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Car-friendly Brasília embraces walkers and cyclists

MD Staff

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Built from scratch in the 1950s, the Brazilian capital of Brasília was designed with the idea that all of its residents would be getting around by automobile. And that has largely turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: today, 41 per cent of travel in the city is made by car – the highest rate in the country. But that could soon change, as the government is looking to support movement on foot and by bicycle by developing a new policy on “active mobility”.

The Federal District’s Active Mobility Policy, which includes walking and cycling mobility, has the general objective of contributing to broad and democratic access to the city, by planning and organizing actions that ensure pleasant, affordable, safe, comfortable and inviting journeys for pedestrians and cyclists. The Government of Brasília will develop the Active Mobility Plan with the support of UN Environment Share the Road Programme and the World Resource Institute’s Brazil office.

The policy commits to improving mobility for people who travel by bicycle and on foot and fostering migration of motorized transport users to active modes. It also aims to better integrate active mobility within Brasília’s public transport system.

To ensure the development of a collaborative policy, Brasília government officials organized two workshops for relevant actors in December. The first engaged members of the public, while the second was for civil society; together, they gathered 45 people, including at least three with disabilities (visual, hearing and wheelchair). WRI Brasil conducted the sessions attended by stakeholders from Pedestrian and Cycling Organizations, academia, transport companies, commercial associations and technical staff from the government.

“By informing and involving different stakeholders in the process, it is possible to have a final plan that both serves the public’s interests and introduces new ways to try to drive a real change in mindset,” said Daniely Votto, Urban Governance Manager in WRI Brazil.

By using World Café tools and prioritizing measures to be consolidated in the active mobility policy, both groups were able to influence the process and better understand the main topics the plan would tackle. Stakeholders prioritized the need to improve public transport and policies to foster cycling infrastructure. They also prioritized the need of an educational policy in schools to foster the early understanding on the effects of high speeds, and private car-oriented city hazards.

Paula Manoela dos Santos, Active Mobility Coordinator in WRI Brasil, said that participatory processes are key to the policy’s success: “We were very pleased when the government itself demanded support to develop participation workshops, showing a concern to involve all relevant actors.”

Brasília has the first draft of the Active Mobility Plan. In September 2018, the government will start working to support improvements to infrastructure and operations, as well as education and behaviour change.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

Interview with Renzo Piano

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Renzo Piano © Stefano Goldberg / PUBLIFOTO Genova

Renzo Piano, winner of the 1998 Pritzker Prize and the 2002 UIA Gold Medal (among others), is one of the most prolific architects of our time, with an architectural repertoire that numbers over 50 landmark buildings spread right across the world. Today, he is perhaps best known for his iconic designs of the Georges Pompidou Centre (Paris, France) and The Shard (London, United Kingdom).

Born in 1937 to a family of builders in Genoa, Italy, Piano went on to found the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in 1980, which now has offices in Paris, Genoa and Berlin. He also established the Renzo Piano Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of the architectural profession through educational programs and activities.

But Piano, it seems, is far from slowing down: he recently volunteered his services to his hometown of Genoa, where he is designing a replacement for the Morandi Bridge, which tragically collapsed in August 2018.

The UIA Secretariat caught up with Mr. Piano just before the New Year to talk about the 1970 UIA-endorsed competition that marked a milestone in his early career: The Georges Pompidou Centre.

What attracted you to the competition for the Georges Pompidou Centre?

There was an idea in the competition brief that Richard [Rogers] and I found particularly interesting: the creation of a “house of culture”. André Malraux, culture minister from 1959-1969, came up with the idea of establishing a “house of culture” in every French city; a place where the different disciplines could intertwine, from music to literature to art. We liked that idea.

The other thing about this competition was the chairman of the jury, Jean Prouvé: my idol! Prouvé served as a great example to me, not just because of his talent for designing buildings, but also because of the ethics of his architecture, manifest mostly in his work with Abbé Pierre. He was an icon!

How did you feel when you won the competition?

Imagine: you’re 34-years-old, you’ve done a bit of work, but mostly small contracts, and somebody gives you the opportunity to build the Georges Pompidou Centre: How do you feel? Very surprised! We never expected to win – I mean, there were 681 entries!

What impact did this competition have on your career?

It had a huge impact: it gave us self-confidence and the courage to fight for our ideas. When we won that competition, we were projected into a new dimension. Up until then, we were small fry! Then suddenly we found ourselves working with big construction companies, and those kinds of companies are always telling you “impossible, Mr. Piano, impossible”! But our experience with the Georges Pompidou Centre taught us how to defend our ideas and not to let them fade away under the pressure of opposition. Though, of course, you have to be careful; you have to be sure the idea you’re defending is a good one! Once you’re sure of that, you have to be prepared to put all your energy into upholding your idea, day after day.

What advice would you give an architect entering a design competition?

Firstly, I would encourage any young architect to enter competitions. I myself got about 80% of my work through competitions. Even the new Palais de Justice, in Paris, was a competition. Nobody asks you to design buildings like that without a competition process first.

Secondly, forget tactics. One of the reasons why Richard and I won the competition for the Georges Pompidou Centre was because we never thought we could actually win, so we had zero strategy with regards to the jury. We were just focused on finding the right idea for that revolutionary period after May 68. Don’t waste your time trying to conform to what you think the jury is looking for, or you’ll never find true inspiration. Just concentrate on digging deep inside yourself, brainstorming with your colleagues, and looking for the right idea. Then, only then, you might win!

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Urban Development

Pakistani innovators design cheap and climate-friendly flat-pack homes for refugees

MD Staff

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Photo by Mohammed Saquib

Three years ago, Mohammed Saquib and his fellow students Yaseen Khalid and Nabeel Siddiqui were seeking inspiration for their final year university project. The Syrian crisis was at its peak and with the plight of refugees filling news bulletins, they decided to try to address the desperate need of some of the world’s most vulnerable people for shelter.

As they began their research, they discovered that Pakistan itself was facing a shortage of 10 million houses, with many people living in overcrowded, unsanitary informal settlements.

“There was no innovation in the construction industry in Pakistan and so we realized we needed to make a prototype, a house that could be assembled by anyone in minimal time and should be affordable as well,” said Saquib, who studied civil engineering at NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi.

Post-graduation, the trio founded ModulusTech, a startup that produces low-cost, energy efficient, flat-pack modular homes that can be used to house refugees but could also serve non-governmental organizations or government agencies seeking to build classrooms or health clinics in rural areas. The houses can also be used in the construction and tourism sectors.

“Each house is 16×16 square feet, with electricity and plumbing and everything pre-integrated in the panel walls. Each house costs around US$3,000 and the lifespan is about 30 years. The houses can be assembled in just three hours, using three people,” said Saquib.

“Primarily, we were targeting refugees and internally displaced people and we wanted them to be able to assemble these houses and get a feeling of ownership … According to a United Nations report, a refugee stays on average 17 years in temporary shelter so we designed (the house) according to this,” the 26-year-old added.

The houses are built around a steel frame with walls made of recyclable materials such as fibre cement composites and wood plastic composites. Glass wool insulation ensures the houses are energy-efficient and cost-effective. It is estimated that a ModulusTech house has a carbon footprint that is up to 52 times lower than traditional concrete homes.

When the team tested the homes in the Thar desert, where the outside temperature was around 50 degrees Celsius, the temperature inside was around 35 degrees, Saquib says.

In 2017, ModulusTech was accepted into The Nest I/O, a Pakistani startup incubator. Since then, the team has won a slew of awards and was selected by the Pakistani office of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to represent the country at the world’s first Global Manufacturing Industrial Summit in Germany last year.

ModulusTech hopes that government departments or relief agencies will buy its houses to set up in refugee camps or other settlements where displaced people are gathered. Pakistan is home to around 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, and around 400,000 people have been displaced internally by conflicts, violence or extreme weather events like floods.

ModulusTech won a grant from UN Environment as part of the Asia-Pacific Low-Carbon Lifestyles Challenge, which supports young people with cutting-edge ideas to foster energy-efficient, low-waste and low-carbon lifestyles.

“With this money, we have set up our own factory and we have labour and a proper manufacturing facility,” Saquib said, adding that the business training offered as part of the award was also very useful.

Dechen Tsering, UN Environment’s director for the Asia-Pacific region, said ModulusTech’s innovation was an example of the ingenuity needed to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems, with this project particularly geared toward helping some of the most vulnerable people.

Around one billion people live in informal settlements around the world, with millions more living in buildings that are not environmentally friendly. Rapid urbanization and economic growth challenge communities to sustainably expand capacity, heightening the need for innovation in building systems and infrastructure.

“Improving lifestyles across Asia and the Pacific must be an inclusive endeavour, and Mohammed … (is) demonstrating how we can get it done,” Tsering said.

Global ingenuity and innovation across all sectors will take centre-stage at the fourth UN Environment Assembly in March. The motto for that meeting is to think beyond prevailing patterns and live within sustainable limits.

So far ModulusTech has sold around 30 units, mostly to businesses in the construction industry who sought structures for washrooms and site offices. They are also in talks with United Nations agencies about possible uses for their product.

As they seek to build their market, the team are already working to upgrade their basic model by installing a solar-powered water purification system. They are also incorporating a second storey into their designs.

For Saquib, architects, designers and engineers have a critical role in fighting for a better environment, but education is also key.

“As a nation, we really don’t care about climate change now. Signing a Paris (climate change) agreement or creating a Pakistan vision for 2025 will not solve this issue. You have to go to ground level,” he said. “Global warming and our response in Pakistan should be part of the schools’ curriculum … It is the government’s duty to raise awareness of this issue.”

He admits it is frustrating that the environmental benefits of ModulusTech’s flat-pack housing is not recognized locally.

“We have built this house and nobody is looking at how sustainable it is, for example that the lifespan is 30 years. No one cares about that,” he said, adding that this lack of knowledge means designers must also take on the mantle of educators.

“We must educate but we have to take baby steps. People just care about the cost. They don’t care about the energy analysis,” he said.  “But we are trying our best to educate them, and we really highlight our achievements, like the fact that the houses save 45 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per house. That’s a huge thing right now.”

UN Environment

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The sky’s the limit as architects design UN17 eco-village in Copenhagen

MD Staff

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Photo by TMRW

It’s a building project with towering ambitions—to use all 17 of the UN’s Global Goals as a sustainability blueprint for a 35,000-square-metre eco-village being built on the southern outskirts of Copenhagen.

Amid dire warnings about the need to rapidly rein in carbon dioxide emissions, Danish architects Lendager Group, and project partners Årstiderne Arkitekter, want their 400-home development in Ørestad South to set a new standard for sustainable construction.

“We see the Sustainable Development Goals as a global tool with a holistic approach to the world’s sustainability challenges. A tool and a language that can be understood across sectors and countries,” Lendager says in its project description for the UN17 Village development.

UN17 Village will house 830 people, including around 175 children and 100 older residents. Five housing blocks will be built using recycled concrete, wood and glass. Some of the construction materials will be sourced from Lendager UP, the branch of Lendager that provides upcycled building materials, and the company will also use various subcontractors.

Construction is due to begin at the end of 2019, or early 2020, depending on the weather, and the work is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

It seems fitting that this innovative project is going ahead in Copenhagen. The Danish capital was the 2014 European Green Capital and aims to become carbon neutral by 2025.

For Lendager chief executive officer and company founder Anders Lendager, the development will act as a compass to guide others, including governments, businesses and individuals, towards sustainability in construction.

“The real change in the building sector still awaits but the tipping point is close,” he said. “We need to use the Sustainable Development Goals, the circular economy, upcycling, etc. as tools to create regenerative buildings and cities that give back and restore what we have destroyed over the past decades.”

There can be no denying the urgent need to reimagine our cities: UN Environment’s latest Emissions Gap Report showed that global carbon dioxide emissions rose again during 2017, after a three-year hiatus, to reach historic levels. Only 57 countries are on track to bridge their emissions gap—the space between where their emissions levels are likely to be and where they need to be.

Cities and urban settlements must be at the heart of renewed efforts to cut emissions. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities, and urban areas already account for 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“In response to multiple challenges facing our cities, integrated urban systems offer a way to cater for infrastructure that is key for quality of life, while enabling cumulative gains for resource efficiency and addressing climate change,” said Martina Otto, head of the Cities Unit at UN Environment.

“At UN Environment, we support policies and technical solutions that spur greater integration across sectors that usually are planned, designed and operated in silos. In terms of scale, the neighbourhood is particularly suited to being an innovation lab and delivering proof of concept. But we don’t stop there; we work towards bringing these good examples to scale, engaging across the different levels of governance and through public-private partnerships,” she said.

As well as addressing poverty, hunger, inequality and environmental degradation, the Sustainable Development Goals include specific targets to make cities and settlements “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. Lendager and its partners took this challenge to heart and their designs came out on top in a competition to select architects for the UN17 Village project.

The development will include rainwater collection facilities capable of recycling 1.5 million litres of water each year. The water will be treated and recirculated and used in the wash house and in the bath house. Water heating will be based on geothermic energy, while solar panels will also be used. Each building will also have a rooftop garden.

“The buildings are designed to limit energy consumption and to produce and recycle energy,” Lendager said. “Focusing on universal access to energy, increased efficiency and the use of renewables is crucial to create resilience to environmental issues like climate change.”

One cluster of buildings is designed to produce more energy than it needs and will distribute power and heating to other buildings, testing the efficacy of a smart closed system.

The building complexes, as well as individual apartments, are designed to be resilient to climate change with vegetation and green areas to help counteract the loss of vegetation and biodiversity caused by urban growth.

There will be around 3,000 square-metres of communal spaces for residents and the people of Ørestad. There will also be a conference centre, an organic restaurant, greenhouses and food-sharing and food-growing facilities.

The innovative project is an example of the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that UN Environment hopes will abound at March’s fourth UN Environment Assembly. The motto for the meeting is: think beyond prevailing patterns and live within sustainable limits.

“The innovations we are introducing provide solutions for a new, more inclusive and less harmful way of doing things,” Lendager says. “Sixty per cent of the housing needed by 2030 globally has not yet been built. The UN17 Village shows how we can support growing populations without compromising on sustainability.”

As part of its bid to tackle poverty, the project will provide 100 unskilled jobs for marginalized workers and challenge contractors to include them in their teams. The Village also aims to produce enough food for 30,000 meals every year by growing crops on the roofs and in the greenhouses.

“The crops will be served in the local restaurant, which will also help distribute the leftovers for free. We also want to integrate a food waste handling system by offering a designated area where people can share and pick up redundant food for free. The production of vegetables reduces transport costs and emissions, but it also plays an important role in community-building and education,” Lendager says.

He believes cities must ultimately become regenerators of energy, water, biodiversity, materials and humanity but admits mindsets still need to change.

“We are seeing examples of sustainability emerging in commercial housing, social housing, office buildings and so on—projects showing that sustainable buildings are a better investment. But we still have work to do.”

UN Environment

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