Jason Heinrich, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Holistic Bottom-Up Densification of Suburbia
Cities have been governed by common sets of urban rules (e.g. setbacks, density, height, land use) that represent a lowest common denominator for planners to implement urban forms. These rules are often clumsy substitutes in pursuit of utopian ambitions of healthy communities and their application is defined centrally with absolutes due to precedent. The development of new computational tools and research into healthy, sustainable cities can enable new metrics and new frameworks.
Question: What are holistic metrics that should govern urban planning, and how can they be applied in a bottom-up framework for local decision-making?
Proposal: The previous proof-of-concept design suggested that introducing new urban rules such as protecting natural capital and limiting heat exhaust can yield localized solutions to improving our cities. The simulation of possible results used a form of the Augustijn-Beckers settlement algorithm adapted for Vancouver owners and development patterns. First I shall expand and test a holistic set of rules (that include environment, economic, cultural, political, and social implications). Secondly, I shall improve the simulation of a multi-agent simulation for bottom-up decisions by testing a diverse set of agent behavior. Machine learning (e.g. neural networks) will be used to study and simplify the high order complexity of a multi-agent. It will be used to run multiple rule simulation and strategically iterate between diverse behaviors and rules. Thirdly, resulting trends from the simulation (e.g. growing energy sharing infrastructure, incremental development, ecological refuges) will be designed to provide proof-of- concept speculative visualizations for a sustainable neighborhood.Regional Urbanism: A Ruleset for Agent Based Evolution (PDF, 2.54 MB) »
The research focus of Next Generation 2nd prizewinner Jason Heinrich went through significant transformation during his studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture (SALA). For Jason, winning a Next Generation prize was “one of the most exciting things in my life! It was such an honor to be on a stage and feel like an equal next to other architects whose work I’ve studied. It validates the work I’ve done and it’s motivating and inspiring to do even better work,” he said, in an interview with SALA.
Before studying at SALA, Jason was a mechanical engineer. After working with architects while designing renewable energy systems for communities, he decided on a career change. “I was more interested in the holistic visioning for communities than the specific nuts and bolts of the district energy system itself,” he said.
Architecture offered Jason the opportunity to explore how a sustainable city could be created through understanding how a city works by its design. He decided that engineering wasn’t diverse enough to address these issues, and recognized that he would need to incorporate multiple perspectives to achieve this goal. “Where engineering taught me how to solve problems, the study of architecture taught me how to think laterally and expand my mind rather than narrow it on specific problems,” he said.
Early on, Jason imagined that his thesis project would primarily consider the relationship between buildings in respect to their use of thermal energy: “If buildings work together, and are connected to a larger network, then they can be even more sustainable.” But as he progressed, his research focus began to widen.
Relationships between buildings in residential neighborhoods are predicated by relationships amongst people. It became not just about determining where things should go, but more about what are the mechanisms that allow people or the city to plan and determine where things should go,” he said.
Jason had become interested in how people interacted with buildings, with each other, and the impact these relationships have on how communities develop. “My project is essentially a zoning system that’s fluid and always changing as development occurs,” he said. “It’s based on a wholly on decisions by local inhabitants.”
While his final project recognizes that there must be some overarching framework from the city that controls zoning and development, it allows people to have a certain amount of choice in how their communities evolve over time.
Where conservative zoning restrictions are partly to blame for the current housing affordability crisis in Vancouver, Canada – Jason’s project acknowledges that drastic zoning changes are not the solution. “I’m hoping to find something that isn’t a quick fix,” he said. His project considers a city over a 30-year period and provides the framework to explore how neighborhoods can adapt to growth.
“It’s dynamic, but it’s slow enough that the buildings, which are the fabric of neighborhoods, will change with the people living in those neighborhoods,” he said. According to Jason’s projections, had the system been implemented in Vancouver 30-years ago, we wouldn’t have the housing crisis we do today because the city could have holistically adapted and grown.
In the end, Jason’s winning thesis project provides solutions by looking towards the future while carefully considering the mistakes of the past. And he credits his time at SALA and the input of his thesis committee, which included Ray Cole, Mari Fujita, and Martin Nielson, for pushing his project in this direction.
The LafargeHolcim Awards jury for North America especially commended the focus on questions of procedures (the design of processes, including stakeholder participation and its effects on physical form). Particularly interesting is the changing relationship between built and un-built areas that is constantly negotiated and re-negotiated in a process that engages a range of relevant parties.See more
Four prizes were awarded in the increasingly popular Next Generation category for students and professionals up to 30 years. This category seeks visionary projects and bold ideas, and gives young professionals public exposure and a platform to gain recognition. The first of four Next Generation prizes in North America went to Georgina Baronian from Princeton University, NJ, USA. She developed a universally applicable roof design with a cooling function. Second prize was won by Jason Heinrich from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, for a set of rules for establishing a sustainable urban neighborhood in the city of Vancouver. Sarah Gunawan from the University of Buffalo, NY, USA, received third prize in this category. She investigated the potential for people and wildlife to coexist based on an example in Markham, ON, Canada. Fourth prize went to Peteris Lazovskis of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, USA. His experiments investigated climate control in buildings using the example of the Commonwealth Mental Health & Wellness Center.Read more »
Based on democratic principles of governance, communication, and participation, the project identifies a set of rules for establishing a sustainable urban neighborhood in the city of Vancouver in Canada. Instead of relying on a pre-established urban pattern, the strategy foregrounds a number of important criteria – such as the density of the urban fabric, the effect of shadow on neighboring buildings, views from each lot, parking needs, and green spaces – that are to be collectively negotiated by stakeholders in order to define the neighborhood’s future development. The approach establishes minimally-invasive interventions, which will develop in time according to the needs of both individuals and group collectives.
The jury especially commended the focus on questions of procedures, i.e. the design of processes, including stakeholder participation and its effects on physical form. Particularly interesting is the changing relationship between built and un-built areas that is constantly negotiated and re-negotiated in a process that engages a range of relevant parties. The proposal offers a method for a step-by-step urban densification, combining bottom-up and top-down as well as formal and informal practices – to create an urban commons. Of specific interest is the use of parametric design and digital technology as methods in order to anticipate the potential transformation of the neighborhood and its formal architectural expression in the future, testing aspects of Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory in practice.See more
Holistic urban growth begins with cooperative negotiation between all agents
Regeneration and development in our cities requires a holistic approach and a cultural shift that includes the many actors that constitute and build our cities. Master planning is a remnant of a mechanistic worldview that attempts to prescribe sustainability, but cities are complex systems built on relationships. How could a city rule set foster cooperation and negotiation between the many inhabitants of a city? Relational Urbanism proposes a framework for development where local action and context dictate growth patterns based upon local negotiation and mutual benefit between parties. It does not assume all parties will make sustainable choices, but signifies a shift to a holistic system of city making based on a democratic, collective intelligence and culture of its people.
Sustainability requires interdependence between buildings, infrastructure, and people
Zoning codes and city bylaws prescribe relationships to prevent conflict between properties and buildings, such as setbacks, height and density, resulting in isolated buildings. Sustainability requires the city to become an ecology: a complex system of interdependent buildings, infrastructure, and nature. Relational Urbanism flips the typical prescriptive rules and encourages negotiation between building owners and unique local typologies. Growth occurs only when neighbors can negotiate the issues of livability (views, height, density, green space), energy (rejected heat, solar exposure), and natural capital. The goal is to increase the interdependency between buildings as a means to organically build complex mutually beneficial relationships for a sustainable city ecology.
Sustainable cities require local decision-making and block-centric planning
Centralized master planning is slow to adapt to changing demographics and technology. It does not account for local natural ecology or local needs. Relational Urbanism is based upon block scale economies for negotiation of unused regulatory assets. Excess assets can be traded or mutual agreements to share resources can be made between neighbors within a block. This localized economy exists on a centrally controlled platform, thus the city’s mandate is not to prescribe development, but manage the framework for it to occur. Decision making over public land such as laneways and street frontages are also given to block residents. This enables locals to find creative solutions to their specific needs. Without stringent land use policies, cities are free to evolve from the bottom-up.See more
By incentivising people to make sustainable choices in their communities, a protocol for agent-based neighborhood …
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