Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, November 30, 2009

Urban Exercises With Fractal Spectrum

Fractal Wave. By Myriam Mahiques

The topic of “time” has been very difficult to analyze in the visual arts, for the lack of representational means to describe the dynamics of the reality. The problem has been investigated and developed by the artists of Cubism and Futurism, and in architecture, the Bauhaus developed its projects to be seen and experienced from different points of view. The fact is that the conventional representations of the architecture and urbanism lack possibilities to communicate temporary dimensions. This situation is irreversibly changing thanks to the incorporation of electronic simulations, with its summit settled down in the virtual reality. In consequence, our attention on the architectural object in itself and the city, will be overturned toward how we experience them. It is a re-conceptualization of the architectural design as design of architectural multi-sensorial experiences.
I offer an approach to the problematic previously described, by means of the use of an innovative mensuration tool -fractal spectrum- that I have achieved with the software HarFA 5.3, created by the Czech professors Oldrich Zmeskal, Tomas Bzatek, Martín Hezadal and Miroslav Buchnicek, from the Faculty of Chemistry, Institute of Physical and Applied Chemistry, Brno. University of Technology.
The fractal spectrum is used when the image to analyze is ambiguous, for instance, an enlarged picture of part of a printed letter in a newspaper. If we want to analyze this type of image, formally not defined, that shows two diffuse color sectors, at first we would not know which part of the color information would be masked (filtered) to form the corresponding fractal. To resolve this issue, all the possible fractals should be formed, to determine the fractal dimension and examine the successive results as a function of the masking conditions. This represents a fractal spectrum. Each point of data in the graph of coordinates is colored according to its specific information (intensity, red, green, and blue channels).
The example cited above is elementary. Advancing in the analytic complexity, these directional studies are also applied to obtain the spectra of sea waves. The spectrum models are described like empiric expressions of adjustments derived of experimental data: the empiric data usually show that the fractal nature of several phenomena is often different in scaling. Beginning with a definition of a fractal model of the surface of the sea, the function of spatial auto-correlation (in simpler terms, autocorrelation is achieved with the automatic application of filters) is calculated based on a Fourier transform in two dimensions. Then, it is theoretically demonstrated how the curve in the graph of coordinates, to reach a balance range, depends on the fractal dimension of the surface of the sea. (See Berizzi F, Dalle Mese E. En IEE proceedings. Radar, sonar and navigation. Vol 148, No 2, pp. 56-66. 2001). Another application is the multi-scalar analysis in thermodynamics.

First sequence of urban growth simulation with Fractal spectrum. All pictures and exercises by Myriam B. Mahiques

Second sequence

Third sequence

Fourth sequence.

I have found that this function, applied to urban morphology based on random fractals, helps us to make the morphological analysis extensive through time, from the first forms (in fact first settlements) to an extremely compact agglomerate. The software goes opening up and closing the urban fabric maintaining the same pattern, and at the same time the graph of coordinates goes changing continually in consequence . The colors, as it was explained, correspond to the areas under analysis and also to a combination among them.
Safe Creative #0912015035482

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Trees that Conform Social Space

Trees path in Huntington Beach Central Park. Picture by Myriam B. Mahiques

Dragon Tree. Web download.

Trees have always been part of our lives. At some stage, our primitive ancestors dwelled in the trees that gave them shelter until they evolved into ape-like humans and returned to the ground to build their first huts with trees.

Many sacred trees or pillars formed of the living trunks of trees –called Irmenseule- were found in Germany. Vitruvius, in his De architectura libri decem , had considered the structural framework as a precondition of architectural form. He described the primitive Colchians’ constructions, in Pontus, built in the following manner: "They lay down entire trees flat on the ground to the right and the left, leaving between them a space to suit the length of the trees, and then place above these another pair of trees, resting on the ends of the former and at right angles with them. These four trees enclose the space for the dwelling”. From these primitive structures, according to the Roman architect, the architectural orders developed later. Vitruvius in the first century BC, Alberti in the SXV and Viollet Le Duc in the SXIX, reasoned that the first hut would be a structure of branches against a tree or cliff, before it became a round hut.

Different interpretations of primitive huts, from Vitruvius to Viollet Le Duc

The wonder and mystery of trees is such that they were assigned with magic and symbolism. “The legendary ash tree of Scandinavia, Yggdrasil, forms the basis of Norse mythology; whilst its branches reach into the heavens, the home of the gods, its roots go down to the underworld. The trunk passes through middle Earth, linking the three realms, and forming the bridge along which the gods can pass. In this way the tree can be seen as the greatest symbol of all: a representation of the whole cosmos”. (Brian Clifford January 1999).

The Wacah Chan (or Whac Chan, a.k.a. Mayan Sacred Tree, Mayan World Tree or Mayan Tree of Life) represented the three levels of the Mayan universe. It was believed that all three universes were joined by a central tree. The roots of the tree plunged into the Maya underworld and its branches reached into the Overworld or the Heavens. From

They were worshipped in ancient ceremonies, and were believed to be the house of spirits. In their revering as gods or favorite instruments of gods, many Oriental and Occidental people used them to locate altars and execute sacrifices, under or near them: the tree was then a social element that congregated the community. This conception implied the belief among primitive races that trees were animated. In the Middle East, parts of the trees may be taken as talismans/charms/amulets/medicine because the tree had the divine blessing of the saint ("Barakeh") to whom the tree is dedicated. (Amots Dafni. 2007).
In Sweden, "Court trees" go back a long way in Germanic custom. The name of the ancient town of Malters in Canton Lucerne, may be derived from "mahal-tre," meaning "gathering tree," the tree under which people met to see justice meted out. Another Swiss surprising habit with the village lime trees, was to use them as a “dance hall”; supposedly people harvesting those trees would have tied down their branches to grow them horizontal, and in the course of several decades the branches grew firm enough in that position to support the huge weight of people dancing on them. A chesnut tree in Geneva, has a different public function started informally in 1808 by a private citizen; the “official chesnut” is used to decide when the spring has arrived; it is the task of the secretary general of the city’s State Council to report the appearance of the first leaf in this particular tree.

 Trees in Huntington Beach Central Park. Picture by Myriam Mahiques.

In the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine of 2007, Dr. Amots Dafni published his very interesting research about the symbolisms and uses of trees in Middle East. What follows are the items I selected and adapted from his article.
In some villages of Galilee there are sacred trees which are called "Sajarat el Orsan (the groom's tree) or "Sagarat el Arus (The bride's tree). These names reflect the old custom of performing weddings under these trees to receive blessings from the saint to whom the tree is dedicated and, also, just because it was almost the only large available tree that gave considerable shade. Just before the ceremony at the groom's house he was brought to the sacred trees for final preparations (Zaffa). Mats were spread under the tree and food and sweets were offered to the guests. When people were asked why the ceremony was held under the tree some (Arabs) said that it was to get a blessing, while others (Bedouins) mentioned that the large solitary tree was a good place for gathering under as it offers much shade in the summer and is a good place for horse racing.
The rainmaking ceremony at the village of Kaukab Abu el Heija, in the Western Galilee, was so famous that people from other villages in the region used to take part and each delegation brought its special flags which were assigned for this specific purpose. In other villages rainmaking ceremonies and praying were carried out near sacred trees, they included special songs and prayers (which may have varied from village to village) and sometimes included the sprinkling of water. These ceremonies came to an end over the last three to five decades.
Sulkhas were conciliations between families, especially when serious quarrels or murder were involved. In the village of Arab a' Shibli (in the foothills of Mt Tabor) there is a special tree (Quercus ithabusresis) named Al Mizar (the visits) under which the local judges used to sit regularly until around 1950.

Deep in the ancient woods of Finland, Lea Turto covered tree stumps in red felt as a way to examine the spiritual meaning of the forest and her own deep rooted Finnish culture. From

It seems that the custom of tying rags onto sacred trees exists in almost every known human culture, going beyond the borders of religion, geography and time. Rag tying is largely distributed in the Moslem world, noted that clothes that are left on sacred trees are not just gifts in the ordinary sense; rather, they are channels connecting the worshipper with the object or person worshipped. In the Moslem world, rags, used clothes, yarn and threads are tied, in the shrines or tombs of holy figures (Wellis) and on objects around them such as sacred trees, the wire netting which covers the windows of saints' tombs and fences.
Hammering nails as well as hanging clothes are "tying" rituals, whereby the person seeks healing or a solution to problems by transferring his or her illness or problems to the tree, or to whatever object the clothes are hung on or nails hammered into. Such "tying" is one of the best known and commonest beliefs practiced throughout the world among Christians, as well as among Muslims and their predecessors in the Middle East. In several countries nails are hammered to a sacred tree to transfer the pain or illness into the tree (England, Germany, Kurdistan, and Turkey). In India the emetic nut tree (Strychnos nuxvomica) is considered the prison of all demons. Occasionally such trees can be seen with trunks full of nails as a precaution against demons. If a demon or bad spirit dares to attack a human, the exorcist forces it back into the tree with a nail. In Egypt, nails driven into tree trunks signify the prayers of the believers.
Stones are put in certain places when people died as a token of honour to the deceased (Ireland, Morocco, Israel). This custom is very common today in Europe as well as Israel. In the Muslim world it is common to put a stone on or under sacred tree "when a woman yearns for a child, when a peasant longs for rain, or when he yearns for the restoration to health or his horse or camel"
In Israel, people used to leave money under the tree as well as in saints' graves. Leaving money in graves is a very common custom in the Muslim world as charity for the needy. Money is left on trees when a wish is made as an offering to the supernatural being to ensure the fulfillment of the personal request and for wishes and good luck (Scotland, Ireland, Europe in general).
Judging under trees is known from Biblical times (Judges 3:5). It is reported that, even today, no Hindu or Buddhist shrine is completed without a sacred tree planted nearby. These large trees (pipal and banyan) have become natural assembly points for village meetings, community events, and the dispensing of justice. In central Europe, the most venerable oak in many towns and villages became a site of justice where the magistrate sat when he passed judgment, and those trees were preserved as "justice trees".

Decorating the tree is a habit we still have for Christmas. The Druze sometimes put pictures of their religious leaders on sacred trees as they used to do in their house of prayer (Hilwe) and other sacred places. When they declared a "new" tree as sacred on Mount Carmel they decorated it with such kinds of pictures. The reason given was "hanging pictures brings blessings".
In addition to the great fear of punishment due to harming or making sacrilegious utterances about the trees, there are many gestures which show the deep respect for the trees; these are performed while approaching or visiting the tree such as a ban on defecating or urinating near the tree, swearing, cleaning around the tree.

Caltrans District 7 Building in Los Angeles. The plaza is empty, except for my husband that sat for the occasion. Picture by Myriam Mahiques.

Another picture of Caltrans Building in Los Angeles. The corner and the trees in the sidewalk. You do not want to be walking around in summer... Picture by Myriam B. Mahiques

Given the importance of trees for humanity, with ethnic variations among the different social groups, architects and designers should take them into account as part of the overall design, not as simple “decorations”, but for their social role. Many buildings are designed with no interest to the space around them. Or in any case, a cosmetic approach is used to embellish the building, when landscape is not designed with the building as one single element; in consequence, negative spaces without use, except walking, appear as remaining land. This lack of consideration is also found in the work of great architects, maybe because they are mainly focused on the building as “object”. For example, my experience in the great building of Morphosis, the Headquaters of Caltrans district 7 in Los Angeles, was not ideal. Though the benches in the plaza at the front of the building match the general design, no one was staying there under the bright sun, people was gathering in the plaza across the street, where some occasional vendors offered fruit, vegetables and juice. Even Angelinos preferred to take with them small beach chairs to the park under the trees than to be sitting in the highly intellectualized benches. An this is not that there are no trees in Caltrans building, but they are surrounding it, just to apply for the City normative of planting trees. This kind of resolution is not new. In 1977, Christopher Alexander and co-writers, warned architects with these words:
“The trees that are being planted and transplanted in cities and suburbs today do not satisfy people’s craving for trees. They will never come to provide a sense of beauty and peace because they are being set down and built around without regard for the places they create.
The trees that people love create special social places: places to be in, and pass through, places you can dream about and places you can draw. Trees have the potential to create various kinds of social places: an umbrella –where a single, low- sprawling tree like an oak defines an outdoor room; a pair –where two trees form a gateway; a grove –where several trees cluster together; a square –where they enclose an open space; and an avenue –where a double rows of trees, their crowns touching, line a path or street. It is only when a tree’s potential to form places is realized that the real presence and meaning of the tree is felt.
The trees that are being set down nowadays have nothing of this character –they are in tubs in parking lots and along streets, in specially “landscaped areas” that you can see but cannot get to. They do not form places in any sense of the word –and so they mean nothing to people”. (Excerpt from p.799 A Pattern Language: towns, buildings, construction. By Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein)

Tree in the backyard of a house in Los Angeles. Some wind bells are hanging from its branches. It has been also surrounded by pots and a plaza bench was added to conform a contemplation space. Note that the flooring is different. Picture by Myriam Mahiques, 2007.

Tree in a backyard of a house in Orange County. The branches are the support of the children's swing. The surrounding planter is for the pots and an informal seat. Picture by Myriam Mahiques, 2007.

Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein. A Pattern Language: towns, buildings, construction. Oxford University Press; Later printing edition (1977)
Brian Clifford. Trees, wood and people. January 1999
Trees and society.
Amots Dafni. Rituals, ceremonies and customs related to sacred trees with a special reference to the Middle East. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2007, 3:28doi:10.1186/1746-4269-3-28
Safe Creative #0911305030732

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Breves Reflexiones Sobre Proyecto e Investigación

Este texto es parte de otro mucho más extenso llamado ¨Tecnologías innovadoras en Diseño Urbano¨. Para leer el texto completo:

Cómo la forma urbana es definida y cuáles son sus elementos estructurantes es una cuestión de orientación disciplinar. Ecologistas y geógrafos ven a la ciudad como un todo complejo, con sus divisiones en trazas y subtrazas de propiedad. Los políticos urbanos y sociólogos tienden a estudiar la ciudad a través de sus actores e instituciones, los arquitectos se enfocan en los edificios y su entorno.
No cabe duda que la disciplina comprende diversos niveles de abstracción en pos del trabajo proyectual, para la resolución de problemas urbanos y arquitectónicos.
Podemos fragmentar estos niveles en Teoría (Theoria), Práctica (Praxis) y Producción (Poiesis) (Sarquís, 2000).
La teoría es el mayor grado de abstracción, con connotaciones empíricas donde la experiencia es una adquisición insustituíble. La dimensión teórica enmarca la concepción y el sentido del objeto arquitectónico.
La práctica es la dimensión metodológica, el camino de la creación, el proyecto, definido como una prefiguración, una simulación garantizada de la viabilidad de una idea, realizado a través de un modelo.
La producción implica la dimensión técnica que permitirá construir la obra.

Ciudad feudal. De

Pirámide, por Piranesi.

El antecedente histórico del proyecto es la composición, comenzando con los griegos y romanos, siguiendo en el Renacimiento y hasta principios de la modernidad en el Siglo XX. La composición se regía por tratados y manuales que dictaban las normas de organización estéticas y constructivas de la arquitectura. Una organización a modo de unión de partes interdependientes, que tomaba al hombre ideal como base de sus proporciones, sin tener en cuenta los aspectos emocionales, sociales.
Obsoleto este sistema compositivo, el proyecto surge como mediador entre la sociedad y la obra construída; sin embargo, el proyectista trabaja desde la subjetividad creadora, con especulaciones meta-lingüísticas que dan mayor significación al diseño. Este procedimiento es legítimo en cuanto incentiva la investigación generando conocimientos nuevos y aprendiendo a resolver problemas, y su verificación se daría al lograr una comunicación entre la obra y el comitente.

Si bien la aplicación de la ciencia en el campo de la proyectualidad resuelve problemas, al mismo tiempo nos plantea otros nuevos, no resuelve los problemas éticos y sociales, pero nos da mejores instrumentos para resolverlos o agravarlos. En toda investigación proyectual, se produce un proceso en el cual el investigador trabaja basado en sus creencias, confronta sus ideas con los conceptos imperantes en la sociedad, y las transforma luego, en una sucesión de descubrimientos que deberán ser reincorporados como material y medio de nuevas investigaciones, para dar sentido así a la investigación original.
Safe Creative #0906043779784

Friday, November 27, 2009

Living The Ephemeral City, Enjoying the Ephemeral Architecture

The playa man. Photographer Dan Adams. 2009
All images are copyright in their respective year, by both the photographer and Burning Man
“Zozobra” marionette burning event is the oldest civic celebration of its kind in North America. It has gone up in flames every year since Will Shuster created it in 1924. Shuster assigned all rights, title and interest in Zozobra on June 19th, 1964 to The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, which retains exclusive copyright and Trademark to the figure. His inspiration for Zozobra came from the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico where an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, was led around the village on a donkey, and later burned. Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He does not have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Over the years the effigy has grown larger, reaching a height of 49 feet in 2001. It is stuffed with bushels of shredded paper, which traditionally includes obsolete police reports, paid off mortgage papers, and even personal divorce papers. Zozobra’s event is considered a Fiesta where anguish, glooms, problems, are wiped off by burning the marionette.

A similar event in the burning of a man’s statue, the “Burning Man”, is far more interesting than Zozobra’s for the architects’ point of view. Not only for the creation of an “instant city” but for the exhibition of great ephemeral architecture and art. At the end of the summer, architects, artists, designers, come together to build the city and to burn “the man”.

What follow bellows is combined, adapted excerpts from Burning Man’s web page, that clearly explain the nature of the event.

The man and the neon monkey. Photographer Don Davis. 2009.

Burn Night. Photographer: Peter Pan. 2008
The celebration of Burning Man's annual fire ceremony began in 1986, created by Larry Harvey and Jerry James. There is, a founding myth: the story of how Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James burned a wooden man upon the beach in San Francisco on June 21, 1986. Many stories now embroider this initial act: accounts of Larry's broken heart, his vanished love affair, his allegiance to his father—a self-made man, a carpenter. By deciding to burn a man, Larry and Jerry not only invented the man, they also engaged in the first recorded form of what we now call "radical self-expression." It is a remarkable fact that, during the early years of growth on Baker Beach, not one of organizers or workers who toiled to create the man ever asked what it meant, though they sweated to build it.

For the next four years, the annual fire party was held at Baker Beach in San Francisco. A 1990 Cacophony newsletter item invited interested people to meet in downtown San Francisco to help assemble a wooden sculpture to be burned at a San Francisco beach in an annual celebration. The building area for this event was in a parking lot in San Francisco near 11th & Folsom. The Park police interceded in 1990 to prevent the culminating conflagration of the statue. This was a transitional moment for Burning Man as the event evolved with a new location, a change of date, and the beginning of a new meaning for the celebration.
Curators say that trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind; to truly understand it, one must participate. There are no rules about how one must behave or express oneself (save the rules that serve to protect the health, safety, and experience of the community at large); rather, it is up to each participant to decide how they will contribute and what they will give to this community. The event takes place on an ancient lakebed, known as the playa. By the time the event is completed and the volunteers leave, sometimes nearly a month after the event has ended, there will be no trace of the city that was, for a short time, the most populous town in the entire county. Art is an unavoidable part of this experience, and in fact, is such a part of the experience that Larry Harvey gives as theme each year, to encourage a common bond to help tie each individual's contribution together in a meaningful way. Participants are encouraged to find a way to help make the theme come alive, whether it is through a large-scale art-architecture installation, a theme camp, gifts brought to be given to other individuals, costumes, or any other medium that one comes up with. The Burning Man project has grown from a small group of people gathering spontaneously to a community of over 48,000 people.

Basura Sagrada Last Sunrise. Photographer Ales Prikryl. Last Sunrise created spectacular silhouette of Temple. Created by Shrine, Tucker and the Basura Sagrada Collaboratory

Basura Sagrada’s Temple. 2008. From Comfort and Joy.

Mausoleum in Dust. Photographer Glen Mehn. 2001.

“There wasn't much art on the playa in 1995, but as more artists created bigger and more complex installations each year, it occurred to me that a new kind of art-making was evolving, completely outside of the mainstream art world. On the playa, artists weren't attached to sole ownership of their work, which was community-based and communally built. Groups of artists and friends worked together on projects, sharing resources and co-operating instead of competing. Most amazing to me was the sense that these artists were so far removed from notions of preciosity and market value that they were actually burning their work at the end of the event. They weren't trying to attract a dealer or a collector…..they were doing it for the experience and for the community. …Burning Man has in a sense given art back to the community. Participants don't have to go into a museum or gallery to look at the art in a detached manner; they can help build it, they can touch it, and they can play with it. In a sense we have a sort of informal art school happening in the desert, as artists share information with those who have never created art”. (Christine Kristen aka LadyBeeHow I Fell From the Art World and Landed at Burning Man)

Giant wood sculpture designed by Arne Quinze at the Burning Man festival in Death Valley, USA in September last year. The sculpture is a larger version of the timber installations Quinze has built at design shows in London, Cologne and Miami and required 150km of wooden laths. It measured 60m x 30m x 15m high.

Arne Quinze’s installation burning. From
The Burning Man Regional Network grew to 150 Regional Contacts in 100 locations around the globe, In reaction to the overcrowding experienced in 2007, and anticipating that upwards of 50,000 people would be gathering in the Black Rock Desert for the 2008 event (it topped out at 49,599), the Burning Man Planning Department expanded the geographical layout of Black Rock City to accommodate this growth. They also have an Art Department, a Department of Mutant Vehicles. By 2008 over 785 theme camps and villages filed questionnaires requesting placement, and 746 met the criteria and were registered and placed, as part of Black Rock City's urban planning efforts (unregistered camps acquire space on their own, on a first-come first-served basis).

Burning Man Map organization. See that the urban fabric is represented with words.

Aerial View of Black Rock City. Photographer Scott London. 2009

Camp organization, in a closer scale. From

“Black Rock City (the name given to the settlement) thrives, in part, because of smart design decisions. The city is laid out in a series of concentric circles; the largest is nearly two miles in diameter. The concentric streets are given different names each year; in 2008, in keeping with the American Dream theme, they were cars: Allanté, Bonneville, and Corvair to Hummer, Impala, and Jeep. The order is alphabetical, so the name of the street you're on tells you how far you are from the center of the circle. The rings are intersected by radial roads identified by clock position—2:00, 3:30, 6:15—and any location can be instantly reduced to its coordinates: "I'm at 7:30 and Fairlane," or "Look for me at 4:15 and Dart." Together, the naming system and the circular design mean you always have a sense of where you are; what's more, you can get anywhere you want to go without directions. One-third of the circle is set aside for art installations, which complements the "residential neighborhoods" in the way that urban parks make cities livable. Indeed, the layout is reminiscent of nothing so much as Manhattan's, with its grid system enhancing navigability, its juxtaposition of dense development with open space, and its tallest building visible (reassuringly) from every vantage point.Before 1996, Burning Man was a design free-for-all. Participants pitched their tents, or parked their RVs, anywhere they wanted. The results included traffic jams, confusion, and, perhaps most disappointingly, feelings of isolation. Then Rod Garrett, Burning Man's self-taught city designer, developed the circular layout. The basic concept, he says, grew out of the idea of circling the wagons against the elements, as well as the desire to "express and abet a sense of communal belonging." There were also security concerns, suggesting the need for a clear perimeter, and an expansion of emergency services, which required clear sight lines and agreed-upon street names. Over the years, Garrett has refined the plan, even instituting zoning—yes, zoning—to separate potentially conflicting uses. (Loud dance clubs are located at 2:00 and 10:00.) The influence of Jeremy Bentham (with his panopticon), Frank Lloyd Wright (Usonia), and Frederick Law Olmsted, whose social activism informed his park designs, is everywhere”. (Excerpts of Learning From Black Rock, article by arch. Fred Bernstein, January 17th 2009).

Pre-Burn. Picture by DzM. 2008. The denizens of Black Rock City wait for The Man to burn. A group of fire-dancers from the Fire Conclave provides a short performance.

In 2008, 38 fire groups originally communicated their intention to participate, and 29 of those lasted through the summer to participate in the Fire Conclave. The membership totaled 1,294, making this the largest group of fire performers and support team in the world. In all, there were 810 fire performers, 335 fire safeties, 29 radio communicators and 120 musicians.
The challenge is great: to create a creative, choreographed and compelling fire show that furthers the art of fire dance. The tools that the performers use has pretty much stayed the same, while the intention and manner in which those tools are being used are continually evolving.
In an effort to spread the benefits of the Burning Man ethos, in late 2007, the Burning Man Project fostered the creation of Black Rock Solar, a non-profit company dedicated to installing low- or no-cost solar power for schools, hospitals, and other public buildings who would not otherwise be able to afford it, while training members of the local communities to install photovoltaic systems.

Architectural installation. 2009.

Thunder Dome. Designed by The Death Guild. 1999.


Bernstein, Fred. Learning From Black Rock. January 17th, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Prácticas Barriales y Forma Urbana en La Boca

This post is my publication in, in its original Spanish, May 13th 2009. More pictures of La Boca can be seen in All pictures by Myriam Mahiques, except for Pellegrini´s painting.

Carlos E. Pellegrini. Riachuelo. (Primitivo puente de Barracas). Acuarela sobre papel 18.30 cm x 30 cm. 1830.

En arquitectura, la palabra forma se aplica en dos sentidos, uno genérico estricto y otro intencional de la voluntad de materializar algo que se percibe como informe. Bajo el segundo concepto, la primera evocación de forma de La Boca fueron las representaciones pictóricas románticas que han surgido como la intención de dar forma a los pantanos y playas originales, cuya laxa delineación se terminaba de componer con algún elemento vertical, como árboles autóctonos y/ o palos de barcos.

La materialización progresiva se fue dando con el asentamiento de las primeras casas liberadas del Código más estricto de Buenos Aires, ya que La Boca estaba separada físicamente del Centro por un gran espacio de tierra sin fraccionar (los terrenos de los Brittain). Además, no se generó como Barracas siguiendo una vía comercial, sino informalmente por las actividades del puerto, lo que generó tendencias hacia estructuras urbanas fractales.

Fotografía aérea de manzanas hacia el Este de La Boca.
La traza era más bien un diseño regulador, donde dominaron las formas de organización semi-rural de baja densidad, con la trama abierta, incluyendo vivienda y huerta hasta avanzado el SXVII. La vivienda se ubicaba indistintamente en el terreno, según el mejor lugar de ubicación de la huerta y el gallinero. Aclaremos que, si bien los mapas antiguos delimitan las calles, espacialmente la vivencia era muy distinta, ya que las calles eran de tierra y conformaban un continuum con los terrenos baldíos y los arroyos. Es decir, morfológicamente, la manzana, la cuadrícula que tanto intentamos reproducir por su carácter de modelo primigenio, no existía en la práctica, sólo en los planos.......
Las casetas dieron paso a conventillos, con corredores tortuosos y patios, que ocupaban –ocupan- corazones de manzana, con veredas en desnivel para cuidarse de las constantes inundaciones. Recién en los últimos años se ha intentado ¨rectificar¨ las formas en pro del saneamiento y las artes del ¨buen construir¨. En este sentido, diremos que La Boca, visto como sistema complejo, es autopoiético con las siguientes características:
.- Autónomo, autoregenerativo en su original independencia con respecto a la capital, autosuficiente en su propia red recursiva.
.- Operativamente cerrado, a través de la historia no requirió la intervención externa para que el sistema produzca sus componentes, aún cuando existan algunos puntos de apertura con sus entornos (ej. el puerto local de cabotaje que significó durante varios años el puerto provincial).
.- Estructuralmente determinado, porque está capacitado para aplicar invarianzas específicas a sus estados, específicamente a la forma compleja mantenida a través de los años. Sus habitantes no han adoptado estructuras ajenas a la identidad barrial (ej. Oposición a los proyectos de Casa Amarilla), ya que mediante sus propias operaciones –autoproducción- producen sus propios elementos, afianzados con las resoluciones de las juntas barriales. Sin embargo, este desempeño no significa que el sistema sea insensible al entorno, sino que permanentemente desarrollará operaciones selectivas que le ayudarán a reorganizar sus recursos y modificar sus estructuras, hasta ahora, y a pesar de las propuestas de los planificadores, dentro del mismo modelo morfológico.

Dos viviendas de chapa, sin medianera.

Fachada esculpida frente al Riachuelo
Los ejemplos de prácticas del habitar, citados a continuación, serán una buena ilustración del comportamiento del sistema autopoiético.
Un proceso significativo y que también nos desvía de las formas originales es la gentrificación de La Boca. El término alude a la recuperación de las áreas residenciales centrales y a su resurgimiento comercial, que generalmente acompaña procesos de aumento de valor de las propiedades, expulsándose así las familias pobres. Esto acarrea la transformación del espacio construído y la aparición de nuevos habitantes, como los turistas, y los nuevos temas de diseño como museos, bares, galerías de arte, negocios de regalos, que no guardan relación con las construcciones originales.
Los integrantes de las organizaciones barriales, los vecinos en general, se confrontan en consecuencia, en dos facciones básicas que disputan los nuevos usos y fisonomía de los viejos lugares: preservacionismo y progresismo. La primera postura, apela a respetar la historia rigurosamente y subordina la introducción de cualquier uso nuevo que atente contra la identidad. La segunda postura, más positiva y flexible a los criterios de intervención urbana, aspira al desarrollo comercial y turístico.
Los preservacionistas incorporan cuestiones sociales en su discurso y reconocen a las familias de bajos recursos como gran parte de La Boca y entienden que los más carenciados no pueden ir a los restaurantes destinados a turistas.
Por el contrario, los progresistas pretenden mejoras en la calidad de vida y restauraciones largamente soñadas, independientemente de a quién están destinadas. Por ejemplo, las obras de defensa costera, mitigan las inundaciones y eso es lo que les importa, no el resultado final del paisaje.
Más allá de estas facciones, llegada la catástrofe se aúnan esfuerzos para ayudar a aquéllos que quedan aislados social y económicamente luego de la temida inundación o bien el fuego, súbitamente ocasionado por el combustible utilizado para cocinar y calefaccionar dentro de viviendas precarias. Este entrenamiento ante las catástrofes ha logrado interesantes procesos de percepción ambiental, en el reconocimiento perceptivo del viento del Sudeste. El aspecto más constructivista de este conocimiento es que la gente elabora un cálculo, más bien una estrategia preventiva, en base al avance del agua, para saber cuándo deben comenzar a proteger sus bienes, ya sea ubicándolos en lugares elevados en sus propias viviendas o bien trasladándolos a casa de sus vecinos o parientes aledaños que responden solidariamente. Henos aquí ante una transformación urbana que, si bien sutil e imperceptible, afecta a todo el sistema.

Esquina colorida en La Boca.

Típico paisaje del Riachuelo.
La heterogeneidad material de La Boca se equipara a su heterogeneidad étnica, social y cultural, origen de las distintas corrientes migratorias. La extensa trama de organizaciones sociales, gremiales y culturales que ya cuentan entre 50 y 130 años desde su fundación, forman parte de la historia barrial. Por sus características, La Boca tiene una identidad tan fuerte con sus diferentes alturas, materiales, colores, desniveles, que es como una ciudad dentro de otra ciudad. Todo emprendimiento de erradicación absoluta que no tenga en cuenta las cuestiones de hábitos sociales y las formas originales, irá en contra de dicha identidad .
Una iniciativa relativamente reciente cuyo precursor fue el Sr. Rodolfo Estekar, y ha contado con el apoyo de la Universidad de Morón, y los vecinos de La Boca, se opone a la propuesta oficial de crear un complejo habitacional de 12 pisos y 1200 viviendas en Casa Amarilla.
La iniciativa – que llevó dos años de proceso- prevé que el gobierno porteño construya casas o pequeños complejos en los predios y edificios abandonados de La Boca, de esa forma se cumpliría con tres metas: una mayor oferta de viviendas, producción de trabajo y recomposición del lastimado tejido urbano del barrio.
¨Como opción al intento gubernamental, los vecinos –muchos de ellos representantes de asociaciones barriales– plantearon que, con igual inversión que la prevista para el proyecto oficial, se levante la misma cantidad de techos pero diversificados a lo largo y ancho de toda “La Boca del Riachuelo”, como les gusta llamar al barrio. Están convencidos de que así se evitaría dañar con un edificio gigante la fisonomía de la zona y además se facilitaría la socialización de los nuevos vecinos que ocuparían las casas con los habitantes actuales¨. (Martínez Ruhl, en Página 12, Enero 2007)
La ayuda técnica que diera sustento al proyecto la brindó la Universidad de Morón, una de cuyas cátedras se ofreció para realizar un estudio ambiental y de sustentabilidad que apoya y completa el plan de construcción pensado por los vecinos.
A principios del 2007, la Legislatura convirtió el proyecto en ley. La flamante ley declara en emergencia urbanística y ambiental “en lo que hace a la vivienda, servicios, equipamiento, espacios verdes y de actividades productivas al sector delimitado por las avenidas Regimiento de Patricios, Martín García, Paseo Colón, Brasil y Pedro de Mendoza”, es decir, todo el barrio de La Boca. (Martínez Ruhl, en Página 12, Enero 2007)
Este hecho comentado por Martínez Ruhl es sumamente importante, y demuestra que la morfología urbana de La Boca, incomprendida por el gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, ha sido interpretada inconscientemente por sus vecinos, como producto de su cultura y vivencias. Como barrio –ciudad-, la Boca se desarrolló como un sistema vivo que mantuvo continuos cambios estructurales internos generados por sus interacciones con el medio en el que actúa como totalidad, consecuentemente nada ajeno al sistema puede determinar las evoluciones estructurales de la forma.
A pesar del ámbito multicultural, vemos aquí una transversalidad que es una constante en nuestra existencia histórica y sobrepasa los límites del barrio. Estas consideraciones implican un cambio de los paradigmas tradicionales de la planificación urbana, produciendo una evolución en los modelos de análisis de morfología urbana: toda propuesta de mejora del asentamiento podría ser posible, en tanto no se vulnere el conjunto de indicadores urbano-ambientales, ni la identidad del barrio-pueblo-ciudad en cuestión.

Diferencia de niveles en las veredas.

Aslan, L. , Joselevich I., G. Novoa, D. Saiegh, A. Santaló, Buenos Aires La Boca 1885-1970, Inventario de Patrimonio Urbano, SICYT, UBA, Buenos Aires,1990
Boletín Informativo Techint. La Boca. Identificación de proyectos para su puesta en valor. Buenos Aires. No 249, septiembre-octubre 1987.
Bucich, Antonio. Cuadernos de Buenos Aires VII, “El Barrio de La Boca. La Boca del Riachuelo desde Pedro de Mendoza hasta las postrimerías del siglo XIX”. Municipalidad de Buenos Aires, 1970
Clementi, Hebe. Protagonistas de La Boca...un pueblo. Instituto Histórico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. 2000
Herzer, Hilda. Di Virgilio, Mercedes. Lanceta, Máximo. Martínez, Lucas. Redondo, Andrea. Rodríguez, Carla. El Proceso de Renovación Urbana en La Boca: Organizaciones Barriales entre Nuevos Usos y Viejos Lugares. En HAOL (Historia Actual on Line), Núm. 16, 41-62. 15 de Junio de 2008.
La Nación. Información General. ¨Vientos de cambio soplan sobre el dañado paisaje de La Boca¨. Publicado en edición impresa y on line. 6 de octubre 1997.
López Salón, Mariángeles. ¨Los conventillos de La Boca ya no serán de chapa¨. En La Nación on line. 16 de Agosto de 1998
Martínez Ruhl, Eugenio. ¨La Boca, diseñada por sus vecinos¨. En Página 12. 13 de Enero de 2007.
Páez, Jorge. El Conventillo. Colección Grandes Exitos. Centro Editor de América Latina. Buenos Aires, 1976
Planos de Buenos Aires Siglos XVIII, XIX y XX. Museo Histórico de la Ciudad y Biblioteca de la Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo.
Silvestri, Graciela. El color del río. Colección Las ciudades y las ideas. Universidad Nacional de Quilmes. Buenos Aires, 2003
Suárez, Francisco M. Con el corazón en la boca. Las metáforas de una inundación. En Desbordes, Inundaciones y Diluvios. Desastres y Sociedad. No3. Año 2. Universidad de Buenos Aires.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Slums Clearances by Fire

Every year, mostly in summer, thousands of nice comfortable houses, complete neighborhoods, are burnt to the ground in California. Supposedly, all homeowners would have an insurance, relatives and friends somewhere in USA ready to help. The sadness and anguish is deep, but the victims are not abandoned. These are not the worst cases.
Overcrowding plus poverty is the best combination for fires. This is a longstanding problem that has not been resolved yet. Shack fires put young children and old and disabled people at particular risk, they result in the loss of identity documents, HIV medication and getting additional supplies is sometimes almost impossible. They also create acute stress for children, many of whom are tortured by recurring nightmares about the fires. (Imraan Buccus).
In 1912, Dr. Architect Werner Hegemann’s, who was a city Planner and a former houses inspector in Philadelphia, started a popular campaign for a more decentralizing system of housing and transportation and more playgrounds and forest reserves in greater Berlin, zoned for tenements. He covered the city with posters claiming that “600,000 inhabitants of Greater Berlin live in tenements at the rate of from 5 to 13 people per room”. As a result of his action, he was prosecuted by the Prussian police, for “inciting of class hatred”, an attitude punishable by law. In the following years, Hegemann was planning advisor for many cities in Western Europe, Middle East, also Sudamerica (including Buenos Aires and Rosario where he was invited in 1931). He declared that we only had to replace the word “slums” for “slaves” to have a condition –at least by that time- almost identical to that of the Civil War period when Lincoln suggested to indemnify the slaves holders; a similar proposition could be chosen to idemnify slums’ owners. But, “if compensation is impracticable, that impracticability ought not to be an obstacle to a clearly essentially reform”. (Alexander Hamilton, cited by Ruth Nanda Anshen).
Hegemann’s book “City Planning, Housing” denouncing the consequences of the incipient urban sprawl and poverty, was published in 1935. His analysis indicated that New York Region could hold twice the population of the globe if built up to the legal full extents of the New York Region Zoning Code; his comparison between Paris and London is clear about city’s congestion: Napoleon III-Haussmann’s urban operations, instead of taking London’s garden suburbs as an example, did not decentralize Paris, instead, they succeeded in concealing the overcrowding and misery by building new beatiful high facades along the avenues. For Napoleon III, slum clearance was a way to fight Socialism.

Le Corbusier: Plan Voisin in Paris. “Since 1922 (for the past 42 years) I have continued to work, in general and in detail, on the problem of Paris. Everything has been made public. The City Council has never contacted me. It calls me 'Barbarian'!" (Le Corbusier’s writings, p. 207)

Le Corbusier, re-elaborated this thought in his proposal of clearing completely the heart of Paris, 800 acres on the right bank of the Seine river. Each new tower would dwell 30,000 to 40,000 people, population that would be approximately 8 times more than the existing in the urban fabric of narrow streets and dark patios in the Post War period.
Clearance of slums has its even more Utopian point of view in Herbert G. Wells’ novel, “In The Days of the Comet” (1906). A comet smashes into the Earth and a green vapor is released putting everyone to sleep, until three hours later when the change in the atmosphere has dissipated. Then, the world awakens in an altered state. Humankind has a new socialist view on life and strives now to create a utopian order by righting the wrongs of the past. The war between Germany and Britain is immediately ceased. Soldiers can't even remember why they are lying on the ground with rifles next to them. Slums are being torn down to make way for safe and humane housing for the poor under-class. (From David Fletcher’s book review at ).

“In the days of the comet”. Artistic interpretation by Alan Perry.

“It was inevitable that the old idea of purification should revive with the name, it was felt to be a burning of other than material encumbrances, innumerable quasi-spiritual things, deeds, documents, debts, vindictive records, went up in those great flares. People passed praying between the fires….Endless were the things we had to destroy in those great purgings. First, there were nearly all the houses and buildings of the old time. In the end we did not save in England one building in five thousand that was standing when the comet came. Year by year, as we made our homes afresh in accordance with the saner needs of our new social families, we swept away more and more of those horrible structures, the ancient residential houses, hastily built, without imagination, without beauty, without common honesty, without even comfort or convenience, in which the early twentieth century had sheltered until scarcely one remained; we saved nothing but what was beautiful or interesting out of all their gaunt and melancholy abundance. The actual houses, of course, we could not drag to our fires, but we brought all their ill-fitting deal doors, their dreadful window sashes, their servant-tormenting staircases, their dank, dark cupboards, the verminous papers from their scaly walls, their dust and dirt-sodden carpets, their ill-designed and yet pretentious tables and chairs, sideboards and chests of drawers, the old dirt-saturated books, their ornaments--their dirty, decayed, and altogether painful ornaments--amidst which I remember there were sometimes even STUFFED DEAD BIRDS!--we burnt them all. The paint-plastered woodwork, with coat above coat of nasty paint, that in particular blazed finely………. We burnt and destroyed most of our private buildings and all the woodwork, all our furniture, except a few score thousand pieces of distinct and intentional beauty, from which our present forms have developed, nearly all our hangings and carpets, and also we destroyed almost every scrap of old-world clothing. Only a few carefully disinfected types and vestiges of that remain now in our museums.” (Excerpt from “In the Days of the Comet”. Book III, Chapter III).
Though in 1906 it must have seen as a fantasy novel, the years of the World Wars showed that the big scale devastation of slums and public historical buildings was a reality. After the wars, the construction of 2,500,000 modern apartments were not enough and most people were compelled to remain in the old obsolete tenements that were not destroyed, or they had to live in shanty towns.

By 1935, some cities began to awaken to the public conscience of the cruelty in some methods of slums clearance. The Chairman of the New York Housing authority, Langdon W. Post, declared on the radio that 81 men, women and children were burnt to death in tenement houses/slums fires. They were living in fire traps.
If New York’s slums fires had been systematically started, the conflagration would have been much greater than the one in emperor Nero’s Rome, considering more than a million and a half people lived in houses unfit for human habitation in New York Region. (W. Hegemann, 1935).
Nowadays, slums fires are still an omnipresent trap. In Mike Davis’ words, the mixture of inflammable dwellings, extraordinary density, and dependance upon open fires for heat and cooking is a superlative recipe for spontaneous combustion. A simple accident with cooking gas or kerosene can quickly become a mega fire that destroys thousands of dwellings.

Slums fires are not always caused by accident. Davis explains that rather than afford the expenses of courts procedures or endure a long wait for an official demolition order, landlords and developers frequently prefer to start a fire on purpose. Manila has a notorious reputation for suspicious slum fires; there were eight major burnings between February and April 1993 (Jeremy Seabrook, cited by Davis). Erhard Berner recalls the method of “hot demolition”, as the Filipino landlords’ favourite one: a kerosene drenched burning live rat or cat –not dogs, they die too fast- is pushed into the annoying settlement; a fire started this way is very hard to fight as the unlucky animal can set plenty of shanties aflame before it dies.
In August 2009, a fact-finding team that was formed to investigate accidental slum fires in Chennai (India), said these slum fires, which claimed five lives and destroyed over 400 huts, could be politically motivated. The 12-member fact-finding group, comprising journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and doctors, added there’s more than meets the eye with these accidental fires, which occurred in Shenoy Nagar, Nandambakkam, Vyasarpadi, Perambur and JJ Nagar in the last months. What is surprising is that in all these slums where the fire accidents happened, the slum dwellers were being forced by the government to vacate the place. This eviction proposal was for various developmental projects. The team demands a No Displacement Ordinance to raise financial relief to people, and also a Rehabilitation Bill to resettle slum dwellers in a new location (From Express News Service. Fire in slums politically motivated?. Published August 8th 2009). The healing news, Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services and the Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women Limited, have jointly introduced a scheme to train the women under the various Women Self Help Groups, in the area of Fire Prevention and Propagation of the messages of safe-fire-practices. They constitute a ready target group of women who can easily understand the messages on Fire Safety and Safe Fire Practices.
Life in slums has been very well documented in the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”; but Destiny wanted even more awareness of these terrible procedures and accidents. The movie’s child stars Azharuddin Ismail and Rubina Ali narrowly escaped a massive fire that destroyed a section of their Mumbai slum. More than 200 slum homes were gutted and 15 people injured in the blaze. According to the residents, gas canisters used for home cooking exploded every few minutes in the intense heat, helping the fire spread and hampering rescue efforts. (From Slumdog Millionaire kids escape slum fire. At Indian June 19th, 2009)
The news about this event spread around the world. Maybe it helps in the understanding that before planning the destruction of massive urban agglomerations, authorities and developers should undertake serious larger scale house planning operations that liberate people from these fire traps.

Slum fire .From

Hegemann, Werner. City Planning, Housing. USA, 1937
Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums. USA. 2006
Slum fire in Kenya
Fire in slum India
Express Buzz
Tamilnadu Corporation for Development of Women Limited. (TNCDW, Chennai).
Buccus, Inraan. Slums built on the ashes of the Apartheid.
Safe Creative #0911234952143


Related Posts with Thumbnails