note: this post also appears on Medium, here.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what the ideal urban design studio looks like. Not just because I’m interested in urban design, but also because I’m headed out into the professional world in search of a job. I’d like to get a job at the perfect urban design studio. What is that studio like?
The ideal urban design studio…
uses design as a means to an end
In my opinion, the ideal urban design studio does not churn out blueprint plans. For this studio, the master plan is dead.
A traditional design/development cycle.
Traditionally, a city or other organization doing a project would tell the studio what they want, their budget, legal considerations, et cetera. The studio goes to work, makes a brilliant plan, and it gets built. The plan is the goal. If it is not built, or is built differently, the project is not as brilliant. Maybe it even fails.
In today’s world, I think it’s much more important to think about urban design as a means to a end, not the end itself. The end goal is something more along the lines of: “create housing for older people in a way that they can still participate in society without feeling left out.” Or: “revitalize a shopping district that has gotten fewer customers over the past years.”
The key is to think about what happens after the plan is built. The ideal urban design studio asks: “How do people live in this place?” “How can we make sure that, even if they leave and new people come in, this area stays attractive and true to itself?” “How do stores keep attracting customers?”
The actual design is then the answer to that question. This makes it much more flexible. Perhaps, during the design phase, a certain element is found out not to work. For instance, a certain type of tree that looks great, may not retain enough water. No worries, we can use another type of tree, as long as we still answer the question.
does not have all the expertise
The ideal urban design studio does not have to be big. In fact, a small studio can offer many advantages over a big studio, because it is much more nimble and flexible. It does not need to have an expert on fire safe construction, because not every project will need this person. More realistically, not everyone in the office will have to go and learn about fire safe construction. They can concentrate on what they do best: urban design.
Should a project call for an expert, then the studio knows where to find these experts. They can be called in on a project-by-project basis. The ideal urban design studio has meaningful connections with other studio’s, companies, or even just freelance consultants. If a project needs a fire safe construction expert, the ideal urban design studio will know where to find them.
The benefit is mutual. This approach frees up time for the outside consultants to focus on what they do best, rather than having to be part of urban design projects that do not require their expertise. Moreover, whoever hired the studio, won’t have to pay for people they do not need. Each project will have the right (number of) people for the right job.
This one may sound like an open door. Perhaps it is, so I won’t waste a lot of words here. The ideal urban design studio employs people from all kinds of backgrounds. Urban design is different all across the world—even the difference between close neighbors Belgium and the Netherlands are huge. Working with a diverse set of people ensures a varied mix of perspectives and that is valuable in any creative field.
makes their own work
Any urban designer worth their salt cares about the built environment and wants to be a force of positive change. That’s one reason why it’s important that a studio does not sit around waiting to be assigned a project. Another good reason is simply that sometimes work can be hard to come by, so it’s better to create it yourself.
A traditional development cycle, showing different actors in different phases.
In a traditional setting, whenever a developer has developed an area and sold it, their responsibilities end. Their goal is to sell the project, what happens after that sale is not their problem. The urban design studio was most likely involved in this process, during the planning phase. However, our ideal urban design studio cares very much about what happens after the properties have been sold.
To make sure that a project is not only sold, but sold to people who really want to live there, the studio could initiate the project itself. What I’m talking about is known in Dutch as particulier collectief opdrachtgeverschap (CPO) or in German as a Baugemeinschaft. (In Germany, and other countries where it’s more common to build your own house, these projects are more common.) In a project like this, a group of people gets together to build their own houses, and often thereby design their own neighborhood. There are companies that exist solely to guide people along the steps of these projects. They find a like-minded group of people and then work with them to create their perfect house.
There’s no reason that an urban design studio couldn’t initiate a project like this. In fact, it should. The studio has expertise in many areas—they have knowledge of people’s housing preferences and know how to design an attractive street, to name just a few. This makes them both good at finding the right people, as well as able to create the best possible design for their needs. The studio also has connections to all kinds of experts in different areas, who can be brought in on the project when needed. Initiating a project kills two birds with one stone: you create your own work, which makes a studio more independent; plus the project will be sold to people who really care about it and cannot wait to live there, work there, or use it otherwise.
There can by many variations on this theme. Obviously, housing is not the only area in which it can be done. The key factor is that the studio finds the group of people, or businesses, or whoever else is the future inhabitant or tenant and works with them to create a design that answers their needs. (Actually, they can even be current inhabitants or tenants in an area in need of redevelopment.)
does not know what a blank slate is
The last characteristic is, luckily, another short one. The ideal urban design studio does not work with a blank slate. In today’s world, especially in western Europe, where population growth is often close to zero or even below, not many brand new neighborhoods are being developed. Let alone entire new towns. Urban design work is less and less development, rather redevelopment. But even in the case of an entire new neighborhood there is always a context to respond to.
Masdar city. Image from Foster & partners.
So whenever I see images of projects such as Masdar city, I have to scratch my head and wonder if I would really want to work on such a project. Even deserts are not blank slates and I’m not sure this city is the best way to respond to such a context.
Of course, the ideal urban design studio has many more qualities. It’s full of nice people, has a kickass office, and, of course, pays very generously. But the concepts I’ve outlined here are what sets the studio apart and make it the most progressive, future proof, kickass urban design studio.
(Oh and… if you work at a studio like this: are you hiring?)
I also posted this to Medium here.
The biggest and most disruptive changes may well be technological. The future is awesome, part three. A popular thought experiment goes like this: imagine a person from 1900 who somehow teleports to 1957. Also, imagine a person from 1957 who is transported to the present day. Who would experience more culture shock?
On the face of it, you might say the person who goes from 1900 to 1957. They might have seen or heard of automobiles, but now they would be driving all over the place. That might be quite a shock. Not only that, there would also be airplanes, refrigerators, televisions, telephones, and all kinds of other innovations. However, after adjusting to the technological advances, they would probably be able to adjust to life without too much difficulty. In 1957 men were still the heads of the household and brought home the proverbial bacon. Women were often expected to stay at home and take care of the kids. In the United States, the civil rights movement had not scored any major victory yet. In the Netherlands, depillarization had only just started. Socially, things had not changed very much.
Adjusting to life would probably be much harder for the person transported from 1957 to the present day. Cars, planes, refrigerators, televisions, and phones are still around, though much improved. The biggest technological change would probably be the rise of computers and the internet, although transistors were invented in 1947 and computing was not that far off. Integrated circuits had been thought of in 1952 and a working example was available by 1952.
Yet, the biggest changes from 1900 were be sociological: there are families where husband and wife both work; single parents; mixed-race couples; even gay people have been able to marry since 2001 and no-one blinks an eye. To the person from 1957, it would seem like the world has been turned upside down. In the United States, black people can vote and even become president; the USSR is no more; people no longer work at the same company for their entire careers, nor do they expect this; and many more sociological changes have happened since 1957.
So we can conclude that the biggest changes made in the past century or so have been sociological, rather than technological. But I think that in the future, the biggest changes in our lives could have their roots in technology. I will explain why I think so.
Firstly, I don’t foresee many more sociological changes happening soon. The world is on a slow, but steady course towards more democracy and equality, for instance in the case of LGBT rights: more and more countries are legalizing same sex marriage and letting same sex couples adopt children. More and more countries are becoming democratic. These are two ongoing trends that won’t stop soon, but other than these, I can’t think of many sociological changes that are afoot.
On the technology front, though, things are moving faster than ever before. Thanks in large part to the internet, technology may well be the driving force behind current and future societal changes. Many of these innovations are disruptive technologies that will no doubt have quite an impact on the world.
Thanks to the internet, we can now communicate, foster connections and collaborate with people all across the world. We are moving towards a ‘Shared Economy’ in which people have shared access to goods, services, data, and talent.
Mass production will likely not disappear, but with the rise of (commercially available and easy to use) 3D-printers, people will be able to manufacture goods right in their home. Furthermore, they can tailor those goods to their specific needs and desires. 3D-printers may radically change existing production processes: houses can be printed extremely fast, prosthetics can be made to order and respond to an individual’s particular physiology, to name just a few examples.
Driverless cars may well usher in an era where driving is a thing of the past. This isn’t just a convenience, it could drastically reduce the need for cars and thereby change entire cityscapes. What if we didn’t need parking garages or could replace car lanes with bike lanes?
Driverless cars could also reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which would be very helpful in combating climate change. The fight against climate change itself is fueling many technological changes by creating a need for sustainability, both on the supply and demand side. In the future, every house may well come equipped with photovoltaic panels, solar heaters, wind turbines, and other sustainable technologies.
The cities we live in are likely to be connected to a smart grid, thus becoming part of the ‘Internet of Things’. The interconnectedness of physical objects will enable us to use resources much more efficiently.
Using resources more efficiently is becoming more important than ever, not only because of climate change, but also because we’re running out of fossil fuels. In the future, hopefully, we will live in energy-efficient ‘Smart Cities’, which respond to inhabitants’ patterns of use.
Fossil fuels are not the only resources that are becoming more scarce. The amount of people in the world is rising. it is estimated that there will be 9.6 billion people on earth by 2050. That means there will be many more mouths to feed, homes to heat, and devices to power. Resources could become much more scarce, not just fossil fuels, but also water, food, land, and many more. Interestingly enough, advances in medicine and nutrition, leading to less child mortality, actually do not lead to population growth. When children survive in greater numbers, parents decide to have smaller families. Increased life span may increase population, though. But I believe that technology will actually help slow down population growth, which in turn will help lessen the increased demand for various resources.
An estimated 6.4 out of those 9.6 billion people will live in urban areas. Much of those urban areas are yet to be built. Informal growth has recently outpaced growth in formal areas, especially in the developing world, which is where population is expected to rise the most. However, I think that even informal growth does not necessarily have to be bad. Planners, designers, and policymakers are increasingly aware of the need to manage it. Thanks to the lessons we’ve learned regarding how cities work and thanks to the internet’s spreading of knowledge around the world, I hope that even these informal areas could, in some way, become Smart Cities. Local governments would surely stand to benefit from it and so would the rest of the world.
Many of the advances relating to Smart Cities are made possible thanks to governments publishing ‘Open Data’. I’m not sure whether the Open Data movement is a sociological or technological phenomenon—it’s probably both. This is another one of those innovations that exist because of the internet.
Similarly, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding can be seen as innovations that are part sociological and technological. They would not have been possible without the internet. I think both these movements will only become more important as time goes on. Traditional methods of financing will no longer be the only way to get a project started.
Another way in which finance is changing is the advent of digital currency, most notably in the form of Bitcoin. It is now possible to send a million euros from the Netherlands to Tanzania and pay just €0,05 in transaction fees. Bitcoin is not only a currency, but also a network. Some say it is “the internet of money.”
Bitcoin is made possible largely because of advances in cryptography. Even though recently we have seen governments spying on people worldwide, thanks to cryptography, we could very well enter an era in which it is possible to be completely anonymous when communicating. This is useful when publishing highly sensitive materials, for instance putting classified documents on WikiLeaks.
All these advances are only available to people who have the technology to take advantage of them. So it’s a good thing that there are initiatives such as One Laptop Per Child, aiming to provide laptops to children in the developing world. Other innovations, such as Motorola’s cheap smartphones and Raspberry Pi’s also make hardware more affordable and thus more accessible.
What of software? In line with the Shared Economy, I like to think that the world is more and more moving towards open source software. Today, much of the internet already runs on open source software, with Linux-powered servers running Apache, MySQL, PHP, WordPress, to name just a few popular examples. But this movement is not just restricted to the internet. Another good example is Blender, 3D-modeling software that is also capable of rendering, animating, texturing, and much more. The Blender foundation has even made several open source films, the latest being Tears of Steel.
Of course, I’ve merely scratched the surface. How about technologies such as ‘Augmented Reality’, peer-to-peer marketplaces, electric cars, robots that can walk, or learn; or how about specific cases, such as Amazon’s delivery drones, Google’s project tango, the World Solar Challenge race, or SpaceX’s private space flight? There are so many innovations going on, it’s almost impossible to name them all.
Bitcoin puts power in the hands of people, rather than banks (and, to a lesser extent, governments). Cryptographic technology and the internet may be responsible for a future in which whistleblowers can blow their whistles without fear. Open Data will likely lead to more government transparancy. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding put more power in the hands of consumers, rather than large companies, who can collectively decide what gets made. 3D-printing can even turn these consumers into ‘prosumers’ and the Shared Economy will ensure that access to all these innovations is available to anyone who is connected. Luckily, since technology will be more affordable and accessible, it will be in the hands of more and more people.
I think that if you were teleported to 2050, you would encounter a radically different world from the one in which we live right now. I think the changes may well be due to technological innovations. I hope Medium and this post will be around by then—perhaps I’m completely wrong and we’ll all laugh at this silly post. I hope I’m right, though, because I think these changes are all positive and I hope that they will bring about a more connected, efficient, equal, fair, fun, and clean world. The future is awesome.
This is a tutorial I wrote the other night. There are many ways to create grids in inDesign, this is just the method I use. I hope it’s helpful to some people out there!
Grids are awesome. They can be a tool that creates structure from chaos. They can offer flexibility. They create rhythm. I could go on and on about why I love grids and grid-based layouts, but I think you get the point.
There are many types of grids. One well-known type of grid is based on the golden section. Often, it consists of a single rectangular frame on a page, though it can be more complicated.
CAPITAL magazine, with its Complex Grid
One of my favorite grids is the Complex Grid, developed by Karl Gerstner for CAPITAL magazine. There is a great tutorial on how to create such a grid, I highly recommend it.
The grid we’ll be making in this tutorial is similar, though a bit more simple. It will be a twelve-column grid. Twelve columns is a great number for a grid, because it can be divided by two, three, four, and six. That makes it very flexible. The grid will also be a modular grid, because it will also have twelve rows. Last but not least, we’re going to make sure everything lines up nicely with the baseline. This will give it that great ‘vertical rhythm’ that you may have heard about.
Let’s dive right in and open a new document in inDesign. We’re going to be using points for all sizes in this tutorial, so you may want to go to preferences > units and set all units to be points.
One final note before we delve in: it’s useful to do all this as a master page, so that the grid will show up on all subsequent pages.
The first thing we need to establish is: what is our page size?
This tutorial will deal with an A4 in portrait orientation. Using a US letter size is actually a bit easier in this case, because points are based on inches (but ISO-216 is still the best thing ever).
As you can see, the width of an A4 is 595.276pt and the height is 841.89pt. This seems like a weird amount, but that’s okay, it doesn’t really matter. (A US letter is 612pt wide by 792pt wide.)
Secondly, let’s think about what our leading (and font size) is going to be. Body copy makes up most of the text, so set your leading with this in mind. For now, I’ve chosen to use 10pt Deja Vu Serif with a 14pt leading.
Make sure you set your grid relative to your margins and have it start at 0pt.
With this in mind, go into preferences > grids and set your baseline grid to be 14pt. Also, turn on the visibility of said grid in view > grids and guides > show baseline grid. You may have to zoom in to be able to see it.
A tiny bit of math
Please excuse my crummy drawing and handwriting.
Get out a piece of paper, because we’ll need to do a tiny bit of math. Considering we have a twelve-row grid, we’ll have eleven gutters (the space in between the rows and columns). If we want the rows to line up nicely with the baseline, the height of a row needs to be as big as one line of text (leading), or two lines, or three lines, etc. Also, the gutter is going to be the height of the leading. Since we have eleven gutters, plus twelve rows of either once, twice, three times (etc.) a leading, the total height will be a multiple of twelve, plus eleven, times 14pt. This will give us the total height of the frame that all our content will go in.
Since we know the height and width of the page, we can figure out which of these sizes would fit nicely. The A4 is 841.89pt tall, so a row height of four lines would technically fit. However, that would only leave 15.89pt for both the top and bottom margin—much too little. Therefore, we’ll use a row height of four lines, which means our frame will be 658pt tall. So we’ll take the page height and deduct the frame height: 841.89pt — 658pt = 183.89pt. This is the amount of space for the top and bottom margin. I like to center the frame on the page, so I’ll just divide this by two: 183.89pt / 2 = 91.945pt. Both the top and bottom margin will have this value. However, you could, of course, make either margin bigger or smaller. As long as they add up to 183.89pt!
We can use the same process we’ve used before to create our horizontal margins. I like to use the same values horizontally as well as vertically, but you don’t necessarily have to for this grid to work. Anyway, an A4 is 595.276pt wide, so we’ll make our frame 490pt wide. (That’s (24 + 11) * 14pt, I hope you can see where I got that value.) This means we’ll make our margins (595.276pt — 490pt) / 2 = 52.638pt on the inside and outside.
That’s almost it!
Rows and columns
All we have to do now, is add the guides for our rows and columns. We might as well use the margins and columns dialog box to add our columns, but you could also use guides, if you wanted to. In any case, make sure there are twelve of them, with a 14pt gutter.
When setting the guides for the rows, make sure that they are fitted to the margins, rather than the page. If you remembered to turn on the visibility of the baseline grid, you should now be able to see that they line up nicely.
Voilà! We’re done! Now go make some cool stuff! Here’s a little example of how this grid can be used, but of course it’s much more versatile than that. If you end up using it, I would love to see what you create!
In 2014 the European Commission (EC) will decide whether to propose new copyright laws and to that end is inviting everyone to submit their views in a public consultation. No matter what stake an individual has in the future of copyright, from copyright holder to artist to regular Internet user, all responses are welcomed – and not just from EU citizens either.
The full consultation is 80 questions long, but there are two great tools for simplification of the process. The first is a slimmed down version, that only makes you fill out the questions that matter to you. The second is a response guide on how to fill out the survey.
So what are you waiting for? Go fill out the damn thing!
The future is awesome. Screw jet packs, hoverboards, and laser guns. Bitcoins, Raspberry Pis, and drones are the real deal.
Amazon’s recent announcement of their drone delivery service got me thinking. Drones could be used for much more than delivering books from Amazon or firing missiles at people in Yemen..
Wouldn’t it be cool if the postal service started using drones to deliver mail? This may sound terribly boring or unfeasible, but hear me out.
Small drones like Amazon is proposing have two big disadvantages versus the current postal delivery system: they can’t fly very far or very fast. Let’s tackle that last one first. The popular Parrot AR.drone hums along at 18 kilometers per hour. That is obviously not as fast as a postal van, but drones come with a big advantage: your mail does not have to sit in a mailbox waiting to be picked up. A drone could start flying your way as soon as your mail is ready and it could land right in your back yard to pick up your letter.
Let’s use the Netherlands as an example, where a letter posted before 17:00 will be delivered the next day. In 24 hours, drones could fly 432 kilometers. That’s much more than the 311 kilometers from the top to the bottom of the Netherlands!
Amazon claims their drones can deliver products within a 16 kilometer radius (10 miles). That’s not much, which means there would have to be a whole network of drones in order to go further. Luckily, there is such a network. It’s called postal offices and in most countries, there are many of them.
In the Netherlands, there could easily be coverage of almost the entire country. This picture shows how big a 16 kilometer radius is, superimposed on Amsterdam. This picture shows (some of) the post offices in that area. There are lots of them. Actually, for for an area as big as the Netherlands, which is 41,543 square kilometers, you would theoretically only need about 52 drones for full coverage.
(Note to self: this is an amazing(ly terrible) business idea. I should get 52 drones and start my own postal company!)
This is all pretty cool, but let’s take it further. A mere 52 drones would never be able to handle the demand for all that mail waiting to be sent. Let’s add the ‘Shared Economy’ to the mix. As I’ve said before, roughly speaking, the term describes an economy in which people have shared access to goods, services, data, and talent. As with the example of 3D Hubs, you don’t have to own a 3D printer to use one. Perhaps someone who lives close by does have one, and you can pay them a small fee to utilize theirs. What if there were such a network of drones? It would be much more fine-grained and the more people live somewhere, the more drones there would be in that place. Plus, you would be able to buy a drone and when you’re not using it, let it make money for you by delivering mail!
Why stop at drones, though? If some company (perhaps the postal service) had both a network of drones picking up mail and bringing it to collection points in each city, as well as a network of driverless vans, they could deliver mail even faster over even greater distances. Google already has Priuses driving around without needing a human behind the wheel, so why shouldn’t a postal service have vans doing just that to deliver mail?
You may think: but what about postal workers, would they not lose their jobs? I think that for a number of them, that will probably happen. And that sucks. However, we will always want and sometimes even need humans to deliver certain packages—for instance packages that need to be signed for. Furthermore, using drones would create different jobs; such as drone repairman. In an ideal world, the increased use of autonomous machines such as drones would permit people to have the jobs they really want. Only the people who really want to be postal workers, would be postal workers. Lastly, people thought the computer would usher in the era of the paperless office, but since it is now much easier to create and print documents, we are using more paper than ever before. So who knows where exactly this will lead?
It’s not difficult to imagine all kinds of possibilities that these amazing things bring. I, for one, am very excited about the future and can’t wait to see where it takes us. What do you think? Will drones usher in an era of peer-to-peer postage, or do you have an even better idea?