Being up to it (4) Retiro

Retiro, at the edge of a plateau

Retiro, at the edge of a plateau. 100 m grid

The Retiro park appears as a peripheral hunting ground (not unlike other parks in many European royal capitals), east of the Prado creek, by then the urban limit of Madrid.

The Texeira map shows that garden as related to an essential part of its ensemble, the Palacio del Buen Retiro, now disappeared (not unlike what happens in Paris with the Tuileries garden and the palace that disappeared during the Commune). The Palace was on the natural ramp ensuring a clear link to the city; nowadays the Jeronimos neighbourhood and the Prado Museums compound have substituted it.

South of the park the urban limit is much less clear; the Observatory sits atop a cliff facing Atocha, while north of Reina Victoria street the urban fabric is confuse. The south section of Menéndez Pelayo shows clearly the differences in level, but along the northern section and Alcalá and Alfonso XII the park is at street level. The park is not a flat platform, as the Palacio de Cristal shows, but the elevation variations are reasonably integrated in the design.

Biblio (86) The future of employment. Will and sensibility

Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, from Oxford Martin School, published in September 2013 an article on the future of employment, looking at the chances that each one of a set of 702 professional categories have to be made redundant by computerisation in the US context. Their conclusion is that machines could displace almost 47% of the current jobs in that country. So we would have to wait way longer for the return of the jobs lost to technology that some say will result from Schumpeter’s creative destruction (a concept defined in 1942, quite far from our current context, and apparently defined with a different vision than the one under which we usually hear about). Such an outcome would no doubt change entirely our idea of the city, at least the “western city” as we know it.
If I was a luddite I would not be blogging; I am rather optimist, but that is a feeling not always supported by data. However, this text has some interesting elements and a coherent line. To begin with, the article defines a methodology to classify the chances a job has to be computerised. These chances are increased as the tasks implied can be defined and execute by algorythms; it is so easier to computerise the control of a not to complex machine than the work done by a physical therapist, that has to face quite diverse conditions, physical as well as psychological.
However, the complexity and growing efficiency of software implies that complex tasks can be computerised. Beyond the promise of autonomous vehicles, a whole set of functions, as the analysis of legal documents, are being digitized. Some skills that we consider specifically human, as mobility and ability to adapt to unexpected conditions, could be substituted by sets of sensors and motors. Some industries, as construction, can be affected by more prefabs, derivations of 3d printing or a greater relevance of refurbishment by DIY; this last is not in itself a substitution of people by machines, but can sure be helped by easily available information thanks to the internet, and would also ultimately mean less jobs.
Human advantage, according to the authors, would rather be the ability to interact with people: care, negotiation, persuasion, art. In the end, will and sensitivity. Contexts in which robots (that the authors see rising) are still far away. Take translation: I write this blog in three languages, but I do not trust automatic translation, as it has (as of today) no ability to convey double meanings I sometimes play with or other subjective elements of the language. On the other hand, I’m fully confident on Word’s spell checking (it is up to you to say if I’m right there…) as individual words, and even sometimes general grammar, are tasks that are easier to integrate into algorithms. I know that, as a native Spanish-French speaker, my sentences in English are sometimes described by Word as verbose, but sometimes I just happen to want to be verbose… just the same with the passive voice, but as you cannot hear me, I consider this more like an accent, I don’t feel ashamed of.
The article integrates a table with the probability of computerisation for 702 job categories. The most “computerisable” job is that of telemarketers. Insurance underwriters rank 698, watch repairers 697, tellers 683… construction and building inspectors are 351. Architects rank 82, landscape architects 133, urban and regional planners 184, and… computer network architects 208 (while computer systems analysts rank 32). Medical staff are usually in good positions (psychologists 17 or less according to category, doctors in general 15), as well as teachers. However, a lesser chance to get your job digitized doesn’t imply a higher wage…
What would a city loosing 47% of its jobs look like? Some activities we currently understand as the core of urban centrality would suffer, as whole categories of retailers (just think of those selling computers on main street, operating now in a market in which the internet is a tough competition). I’m almost sure we will always have some sort of cafés or eateries, but will we have people serving the treats?

Biblio (80) The Modern City in Havana

Here is an interesting article by Gabino Ponce Herrero on the evolution of the urban planning context in Havana during the first half of the XXth century. It is also the story of the eastern urban extension project, first thought as a private development linked to the new tunnel under the bay, and later developed under the socialist regime in a different way. The economic evolution of the country has made of what was to be a model (and would today probably seem a common social housing project in most of Europe) just an isolated work.

Unexpected meetings (5)

Madrid, Puente de Vallecas. Not a bad lab for so many slums around the world, as it has become a formal part of the city. The puzling thing here is this temporary parking, set to be part of a wider street. Just ser how zealous someone has been to paint on the tarmac the entrance arrow to nowhere…

Maps 2014 (5) Sara Graham

maps5-sara graham

Sara Graham is a Canadian artist working on maps as art objects. Her maps of Canadian cities, re-assambled as a collage of road symbologies, are an interesting part of a work in which architecture is also relevant. And some works, as the maps of Prince Edward Island, get close to some Guy Debord proposals to rectify the Seine at Paris

maps5-sara graham.autop

Un espectáculo inusual en el puerto de Vigo

You know, I do like big ships…

Del acontecer portuario

Juan Carlos Díaz Lorenzo

En la ciudad marinera e industrial de Vigo, acostumbrada en otro tiempo todavía reciente a los hitos de la construcción naval, la presencia del buque dique “Blue Marlin” y del buque LHD “Adelaide” sobre su cubierta, constituye un espectáculo de primer orden. Resuelto con plenas garantías la ubicación del segundo sobre la cubierta del primero, ambos permanecen atracados al muelle de trasatlánticos mientras los operarios realizan distintos trabajos –entre ellos la soldadura del casco a la cuna expresamente preparada en Navantia Ferrol–, de modo que garanticen la estabilidad durante el viaje.

Las imágenes hablan por sí solas, como podemos apreciar en las fotografías que nos envían nuestros amigos José Luis Barrio Cano y Alfredo Campos Brandón. Refrendo todo ello del buen y bien quehacer profesional de un grupo de especialistas de la ría de Vigo, que acreditan su nivel. La estructura del buque “Adelaide” sobresale de…

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Power, weight and energy

An image of project Gamera from its website

Urban energy comes to mind again in Europe. Despite the official statements on the need to develop alternative energy sources and to install large trans-european energy lines to use the Spanish sun or the Scottish wind, it seems clear that oil will still be here for a moment. So, the issue of efficiency becomes central.

Can we learn from other fields? transportation brings some elements. The incremental reduction of airplane weight due to composite materials and, more recently, to additive manufacturing techniques (3d printing) has been joined by aerodynamic improvements. Overall, an addition of succesive 2%- 3% reduction of oil use has made the current airplanes far more efficient than their predecessors. It is also worth noting that the increase in overall traffic has been relevant during the past decades, so this has become a Jevons paradox (increase in efficiency coupled to a strong increase of overall consumption).

in aeronautics the essential element is the weight of a given aerodynamic shape able to withstand forces and deliver performance. You can really go quite far along this way, as Gamera, the research project by the Univeristy of Maryland, shows in the case of a human-powered helicopter. Far from operational or even practical, but intresting. What can be thought of in terms of urban planning, in which weight is not necesarily the central element? to be seen in the next posts…