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.



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.


Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

I've been spending time over the last month getting to grips with Petra Kempf's remarkable publication You are the City.

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

Subtitled "Observation, organization, and transformation of urban settings", the main element of this publication are 22 sheets of clear acetate, onto which are printed different conceptual layers and frameworks of a city. It's based on a earlier project called Met(r)onymy 1, from 2001.

In 'You are the City', the 22 diagram drawings are split into four operational categories: Cosmological Ground; Leglisative Agencies; Currents, Flows and Forces; Nodes, Loops and Connections.

By combining different sheets, and adding layers, a huge range of different compositions can be created - a handmade decon version of SimCity. It invites the user to make new urban connections and realities, as different spatial arrangements and possibilities reveal themselves. In these digital days it's quite refreshing to play with something so low-tech and tactile. The slick sophistication of digital interfaces often make it easier to gloss over them, here the simple act of shuffling clear plastic sheets and seeing the resultant overlays makes for a contemplative pleasure.

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

Accompanying these diagrams is a slim pamphlet of accompanying essays, brief user guidelines, and notes on each of the diagram layers (referred to as index cards). Kempf herself calls these diagrams an 'adaptable framing device' with which to decode current and developing urban conditions:

"It provides a tool to observe, organise and outline the dynamic structure of cities in a non-hierarchical manner. Thus the urban construct can be studied and revealed in multiple ways, without assuming a specific order. Although we will never fully comprehend the entire complexity of a city in one moment, we can understand the urban construct through the interaction of its parts. This set is comprised of twenty-two transparent index cards that can be either viewed one at a time or in various overlaid combinations. By isolating and superimposing individual components, new perceptions and viewpoints will emerge. There are as many interpretations of cities as there are people."

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

It reminds me strongly of a book called Ubiquitous Urbanism, the publication of a studio project a Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation led by Zaha Hadid, which follows a similar approach of layering highly abstract functional layers into a rich, dense Suprematist construction.

Ubiquitous Urbanism

Layering is preferred to the traditional town-planning conceit of zoning to create a greater intensity of urban experience. These mapping exercises are first applied to a number of American cities to test their fit, before the final application as a theoretical project for Tokyo.

Ubiquitous Urbanism - Tokyo proposal

This is what Queen Zaha has to say in her introduction:

"My proposal to the studio was to pursue again what has been the undercurrent of my preoccupations over the years and, I claim, has been until recently the central ambition of twentieth century architecture: the synthesis of architecture and urban planning as a three-dimensional as well as social art and science. ... A new approach to integrating architectural intervention had to be posited in the face of the seeming exhaustion of large-scale planning and against the postmodernist and deconstructivist onslaught ."

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

In You are the City there is a similar attempt to try and work across the schism between architecture and urbanism, using the diagrams and their levels of abstraction as means to see things in a different way. Catherine Ingham, in one of the accompanying essays, Cities of Substance, Cities of No Substance, puts it thus:

"The diagram is one of of the only mechanisms by which conventional thinking about cities can be located and dislodged. The diagram is where conventions, givens, are wrestled with ... Kempf uses abstraction, aggregation and overlay to subvert the conventional urban plan."

Petra Kempf - You are the City Petra Kempf - You are the City

You are the City is a powerful antidote to most city-planning exercises, a conscious attempt to free up rigid spatial thinking and start thinking about networks and connections instead.

Petra Kempf can help us move from the notion of ubiquitous urbanism to that of the continuous city.

The urban future of low-earth orbits

Satellite collisions

We're running out of space, in space.

It's not just on Earth that undeveloped space is shrinking. Things are beginning to get crowded in outer space too. This week, a collision between a defunct Russian communications satellite, Kosmos-2251 and one of the US commercial Iridium spacecraft has highlighted the enormous number of objects orbiting the earth, both in low Earth orbits and also at geo-stationary altitudes.

The impact between the two satellites has created a huge field of debris spread over a 800km vertical zone. While scientists have estimated that it has a very low chance of impacting with the International Space Station, or interferring with this months space shuttle mission, the presence of so much space junk could pose a risk to any future space exploration.

As this BBC news story records:

"The latest incident has produced the worst field of space debris since China destroyed a defunct Fengyun 1-C satellite with a missile in January 2007.

That incident, designed to test an anti-satellite weapon system, produced more than 2,000 separate fragments of debris."

image showing all low Earth objects

Low earth objects and those at greater distances

Nasa and other space agencies are already tracking over 17,000 objects in space bigger than 10 cm. As we continue to launch more satellites, and accumulate more space junk, the risks of future collisions becomes greater.

Outer space is slowly being urbanised.

The Eco-town of Tomorrow and Its Planning.

Poundbury - the precedent for most eco-towns

Gordon Brown's "legacy" project of building 10 eco-towns in the South East of England is an endeavour of specious rhetoric, of mobilised Nimbyism, and unfettered hyperbole.

There seems to be nobody willing to defend eco-towns. Even, Wayne Hemingway, who is advising/ apologising for the Government on eco-towns, thinks the plans should be scaled back to just one or two.

(You can also read an amusingly moronic debate between Hemingway and Myles Pollock, a eco-town protester here.)

It's no surprise that the NIMBY's newspaper of choice, the Daily Telegraph, have an article almost daily putting the boot into eco-towns.

Eco-towns are to The Daily Telegraph as Madeleine McCann is to the Daily Express.

If, as Hemingway says, people are getting too hung up on the name, just what the hell is an eco-town?

According the official Eco-town Prospectus, available here:

"Eco-towns will be small new towns of at least 5-20,000 homes. They are intended to exploit the potential to create a complete new settlement to achieve zero carbon development and more sustainable living using the best new design and architecture."

The "vision" for eco-towns also invokes the Garden City movement, with towns such as Letchworth seen as worthy precedents to the Eco-town bill, and the New Towns Act of 1946 which was the outcome of the aims to repair and rebuild urban communities in the aftermath of World War 2.

The prospectus calls for local authorities and private sector developers or ( "delivery vehicles" in New Labour parlance) to bring forward proposals.

But this seems to have been interpreted by speculative housing developers as a green light to propose house building on a scale in areas and onland that would have previously been off-limits, including Green Belt land, prime arable fields, and in some cases swallowing neighbouring villages.

The Green Belt, also largely a product of postwar planning legislation, is that supposed verdant sward intended to prevent suburban sprawl but which instead has led to Britain's secret drosscape of golf-courses, garden centres and retail parks, and that peculiarly British urban agglomeration, the dormitory town. But that's a post for another time.

Back to eco-towns. Initially a shortlist of 15 sites was drawn up. Here's a rough guide to the runners and riders, including the number of houses proposed, celebrity protestors, and developer, where known. It's an incomplete list, and changing on an almost weekly basis, so if you have any more information to add, please do so.

ColtishallNorfolk5000Richard Davies/ Barton Wilmore-
FordWest Sussex 5000Redrow Homes and Wates DevelopmentsBen Fogle, Duncan Goodhew, Gordon Roddick
wHanley GrangeCambridgeshire8000Jarrow InvestmentsTop Gear team
Leeds city regionWest Yorkshire-The Leeds City Region Partnership-
wManby and StrubbyLincolnshire5000East Lindsey District Council-
wMarston Vale and New MarstonBedfordshire15,400 Gallagher Estates-
Middle QuintonWarwickshire6000St. Modwen/ Bird GroupJudi Dench, John Nettles, Jilly Cooper, Jonny Herbert
RossingtonSouth Yorkshire15000--
wRushcliffeNottinghamshire-Rushcliffe Borough Council-
Weston OtmoorOxfordshire10-150000-Tim Henman's Dad

Some of these are on former industrial land or disused MOD sites, turning brownfield sites into pop-up housing estates of approx 5000 houses. Others only touch upon brownfield sites, with the rest engulfing sleepy villages that are rapidly waking up to realise that their surrounding fields could soon be an eco-housing estate.

The quaintly named Middle Quinton, has not only the most polished website but also the most well-mobilised protest group, including an embarrasment of riches when it comes to celebrity NIMBY's. A image of Poundbury is used, elsewhere a rack of bicycles as you might find in Amsterdam.


Center Parcs

The proposal, on mostly brownfield land, outside Stratford upon Avon promises to create a rich diversity of spaces and zones, implementing a neat grid of streets and axial routes in the centre converging on a central square, and houses set in a woodland glade around the edges.

Transport considerations take centre stage, with a network of cycle routes, and as with some other eco-town proposals, look to prevent cars driving through the town. The developers promise to "Create cycle and electric car pools for the Eco-town".

To be fair, the Middle Quinton proposal seems reasonably well thought out, despite a sense that it will look like a cross between a holiday camp and Poundbury. In fact, Center Parcs seems to have been adopted as the key urban model for Middle Quinton. Hopelessly middle class holiday camps, Center Parcs provide a wooded enclave, where cars are left on the periphery, and everybody is forced to cycle anywhere, including a domed leisure centre that usually sits at the centre of the park.

Unsurprisingly, every one of the 15 possible sites chosen has seen protest groups form to try and ensure their locale doesn't make the final selection, mobilising local celebs such as Tim Henman's dad (Weston Otmoor, Oxford), or Jeremy Clarkson (Hanley Grange), Judi Dench (Middle Quinton, Warwickshire). Germaine Greer issues a damning inditement of Hanley Grange in Cambridgeshire but not for the standard Nimbyist tendencies, instead she deplores the failure of the imagination for what is proposed on her doorstep:

"Ecotowns reflect an utter failure of imagination. There is no commitment to design, no concern for urbanistics. And yet, Hanley Grange's erstwhile landlord is one of the wealthiest, cleverest organisations in the world, the Wellcome Trust. Hanley Grange could be state-of-the-art, high-density housing, moving upwards rather than outwards. It could be a solution but, given the dauntless mediocrity of our rulers and their cronies, the developers, we are sure to get a problem instead."

Greer needn't worry - Wellcome Trust, which owned about a third of the land, decided not to sell to Jarrow Investments, one of Tesco's many shadowy development organisations, who owned the half of the land. Perhaps Greer should be more worried about a large Tescopolis appearing in her backgarden instead.

Getting any of these towns built is going to take an act of political will from central government overpowering community opposition and local governance. But it is not that some of these schemes will be built on Green Belt land, or next to existing towns or villages that is the problem. The problem is that the proposals are almost universally awful.

The eco- prefix is an act of political window-dressing designed to make the schemes seem groundbreaking, pioneering new ways of living. But there's nothing eco about theses towns - not only will all houses built after 2012 have to be carbon-neutral anyway, but parachuting 2000 homes into previously rural areas does nothing positive for the environment. The towns will neither be large enough to be self-sufficient, nor well connected with public transport links. It is almost certain that most people who live in an eco-town will work outside of the town, and will drive to get there. From the drawings presented the dominant building pattern will be the cul-de-sac with detached and semi-detached owner occupied houses in the contemporary Frankenstein-vernacular idiom.

It's not surprising that by inviting proposals from private housing developers the results all look like housing estates. Urban planning, urban infrastructure, "urbanistics", schools and health centres, these are not strong points for Cala homes, nor Parkridge Holdings ("conquering space and time", apparently), nor Redrow. Even less likely to happen are the innovative transport that the developers promise. Electric car pools? Tram lines? It's a wonder no-one's proposed a monorail or an escalator that goes to nowhere.

The monorail at Butlins

Jonathan Glancey skewers the eco-credentials of the Weston Otmoor eco-town outside Oxford:

Weston Otmoor's developers say their ecotown will be entirely car-free. Trams running throughout will make driving unnecessary, while trips to Oxford by train will be free. Really? Tramways are expensive and for this reason have often been rejected in city centres; trains in Britain are notoriously unreliable and expensive. The developers say Weston Otmoor will cross the A34 on an "inhabitable bridge" that will be along the lines of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. No it won't. I would bet a pretty penny that Weston Otmoor, like the other ecotowns, will end up more of a rural ghetto than some 21st-century Florentine dream."

What ultimately might save the nation from these badly conceived ventures is a downturn in the housing market, which is leading to the major house building companies cancelling projects, laying off staff, and offering incentives such as 10-year interest free loans for 25% of the cost of a new house, to try and shift their existing stocks of brand new boxes.

There's no doubt that affordable housing or social housing is in short supply, a result of many years while successive governments rode the tiger of a buoyant private housing market. But the biggest demand for affordable housing is in urban areas in the South East of England. The answer is not to build new towns, but maximise the utility of the towns we already have, clearing brownfield sites, and breaking the mentality that spec housing estates are the only answer to a housing shortage.

Recently at SuperSpatial

Dubai Opera House

Over at sister blog SuperSpatial, you'll find a calvacade of inanity, including:

016. Reimagining Robin Hood Gardens

Robin Hood Gardens' high rise but low density development, with a unique green open space at its centre, forms the centrepiece for a fundamental urban redevelopment that focuses on public space and interaction.

015. A Night at the Opera

Hadid's Opera House in Dubai is the first true architecture of the 21st Century. Digital. Sleek. Perfect. So why build it?

014. Meet the Starchitects

These caricatures, by Kathryn Rathke, could become the definitive image of these architects.