Architecture was meant to solve the housing crisis, instead it betrayed us.

When Zaha Hadid, architect of Qatar’s major stadium for the 2022 World Cup, was asked about the deaths of hundreds of Indian and Nepalese migrant workers who reportedly died in connection with construction work, she responded:

“I have nothing to do with the workers; it’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.”

The architect’s disavowal of social responsibility seems almost unremarkable today, but once upon a time architecture was driven by a moral imperative, a belief that rational, efficient buildings could provide as many people as possible with a home and even transform the world.

According to architect and theorist Rainier de Graaf, architecture has instead become a story of compromise and banal setbacks, governed by commercial interests at the expense of public good.

The profession has always been fuelled by a collective sense of grandeur; young architects graduate with what de Graaf describes as near-megalomaniacal ambitions, omnipotent fantasies of being able to, quite literally, construct the world. The reality they encounter, however, is far more prosaic.

“It’s often considered an elevated art form, above everything else, when of course the reality is it’s amidst everything else,” says de Graaf, the author of Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession.

“Architecture, like everything else, is very much a product of the circumstances in which it is produced.

“Basically we’re talking about a discipline that isn’t autonomous.”

De Graaf believes most architects still produce stylistically “modern” buildings, but it’s a modern architecture devoid of its original intent, untethered from social responsibility and the dream of a decent standard of living and affordable housing for all.

This architecture remains cheap, efficient and rational, but it’s in the service of profits rather than people.

“The logic of a building no longer primarily reflects its intended use but instead serves mostly to promote a generic desirability in economic terms. Judgement of architecture is deferred to the market,” de Graaf says.

An estimated 1.8 million migrant workers are building Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup structures.

Architecture as an agent of inequality

Reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital, de Graaf was struck by the parallels between Piketty’s economic analysis and the progression of architectural history. The 1970s, he suggests, marked a decisive turning point in the history of architecture and housing.

“In 1972 the Pruitt-Igoe public housing estate in St Louis is demolished, an event that critics generally herald as the end of modern architecture and, on a larger scale, the end of modern utopian visions for the city,” he says.

“Through the general deployment of the term ‘real estate’, the definition of the architect is replaced by that of the economist.

“There may ultimately be no such thing as modern or post-modern architecture, but simply architecture before and after its annexation by capital.”

As a result, architecture has increasingly become a subject of protest.

Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.


Australian cities are far from being meccas for walking and cycling

Australian city planners are seeking ways to make cities better for walking and cycling.

Walkability and cyclability are attractive and “green” urban amenities. They reduce pollution and improve health. They are also economic assets.

In developing countries, active transport is key to improving accessibility for the urban poor. In developed countries, the walkable and cyclable city can be a magnet for attracting and retaining the “creative class”.

In Australia, plans and projects are being developed to extend pedestrian malls and cycling paths, restrict car traffic, remove street parking and install more lighting.

Have these efforts paid off?

Yes and no. Recently released 2016 Census data reveal some disappointing commuting patterns in Australian cities.

Across metropolitan areas, typically plagued by sprawl and segregated land uses, cars still dominate. Car-based commuting rates have decreased by only 1-2%.

Public transport use remains relatively low. Even in Sydney, it captures only about one-quarter of commute trips.

Since 2011, Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin have made modest gains (2-4%) in public transport use. Brisbane has had an incremental decline. Public transport use is stagnant in Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra.

Meanwhile, rates of walking and cycling remain constant and low – even in smaller centres such as Hobart, Darwin and Canberra. Even in the most “cycling-oriented” places (Darwin and Canberra), only about 3% of commuters cycle.

City-level data tell a different story. Here, walking is more popular than at the wider metro level. This reflects the mono-centric nature of Australian cities, where most jobs are located in the CBD.

In larger cities, between a quarter and a third of the population walks to work. Similar proportions of commuters use public transport. Brisbane is an exception, with less walking, lower public transport use and much more driving than Sydney, Melbourne or Perth. Hobart and Darwin have low walking rates and are very car-dependent, which is surprising considering their small size.

Originally Published by The Conversation, continue reading here.

Australia Ranked Third Least Affordable Housing Market Globally

Australia’s housing affordability crisis has not gone unnoticed, with Sydney and Melbourne among the top five least affordable major housing markets in the world.

The average Australian mortgage has reached half a million dollars, and Australians are paying nearly 13 times their annual income to afford a home, a global study has confirmed.

Results pulled from the 14th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey has revealed that Australia is the third least affordable place to live in the world.

Providing housing affordability ratings for 293 housing markets with data from a population over one million, Demographia ranked Sydney as the second most affordable housing market, behind Hong Kong. Vancouver, London and Toronto made up the top five.

Continue reading here.

The Future is Prefabricated

Prefabricated construction is in its infancy but with increasing demand on tradition construction and speed and sustainability benefits of prefabrication, could this new manufacturing industry change the way Australia builds?

The collapse of Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry has been devastating, with up to 40,000 workers estimated to ultimately lose their jobs.

Yet with a rapidly growing population and cranes dotting our city skylines, a new manufacturing industry is on the cusp of a boom: prefabricated construction.

Image: article supplied

Researchers at the University of Melbourne are looking at how this burgeoning industry can provide safe, affordable and sustainable housing, while also offering the opportunity for former automotive manufacturing workers to transfer their skills.

The Melbourne School of Engineering is leading a new push to grow the prefabricated sector’s market share within the construction industry from 5 per cent to 15 per cent by 2025, contributing to around 20,000 new jobs and $30 billion of growth. They are supporting this research with large scale testing and training facilities at their recently announced new campus, to be built at Fishermans Bend.

Professor Tuan Ngo, Research Director of the Australian Research Council Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing in Prefabricated Housing and the Asia-Pacific Research Network for Resilient and Affordable Housing, leads much of this work.

He says Australia has a lot to learn from European countries like Sweden, where prefabricated modular housing makes up 70 per cent of the construction industry.

Extreme weather, in particular long cold winters, can make building outside difficult there, so prefabricated components are created in manufacturing plants instead.

Why prefab in Australia?

Professor Ngo says supply is unable to meet increasing demand in the traditional Australian construction sector. Meanwhile, costs are rising, contributing to the housing affordability crisis affecting many Australians struggling to buy their first homes.

This was originally published by Architecture AU.

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How Kid-Friendly Urban Design Makes Cities Better For All

Promoting urban planning projects often relies on an inspiring narrative: what are we as a community trying to accomplish, and how do we want our neighborhoods to evolve? Few stories are as universal as building a better future for our children. But in urban design, it’s too often a tale untold.

A new research report focused on child-first urban planning, Cities Alive: Designing for Urban Childhoods, argues that designing for children can be the anchor and central theme animating a larger progressive urban agenda. Written by the international engineering, planning, and consulting firm Arup, the report offers numerous case studies, sobering statistics—such as the fact that 1 billion children live in urban settings right now—and visions for tackling what they see as the main hurdles to more youth-friendly metropolises: traffic and pollution, high-rise living and sprawl, crime, isolation and intolerance, and unequal, inadequate access to the city’s benefits.

How kid-friendly urban design makes cities better for all
Image: article supplied

Most importantly, it suggests a child-friendly lens can help leaders, planners, and designers envision a better city for everyone, one that offers a wealth of social benefits (society gains $8 in benefits for every $1 spent on early play-based education, according to a University College London study).

“Perhaps uniquely, a child‐friendly approach has the potential to unite a range of progressive agendas—including health and wellbeing, sustainability, resilience and safety—and to act as a catalyst for urban innovation,” the report notes.

Many sweeping, and optimistic, modern movements to change metro design focused on children. From the Garden City movement to the post-war suburban boom, updated living environments have often been sold with a promise of healthier living environments for our kids.

But today, urban environmental and health issues are increasingly on the rise, a crises when experts believe that by 2030, 60 percent of all city dwellers will be under the age of 18. The World Health Organization estimates that the number of overweight children globally will skyrocket to 70 million by 2025, from 41 million in 2016, and rates of childhood mental health problems, triggered by the stress of urban life, is also on the rise.

To reverse these trends, Cities Alive proposes a combination of parks, play, equitable planning, and making nature more prevalent. Cars, specifically the amount of real estate given over to roads and vehicles, presents a big problem. This infrastructure often form borders between children and freer access to playspaces, and limits other mobility options.

This was originally published by Curbed.

Click here to read the entire article.