It's the Environment, Stupid.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rebuilding the already built environment?

Back in September I attended an event put on by City University of New York (CUNY) and a non-profit organization, Green Ground Zero (GGZ). The talk was on green architecture featuring architects Michael Sorkin, and Tony Daniels.

They were given the opportunity to share some of their work, which is pretty amazing. Among other things, Daniels helped design the Stillwell Avenue terminal in Brooklyn, NY for NYC Transit. Sorkin's work presented included both built and imagined structures the most visionary images being of a self-sustaining city where, in theory (he admitted), people would work and play where they live, and even grow their own food, harvest rain water, make their own power (solar or wind), which would take them off the grid (less reliant on infrastructure connections to nearby urban areas), reduce the need for transportation, and create a sense of community.

In addition to showing slides and discussion of the architect's work, moderator, Neil Chambers, founder of GGZ, showed slides of a deserted, flooded New Orleans, and slides of a post-tsunami Indonesia. He asked Sorkin and Daneils how they would re-build on these sites. They both answered accordingly – design buildings based on the natural elements of the surroundings; use energy efficient materials; mind the ecological footprint etc.

That's all fine and good - but these were areas that had been devastated and there was no choice but to rebuild from nothing. I wanted to know how they might rebuild an already built environment - how to put their ideas and vision into play in ever growing, existing cities. During the Q&A I asked just that. Sorkin fielded my question and he basically said that it can’t be done, and that the best thing to do is to build “smart”, self-sustaining cities from scratch.

His urban utopia seems to be based on the assumption that it cannot be created in already urbanized spaces, and must be built from scratch or rebuilt on areas that are either untouched or already decimated. It is this assumption that I question. I think its great if we can build new, sustainable cities, but what about the already existing, in many cases, decaying, urban areas? How do you make those places sustainable?


  • It is wonderful to see conservation methods being put out there. I am all for saving our city and our people. Our lives depend on it and our childrens future even more importantly.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23:36  

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