Infrastructure Driven Policies for Energy Efficient Cities
Constructing New Urban Typologies and Managerial Practices
1. A brief outline of previous research and/or practice on which the proposal will draw
The proposed research is a synthesis of two lines of research that I am actively involved in for the past four years. First is a collaboration with CHORA research laboratory, focusing on new planning practices in urbanism that lower city carbon output. The second line of research was initiated through my master’s degree at Architectural Association School of Architecture in London (AA) focusing on new urban patterns, emerging in the periphery of big cities in China – areas of rapid growth and development.
CHORA research is pursued through projects in the office and is complemented by design unit work at School for Architecture and Spatial Design (ASD) at London Metropolitan University. I am an acting unit tutor at ASD together with Raoul Bunschoten, the principal of CHORA. It deals with how to make cities energy efficient through city scale interventions (prototype projects) and by so doing, reduce the carbon emissions. I was part of the team that developed the initial ideas and concepts for urban scale carbon trading incubators, tested in the Carlsberg area of Copenhagen. The most recent application of this research was The Xiamen City Energy Master Plan and Scenario Games for Green London District undertaken by the LDA.
The city scale prototype projects are managed through Urban Gallery – a managerial tool developed by CHORA. “Urban Gallery enables the stakeholders related to prototype projects to act jointly or collaborate over longer periods of time, and to develop, monitor and evaluate prototypes as pilot projects within an overall plan.” (Internet 1) By extending CHORA research into the ASD, we are effectively able to test the energy efficiency and Urban Gallery managerial tool further with students and their projects.
The research at AA is an ongoing project, started as a MA thesis. I graduated in 2008 and received a mark of distinction for my thesis project. The research argues that peri-urban typological organizations found around big cities in China accommodate change much better than planned urban areas usually found in the West. The highly mixed and varied peri-urban fabric is more flexible because of the grain and size of its individual parts but even more importantly, because of the way infrastructure binds these parts together. Infrastructure plays a key role in definition and organization of this fabric, making it more energy efficient and economically sustainable than its Western cousins.
I am actively pursuing this direction independently through a number of authorial articles and lectures at conferences. The last conference I attended was in June 2010 in Copenhagen, where I was presenting my findings on flexible organizations and sustainable urban form in peri-urban areas in China.
2. The aims, objectives and/or key questions you propose to address
The two research tracks described have a great potential to be tested jointly. The main research aims for this study are three:
1. Hybrid infrastructure as a catalyst of new urban developments.
Infrastructure is traditionally understood as utilitarian monofunctional engineering. It largely acts as an urban inhibitor and creates degraded uninhabitable spaces. E.g. water recycling plants are areas around which living is not preferable. Intense agricultural irrigation systems require big areas to operate resulting in dispersed urbanization.
Instead of understanding the infrastructure as being restrictive it can be seen as a potential to form new urban typologies. This is already happening to some degree especially in peri-urban areas of China (i.e. where irrigation network meets with the transport network, a local market is created mixed with processing plants, storage spaces and housing).
Research will take as a basis a notion that infrastructure can perform as a catalyst instead of inhibitor of urban space. It will examine a next step in development, where infrastructure is understood as a hybrid environment where engineering and function fuses with urban living, creating new urban typologies and policies for a contemporary city. With a combination of different infrastructural systems, new urban patterns can be produced that work towards a fundamental shift that cities need in order to be more energy efficient. For example: a natural gray water recycling system can provide for green urban spaces mixed with housing and commerce. Or, intensive hydroponic agriculture can be used to create new local communities and generate public space.
The first research aim is to identify new and energy efficient pairings of the infrastructural typologies and how to recognize capacity of these hybrid typologies to decrease carbon output.
2. Synergetic city wide initiatives for improvement of energy efficiency.
City wide initiatives for energy efficiency amount to bigger carbon reductions than individual architectural projects. Because these initiatives deal with complex urban systems, they have always focused on remediation of singular problems, largely due to a lack of appropriate management tools. For example: a problem of gray water recycling is solved with the installation of a water recycling plant. Or, to cool down the city, more trees are planted in public spaces.
Instead of devising separate initiatives, a more comprehensive synergetic initiative can be identified and deployed. For this a good managerial tool is needed. At CHORA we are using Urban Gallery as an “interactive planning tool managing dynamic master plans in which prototype projects play a significant role to either achieve efficient energy management, link operations of very different sectors and stakeholders or create a pattern of sustained growth or evolution” (Internet 2). In this way a possible hybrid initiative could be identified that, for example, combines natural gray water recycling with green open spaces.
The Second research aim is to test capacity of Urban Gallery for handling the complexity of previously described infrastructural hybrids, and evaluate improvement of city energy efficiency.
3. Embedding design into city wide policies.
As policies can be interpreted in different ways, they grow ever more restrictive to prevent misunderstanding and misuse. This brings about rigid planning system with long bureaucratic procedures.
In peri-urban areas of China the speed of development makes policing of space difficult. Hence, for example, infrastructural elements like networks of ponds or local light industry and trading zone, organize space in efficient way without elaborate policies. These physical elements act in a similar manner as city wide policies do, by creating differentiated local conditions that favour a certain urban pattern. For example: Around pond infrastructure the food industry develops. Or, within the light industry and trading zone markets, housing starts to emerge.
The third research aim is to evaluate the policing property of Chinese infrastructural systems. By identifying what specific policy-like properties are embedded in specific infrastructural typologies, they can be deployed as urban projects that delegate a certain type of development and urban pattern, enhancing a preferred policy.
3. A brief summary of the data collection, analysis and/or practice-based methods you propose to adopt
The proposed research will employ understanding of a city as a cohabitation of systems and processes. These can be physical (transport networks, process plants, etc), social (gentrification, marginalization, etc), economical (financial crisis) or political (congestion charge). Through identification, mapping and diagramatization of processes that make the systems work, we create models to understand how different systems behave, how they relate and inform one another. This scientific approach offers ways to understand what the role of different systems in the city is and what the consequences of their operations are. Finally, it gives a better picture how city functions as a whole, allowing identification of improvements and new possibilities.
Understanding how different systems and processes relate to each other and how they inform one another is very important. Only by understanding these connections can an adequate model be created. Management, correct identification and correlation of different processes and systems can be achieved by employing cybernetics.
“Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. [...] It is equally applicable to physical and social (that is, language-based) systems. [...] It is a broad field of study, but the essential goal of cybernetics is to understand and define the functions and processes of systems that have goals and that participate in circular, causal chains that move from action to sensing to comparison with desired goal, and again to action.” (Internet 3)
Cybernetics gives a broad framework with set of tools needed to explain how systems work and how to identify their elements. For example: how does a stable system work, when adaptability of a system is of interest? The system “guided by information from environment, must control its essential variables, forcing them to go within the proper limits, by so manipulating the environment (through its motor control of it) that the environment then acts on them appropriately.” (Ashby, 1952, p. 82)
Two specific phenomena that Cybernetics deals with can be especially instrumental when it comes to linking systems to urbanism. The first is feedback which explains that any result of an action becomes an input for a subsequent action. This challenges the classical linear understanding of a cause-effect duality where effect is a final result (e.g. policies dictating an urban design project). Instead, cybernetics proposes to use this result as a new input, creating iterations and evolving the initial state, enabling the revision of urban models through re-presentation and simulation (e.g. urban design project reveals problems of policies which get revised in order to produce new urban design project). Second phenomenon of dynamic systems is that feed back can be regulated and steered so it produces favourable and novel results, creating a manageable performative system. The method outlined shows how urban systems can be managed efficiently. It is similar to the way Urban Gallery functions as a managerial tool, which makes it a Cybernetic tool.
The research of peri-urban areas connects to writings by Richard Sennett and John Friedmann. Sennett is defining a difference between Closed and Open System. A Closed System is an over governed environment, where planning ideals champion regulation, definition and control. By ever increased complexity of cities; planners, architects and urban designers are trying to tackle the complexity by subordinating and controlling the city, resulting in homogeneity, equilibrium and integration. In this way, nothing sticks out, challenges or transgresses the boundaries. This in turn generates a predefined form that is enclosed, static and unable to change. (Ad Lib.: Sennett 2006) On the other hand we can understand peri-urban fabric in China described already by Friedmann (Friedmann 2005) within the Open System definition given by Sennett. In China, political and economical ingredients enabled a development that is highly dynamic. Here, negotiation between different activities and programs is possible due to a fast rate of development that loosens the governmental control. The rules of engagement are therefore not rigidly defined and are open to interpretation. The interpretation and negotiation is a way towards discovery and innovation, where new solutions emerge that can never come up within a previously defined Closed System. The outlined concept enabled in China a proliferation of loosely governed urban fragments, creating a patchwork-like spatial organization. This logic, that is free of heavy political constraints, becomes unregimented and dynamic but only to a point where each part of the system negotiates with its neighbours and defines an open whole that is constantly changing and adapting. Here, the true value and definition of certain spatial element is not defined by itself but by its position towards the different others.
This peri-urban environment produced new typological organizations that never could have developed in a regulated western city. From the close superposition of programs and typologies, to clustered organizations of living and working environments, peri-urban fabric in China provides new ideas how to organize the urban fabric. Central to these dynamic and flexible organizations is the capacity of infrastructure to bind them together. By taking good examples and developing them further, we can produce new spatial organizations that act favourably towards change and are therefore more efficient in how they use space and energy.
4. A brief outline of how your proposed research and/or practice will add to current knowledge
Predominant current planning methodology still uses zoning, programming and established typologies as their main tools of operation. Sennett argues that this is a consequence of modernism, which he exemplifies with Le Corbusier’s city concept ‘Plan Voision’. “The Plan's building-type shaped public housing from Chicago to Moscow, housing estates which came to resemble warehouses for the poor.” (Sennett 2006, p. 1)
In addition to the urban thought of modernism, the zoning logic is a historic sediment of the west. This is, amongst other things, a consequence of industrialization, or as Waldheim argues, a by-product of ‘fordism’, a “relatively decentralised model of industrial order favoured by Henry Ford” (Waldheim 2009, p. 29). On the basis of fordism, coupled with modernistic ideas, the predominant western urban fabric is one of dispersion and zoning which brings about wasteful use of public space and an over elaborate infrastructure that is spatially and energetically inefficient.
Rethinking the use and role of infrastructure is central to Landscape Urbanism, an emerging spatial practice. It is argued that the mono functional nature of infrastructure has to be rethought in order to be “rescued from the limbo of urban devastation to recognize its role as a part of the formal inhabited city. Designers need to engage with this infrastructural landscape [...]”.(Mossop 2006, p. 171)
The more forward looking design practices acknowledge the importance of infrastructure and problems of dispersed city. They try to rethink the practice of urbanism in order to move away from rigid design and fixed control of urban form. They accept a more open and flexible approach to design and are rethinking the ideas of zoning and dispersion. Two recent examples are The Highline, New York, by Field Operations (in reference to infrastructure) and One North master plan for Singapore, by Zaha Hadid Architects (in reference to zoning and dispersion).
This research aims to contribute to the already developing new practice in three ways.
Firstly, by identifying new hybrid infrastructural typologies that can “re-compact” the dispersed urban fabric. These new typologies can make a city more energy efficient, useful and create well structured spaces. Their inherent potential for binding different programs together can remedy some of the problems arising from zoned planning.
The second contribution is on the level of management and control of complex urban systems dealing with carbon reduction and energy efficiency of a city. Even the contemporary urban design practices struggle when it comes to implementation of city wide design approaches that need to be flexible. The main problem is that management of multiple interdependent systems on city scale is highly difficult. With the help of cybernetic and Urban Gallery this research hopes to contribute with a working model, how energy efficiency and city scale problems can be dealt with.
And thirdly, this research will contribute to the practice of urban policies. Urban policies are very constrictive and rigid. On the basis of research of peri-urban areas in China, this study will put forward new typologies that can act as and enhance the urban policies. In this way, the technical restrictions of policies can be loosened up to accommodate for a more flexible and open approach to urbanism.
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Internet 1: http://www.chora.org/?p=23, accessed on 22. September 2010
Internet 2: http://www.chora.org/?p=79, accessed on 25. September 2010
Internet 3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybernetics, accessed on 27. September 2010
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