Book Review

Designing Sustainable Cities

manageable approaches to make urban spaces better
Sigrid Burstmayr and Karl Stocker (eds.)

Aimed at a global readership, this book brings together experiments from five UNESCO Design Cities. The editors based at the Institute of Design and Communication of the University of Applied Sciences in Graz, Austria, justify their selection because they consider these cities to be models of design for the future and for the circular economy.

Inspired by Josef Beuys’ 7,000 Oaks City Forestation Instead of City Administration project in Kassel in 1982, the Breathe Earth Collective in Graz is exploring whether cities of the future can function like forests and become urban oases. In the USA, Paul Draus, a Detroit Design Core partner, is contributing to an inclusive design strategy for Detroit, still suffering from post-industrialisation, by consciously building its wholesale reinvention on the layers of the segregated city’s traumas and conflicts. Similarly, Pauline Cornejo Moreno Valle resorts to collective approaches to fix the conurbation of Mexico City, which she considers a broken city, in the hope of producing new solutions for water, waste, public space, mobility and housing by moving away from top-down private interest-driven development, towards greening the city, multimodal transport and social housing. In both cases the authors recognise that their comprehensive strategic objectives are hard to achieve, and advocate small improvements mobilised by local communities.

The main focus of the book is Istanbul, another fast-growing urban agglomeration, which joined the UNESCO City of Design Network in 2017. The broad range of design issues presented in the three chapters on the city encompass interior design, alternative architecture for an ecologically-driven, socially-engaged Istanbul, as well as more conventional urban design guides for urban planning and design, urban spaces and their components, related to policy and participation.

In conclusion Sylwia Ulicka, who teaches an innovative course on urban design in Puebla in Mexico, revisits our materialist culture in designing for sustainability. She moves from the eco-efficiency paradigm (a sustainable materialist culture and the 3Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle) with the aim of squaring the circle between finite planetary capacity and unlimited economic growth, to ‘quadruple bottom line sustainability’ which appropriates meaning to the materialistic culture. Following Fuad-Luke’s refined model of economic viability of design and its contribution to social equity and the ecological stability of production systems, she presents examples of ‘uncomfortable objects’ developed by her students.

This book is full of design inspirations, but its design could do with revisiting. Its large format lends itself well to illustrations but the monochrome, bleached-out photos in turquoise and pale blue are hardly readable, especially when spread across pages, and the tiny font of the captions and references also in pale colours, are not helpful.

URBAN DESIGN 158 Spring 2021 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 158 Spring 2021

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Designing Sustainable Cities Publication Urban Design Group
Birkhauser Basel
978 3035621983
Reviewed By
Judith Ryser