Cycle path Suprematism

Barclays Cycle Hire

Transport for London, in looking for a corporate sponsor for their plans to encourage, have entered into a Faustian pact with the Barclays banking corporation.

Launched in August this year, the Barclays Cycle Hire is one of the largest cycle hire schemes in the world (with over 6000 bikes available at over 200 docking stations across central London. In sponsoring the scheme, Barclays have not only got their name plastered all the logo, on the bikes and the docking stations, but also injected their corporate colour, a bright cyan blue, into all livery and signage too.

Corporations like to associate themselves with a particular colour - think of the UPS brown, for instance, or T-mobile's magenta. Barclays cyan is a distinctive colour, and by contributing £25 million to the costs of the London Cycle Hire scheme, have sealed themselves a highly conspicuous brand presence.

According to this article:

"The Mayor sees the Barclays bikes becoming as iconic as London's black cabs, and red double-decker buses. It is not the first time advertising has been built into the cityscape. The iconic Art Deco windows of the Oxo Tower, formerly home to the makers of the eponymous stock cube, on the South Bank of the River Thames were reputedly built to sidestep an advertising ban imposed by London County Council."

As well as sponsoring the cycle hire scheme, Transport for London have also allowed Barclays to brand a series of 'cycle superhighways'. These glorified bike paths, eventually ten routes radiating out from Central London, are designed to permit greater numbers of cyclists to move quickly in and out of the city with improved right of way and priority at junctions.

Whilst the Hire Bikes are ubiquitous, moving adverts for Barclays, the Cycle Superhighways are a permanent branding etched onto the urban fabric.

Barclays Cycle Superhighway

Barclays Bike hire and Barclays Cycle Superhighways represent the most comprehensive urban spatial branding ever visited upon the city. The streets have literally been coloured in Barclays brand livery.

Barlcays Cycle Superhighway

Looked at another way and it may become a huge Suprematist composition, visible only from Google Earth. Ribbons of colour radiate out from the city, an act of corporate geomancy inscribed on the fabric of the city.

Barclays Cycle Superhighway

However, the lumpen reality on the ground of these Superhighways is that they are often little more than re-sprayed cyclepaths, and far from cutting a swath through the chaos of the city, are just another part of its culture of congestion. The continuous cyan ribbon is truncated, terminated, dug up and parked upon.

Henk Hofstra

If Barclays really want to go for it, they should take a leaf out of the book of artist Henk Hofstra, who in 2007 painted the whole width of a road in Drachten, Netherlands, a vivid cyan colour, for 1 kilometer. His aim was that the streets would show up on satellite images, perhaps this is where Barclays got the inspiration.

This is the first in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.

The ballet of iPod City

Shenzhen

Two news items aroused my disurbanist instincts last week, and in my paranoid modus operandi where everything is connected, thought that they represented two aspects of an identical process: the continued fragmentation and mutation of the urban condition.

Firstly, in a great article in The Atlantic, entitled "Gentrification and its Discontents" Benjamin Schwarz reviews two recent books, Naked City by Sharon Zukin and Twenty Minutes in Manhattan by Michael Sorkin, looking at life in New York, each in part bemoaning the "Disneyification' of Greenwich Village. With the full title of "Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places", it's not hard to guess where the jumping off point is for the Zukin book. Schwarz considers both books to be consciously in a dialogue with Jane Jacobs, the doyenne of urban writing ever since her 1961 book Death and Life of Great American Cities, and compares their relative positions.

Greenwich Village with Lower Manhattan Expressway (Image showing Greenwich Village if Robert Moses plan for the Lower Manhattan Expressway had been built, by Vanshnookraggen)

What has come to pass in Greenwich Village? The vibrant mixed-use community that Jane Jacobs wrote about so affectionately and campaigned to save from the tyranny of Robert Moses has, lo-and-behold, turned into a kind of bo-ho theme park, in the process losing its soul, or 'authenticity' as Sharon Zukin would have it. I'm sure the same thing applies to other renowned neighbourhoods in great cities across the world - Haight-Ashbury in SF springs to mind, and here in London Carnaby Street, Portobello Road and much of Notting Hill are pale shadows of what made them unique in the first place.

But what does 'authentic' mean in this context? Schwarz argues convincingly that the Greenwich Village that Jane Jacobs depicted in the most oft-recalled part of DALOGAC was at a transitional point between the old industrial usage and a largely residential usage, under the forces of gentrification, and that what Zukin wants is for the city to remain in this transitional zone, forever teetering on the cusp of the future. It's a nostalgic, highly sentimental view and one that Jane Jacobs writing is also guilty of. She observed a city that was already changing, and presented a series of matronising, personal opinions as an indisputable analysis of what makes cities work.

Jane Jacobs

We know where this leads. Jacobs founded a powerful myth of urbanism, that the sine qua non of urban form was to found in the 'ballet of Hudson Street', and with it created such as narrow definition of what represents vitality in cities that it can only be achieved with the values that Jacobs proscribed, and that conversely, anything that ignores any of these principles must be doomed to failure. The New Urbanists have taken a set of observations from Death and Life of Great American Cities, and turned them into design guidelines, a form of environmental determinism that in many ways is the exact opposite of what Jacobs wrote and stood for. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a compelling read, but it is deeply flawed book.

Such a narrow depth of field seems increasingly less relevant in today's globalised economy and accelerated culture. The forces of gentrification move ever faster. The city districts that Jacobs wrote about so evocatively/cringingely can now be seen as a mirage, or at least a frozen moment in the evolution of a neighbourhood. Even New York, arguably the definitive city of the 20th Century, seems increasingly irrelevant as the hothouse for urbanism for the 21st Century. For this we need to look beyond Greenwich Village, outside the western cities of Europe and the US, and look at Asia and South America. Jane Jacobs principles seem increasingly irrelevant to the raging economic and urbanising forces at work in say Shanghai, Dubai or Sao Paulo.

The urban landscape of 21st Century China is not somewhere that a 1960's treatise on diverse, walkable neighbourhoods in the US has much relevance. The forces of globalisation, and the transformation of Chinese society under Deng Xioping's plans for economic reform have led to the situation where almost all goods are manufactured in China, and unprecedented urban growth in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) such as Shenzhen and across the Guangdong province.

China has become literally the workshop of the world. In parts of the Shenzhen SEZ, giant manufacturing complexes represent a new set of local urban conditions, factory cities on a vast scale. Many employ hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have travelled in from rural areas to try and earn money for their families, living and working in tightly controlled and highly regimented communities

Recently the news has been full of stories about working conditions at the Taiwanese owned manufacturing corporation Foxconn, anchored by the Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, an electronics assembly firm building computer and electronics hardware for US and Japanese owned corporations like Dell, HP, Microsoft, Sony and most notably Apple 1. In the past 6 months alone, 10 Foxconn employees have committed suicide, leading to an increased scrutiny in the West to the living and working conditions inside these factory cities.

Foxconn's walled Shenzhen factory complex, the Longhua Science & Technology Park, is a citadel, within a city within a megalopolis of 14 million people and growing. The Daily Mail dubbed it iPod City back in 2006 - since then its size has nearly doubled. Here Foxconn employs over 420,000 people - more than the population of Bristol (in fact there are only 9 cities in the UK with more people). With such a large migrant workforce, lacking residency permits (hukou), most employees live in company owned dormitories, and travel to work on company buses. The streets, buidlings and infrastructure are all Foxconn built and owned. Yet there are few good intentions on the pavements of Foxconn city, no Cadbury Brothers or Titus Salt looking to build model communities for their workers. A soft blend of commerce and utopian socialism has been replaced with a schizoid mix of global capitalism and hardline Communism.

In a satirical piece, IT journalist Dan Lyons [who publishes online under the moniker Fake Steve Jobs] writes:

"But the Foxconn people all work for the same company, in the same place, and they’re all doing it in the same way, and that way happens to be a gruesome, public way that makes a spectacle of their death. They’re not pill-takers or wrist-slitters or hangers. They’re not Sylvia Plath wannabes, sealing off the kitchen and quietly sticking their head in the oven. They’re jumpers. And jumpers, my friends, are a different breed. Ask any cop or shrink who deals with this stuff. Jumpers want to make a statement. Jumpers are trying to tell you something."

As an act of architectural performance, Foxconn's suicide jumpers are every bit as profound as Jacobs' ballet of the sidewalk. Foxconn's intial responses were architectonic - to put up safety nets; and spatial - to increase rooftop security patrols, before starting to address pay and working patterns.

Safety Nets

Can we begin to understand life in iPod City? Can we even comprehend what it is to live and work here, let alone began any comprehensive understanding of what constitutes urbanism or streetlife here?

In addition to its dozens of assembly lines and dormitories, Longhua has a fire brigade, hospital and employee swimming pool, where Mr. Gou (the founder of Hon Hai) does early morning laps when he is there. Restaurants, banks, a grocery store and an Internet cafe line the company town's main drag. More than 500 monitors around the campus show exercise programs, worker-safety videos and company news produced by the in-house television network, Foxconn TV. Even the plant's manhole covers are stamped "Foxconn."

Foxconn

Foxconn

Foxconn

Foxconn (Images of Foxconn found here)

Guangdong Province and Gotham, Shenzhen and SoHo, are locked in a symbiotic relationship of economies and cultures. If Manhattan was a laboratory of the urban condition during the 20th Century, it is Shenzhen which is the petri dish of 21st century urbanism. The key to understanding the urbanism of Chinese factory cities, isn't to be found in any book by Jane Jacobs.

Some of the most insightful analysis of the urban forces in Shenzhen are to be found in Great Leap Forward: Project on the City 1, by Harvard Design School, and co-edited by Rem Koolhaas. It carries all of the hallmarks of OMA's analytical investigations into emerging urban conditions, and as part of a wider investigation into the Pearl River Delta region of China, explores the origins of the inherent contradictory nature of the Shenzhen SEZ, analysed as a linear city:

"'Three Paths and One Leveling,' the slogan that inaugurated the construction of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, delineates the formula of a minimally yet ambitiously planned city. Along with the necessary erasure - the preparatory 'leveling - Shenzhen is shaped as a LINEAR CITY. Between its first (1982) and second (1984) master plans, the Shenzhen SEZ was laid out as a linear instrument for organising the flow of capital. Although stretching 50 kilometers along the border with Hong Kong, its layout numbers only three east-west avenues (the 'three paths') and twelve north-south cross connections. It is precisely the scarcity of connections and the freedom from a preestablished pedestrian'grid' that forms the basis for all future urban incarnations. Distilled into an 'essential' traffic pattern, the plan of the zone underscores the INFRARED redefinition of the city as infrastructure. Recognizing that Hong Kong owes its prosperity to its infrastructures - container ports, tunnels, bridges, and highways connecting the harbor with the New Territories ( a warehouse hinterland storing containers and people alike) - the Shenzhen SEZ advertises itself as a colossal infrastructure, and link between the financial incentives of the socialist market economy and international capital flowing out of Hong Kong."

Shenzhen

Shenzhen

Shenzhen

Shenzhen

Shenzhen

(Images from Great Leap Forward, showing, from top, Shenzhen SEZ compared to Manhattan, traffic plan of Shenzhen SEZ, the 1982 masterplan, the 1984 masterplan, the 1996 masterplan.)

But the book seldom comes down from the macroscopic view to look at life at street-level in Shenzen. This post at Polis blog shows that within the explosive growth of the Shenzhen megapolis are engulfed and assimilated a number of smaller villages. These Villages in the City are to Shenzhen as Greenwich Village was to New York - perhaps a Chinese Jane Jacobs will emerge to champion their unique qualities, but it is more likely they will eventually be swept away on the unstoppable tide of progress and Five Year Plans.

Schizophrenic Shenzhen has replaced Delirious New York.



1. I say most notably because it always the Apple connection that attracts the press headlines. Part of this is due to pure linkbait - publishers know that mention of Apple leads to more eyeballs and web links. But I think that the press love to explore the dichotomy or the irony (and possibly the schadenfreude) - that those lustful consumer electronics products (of which the iPod, iPhone and iPad are perhaps the most visible examples) we enjoy in our western homes or Greenwich Village coffee shops could be the product of a toxic workplace, unsavory working practices and inhumane living conditions. That products presented as liberating pieces of lifestyle tech come from one of the most secretive, regimented and restrictive working environments is a delicious, tempting irony few hacks can resist.

A brand for London

"Branding, it could be said, is the greatest gift commerce has given to culture"

So said Wally Olins, on the blog of Saffron Consultants, recently appointed to create the brand for London.

The Brand for London nearly didn't happen, At the judging proces of the pitches, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, seemed to undergo an attack of the why bothers. "Why are we doing this?" he allegedly asked, perhaps mindful of the inevitable backlash that will result when Londoners find out what they've got for their £650,000.

The thinking behind creating a Brand for London is to create something that can stand as a defining emblem of the city, which is currently under siege from a barrage of logos, as deftly illustrated here by Michael Johnson of agency Johnson Banks.

London logos

The problem with a Brand for London is similar to the problem that benights the NYC brand for New York City - there is already a 'default' emblem in place. For New York, the incumbent is the I heart NY logo created by Milton Glaser back in the 1970's for the tourist board. In London, the London Transport roundel icon, the blue line though the red circle, occupies a similar place in peoples affections.

I love NY vs NYC

There is a very real chance, that rather than providing a single point of identity for London, it will just be one other to add to the morass, along with the 2012 logo that still divides public opinion.

As with all these branding exercises, the fee inevitably becomes a point of contention, the Evening Standard headlines write themselves, £650,000 to create a squiggle that a child could do. But the truth is the designers have got their work cut out. One of the agencies pitching, Moving Brands, whose work I admire greatly, tried to build on the concept of a 'crowd-sourced' identity and created a blog to engage users. The problem is that pretty much all of the designs submitted by users sucked beyond belief.

we_are_london

Here's a selection of city brands from around the world.

City brands

I amsterdam

Belfast brand

It is rather disturbing to note that Saffron previously created the moronic Belfast branding. Is it me or does this look dated already?

I like the way that the "I amsterdam" logo is created as a physical entity, a functional typographical object, and scaled to the size of public sculpture for tourists to climb on, distributed via a thousand digital photographs.

Lastly, here is the new identity for Melbourne, Australia, to show that sometimes these things do come off.

Melbourne identity

Why do cities feel the need for brand identities? I think much of it is to do with the mediation of modern life. Cities are dissemination, distributed, experienced remotely much more frequently than physically. Cities compete with each other for attention, kudos and status in order to attract investment, visitors and to host events. Style mags create league tables of desirable cities (cf Monocle's Liveable Cities guide), or Richard Florida's Creative Cities guide.

All are operating within a decreasing attention span, where an instant visual shorthand can stand in lieu of the real place. This has progressed from architectural and objective stereotypes (the red bus, the houses of parliament), to stylised maps, to the virtual, the purely symbolic, the logo.

Fake Omaha

One day, all cities will be rendered as logo. The next step is for the sign to break free of its signifier. Like Fake Omaha, Mega-City 1, or Eden-Olympia, let us create brands for cities that do not exist.


Previously:

Learning from Niketown

"I like Nike, but wait a minute. The neighbourhood supports, so put some money in it."
- Public Enemy, Shut Em Down

Nike Scorpion

In the 18 years since Chuck D rapped those lines, Nike has moved far ahead of the curve in developing an advanced urban marketing strategy that seeks to connect their brand with neighbourhoods in cities across the world.

In a prior post, Branding the Boroughs, I mentioned the Nike Scorpion KO campaign as a example of marketeers refiguring the city in terms of their brand. Via the web site of creatives Denesh and Anuj I've finally been able to find some more images of it.

The 2002 Scorpion KO campaign was centred around a cage-soccer tournament of 3-a-side, first-goal wins, an extension of a TV advert, directed by Terry Gilliam, and fronted by Eric Cantona.

Teams across London competed in a number of regional heats (at venues rebranded Nikeparks) before competing in a final at a rebranded Millennium Dome (Nikepark @ the Dome). The campaign was 'taken' to the streets of London by giving each borough in London the identity of a species of scorpion, eg Greewich Giants, Bexley Devils, Enfield Tigers, each with its own signature moves, style of attack etc, and complete with text message/ sig file icons. This was then reinforced via traditional outdoor advertising - bus shelters and billboards, with more guerilla forms such as stencil graffiti/ flyposting, adding an edgy ("you are now in Emperors' territory") mythological layer across the city.

Nike Scorpion

Nike Scorpion

Nike Scorpion

In connecting young people with an urban identity reinforced on the streets, and via online and mobile messaging, Nike created a powerful way of representing the city both with space and with signs, a 'Situationist' urban realm.

According to the Wikipedia page:
"Following the airing of the commercials, in June 2002 an estimated 1 to 2 million children competed in matches following the Scorpion KO rules in about a dozen cities worldwide, including London (in the Millennium Dome), Beijing, and Buenos Aires.

Nike considered the campaign a success, with Nike president Mark Parker commenting, "This spring's integrated football marketing initiative was the most comprehensive and successful global campaign ever executed by Nike."'

Nike Scorpion

In his book 'Who's afraid of Niketown', author Friedrich Von Borries explores the lengths to which Nike go to transform urban space into brand space. Bart Lootsma, in his preface, writes:

"The new brand city described by Borries ... is a dynamic city, a setting for organizing 'situations.' In order to reach even the smallest target groups, the media will be deployed in this city far more interactively than they are today. Streets, fallow zones, interstitial spaces and ruins will play essential roles in the brand name city. These spaces will not be overlaid with advertising in classical fashion, but will instead become the objects of discriminating marketing strategies. Here initiatives from below that devise new leisure activities will be instrumentalized, as will critical actions and political demonstrations."

Borries considers the role of architecture in the 'brand city':

"In recent years the actual task of architecture has changed radically. The illusion machine of marketing has rediscovered the reality: architecture is now intended to convey the identity of a brand, is now expected, as an experiential realm, to be an element in brand communication."

Though focussed on Nike's activities in Berlin, almost identical campaigns have run in other cities across the world, including London, with events such as North versus South runs, recoding the city as a competitive space, with clearly defined winners and losers.

Borries continues:

"is it the future of the city to be the remix of an advertising spot? The brand makes the space available in which our social relations are mirrored. With Nike, this is the image of the combative city, of a remorseless battlefield of identity. The city reproduces and elucidates our competitive society. Only as an explanatory model can this advertising-becomes-space reach its target group... In the future experience-oriented city, the brand is a crucial agent, if not the paramount one. In that city, the brand becomes a partner in all forms of planning, the determinant of development trends. Precisely to the degree that economic decisions replace political ones, the brand displaces the primacy of the political in the shaping of the city. Niketown is not called that simply because it is a department store for sporting goods, but instead because Nike claims to transform the city it inhabits into a Nike city."

We have as much to learn from Nike as Venturi, from Niketown as Levittown.


Previously:

Grootens

Vinex atlas

Operating at the intersection of data visualisation and urbanism, the Atlas work of Dutch book designer Joost Grootens is without peer. At its best, graphic design and data visualisation reveals new truths, ways of seeing and understanding. In Grootens' work on publications such as the Metropolitan World Atlas this focus has been on the urban realm, and in Atlases such as the New Dutch Water Defence Line, and the Vinex Atlas, specific aspects of the Dutch built environment. But while they may be preoccupied with specific elements of the Dutch landscape, they reveal a process of representation which rewards patient study.

" Its position in the landscape, the forts, the inundation system, the geomorphology, the strategic system and recent developments can be read off in maps rendered so as to give an understanding of all aspects of the defence line landscape. The defence line reveals itself as a many-tentacled military defensive system of forts, group shelters and polders that can be flooded at the threat of war. The maps show the cohesion of the defence line as a landscape-strategic structure as well as the topographic composition of this structure in layers and components. The more detailed maps of the forts display the wealth of historic places, insertions in the landscape and defining elements."

Waterline defence Waterline defence

As with the Vinex Atlas, an exhaustive, analytical guide to the Vinex districts across the Netherlands, a seemingly dry topic of limited appeal is embued with a rigourous aesthetic sensibility.

Vinex atlas

In December this year, 010 will publish an Atlas of the Conflict - Israel-Palestine, designed by Grootens, and in January 2010 a Grootens monograph entitled I swear I use no art at all will be published, taking an analytic, atlas-like approach to mapping his own work:

"A monograph that works like an atlas, it charts in a systematic and neutral fashion the first 100 books designed by Grootens in the past ten years. In the first chapter, ’10 years’, Grootens uses timelines, lists and plans to trace the course of his career as a designer, the people he works with, the places where the work gets done."

Metropolitan World Atlas

You can find out more about the work of Joost Grootens studio at his website, and watch video interviews here and here.