Urban China
January 2009 issue

Tom Verebes
London, Monday 15 December 2008

1/2. Abstract:
Endurance & Obsolescence

This contribution to the January 2009 issue of Urban China focuses on the unprecedented rate and extent of urbanization in China, addressing issues associated to the obsolescence of cities and buildings. Far from a celebration of impermanence and ephemerality, we will deal with questions of environmental, economic, cultural and social endurance within the context of rapid urban transformation in China.

The projects included are selected from design teams in Tom Verebes’ design studio as Tutor and co-Director of the Design Research Lab at the Architectural Association, as well as from OCEAN.CN, a newly formed professional consultancy network, to be launched in Hong Kong in early January 2009.

3. Outline:
Urban and Architectural Prototypes for Contemporary Chinese Urbanism

In the aftermath of the Beijing Olympics, the accelerated speed of design and construction in China poses challenges to build long-lasting, socially beneficial, well performing buildings and cities.

Endurance & Obsolescence oscillates between political discourses and speculative design work driven by advanced design and productions techniques, on a range of scales dealing with duration and design life of architecture and urbanism. As an alternative to throw-away architecture and the design of instant cities, the projects we’re currently working on projects which argue for the economic benefits of high-quality design, with an emphasis on innovation backed up with credible computation and material research, aiming for increasing the design life of buildings, and the capacity of cities to evolve and adapt to dynamic contextual conditions. Key to achieving the objective of greater endurance of the social and material space of future Chinese cities - i.e. to increase design life - is to approach environmental performance as an opportunity for greater local specificity rather than a global problem to solve.

From its urban origins from a fishing village, the colonial city of Hong Kong was built four times over during the twentieth century . With each successive rebuilding of Hong Kong, swatches of the city were either erased, reclaimed from Victoria Harbour, or extended ever further on its extreme island and mainland topographies, and each time built increasingly higher and with greater density. Despite its legitimacy as model of urban density for the twenty-first century, Hong Kong remains a warning for urbanists to develop tools with greater capabilities to manage unforeseeable future changes, and for architects to aim to design more enduring buildings.

Masterplanning strategies which seek an enduring final state of urban completion tend to lead to dysfunctional cities and quickly obsolescent buildings, given the urgent, incessant, and evidently unstoppable pace of urbanisation and construction in contemporary China.

The principle aims of the design teams involved in this contribution are two-fold: Firstly, to seek alternatives to urban masterplanning based on stable typologies and teleological final states, but rather to work towards designing an evolving city with capacities of adaptation to future contingencies. The vehicles inherent to our understanding of contemporary urbanism are design techniques with capabilities of managing the immensely complex qualities of interaction, communication and exchange that characterise the twenty-first-century city. Our approach to Parametric Urbanism addresses the ways in which associative design systems can control local dynamic information to effect and adjust larger urban life-processes by embedding intelligence into the formation, organisation and performance of urban spaces, uses, activities, interfaces, structures and infrastructures. Not limited to the scale of urbanism being always/already relational, this approach implicitly seeks to formalise coherent yet heterogeneous and differentiated forms of architectural, structural and systemic organisation and expression.

The projects we will feature in this blog and in the January 2009 issue of Urban China magazine investigate alternatives to high rise towers, perimeter block mass, and suburban sprawl, as the default architectural and urban typologies deployed in China’s urban densification and expansion, and the dominant models of its urban growth. Given the complexities of private and public investment arising from the current global economic turmoil overlaid on China’s goal to urbanise an additional 400m of its citizens over the next twenty years, there has never been a more crucial time to challenge, re-assess and propose alternatives to conventional urban and architectural typologies and their associated conventions and standards.

4. Design Teams:
Three sets of design teams are included in the blog and in Urban China magazine:

4.1 OCEAN.CN Consultancy Network
Hong Kong, London

4.2 Design Research Lab, Architectural Association
Tom Verebes Studio, 2007-2008

4.3 Design Research Lab, Architectural Association
Tom Verebes Studio, 2008-2009

4.1 OCEAN.CN Consultancy Network, Hong Kong

Design Team: Felix Robbins, Gao Yan, Tom Verebes

Urban typologies in transformation: exercises in coded wholes
OCEAN.CN has developed a series of urban organisational models, generated as computational arrays of massing typologies and densities. This design exercise proliferates new hybrid urban massing prototypes, and varied species of architectural configurations associated to contemporary Chinese cities. The objective is to propose alternatives to stable, repetitive typologies, and to invent a range of specific, diverse forms of architectural organisation with coherent global attributes.


Stage 1: Typology Transformations
Population and density data was initially mined from several Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan), and was applied to the morphing of four dominant massing typologies (tier buildings; low-rise/deep-plan; high-rise towers; luxury detached villas).


Stage 2: Hybrid Proto-typologies & Density Arrays
The initial arrays document the results of procedures which iterate the data, and then mediate the arrays towards a range of massing configurations and density distributions. Computational operations targeting the variation of proximity of massing, as well as volumetric dimensions and formal attributes, were then applied to the arrays, which generated the emergence of new hybrid typologies of intensely connected forms of aggregate urbanism.


Stage 3: Urban & Architectural Prototypes
The third and final stage of design work aims for greater contextual specificity of a series of urban and architectural prototypes. The parametric logic of these prototypical spaces embodies dimensional constraints such as height limits, FAR, architectural footprint density, plot area, and the total buildable surface area.

The urban prototypes are differentiated in relation to the five Chinese cities which initially briefed the parametric variation of the density/typology arrays. These urban prototypes incorporate the subdivision of land by road networks, infrastructural optimisation, lot boundaries, and the geographic/topographic features and existing urban patterns of each of the five cities.


This final stage of design has a parallel objective of surpassing simple Euclidian geometries as the basis for the formal articulation of more detailed architectural prototypes. A set of modifications to the generic block models generates formally specific responses to local topographic, geographic, environmental conditions, resulting in a hierarchy of degrees of curvature of the ground plan and its subdivisions. The specific aggregate types (from super-connected to field distributions) are developed with simple spiral modifications, primarily in the z-axis, to order a series of prototypes shaped by vectors of multiple orientations.


4.2 Design Research Lab, Architectural Association
Agenda: Parametric Urbanism 2
Version: DRL v.10 2006-2008
Tom Verebes Studio, 2007-2008

Proposals for the Post-Shanghai Expo 2010
The second cycle of design teams working on the three-year Parametric Urbanism agenda (DRL v.10) had focussed on the design of innovative forms of accelerated urbanisation for the Expo 2010 site in Shanghai, one of the fastest expanding and densifying cities in the world. The expo proposals were briefed with direct consultation by the actual masterplanning team of Expo 2010, in a workshop with Su Yunsheng of Studio 6, Urban Design and Planning Institute, Tongji University College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Verebes Studio Design Teams:

Team: Am:Pm
Students: Lina Abdallah Ahmad (Lebanon & Palestinian Authority), Jinqi Huang (China), Junkai Jian (China)
Tutor: Tom Verebes
Cellular Network
Based on subdivision techniques to define spatial, geometric and distributive hierarchies, a cellular network is proposed to configure the site for the pot-Expo 2010 stages of its development. These cells extend laterally across the site and grow vertically in a series of new urban block and tower typologies. Various systems are coded with specific rules for growth and expansion, configured to articulate gradual transitions and subdivisions with a segmented mathematical approach to the formation of curvilinear spaces and structures. Surface modules are arrayed at various scales to form aggregate building structures, space dividers and porous facade systems, achieving a high degree of complexity from simple local conditions.


Team: 21
Students: João Bravo Da Costa (Portugal) Constanza Hagemann (Chile), Lydia Kim (Germany)
Tutor: Tom Verebes
Through a dense concentration of Expo facilities, this proposal releases a substantial area for slower development as distinct yet related local centres. Scripted models of cellular transformations articulate various forms and guide the strategic removal of matter to form voids – a network of open spaces punctuating the smooth flow of urban circulation. The project deploys a range of cell types through a set of interconnected sectional strata, distributing and mixing programmes in 3D urban space. This cellular logic also informs various systems embedded into the project’s thick performative facades, creating a new kind of visual, circulatory and spatial porosity by adjusting parameters of size, distancing and blending.


Team: Dunes
Students: Aditya C. Chandra (India), Reza Esmaeeli (Iran), Galo Cazarez Fernandez (Mexico)
Tutor: Tom Verebes
As an alternative to the monotony of repetitive architectural and urban systems, this project deploys scripted design tools to achieve a highly differentiated spaces a variety of scales. The contextual relationship between infrastructure, environmental criteria, land-use and historical preservation drove the distribution of the programmatic zones as point-clouds and subdivided hubs. The resulting spaces were configured by a number of different components in a state of constant flux. The associations between programmes, their porous envelopes and orienting surfaces, articulated a family of folded-plate structural and tectonic systems, oriented horizontally, diagonally and vertically.


4.3 Design Research Lab, Architectural Association
Agenda: Parametric Urbanism 3
Version: DRL v.11 2007-2009
Tom Verebes Studio, 2008-2009

Prototypes for Global Urbanism
Global urbanisation is developing at unprecedented rates, scales and densities, with over half the world’s population now living in cities. In the third and final cycle of Parametric Urbanism we are investigating the design implications of a globalised approach to computational urbanism and architecture, emphasising innovations upon existing local typologies and inventions of new architectural and urban prototypes.

Verebes Studio Design Teams:

Team: Sahra
Students: Saif Almasri (Jordan), Suryansh Chandra (India), Peter Sovinc (Slovenia)
Tutor: Tom Verebes
As a critique of urbanization shaped by an assumed unending abundance of energy resources, and the short-sighted reliance on private vehicular transportation, this proposal researches new, high-density models for a pedestrian city. This contemporary megastructure is informed by the parametric transformation of building mass typologies in locally controllable urban neighbourhoods, achieving extreme variation of densities, heights, and ratios of solid-void, shaped in relation to programmatic scenarios of differential future growth. A series of architectural prototypes are shaped by vector-based climatological parameters, in association with the multiple orientations of view, navigation and structural load.


Team: 123
Students: Lindsay Bresser (USA), Claudia Dorner (Austria), Sergio Reyes Rodríguez (Colombia)
Tutor: Tom Verebes
This project challenges the proliferation of haphazard urbanisation and incoherent architecture, via research on the algorithmic and geometric principles inherent to traditional geometric patterns. This algorithmic approach constitutes the basis for new scripted morphologies of differentiated urban clusters and architectural systems generated by dynamic rules of iterative growth of scanned point-clouds forming embedded spatial subdivisions of closed loops. The project generates new relations of high-rise towers and mat building typologies, infrastructural connections, fluid public landscapes and urban subdivisions. The prototyping of orientation-based building systems control daylight, view, and circulation, all embedded within a structural envelope of variable thickness.


Team: O2R
Students: Rochana Chaugule (India), Yevgeniya Pozigun (Ukraine), Ujjal Roy (India), Praneet Verma (India)
Tutor: Tom Verebes

Urban waterfronts constitute prime real estate and are generally prioritized for development. Hong Kong continues to reclaim land for further densification, and Dubai has exhausted its waterfront and developers have masterminded schemes such as the Palm Island and the World to extend an artificial waterfront. This project proposes an incremental logic of serial growth on dry land, as well as on an archipelago of reclaimed land and along artificial canals, substantially increasing the water frontage. In addition, the urban block prototype demonstrates the potential of a parametric FAR tool, mediating between two dominant urban typologies of high rise towers and low-rise urban sprawl. Mathematically controlled sine curves are deployed to various design scales, establishing an organisational coherence across urbanism to a series of architectural prototypes.


Tom Verebes
tverebes at oceanD dot

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