Tag Archives: travel

Summer Travels 2011…(14) – Tunneling under the city…

In a bid to ward off frustration at the office, I’ve started trying to do one interesting thing each day. Today I went to the City of David, to the south of Jerusalem’s Old City…this is often considered as the original inhabited city of the area. On the way, I passed s Star of David made from Re-Bar is perhaps a fitting symbol for the struggle being fought here….

Star of David made from re-bar adorns a shop frontage as we pass from the Christian quarter into the Jewish quarter of the Old City

The City of David is a contentious area right now, as it sits next to the ‘slum’ of Silwan, a primarily Palestinian neighbourhood. Israel is accused of ‘land-grabbing’ by claiming parts of this neighbourhood for ‘archaeological importance’, evicting Palestinians and then bringing in Jews to live in the renovated homes. Its growing importance as a tourist site, with the associated income generated, only adds to the bad feeling surrounding this issue…

Silwan on the facing hill, an outpost of the City of David at the bottom right

But it is a pretty interesting tourist site… the excavations themselves look like something off a Diploma architecture students drawing board (or CAD screen), and the Hezekiah Tunnel is a pretty exciting experience…
The tunnel was dug underneath the City of David in Jerusalem, and is mentioned in the bible (2 Kings 20:20)
Leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, it was designed as an aqueduct to provide Jerusalem with water during an impending siege by the Assyrians. The curving tunnel is 533 m long, and by using a 30 cm (0.6‰) gradient altitude difference between each end, conveyed water along its length from the spring to the pool. According to an inscription, the tunnel was excavated by two teams, one starting at each end of the tunnel and then meeting in the middle. This achievement in itself in almost incomprehensible when you’re walking in the tunnel – the difficult feat of making two teams digging from opposite ends meet far underground is now understood to have been accomplished by directing the two teams from above using sounds generated by hammering on the solid karst through which the tunnelers were digging.

The excavation chamber...

And we had a good splash when we got out…

Splash.

And then I went to the office and produced some layouts for the work we’ve been doing. This is the limit of my capacity currently…I feel no ownership of anything the ‘studio’ has produced in its varied and seemingly incongruous ways, and therefore feel like I can only throw myself at publishing work.

It is, however, the first day of Ramadan…where muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours, for the entire month. Because of the heat here, many muslims have simply re-orientated their day, sleeping during the worst heat, and then conducting daily business after they have broken fast in the evening. Unfortunately for me, this means that my peaceful new home is no surrounded by a bustling neighbourhood right when I need to sleep (including fireworks). Ah well, I should consider it a dose of culture I guess!

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Summer Travels 2011…(2)

This may be posted a bit late…internet access at Copenhagen airport cost TEN POUNDS AND HOUR!!! So I’ve postponed posting until Israel.

I realise that the video that accompanies this results in me deciding not to tell you anything, so I thought I’d best write. I’m pretty tired…having just slept in the airport to make sure I could get here early enough for my flight. Solid timber floor (it is Scandinavia after all…), and a 30minute burst of Frank Sinatra at 2am did not help matters.

So yeah, Denmark done…that list I mentioned did actually have some stuff I wanted to say on it, so I’ll maybe go through it now.

It’s raining again now, and ‘The Rain’ has been something that has characterised my trip…Copenhagen’s worst deluge in recent times happened last weekend and wrote off integral parts of the railway system as well as submerging large areas of the city centre. So many conference go-ers travelling between Trekroner (where Roskilde University actually is) and Copenhagen each day suffered the fall-out, which continued all week, and finally necessitated my current state of sleep deprivation. Other than this incident, I’ve been pretty lucky – staying with Anders, my contact through couchsurfing has meant just a 5minute commute by foot each morning, as he lives on campus at RU, and the walk to Roskilde is both pleasant and an easy 45minutes.

If Carlsberg did trains...they'd probably be better.

Central Copenhagen still feeling the affects of flash flooding.

Anders.And his book.

Anders has been a fantastic host – very kind, and quiet, he’s made me feel like I can treat his single-room student bedsit as my own. The conference has been pretty intense, so I’ve not been there much, but when I’ve returned each evening I’ve found Anders watching a film (Bandslam, Step Up 2 the Streets, Step Up 3…in case you’d like a flavour of his taste), which (although corny for sure) has been a pleasant way to unwind. He’s also been a wealth of knowledge on all things Danish…and has tolerated my attempts to learn some of the language, even though everyone speaks English here. Anders is studying for a ‘humanistics’ degree here, a title which alludes to RU’s inter-disciplinary approach to education. Students always work in groups, and propose their own projects which deal with social questions and draw on their own individual expertise from earlier study. The only demand is that the question is a social one, and that they demonstrate academic rigour in its investigation. They also get paid to study, which all in all makes for an interesting comparison to the English educational system.

RU’s campus takes a bit of getting used to, as I mentioned in my last video post. Although initially seeming a bit run down, you realise that the areas of un-mown grass are actually wild meadows, teeming with wildlife and serving as a productive landscape – lakes are stormwater buffers, goats and sheep graze between copses, and the air is filled with the sounds of birdlife. This attitude towards landscaping – a blurred boundary between urban and rural – is even more interesting when set against Trekroner’s variety of housing projects. I need to do some research, but whilst some seem like particularly well-executed commercial housing developments, a lot also look like social housing, and co-operative communities. The area, termed loosely as Munksocard (meaning Monk’s Farm by the Lake), features small ‘quarters’ that contain a group of houses, often split into upper and lower floor flats, but sharing common facilities, such as a central garden (again, wild like the landscaping), bike storage, covered washing racks, and more often than not, a Sammungshus – essentially and empty house where guests of any community member can stay when they visit. The Sammungshus also usually contains a ground floor room big enough to host neighbourhood events, and contains a communal laundry and extra cooking facilities. The collection of ‘communities’ itself shares central facilities – all cars are left at the main entrance, where electric cars can also be charged. There is also a communal bicycle lock up, and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generation plant. Areas used for paths or playing fields are simply mown, rather than paved. All in all, they look like very convivial and beautiful places to live – children just play out on their own, and everyone says hi to you when you walk past…it’ll definitely be interesting to find out some more about this place.

Roskilde University's setting. Wild landscaping can be seen on the right.

One of Trekroner's interesting forms of housing development, likely to be co-operative. Sammungshus can be seen on the far right.

So. The Conference. I guess I should mention it, seeing as it is the point of me coming to Denmark in the first place. Firstly, its genuinely been an eye-opening experience to attend. Social Enterprise – and by derivation – social entrepreneurship is an emerging field in both practice (and I mean generally, not specifically architecture) and research. Elements have been going on for ages, and elements are new, but it is the attempt to study it as a discrete yet interdependent field,  that is currently emerging. The EMES Research network, who hosted the conference, represents the European school of thought in the field, which can be juxtaposed to a (occasionally differing) US field, and less developed counterparts in Eastern Asia and Latin America. All were represented here in Roskilde, with over 200 participants from nearly 40 different countries.

A large number of papers presented were by PhD candidates, which indicates EMES support of young academics and sponsorship of emerging research in what remains an imprecisely defined field. Indeed my own paper, as that of others, was warmly received and a great deal of advice given as to how it should be taken forward. It was clear to me that architects, as reflective practitioners and action researchers in civil society, may even be able to offer something to EMES and the field of social enterprise research that is currently acknowledged by experts as an undeveloped aspect of the field.

I’ve made some good friends – temporary or otherwise – and I have also been able to build upon my evolving amateur ethnography of academics; adding the following to my observations of this strange and incomprehensible species….

They talk too much...

They argue. A lot.

And they dance BADLY….

The ‘gung-ho Australian’ I mentioned in my last post has turned out to be a most kindly advocate for my work…Heather Douglas, from RMIT in Melbourne suggested that I use some comments she’s prepared to submit my paper to journals in the field – which is daunting, but flattering also. However, I won’t go into my findings from the conference – a number of key themes emerged that a really helpful for my March dissertation thesis – because it will bore you to tears. Probably.

So having finished up with the conference and said goodbye to Anders, I headed off to spend my last afternoon in Copenhagen. I did a lot of walking, but I remain adamant that this is the best way to soak somewhere up. I had two ridiculously expensive cokes, but otherwise subsisted on stolen sandwiches from the conference. My attempt, mentioned in the video, to find the artists that myself, Val and the Bens encountered in 2008 drew to an unfruitful conclusion, and it looks likely that their protest at exclusive waterside development in Copenhagen has been brought to an end. So after watching some dribs and drabs of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, I wound my way back to Christiania to close out the day with a beer and some reading for the IPCC in Israel.

Christiania – the inhabited edge – the ‘freetown’ notorious for its legalisation of marijuana and hippy-leaning attitude towards rules and regulation was an eye-opener, having been a bit of a disappointment on my last visit back in 2008. The lazy summer evening definitely had something to do with it, but I definitely fell for the place. Sure, you get all the losers just there for the tolerant atmosphere with regard to narcotics, but you also get the ones that just want a place to be themselves, and to do that it beautiful surroundings. Less than 15minutes walk from its polar opposite, Copenhagen’s Storget shopping district, Christiania is a treasure trove for those like me that love an adhoc approach to the design and construction of buildings and public space – neatly crafted cabins site alongside collisions of plastic and timber right on the water’s edge, on the ridges of the former city ramparts, or nestled against tucked away paths running through lush woodland that covers this area of Copenhagen. So, once you get past ‘pusher street’ – the blatant exhibitionism of Christiania’s open hash market stalls – the area reveals itself as the laid back, strongly (although informally) civic place that it is. The drugs, although tolerated, are never revered outside pusher street…there are schools and nurseries in Christiania, all of which bear signs discouraging ‘hanging out’ on weekdays, and that visitors and community members alike do their bit to keep the area tidy and safe for children.

The old fortification moat that forms one boundary to Christiania

One of the many self-built houses that litter the lakeside and forests...

So as I look towards Israel (it’s now only about an hour until boarding!), I don’t really know what to expect. The last few days has allowed me to rediscover the sense of wonder I always have when I travel – I feel like I’ve shaken off the dusty accumulation of ‘architecture’ and my eyes feel wide open again. I enjoy the self-confidence that comes with being new and the knowledge that you can or will move on shortly; I find that I am able to do and say things that I cannot when I am in one place, and it is liberating to feel that coursing through you. The closest analogy I can find for this is in Richard Sennett’s concept of the Foreigner, promised in his book The Craftsman but yet to be delivered. For the Foreigner, experience of the new juxtaposes that which is known and affords comparison and insight into both one’s own practices and well-being, and that of others.

So with this in mind, I’ll shoulder my rucksack and head to the gate…

Sam

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Filed under Real World, Summer 2011