Friday, 20 January 2012

Bahnhofsviertel Frankfurt January 2012 (Interviews and recordings)

Field recordings
  1. F5 Niddastrasse 49 on 12 Jan 12 @ 1700
    Interview with minister, Loewe von Judah Gemeinde Lion of Judah Church
  2. F6 Niddastrasse 54 on 12 Jan 12 @ 2100
    Interview with barman, Kafe Luna Park
  3. F7 Stadplanungsamt - City Planning Department on 13 Jan 12 @1000 Desk based interview with Stadtplanungsamt Informationsstelle - City Planning Information Service
  4. F8 Niddastrasse 82 on 13 Jan 12
    Field Sound Recording, Italian Restaurant Pizzeria 7 Bello
  5. F8 Niddastrasse on 13 Jan 12 @1200
    end-to-end walking interview with two architects who work in Schleusenstrasse
  6. F8 Niddastrasse 54 on 13 Jan 12 @1300
    interview with (another) barman, Cafe Luna Park
  7. F9 Moselstrasse 6a, on 13 Jan 12 @1400
    Desk based interview with Stadtteilbuero Bahnhofsviertel - Train Station Quarter District Office
  8. F12 Niddastrasse cnr Ottostrasse 13 on 14 Jan 12 @1700 interview with receptionist, Columbus Hotel 
  9. F13 Niddastrasse 39-41 on 14 Jan 12 @2200
    interview with receptionist, Chinese Conference Hotel 
  10. F14 Niddastrasse 58 on 15 Jan 12 @1945
    interview with receptionist, 25h Hotel by Levis Hotel
  11. F15 Niddastrasse 63 on 15 Jan 12 @2100
    interview with tenant, designer at a Graphic Design and Communications Studio
  12. F16 Niddastrasse 84 on 15 Jan 12 @2200
    interview with shop assistant, street kiosk
  13. F17 Stadplanungsamt - City Planning Department on 16 Jan 12 @1500
    Desk based interview with Stadtplanungsamt Abt. Bahnhofsviertel Staderneuerung  - City Planning Department for Bahnhofsviertel Train Station Quarter City Regeneration
  14. F18 Niddastrasse 54 on 16 Jan 12 @1700
    interview with an older lady, at Cafe Luna Park, who had held a birthday party in the street 
  15. Liebfrauenkirche Church Frankfurt on 16 Jan 12 @2100
    Field Sound Recording of Church bells
  16. F19 FH Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, Frankfurt on 17 Jan 12 @1030 Desk based interview, Dean of Architecture and City Planning 
  17. F20 Niddastrasse 52  on 17 Jan 12 @1200
    interview with waiter, Mian Chinese Restaurant  
  18. F21 Niddastrasse 1-110 on 29 Feb 2012

Moselstrasse, Bahnhofsviertel

A man was walking along Taunusstrasse, one of the Boulevardes in the Station Quarter, on a Tuesday at about about nine in the evening. He had earlier joined a friend at an event at the Schauspielhaus, with the 93 year old feminist psychoanalyst Margarete Mitchalek in interview. A young architect friend had joined the two of them at the square there, near the Occupy Frankfurt camp, beneath the giant Euro sign. They had stopped for a snack at the MacDonalds in Tausstrasse, and while eating, he had noticed among the customers a woman pacing back and forth slightly too close. She seemed intoxicated, he thought, or using drugs, and he gathered from her dress, smell, appearance and behaviour, that she might one of the local sex workers.

He had visited Frankfurt a number of times for research in this extremely diverse inner city area, where he had studied the streets in detail. It was on the final day of an intensive field research visit in the area, looking at urban design and street design, and conducting many hours of detailed interviews about the area, and seeing junkies, red-light tourists, shopkeepers, business people and creatives in the street, building on his understanding of the area's diversity. His friends, a local guide working at a university and a young architect in a Frankfurt office, had agreed to accompany him to visit Pik Dame, a famous old cabaret club in Bahnhofsviertel, as part of his night life research. He remembered passing by the oft-photographed Pik Dame club on a few occasions before, but had not written down the exact address, thinking the place was either in Moselstrase or Elbestrasse, two smaller streets perpendicular to the main boulevardes. These smaller perpendicular streets were lined with clubs, cafes and the famous sex shops, brothels, hourly hotels and other ambigous red-light establishments.

He suggested briefly locating the club while his two friends were at a cash machine on the corner of Taunustrasse and Moselstrasse, and he walked northwards along the west side pavement of Moselstrasse. Soon, a spruiker standing in front of a club approached to recommend and welcome him into the club. Two ladies with the spruiker asked him to come in and enjoy the club, one a large lady dressed in black like a dominatrix. Declining to enter, he said thanks, he had an appointment. Asking the spruiker "Wo ist der klub, Pik Dame", came the jocular reply "Da sind Sie richtig, hier sind Sie".

The man crossed the street, passing a few other mostly male revellers alone and in groups and parked and double parked cars in the street to continue his search on the east side going south. Soon he asked another spruiker for directions and he was approached by an attractive young woman. Come inside for a drink, she said. He looked at her, as she kept him talking, and she seemed sober, clean, well-dressed and well groomed, with only a hint of an eastern European accent. Could she be a trafficked sex worker, he thought? Her long hair was carefully kept, and her eyes were decorated very subtly with contact lenses and/or glistening eyedrops, it seemed. Her makeup was almost unnoticably subtle, and she seemed no younger than twenty-five. "Please just have a look at our club out of interest"  she said, politely leading him by the arm through the curtains. He looked around in trepidation at the interior, which was red and velvety, but more tasteful than expected. The video screen on the wall was playing MTV, not porn as he had feared. They were apparently alone. She guided him to a bar stool and said "Nimm platz, ich lade Dich auf ein bierchen ein. Spater gehen wir oben und..." He hesitated, and said he had an appointment to meet his friends. She reassured him, "Bitte, du bist eingeladen..."

Friday, 6 January 2012

King's Cross Square

Network Rail, September 2011
The hard-won revised public realm scheme by Stanton Williams for one of London's most prominent squares is a great improvement on the previous proposals. However, it is completely segregated from the adjoining public realm on Pancras Way and Euston Road, two high streets with important public realm functions in this transport hub area, which will also be fundamental to the civic, architectural, public realm quality of King's Cross town centre.

On the BBC this week, presenter Angela Saini showed how a holistically considered civic street like Exhibition Road might make for a better, safer urban environment, and a 'happier' place. Her review of current thinking on street design in Europe reinforced the importance of interaction between street users and increasing their 'human sensibilities'. Interestingly, it echoed some of William Holly Whyte's 1975 work, The Street Life Project, which was shown at the Urban Design Group this week.

Euston Road, a 'TFL red route', is a public highway for pedestrians and vehicles, and is an urban street with important public realm functions - extending from the line of bollards at the bus stands, across footway, 'carriageway', barrier and more 'carriageway' to more footway, fronting buildings on the south side of Euston Road. This street realm is managed by the Mayor's TfL Transport for London Streets. This square is one of the Mayor's 'Great Spaces' of London, announced in his programme 'Better Streets' (2009) (pdf).

Network Rail's Press Release announces that planning gain of £750,000 is earmarked for Camden to "improve the pedestrian environment along York Way."

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Street Life Project W.H.Whyte c.1975

The film on "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" shown at the Urban Design Group this evening suggested, in ways similar to some points made in Wednesday's BBC Thinking Streets programme, that attractive urban spaces depend upon human interaction.

Whether walking or on wheels, preferably self-propelled, people bring urban spaces to life by interacting with places to sit, with street movement, with sunlight, with water, with trees, and with food. Genius.

The street is the river of life running through the city, he says - people come there not to escape, but to partake.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Thinking Streets - what about delight?

A 30 minute item on BBC Radio 4 tonight reviewed new science in 'thinking streets' - with the byline "the streets beneath our feet are getting smart". Contrasting with the ecological-political reference of the situationists' cry "beneath the pavement, the beach", the 'smart' street reference was a 'geeky' one. The UCL Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory was featured, where the presenter Angela Saini (author of Geek Nation) visited the "world's largest model street" and seemed fascinated with the iris tracking technology mounted to her headset.

Besides Nick Tyler and the UCL's PAMELA Lab, the programme featured the design of newly completed Exhibition Road, although the presenter did not explain the important difference between shared surface and shared space there. Cycling was discussed (LCC going Dutch), and the pioneering Dutch work of Hans Monderman, Hans De Jong, and of UK's Ben Hamilton Baillie on shared space. John Adams' work on risk compensation theory was incorporated as good background context, and Simon Christmas' work on moral models for 'road users' was introduced

A distinction between roads and streets was not made, something I consider significant, given the programme title. Streets in urban areas have a major public realm function, while roads are often designed primarily for movement. This principle, spelled out in the Manual for Streets (2007 and 2010), and reinforced in the London Mayor's 'Better Streets' guide book of 2009, still seems to elude Transport for London in its press releases about its work in central London, on its 'Transport for London Road Network', on 'Mixed Priority Routes', on High Streets and on urban movement arteries. The public realm is overshadowed by 'road' engineering. Engineering design methods for motorised movement on roads still dominate, and the built legacy of postwar highway engineering remains widespread. The sensory architecture and ambiance of streets as public places remain at a disadvantage.

The issues the programme raises about shared space and risk compensation theory were thought provoking for the concept of sharing the public realm, in my view, unlike the science methods used in PAMELA Lab, however important their work on materials testing and accessibility prototyping of tactile surfaces and proprioception analysis certainly is. In the context of Simon Christmas' research on individual and collective moral models people use when occupying the street, a code of behaviour and humanity emerges in spaces, related to the whole environment. The spatial perception of the street is not only a physical and sensory one. Christmas suggests, with the currently topical example that some "some militant cyclists say they don't minding being hated in traffic, so long as they are safe", that safety alone, however, is not enough. Here I concur, that streets - solely by becoming less deadly - will not make for a better public realm, nor be a source of civic pride.

The streets laboratories and roads engineers have 'overlooked' one part of the Vitruvian triad of the conditions of (good) architecture, 'Firmitas, Utilitas, Venustas' (Firmness, Commodity and Delight). Smart streets should be intelligent in a humanistic, social way, by activating humane and social qualities in users, promoting civic consciousness and pride. Technological and engineering methods, however technically 'smart', will struggle to achieve this. As Christmas says, "happy streets" or "lovely streets" would be a more worthy aim - public places where people enjoy their lives being in the city.

from BBC

Thinking Streets
The streets beneath our feet are getting smart. Pavements are melting into the roads and traffic lights are disappearing. Inspired by the work of scientists and engineers in Holland and Japan, this is a revolution in urban design. Part of it is a movement known as 'Shared Space', which promises to dramatically change the way cities look and how we experience them. In Thinking Streets, Angela Saini asks if all these ideas really fulfil the promise of making us all safer, happier and more efficient?
Two years ago, at the heart of London's shopping district, a strange thing happened. The big red buses, white vans and black taxis that usually skimmed pedestrians as they tried to beat the maddeningly slow grid of traffic lights at Oxford Circus, were stone still for thirty seconds. And suddenly every person standing at the junction scrambled into the middle of the road.
In one stroke, life changed for the 90 million people who step through Oxford Circus every year. Not only has it made life easier for those on foot by giving them 70% more space, it's also faster and looks neater. In 2010, the council even claimed that it contributed to a 7% rise in annual sales in the area's shops.

The Oxford Circus diagonal crossing was one of the first steps in a growing movement to change streets in Britain and all over the world. Today, engineers at Imperial College London are helping to overhaul South Kensington's museum district, with pavements being levelled down to the same height as the road and new criss-cross paving patterns designed to calm drivers (the scheme is nearly complete and the result is striking if rather disconcerting). In Portishead, near Bristol, a trial that removed traffic lights from a notoriously congested crossing was such a success there are plans to roll it out across the town. Other schemes already constructed include Brighton's New Road and another in Ashford, Kent. But Shared Space has been labelled 'speed-bump science' by its critics - Jeremy Clarkson among them. True, one of the guiding principles is reducing traffic speed, often with the use of raised brick-paved areas (very long speed-bumps!) but proponents insist Shared Space is a creative and radical solution aimed at improving the experience of all road users. And the benefits go beyond reduced accident rates to a host of socio-economic benefits for the cities, towns and villages choosing to adopt such schemes.

In practical terms, a shared space scheme will involve removing the distinction between streets and pavements. No barriers, few if any road markings, no pedestrian crossings, and little in the way of street signage. The result of this street minimalism is that you enter a shared space very much at your own risk. And this is the key to improving safety, traffic flow and quality of experience. The early roots of this innovative concept lies in the work of the late Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman. A passionate advocate of shared space, Monderman and colleagues started small - more than twenty years ago, converted an intersection in the northern Dutch province of Friesland from a conventional signal-controlled intersection to a brick-paved street, giving equal priority to cars, people and cycles. The idea was that people would use their own minds in navigating the streets, building their own informal traffic rules. Research has shown that these kinds of shared spaces automatically reduced traffic speed to under 20 mph - the threshold at which the chances of being severely injured in a road accident plummets. This highly counterintuitive approach - increasing risk decreases accidents is finding favour (albeit slowly and not without opposition) all over the world.

Today, Monderman's vision can be experienced throughout his Dutch province of Friesland, no where more so than in Drachten, an unassuming town that until recently was famous only for being the home of the Dutch electronics giant Philips. As Angela discovers for herself, Drachten's shared space schemes (and those of its near neighbours) now attracts a regular pilgrimage of engineers and planners, from all parts of the world, eager to experience this new urban vision.

Episode image for Thinking Streets