High-speed BRIC

Major infrastructure projects are key in the development of the upcoming BRIC countries. Brazil, Russia, India and China are quickly running in on their connectivity disadvantage, by building thousands of kilometers of high speed rail in a single decade.

Russia has upgraded the existing intensively used railways between Saint Petersburg, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. The new Sapsan (falcon) trains, made by Siemens for 250km/h on conventional tracks, have reduced travel times to less than half. Now it is possible to travel from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in about 3,5 hours, and in that same time from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki with the fast Allegro trains (220km/h). Separate tracks for high speed trains are necessary to use the full potential of the system.

Brazil‘s first TAV is planned in the economic heart of the country, the Southeast. It connects the international airport of Rio de Janeiro (Galeão), to Barra Mansa, religious center Aparecida, high-tech industrial city São José dos Campos, São Paulo international airport (Guarulhos) and Campinas. Many bridges and tunnels need to be built along the way. The public tender for the engineering and operation of the line, however, is still not complete. Therefore it is questionable whether the train service will be operational during the Olympic games of 2016.

India is a traditionally railroad minded country. The current system, however, urgently needs modernization. High speed rail is part of this renewal. Potential routes include an East-West connection between Delhi and Kolkata, and links between Bangalore and Hyderabad and other major cities in the South. Some of the lines are now under development.

China has the biggest ambitions with regard to high speed rail, the country has planned over 10.000 kilometers of rail links in the coming 10 years. It will connect the coastal area as well as the central part of the country. A big example is the North-South from Wuhan to Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Kowloon. West-Kowloon high speed rail link terminal is now under construction and will be the world’s biggest underground high speed rail station.

In each of the aforementioned countries, high speed rail projects are both welcomed as well as criticized. The investments are enormous, and in the beginning the system will only be used by a relatively small elite, while the majority of the population cannot afford the fares. As the BRIC countries develop, this inequality may change over time.

Best of Venice architecture biennale 2012

Based on the central theme Common Ground, British Architect David Chipperfield curated the 13th architecture biennial in Venice, focusing on the the collaborative qualities of architects and planners, and their role in society.

The link between design practice and today’s urban challenges needs to be restored. In the exhibition, it becomes clear that the world is ready to do things differently, more democratically and with respect for the human scale. However, at the same time it is felt that global climate and social changes require a common global approach, which explains the utopian touch of CIAM modernism throughout the whole exhibition. Two days worth of information in the Giardini and Arsenale pavilions of La Biennale, a selection:

The Belgian pavilion discussed the ambition of the territory. The fragmented Flemish metropolis, created over centuries by entrepreneurship and trade, does not fit in the current compact city dogma. By mapping the metabolism and potentials of the territory, a new metropolitan strategy is outlined. Forgotten formats, such as living next to your workspace, are reinvented as for example dwellings in semi-industrial areas.

Possible Greenland – design concept for Air + Port

The Danish pavilion shows the unique case of possible Greenland, a small ring-shaped community around an enormous ice mass, which faces climate change, booming oil industry and urban growth. Now is the time to choose the energy model and urbanization characteristics of the new Greenland. In a way, it is a test case for the whole planet. The exhibition features a concept for an integrated air-port, forming a cross-shaped hub of runways and docks.

Russian pavilion: i-city

Russia focuses on science cities. One side of the pavilion is a spying glass on cold-war science cities, unknown and hidden from the outside world. The other side contains technological rooms entirely covered with QR-tags. After scanning the tag with an i-pad, different competition entries and master plan designs for the future Skolkovo i-city. Apart from fancy building shapes, unfortunately the city’s structure, mobility and public space seem rather traditional.

Hydroponic plant culture, displayed in the Spanish pavilion

The USA pavilion combines hundreds of small scale bottom up projects, the democratization of architecture and planning, with an impressive time line of world urbanization, from the first urban settlements on earth up to Robert Moses’ interventions in New York and actuality. Brazil provided a room full of hammocks, and a series of peep holes, showing daily life in a house designed by Marcio Kogan, among other scenes.

In the main pavilion, Reinier de Graaf (OMA) shows a combination of great works by rather unknown municipal architects of the postwar era, including schools, congress buildings and social housing. Crimson architectural historians demonstrate in The Banality of Good, that many utopic concepts for new towns have ended in excluding gated communities for the upper middle class. In the Arsenale, SANAA features a model for the rebuilding of a Japanese island of unique topography, after the destruction by the tsunami.

Urban Think Tank, as usual, focuses on the creativity of informal urban solutions, in this case the occupation of an office tower in central Caracas, Venezuela. To show the polemics around the project, the office was honest enough to cite it’s critics as well:

Gort and Fiona Scott – beautiful analysis of use of central London blocks. ´Thames to Tooting: Urban block and the arterial London high street´

40 years of massive growth

How much have we built on the earth’s surface over the last 40 years?
Wired Science
features satellite images of urban settlements in the 1970’s and this decade, demonstrating massive urban growth.There is also a set of videos about Landsat’s most historically significant images, including the Kuwait oil well fires and Amazone deforestation.

Growth of Las Vegas

“In celebration of four decades of collection of irreplaceable data and incredible images, the Landsat team released these images of change in 11 cities and urban areas all over the world. Images courtesy of NASA and the USGS.”

Growth in the Pearl River Delta

Growth in Dubai


Peri-urbanisation in Europe

A new kind of space is emerging in Europe: The Peri-urban contains the urban fringe and urban periphery and is located in between the urban and rural areas. It is here in this in-between-space that major demographic, economic and land use shifts will take place, presenting the urban regions with several challenges of sprawl, air- and spatial quality and accessibility.

The PLUREL program has done research on peri-urbanisation in 27 EU countries, on the regional level, and with 6 case studies, including Haaglanden in the Netherlands. According to PLUREL’s definition, the Randstad Holland consists almost entirely of urban and peri-urban areas. And in the top-20 of peri-urban regions in the EU-27, 9 regions are Dutch!

In the Synthesis Report (download full PDF), dynamics and driving forces of the peri-urban are discussed, as well as possible future problems and policy challenges. Peri-urban agendas are put forward regarding Economy and employment, Population and migration, Housing and community, Mobility and transport, Food and farming, Environment and landscape, Recreation and tourism, and Managing growth.

Four scenarios are used in the project:

  • High Growth (‘Hypertech’)
  • Climate Change (‘Extreme Water’)
  • Energy Crisis (‘Peak Oil’)
  • Social Fragmentation (‘Walls and enclaves’)

The report ends by setting out new concepts for urban-rural linkages and providing recommendations for targeted policies for rural-urban regions across Europe.

Flooding of the Elbe river, Germany, 2002

View over Warsaw, Poland (PLUREL case study)

Editors: Annette Piorr, Joe Ravetz, Ivan Tosics
Publisher: University of Copenhagen/Academic Books Life Sciences
(ISSN: 978-87-7903-535-5)


The online game Lemonopoly was launched in the San Fransisco bay area, a region traditionally rich in citrus fruit. Unfortunately, lots of fruit goes to waste. The game challenges tree owners and residents to make better use of the fruit, sharing it and making things from lemons, limes and oranges, such as lemonade or marmalade. As such, scoring in the online game promotes a new social citrus culture in the real city. In July this year, the game will be fully functioning, providing a point system for sharing lemons, adding trees to the map and making things with citrus fruit.