to cricket supply I bought the bread last week and I can say we all tried it and it tasted just like bread! There are about 70 crickets per loaf it just tastes like normal, good quality bread. Crickets as a food is of course not a new thing but powdering it and adding it in a hidden way is a clever idea to get around our western squeamishness and adding a lot of protein to an otherwise normal product.

Further Reading:

OMA in Pasila

oma_pasilaOMA has teamed up with YIT one of the big developers active in Finland and submitted a design for the Pasila One competition. No one else tabled a bid so the city has a difficult decision to make and no reference group to refer to. The Pasila area has three basic redevelopment zones and Pasila One is the most eyecatching. It is the redevelopment of the train station and surrounding area, a large amount of service space and three super blocks worth of mixed use development three times the size of Kamppi in central Helsinki. The city wants to make it into a business and media hub, and clearly Pasila One sitting ontop of a crossroads between road and train access corridors has vast potential to be a great, busy, urban center ready to contribute an urban buzz to the surrounding area.

How good is the proposal though?

Links:

 

Paris the City of Night

paris_catacombs
Photo of the catacombs by Frozenchipmunk

Paris, otherwise known as the city of Light could have another title too, it has one of the most extensive underground networks of tunnels of any city. You can visit some of the catacombs and this article in WSJ gives a great general overview of them and also the subculture that has grown up of cataphiles who go down (illegally) into the underground Paris. I knew a little of the story of the underground Paris of course having been there before and as a child having been down to see the skeletal catacombs myself.

But it was on my last most recent trip to Paris I picked up a book about Paris called Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb, which has a chapter in it about the building of the catacombs, its an amazing story worth quickly retelling and all quotes are from Graham Robb’s Chapter concerning it.

While many people are familiar with Baron Haussmanns urban modernisation of Paris which established the wide boulevards and centerpiece Grand Avenues and monuments of the picture postcard Paris of today, most people are unfamiliar with the name of Charles-Axel Guillaumot the Architect who ‘built’ the catacombs.

In 1774 along the Rue d’Enfer a quarter mile long sinkhole opened up engulfing the houses on either side of it. Enfer being the french word for hell, the sinkhole quickly became known as the mouth of hell. In 1777 Charles-Axel Guillaumot was appointed the first inspecteur généraux des carrières, and it was clear that the reason for the sinkhole was there was a long abandoned and forgotten mine under the street, the stone of which had been used earlier for the building of Paris and then covered over. As the city expanded this long forgotten quarry now endagered the buildings above it.

The work over the next years was massive, there were three teams the Excavation team to clear the underground galleries of rubble, the Masonry Team to reinforce the roof and the Cartography team to map it all out.

the ‘Cartography’ team would create a map of the underground labyrinth on a scale of 1:216 – which meant that the map of abandoned quarries would be more detailed than any map that had ever been produced of the streets of Paris.

As the teams made their way through the abandoned quarries and mapped them out the picture gradually must have become clear and Guillaumot realised that there was not a single quarry but a whole range of them. That they didn’t occur just below the streets but often stacked one on top of each other.

The miners had dug away as much stone as they dared, leaving just enough to support the roof. Years later, other miners had found the worked-out quarries, and dug down to lower layers. The floor of each quarry then became the roof of yet another mine, so that now, instead of finding solid rock beneath the tunnel floor, Guillaumot encountered vast cavities buttressed only by a few teetering piles of stone.

Guillaumot in short discovered that not just the Rue D’Enfer but half of 18thC Paris was in danger of falling into the mouth of hell. So while the people of France were vexed about the cost of Versailles and the Royal Court, Guillaumot relatively quietly went about building on an even more massive scale.

If those galleries had been placed end to end, they would have reached the edge of the Massif Central, two hundred miles away.

part of a mapshowing paris block above with underground routes
part of a mapshowing paris block above with underground routes

The underground city surpassed that of the city above not just in the quality of its map. While many of the buildings in Paris were not even numbered the galleries below had their own numbering system, a lesser Architect might have just filled up the voids with rock and sand but Guillaumot

turned each cloche into a beautiful, swirling cone of stonework that might have been copied from a strange, inverted cathedral….Tunnels that had been clumsily hacked out by ignorant hands were dressed with freestone and dignified with coursed limestone walls.

Gradually these 200 miles of catacombs had been discovered mapped and reinforced and in the 1780’s when the vast rotting pits of the Parisian dead threatend the cities water supply Guillaumot had a neat proposal. In 1786 the first of many millions of corpses were moved to what is now known as the Catacombs on the left bank.

It was said that the number of skeletons that made the journey to La Tombe-Issoire was ten times greater than the living population of Paris.

Not only had Guillaumot saved Paris but he had built a shadow Paris and he had populated it. Guillaumont remained as inspector of quarries until his death in 1807, his gravestone disappeared sometime in the 1880s and, his bones were gathered up to be placed in the catacombs to join the city he’d built.

The catacombs by Doc Searls
The catacombs by Doc Searls

Nowadays it is illegal to venture under the city except on official business or to visit the Catacombs the macabre section of the subterranean Paris given over as an ossiary.

Further Reading:

1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France