It seems like proposals to restore the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris came pouring in before the blaze that destroyed its spire and roof was even extinguished. Grappling with devastating damage to a historic and architectural icon, observers around the world immediately began to debate whether the cathedral should be recreated as faithfully as possible in its former image (a serious challenge, considering the contemporary lack of massive old-growth timber) or radically reimagined.
One notable proposal released by Studio NAB takes the latter approach with a visionary reconstruction symbolizing rebirth, new growth and hope for the future. The design recreates Notre Dame’s silhouette in a framework of gold-tone steel and glass, transforming the uppermost levels of the church into a lush greenhouse, an active community space and an educational facility. A new “arrow” spire would house apiaries, producing on a large scale “the honey of Notre Dame de Paris.” The rest of the cathedral beneath this new roof would remain as it has always looked and functioned.
It’s a direct rebuke of the idea that we can or should attempt to recapture the past, adapting instead and acknowledging the need to change along with the world around us.
“On this fire and in the period of crisis that the country and the world are currently going through, we have the chance to build a place of reference where conservation, enrichment of an exceptional heritage and taken into account the challenges of societies ecology and equal opportunities. Protecting the living being reintroducing biodiversity, educating consciences and being in solidarity, all are symbols, faithful to the values of France and those of the church, that we could defend and promote for this project.”
“This is the symbol of acceptance of the course of history and the metaphorical illustration that this ‘forest’ became burnt wood, can serve as a cradle to the new vegetation,” say the architects. “The design will feed the all-important conversation and add an element of reflection as to how the building could be transformed to focus on issues concerning today’s society. The greenhouse is imagined as a place to enable to professional reintegration of the poor by learning urban agriculture, horticulture and permaculture while connecting children to nature and educating them through workshops.”
It’s an interesting way to approach the problem of restoration, and one that will undoubtedly stir controversy. But Studio NAB’s proposal creates a ghostly yet optimistic memory of the lost parts of the cathedral, maintaining the silhouette to which Paris has grown so accustomed, without introducing any garishly contrasting contemporary elements. You can safely bet that proposals recalling Daniel Libeskind’s highly controversial Royal Ontario Museum Extension are forthcoming, along with calls to be far more conservative, using modern technology like engineered wood to replace the burned beams and reinforce damaged structural elements.
If your city isn’t meeting your needs, just hack it. Urban hacktivism is a form of creative, citizen-led problem solving that often goes behind the backs of officials and institutions to get things done. Instead of leaving the task of shaping a given city to governments and developers, who tend to ignore the input of people they’re supposed to be serving, urban hacktivists take matters into their own hands by combining crowdsourced knowledge and skills with cheap, readily available materials. That might mean transforming a long-vacant lot into a neighborhood park, adding public seating to an area where it’s lacking, enhancing the safety of intersections for pedestrians or just making urban environments feel more responsive and fun.
At the heart of this kind of guerrilla urbanism is the ability to see the potential of public spaces to better meet people’s needs, make small changes and possibly convince local governments to make those changes permanent in the process. After all, the people who use those spaces every day know best. If you’re interested in carrying out some DIY urbanism in your own city, the internet is full of examples, guides and tutorials to get you started. These hacks may or may not be legal where you live – whether you choose to find a way around that is up to you, and most of these tools come with an obligatory disclaimer that they’re not suggesting, teaching or condoning any kind of illegal action.
Create DIY Crosswalks
Sometimes, cities just don’t seem to know where crosswalks belong. Maybe they’re not paying attention. Maybe there’s some kind of red tape involved. But a lack of proper crossings can be dangerous for pedestrians who simply aren’t going to take a stupidly long way around. If there’s a common crossing near you that isn’t marked, you can mark it yourself, whether by grabbing some paint and forming your own urban repair squad or setting up a temporary illuminated crosswalk, as laid out at Instructables. For guidance on paint selection and other aspects of this task, check out the Tactical Urbanist’s Guide To Getting it Done, a free resource you can download packed with tips for all sorts of projects.
Some cities don’t have enough navigation signs to guide people to significant destinations. Some just aren’t adequately marked, like a misleading exit sign over the 110 freeway in Los Angeles, which one intrepid urban hacker fixed himself with a very convincing facsimile of official Caltrans signage (it stayed up for over eight years.) Street artists frequently “hack” signs just to make them more interesting and fun. And, just to say, electronic road signs are pretty easy to hack into just for the sake of making someone smile on their crappy commute, though of course you should never tamper with these signs, as instructions to do exactly that will warn you.
You can also produce your own street signs that look official at a glance, but actually spread positive messages in unexpected places. Seattle-based guerrilla artist April Soetarman sells her own rugged heavy-duty laminated aluminum signs that say things like “NOTICE: I never stopped loving you. I hope you’re well.” It’s easy to order your own custom street signs through any number of websites, all just a Google away, or you can do it through the Walk Your City Project, which links informational street signs “with web-based campaign management and data collection to complement traditional approaches to way finding.”
Hack Bus Shelter Advertisements
Brandalism, “a revolt against the corporate control of culture and space” by an international collective of artists, wants to help you intervene into ad spaces that usually celebrate consumption in favor of art, political messaging or whatever you’d rather look at instead. Carefully noting that the tools they offer “are handmade art objects and not intended for use,” the group maintains a site called PublicAdCampaign.com illustrating the types of tools required to get into bus shelter ads in various cities across the world. You can purchase these tools – er, art objects – directly from the website.
Build Your Own Bike Lanes
A lack of proper bike lanes is dangerous for everyone on the road, whether you’re a cyclist or a motorist. DIY bike lanes are almost always illegal, but that doesn’t stop people from making them anyway in a form of political vandalism that often forces officials to sit up and pay attention. The tactic can definitely pay off, as it’s not unusual for these temporary lanes – made of traffic cones, flower pots, or even toilet plungers – to eventually become permanent. Tactical Urbanism has a variety of tips in this area, along with case studies that show how it worked out in various cities.
Make Modular Structures Out of Found Objects
Hacking cities needn’t (and arguably shouldn’t) involve the purchase of expensive, heavy, potentially waste-producing materials. DIY urbanists are encouraged, instead, to “hack” into existing modular systems to make them work for new purposes. Examples include Mifactori’s “Circular Street Waste” workshop, in which discarded furniture and other trash collected from the city streets is transformed into versatile multi-use parts that could become tables, benches, shelters and more.
Similarly, the 3erlin Grid (say “Berlin Grid”) offers a grid-based decentralized open standard for building objects and structures that always leaves a distance of 3cm between holes for nuts and bolts so all parts always fit together and can be combined in infinite ways. So if one person builds, say, a DIY table for a city, someone else can come along and add to it. They’re often based on children’s toys, found objects that can be easily modified, like fencing and scaffolding. The principles follow those of OpenStructures, which include using recyclable materials, designing for disassembly and making components as cross-compatible as possible.
Many tactical urbanism projects are self-explanatory, and easy to recreate just by looking at what other people have accomplished. Check out some of our previous posts on urban hacking for a whole lot of inspiration.
Enormous monolithic structures weighing as much as 25 tons are tilted, rotated and wiggled across a room by a single person in a new experiment by researchers at MIT, giving us a look into how the process might have been carried out by ancient peoples. “Walking Assembly” uses concrete masonry units (CMUs) to demonstrate how ancient knowledge could still be used to this day “to better inform the transportation and assembly of future architectures,” the creators explain.
Brandon Clifford, an assistant professor at MIT, directed the project along with Johanna Lobdell, Wes McGee and other members of Matter Design, a design practice and research lab. The trick to easily moving these massive CMUs and slotting them together so tightly is in their shape and where their center of gravity is placed. Made of concrete of varying densities, the units feature bevels, interlocking contours, pivot points and handles that give handlers a variety of ways to maneuver them.
In the video, you can see exactly how this works. The first few seconds show the handlers rolling the units, rotating them and then rolling them again; occasionally they add or remove a handle to change the center of gravity. The units lock into place with ease.
“If a brick is designed for a single hand, and a concrete masonry unit (CMU) is designed for two, these massive masonry units (MMU) unshackle the dependency between size and the human body. Intelligence of transportation and assembly is designed into the elements themselves, liberating humans to guide these colossal concrete elements into place. Structures that would otherwise rely on cranes or heavy equipment can now be intelligently assembled and disassembled with little energy.”
Of course, the components of massive ancient structures like Stonehenge and the Easter Island statues weren’t precision-engineered using 3D printing, and they were also moved over uneven terrain. So while “Walking Assembly” doesn’t exactly answer all of our questions about exactly how people moved colossal stones, it does give us some interesting ideas about how we could make the process of construction a lot safer, faster, less messy and more environmentally friendly.
The former Bata shoe factory in “Batawa” – a company town located in southern Ontario – forged fine footwear for footloose Canucks from 1939 to the year 2000.
The Bata Shoe Company was founded in 1894 in Zlin, Austria-Hungary, by Tomas Bata and his two siblings. By 1932 the company had grown to become “shoemaker to the world”, boasting 16,560 employees, 1,645 stores, and 25 other non-footwear enterprises. That same year, an aircraft crash took the life of Tomas Bata, leaving the company’s fate and fortunes to his brother Jan Antonin and his son, Thomas John Bata.
Czech Your Privilege
The new generation of ownership continued to apply Tomas Bata’s proven business plans by expanding the firm’s footprint both in Europe and around the world. One of the company’s most innovative practices was the establishment of local “Bata-villes”. These vertically-integrated company towns had their own schools, grocery stores, and subsidized employee housing, all owned and operated by The Bata Shoe Company.
”A Place to Grow”
In 1939, with the clouds of war massing on the horizon, the firm built Batawa – a company-owned planned village situated on the northern shore of Lake Ontario in what is now the city of Quinte West, Canada. Bata chose the location purely for economic reasons: it was close to navigable waterways, a railway, a highway, and an airport.
As was the case with other Batavilles, Batawa’s heart and “sole” was the shoe production factory. The state of the art (for 1939) five-story-tall facility dominated the peaceful southeastern Ontario countryside while enabling the firm to dominate the Canadian market for affordable footwear.
Shoppers at Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann can climb to new heights within the building’s domed atrium, bouncing around on a suspended rainbow net and gazing up at the stained glass cupola. Set nearly 40 feet above the ground, the the playful neon net is part of an installation called “Funorama” celebrating the return of summer.
Featuring walkways that stretch out to adjacent balconies, the net invites shoppers to cut loose and have a good time, bringing an air of excitement to the department store flagship.
Playing on nostalgia, “Funorama” also features a variety of “fun zones” including vintage arcade games and other retro-themed attractions. The net, however, is unquestionably the star of the program. Those brave enough to venture out onto its surface get to enjoy a whole new way to see the art Nouveau-style department store, which opened in 1912. Located in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, near Opera Garnier, the 753,000-square-foot store features panoramic views of the city.
Entrance to the bouncy net attraction is free, and it will remain in place through June 9th, 2019.
How is it that a simple, abstract composition of black and white grids and primary colors has touched our collective psyche so deeply? Dutch-born artist Piet Mondrian created some of the most reproduced designs in modern history with works like Composition II (1920), Tableau II (1922) and Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow (1929). A century later, you can hardly walk a lap around a city block without seeing something influenced by Mondrian’s signature style, and our fascination shows no signs of slowing down.
Mondrian co-founded the Dutch art movement De Stijl (“The Style”) in 1917, which consisted of both artists and architects and is characterized by its rejection of mimesis. Instead of trying to represent or imitate the real world, De Stijl valorizes pure abstraction, reducing a visual composition down to its absolute essentials. Known as neoplasticism, this philosophy “finds its expression in the abstraction of form and color, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary color,” as Mondrian wrote at the time.
Though the first case of Mondrian-inspired architecture might appear to be Gerrit Rietveld’s 1924 Schröder House, the architect was actually a member of De Stijl and adhering to its principles. Rietveld collaborated with fellow De Stijl member Theo van Doesburg on a number of striking interiors in Amsterdam, too. But while the influence of De Stijl as a movement is certainly far-reaching, the tributes specifically referencing Mondrian’s paintings are the most readily recognizable to this day.
“It is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true,” Mondrian said.
This single quote may tell us all we need to know about why Piet Mondrian’s work strikes such an enduring chord. While it’s certainly true that efforts to preserve the artist’s legacy by his heirs, among others, helped lead to commodification of his work – you can find everything from Mondrian-themed underwear to cakes on the internet – there’s more to the story. People make and purchase those products because the work speaks to them. As simple as it may be, there’s something about it that still feels fresh and dynamic. There’s a tension between the lines, a sense of expansion when a block of color is bound only by the edge of the canvas, a sense of order despite the seeming randomness of the composition.
Asymmetric and sparing, the artist’s grids, planes and careful use of color easily scale up, practically producing a blueprint for minimalist yet visually engaging designs. In 1945, designers Charles and Ray Eames demonstrated how well Mondrian’s style translated to emerging prefabrication technologies developed during World War II with “Case Study House No.8” in Los Angeles, and it worked so well, the brothers claimed the home for their own usage.
It’s also easy to see how applying the subtle balance of Composition II to the facade of a building, as Studio VZ did in The Hague, can brighten up what might otherwise be an architecturally dull structure. Similarly, creating blocks of primary colors within a largely black and white interior, like Appodeal’s new offices in Minsk by Studio11, can lend to a space an air that’s simultaneously whimsical and sophisticated.
Some designers are so captivated by Mondrian’s use of lines, grids and color that they’ve envisioned houses, yachts and cars using his paintings as a framework or a skin. Vasily Klyukin’s “Villa Mondrian” translates the works to architecture in the most literal way possible and aims to turn vehicles into works of art. Other works, like Marcel Wanders’ Charles Chair and Hugo Passos’ Piet Side Table, find new ways to transmute the essence of Mondrian into functional objects.
If you’ve ever loved a work of art so much you wished you could crawl inside it and live within it forever, here’s one way to do just that. In “Breakfast with Mondrian,” an apartment interior by Bulgarian design studio Brani & Desi, you almost feel as if the designers have magically stretched Mondrian’s paintings into an inhabitable three dimensional space.
Most artists can only dream of making such an impact on the world of architecture and design. Perhaps, at some point, the world will tire of seemingly endless iterations of Mondrian’s most iconic works, but that day probably won’t arrive anytime in the immediate future. Is there an underlooked artist you wish could get the Mondrian treatment?
Using a constantly changing screen of ivy as a passive solar device, a new library planned for Madrid takes on a shape that’s out of this world. Architecture firm 3GATTI calls the unusual structure “Green Spaceship,” envisioning it as a living organism that goes beyond merely holding a collection of books to interact with the neighborhood and its inhabitants.
Set to land in the neighborhood of Villaverde, “Green Spaceship” features a transparent glassed-in lower level that will house noisier functions like meetings, while the dynamic upper level offers space for quiet study zones. The bulbous upper level appears to hover above the ground on its own, the mounds on its roof opening to the sky while its sides are punctuated by only a handful of windows.
The concrete and brick of the upper level supports a geometric red framework and net cladding upon which curtains of Virginia Creeper vine will grow. In the summer, this greenery will become thick and lush, keeping the building cool; in fall, it will turn spectacular shades of gold and red before dying back in the winter. Then, the dark gray color of the building underneath will attract the heat of the sun.
The library could potentially enliven a city block that’s currently looking fairly drab, while also creating new gathering zones tucked beneath the projection of its facade. Behind it, an outdoor space is left open to offer pedestrians a shortcut between to streets, and other open spaces will become vegetable gardens attached to children’s library rooms.
Central High School in Painter, Virginia was abandoned in 2005 but the 88-year-old red brick building still exudes plenty of Art Deco style and class.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is made up of two counties – Accomack and Northampton – occupying the scenic Delmarva Peninsula. A little over 33,000 people live in Accomack County but just 229 (as of the 2010 census) make their homes in the tiny town of Painter, where the abandoned Central High School can be found just outside of town on Lankford Hwy., aka US-13.
Painter never was very large (the 1970 census recorded 363 residents) but its location in south-central Accomack County made it an ideal place for a school serving the county as a whole. As such, the two-story, T-shaped, red brick Central High School opened in 1932 and provided a brilliant glimmer of hope for residents in what is still one of Virginia’s poorest counties.
The father & son architect team of J.W. Hudson and J.W. Hudson, Jr. imbued the Central High School building with cutting edge (for the time) Art Deco style, though most of the key architectural cues are featured on the exterior. The most prominent example is the carved stonework frieze above the northeastern entrance depicting twin Lamps of Knowledge separated by the spines of three textbooks.
Spending what feels like forever cruising around a crowded downtown area looking for parking can be highly frustrating, but there’s an obvious solution: take alternative transportation. Decades of car-centric culture around the world have made it difficult to pry people out of their vehicles and into the seats of buses, trains and bicycles, but what if those modes of transportation were a lot easier to access and enjoy? A new collaboration between Dutch bicycle brand Union and ad agency Natwerk aims to do just that with a fun mobile parking shed for bikes.
One could argue that there’s ample space to park bicycles all over the city of Amsterdam (and most cities, for that matter) while parking spots for cars are harder to come by, therefore the pop-up is taking up valuable space. But that’s part of the point. The project demonstrates how many more people could get around if there were fewer individual vehicles on the road, especially those with a single occupant. In fact, Union argues that there are still too man parking spaces for cars instead of bicycles in a city where cycling is so popular.
Though it hasn’t been approved by the city, the mobile bike parking shed gets away with occupying parking spaces through a loophole; as required by law, it has its own license plate so the operator can pay for parking like everyone else. The parking shed was quite a spectacle while in motion, but once parked along one of the city’s poshest shopping streets, it stirred up some controversy. Dutch news site Fonk Online reports that angry shopkeepers at adjacent businesses worried their car-driving customers would be put out, while passersby complained that “the motorist is already being bullied too much.”
Frank de Ruwe, the creative network of Natwerk, shrugs off these responses. “Cycling is simply better for the world than driving. Everyone agrees.”
Since cars are still so convenient, it might take more than a little “bullying” to prompt people to consider alternatives. While bicycling is not for everyone, and some people still need to drive due to cargo or disabilities, cities would be a lot more pleasant (and emit a lot fewer greenhouse gases) if they contained fewer cars. While occupying more parking spaces for other uses would undoubtedly upset a lot of drivers, it could also provide a bit of a helpful push toward a new way of thinking about urban transit.
Without sacrificing any of its industrial charm, Dutch architects transformed an old train shed into a gorgeous library and community event space. “LocHal” is Tilburg’s “new public city forum,” says Civic Public Architecture, which completed the project alongside Braaksma & Roos Architects and interior design firm Inside Outside. Not only have they proven the extraordinary potential for reuse of such structures, they’ve infused life back into a disused zone of the city in the process.
Measuring nearly 50 feet tall on a footprint of roughly 60,000 square feet, the new library takes advantage of the preexisting glass walls and skylights while adding new structures to subdivide the interior space. Bookshelves, stairs and platforms made of oak, concrete and black steel give patrons plenty of space to wander, explore, discover new reading materials and attend meetings. The building also contains learning laboratories for community skill-sharing. Inside Outside designed the multi-story fabric curtains that help create porous zones within the enormous building, along with what they call the “stair landscape.”
“For 150 years Tilburg’s Spoorzone was the ultimate workshop of the Dutch Railway. Now a library and creative workplaces will be realized here in the former Locomotive Hall. The team of The Cloud Collective, renovation specialists Braaksma & Roos and Inside Outside has created an integrated spatial concept that connects inside and outside, the interior and the urban landscape. Located on the station square the new program represents itself as an inviting staircase – “a Forum” – inside these gigantic industrial halls. On the stair-landscape different scenarios can play simultaneously: a lecture, an exhibition, a workshop or quietly reading. The program of the Forum is conducted by three pairs of custom-woven curtains, hanging over the full height of the hall, which define temporary spaces for specific uses and thus allow the forum to remain open in its entirety.”
The architects chose not to repaint original elements like flaking steel pillars, simply adding newer, sleeker materials alongside them in a contrast between old and new that’s particularly striking in areas where greenery drapes down from balconies. The result is a fitting tribute to the neighborhood’s history that adapts beautifully to modern needs.