Making City

Rotterdam's International Architecture Biennale presents a much welcome, broader-than-usual vision of urban design, displaying several innovative strategies for change: here, the rationalist city seems ripe for reinvention.

City making is experiencing a paradigm shift away from certain cherished clichés. In today's climate, the way processes were once conceived and followed is often no longer of use, and the responsibility for reinventing the way we make cities lies with all the city's stakeholders — administrators, policymakers, politicians, entrepreneurs, designers and citizens. Fortunately, in many ways, an awareness of alternative methods is increasing in Europe, where cities are no longer growing and will need to catch up after the economic crisis is over. Similarly, growing global cities need sustainable plans, but also a redesign of the complex processes of design.

This is the basis for the 2012 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) and its main exhibition Making City , which is housed at the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), the Schieblock and its vicinity. "Austerity calls for new alliances and doing things differently", states IABR founder George Brugmans as Making City 's message. "How can making city be about reinventing the economy?" It is this "how", the in depth analysis of process, that frames the entire biennale.

"We need an activist government that participates, to bridge the gap between formal policy and informal collaboration," explain Brugmans and co-curators Joachim Declerck and Henk Ovink in the exhibition catalogue. Generic management of processes results in a generic system of rules, ill-attuned to situational realities and emerging alliances. Of course, this is different from culture to culture, and from circumstance to circumstance, so the IABR has unearthed specific international evidence of changing tactics and different alliances, rather than throwing its net so wide the visitor gets lost.
Main exhibition of the 5th International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam, <em>Making City</em> at the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), installation view
Main exhibition of the 5th International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam, Making City at the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), installation view
Dutch architectural practice Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS) have been commissioned to transform the Rotterdam Central District through local initiatives and crowdfunding. From the planted roof, the rationalist city looks ripe for reinvention. Eighteen varied interventions transform the city, such as adapting car parks and a Post Office for workshops and festivals. This project also involves alternative financing strategies developed by Erasmus and Delft Universities . Alongside the project, the IABR arranged multiple guided walking and cycle tours of the project in the centre, but also flagged anti-fragmenting effects of further flung neighbourhoods, through new collaborative transport networks in southern Rotterdam.
<em>Making City</em> at the NAi, installation view
Making City at the NAi, installation view
The curators lined up stories about seven Dutch places relying on the involvement of private and civil stakeholders in alliance with the state. Additionally, there are twenty-three counter-sites which put the local contexts of the IABR test sites in a global perspective. Most notable are schemes such as the adaptive plans by EPADESA for La Défense on the west side of Paris; a network along the Ohio River of ten Kentucky cities, with record unemployment and in strategic planning partnership with University of Kentucky College of Design ; and Guatemala's Posconflicto Laboratory , designed to guarantee housing access to all through a progressive system of subsidization.
IABR's is a broader-than-usual vision of urban design, one that is hugely welcome right now as a speculative vehicle
<em>Making City</em> at the NAi, installation view
Making City at the NAi, installation view
Two other exhibitions run parallel to Making City . Upstairs at NAi, 23 projects from global architectural schools investigate the possibilities for Smart Cities beyond the integration of technology. Harvard GSD's Delta City devises new landscape typologies which change land ownership patterns. Virginia University's MessyTech proposal for the Los Angeles CleanTech Corridor is smart, with a messy approach that is better for embracing the existing urban fabric. Mergers — such as blurring the boundaries between architecture and infrastructure — are always useful. To the east of Amsterdam, in the town of Almere, another exhibition, titled Making Almere , explains how the city is pioneering bottom-up planning, and invites visitors to input their own thoughts and ideas, using an augmented reality app. Making Almere is another success in the "how" category.
<em>Making City</em> at the NAi, installation view
Making City at the NAi, installation view
There is also a chorus. Reacting to the IABR, Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost, co-founders of Crimson Architectural Historians , made an exhibition. They maintain that IABR "assumes alliances and coalitions" of a certain kind, while Design as Politics , housed in a Mini Mall at Rotterdam's Test Site, shows "why design becomes political, whether architects want it to or not". An array of cutouts depicts riot-torn cities, some of them in 1980s United Kingdom: dreams of the welfare state were crumbling, and pop cultures were the seismographs of the city. In another example, Dutch squatter riots evoke cities as contested places: game-boards of competition in which banks force a decrease in the value of real estate. Additionally, Vanstiphout and Provost's academic work compares Detroit to Rotterdam in regards to vacancy and devaluation. São Paulo is also placed against Amsterdam for urban infrastructure, and Istanbul and the Randstad compared for sprawl. These confrontations open up unexpected possibilities and instruments. What if people dealt with Dutch problems in a Brazilian way, or Turkish problems in a Dutch way?
<em>Making City</em> at the NAi, installation view
Making City at the NAi, installation view
Overall, IABR's is a broader-than-usual vision of urban design, one that is hugely welcome right now as a speculative vehicle. When the economic crisis finally abates, it will be very important to be in possession of innovative strategies for change. Sharing strategies is not the same as ending up with duplicated results; the smart city demands thinking through processes and application of collective intelligence in differentiated, site-specific formats. There is a lot to be learned from the video clips in Making City , especially the cartoon ones, which provide an excellent selection for the layperson as well as the army of professionals visiting the exhibition.
<em>Making City</em> at the NAi, installation view
Making City at the NAi, installation view
Advocates for compact inner cities rather than far-flung, less sustainable suburbs, the IABR curators are in favour of compact, post-suburban productive landscaping schemes. The exhibition shows Michel Desvigne Paysagiste's Cluster Paris-Saclay , a French Ministry of Urban Affairs project and the last major agricultural plateau in the city; it is a story of "how" that is bound to get more focus in the next IABR. Messy-smart and locally driven — with some help from the Dutch and their experimental nature—; that's where it's at! Lucy Bullivant
Rooftop Garden on top of the Schieblock
Rooftop Garden on top of the Schieblock
With the help of Rooftop Farmer Annelies Kuipers, fruit and vegetables will grow here, and bees will buzz around their hives
With the help of Rooftop Farmer Annelies Kuipers, fruit and vegetables will grow here, and bees will buzz around their hives
Pedestrian bridge by Zones Urbaines Sensibles on Test Site Rotterdam
Pedestrian bridge by Zones Urbaines Sensibles on Test Site Rotterdam

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