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Evelina Ozola thoughts on Architect’s hands: how can we design better streets | TEDxRiga


For a very long time, we have believed that the hand of an architect should look like this. It is known that architects are smart and sophisticated. They ever wear black, and they know better than anyone else how our metropolitans has been in operation. They build modelings, and they look at them from above. An architect’s hand is like the hand of God. This particular hand belongs to Le Corbusier, and in this iconic photo, he is presenting a model of Plan Voisin, a utopian modernist vision for Paris that fortunately was never built, but the impact of his ideas was enormous. In reality, urban planners today are trying to fix what this person, with his hands from above, did to metropolitans. Modernist city planning produced rooms specially designed for cars, a city where different functions like stores, bureaux and dwelling, are strictly divided; a city where the traditional street, together with all street life, is stimulated obsolete.

Contrary to Le Corbusier, I deeply care about streets, and I wish that the street of our metropolitans offered a more balanced room for mobility and for social life. I likewise believe that the hand of an architect can look like this, and he, or she, can be working inside of the model, immediately on wall street. For the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to work in several urban design programmes in public rooms. I’ve employed my own hands to build these things. I’ve expended many hours on the website, and, while there, I’ve stimulated some interesting observations. It all started with a project in Bastejkalns Park in Riga, that’s when I expended a week crawling on the floor, painting light-green circles, and constantly clarifying to curious passers-by why I am doing this. I was actually setting up an outdoor exhibition which was dedicated to a Latvian columnist. My experiments with coloring resumed in Sarkandaugava neighbourhood in Riga, and this time I painted everything cherry-red, and, of course, I carried on please explain why. It was to differentiate the first public square in Riga, co-designed with a brave neighbourhood community. But today, I’d like to tell you more about the project in Miera Street.

The call of wall street intends’ serenity’ in Latvian, and the call of the project “Mierigi” carries as’ peacefully’ or’ easily ‘. At our studio, Fine Young Urbanists, all my fellow members Toms Kokins and I started working with Miera Street 3 years ago. Now, this was when I had just returned from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where I had expended several years learning and working. When the time comes to street designing, the Netherlands is genuinely a superpower. There are so many different kinds of streets in the Dutch metropolitans: with beautiful large-hearted trees, with canals, with wide sidewalks – and I know you’re probably belief this already – with cycling paths, of course. Living in Rotterdam stimulated me recognise that healthy lifestyles and vibrant street life can be incorporated within urban design. Without even thinking of practice, I rode my bicycle for at least 20 times every day. Without even looking for a park, I had access to greenery right there on wall street. I assured people barbecuing, watching Tv, or selling their furniture on wall street, and I gladly took part in that.

I felt that I had the freedom to move around the city whichever way I liked, I was fit, and I was happy. And then I returned to Riga. I assured the street here from a new perspective: how sad they genuinely are, how empty, specially the ones that have been constructed recently. Cycling experienced uncomfortable, and quite soon I switched to a car because it’s so easy. Riga today recurs the same mistakes that American metropolitans stimulated back in the 1950 s: it constructs freeways to solve traffic problems, it allows large-hearted shopping centers to pop up next to these freeways, and for suburban villages to grow just outside the borders of Riga. At the same time, the historical center is rapidly loosing residents, the breath excellence is the worst in the Baltic Country due to traffic congestion, and there is an empty structure on almost every block.

Riga stimulated me, an urban planner, feel limited in my selects and unconsciously switch to a lifestyle that induces me unfit and unhappy. With all this in brain, we chose we are to be able do something about at least one street in Riga. The reasons set out above we decide to Miera Street was that there was an active neighbourhood community which is quite exceptional for a street in the center of Riga, there was a great spatial potential for a high-quality street life, and there was a very obvious trouble: 90% of the cars go on tram-rails leaving the paths designed for them empty. At the same time, pedestrians and the increasing number of cyclists have to share a narrow sidewalk and navigate between signposts, open door, and parked cars. We were sure that the available street room can be used in a more balanced path. By generate a shared car and tram lane in the middle, room would free up for a cycling lane on each side of the street.

That would in turn allow us to vacate the side strolls for walking, for sitting, for bicycle parking, for outdoor coffeehouse, for plants and for trees, for beautiful, light-green, leafy trees. Did you know that in those nearly 700 meters of Miera Street that are considered to be a hip, creative quarter, there are only 15 trees? That is one tree for 45 meters, on only one back of wall street. That doesn’t seem so hip, does it? With a better designed street profile, it would become easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street, small business would have better spatial circumstances to develop, and there would still be car parking available where needed, the livability of Miera Street aimed at improving, and all this would in fact leave the current traffic situation practically intact.

People is as simple as feel better, more at home on a street that accommodates more choices. What we also wanted to explore with this project was the ties between an architect and these communities. The locals are surely experts of their street, and we, urban planners, want to know what they know because we want to create a designing that are appropriate the needs and requirements and actually improves their street. So at first we stimulated these pulls and photo-montages to have something to talk about. Then we tried involving people on wall street by showing them our visions. The answer was primarily positive, but we still weren’t really sure if the proposed answer was the best fit or if we were even understood. So eventually, we chose to test the idea spatially, and we did what architects commonly do: we built a model. But instead of structure something tiny and looking at it from above, we decided that we would become those tiny plastic people inside of the model and test the idea in real circumstances on a scale one to one, immediately on the street.

The mock-up established in three days, and it remained in place for almost a week. It changed wall street instantly. On one back, we added merely 30 centimeters to the sidewalk, and that was enough to create room for terraces and tiny cafe tables next to the wall; which is very convenient if you crave to sit down and wait for somebody, have a dinner, reorganize your suitcases after grocery browse, remainder after a long go, or simply enjoy sitting down and looking at other people. On the other side, as soon as we put down tables and chairs, people from a nearby coffeehouse started serving coffee and cakes. People instinctively know how to use a good street when they see it. We at Fine Young Urbanists belief these sorts of urban prototyping with mock-ups is the cheapest, fastest and most reliable path for experimenting changes in the urban settings. Urban prototyping is collective envisage, collective wishful thinking. It allows you to feel the room with your body to see if you can find a comfortable home for yourself, if you want to stay there. It is also a path to eschew expensive designing blunders later.

We have learned that these small actions in a public room is a great way to involve the public in designing process. During construction time, we were constantly there: structure, painting and talking about here people that were interested in this. The most frequently asked query was, “Why is this thing blue? ” Well, the vivid coloring provoked people to start a discussion with strangers about street designing; that are actually the daydream of an urban planner come true. And this time we got all kinds of questions: from extremely positive, very supportive to instead critical, and even aggressive.

It is comprehensible that not everyone corroborates the notion of more cyclists on the street, it is a nuisance. Not everybody wants to give up their parking space for an outdoor coffeehouse or potted flowers. But here I would like to refer back to a smart advice that my mother formerly shared with me: “No we are capable of withstand good manners. People are entitled to have an opinion that is different from yours, but be polite, talk calmly, and listen to what others have to say. Perhaps you’ll learn something, and perhaps they will start listening to you.” As urbanites, we must understand that cycling paths are not built merely to delight cyclists, and street furniture is not installed for the profit of shopkeepers, and streets in general do not subsist merely for the convenience of cars. Envisioning that would be like still expressed his belief that telephones are only stimulated for calling. Metropolis are not that simple-minded. Metropolis are very complex creatures where everything needs to be in equilibrium and where everyone – young, healthy and financially procure, as well as those whose income is modest and whose movements are limited – can equally take part in mobility and in social life.

Why do I see that streets are so important? The American urbanist and famous people watcher William H. Whyte formerly beautifully used to say streets are the rivers of life in the city. Of course, streets help us effectively move around, but streets are also a stage where public life can take place. And public life really is the essence of metropolitans. People have not built urban agreements to persist concealed from each other in their homes or in their cars.

They have come together to exchange knowledge, to share assets, and to develop something collectively, and the very best metropoli has a capability to embrace all the various selects of the person or persons that lives there and to help balance them spatially. After finishing the “Mierigi” project, a video was stimulated, and we posted it online. The idea resonated with people worldwide. Our little video has now been viewed, tweeted, shared, liked over 60 000 times.

That can show that urban planners, activists, and community leaders all over the world “re even looking for” new ways to let their metropolitans know that there is a desire to take street room back from cars and profit-hungry developers. And we are definitely not alone: there is a whole new engender of architects and urban planners that are less related with designing iconic buildings and more very interested in humanizing the rigid, unbalanced metropoli. They are not “afraid youre going to” take risks, working in cooperation with their own hands, and “they il be” masters in detecting loopholes in regulations and alternative ways of communication. Forget about the arrogant modernist. This new architect is more of a hacker. Practices like Exist in France, or Raumlabor in Germany, or Assemble in the UK, are successfully transforming the responsibilities of architects and changing the path we seem at congested streets, empty buildings, and undesired areas in our metropolitans. For example, Parkind Day started as a small initiative of Rebar Art and Design Studio in San Francisco, and in 10 years, it has grown into a global motion, and several metropolitans have even incorporated it into their urban plans. Or the architectural firm ZUS in Rotterdam managed to transform an undesired role pulley-block that had stood empty for 15 times into a creative hotspot and a testing website for new ideas.

That is a place now that many other metropolitans are envious of. How could we persuasion even more architects and urban planners to become actively involved in metropoli construct? I see one of the ways is through education. Every year, we plan a summertime academy for students and young professionals of architecture, urban development and designing. And in this summer academy, they get a chance to go through a full designing cycle in only 2 week. This is something rare in architectural education. The players do research, come up with a conception, and experiment it immediately by building it in a public domain.

Through this, they learn how heavy real substances are and how frightening power tools can sometimes be. And they don’t only build for the sake of practice; they create something that the neighbourhood borough – in our case, Cesis – or a neighbourhood organisation is genuinely very interested in. Ultimately, at the end of the summer academy, they envision the finished building being appropriated by the public. They see whether it runs as intended or it fails to live up to the concept. This hand-on experience wholly changes the path these young architects view their profession. In our summertime academy, we teach that architecture reaches beyond buildings and that urbanism is not just the room between them. We believe that building is a social act, but let’s not forget that prototypes are just a stair towards making real public rooms, and a summertime academy will probably never supplant a university. I don’t really think that Miera Street should be painted all blue, and I know that professional builders have much more skill operating a screw handgun than architects ever will. What I am suggesting is that to keep a clear and critical brain we often require a change of perspective.

To build better metropolitans, we need both: a thorough to better understand street life and a position from above. I believe that taking small steps can lead to major conversions in our metropolitans. And I genuinely, genuinely hope that in the future there will be more architects and urban designers that rely less on Mega Lo Mania visions and more on their humanity. Thank you.( Applause ).

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