Rethinking the City Alternative Lifestyles for a Post-Pandemic World

Fareed Zakaria’s new book, “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World,” conveys a broad view of tomorrow’s possibilities within the context of both history and a rapidly changing present. Zakaria covers accelerated change, quality government, the market economy, expertise, artificial intelligence, tomorrow’s city, inequality, globalization, a US/China bipolar world, and idealists’ leadership.

The argument that most attracted me can be found in Chapter Six. It reasons that while people abandoned cities throughout history because of epidemics, wars, fires, natural disasters, and recessions, cities came back, and people rebuild them better and safer than before. Why? Because, as Aristotle put it in 350 BC, humans are social animals.

This argument inspired me to bring up some former and present architectural solutions that can apply to some of the current crisis’s problems. To put Zakaria’s and our urban-related ideas within a broader context, I recommend reading his book in its entirety.

Fareed Zakaria: GPS Program and New Book

Why Cities?

There is a likelihood that after Covid-19, many people will leave the city life, yet cities will continue to grow. While telecommunication will continue to become transformative both to work and education, human beings like to interact in person. According to an estimate by the United Nations, more than two-thirds of humans will live in an urban environment by 2050. So, the question for rethinking the post-pandemic city is not if it will continue to grow, but how.

Urban vs. Rural Projected Population Growth by 2050

Density

One of the most critical issues to reconsider is population density. From the sustainability point of view, an increase in housing density can free up agricultural land for food production, diminish the need to commute to work, and potentially stimulate human interaction socially, economically, and intellectually.  Does living in dense societies increase the dangers posed by Covid-19? Not necessarily. For example, dense cities like Hong Kong and Singapore had a very low death toll, yet other low-density and rural areas in the United States had much higher death tolls.

Is the subject of safety a design problem or a policy problem? Most likely, it is a combination of the two. The recently re-elected Mayor Anne Hidalgo wants to turn Paris into a “fifteen-minute city” by making all locations accessible by foot or within a fifteen-minute bike ride. This policy has led to major pedestrian-oriented design transformations throughout the city.

Lifestyle

The speculation as to whether the earth’s population will reach ten billion by 2050 or 2070 can affect how we collectively plan using the planet’s resources for food and shelter to provide a sense of physical and psychological safety.   Furthermore, there will be an increased need for transportation, healthcare, commerce, and education infrastructure. The size of the land-footprint that we create will affect the way we live our lives.

Sample Models of Population Density

High Population Density. Paris is a model to consider. Its buildings are 4-6 stories high, zoned as residential-commercial mixed-use. The city is surrounded by trees and plants in the streets and parks.  Aesthetically, it accommodates contemporary design within a historical context. Culturally, it has an infrastructure that stimulates people’s intellectual growth.

Medium Population Density. The Netherlands is a great example of territorial planning. Only 10% of the Dutch population actually live in a big city. Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht are all connected by highways, allowing many people to commute to work while leaving the country’s heart and soul as the farmlands that the Dutch ultimately wanted to maintain.

Low Population Density. Costa Rica has received a 2019 Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honor, for its role in nature preservation and an ongoing policy to combat climate change. It demonstrates leadership in the use of green energy and the preservation of both forests and oceans. Furthermore, according to the Happy Planet Index, it ranks first in sustainable happiness.

Realistic Idealism

Zakaria titled his tenth lesson, “Sometimes the Greatest Realists Are the Idealists.” While his analysis focuses on policy, I suggest that we can also become inspired by two great architects’ designs.

Frank Lloyd Wright saw policy and design intertwined. When he first presented his 12-foot square model of Broadacre City in 1935, he looked at each individual “broad acre” as a place to enable self-actualization.  The intent was to make room for a large variety of activities, just on a smaller and more personalized scale:

                          “little farms, little homes for industry, little factories, little schools, a little university going to the people mostly by way of their                                        interest in the ground, little laboratories on their own ground for professional men. And the farm itself, notwithstanding the                                          animals, becomes the most attractive unit of the city.”        – Frank Lloyd Wright.

Thirty-five years later, Luigi Pellegrin conceived his new mixed-use model of a spatial structure. He suspended most of the residential units above the areas dedicated to services and commerce.

 

Luigi Pellegrin and Frank Lloyd Wright, 1951

Urban Change with a Stroke of a Pen

Back in 2020: changing people’s minds and rewriting regulations is a long and difficult process. In his conclusion, however, “Nothing is Written,” Zakaria insinuates that changing our mindset is possible.

I would consider changing the residential zoning policies to allow for two units to be built instead of one, doubling apartment availability while also making housing more affordable. Furthermore, one could incorporate edible gardens on the balconies and roofenhancingnce sustainable living aaddingdds beauty to the surroundings. These “stroke of a pen” modifications could have an enormous impact on American cities while generating millions of jobs.

For new developments, medium-rise condominiums could be designed in sections, each with its own private stairway and elevator shaft,  distributing to 12-20 units, which is considered to be the optimal number for socialization,  according to environmental psychologists. Some areas of the city could be zoned for experimentation, free of obsolete regulations.

Medium-Rise: 8-16 Units per Entrance – 2020

Four-Block Transformation with Common Green Areas

Shashlik Scheme: Tree Mixed-Use Towers Interconnected

Coda

My wife and I lived in Tel Aviv during the summer of 1973, having recently returned to Israel following seven years of studying architecture in Rome and then working for Pellegrin. We were twenty-eight years old young professionals, hoping to create our own practice finally.

The Association of Architects and Engineers in Israel sponsored a conceptual competition to design a 5,000 dwelling-unit neighborhood. The submission deadline was scheduled for November.

 

On October 6, the Yom Kippur war started. When the war was finally over, the competition deadline was rescheduled to November of the following year. We had time to rethink. The influence that Wright and Pellegrin had on us was powerfully present in our thinking, along with thoughts about the future of a world with limited resources, projected to reach a population of six billion by 2000 (at the time, the world population was three billion).

Main Concepts – 1974

 

Forty-six years later, after winning the competition, we are facing a post-pandemic future. I still believe that most of the principles that guided our never-built design remain valid. Change for the better is possible.

 

 

¡SÍ, SE PUEDE! Women of Action in Architecture and in Politics

This short documentary, “¡Si Se Puede!” is dedicated to women of action on two subjects: architecture and politics. Unseemingly related the two disciplines follow a similar process: DREAM > PROGRAM > DESIGN > BUILD. Both crafts demand courage, imagination, and tenacity.

Dolores Huerta, 89.
Rick Meghiddo

The cry used as the title was conceived by Dolores Huerta (89) during the 1970s and has been since then the motto of the United Farm Workers of America. President Barak Obama adopted the English version “Yes, we can!” first during the 2004 Illinois Democratic primary race for US Senate. It became a slogan of his 2008 presidential campaign.

Dolores Huerta, neither an architect nor a politician – she has always been an American labor leader and civil rights activist – is chosen here as a symbol of a woman fighting for ideas.

Women-Architects and Women-Politicians

The first two Democratic debates of twenty candidates running for President included six women: Senators Elizabeth Warren, MA; Kamala Harris, CA; Kirsten Gillibrand, NY; Amy Klobuchar MN; Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and Self-help author, Mariane Williamson. Their platforms have many overlapping, similar subjects. From all these, the most related to architecture are sustainability, the environment, infrastructure, education, affordable housing, and food production.
Included are also Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY, who won her nomination to the Congress at the age of twenty-nine, and Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, the first woman to hold the office. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed Green New Deal is likely to influence political decision-making in the foreseeable future. Anne Hidalgo’s major part of her development program is the improvement of the environment. The infrastructure development plan also includes a 24-hour subway service, a ban on parking in certain areas and days, and the creation of new green areas, including urban farming.
The women-architects presented in the documentary come from different countries – Canada, Irak, Poland, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, and the US – and they have built, besides their countries of residence, in Bangladesh, China, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinean West Bank, and New Zealand.
There is a gap between the politicians and the architects on the broadness of worldview. While most of the politicians look widely at climate change, their vision on the physical implications of some of their subjects is limited to what is known. Architects, by training, learn to think globally and in multiple layers of complexity, and only then they work on the details. They use not only logical thinking but also lateral thinking, which implies infinite possibilities.
Besides Zaha Hadid, who died in 2016 at the age of sixty-five, the most innovative of the women architects brought here is Elizabeth Diller, a Partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Her works include the High Line in New York and The Broad in Los Angeles. The Shed, currently under construction at the northern end of the High Line, is scheduled for completion in 2019. When completed, it is likely to become a revolutionary new icon of multi-use architecture. The $500m Center for the Performing Arts will house a vast transformable space and a big open piazza able to be covered by the extension of the movable outer shell, clad with an inflatable skin of quilted pneumatic cushions.
The Chicago skyline would not be the same without American architect Jeanne Gang. Aqua, the unique skyscraper that has become well-known for its wavy facade, is the third tallest building in the world designed by a woman. Most recently, she was named to the TIME 100 most influential people of 2019.
Also significant is the use of bamboo as a building material in the works of Anna Heringer in China and of Elora Hardy in Bali. Bamboo, an eco-friendly construction material, is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world.
Another architect to follow is Benedetta Tagliabue. In 1991 she founded the studio Miralles Tagliabue EMBT with Enric Miralles (1955-2000.) Her works include the Scottish Parliament in Edinburg, The Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona, and the Spanish Pavilion in Shanghai, shown here.

Architects can take initiatives without waiting for a commission, but, in the final event, moving from paper-architecture to built-buildings requires other decision-makers: clients, city authorities, bankers, the community. The role of politicians is critical when the decisions needed are related to the urban environment, housing, and public institutions.

Politicians may – and should – dream big, yet moving from dreams to legislation to implementation demands, to a great extent, relaying on imaginative architects, who should possess, besides their skills, high moral standards.

A Personal Note

Influential women occupied a dominant place in my life. My mother, Fanny Frenkel de Maghidovich, was a strong presence not only at home but also publicly. As Secretary-General of Argentina’s WIZO (Women International Zionist Organization,) she influenced thousands of listeners with her rhetoric in impeccable Spanish.
I grew up surrounded by loving aunts. From these, my aunt “Chichi,” Dr. Marta Luz Frenkel, is an attorney still going to work every day at ninety-four. She is more “a big sister” than an aunt, and I rely on her judgment. I was also blessed by women-teachers of Spanish, English, and Math and I befriended some extraordinary women: Nancy Reeves, a pioneering feminist; Irena Kovaliska and Ilana Offer, committed artists; Sylvia Manheim, a political activist still fighting for human rights at ninety-four. The list goes on and on.
Last but not least, are my wife Ruth, also a partner as an architect, and our daughter Gabby, who, after practicing psychiatry, is still looking for new challenges. They both make a dent on my daily decision-making.