Tag Archives: work process

Summer Travels 2011…(18) – Final Crit…

Its a mixed bag as we walk back from the bus stop after the final crit…I have the tang of tear gas in my eyes as it wafts on the breeze from an incident just outside the Old City, and the usual euphoric weariness that accompanies the passing of hours post-crit…

But it seemed to go OK. We gave a good account of ourselves, mostly through Marcelo, with whom I’ve been working this past week. From an urban planners point of view on ‘urban management’, we presented an analysis of existing land legal structure (i.e. ownership), and ‘urban tools’ for development, which included methods such as ‘saleable development rights’ for empowering individual landowners to negotiate with developers and the municipality. For me, its been an interesting exercise in meta-design – we didnt actually design anything beyond a road layout – and one that I hope will inform the way any masterplan is carried out on the ground. Ive always believed that designers dont pay enough attention to the way these things actually affect the built reality of places, and so despite the frustration, I’m glad we took the time to try to communicate some of it.

However, our ‘presentation’ was pushed to the periphery of proceedings this evening, scheduled for the final half hour before sundown – and therefore, before the breaking of today’s Ramadan fast. Considering the fact that the majority of our jury was muslim, and that designers don’t know how to keep to time, it was no surprise that we began late, and that we were cut off by the canon from the old city signalling time to eat…our audience evaporated as the traditional feast was brought out, and despite some attempts to resume later, we suffered from a greatly diminished attendance.

Tucking in to the Ramadan feast...

The ‘cool group’ – having this evening acquired the moniker “new romantics” – faced tough criticism from the predominantly planning-savvy jury, and their work seemed to be misunderstood. I thought it had some real value myself – and my problem with these people has always been the exclusivity of their operations within the wider design team rather than anything based on their design methodology. The videos will certainly make some interesting watching when I upload them…

Romatics crit...

The ‘hardcore urbanists’ faced similar problems of communication, with a number of local architects and planners on the jury expressing their opinion that whilst the project was an ‘interesting research’, it simply “will not work here in this context”. “This is not the netherlands”, said one jury member.

'Hardcore Urbanists' crit...

The general feeling – although I put a lot of it down to politeness – was that IPCC are pleased with the output of the study, its diversity of focus particularly, but disappointed that we couldn’t bring it together under one body of work. I’ve said this all along, and so it is with some satisfaction that I hear my thoughts echoed – although ultimately with frustration and disappointment. They seem to expect us to work at this this week…but my sentiment – as I suspect is shared by the majority here – is that IPCC have another thing coming.

Marcelo presenting our work on urban management strategy. We pinned up outside 'for a change of scene'...

..and continued after the Ramadan feast, in the dark, to a greatly reduced audience...

Just off out, either to a bar in West Jerusalem, or for some beers on my rooftop, and then tomorrow to Masada and the Dead Sea…looking forward to it very very much!

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Summer Travels 2011…(12) – Sensemaking

I made the following two videos a while ago, but have only just managed to upload them since moving into my new flat. They should go some way towards making sense of the situation I’ve found myself in in Jerusalem.

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Summer Travels 2011…(10) – Omar Yousef, The Studio and How I Came To Plan With Grids

One conclusion from this workshop / studio would be that working well in a flat / non-hierarchical team is a very challenging skill to develop, and it would seem that the students here have coped better – possibly because it is not all that dissimilar to academic studios, all-be0it without the guidance of a tutor or unit-master.

So this week we have been priviledge to have the attention of Omar Yousef, the ‘studio-master’ weve been lacking – for various reasons, prior commitments and a lack of effective organisation at IPCC being perhaps an oversimplification. We first met Omar on Sunday, at the ‘Designing Civic Encounter’ conference in Ramallah, where we learned that he was originally to have had a much more involved role with us at the Jerusalem Urban Resilience Design Studio. After hearing of both our diverse interests and dischordant operation, he agreed to come in the following day to look at our work.

Yousef has quite a reputation here, and has proved himself to be a wonderful facilitator of discussion amongst our diverse group. If there is any skill to emulate, I would choose his ability to value and challenge in equal measure, allowing us to see connections and voice opinions that politeness and design ‘religion’ might otherwise not allow.

After a second day of activities in and around Ramallah (see Ramallah and City Building), Yousef agreed to return to the studio on Wednesday, giving us time to run an intense, informal ‘charette’ to get as many of our ideas out for discussion before he had to leave the country on Thursday.

Different groups broke out to work on specific ideas, whilst the two main groups continued with the ‘sense-making’ and ‘gridded’ approaches. Omar promises to turn up at 3pm to lead the crit. Below is my own twitter-like account of my day:

9am: Get the text to pick up water on my way to the office…

10am: Got to the office…

I’m working with Rob, landscape architecture masters student from Toronto, to work towards an environmentally-led first iteration of a plan for the crit later….looking forward to flexing my design muscles for the first time I this studio…

11:13 Started working; good progress in terms of making our values drawn an explicit, but soom ran into problems of working in this space…people want to know what your doing, want to take issue with it as soon as you’ve put pen to paper…so we changed rooms. And then were kicked out by the ‘cool’ group who wanted a meeting behind closed doors. Our methodology is to try and collect all the ideas, obervations made across the studio as the basis for own design work…

11:51 more people drifting in later and wanting to know what were doing…It seems that if you look like you know what you’re doing, people move towards you; whilst this is essentially a compliment, if it is unstructured it can lead to ‘treacle-isation’….a serious drop in productivity.

13:46 As 3pm approached, we have to start to make decisions about what to pin up; and what drawings to finish. We’ve not actually positioned anything on the site yet, and my stomach is rumbling! However, I have diagrammed some concepts; such as a temporary urbanist move against the Separation Barrier, and our ‘tree-like’ grid concept for claiming territory using the road layout.

14:24 I guess a key observation about management of people is that sometimes they just need to be left to do what they want to do, even if that is not necessarily the most efficient method to meet the deadline….

14:47 13 minutes to go and the pizza arrives….doubt we’ll get that extra sketch up.

15:47 Omar turns up for our 3pm deadline…

16:07 “are we ready…?”

17:54 ‘Cool group’ done….I’ll write about this later, as I made some notes….

19:22 Daniela and Marcelo just presented…a really good framework for our wider study and output of the studio. Hoping to work with them from now on, as they are working with really interesting issue of urbanising informality, and again, will write up more from my notes…

20:47 We finish….a good discussion, some good conclusions and a clearer idea of a final project outcomes. It remains to be seen if we can pull everything together without Omar hear to marshall us as a studio….I’m off home.

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In the discussion alluded to, some key observations / realisations and conclusions were drawn, as we worked long into the evening. I’ve since turned in the following morning as participated in a discusison about how best to move forward.

So I’m working on ‘grids’.

I don’t want to be, but Ive decided that maybe I can put my own interests and beliefs about appropriate development’ aside and work professionally towards a common goal, in the name of producing a project, in the time we have left.

I guess it boils down to the question of what is appropriate for us – as a team of international professionals and students, here for a short, finite period of time – to leave as a product. Whereas I am convinced that development of this kind should actually be pursued by a more sustained engagement over a long period of time (perhaps decades), building capacity in key local stakeholders (NGOs, civil society organisations, landowners, the local authority, etc.) to communicate and work together to achieve development of their own neighbourhood (like Teddy Cruz’s ‘architect as inter-locator’ concept – see here) we simply do not have that option here, beyond ‘recommending it’ in our opinion as specialists. Those stakeholders are definitely there – as demonstrated by the ‘sense-making’ of the ‘cool group’ – but they should be engaged responsibly.

So whilst the ‘cool group’ maintain that their engagement has at the very least started some conversations, and built awareness amongst stakeholders of other stakeholders’ motives, resources, aspirations and capacities – through the power of stories and narrative – I remain doubtful of whether the ‘Plan’ they leave can ever be (or is even meant to be) executed on the ground.

So perhaps our involvement with this studio is more about building capacity. A capacity to think, and conceive of things not previously considered, be that formal arrangements and typologies, frameworks for situating work legally and socially, or methodologies for engagement and co-design of development. Weapons in the arsenal of Palestinian advocacy organisations such as the IPCC.

So why a grid? And how does a grid – or the proposal of a grid, whether as purely a ‘project’ or as final built form – facilitate ‘urban resilience’ in a new Palestinian neighbourhood?

One argument for the grid is that the ‘gridded city’ is not a typology seen in Palestinian urbanism. Development here tends to be categorised by one of two things; either by informal, incremental development, often illegal, that by virtue of its address of the most pressing needs often results in poorly designed spaces, particular public spaces, on the scale of a neighbourhood or city; or by top-down super-development, as seen at both Rawabi (please see Ramallah and City building) and Israeli settlement-building, where the developers are not trusted – either because they often utilise the controversial mechanisms of ‘reparcelisation’ and ‘compensation’ that take land away from traditional family ownership, or in the case of the latter simply confiscate land for an occupying power.

The argument is that neither of the predominant models of development in Palestinian urbanism produce vital and enjoyable neighbourhoods, with well-designed public-realm, good quality and affordable housing, and a politically resilient and economically prosperous civil society. Proposing the ‘grid’, which proposes ‘connectivity’ in opposition to the easy control of the serpentine settlement-type developments, and designed formality is opposition to ad-hoc self-construction, is therefore simply about giving the IPCC another way to think about urbanism on the hilly terrain that categorises the area.

So this is what I am working on now. Building this ‘tool’ into the evolving armoury of the IPCC, which will include work done by other factions of the studio that I personally find more interesting, and believable.

After writing this, I’m off to arrange a group activity, a trip to Palestine’s second ever competitive football match on home soil, at the Faisal Al Husseini International Stadium in Al Ram. The game – against Thailand – is the second leg of a qualifying campaign for the London 2012 Olympic Games, in which the home side are 1-0 down on aggregate….it promises to be fantastic experience, and I’ll write at some point over the weekend.

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Summer Travels 2011…(7)

Ive been having trouble finding an internet connection quick enough to upload the video blogs, so I may have to resort to writing for a while…

Today was another pivotal day in terms of operations in the studio. I feel like I’m a step closer to understanding the different methodologies at play, especially the ‘emergent’ sense-makers (mac-users, inclusive design camp, etc…), as today was the first time I say their work all together. We had an informal crit of all the work being produced by the different groups, and a walk around in which we invited thought and comments, and parallels that were emerging between different workstreams….and encouragingly people are starting to have conversations about working together.

But over the last few days an easy metaphor has revealed itself to me…

In this place where religions meet; and at face value contest; contradict; oppress and disregard each other, it is easy to draw a comparison to the ‘religion’ of design methodology. Ethnographers study language in order to understand a culture of a particular ethnographic group, particularly their system of belief and its influence on the concept of value. Here in the ‘Jerusalem Urban Resilience Design Studio’, due to an unfortunate lack of hierarchy resulting from IPCCs inexperience of running these workshops, a number of ‘religions’ have emerged as various individuals resort to processes and epistemologies that they know. Various ways of designing, that value different things, have come to clash with each other when they should be complimentary…a situation exacerbated by the reality confronted by participants upon arrival, of a weak brief, confusing professional expectations, dynamic and extensive participant base, and highly charged context. For me, joining late, and remaining somewhat of an objective outsider, the parallels that can be drawn to the situation surrounding Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are partly amusing, and partly a cause for serious concern about our ability, as a group, to deliver something of value in this project.

However, todays ‘crit’, however informal, went someway towards bridging the gap in communication. I am learning a great deal about design psychology, and have been praised for my ‘diplomacy’ since Ive arrived – as an outsider, Ive found that my own natural resort in the face of confusion was to dive into organisation, data management, and the understanding and communication of what the apparent ‘religions’ of design methodology were from my point of view. A certain amount of babblefish-ing lead in part to the progressive events seen today in the studio, and of this I am a little proud, even though I remain frustrated by the lack of a ‘quick win’ contribution I can make in terms of design in the limited time we have remaining.

One day remains of this week, before the final few weeks of our project, which finishes on the 12thAugust. As our ‘positive grey’ period draws to a close, and we look towards developing our work into tangible proposals, I remain hopeful that we can come together as a group and leave the IPCC with something of serious worth in their continuing struggle for Palestinian land rights and freedom of existence in the face of Israeli occupation.

The 'other' room, where they are pursuing a methodology of looking and investigating the site, producing a sensitive analysis on what is there in order to inform any proposal. I think I'd be much more at home in this group, but they definitely come across as exclusive...it seems I was too late to join to be a part of this process.

My room...as in where Ive been working...where we've been concentrating on a study of typology and organisational grid, alongside a strategy for mediating landownership to achieve those things incrementally over time. Its been difficult...

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Summer Travels 2011…(5)

Today has been a fantastic day.

First though, a quick summary…

I was on skype to Sarah last night, and ranting about how frustrated I was getting with this workshop – sold as something completely different to that which has transpired, no real brief, no real team hierarchy, and many egos and working methods bouncing around and conflicting. Also our accommodation arangement is awkward – although we’re based at a hotel, after a week you start to crave your own space, and its also like living with EVERYONE you work with. The walk to work is a sweaty uphill struggle amoidst heavy traffic to a lonely house on the top of a hill near the Separation Barrier that serves as an ‘office’ – we steal our internet from the house next door, there was no fridge until a day ago, we have a two-hob stove for almost 20 people, and no pots or pans. Shops nearby are few and far between, and with one exception, rip us off as foreigners obviously out of place in this arab neighbourhood. Being a house, there is no one room big enough to accommodate us all, and so we are in three very distinct groups….separated in fact by preferred methodology and hierarchies established before I joined the project. The ‘inclusive’ guys, who went to saite a lot, talked to people and creatively mapped things, who are building an ‘Atlas of Knowledge’, all use Macs and all work or teach together are in one room, and are actual quite exclusive in terms of explaining their methods or making them accessible to everyone else. Then there are the corporate guys – OMA and DfL stock, who take their own familiar methodology, based on the transfer of existing typology, and sit at desks tracing and comparing stuff from New Orleans to Stuttgart and dumping it on the site to bring a ‘western’ expertise to housing in this contested context. The mavericks comprise a third group, in their own room, and characterized by having an agenda before joining the workshop. Whilst the others are at least working towards the common goal of a masterplan for a new covertly Palestinian neighborhood, this third group see the ‘Studio’ as a chance to explore personal interests, or simply are segregated through an inability to us the english language with quite the finesse of the London scenesters. No one talks to each other anyway, room arrangement aside.

So today I got the f**k out.

With two fellow students, including one of the Mavericks, we decided that to design a place that is conducive to the development of a strong Palestinian civil society, we first needed to understand Palestinians, how they live in Jerusalem, and the problems that come with that – from discrimination all the way through to the cultural warfare waged by Israel weakening Palestinian society under the radar.

The Maverick has lived here for 4 years, as an architecture student studying at an Arab university. From Germany, she has been unable to obtain a student visa from Israeli authorities due precisely to the fact of her institution of study. Her tourist visa has recently expired, and to renew it means standing in line, with no shade, just to make an appointment which then takes place around six weeks later. This is an example of what is becoming a common theme as I spend time here. Things for arabs – and friends of arabs, including those who objectively do not take a pro-israeli position – is made difficult. Not actively prohibitted, but made uncomfortable, beaureucratic and demeaning.

But the Maverick has contacts through study. A friend who we visited today, could be classified as a wealthy, upper middle-class Palestinian. He is educated, politically aware, and and engaged Muslim. I would upload the videos I made of him talking to us, but as a former member of Hamas and former prison resident after the fact, he would be put in danger by anything linking him to anything that does not actively seek to reduce Paletsinian influence in the middle east. He very eloquently explained things such as the Muslim importance attached to Jerusalem and the land occupied by Isreal, the history of the estblishment of Isreal as a nation, and the mindset of arabs behind the things we witness on the news in the UK. I’d like to say at this point that the first mistake we make is to consider all arabs under one name, and all Palestinians as muslims. I hope very much to write up this conversation with our friend, as it contained many illuminating stories.

Typical shop in a Palestinian neighbourhood...this one selling clothing.

Shop owner giving us Arabic coffee...people here are generous hosts, and it would be considered impolite not to invite visitors in for coffee.

The shop from the outside. We're interested in these buildings because of the way that the division of space as evolved internally, the mix of uses in a single building, and the interface with public space in from (the road) and behind (a school).

Anyway, we were researching existing Palestinian neighbourhoods, their strengths and the challenges they face in modern Jerusalem. We studied our friend’s shop, and the way it related to the actively arab commercial center of which it is a part. We looked at how it is divided in order to make best economic use of its floor area, and how that floor area is massaged in order to circumvent the draconian restrictions imposed by the Israeli-run Jerusalem Municipality that seek to make business difficult for arabs.  We looked at the way that – behind the shop block – there is a rare Palestinian Secondary school, and talked about the importance of schools in Palestinian culture and society. We then were taken to see our friends house, and were introduced to the different concepts of land ownership amongst arabs, principally relating to the shame attached to selling land, which is demanded in Israeli-designed settlement plans. The idea of self-construction, in which arab families add to their home as their family grows in order to support their younger family members is key to understanding how any new neighbourhood would grow. The importance of civic buildings, such as Hamams (bathhouses) and coffee shops was explained, alongside Israeli measures to weaken these, and so disrupt Palestinians access to each other, to their culture, and to a forum to talk about their politics and family life.

All in all, what began to reveal itself was a war that is only ever partially fought on a militaristic level. Culturally, Isreal seeks to disrupt the social fabric of Palestinian society, distancing the young from its history and culture by closing schools, and the engaged from meeting the like-minded in open community forums. From inside Palestinian society, Israel seeks to take away that which makes it cohesive and strong.

Its early days, but I am beginning to understand the complexity at play here. I do not for one minute want to base that understanding on one encounter with one Palestinian and it is important to keep an open mind. The difference being so far, is that Israelis will try to convince me of the merits of Israel, whilst Palestinians ask only that I keep an open mind.

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Summer Travels 2011…(4)

This post is mostly video…I’m pretty tired, so I apologise if it is at all incoherent. There are a few reflections, but mostly snapshots of life in Jerusalem….

First visit to site…late in the day, I tag along with Mercello and Daniella to visit an are of ‘illegal’ housing on our site. One of the IPCC aims is to retain and integrate these dwellings into the new plan, seeking to legalize them rather than allow them to be bulldozed by Israeli authorities. The kids throw stones because they think we are Jewish, which we later resolve after talking to their mothers….

 

Climbing the Mount of Olives…

 

…and the view from the top…

 

Diary 11/07/2011…

 

I’ll write properly as soon as I can, and follow with photographs that give a little more detail about what I’ve been up to…

Sam

 

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Summer Travels 2011…(3)

The view from my hotel towards the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock...

Hello…

Here’s the first video from Israel…I’ll write about this maybe in a day or two, as the experience has so far been totally overwhelming, and there’s far too much to get in right now!

The aim of the Jerusalem Urban Resilience Design Studio is to mediate between this dichotomy that plagues Israeli-Palestinian planning. By involving international delegation, the IPCC hope to catalyze a discussion about a 'third way'' that is modern and urban, but does not follow the groove of Jewish settlement...

I’ve been working at the office again today, and feeling a lot better….psychologically, it does wonders if you have a specific task to get on with, so I’ve plumped for one group’s task of collating typologies and precedents of ‘good streets’. I drew up some examples from my own experience and from photos the others had, of Tel Aviv, Havana and San Francisco. This work forms part of our early tasks for the masterplan…part of our role here is to show what is possible, rather than adhering to the usual options of ‘settlement’ style colonies….

I’ll also follow with some photos from the first day of wandering round the old city, and from my first day with the IPCC international project team…

Anyway, I’ll write more another time. Please dont be too alarmed by the video…documenting my thoughts in the heat of the moment is part and parcel of this process, and so it probably comes across that the first day was utterly overwhelming…

And just to show you the division of labour I allude to in the above video….

Sam

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