a week of conferences

September 28, 2007

okay, it’s back to work after all of that travel. this week, we had two excellent conferences at school: the ifhp 2007 student congress ‘futures of cities,’ and a one-day mini-conference entitled ‘creative systems.’


poster for the futures of cities conference and exhibition

these were great for me because the first conference was mostly about planning issues, while the second focused more on architectural (and related) systems. they were really fun – and stimulating (like i needed more thesis ideas!). i’m writing up both of these conferences in more detail on my valle blog, if anyone is interested in more info or photos.

futures of cities was held jointly with the ifhp world congress (read: expensive but amazing professionals’ conference), and we got to share some keynote addresses, events, and a party with them. more than 300 students from 35 countries came to copenhagen for the student congress, and there were more than 193 entries in the 2007 ‘futures of cities’ competition (which was a large part of the student conference). i really wish i could have been able to take part in the professionals’ conference – there were something like twenty different topic-specific organized tours of copenhagen to choose from! it was really cool to be a part of the student conference, though. for me, the highlights of the two days were addresses by shigeru ban and ellen van loon (of oma) plus getting to see all of the cool competition entries (which will be on display at school for a while). the main areas of focus at the conference were shanghai, dubai, dealing with doomsday scenarios (caused by natural disaster or global warming), the design of socially irresponsible iconic buildings, and micro-communities. it was really interesting to get a largely european perspective on the issues tied to these topics, and also to hear all of the hype about shanghai. shanghai and dubai. what a pair. it was also humbling (though not surprising) to see u.s. cities used as examples of unsustainable development (hello, atlanta, denver, and houston!). we’ve got a long way to go, but there are some really inspirational examples out there. okay, moving on…


the four speakers’ exhibits at the creative systems conference

the creative systems conference was also great – it was one day packed full of speakers, but they were all really interesting and the topics fit together really well despite the speakers’ quite varied backgrounds. anne beim, the ph.d student who put this conference together, did a really great job of choosing the topics and organizing everything. in brief, the topics were: possibilities for using research to reorganize architectural practice into a more sustainable and responsible system (stephen kieran); formation of more efficient and beautiful concrete columns using fabric formwork (mark west); using technology to achieve architectural solutions that cannot be arrived at by hand (ludger hovestadt), and technology transfer in extreme textiles (matilda mcquaid). there was some fantastic discussion about new materials, the use of technology in design, and what “innovative” really means – and why we are continually striving to innovate. the conference organizers have promised that the discussions will be published eventually; i hope i can get my hands on a copy!


part of the creative systems exhibition (a little laser cutter work…)


ahh, stockholm!

September 25, 2007

so, last but definitely not least on the fantastic scandi-russia tour was stockholm. three days there and plenty of walking around was enough to convince me that this is one of my favorite cities ever. it’s kind of funny, because i can’t think of any particular thing that made me decide this…it was just seeing so many different parts of the city and liking them all for different reasons. the streets are lively and have character, most areas are mixed-use, there’s lots of green and water mixed into urban areas, the transit systems are impressive, there’s amazing public infrastructure (stairs connecting various levels of the hilly city, bike paths, parks and benches everywhere)…everything just fits together really, really well. okay, and there’s this fantastic muffin bakery…and ice cream that was so good i ate it even though i was freezing…but those are only supporting factors. : ) ooh, i should back up and say that we took a viking cruise ship to stockholm from helsinki. it was an overnight cruise, one that is known for its wild, party atmosphere. apparently monday nights aren’t so hot…our boat wasn’t really hopping, although there were plenty of gambling and shopping areas, bars, and singers covering classic american ballads. but it was still a fun ride and definitely recommended. in the morning, we got to watch from the deck as the boat entered the harbor at stockholm…really beautiful! i can’t imagine living near the harbor and watching those enormous cruise ships (there’s a photo of our boat in my helsinki slide show) go by every day. anyway. back to stockholm. it was fantastic. we stayed in the old city, which is an island sandwiched between the northern and southern parts of stockholm (norrmalm and södermalm). there’s not really much going on in the old city besides it being the home of the castle and lots of tourist activity, but it sure is photogenic:

the old city from across the harbor

brända tomten, a famous and photogenic square (well, triangle) near our hostel

a narrow lane/the narrowest lane (35 inches wide)

some kind of royal marching band playing outside the castle

social commentary?

stortorget, another famous medieval square/cross-harbor view

old city streets and buildings


so although the old city was beautiful, it wasn’t my favorite part of stockholm. what i really liked the most were the diverse neighborhoods and everyday urban areas, which i can try to convey here:


so, if you get a chance, go to stockholm (and bring me with you)! : )

from st. petersburg, we took a (much nicer) train to helsinki, which was about six hours away. i was really amazed at how much the landscape reminded me of northern minnesota. : ) we only had two days to see the city, but it was pretty fun. brief impressions: russian influence (the downtown core was built to resemble st.petersburg); awesome streetcar network; small, walkable city. helsinki’s actually not very old, as scandinavian capitals go…it’s only been a “capital” city since 1809. although we didn’t have much time, we did get to see some really cool architecture (finlandia hall, the church in the rock, assorted aalto + saarinen buildings…) and a little bit of the city and around. one of the very first things we ran into on our first day was this great harborfront market:

right on the waterfront!

cute tables for sitting and eating/giant woks of food…i had salmon and potatoes : ) yum!

it was pretty happening…not a bad way to spend a sunday morning! : )

more market photos: craft stands/finnish reindeer!/fruits and berries/assorted produce


after eating delicious market fish and potatoes, we took a boat to suomenlinna (the one activity that had been almost unanimosuly recommended by my friends who have been to helsinki). suomenlinna an inhabited sea fortress on a collection of islands outside helsinki’s harbor. this was a really fun mini-excursion and i’ll add my recommendation to the others…! out on the islands, you can hike, picnic, fly a kite, see the fortress, get some ice cream…and it was beautiful to see the old fortress ruins with helsinki in the distance.

a perfect day for flying kites : )

old military housing (?) and a bridge between islands

an old bunker (with a green roof!)

beautiful tree/suomenlinna harbor

bikes at the visitors center (though we did see one car on one of the islands…)

aaron investigates a cannon… : )

suomenlinna land- and seascape


and last, but not least, the helsinki slide show!

my st. petersburg connection…

September 20, 2007

st. petersburg was the next stop – and it gave me a chance to visit a recently completed project by the firm i interned for last year in shanghai, psa (pacific studio architecture). the building is called “the baltic pearl,” and it’s an exhibition and showroom that has been constructed as part of a larger master-planned development in the southwestern outer area of st. petersburg. it was actually quite easy to get to – right on one of the city’s many streetcar lines. it also seems to be one of the first projects completed in the new development, as construction is happening all around. the building design is very simple – an amorphous skin that minimizes the amount of surface area (plus a shanghaiese “pearl” element), and i’ve heard that the building was quite well-received. because i didn’t call ahead, we weren’t able to go inside, but it was really fun to see one of my firm’s projects realized so far from shanghai!


the baltic pearl w/china flags!


me at the baltic pearl/detail of “pearl”


the front facade


rear view


side view


sculpture detail/entry detail


building context – streetcar rails in foreground


we took the cheap train from moscow to st. petersburg – seven hours, but only $25! it was a pretty interesting ride…lots of people making long-term trips, judging by the size and amount of luggage they brought aboard. it was great to be able to see all of the countryside between the two cities. upon arriving in st. petersburg, it was immediately struck by how different it is from moscow – much more “european,” with a less formal city layout that is focused largely on the river and canal systems. many prominent buildings such as the hermitage, the stroganov palace, and the church on spilled blood have frontage on either the neva river or one of the many canals. in some ways, the city reminded me a little bit of amsterdam (though it’s not really a rival for my feelings about the dutch city…). the city has a great streetcar system – we only rode one line (out to the baltic pearl), but they’re everywhere and seem to serve the greater metro area quite well. the subway stations were also quite impressive (not quite as grand as moscow’s, but still very ornate). the underground here is actually the deepest system in the world…by the time the escalator got down to the trains, we couldn’t even see the top anymore! overall, the city is lovely – lots of trees, canals, squares, and european-style shopping streets (nevsky prospekt!). this was russia’s capital during czarist rule, and was a center for culture and arts…it’s really reflected in the streets and especially the buildings – many buildings have very ornate carvings, and attention is paid to the use of materials and colors on building exteriors. there were some really nice streets. also, we continued to enjoy delicious russian foods such as pelmeni (spiced-meat-filled dumplings), blinis (crepe-like pancakes…sweet and savory!), and borsch (sweet-and-sour beet soup). and delicious bread. had to throw something in about the food…yum! here are my favorite images of st. pete:

happy birthday, moscow!

September 18, 2007

so i’m going to try to catch up one city at a time…first: moscow! aaron and i happened to arrive for the celebration of moscow’s 860th birthday (mockba 860!) on the first weekend in september, which was great because it meant that there were lots of events lots of fun signage (which helped us with the learning of a little bit of cyrillic!), some parades…and extra security measures…happening all around the city. it also meant that we, as pedestrians, got to use the eight-lane-wide main city streets for the day (fun – mostly because the entire city is choked with cars the rest of the time!) but it also meant that red square was mostly cordoned off during the time that we were there (less fun, for photography reasons). i found moscow to be a really interesting city – especially having spent time in china, it was strange for me to see so many buildings and city forms that reminded me so strongly of beijing (though with lots of european flavor and lovely old buildings thrown in). it’s centrally planned with extra-wide ring roads…we walked one of the ring roads which was a boulevard one day, which was a great way to get a sense of the city.  and moscow is enormous (it’s the largest city in europe with more than 14 million people in its metro area)! my trip into moscow involved a 40-minute bus ride from the airport to the end of one of the metro lines, which i rode for an additional 30 minutes to get into the city center. crazy. okay, photo time…here are some images from moscow’s birthday party:


some full-building birthday signage


one of those enormously wide city streets sans automobiles


red square being set up for a birthday concert event


security screening and bag checks to enter the parade area


the parade – a blue blimp!


more parade security…


around the event areas, those extra-wide streets were packed with people..


students from an oil-drilling school with their mascots?/birthday fun for all ages untitled-2.jpg

celebration signage/paraders


one really amazing thing about moscow is its metro system, which is by far the most lavishly designed and executed underground rail i have ever seen. the stations are beautiful – most are surfaced with marble, and many are decorated with some combination of chandeliers, ornate carvings, and mosaic work. it was hard to choose only a few photos to show, but here are my favorites:










and finally, some random urban images from around the city: