Smart Cities for a society of longer lives

“We are currently in a society where people live longer. Smart cities are a response to this.” said Laurent Abadie, CEO of Panasonic Europe. His words are clear, smart cities are not only about technology and the environment but also about people’ well-being, about which services we can offer to people and make their lives better. In other words, we do not need to forget to reconcile all the three pillars of sustainability.

This speech came out after the commissioning of the self-sufficient city in Fujisawa, Japan, by the  multinational enterprise Panasonic. The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town is a big neighbourhood with 1000 households, green areas and solar panels everywhere. They are not developing a town only based on advanced-technology but, in their own words, “based on actual lifestyles”. Electric cars and a rational use of energy (it has amazing street lamps! LED lights that only turn on during the pedestrians’ tour) have helped to reduce 70% of CO2 emissions. Also with water reuse installations they have achieved to lessen 30% of water consumption, and residents interact, bond and exchange ideas and objectives for achieving better lifestyles in mobility, security and well-being.

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This utopian city but is actually a high-functionality reality. However, it is located in Japan, and this country has the advantage of having “a culture very used to manage their own resources because the land is very scarce” said the Spanish architect Pich-Aguilera. Plus very dense. Have other countries the possibility to replicate this example and become a success, as well? Pich-Aguilera thinks that it is possible, and about his country, Spain, he believes that however nowadays the law is against the renewable energy, Spanish people are close to a great change. The reason is because this country has a great potential in energy-terms. First, because the climate, obviously, and second because the great potential in attaining a good and efficient energy management in cities.

The path is steered but we still need to work in better deals between the public administration and private initiatives for inversions. So come on, multinational corporations, follow the Panasonic and Apple example (they are working together in a second residential sustainable area in Japan) and the planet and people will thank you. It’s hip to be green!

If you would like to know more about the Fujisawa project, here you go! There are very good schemes and infographics about the sustainable ideas performance. http://fujisawasst.com/EN/

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Smart Cities for a society of longer lives

A Summer in Green Myanmar

I have been back home for some days now and I can not still forget this last summer in Myanmar. It has been an unique experience. I was not prepared for the different way of travelling I encountered, but after the initial shock I have had the time of my life. Experienced people said me that for a first-timer traveller in Asia, Myanmar is probably the most difficult country to cope with. Tourism and infrastructure are just beginning and a lot of patience and energy are necessary. However, it is worth it because we saw a beautiful and very much untouched country. Getting to know how local people live has been a very rewarding experience. I know it will sound like a cliché, but it is true: It has been a very rewarding experience specially for a person who is aware of the importance of adopting a sustainable lifestyle. Here, I have seen the value of going sometimes back to the basics. I am of course not saying that they need to be at a standhill. They have the right to develop, be more productive and have a better quality of life. However, not ignoring their own green daily lifestyle and own efforts is basic to achieve a balanced and sustainable development.

After this little opening about my Myanmar impression, I would like to remark the great use of a material, so called sustainable, in this country and Asia, in general. Yes, you have probably guessed it: bamboo. bamboo plantationsI have to admit that I have a weakness for bamboo, and I have written sometimes about it (Bamboo bicycles>>Riding towards Sustainability). Bamboo is defined as a Rapidly Renewable Material. These materials are those which can be self-regenerated by the end of their product life and from here comes one of the reasons for it being called green and sustainable. And better if it is removed from plantations responsibly managed.

In Myanmar, bamboo is the top construction material. It has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel. Therefore, in this country, bamboo offers excellent earthquake resistant structures.bamboo houses

On the other hand, it is also the top utensils material. I love all craft, artisan and DIY stuff so looking at all the beautiful things they create with bamboo was truly amazing.bamboo baskets
Specially, I fall in love with the baskets they use to work in the country fields. We bought some in a village from a Shan family we spent one night with. Looking them making the baskets was beautiful. And looking them looking at us so happy after we decided to buy some, has no price. They are truly kind people and they value the things nature provide them, they are not selfish and they try their best to be happy with what they have. It is vital, and I hope that in their development journey they will carry on knowing that it’s hip to be green!

A Summer in Green Myanmar

Too good to throw away: The adaptive reuse.

Nowadays, with the climate change and sustainable development being at the spotlight, I would like to write about the adaptive reuse. You may quickly grasp the concept only reading these words but, just in case, I will answer the following question for you: What does adaptive reuse is? In general, we understand that it “is a process that changes a disused or ineffective item into a new item that can be used for a different purpose”. Here the concept of circular economy is now being heard. The main point in this economic sustainable view is the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycling). We can get off it to find new life in everything from bottles, clothes, boxes, vehicles, buildings and so on. I can see that this can be greatly translated to the “adaptive reuse” concept. As I said, we can try to adapt almost everything, but today I would like to focus in the last that comes to mind here: the building sector1635eb21dcdbf11dd81c38193a7c1080

We live and spend the majority of our time inside, so without sustainable buildings it is difficult to achieve a sustainable development. Buildings will have to be adaptable to the changing needs of the users. Flexibility in design, materials and thorough planning is the key. However, what happens if it is a building that already exists and was not planned according to these new needs? Then it is necessary to pursue a way which is sympathetic to give it a new purpose. All over the world, we find buildings which are abandoned, left unattended and unmaintained, causing a rapid deterioration and space misuse. Therefore, when a building can no longer function with its original use, a new use through adaptation may be the only way to take advantage and preserve it. We could say that the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle concept is applied here, because we consider that we preserve the building and there is no need for demolition and to build a new one. As a result, bypassing the wasteful process of demolition and deconstruction we alone see the benefits that this adaptation has for the environment. However, we could go further and prove that adaptive reuse is an essential component of sustainable development because it provides social and economic benefits as well. Let’s present it: In the social side, the recycling and adaptation of a building can restore the heritage significance of it as well as new housing or commercial or cultural opportunities to the community. Finally, in the economic side we have obvious savings for not having to acquire all the resources, materials and machinery to build a complete new building along with the embodied energy savings from not demolishing it. Is it good, isn’t it? It is like reinventing recycling.

To end, one great example (and a favourite of mine!) of adaptive reuse in buildings could be the transformation of the former Bankside Power Station in London to the art gallery Tate Modern. In a short span of time, Tate Modern has changed London and revitalised a previously underdeveloped area helping give the city a new image. It has become a key landmark for London skyline, while its concept and architecture have won international acclaim.

tate modern

As Viollet-Le-Duc said, “the best of all ways of preserving a building is to find a use for it, and then to”.

Too good to throw away: The adaptive reuse.

Towards Sustainable Cities. Strenghtening social bonds in Barcelona.

“It is not logical that in a Mediterranean city the majority of roofs are closed and do not have any kind of use”. This was remarked a few months ago by Barcelona’s city Mayor, Xavier Trias. I have to say that I totally agree with it.

If you have a look to an aerial photography of Barcelona, apart from acknowledging the imposing Sagrada Família and the perfect grid of the Eixample neighbourhood, you will probably see the lifeless, colourless roofs of the buildings. Roofs full of grey air conditioning systems and abandoned ropes for spreading clothes.

barcelona aerial This is a pity. A vibrant and warm city like Barcelona could do it much better. Who does not like to spend summer nights in a green roof with a gentle breeze and the lights of the city at your feet? Or winter middays under the sun that warms us up a bit? These communities’ rooftops could provide a neutral space within which people and neighbours come together and social interactions could occur. A sense of connectedness could arise and foster trust and cooperation among these individuals. Besides, these social dynamics help promote community wellness and social cohesion, provide individual benefits, improved public health, and social resilience. All of these are critical components of a sustainable and well-functioning society. I believe it is very important nowadays when more of half of world’s population are living in urban areas. Therefore, Barcelona is starting to launch an aid plan for the roofs of the city to have environmental, energy-efficiency and community gathering uses. This measure will be based on economic aids and incentives to communities of neighbours who decide to transform their roof. The Deputy Mayor for Urban Habitat, Antoni Vives, said that “if we recover all the roofs we could gain a surface area of 1,700 hectares, equivalent to two districts of the Eixample.” Actually, the present building standard commands that all the new municipal buildings including offices or social protected apartment blocks, must have community’ roofs. It is being done, for example, in the new Barcelona municipal library in the neighbourhood of Vallbona, which will have a green rooftop. A green roof is now widely recognised, for example, as a means of improving air quality and for providing greater thermal performance and roof insulation for the buildings they are laid on.social rooftop So, it is a very good idea to promote this kind of roof and also made it accessible to neighbours to promote the benefits of these community’s social strengths. This Barcelona plan is very interesting and it should be done in more urban areas. A more sustainable and resilient city is always a good idea. Come on, it’s hip to be green!

Towards Sustainable Cities. Strenghtening social bonds in Barcelona.

Architecture Instagramers

“Architects are spending one out of every six minutes online using social media” according to sources like PRweb.com

Well, actually a lot of people nowadays is spending more and more minutes every day instarch1to social media, so why architects shouldn’t? Their public and young staff is all using social media and they know that it is a real opportunity to promote their business growth, self-brand and community engagement. Besides, architects are usually artistic and creative people who like to show the world their concerns and creations. Therefore, in this actual world where the use of Instagram is rapidly increasing and having more and more followers, architects are finding their own place and keeping pace with celebrities and starlets.

Recently, in the Architizer blog and interesting post about architecture instagramers appeared. It quotes Alexandra Langer, an architecture critic, who wrote an article for Dezeen magazine about social media practice of famous architects. She said about one famous architect: “His Instagram has a lot to do with the architecture of self-promotion, but little to do with actual building,” and “The same goes for many architects’.

insta likesIs that true? Yes, apparently. As I have said before, architects (and come on, many people) like to be self-appreciated and like to promote their designs and pictures. One of the Instagram’s goals is that, to share your pics and receive the best possible amount of likes. And you know you like it! I think it is good to stimulate yourself a bit.instarch2

On the other side, I also believe it is very important not only to promote your own work but to show engagement with general architecture followed by culture, public art and community space. I believe people interested in architecture and design would appreciate an account where it is possible to find a mixture. It is very practical and (really!) comforting. It’s like having a little architecture visual library in your hand. The photos of actual and historic buildings are lovely with a pinch of filters.

The Architizer blog I was talking about so had made a research and had found these “media-savvy creatures” in Instagram. They’re not the more famous in the world but rather young and anonymous who like the freedom to share their passions. Well done!

Here you can find my favorites among this Architizer list :  @mauriciotufino @the_architext @vitovillabilbao @lifesansbldgs

Architecture Instagramers

Eureka! Perfomativity and Architecture

I wanted to write this post for a few days but until now I hadn’t found the time nor the inspiration. The idea came in TECH 637 class of last week, when our teacher was talking about the presentation of online and offline self, the embodiment and the way interaction with other people help to create our self. I understood the implication of the self-presentation on online sites, but in that moment I was thinking all the time as if it was a philosophy class. Then, we had to try to relate these concepts with our area of interest. At that moment, my mind couldn’t stop thinking! Architecture, design, the self, sociology, people interaction, spaces…eureka

The concept of performativity was the link to my ideas. It is a term often used to name the capacity to construct and perform an identity through speech, gestures, acts… And eureka! Architecture can be somehow related with performativity. Architects really want to create his own design style and be acknowledged about it. But, they can do it without others, the society, people who are going to use, live in their buildings. They have to interact! The build environment, the designed spaces and the activities of people are related and inseparable. Architects needs to design and create spaces to fulfil the needs of people and their social requirements. Architecture cannot live without people and have to express the structure and principles of the society.masdar

Another way to understanding this, and to finish my post, is quoting Philip Johnson who was a great American architect: “All architecture is shelter, all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.”

 

Eureka! Perfomativity and Architecture

How much does your building weigh, Mr.Foster?

cartell documentalToday I’ve decided to write about a wonderful documentary I watched some months ago. How much does your building weigh, Mr. Foster?  is about the life and career of one of the most famous architects of the century, Norman Foster.

The first time I watched it, was in the Verdi Cinema in Barcelona, and had hit me both architecturally (as a building engineer that I am) and emotionally. Seriously! Several hours and days two feelings had been lasting to me, very difficult to live together!

The first one, the greatness. The greatness of the ideas and buildingsHearst-Tower that have been created by Foster and his team. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but I was fascinated to have the opportunity to see these works in person, as there are real. To appreciate the skyline with the Swiss Re tower in London and go to Columbus Circle in the Big Apple, New York, and see the curious Hearst Tower.

And the second feeling, the smallness. The smallness you feel, both as a student of this world or as a worker, what has succeeded by this man and you’re not even in the beginning of the way… However, you should try that first impression lasts more, shouldn’t you? Try to think that one day you’ll find your way. Mr.Foster has been saying constantly that he had to performs struggle to find his way.

The leaning of the sensations described earlier also falls due to the excellent quality of the documentary, especially the photography and music. I think we don’t only have to appreciate the beauty of the aerial images of buildings, the places where the architect is skiing in the early stage and the final cause a very nice sensation, too.

And finally, I want to mention one part that I especially like. The part of the documentary Masdardedicated to the city of Masdar in Abu Dhabi, an ecological model city, designed by Foster & Partners team. Since I started studying my degree and master, I’m very attracted to Sustainability and I think this project is an inspiration. Convey the idea of leaving a low carbon footprint in this world is for everyone.

I mention that everything written is personal opinion, so if you want to experience it you must watch the documentary. You’ll also find the story behind the curious question of the title 🙂

Here’s the trailer if you want to see it. Enjoy!!!

How much does your building weigh, Mr.Foster?