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TOPIC: urbanism


How Germany's Office Building Market Went From Bubble To Bust

Higher, faster, more expensive – in German cities, renting out office space was a booming business. Then came remote working and higher interest rates.

FRANKFURT — The four towers still look like huge stone skeletons. But in some places, there are already windows appearing in the façade. The “Four” building project in Frankfurt is due to be completed in two years’ time. It will have more than 200,000 square meters of floor space, housed in tower blocks that soar to heights of 233 meters. Plenty of space for apartments, shops and, above all, offices.

A few hundred meters away, José Martínez sits at his desk in a much less spectacular building. On the wall behind him hang sketches of other planned tower blocks. Martínez is CEO of Groß & Partner, which has overseen the construction of the towering “Four” over the past 10 years.

He has no doubt that the effort has been worth it. “A mixed-use building in a prime location is an easy sell,” he says, adding that more than 80% of the office space has already been reserved.

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Moose In Our Midst: How Poland's Wildlife Preservation Worked A Bit Too Well

Wild moose have been spotted on Polish beaches and even near cities. They're a rare example of successful conservation efforts, but they're increasingly coming into contact with people.

GDANSK — Images of wild moose roaming the streets and beaches of Poland’s Baltic coast have been cropping up online more frequently. What should someone do if they encounter one? According to Mateusz Ciechanowski, a biologist at the University of Gdansk, the best option is to leave them alone.

“This is the result of the consistent protection that has been provided to this species of moose,” said Ciechanowski. “As the numbers increase, so does the animals’ range”.

Various media outlets have been publishing reports about spotted wild moose in the cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot with increasing frequency. Perhaps more surprising is that these moose have been seen on beaches as well.

Centuries ago, moose could be found all over the European continent. But, like the European bison, they were often hunted for their value as an attractive game animal.

Aside from population declines due to hunting, the drainage of European wetlands also decreased the number of viable moose habitats. The animals, which prefer marshy areas, dwindled without the proper natural environment to flourish in.

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How Miyawaki "Pop Up" Forests Spread Across The Urban Jungle Of Lisbon

Two years ago, forests planted according to a method invented by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, began to spread across in urban spaces in the Portuguese capital. It's a way to bring real enclaves of nature to urban realities in record time.

LISBON — António Alexandre still remembers the the first lines that formed in front of the FCULresta forest, back in March 2021. Those were times of masks and disinfectant gel, with only one person entering at a time.

But many people were excited to visit the tiny forest, right in the center of Lisbon.

Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki created the concept, which involves native species planted in high density and allows the creation of new forests born in record time — just 20 or 30 years.

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Out With The Car, In With The Urban "Super-Island"

Barcelona architect Ton Salvadó explains how a new way or organizing urban areas might lead to greener, more peaceful cities.

There's no pristine white sand and palm trees framing turquoise water on Ton Salvadó's "super-islands." When the Barcelona architect uses the term, what he's referring to instead are chunks of city, in nine-block groupings, whose interior streets are closed to cars, forming pedestrian "islands" where foot traffic is king.

The idea for super-islands first emerged when Salvadó became director of Barcelona's Urban Model, at a time when the city was embroiled by civic protests over the high price of housing. After some initial success, Salvadó, a Barcelona-native, might have the chance to revolutionize his city's pedestrian geography with 500 additional super-islands in the future.

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Dariya Badyor and Kseniya Bilash

Beyond Post-Soviet: Ukraine's Architectural Opportunity From The Rubble Of War

The war rages on, but some in Ukraine are already looking to how society can be rebuilt. Two Ukrainian architects share their vision for what a future Ukrainian urbanism — and society — might look like.

KHARKIV — Russian bombings have already destroyed thousands of Ukrainian houses, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The war is still far from over, so we know the losses will only increase. And yet, we must use the time before victory arrives to plan for the rebuilding of our cities.

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This viewpoint is shared by Iryna Matsevko and Oleg Drozdov, heads of the Kharkiv School of Architecture, one of the few Ukrainian universities recognized internationally as meeting the highest standards in the field. The architects share their opinion that not just Ukrainian houses should be restored — so too should Ukrainian society.

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Mohamed Elshahed*

Cairo Is Urban Trauma, Postcard From A City Planner

This dearth of urban planning in the Egyptian capital dates back half a century. But it reached a new peak starting in 2019, when one of its last livable districts saw its old ways demolished.

CAIRO — Inhabiting a city is an emotional and a psychological experience. For the past decade, I have lived in Cairo, a city I found to be exciting and full of potential from the perspective of an urbanist who studies cities, architecture and is concerned with heritage. I lived in Heliopolis, which I thought was one of the last sections of the Egyptian capital that, despite poor urban management for the past several decades, retained qualities that made it a livable place. It had trees, ample sidewalks, interesting architecture, and a neighborhood feel within its many subsections. It was a district with a relatively high quality of life compared to other parts of the city. There were also the remains of an extensive public transport system — the tram — which despite being dysfunctional, at least allowed residents to dream of its restoration one day under the right leadership.

Urban governance has been nonexistent since the military coup of 1952, when the Free Officers received support from the CIA through a covert program known as Project Fat Fucker to oust King Farouk, seen as uncooperative in the post-World War II era. It was an era shaped by postcolonial politics or, to be more precise, when formal colonialism was morphing into a new system that maintained colonial control, with access to assets, markets, raw material and labor under the guise of independence — a distracting form of political theater built on the emotions and desires of the masses in former colonies.

This dearth of urban planning was strikingly manifest in the summer of 2019, when over the course of several months, all the features that made Heliopolis among Cairo's more livable districts were swiftly removed. The residents had no say in the matter. Century-old trees were uprooted, public transport infrastructure was removed, and sidewalks were made smaller. Such actions are not only counter-intuitive to standard urban management logic but also have a severe impact on the value of private property in the area and, more importantly, on the psychology of residents. This is urban trauma.

Cairo today, and for much of the past decade, is an unstable city. When protests erupted in 2011 in the capital and across the country, occupying urban space was central to dissent. Conversely, urban infrastructure, particularly road systems, proved essential tools for authorities to assert urban control, such as the rapid deployment of security vehicles to the streets in an effort to impose curfews. Other examples include the cutting of electricity and the internet. In addition, there were many insidious forms of control that worked to destabilize the urban environment and make it less hospitable to potential protesters as well as to create a constant state of anxiety, even inside the home.

Over the past decade, Cairo has transformed immensely, with slogans such as "development" and "progress' operating as smoke screens for a violent remaking of the city for other ends. Counterrevolutionary forces argued that stability was more important than political change, but on the neighborhood level across the country there has been no stability whatsoever. Space is disfigured on a daily basis, trees are removed, buildings are demolished and heritage collapses. Within a matter of days, weeks or months, residents have lost their orientation around neighborhoods in which they have lived their entire lives. What kind of stability is this? And for whom?

Urban planners understand the psychological potential of cities.

Since the 1950s, urban planners, mostly in the United States and Europe, have understood the psychological potential of cities. Town planning can engender a sense of belonging, strengthen local communities, and bolster neighborhood ties. Conversely, it can also enforce a sense of individualism, manipulate residents into becoming consumers and intensify feelings of loneliness, alienation, anxiety and fear.

When the United States began its "shock and awe" campaign in Baghdad in 2003, the intention, as the name suggests, was to induce psychological shock, to overwhelm and control the population of an entire capital in a mere instant. In today's urban environment, psychology is always at work: in the hyper-surveillance of Dubai or Beijing, in the advertising-saturated Times Square in New York or London's Piccadilly Circus; or in the presence of military camps within Egyptian cities, with conscripts placed in watchtowers, their rifles pointed outward at the city around them. In all these examples, and many more, urban environments impact human psychology, intentionally or not, where technologies, spaces and tactics are weaponized by those in power to control populations.

Despite the apparent availability of funds to build an entirely new capital or attract investments for superfluous additions to the city — such as mimicking the London Eye on the Nile — Egypt's more mundane, yet crucial, urban needs have not been met. In a political environment orchestrated around the notion of megaprojects touted by those in power as evidence of their rule, fixing sidewalks, planting trees and improving public transport do not add up to iconic achievements. Instead, Egyptians have been increasingly gaslit since the 1990s into believing that their cities are irreparable and nothing more than reflections of the Egyptian psyche: chaotic and unordered.

Through psychological manipulation that serves undemocratic rule and uncontrolled capital, it has become common to hear that something is fundamentally wrong with Egyptians themselves and that only money can buy them a ticket out of their urban misery. Promotions abound for privately-built gated developments, with names meant to evoke life in Marseille or other far afield spaces such as "Dreamland" or even "Future City," which feels all too much like the dreary present.

Over the last several years, Cairo has been the laboratory for some of the most aggressive urban interventions in its entire history. From highways that negate the existence of residential buildings within arm's reach, to the demolition of hundreds of mausolea containing the remains of the city's dead, including many of its most important public figures, these projects seem to negate the very existence of the city's inhabitants.

In the current political climate, where any form of opposition is immediately branded as a threat to the nation and its security, such projects bulldoze through the urban fabric under a plethora of flags and nationalistic slogans such as "we build for you." At the crux of the matter is a form of state paternalism that echoes statements made by officials during the legendary eighteen days of the revolution: "Egyptians are not ready for democracy" — which in urban affairs translates into "Egyptians don't know what is good for their city."

Cairo has been transformed into a place without memory.

For many inhabitants of the city there is a sense of being held hostage, of feeling helpless and having no control over the environment they occupy and inhabit. The numerous interventions happening at once are disorienting, they create chaos and disperse any effort to record what is happening. Alongside these processes, and in the absence of robust institutions that maintain the memory and history of modern and contemporary society, Cairo has been transformed into a place without memory, perpetually stuck in a disorienting present. These are tactics of psychological control and many Cairenes may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, caused not only by the instability of the city, but by the increasing sense of anxiety that comes with pervasive insecurity and predatory surveillance.

In the aftermath of 2011 Cairo saw an immense increase in surveillance cameras mounted in public spaces. This was followed by a law that forced private businesses to install cameras outside their premises. Trees may provide shade and clean the air, but in a security state they also hinder surveillance. So trees must be removed. Occasionally, to counter criticism of tree removal, imported palm trees are planted as decorative replacements whilst lining the pockets of importers. The imported palms do not survive well in Cairo's harsh environment and often die shortly after planting. This seems counterintuitive: Why import palm trees from vast distances to a country rich in its own local varieties of palms? Such questions can best be answered by adjusting the expectations or refocusing the purposes of the urban interventions taking place.

Cairo street scene in 2005. Not much has changed since. — Photo: JJ Jester

Such interventions are driven by multiple interests; not the interests of the masses, but rather those of the security apparatus looking to open up spaces for observation and control and for those who receive direct, no-bid contracts and are only looking to maximize profit. Regardless of the form they take, these interventions are in fact fulfilling exactly what they are designed for; the public does not figure into the state's considerations.

In 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, and following the exit of British troops from Egyptian cities, architect Sayed Karim consulted Al-Musawwar magazine on producing a series of spreads that illustrate key urban challenges facing Cairo in order to get the public on board for the necessary changes. One of the spreads titled "Cairo is suffocating, let her breathe!" was centered on the issue of green space. The spread was mainly visual accompanied by a short text. It included an aerial view of the capital with a graph below visualizing the amount of green space in various parts of the city as measured by the ratio of population density to public parks. It presented both a bleak picture and a call to arms, arguing that the city was dangerously lacking in green space which correlates directly with higher rates of infant mortality, disease and social ills.

At the time, only one percent of the city's total area was dedicated to parks, while it needed about ten percent for healthy levels. Six districts, such as Bulaq, Shubra and historic Cairo, which were collectively populated by over 1.1 million residents, did not have access to any green space. The text concludes with a call to establish a municipality to govern Cairo and manage its affairs, including the lack of green space. "Enough of the politics of improvisation which have cost the state and the people immense losses," the architect concluded.

Karim was an ambitious and vocal architect and urbanist and his daring message reflected the widespread revolutionary fervor and public criticism sweeping Egypt after 1948. Others joined his calls for a municipality and the demand began to materialize in 1949. However, the heavy-handed policies of the new military regime which co-opted the revolution in 1952 led to the cancellation of the short-lived municipality. The building erected for the municipality was then used as the headquarters of Nasser's Arab Socialist Union and subsequently the National Democratic Party.

In this new era, Egypt's heads of state did what they saw fit with the city and its people, there was no room for a politics of participation such as a democratic municipality. Ever since, the city has been a site for projects decreed from above and designed to improve the image of leaders rather than provide its residents with needed services. As for voices such as Sayed Karim, who looked to galvanize public opinion with urban critique, his career was cut short, his offices were shut by the state and he was placed under house arrest in 1965. Cairo today continues to live in the shadow of this traumatic moment.

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Laura Aragó

The Multiple Faces Of Spain's Shifting Immigration Map

From Moroccan migrants to British pensioners, Spain has plenty of foreign-born residents. Each group differs, however, in terms of where and how they concentrate upon arrival.

BARCELONA — Mare Nostrum Avenue in Almería, a mid-sized city in southern Spain, is a dividing line between two realities. On one side, half the residents were born in Morocco; on the other, more than 98% of the population are native Spaniards. Likewise, the city center of Mazarrón, an hour-and-a-half drive up the coast, has little in common wth the surrounding suburbs, an expanse of detached homes where 60% of residents are British. And then there's Madrid's Usera neighborhood, which has developed a distinctly Asian profile: It's now home to 25% of the capital's registered Chinese residents.

Almería, Mazarrón and Usera are just three examples of the residential and communal segregation that divides Spain's territory into different realities and highlights growing inequalities. Typically, a community is segregated from the rest of the population when recently arrived members have fewer options in obtaining credit to access housing, as well as because of racism in the housing market.

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Miguel Jurado

Urban Planners Find Smart Design In Argentine Shantytowns

Planning experts from Denmark and the U.S. tasked with redesigning a Buenos Aires shantytown were surprised by some of its built-in people-friendly dynamics, which can be applied elsewhere — even in upscale projects

BUENOS AIRES — International city planning experts invited to reform and rebuild Villa 31, a poor district of Buenos Aires, stumbled on a basic feature they didn't expect: cheerful living conditions despite the poverty. The panel of experts advised city authorities not to bulldoze away the conditions that make it possible. Moreover, there is an opportunity to replicate the dynamics of Villa 31 elsewhere.

The specialists from Denmark's Gehl Consulting were struck by the vitality on the streets of Villa 31 and its intensively sustainable mobility — mostly, lots of walking — compared to some of the city's well-to-do districts. It is "one of Buenos Aires's most interesting neighborhoods," says a Gehl report from January, with the "scale of medieval European settlements attracting thousands of tourists. It has the city life sought in cities like New York and Melbourne."

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Frédéric Schaeffer

Xiongan, Xi Jinping's Dream Megacity To Burnish His Legacy

Ground has been broken on the signature domestic project of the Chinese leader's next term. It is meant to be a massive model city of innovation, forever linked to Xi's Chinese Dream.

QIAOXI —Time in this village seems to be standing still. Since the Ming dynasty 500 years ago, the community has enjoyed peace and quiet, surrounded by the lakes and reeds of the Baiyangdian region, about 150 kilometers southwest of Beijing. To reach it, there is only one narrow road that winds between the wetland and fields of corn and wheat. The location is popular among the capital's residents, who come here on weekends to admire the lotus flowers and eat freshwater fish.

But last April 1, the village was brutally shaken awake from its slumber and flung right into the top national headlines. This is where President Xi Jinping decided to create a new city to rival Shanghai and Shenzhen: The so-called Xiongan New Area is expected to cover 2,000 square kilometers — 20 times the size of Paris and three times the size of New York.

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César Pelli*

An Architect's Tallest Ambition, Just A Corner Of A Beautiful City

César Pelli has designed some of the world's best known skyscrapers. But he writes that the wonder of a beautiful city is collaboration over generations of many talented architects who care about the way people live.


BUENOS AIRES — I write as one who loves architecture. It gave me a direction in life and has been the source of much delight. I admit that I derive particular pleasure from seeing my own buildings, but I also enjoy visiting the well-designed works of others. I love visiting beautiful cities like Venice, Paris, Istanbul or Kyoto where many years ago, many talented people constructed beauty with technologies that have disappeared. On these occasions I reflect on what a beautiful gift architects have given us, even if many of them are unknown today.

Our work is curious, certainly. We have limitations that are inconceivable in other artistic realms. A client or a program guides our activity. We work within the limits of a terrain we never picked and a budget that is usually restrained. We must adjust according to a range of codes and regulations, and yet incredibly, with all the limitations, we sometimes produce works of great beauty, even works of art. Buildings that resonate with us just like paintings or sculptures.

For this, you need not only talent but also much dedication, both to the profession and the project at hand. The architect's job has greatly changed in the 72 years since I discovered it as a first-year student at the Tucumán Institute of Architecture and City Planning. And it keeps changing.

Personally, I see some very positive developments. The main one is that young architects in Argentina and elsewhere seem to be intelligent, very well trained and full of enthusiasm and dedication. I also think it is important that there are so many extremely capable women working in architecture. I believe they are injecting new life into the profession.

The computer has certainly changed what we can do and how we do it. I never learned to draw with a computer, but still it has opened some practical opportunities. And it undoubtedly allows us to do things that would have been impossible without it. Our customers are also asking for great precision and an enormous amount of detail.

Another positive development is our attention to sustainability. Humans have made tremendous advances, but have also put the world in great danger, threatening to make the world uninhabitable.

What architects can do to delay the disaster is limited but very useful, and we are doing it. Almost all architects try to design sustainable buildings, and have come to appreciate that green spaces are essential to leading healthy lives. Parks and squares are being inserted into old cities and are usually immediately embraced and integrated into the city's life.

I would also applaud our dedication to conservation. It is a healthy thing. It means we recognize that there were wise, competent people in the past and that new does not always mean better. It also allows us to enjoy marvelous works we could not replicate today. At the time, they depended on particular social structures that no longer exist, and technologies that required many highly specialized craftsmen who today would be too costly. Conservation means we can enjoy those buildings, and they give sense to our new designs.

But I think our main responsibility as architects is to help make cities livable and beautiful, because cities are built building by building. Every new building makes the city a little better, or worse.

I am worried by the trend to create ostentatious buildings with a recognizable personal signature. These tend to depart from the general context, and strive to be noticed. To remain recognizable, some architects feels the need to follow their inner impulses, like painters or sculptors with a known signature. But the building might not necessarily fit in with the character of a place or a city's evolving form.

Many of these striking buildings are the works of talented architects and are created to serve exceptional purposes, which is understandable. The problem arises when lesser talents decide to create similar constructions for ordinary purposes, or buildings that are meant to be a part of the city's fabric.

I see this as a failure to understand what makes architecture unique.

Our greatest responsibility is to help make cities harmonious, beautiful and agreeable to their inhabitants.

Thankfully Buenos Aires and Argentina are not yet unduly affected by this, though I fear it is coming our way. And no amount of regulation will stop it. An easier solution would be to recognize the problem and react in time, resisting the temptation to imitate the superstars of architecture.

Perhaps our greatest responsibility when signing a contract is to help make cities harmonious, beautiful and agreeable to their inhabitants. This means we must design with an understanding and respect for what is already there, the city's traditions and character. It requires that we design buildings that contribute to the modalities of the city and, above all, the area where our building will be located. Because cities have very distinct areas, with their own structure and character.

Architect César Pelli — Photo: Presidencia de la N. Argentina

Districts in the Argentinean capital, like Palermo Hollywood, Catalinas Norte or the waterside Puerto Madero differ in character. The design of buildings varies from area to area, though they all remain typical of Buenos Aires, which has its own unique character.

I have never lived in Buenos Aires, though I have visited it a dozen times and designed four buildings there. I admire the flow of its pedestrian avenues, with a good distribution of restaurants, shops and cafés. It means walking in this city is a pleasure. Only one of my four designs, the Republic Building, was in a traditional district, and I made sure it fit in with its surroundings.

There is no building, however beautiful, that I would enjoy visiting more than a beautiful city, even if a city's beauty consists in part of its beautiful buildings. I am thinking of the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the French capital's ample avenues, or Venice's palaces and the Piazza San Marco.

The wonder of a beautiful city is that it was not designed by one person. It is the collaboration over years, or centuries, of many talented architects who managed to control their egos and work for the bigger space. For me, beautiful cities are the most valuable works of art that humans have produced, and I am fortunate to have been part of this process. Contributing to a city's creation is, quite simply, an honor.

It is wonderful to be able to think or say that a little bit of Buenos Aires, or any city, is mine. That is what lasts.

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Cécile Thibaud

Sagrada Familia, A Battle For Barcelona’s Soul

The architectural icon begun by Antoni Gaudi in the late 19th century is still incomplete. Now city hall wants to end a century-old legal exception, as debate continues about protecting the original architectural vision.

BARCELONA — "It looks like a giant Easter egg!" This sentence, pronounced a few weeks ago by Barcelona's city council member in charge of urban planning, provoked outrage and shock. Who does he think he is to belittle the Sagrada Familia, the city's best-known landmark?

Each comment, each hitch, every question really, about the architectural jewel imagined by Antoni Gaudí is bound to start a fiery argument in this Spanish city. And city hall's recent announcement that it would start overseeing the longstanding work-in-progress, with new rules for checking licenses and permits, was no exception.

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Vivian Urfeig

Digital Oases For Cuba's Internet Revolution

HAVANACuba"s belated embrace of the Internet has people packing into places like the Plaza de la Revolución and the colonial fort Castillito, two of the island's just 114 public WiFi hotspots.

Overall, the number of Cubans who regularly access the Web is still relatively small. But things are changing, and quickly. The Internet revolution is just getting underway here.

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