Just a few weeks before the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, the New Yorker published a profile by Jon Lee Anderson (“Letter from Caracas: Slumlord”). The subject of the profile was less Chavez and more a Chavez-era phenomenon, the so-called Tower of David in downtown Caracas. “It embodies the urban policy of this regime, which can be defined by confiscation, expropriation, governmental incapacity, and the use of violence,” Guillermo Barrios, dean of architecture at the Universidad Central in Caracas, told Anderson.
Last week at Audi’s HQ in Ingolstadt, Germany, architect Junya Ishigami of Tokyo succinctly summed up the problem the car company aims to tackle: there is “a gap between people’s speed and the city’s speed,” Ishigami said. In other words, people’s habits evolve quickly to suit a 21st-century lifestyle, but the infrastructure of the cities they live in is constantly playing catch up. And Audi, whose primary product is by nature infrastructure-bound, wants get ahead of the curve.
Ishigami was one of six architects presenting research as part of the first phase of Audi’s 2012 Urban Future Award, a bi-annual program first started in 2010. The 2012 firms were selected for their track records of researching the urban environment and their relationships to one of six metropolitan areas: CRIT (Mumbai); Höweler + Yoon Architecture (the Boston-Washington corridor); NODE Architecture & Urbanism (Pearl River Delta); Superpool (Istanbul) and Urban Think Tank (São Paulo); and Junya Ishigami + Associates (Tokyo). The brief: to “create visions for individual mobility in the future.” Audi defined the future as ca. 2030, when it’s predicted that 70 percent of the world population will live in cities with eight million or more inhabitants.
For a long time in the West there has been a common misgiving that aid is about patronage. The Cooper Hewitt’s latest exhibition, Design with the Other 90% : Cities, which opened this weekend at the United Nations Visitor’s Center, rebukes this notion by spotlighting communities in the southern hemisphere who are taking the initiative, harnessing local resources to solve their own problems. In the show, designers and architects are tapping into existing currents of change.