Designing cities - Ritchi Quartier, Wallisellen

posted Dec 14, 2015, 1:39 AM by Patricia Martin

As urban population grows, existing cities get denser and denser all over the world. However, urban sprawl and suburbia dominate new developments on their rural outskirts. Single family homes with their private outdoor space seem to be the safer and the only way for developers and planning officials to develop rural areas. I believe many times, suburbia is chosen in front of “city” because of fear to change the existing landscape by population. Because of fear to the new. But, while low density developments can look more appropriate to new developed areas in rural settings, their impacts on the exiting landscape are actually far worse than that of higher density designs. It has been widely proved the negative effects of suburbia on environmental degradation and intensifying segregation. But still, this knowledge is not effectively communicated to the public, who is the one ultimately deciding.

Nevertheless, when architects and urban planners are able to communicate effectively the message, we can witness very interesting proposals as Richti-Quartier in Wallisellen, Switzerland (map)

Just next to the station, on the border of Wallisellen, the architect Vittorio Lampugnani proposes a network of narrow commercial streets that conform residential blocks with semi-public open spaces.

The Richti neignbourhood of Wallisellen is organised around the Richtiarkade, a slightly bent, linear main street which directly and comfortably connects these two major points in the city. The public park, Richtiplatz, begins to unfurl at the point where the street begins to bend. Five additional, narrower streets compose the rest of the site plan, completing its geometrical and spatial relationships and allowing the site to appear both permeable and anchored in its surroundings. In doing so, it also remains an independent ensemble, coherent and providing a calm urban atmosphere. The streets and squares as well as buildings and courtyards radiate simplicity, solidity, and even a certain sense of luxury; their highly crafted quality combines sophisticated modern technology with established construction details. The architecture is one of permanence, which can age well and lends a specific identity to the area.

Richtiplatz is the heart of the development, both spatially as well as socially. Stretched between the lightly angular parts of the Richtiarkade and connected to Winterthurerstrasse by two short streets, the flow of movement on the site creates an excellent meeting place. Its cobblestoned paths are only available for delivery and service traffic, inviting the pedestrian to bide his time on a space shaded by trees and adorned by a fountain. During the warmer seasons, a Café provides outdoor seating; the area is large enough that one could set up kiosks and celebrate festivals. Richtiarkade is the only street that is available for non-residents, and is therefore the functional backbone of the area. Nevertheless, it also serves as the social backbone: under the protection of the arcades are shops, cafés, and restaurants. Traffic is conducted such that pedestrians are not threatened; Richtiarkade is first and foremost a place to take a stroll. Its qualities as a place of rest are underlined by not only the arcades, but also by stately trees.

The residential streets make it possible for every occupant to arrive directly as his front door. However, first priority is given to pedestrian and slow-traffic streets. As they are protected from fast traffic and beautified through front gardens, these streets form ideal gateways to the apartment buildings. Large, irregularly situated building sites (with the exception of high-rise towers and office parks) are designed as five-storey living or office buildings with spacious interior courtyards. In the office buildings, the ground storey is used for public functions (Cafeteria, Conference Rooms), and in the residential blocks (except for the Arcade Rooms) as studios and loft-style apartments. Roofs are usable as terraces. Every building has an individual character and a different architect was used for almost every one. Therefore, a genuine diversity was created - the same diversity which makes historical cities so attractive, full of life, and loveable. The buildings create a dialogue amongst one another as well as exist in deference to each other. What they have in common is the knowledge of individuality that leads to an idea of community.



Bigtalkers by Circulo Creativo London at Richmix, London

posted Dec 11, 2015, 2:17 AM by Patricia Martin

YouTube Video

Círculo Creativo London presented a series of talks and events with the aim of sharing knowledge between disciplines and approaches. We decided to name this lectures ´Bigtalkers´ in an aim to redefine the concept and introduce a hint of ´projection´ and ´expectation´ in the term, inviting our speakers to share the hopes and fears behind their projects with our audience.

Knowledge Cities

posted Jun 10, 2015, 5:40 AM by Patricia Martin

I’ve been recently involved in the design of a new knowledge based urban development and challenged by the idea of designing a city that would encourage the creation of knowledge. In this post I want to share some of the things I have learned about Knowledge Cities, as I find this concept very interesting.

During the last decade, many cities around the world, such as Barcelona, Stockholm and Melbourne, have started giving direct attention to knowledge based urban development. This movement arose from the boom of urbanization and information and communication technologies in the late XX century. Different governmental institutions and international organizations have pursued knowledge based development and the consequently creation of Knowledge Cities (KC). Although the notion of KC has evolved significantly and adopted different names—“ideopolis”, “technopolis” or “smart city”—, its main concept keeps constant: a city that is purposefully designed to encourage the nurturing of knowledge (Edvinsson 2003).

There is compelling evidence supporting the hypothesis that knowledge intensity and growth are related. From Parkinson’s (2006) State of the Cities report, identifying human capital as an important source of economic success, to Glaeser’s (2005) argument that cities such as Boston have succeeded because of their investment in human capital—I.e. people and their skills—, there is a wealth of research suggesting that knowledge intensive businesses and/or occupations can lead to higher productivity and prosperity. High levels of skills make the workforce—and therefore the city’s economy—more flexible and adaptable, and therefore more resilient in the face of change (Glaeser, E. and Saiz, A, 2003).

Yigitcanlar et al. (2008) summarize the elements and framework needed to build a KC, based on Barcelona’s KC (2003) and Van Winden et al (2007) work:

· Knowledge base: including educational institutions and R&D activities;

· Industrial structure: affects progress and initial development of a KC;

· Quality of life and urban amenities: ensures a KC has necessary elements knowledge workers are attracted to build a strong knowledge base;

· Urban diversity and cultural mix: as an instrument in encouraging creativity;

· Accessibility: encourages and facilitates the transfer and movement of knowledge;

· Social equity and inclusion: minimises social disparity and negative tensions;

· Scale of a city: larger KCs may tend to offer a greater knowledge pool, greater diversity and choice for knowledge workers and businesses.

For the implementation of all previous elements, a strong organising capacity is fundamental, as well as a good relationship with academic institutions (Yigitcanlar et al. 2008). Universities are seen as “engines of innovation” which create talent and foster relationships and connectivity between citizens within the knowledge pool (Martinez-Fernandez and Sharpe, 2008). Technology and communication are fundamental to ensuring the success of a KC (Yigitcanlar et al. 2008). High level of communication, facilitated through high levels of technology, assures that citizens have equitable access to education, training and services which strengthens human capital. In a knowledge economy, particularly concerning knowledge intensive businesses, technology, communication and transport are integral to the ongoing development of this facet of the economy (Wong et al., 2006). Moreover, cultural infrastructure and community play a key role in the success of KCs. First, because knowledge workers are drawn to places of cultural vibrancy and variety (Florida, 2002). And second, because the values associated with cultural elements of the city foster creative energy and draw in the innovative knowledge workers.

All this has direct implications in the physical configuration of the city. Spatial relationships provide opportunities and facilitate relationships and knowledge sharing. KBUD and clustering of knowledge institutions provide opportunities for interaction, building of relationships and the facilitation of cross fertilisation of ideas (Larsen, 1999). Melbourne addressed the planning of its KC by shifting towards a denser redevelopment of the inner city, which “may require a substantial change in housing preferences and lifestyles” (p. 15). This change was part of the new urban containment policy to improve the quality of life and diverse cultural texture and lifestyle options within the city (Yigitcanlar et al. 2008). But the key strategic step was the identification of nine areas were Melbourne had competitive strengths in scientific research: knowledge precincts. These knowledge precincts were areas surrounding the main university campuses with special local land use regulations in favour of high-tech industries, with links to a nearby university. They provide opportunities for linkages, technology diffusion and cross fertilisation between high-tech businesses, academia and public sector R&D facilities (Yigitcanlar et al. 2008).

Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Basic Books.

Florida, R. (2005). The flight of the creative class: the new global competition for talent. London: Harper Collins.

Glaeser, E, ‘Smart Growth: Education, Skilled Workers and the Future of Cold Weather Cities’ in Rapaport Insitute Policy Briefs, April 2005, p.1

Glaeser, E. and Saiz, A, (2003) ‘The Rise of the Skilled City’, NBER Working Paper No. W10191

Larsen, K. (1999). Learning cities: the new recipe in regional development. The OECD Observer. 217/218, 73-77

Parkinson, M. et al (2006) State of the English Cities

Van Winden, Berg, W., van Den, L. and Peter, P. (2007). European cities in the knowledge economy. Urban Studies 44(3): 525-549

Wong, C., Millar, C. and Choi, C. (2006). Singapore in transition: from technology to culture hub. Journal of Knowledge Management. 10(5): 79-91.

Yigitcanlar, T., Velibeyoglu, K. and Baum, S. (Eds.) (2008a). Knowledge-based urban development: planning and applications in the information era, Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Yigitcanlar, T., Velibeyoglu, K. and Baum, S. (Eds.) (2008b). Creative urban regions: harnessing urban technologies to support knowledge city initiatives, Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

More on climates and cities

posted Jan 28, 2015, 2:22 AM by Patricia Martin

The study of climate in cities has focused on the effects of urban environments on climate. In this field, researchers have investigated small-scale processes such as atmospheric turbulence generated by buildings, and large-scale processes such as the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. However, little research has studied the influence of climate in the social environment of cities. What is not yet understood is the importance of climate in people’s behaviour in cities. By understanding how people experience climatic conditions, architects could improve the design of urban public spaces to enhance their use and therefore foster integration and improve quality of life in cities. A more integrated view of architecture and climate could generate more stimulating environments and enhance consciousness of the importance of climate. Commonly, architects and engineers have considered climatic conditions as factors to counteract in their search for a neutral climatic environment. However, climatic conditions can be used to enrich the experience of the urban space.

All living organisms, including humans, must deal with the energy fluxes of their surrounding environment. In fact, life is only possible in a very small range of temperatures, and all species have specific limits in which they can survive. The human body produces heat continuously through its metabolism. The heat produced in excess by metabolism is dissipated to the surrounding environment through the skin. The body absorbs heat from direct solar radiation and long-wave radiation from surrounding surfaces and the sky. It loses heat through convection due to air temperature differences and wind flow, and through conduction with the surfaces it comes into contact with. Besides, when perspiring, the body loses heat through evaporation on the skin. When energy fluxes are balanced, comfort is reached.

                                                                                                                                                              Thermal balance outdoors.

Bur thermal comfort is also defined as: “that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment”. This definition of comfort implies that comfort is highly subjective and depends on each individual. Moreover, the meaning of comfort varies depending on time, location, culture, or society. During the last century, changes in the meaning of comfort caused a drastic transformation of our environment. From the paving of urban surfaces to the air-conditioning of interior spaces, the desire for comfort has established different conceptualizations of the relationship between man and environment.

Ice Swimming at the Uittamo beach in Turku, Finland, in January 2012. Author: Candida.Performa

For example, Klinenberg (2002) explains in his study how coping with the environment establishes different social organizations and affects urban life using the case of the heat waves in Chicago. In the 1960s and 1970s heat waves, Chicagoans stayed outdoors and cooled themselves in public fountains. However, during the heat wave of 1995, achieving comfort became an individual matter, as people took shelter inside air-conditioned buildings.

Heat Waves In New York And Children Cooling Off. Source:

Comfort should not be defined as a state of thermal neutrality. Heschong (1979) compared the thermal experience with the delight of savouring a meal. We have specific nutritional needs that could be met with pills or bars containing the exact amounts and varieties of nutrients required by our bodies. But having food is not merely a physiological need. It is an essential part of culture and society and an experience of tastes, aromas, and textures. Heschong stated that thermal experience also has the “potential for such sensuality, cultural roles, and symbolism” as felt when sunbathing in the summer on the beach, swimming in the sea’s cold water, enjoying saunas, or promenading. So here I advocate for passive design approaches that not only meet thermal needs, but also bring back thermal coping and sensing strategies, and open up new dimensions of architectural experience.

Moreover, as temperatures keep rising all over the planet due to climate change, the achievement of fixed standards will become even more difficult in the future. Therefore, as many authors state, the challenge for architects and urban designers is to design environments that provide opportunities for different conditions, broadening the sensory experiences and stimulation available within the built environment. A more integrated view of architecture and climate will create more stimulating environments. I advocate for an architecture that is not an end in itself, nor is it just a pragmatic “tool” for satisfying specific functional demands. Instead, it is a means to enhance the existence of individuals and their experiences of the environment. It suggests the opposite of a generic approach. It seeks a context-sensitive, user-oriented design, where the specific needs of people and communities, their cultural and historical context and the unique characteristics of a given place are the foundation of design choices.

PLEA 2013 Conference in Munich

posted Sep 19, 2013, 3:20 AM by Patricia Martin   [ updated Sep 19, 2013, 3:32 AM ]

Last week I attended the international PLEA 2013 conference where I presented the paper Weather Perception in Urban Public Spaces (which you can find at the bottom of the page). The 29th edition of this conference took place in Munich, Germany, with the subtitle Sustainable Architecture for a Renewable Future. The conference invited scientists, planners, architects, engineers, stakeholders, entrepreneurs and students from around the world to present and discuss holistic, quality-based approaches to future challenges in architecture and planning. The organization of the event was brilliantly run by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Werner Lang and the rest of the team at the Technische Universitat Muenchen (TUM). Thanks for the terrific dinner! 

View of Munich from to the top floor of TUM (Technische Universitat Muenchen)

The conference included very motivating and stimulating talks, such as those given by Thomas Herzog, Mario Cucinella, Diébédo Francis Kéré, Michael Taylor and Xiaodong Li. They addressed the broad topic of sustainability in architecture from the design point of view and left the technical aspects besides. As Mario Cucinella stated, most of the energy savings you can get in a building come from architectural design. Issues such as orientation, façade composition or proportions are the key factors in sustainable design. D. Francis Kéré and Xiaodong Li gave us also a broader view of sustainability and showed us what it means and the implications it has in their countries and for their societies. It is thought-provoking to read the huge numbers that China manages and the implications of its government’s decisions. Similarly, it is puzzling to see how, while in the developed world, sustainability means making a responsibly use of energy and resources, in developing countries, it is an actual need as they have no resources. We generally, as a society, understand sustainability as an ethical option, but in places such as Gando (Burkina Faso) or Gaza, natural ventilation or using local materials is the only possibility.

Mario Cucinella presenting his talk: Creative Empathy

On Wednesday afternoon, a panel discussion on Sustainability and Building Culture was held. The panel was formed by renowned architects such as Angela Garcia de Paredes or Matthias Sauerbruch, and moderated by Wilfried Wang. From my point of view, the most interesting idea posted by the panel was that of INTEGRATION. As architects that is what we do. We have to integrate many different issues, such as programme, costs, society, beauty, structural stability, topography, sustainability, etc. into one building. That is what we call architectural design. And sustainability must be another component of the design from the beginning. I really liked this statement by Thomas Herzog: "Never give up the beauty". 

Panel discussion

Finally, the conference included a wide range of topics from building elements to cities or refurbishment. Around 190 researchers from all over the world presented their works, either in posters or oral presentations, about sustainable architecture with impressive results. I was very pleased to form part of the Regions, Cities, Neighborhoods section together with recognized researches such as Prof. Dr. Evyatar Erell and Prof. Dr. Edward Ng. It was very interesting to see our common interests in research topics with people from all over the world and the effort done by scholars to create more comfortable outdoor spaces for citizens. I want to thank deeply Simos Yannas and Paula Cadima for their guidance and support of my research.

My presentation in the section Regions, Cities, Neighborhoods

Environmental perception

posted Jun 12, 2013, 9:48 AM by Patricia Martin

Climate is a fundamental part of the city as it forms an essential part of its image and identity. Moreover, climatic conditions have a great influence on the way we perceive our environment. Any change in the weather, time of the day or the point of view influences their understanding and perception. The same scenario can be completely different depending on the atmospheric conditions. THEREFORE, OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ENVIRONMENT IS TOTALLY DEPENDENT ON WEATHER CONDITIONS. 

The built, social and climatic environments of cities are intrinsically related. All three influence one another, creating multiple situations. This relationship is most patent in public spaces. INDEED, FOR PUBLIC LIFE TO HAPPEN, A SPECIFIC SOCIAL, BUILT AND CLIMATIC ENVIRONMENT IS NEEDED. I am currently exploring the relationship between climatic conditions and the use of urban public space. The set of pictures show Soho Square in London at different moments of the day.

PhD Presentations at the Architectural Association's School

posted Jun 1, 2013, 5:40 AM by Patricia Martin   [ updated Jun 1, 2013, 5:44 AM ]

Next Monday 3rd of June, I will be presenting my research at the AA. Join us!

Designing (with) the climate at TEDxUNIR Conference

posted Mar 6, 2013, 6:45 AM by Patricia Martin   [ updated Jun 1, 2013, 5:40 AM ]

Last February I had the opportunity to participate in the TEDxUNIR conference in Logroño. Here is the video of the talk followed by the text in English.


Yesterday, I arrived from London, where I’ve been living for three years. When we decided to move there, we had the mental image of London as a very big city, with lots of people on the streets, very diverse and intense... However, the idea that our friends and relatives have of the city was another. When we told them we were going to live in London, the most common answer we received was: "really? The weather is quite bad there, isn’t it?" And yes, they were right, it is very bad.

But they were right in giving importance to the climate too, because climate is a fundamental part of the city. It exerts great influence on the image of the city and it can form an essential part of its identity. For example, it is impossible to think on any of these cities without associating them with a specific climate, temperature, light or moisture. I would even say that the city is climate.

Moreover, the weather is also part of us. Climatic conditions are pervasive aspects of our routine and define many actions and decisions we make every day. We think, feel and talk about it constantly. Climate can even define our mood and personality.

Climatic conditions have a great influence on the way we perceive our environment. Any change in the weather, time of the day, the point of view or the viewer's mood influences their understanding and perception. The same scenario can be completely different depending on the atmospheric conditions. Even a seemingly solid object like a building may look different, depending on the moment in which we look at it. Therefore, our relationship with the environment is totally dependent on the weather. Or putting it in another way, the weather allows us to multiply the experiences of the city and make it different every time we look at it.

However, in recent decades we have tended to make city through spaces like this, isolated from the outside and ignoring the weather. In this way, we protect ourselves from unfavourable climatic conditions, but we also isolate ourselves from the good experiences the weather offers.

By including the weather in the city again, we increase awareness of the place and the planet on which we live. We can take advantage and use changes in light, temperature, humidity to create more stimulating and enriching spaces.

So, can we create cities where the weather is another urban element, such as streets or buildings? Can we create spaces for the rain, sunrises or cloudy days, so as to generate richer and more stimulating urban spaces?

Interest on the climate and the weather has grown significantly in recent years. This is an image of the CLOUD experiment being conducted at CERN in Switzerland. It is a camera which reproduces atmospheric conditions to better understand the clouds. With it we can now understand how clouds form and maybe reproduce them in the future.

The interest on weather and the experiences it offers is also growing in the world of art. For example, this frozen dusk inside the Tate Modern by Olafur Eliasson. Oddly enough, everybody—including myself—sat or lay down on the floor to watch it, as if we were on the beach admiring a real dusk. Similarly, The Rain Room exhibited now in London recreates the rain. It consists on a room where it rains, but when people walk through it, the rain stops just above oneself (unlike the famous cartoon cloud that was put over the character and pursued him wherever he went). Experiencing the rain from a different perspective—in an enclosed space where you can only see and hear the rain but not feel it in your skin—force us to reflect on this phenomenon so common in our lives and so important for the preservation of our environment.

At the moment there are only occasional experiments and there is still a long way to explore. By introducing elements like sun and shading, water in all its forms, moving air and consider seasonal variations of each place, we are creating more comfortable and attractive spaces for people. We will also be helping to create a more sustainable environment by emphasizing the importance of the atmosphere to global sustainability.


The homogenization of the city

posted Jan 21, 2013, 6:06 AM by Patricia Martin   [ updated Jan 21, 2013, 6:07 AM ]

We are living in an increasingly diverse world, where running into differences is becoming more usual than ever. There is not anymore an established and predetermined way of life in which we can recognize how people are, think and behave. Diversity is the most common thing in today’s cities. However, dealing with diversity and the unexpected is usually seen as a danger, or at least as something uncomfortable. Therefore, instead of enriching our own identities learning from others’ differences and experiencing multiple environments, we tend to divide the world into homogenous unities, which remain alienated one from the other.

In fact, the urban environment has been under a process of homogenization for a long time. Cities’ richness of stimuli is many times reduced to its minimum, with the aim of creating a comfortable environment, where things, events and people are predictable. In order to explain this more clearly, I have differentiated three different categories or realms for urban homogenization affecting the form and function of the city.

  • Sensorial homogenization 

The urban space arises from the need of a domesticated built space; an urban space that helps to improve the efficiency of movement and circulations through the space, as well as the relations between the different functions. It is ultimately an environment made for efficiency. However, if efficiency is the only purpose on the design of the built environment, we are losing the sensorial richness of the city that would increase our experiences of the space. The tendency to regulate the shape, materiality, sound, and even odour of our environment leads to a similar and predictable urban space. And this reduction stops us from observing and trying to experience our built surroundings. 

  • Functional homogenization 

The 19th century city used to mix all uses in it, such as housing, working, and leisure. On the contrary, today’s cities tend to fragment their space into their different functions. Thus, in a city we can find residential areas, business districts, or shopping malls, clearly delimitated spatially and functionally. This has been possible thanks to the technological advance in communications and transportation developed during the 20th and 21th centuries. On the one hand, it is true that this separation of functions helps to improve the functioning of cities. On the other, it generates homogenous clusters that only work in specific periods of time and for specific people, impoverishing the urban experience.

  • Social homogenization 

Gated communities or ghettos are the extreme examples of the social homogenization of cities. Places where not only the difference is not wanted, but even banned. But most cities suffer this process in less evident ways, such as gentrification or urban sprawl. The fear to the strange and unknown leads sometimes to alienation and isolation of similar citizens into ‘save’ and known spaces. However this action alienates them also from learning and discovering new things from others. All the intensity and learning richness that the city offers by putting together different people is lost in this kind of strategies. As Daniel Innerarity states, “the fear to ‘others’ grows proportionally to the distance of homogenous neighbourhoods from the city” (Innerarity 2006, 117). 

These homogenization processes prevent us from experiencing an urban life that enriches ourselves and allow us to learn from others. In this sense, the public space plays a fundamental role as the realm for our life in common. It is there where we can observe and socialize with others. Streets, plazas, parks, cafes, museums, etc. represent a space free of private control, where we all meet and share. That is why public spaces are the essence of the urban life and should be protected from any homogenization process.


Some thoughts on climate and the city

posted Oct 22, 2012, 3:48 AM by Patricia Martin

Climate occupies an important role in our everyday life. The weather is an ever-present aspect of our routine and defines many actions and choices we make daily. We think, feel and talk about it constantly. What is more, it can define our mood and personality. We can even say that climate is part of us. In fact, climate and culture are intrinsically linked, defining each other continuously.

In addition, climate has other important implications for citizens. First, climate is nature in the city. The air movement, humidity levels and temperature changes make us conscious of the atmosphere above us. These climatic expressions in the urban environment represent an immediate manifestation of the planet we live in. Second, climate entails the notion of duration and the pass of time. Thus, it introduces a temporal dimension in the everyday life essential to the urban experience. And finally, by unifying us under the same sky conditions, climate helps to create a sense of community. The weather influences us not only individually but also collectively.

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