Design and the Future of Landscape Architecture

If landscape architects want to remake the world, we can start by remaking our discipline.

A thought provoking critique of the role Landscape Architects actually play in society versus what they believe they do, this very relevant to the current educational and work crisis that Landscape Architecture faces in South Africa and many other parts the world : Here are few excerpts from the long article, quoted and acknowledged, in the interests of generating a similar discussion in other parts of the world: “Design and the Green New Deal” from Places Journal by Billy Fleming who is the Wilks Family Director for The Ian L. McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Read the full essay here

Aa Dr, Ida Breed, senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria where the undergraduate Landscape Architecture program has been terminated due to poor enrolment numbers, says in a private correspondence: ” I think the article is very right in the money to say that the profession is mostly dominated by neoliberal and elitist project briefs, yet,  landscape architects are often very bad at showing what they are already doing. Relevant work is happening, but as we know we are low in numbers, and there is a need for more volunteers and more participation from industry and practitioners in work that does not only profit our/ themselves… More could be done!”

“It is the main duty of government, if it is not the sole duty, to provide the means of protection for all its citizens in the pursuit of happiness against the obstacles, otherwise insurmountable, which the selfishness of individuals or combinations of individuals is liable to interpose to that pursuit.” 25 Frederick Law Olmstead

Rooftop of the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, along the San Francisco Bay.
Wish it were public: Rooftop garden at the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, along the San Francisco Bay. [Designed by CMG Landscape Architecture with Gehry Partners; photo by Trey Ratcliff]

I don’t know when the myth of landscape architects as climate saviors began, but I know it’s time to kill it. The New Landscape Declaration — a book emerging from a 2016 summit attended by the brightest thinkers in our field — frames landscape architecture as an “ever more urgent necessity,” if not the foundation of civil society. As engineers shaped the built environment of the 19th century and architects the 20th, landscape architects have claimed this century as their own. 1 That’s a bold statement for an obscure profession whose 15,000 U.S. members spend most of their time designing small parks, office courtyards, and residential projects for private clients. Yet it’s not just landscape architects who see a big future for the field. Famed industrial designer Dieter Rams has said that if he were starting his career today, he’d focus on landscapes, not machines. And public officials have recruited landscape architects to the front lines of urban development (as James Corner’s High Line and Thomas Woltz’s Public Square frame Hudson Yards) and climate resilience (as the federal program Rebuild by Design ties hurricane recovery to coastal defense). 2

Ian McHarg
The Crazy Political agendas of SHADE

I don’t know when the myth of landscape architects as climate saviors began, but I know it’s time to kill it.

But if The New Landscape Declaration sought to articulate and elevate our professional ideals, mostly it exposed the gap between rhetoric and reality. The book arrived in fall 2017, a few months after David Wallace-Wells published his alarming article, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” with its memorable opening line quaking, “It is, I promise, worse than you think.” That 7,000-word jeremiad was later expanded into a bestselling book, with acknowledgments thanking the dozens of climate writers, scientists, and activists who informed the author’s research. This is mainstream media’s most comprehensive account of the climate movement, and it contains no mention of work by landscape architects. There is no commentary on Rebuild by Design. It’s as if landscape architecture does not exist. Setting aside the justified critiques of Wallace-Wells’s apocalyptic framing, what does it mean that landscape architects are missing from this prominent book on a topic we claim as our own? Is our discipline a necessity? Are we closing the gap between ideals and practice? We are not, I promise, saving the world. 3

SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters proposal for Rebuild by Design

We don’t need playful design proposals; we need high-impact built projects — prototypes for the resilient futures we’ve been promised.

Contemporary practice is focused on sites, not systems; and on elite desires, not public interests. Our work is limited in scale and subordinate to client mandates. Rather than challenging or subverting these core structural constraints, Rebuild merely tweaks the machine of disaster recovery and redevelopment. Such incrementalism has been a key feature of landscape architecture — and much design-based activism — for decades. Though some scholars have credited designers with central roles in social and environmental movements — from the Progressive Era, to the New Deal, to the radical politics of the 1960s and ’70s in America — I would argue that that landscape architects rarely contributed to the organizing and the politics of those movements. 20 By and large, we have been bystanders to progress, not principal actors. If the gap between our ambitions and impact is ever to be narrowed, it won’t be through declarations of our principles. We must rethink how landscape architecture engages with social and political movements.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Ocean Parkway
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Ocean Parkway in New York, which featured the first bike path in the United States. [via NYC Parks]

We seem to have forgotten an important lesson about Olmsted: his eagerness to enter the political arena and challenge the status quo.

ut here again we see designers as participants in, not leaders of, the social movements of their time. In the postwar era, they went through the same cultural realignment as the rest of the country, reorienting away from public works and land conservation and toward greenfield development and roadside parks, away from cities and toward suburbs. Landscape designers also made what was in retrospect the fatal mistake of lending their technical skills to urban renewal programs that reinforced racial segregation. 27 When the backlash to urban renewal began — sparked by Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities — planners and designers lost much of their access to large-scale projects, and those who still worked for public agencies saw their power diminished. As Thomas Campanella argues, they became professional caretakers, “reactive rather than proactive, corrective instead of preemptive, rule bound and hamstrung and anything but visionary.” 28

The environmental movement galvanized by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring achieved great success in regulating pollution — influencing the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency — but it was less successful in compelling a truly sustainable program of land use. Put another way, it had tremendous influence over how we live, but almost none over where we live. It was in this era that Ian McHarg produced the seminal work that would make him the most consequential landscape architect of the last half century. McHarg was a singular figure in the field, a public intellectual who mixed with people like Margaret Mead, Julian Huxley, and Loren Eiseley, moving between academia (as chair of landscape architecture at Penn), government (as an adviser to White House commissions, task forces, and environmental policy boards), and popular media (as host of the CBS show The House We Live In); and through these activities he sought to place environmental design at the center of American life. He aimed to reinvent nearly everything about the discipline of landscape architecture — its methods of inquiry, its scope and scale of impact, and its cultural and political position. For a brief moment, it seemed he would succeed.

Landscape architects have not yet meaningfully dealt with the unforeseen consequences of McHarg’s rational philosophy; with the fact that his technocratic legacy would leave the field ill-equipped to negotiate the major cultural and political realignments of neoliberalism — the hollowing out of governments at every level, the privatization of public services, and a waning belief in the ability of governments to bring about big, positive change. 34 Beginning in the 1980s, urbanists and designers were forced to defend everything from clean air to mass transit to public education through the narrow lens of cost-benefit analyses. Landscape architecture, a small and client-centric profession, with no real institutional or political presence, was overwhelmed by the rise of an anti-government, anti-science movement amongst conservatives. By the end of the century, landscape architecture had become once again a largely project-driven enterprise, dependent upon the elite, private interests that now shape urbanization, even in ostensibly public spaces. 35

At key political flashpoints of the past decade — Occupy Wall Street, the Standing Rock protests, and, now, the Green New Deal — landscape architects have been conspicuously absent. Our field has responded to neoliberalism with ever larger global corporate practices, a proliferation of boutique design firms, and a retreat from public service. We have ceded most government work to engineers. Professional societies have further depoliticized the field, ensuring that landscape architects are locked out of the policymaking process and constrained by the limits it imposes. 36

Chart of annual global temperatures from 1850-2018
Annual global temperatures from 1850-2018, covering 1.35°C. [Ed Hawkins]

The revival of an activist federal design bureaucracy is necessary to the success of a Green New DealIt also presents a unique opportunity to create alternative models of practice in landscape architecture.

That means our professional societies need to find ways to train a rising generation of landscape architects for careers in public service — or, as the organizers behind The Architecture Lobby have shown us, we will need to build new institutions. Starting tomorrow, the ASLA and Landscape Architecture Foundation could offer awards and fellowships for designers engaged in bureaucratic and political work, as they do for excellence in private practice. They could make the case that truly public spaces and infrastructures are funded by taxes and run by governments, not by corporate partners or the donor class. We need to dismantle the philosophies of neoliberalism and philanthrocapitalism that underwrite many urban development projects, and withdraw support for disruptive urban tech startups. As Levinson writes, “not only are the self-appointed change agents unwilling to push for meaningful action that might threaten the systems that have allowed them to accumulate vast wealth; often as not they’ve caused or contributed to the very problems they are claiming to solve. The modus operandi is not structural reform but personal generosity. The arena is not electoral politics but the free market. The ethos is patronage and volunteerism.” 45 Too many leaders in our field occupy positions of incredible power and prestige, while maintaining that they must make the best of a bad system. But we cannot be content with merely narrowing the gap between our ideals and our reality. The politics of design belong at the center of landscape architecture, and our institutions have an obligation to do more.

We need to train a rising generation of landscape architects for careers in public service. Students will need coursework in public administration and finance, political theory, and community organizing.

Educators, too, have a unique responsibility to change the culture of the profession. The students who wish to fill the ranks of the new design bureaucracy need coursework in public administration and finance, political theory, and community organizing. We can offer scholarships and awards for public-interest achievement, and give internship credit for working with political campaigns or community organizations. And we can acknowledge — through our public programs, our scholarship, and other aspects of design education outside the studio — the extraordinary moment we are in, our complicity in creating it, and our responsibility to develop alternatives.

Panel at the Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future, Philadelphia, 2016. [You Wu]

Whatever form the Green New Deal eventually takes, it will be realized and understood through buildings, landscapes, and other public works. Landscape architects have knowledge and skills — from ecological management to systems analysis to mapping and visualization — that are essential to that project. Now is our chance to re-institutionalize design expertise in government and, at the same time, to break the stranglehold of neoliberalism that has long undermined the ambitions of landscape architecture. Let’s get started. 46

Billy Fleming, “Design and the Green New Deal,” Places Journal, April 2019. Accessed 20 May 2019. <https://placesjournal.org/article/design-and-the-green-new-deal/&gt;

The Crazy Political agendas of SHADE

 

It’s a civic resource, an index of inequality, and a requirement for public health. Shade should be a mandate for urban designers – this long essay by Sam Bloch in PLACES JOURNAL could just as well apply to Cape Town as to Los Angeles – where apartheid era planning has made its leafy suburbs of the wealthy the exact opposite of the slum tenements and shanty towns of the poor and squatters. A similar pattern of legislation, bureaucracy and politics seems to make the provision of the seemingly innocuous commodity: shade- a luxury ! Is shade the missing link to environmental, cultural, social and and health – can a focus on shade make a new type of equality a reality instead of the urban deserts that planning now mandates? This impeccably researched and documented article is well worth a read – here are a few small teasers:

Tony’s Barber Shop, Cypress Park, Northeast Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

“As the sun rises in Los Angeles, a handful of passengers wait for a downtown bus in front of Tony’s Barber Shop, on an exposed stretch of Figueroa Street near the Pasadena Freeway. Like Matryoshka dolls, they stand one behind another, still and quiet, in the shadow cast by the person at the head of the line. It’s going to be another 80-degree day, and riders across the city are lining up behind street signs and telephone poles.

For years, the business owners on this block have tried to do something about the lack of shade. First someone planted banana trees and jammed an I-beam into the sidewalk well. Tony Cornejo, the barber, swears he didn’t do it, but he admits rigging up a gray canvas between a highway sign and parking lot fence to put a roof on the makeshift shelter. He was just taking care of the street, he said, so that the “ladies and children” who had grown accustomed to waiting out the heat in his shop could be comfortable outside. He dragged wooden crates under the canopy and nailed them together to create two long benches. In the shade, people ate their lunches, read magazines, scrolled through their phones. Can collectors rested. Bus drivers waited before beginning their shifts.

within two miles of Tony’s Barber Shop. 1 Who decides where the shade goes? You might imagine that transit planners call the shots — strategically placing shelters outside grocery stores and doctors’ offices on high-frequency routes, according to community need — but Los Angeles, like many cities, has outsourced the job. The first thousand shelters were installed in the 1980s by billboard companies in exchange for the right to sell ad space, and they tended to show up in wealthy areas where ad revenue surpassed maintenance costs. 2 In 2001, the mayor signed a deal to double the number of shelters and give public officials greater control over their placement. The new vendor agreed to install and maintain shelters throughout the city and offset its losses with freestanding ad kiosks in lucrative areas. But when politically savvy constituents complained about the coming spate of advertising, the city withheld permits, and the deal broke down. As the contract nears its end, the vendor, Outfront/Decaux, has installed only about 650 new shelters, roughly half of the projected number.” 

Bus shelters are installed and maintained by the company that controls the ad rights. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

“You can’t install a shelter here without disrupting underground utilities, violating the ADA, or blocking driveway sightlines. On this block, shade is basically outlawed.”

Shade in the Skid Row neighborhood, Downtown Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

Shade is often understood as a luxury amenity. But as deadly heatwaves become commonplace, we have to see it as a civic resource shared by all.

Shade was integral to the urban design of southern California until the advent of cheap electricity in the 1930s.

Top left: Awnings on Citrus Avenue in Covina, ca. 1908. Top right: Craftsman bungalow on Vermont Avenue near 9th Street, Los Angeles, n.d. Bottom left: Pergola and porch of bungalow in Altadena, 1910. [All courtesy of University of Southern California/California Historical Society] Bottom right: Harnetiaux bungalow court in Pasadena, 2013. [Wikimedia Commons]

Look at what happened to Pershing Square, where sunlight was weaponized to clear out the ‘deviates and criminals.’

“Pershing Square set a template for Los Angeles: the park as an open space to walk through, and as a revenue-generating canvas.”

Rendering for the new Pershing Square, with shade pergola. [Agence Ter]

“Shade creates shelter, and Los Angeles is very conflicted about creating shelter in the public realm.”

“Mexican fan palms were the ideal tree for an automobile landscape, beautifying the city without making a mess.”

Avalon Boulevard, South Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]”

“If you see a mature shade tree today, you can assume that a private citizen paid for it and maintained it. Canopy inequality thus follows lines of wealth”.

To the list of environmental injustices in this country, we can add the unequal distribution of shade.

“The city won’t permit the planting of large trees where the roots could rip up sidewalks or destroy underground utilities. That effectively zones shade out of many poor neighborhoods.”

“Surveillance is another concern. When a new pole camera goes up in a public park, the mature canopy around it vanishes.”

 

One study found that the difference in surface temperature between shaded and unshaded asphalt was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The mayor has pledged to reduce the temperature by three degrees by 2050, but sustainability programs will vary by neighborhood.

The grant programs now for urban forestry are crazy. It’s money that we’ve never seen before … [but] they have no idea of the real challenges behind these kinds of projects.’

Imagine what Los Angeles could do if it tied street enhancement to a comprehensive program of shade creation.

What we need is urbanists in and outside City Hall who conceptualize shade itself as a public good.

Drawing by Joyce Earley Lyndon and Maynard Lyndon, from Growing Shade, a brief study of “tree umbrellas” in Switzerland, published in the third issue of Places Journal in 1984. The drawing was presented last week at a discussion of shade equity in Los Angeles convened by Christopher Hawthorne, the city’s chief design officer and a professor of practice at Occidental College.

 

Sam Bloch, “Shade,” Places Journal, April 2019. Accessed 18 May 2019. <https://placesjournal.org/article/shade-an-urban-design-mandate/&gt;

 

Project DRAWDOWN how we can reverse climate change

With all the doom and gloom that talking about climate change in the anthropocene engenders in ones audience, all the hype and positivity I can muster flags when I read about the size of the problems faced and the inadequacies and failings of individuals and governments to act, and in fact my own poorly implemented and limited attempts to do something! It seems as if it is extreme hubris on my part to say we can change our lifestyles, consumerist habits or other people’s desires. I was pleasantly surprised while I was researching on LAF’s (Landscape Architecture Foundation) website for a recent magazine article, to discover Martha Swartz talking about the book edited by Paul Hawken’s “Drawdown The most comprehensive plan ever to reverse global warming” Having viewed the website’s info and watched the video I am eagerly awaiting the book.

As Martha Swartz says in the interview on LAF’s websiteI was introduced to Drawdown by Pamela Conrad, a Senior Associate at CMG Landscape Architecture, while preparing for a conference presentation on climate change with her two years ago. We gave a presentation about the book, why it’s important, and why it’s important specifically for landscape architects. We got up there and talked about what climate change is and why it’s so urgent that we address it. What really struck me about Drawdown is that it gave metrics for its solutions. They weren’t theoretical, but actionable ideas” 


Here is Paul Hawken, the projects instigator, the books editor and the evangelist of the crusade to make a difference, telling us what inspirited him and how it can affect us and what we can do ourselves, more than just lamenting the lack of efficacy of our recycling or our governments alternative energy strategies!

Further down the IPCC CO2 hole? Or what else can we do now?

Jason King of landscape+urbanism has posted another insightful and topical examination of the implication of the latest IPCC report on global warming and particularly what is means as a landscape architect to be able to do something ..walk the talk or just understand it at least – the extract I have chosen her is relevant to my previous post of becoming CO2+ – bu toy can read the fullest on Jason’s blog here

The background is:

The connection to the science is vital to and expanded knowledge of climate change, as I mentioned in the post on the Foundations of Climate Change Inquiry. One of those foundations mentioned is the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the body of the United Nations focusing on the global science and impacts related to climate change. Their October 2018 IPCC Special Report focuses on “the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global green house gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

Likely some of us like to skip all the doom and science stuff and get to what we can do – don’t forget to read Jasons intro though….

The wide array of options for mitigation are collectively referred to as “system transformations”, as I mentioned, interesting as they include a number of landscape-specific ideas. And, based on the dire predictions of our available remaining carbon budget, reductions alone will not suffice to get us to levels that can keep warming at 1.5°C or even 2°C, especially without overshoot. Per section C.2 we require:

“…rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These system transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”

As I mentioned, efficiency is one aspect, and a combination of new and existing technologies are needed, including “electrification, hydrogen, sustainable bio-based feedstocks, product substitution, and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS)”, to name but a few. I think of the book Drawdown as a good snapshot of many of these strategies and their potential. However, as mentioned, while these are technically proven at a number of scales, large-scale deployment of these is constrained, and often has trade-offs with other strategies.

We also need changes in systems, for instance section C.2.4 mentions urban and infrastructure system transitions, which imply “changes in land and urban planning practices, as well as deeper emissions reductions in transport and buildings…” to get us to these targets. Many of these are not new, but do come with some baggage: “Economic, institutional and socio-cultural barriers may inhibit these urban and infrastructure system transitions, depending on national, regional and local circumstances, capabilities and the availability of capital.”

The final section does present some interesting options, specific to CO2removal, which are collectively referred to as CDR for “carbon dioxide removal” which range in potential. These include:

bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) 
  • afforestation and reforestation
  • land restoration and soil carbon sequestration
  • bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) 
  • direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS)
  • enhanced weathering and ocean alkanlinization

Two mentioned previously have some huge potential. For instance BECCS can capture up to 5 gigatons of CO2 per year, and afforestation an additional 3.6 gigatons of CO2 per year. As we find out more about the potential we can employ these strategies at larger scales, however there are trade-offs, such as the competition with other land use (for instance agriculture for food production) and the need to protect valuable ecosystem resources. One strategies mentioned is to use multiple, small installations, versus massive projects, to spread out impacts. 

Related specifically to landscape systems, the connection to ecosystem services is highlighted with the multi-functional benefits, as mentioned in section C.3.5. The use of Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) measures for CDR, have a number of co-benefits, such as restoration of natural ecosystems providing additional soil carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, soil quality, and food security, if managed sustainably.

Climate Positive Design – Becoming CO2+

I am on admission to understand and act on becoming “carbon positive” – I believe it is the way landscape architects can become truly relevant and effective.

A series of recent posts by Landscape+Urbanism on understanding climate change for landscape architects has been catalytic for m intoning about the role of landscape architecture, cities and our lives here on this planet. December post from the Dirt by Andrew Wright reporting on  ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and the climate positive design talk by  Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a senior associate at CMG Landscape Architecture   

“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Conrad “We believe our profession can be part of the solution, and that it’s time to work together.”

Pamela Conrad has developed a calculator that predicts the emissions and carbon sequestration potential

“A few years back, I assumed I could go online and download a tool that would tell me exactly what I wanted to know. But frankly, those tools really only exist for architects right now. Because we have the ability to sequester carbon, perhaps we need our own tools to measure these impacts.”

life_cycle
Landscape Carbon Calculator / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad’s tool, which is still in beta testing and has not yet been publicly released, measures sources of embodied emissions in landscape materials against the sequestration potential of vegetation on a site to calculate both the carbon footprint of a project and the amount of time it will take for sequestration to completely offset emissions. Past that point, the project will  sequester additional atmospheric carbon dioxide, a condition Conrad calls being “climate positive.”

carbon_footprint.jpg
Climate Positive Design / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Using the calculator, Conrad has been able to estimate the carbon footprints of her recently completed projects and, by tweaking the input parameters, model strategies that could have reduced their climate impacts.

“We can plant more trees and woody shrubs; we can minimize paving, especially concrete; we can minimize lawn areas; we can use local or natural recycled materials.” With these strategies, Conrad estimates that she could have cut the time it will take for her projects to become carbon neutral in half.

“The design of those projects didn’t change at all, or the quality for that matter. But what a difference it could have made if we just had the resources to inform our design decisions.”

park
Carbon Positive Design / CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad argued that, through climate sensitive design, landscape architects could be responsible for the sequestration of as much as 0.24 gigatons of carbon over the next thirty years, enough to place landscape architecture in the list of 80 solutions to climate change studied in Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project.

And “if we were to include other work we do, like incorporating green roofs into projects or making cities more walkable and bikeable, that would put landscape architecture within the top 40 solutions.”

Conrad plans to release the calculator to the public next year and hopes that it will be used to set measurable goals for designing climate-friendly projects and create opportunities for accountability.

“How are we going to keep tabs on ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing these things?” she asked her fellow panelists. “What would it take for us to have a 2030 challenge specific to landscape architecture?”

Co-living 2030: Are you ready for the sharing economy?

Interesting alternatives living and working typologies for co-living examined with background on a possible history

via Co-living 2030: Are you ready for the sharing economy? | Features | Archinect

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

Last month I attended a SPACE10 forum led by New York-based design duo Anton and Irene on the resurgence of co-living. They suggest the financial squeeze of modern life combined with an upsurge in digital nomads is bringing the ‘sharing economy’ into the home. As 40% of the urban areas required by 2030 are not yet built—which means a city the size of New York needs to be constructed globally every month—it is crucial architects stay up-to-date with contemporary living patterns to respond appropriately to shifts in housing requirements. My last Archinect feature of the year will provide a short overview of the history and challenges that co-living has previously faced, discuss trends emerging from the ‘ONE SHARED HOUSE 2030‘ survey and speak to Dorte Mandrup, architect of the Lang Eng Co-housing Community, on how to approach the challenge of designing successful spaces for co-living.

‘Co-living’, an umbrella term for different types of ‘co-housing’ setups, can loosely be defined as a home where two or more people live together who are not related. While ‘co-housing’ is an intentional community created and run by residents, ‘co-living’ may also encompass shared accommodation initiated by an external agent, such as a developer or entrepreneur.

Aside from the investor rush to fuel co-living startups, concrete figures on the international co-living boom are not yet available. However, early indicators such as the UN now offering support to co-living initiatives within their sustainable development goals and last year’s prestigious Harvard Wheelwright architecture prize being awarded to a project innovating in co-living, suggest it is gaining traction. While it is indisputable that young people strapped for cash have always had roommates—think Bret and Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords—co-living is now simultaneously becoming part of everyday urban life and billion-dollar business.

I expect most people reading this who have lived in cities during their 20’s have experienced a houseshare, myself included. I rented a terrace with friends in Sheffield, moved into a Danish kollegium when I started my masters in Copenhagen and had a stint in a family attic while working in London. But rather than remaining a student necessity, increasing numbers of families and professionals are now opting to co-share. This also reflects a surge in the rental market, which in the US has jumped from 52% of total adults in 2005 to 60% in 2013. This is perhaps unsurprising with soaring urban property prices and take-home wages barely rising across the country, a pattern which is echoed in cities worldwide.

Last year Anton and Irene initiated ONE SHARED HOUSE as they became fascinated in how co-living seemed to be experiencing a cultural resurgence. The documentary maps Irene’s childhood experience of growing up in a communal house in Amsterdam. In the early 1980’s Amsterdam was facing an acute housing shortage so the government enacted a law ruling that 1% of all apartments had to be communal. In 1984 Irene’s mom responded to a newspaper ad for a co-share and moved their family into Kollontai, a communal house with 8 other women and their 3 children designed by the new brutalist architect Sier van Rhijn. In the film, Irene explains “they were feminists and non-conformists […] and many were rebelling against the traditional 1950’s families they had grown up in.”

Amsterdam co-housing showing Kollontai. Image: Anton and Irene

“Whenever I would tell people I grew up in a communal house”, Irene explains to me, “it inevitably turns into a 30-minute conversation about the pros and cons of communal living.” To delve deeper into the subject, she contacted architect Sier van Rhijn about his experience of designing Dutch co-living spaces during that period. “It was fun,” he explained, “even though [the occupants] had no experience designing living spaces, they were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy.”

It was fun. Even though [the occupants] had no experience designing living spaces, they were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy.” Sier van Rhijn, architect

Modern co-living can be traced back to thoughts emerging from Denmark in the 1960s, which crystallized in Bodil Graae’s 1967 newspaper article ‘Children Should Have One Hundred Parents’. There was a consensus at the time that modern housing was unable to provide adequate wellbeing for occupants over their lifetimes, and that ‘bofællesskab’ (living community) should instead be the aim for future housing projects. In 1972, a group of families were inspired to create the Sættedammen co-share, realized by architects Palle Dyreborg and Theo Bjerg. The project is generally accepted to be one of the first contemporary co-shares, favoring both autonomy from powerful landlords and the Danish government. The living community approach was introduced to the States in 1989 by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in their book ‘Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves’.

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The New Science of Designing for Humans

via The New Science of Designing for Humans | Stanford Social Innovation Review

Beyond Human Centred Design methodologies using behavioural science is proposed as more rigorous way to extend solution based design

The days of privileging creativity over science in design thinking are over. The rise of behavioral science and impact evaluation has created a new way for engineering programs and human interactions—a methodology called behavioral design.

(Illustration by Mike Austin)

Today the design of things that involve human interaction, such as programs, product delivery, and services, is more art than science. Here is how it typically works: We use our creativity to brainstorm a few big ideas, experts decide which one they like, and then investors bet on the winner, often with billions of dollars at stake.

This way of design thinking should be replaced by a superior method that can enable us to innovate with more success and less risk. Specifically, we can use scientific insights to generate new ideas and then systematically test and iterate on them to arrive at one that works.

Advances in two academic fields afford this opportunity. The first is behavioral science, which gives us empirical insights into how people interact with their environment and each other under different conditions. Behavioral science encompasses decades of research from various fields, including psychology, marketing, neuroscience, and, most recently, behavioral economics. For example, studies reveal that shorter deadlines lead to greater responsiveness than longer ones,1 that too much choice leads people to choose nothing,2 and many more observations, often counterintuitive, about how people react to specific elements of their context.

The second academic field is impact evaluation. Economists have used randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and other experimental methods to measure the impact of programs and policies. Such impact evaluations are becoming more and more common in the social sectorand in government. These methods allow us to test whether an innovation actually achieves the outcomes that the designer sought.

Taking a scientific approach also solves another common problem: Sometimes we do not even realize that there is something in need of rigorous, thoughtful design. When we look carefully, the success of most of what we design for people depends as much, if not more, on the human interaction as on the physical product. For example, the first iPhone offered essentially the same functions (phone, calendar, address book, etc.) as a BlackBerry, but it totally changed the experience of using those functions.

In the social and public sectors, programs and services are made up largely of human interactions. And yet anything involving human interaction can be designed more scientifically, and more successfully, when behavioral science and impact evaluation are applied. For instance, a vaccine is a technological product, but how and when parents get their children vaccinated, and how they are reminded to do so, is as much a part of the innovation as the vaccine itself. Poorly designed interactions make products less successful and can also underlie serious social problems.3

By putting behavioral science and impact evaluation together—a methodology we call behavioral design—we can design more like engineers than like artists. We can use behavioral science to develop ideas that are much more likely to work than those relying entirely on intuition. And we can rigorously test those ideas to determine which ones truly work. Following the model of engineering and scientific progress, we can build on prior success to make enormous advances that, under previous approaches, would not be possible.

A Better Methodology

At ideas42, the behavioral science innovation lab I co-lead, we encounter many different approaches to innovation among our partners. I have also spent considerable time comparing notes with experts in design thinking, attending design workshops, and reading about design methodologies. The typical approaches for innovation range from quickly brainstorming some ideas in a boardroom to using some version of human-centered design (HCD). Fundamentally, all of these approaches aim to generate “big ideas” that appeal to the intuition of a few decision makers considered experts in the area where the idea is to be implemented.

HCD appears to be the methodology of choice for a significant, and growing, number of organizations. The most advanced version begins with defining the problem or design mandate, and then conducts qualitative research with potential users and proceeds through a series of structured exercises to promote creative thinking. The design team may also test some crude prototypes to get feedback along the way. This approach is called “human-centered” because it focuses on users’ and other stakeholders’ needs and preferences.

In the qualitative research phase, designers use ethnographic techniques such as qualitative interviewing and observation. They not only interview potential users but also may talk to others, such as program administrators and front-line staff involved in delivering a program or product. In the design phase, HCD employs several techniques to enhance creativity (which remain useful in the next-generation behavioral design methodology as well). Finally, HCD ends with trying a few prototypes with a handful of potential users. Some ethnographic research methods are incorporated into HCD, but on the whole the approach is still much closer to an art than a science.

It is time to build on HCD with a better method. Let us begin our investigation by comparing how engineers invent new technology. Two features stand out. First, engineers rely on a rich set of insights from science to develop new ideas. Every invention builds on countless previous attempts. For example, the Wright brothers are credited with inventing the airplane, but the key parts of their design leaned on previous inventions. The wing was based on science that went back to 1738, when Daniel Bernoulli discovered his principle about the relationship between pressure and the speed with which a fluid is moving. The engine design was borrowed from automotive engines invented more than 25 years earlier. They were able to test model wings in a wind tunnel thanks to Frank H. Wenham, who had invented that critical apparatus 30 years before that, in 1871.4

Second, contrary to popular belief, inventions do not come simply from a single flash of insight, but rather from painstaking refinement in small steps. Sir James Dyson, the famous vacuum cleaner tycoon, went through 5,126 failed iterations of his new wind tunnel design to separate dirt from air before he landed on the right one.5 Inventors sometimes iterate only on particular components before working on the complete invention. For example, the Wright brothers tested some 200 wing designs in a wind tunnel before settling on the right one.

Why do engineers work so differently from those of us who are designing for human interactions? Until recently, we did not have a sufficiently large body of scientific insights that describes how humans interact with their environment, and each other, under different conditions. True, the field of user-experience design offers some insights, but it is very new and is still restricted to certain elements of digital interactions such as Web-page layout and font size. Direct marketers within for-profit businesses have experimented with letters and phone scripts for years, but those findings also cover a very narrow set of interactions and are often not public.

The second engineering feature—experimenting and iterating—is also hard to replicate, because measuring whether something “works” in this case is more complex than simply turning on a piece of technology and playing with it. We must first clearly define what outcomes we want from the design, devise a way to measure them, and finally run a test that reliably tells us whether our design is achieving them

More Rigorous Testing of Ideas

The problem with HCD and similar approaches to innovation is that they depend too much on intuition. Research has repeatedly shown that our intuitions about human beings are often wrong. Take the commonsensical idea that penalties always help prevent people from engaging in bad behaviors; this notion may have intuitive appeal, but it has proven false. For example, in a study of Israeli day-care centers that sanctioned parents for being late to pick up their children, researchers found that penalties made parents even more likely to be late.6 This is because they viewed the penalty as a cheap price for the option to be late, versus feeling bound by a social obligation to be timely.

Not only do the social and behavioral sciences give us better starting points, but it also enables us to prototype and test ideas more readily, because we can measure if they are working using impact evaluation methods as well as lab testing procedures from experimental psychology. We can then iterate and improve on the idea until we have a solution ready for implementation.

The behavioral design methodology incorporates HCD’s fundamental approach of being human centered and thoughtful, but adds scientific insights and iterative testing to advance HCD in three significant ways. First, it applies observations about people from experimental academic research. HCD’s reliance solely on self-reported and intuitive insights presents a risk, since so much human behavior is unconscious and not transparent. Also, psychology research shows that people’s self-perception is biased in several ways.7 When we do supplement academic insights with qualitative research, we can use behavioral science to make the latter less vulnerable to bias. For example, we can get more unvarnished answers by asking subjects what their peers typically do rather than what they themselves do. When asked about themselves, subjects may be embarrassed to admit to certain behaviors or may feel compelled to give what they assume the interviewer thinks is the “right” answer.

Second, behavioral design can enhance HCD in the design phase. The behavioral science literature can contribute ideas for solutions based on previously tested interventions. As behavioral design becomes more widely used, more and more data will become available on what designs work and under what conditions. In filtering ideas, we can use behavioral science to anticipate which solutions are likely to suffer from behavioral problems such as low adoption by participants or misperception of choices.

Third, this new approach improves upon HCD by adding more rigorous testing. Many HCD practitioners do test their ideas in prototype with users. While helpful, and part of behavioral design as well, quick user testing cannot tell us whether a solution works. Behavioral design leverages experimental methods to go much further without necessarily adding considerable cost or delay.

Using this approach, we test whether something works—whether it triggers a desired behavioral result—rather than whether the subject thinks something works. We can also test a single component of more complex designs, such as whether a particular piece of information included on a Web page makes a difference, in a lab setting with subjects from our target audience. This is analogous to aeronautical engineers testing wing designs in wind tunnels. By testing and iterating in the field, we do not need to bet on an untested big idea but instead can systematically develop one that we know works. Testing is also what makes it possible, in the design phase, to build on previous successful ideas.

ideas42’s work includes many examples of using behavioral design to invent solutions to tough social problems. For example, we recently worked with Arizona State University (ASU) to encourage more eligible students to apply for a special federal work-study program called SEED. In fall 2014, before we started working with ASU, only 11 percent of eligible students were applying for SEED jobs, leaving nearly $700,000 in financial aid funds unused. ASU wanted our help to increase this proportion.

Diagnosing the problem through a behavioral lens, and interviewing students and staff, we learned that students mistakenly believed that SEED jobs were menial and low-wage. Some thought that a work-study job would interfere with their education rather than complement it. Others intended to apply but missed the deadline or failed even to open the e-mail announcing the program. We designed a series of 12 e-mails to attempt to mitigate all of these barriers. The e-mails dispelled the misperceptions about workstudy jobs by stating the correct facts. They made the deadline more salient by reminding students how many dollars of aid they stood to lose. Behavioral research shows that losses loom larger than gains, so the loss framing promised to be more impactful than telling students how much they stood to gain. The e-mails asked students to make a specific plan for when they would complete the work-study job application to reduce the chance that they would forget or procrastinate past the deadline. These behaviorally informed e-mails were compared against a control group of 12 e-mails that contained only basic information about how to apply to the SEED program.

With the redesigned e-mails, which ASU has now adopted, 28 percent more students applied for jobs, and the number of total applications increased by 56 percent. As we were sending 12 e-mails, we used the opportunity to test 12 different subject lines to try to maximize the number of students who opened the e-mail. In five out of the 12 cases, the rate of opening increased by 50 percent or more, relative to a typical subject line. A subject line that increased the open rate from 37 percent to 64 percent made students feel special: “You have something other freshmen don’t.” The control in this case was commonly used language to remind the recipient of impending deadlines: “Apply now! SEED jobs close Thursday.”

The Behavioral Design Methodology

Efforts like this one may sound like nothing more than trial and error, but a systematic and scientific process underlies them that tracks the success of engineering or medicine more closely than HCD. It begins with defining a clear problem, diagnosing it, designing solutions, testing and refining the effectiveness of those ideas, and then scaling the solutions.8 It also starts from a body of knowledge from behavioral science, rather than intuition and guesswork, so that the solutions tried are more likely to succeed.

Let us take a closer look at these steps:

1. Define. The first step is to define the problem carefully to ensure that no assumptions for causes or solutions are implied and that the desired outcome is clear. For example, organizations we serve commonly ask: “How do we help our clients understand the value of our program?” In this formulation, the ultimate outcome is not explicitly defined, and there is an assumption that the best way to secure the outcome is the program (or product) in question. Say the relevant program is a financial education workshop. In this case, we do not know what behaviors the workshop is trying to encourage and whether classroom education is the best solution. We must define the problem only in terms of what behaviors we are trying to encourage (or discourage), such as getting people to save more.

2. Diagnose. This intensive phase generates hypotheses for behavioral reasons why the problem may be occurring. To identify potential behavioral hurdles, this approach draws insights from the behavioral science literature and what we know about the particular situation. For example, in the ASU work-study project, we hypothesized that many students intended to apply but failed to follow through because they procrastinated past the deadline or simply forgot it. Both are common behavioral underpinnings for such an intention-action gap.

After generating some initial hypotheses, the next step is to conduct qualitative research and data analysis to probe which behavioral barriers may be most prevalent and what features of the context may be triggering them. Here, “context” refers to any element of the physical environment, and any and all experiences that the consumer or program’s beneficiary is undergoing, even her physical or mental state in the moment.

Qualitative research usually includes observation, mystery shopping (purchasing a product or experiencing a program incognito to study it firsthand), and in-depth interviews. Unlike typical qualitative research that asks many “why” questions, the behavioral approach focuses on “how” questions, since people’s post-hoc perceptions of why they did something are likely to be inaccurate.

3. Design. Having filtered down and prioritized the list of possible behavioral barriers via the diagnosis phase, we can generate ideas for solutions. Here many of the structured creativity techniques of HCD prove useful. When possible, it is best to test a few ideas rather than to guess which solution seems best. Solutions also change during their journey from the whiteboard to the field, as numerous operational, financial, legal, and other constraints invariably crop up. Such adaptations are critical to making them scalable.

4. Test. We can then test our ideas using RCTs, in which we compare outcomes for a randomly selected treatment group vis-à-vis those for a control group that receives no treatment or the usual treatment. Although RCTs in academic research are often ambitious, multiyear undertakings, we can run much shorter trials to secure results. An RCT run for academic purposes may need to measure several long-term and indirect outcomes from a treatment. Such measurement typically requires extensive surveys that add time and cost. For iterating on a design, by contrast, we may only measure proximate indicators for the outcomes we are seeking. These are usually available from administrative data (such as response to an e-mail campaign), so we can measure them within days or weeks rather than years. We measure long-term outcomes as a final check only after we have settled on a final solution.

When RCTs are impossible to run even for early indicators, solutions can be tested that approximate experimental designs. A more detailed description of these other methods is outside the scope of this article but is available through the academic literature on program evaluation and experimental design.

If the solution is complex, we first test a crude prototype with a small sample of users to refine the design.9 We can also test components of the design in a lab first, in the way that engineers test wing designs in a wind tunnel. For example, if we are designing a new product and want to refine how we communicate features to potential users, we can test different versions in a lab to measure which one is easiest to understand.

5. Scale. Strictly speaking, innovation could end at testing. However, scaling is often not straightforward, so it is included in the methodology. This step also has parallels with engineering physical products, in that designing how affordably to manufacture a working prototype is, in itself, an invention challenge. Sometimes engineers must design entirely new machines just for large-scale manufacturing.

Scaling could first involve lowering the cost of delivering the solution without compromising its quality. On the surface, this step would be a matter of process optimization and technology, but as behavioral solutions are highly dependent on the details of delivery, we must design such optimization with a knowledge of behavioral principles. For example, some solutions rely on building a trusted relationship between frontline staff and customers, so we would not be able to achieve a cost reduction by digitizing that interface. The second part of scaling is encouraging adoption of an idea among providers and individuals, which itself could benefit from a scientific, experimental process of innovation.

A Closer Look at the Methodology

To be fair, it is sometimes impossible to go through the full, in-depth behavioral design process. But even in these cases, an abridged version drawing on scientific insights rather than creativity alone is always feasible. Notice that the define, diagnose, and design stages of the behavioral design process apply the scientific method in two ways: They draw on insights from the scientific literature to develop hypotheses, and they collect data to refine those hypotheses as much as possible. The first of these steps can be accomplished even in a few hours by a behavioral designer with sufficient expertise. The second component of data collection and analysis takes more time but can be shortened while still preserving a scientific foundation for the diagnosis and design. Field testing with a large sample can be the most time-consuming, but lab tests can be completed within days if time is constrained.

Two sorts of hurdles typically confront the full behavioral design process: lack of time and difficulty measuring outcomes. In our experience, time constraints are rarely generated by the problem being addressed. More often, they have to do with the challenges of complex organizations, such as budget cycles, limited windows to make changes to programs or policies, or impatience among the leadership. If organizations begin to allocate budgets for innovation, these artificial time constraints will disappear.

To better understand working under a time constraint, consider ideas42’s work with South Africa’s Western Cape to reduce road deaths during the region’s alcohol-fueled annual holiday period. The provincial government had a small budget left in the current year for a marketing campaign and only a few weeks until the holiday season began. The ideas42 team had to design a simple solution fast; there was no time to set up an RCT with a region-wide marketing campaign. The team instead used an abridged version of the first three stages to design a solution grounded in behavioral science. Quick diagnosis revealed that people were not thinking about safe driving any more than usual during the holidays, despite the higher risk from drunk driving. To make safe driving more salient, ideas42 designed a lottery in which car owners were automatically registered to win but would lose their chance if they were caught for any traffic violations. That design used two behavioral principles coming out of Prospect Theory,10 which tells us that people tend to overestimate small probabilities when they have something to gain, and that losses feel about twice as bad as the equivalent gain feels good.

Applying the first principle, we used a lottery, a small chance of winning big, rather than a small incentive given to everyone. Using the second, we gave people a lottery ticket and then threatened to take it away. Since an RCT was not feasible, we measured results by comparing road fatalities in the treatment period with road fatalities in the same month of the previous year; this showed a 40 percent reduction in road fatalities. There were no known changes in enforcement or any other policies. While ideas42 was not able to continue to collect data in subsequent years, because its contract ended, the program saw success in subsequent years as well, according to our contacts in government.

Adopting Behavioral Design

If you were convinced of behavioral design’s value and wanted to take the leap, how would you do it? There are resources available, and many more are still in the works. Behavioral insights are not yet readily available in one place for practitioners to access, but are instead spread out over a vast literature spanning many academic disciplines, including psychology, economics, neuroscience, marketing, political science, and law. Results from applications of behavioral science are even more distributed because many are self-published by institutions such as think tanks, impact evaluation firms, and innovation consultancies.

To mitigate this problem, ideas42, in partnership with major universities and institutions that practice behavioral design in some form, is building an easily searchable Web-based resource as well as a blog that will make it possible to find ready-to-use behavioral insights in one place. In the meantime, some of these organizations, including ideas42, also offer classes that teach elements of behavioral design as well as some key insights from behavioral science that practitioners would need in order to do behavioral design. As the practice of behavioral design is adopted more widely, and its use generates more insights, it will become more powerful. Like technology, it will be able to continue to build on previous discoveries.

Organizations and funders would also do well to adopt the behavioral design approach in their thinking more generally. Whenever someone proposes a new approach for innovation, people scour the methodology for the secret sauce that will transform them into creative geniuses. In this case, the methodology applications of behavioral science, in themselves, do have a lot to offer. But even more potential lies in changing organizational cultures and funding models to support a scientific, evidence-based approach to designing interventions. Here are three suggestions about how organizations can adopt behavior design:

Fund a process (and people good at it), not ideas. | Today’s model for funding innovation typically begins with a solution, not a problem. Funders look to finance the testing or scaling up of a new big idea, which by definition means there is no room for scientifically analyzing the problem and then, after testing, developing a solution. Funders should reject this approach and instead begin with the problem and finance a process, and people they deem competent, to crack that problem scientifically. To follow this path, funders must also become comfortable with larger investments in innovation. The behavioral design approach costs a lot more than whiteboards, sticky notes, and flip charts—the typical HCD tools—but the investment is worth it.

Embrace failure. | In a world where ideas are judged on expert opinion and outcomes are not carefully measured, solutions have no way of failing once they leave the sticky-note phase and get implemented. In a new world where ideas must demonstrably work to be successful, failure is built into the process, and the lessons learned from these failures are critical to that process. In fact, the failure rate can serve as a measure of the innovation team’s competence and their bonafide progress. To be really innovative, a certain amount of risk and courting failure is necessary. Adopting a process that includes failures can be hard to accept for many organizations, and for the managers within those organizations who do not want their careers to stall; but as in engineering and science, this is the only way to advance.

Rethink competitions. | The first XPRIZE for building a reusable spacecraft rekindled the excitement for competitions, which have now become common even outside the technology industry. However, competitions to invent new technology are fundamentally different: With a spacecraft, it is relatively easy to pick the winner by test-flying each entry. In the social sector, by contrast, competitions have judging panels that decide which idea wins. This represents a big-idea approach that fails to motivate people to generate and test ideas until they find one that demonstrably works well, rather than one that impresses judges. Staged competitions could work much better by following a behavioral-design approach. The first round could focus on identifying, or even putting together, the teams with the best mix of experience and knowledge in behavioral design and in the domain of the competition. Subsequent rounds could fund a few teams to develop their ideas iteratively. The teams whose solutions achieved some threshold of impact in a field test would win. Innovation charity Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre has been using a similar approach successfully, as has the Robin Hood Foundation, with the help of ideas42.

Revolutionizing how we innovate presents a huge opportunity for improving existing programs, products, and policies. There is already sufficient scientific research and techniques to begin making the change, and we are learning more about how to better devise things for human interactions every day. The more we use a scientific approach to innovate, and construct platforms to capture findings, the more science we will have to build on. This immense promise of progress depends on changing organizational cultures and funding models. Funders can and must start to bet not on the right “big ideas” but on the right process for solving challenges and on the people who are experts in that process. They must also not just expect failures, but embrace them as the tried and true means for achieving innovation.

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Dwelling in the Golden Years: Experiments in Senior Living

‘Young-Old: Urban Utopias of an aging Society

via Dwelling in the Golden Years: Experiments in Senior Living | Features | Archinect

Its going to happen to all of us – “Done got Old – can’t do the things I use to!” – Junior Kimbaugh – even those of us in deep denial who intend to work till we die ( most designers and architects I know do not intend to retire). Yet the existing models for later life living are pretty poor and none of the regularly offered ones are very satisfactory. This in-depth review of the options is worthwhile reading for anyone involved in design or management of the aged or making place for aging in  our society.

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

Global populations are aging—according to the UN, by 2030 the number of citizens aged 60 years or over is projected to grow by 56%, a figure which by 2050 is expected to double again, to a total of 2.1 billion seniors worldwide, skewed towards ‘greying economies’ such as those of the US and Europe. Where and how will our seniors live in the future? This month I speak to architect and KADK professor Deane Simpson, who researches shifts in the built environment which are occurring as a consequence of population aging, and Stephen Bates of award-winning firm Sergison Bates who recently completed the Housing for Older Residents project in Hampstead, London. Is it possible to move beyond stereotypes to create an architecture which is functional, healthy and beneficial for the older generation?

It was a visit to St Petersburg, Florida, during the mid-1990s which first sparked Simpson’s interest in the peculiarities of elderly lifestyle communities. With a group of friends, he had stumbled into a housing district exclusively for the over 65’s which challenged their preconceptions of the modern mixed-demographic city. In a bar brimming with vivacious seniors, they felt like complete outsiders. It was an experience which inspired him to lead an architecture study group from ETH-Zurich back to Florida to research deeper into what he saw as a distinct shift in senior living which later informed his award-winning book ‘Young-Old: Urban Utopias of an Aging Society’.

“A common understanding of seniors would be people with physical or mental difficulties who required care”, explains Simpson, “but my sense was that that housing and urbanism for the ‘Young-Old’ was not really being discussed. I became interested in how emphasis had shifted from care towards entertainment and leisure, and how these communities were self-segregating on an urban scale”.

Old age is now widely understood to have subdivided into two separate phases of life—the ‘Young-Old’ can now expect to enjoy 20-30 years of good health prior to becoming ‘Old-Old’, when they require special care and support. Historian Peter Laslett, in his 1996 book ‘A Fresh Map of Life’, suggests this phenomenon first emerged as a consequence of the older generation becoming liberated by improvements in healthcare and lifestyle and possessing significant comparative wealth compared to other demographic groups. In the decades following 1950, there was a limited precedent for the ‘Young-Old’ in terms of societal expectations and conventions of how and where to live.

The US is recognized to have pioneered early trends in retirement living as it was not tied to the need to rebuild after the Second World War, a task which preoccupied both Europe and Japan. The world’s first documented age-segregated retirement community, Sun City Arizona, built in 1954 and now home to 37,000 seniors, was the first to explore accommodation options for the emerging ‘Young-Old’ demographic. Sun City promised year-long sunshine, leisure-based social activities, companionship and fun—a far cry from the dreaded nursing home.

My sense was that housing and urbanism for the ‘Young-Old’ was not really being discussed. I became interested in how emphasis had shifted from care and rest to entertainment and leisure, and how these senior communities were self-segregating on an urban scale” Deane Simpson

Emergence of the ‘Young-Old’. Image: ‘After Peter Laslett, A Fresh Map of Life, 1989.’ From Young-Old.

Owner-occupied retirement housing now represents 17% of the total housing stock in the US, a figure which is steadily increasing year after year. According to the Financial Times, the wealth of the ‘baby boomer’ generation has enabled age-specialist developers to bid for the first time against mainstream development firms to supply prime real-estate. In New Zealand, 12% of over 75s now live in retirement communities, a figure which has risen from 9% in 2014. Meanwhile, housing typology options for seniors have continued to diversify to a certain extent, with an emphasis on familiar styles and forms arranged into neighborhood groupings. I was interested to explore the main trends and innovations in senior housing, so I went in search of architects who are addressing the needs and desires of the older generation with a variety of contrasting approaches.

Senior living dream 1: The Retirement Village

Taking after the Sun City model, the retirement village is characterized by separate dwellings designed specifically for the over 55’s, separated from the rest of the city. Organizations such as the UK-based International Longevity Center warn that the global upsurge in the construction of privatized retirement villages might spell the end for the traditional care home and a state-driven model of elderly care. While most villages take a detached, suburban picket-fence type outlook to housing as seen in Sun City, others adopt a more experimental approach.

One of the most extraordinary propositions I came across was that of Guedes Cruz Architects’ Alcabideche Social Complex near Lisbon, Portugal. The community of 52 cube-like dwellings, constructed from concrete and plexiglass, shade elderly residents from scorching summer sun. Unlike almost all other retirement communities I researched, this project embraces some of the harder to stomach realities of aging—when a resident sounds an alarm within the house, the entire roof of the building lights up red, a glowing distress signal which is broadcasted to the entire community. The 10,000m2 neighborhood also houses a support building and an undulating landscape of public terraces and pools which connect the dwellings.

Guedes Cruz Architects’ Alcabideche Social Complex in Lisbon, Portugal. © Ricardo Oliveira Alves.

Senior living dream 2: The High-End Apartment

This interview with a New York resident underlines the older generation are just as diverse as any other age group, not all of whom are searching for the quiet life. “Living in the city is so much better than in the country or burbs”, the 82-year old told the reporter. Some developers are responding to the need of housing seniors within the city by peppering apartment complexes within the existing urban fabric, as a preference to creating detached retirement communities. I spoke to architect Stephen Bates of renowned London-based practice Sergison Bates regarding their Housing for Older Residents project in Hampstead, north London, completed earlier this year. The residential scheme consists of 29 individual apartments with shared facilities, such as social spaces, spa and a communal garden. The community is to be supported by an in-house caretaker whose role is to facilitate both daily activities and care for resident’s needs.

Ground floor plan of Housing for Elderly Residents, Hampstead, showing social spaces. Image © Sergison Bates.

Bates explained that a key driver behind the design was to find an architectural typology appropriate for elderly residents with respect to the context and conservation area of the surrounding site. “We were inspired by the mansion blocks which characterize the area and used this existing urban form to mediate with the townscape of large Arts and Crafts stand alone or semi-detached villas in Hampstead”, he told me. The innovative ‘honeycomb’ plan which first drew me to the project was in part defined by the site footprint and a diagonal emphasis to allow long views across the site towards the gardens. The plan is organized into a number of ‘bedroom suites’ which group changing, bathrooms and sleeping areas together to form definable territories which allow privacy and flexibility of occupation, linked by a ‘middle room’ at the heart of each apartment. “Multi-sided rooms make it possible to have different orientations within the apartment”, describes Bates, “and allowed us to form a collection of ‘good’ rooms rather than aligning purely functional spaces one next to the other.” While offering visual interest to residents spending significant time indoors, a further aim of the design was to enable a live-in carer, visiting family members or a spouse to enjoy different degrees of privacy.

“Many of the residents would have come from a large house, possibly within the area of Hampstead itself”, Bates explains, “and the transition to horizontal living would have to be facilitated by the careful organization of internal spaces. We designed a plan that incorporates a series of areas that allow differentiated access, with interlocking rooms and long diagonal views across them. This creates a landscape of spaces one can move through in more than one way, so that the needs of individual residents can best be met.”

We designed a plan that incorporates a series of areas that allow differentiated access, with interlocking rooms and long diagonal views across them. This creates a landscape of spaces one can move through in more than one way, so that the needs of individual residents can best be met.” Stephen Bates, Sergison Bates Architects.

Portuguese practice Aires Mateus Arquitectos have taken the senior high-rise typology into a rural context for their ‘Residências assistidas em Alcácer do Sal’ (Houses for elderly people in Alcácer do Sal) project, also in Portugal. Speaking to Dezeen, they describe the scheme as a “micro-society”, “between a hotel and a hospital”. They suggest an aim of the project was to address the limited mobility of the building’s residents by forming a patchwork of gently sloping walkways which meander across the site. While the architectural intervention is striking and sculptural due to the way it slices into the topography, it is unclear what access the elderly residents have to medical facilities or social spaces to promote their health and well-being in the long term.

Residências assistidas em Alcácer do Sal. Image © Aires Mateus Arquitectos.

Senior living dream 3: Aging in Place

While not a new concept, aging in place has garnered significant public attention and commendation in recent years. While critics suggest ‘lifelong homes’ is a convenient policy to promote while cutting public spending budgets, there is also significant grassroots support. Furniture fixes and small interventions are the most cost-effective way of adapting a home as the occupants’ physical abilities deteriorate. In this report, the American Architectural Foundation suggest that enabling people to remain in their previous homes or original communities is the most favorable outcome according to their survey preferences. In the 2007 study ‘aging in Place in America’ commissioned by the Clarity and the EAR Foundation, elderly people fear moving away, losing their independence and exile from their communities, more than they fear death. While this may highlight certain misunderstandings of what alternative options there are available, the severity of this statement is nonetheless significant.

The de-institutionalized approach to senior living may have significant benefits when the built environment is tuned to support and assist elderly residents. Aging in place has been proven to support independence and retain community ties which are difficult to sustain when people are uprooted after they reach a certain age. “At the same time,” suggests Simpson, “[Aging in place] is not a perfect solution as it still poses challenges—on both the housing and neighborhood scale. Immobile seniors who have aged in place in low-density car-based housing areas can be vulnerable to social isolation, and can be beyond walking distance to local amenities or a supermarket. Environments like these can also be more costly to service with healthcare provision.”

[Aging in place] is not a perfect solution as it still poses challenges—on both the housing and neighborhood scale. Immobile seniors who have aged in place in low-density car-based housing areas can be vulnerable to social isolation, and can be beyond walking distance to local amenities or a supermarket.” Deane Simpson

Social Housing in Barking by Patel Taylor. Image © Peter Cook.

The challenge of creating communities that allow people to age in place may also offer an opportunity to rethink suburban or low-density neighborhoods which have long been a challenge to both architects and urban planners. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) support the ‘lifelong homes’ concept—a dwelling that adapts to people’s needs and desires as they grow older. The London Mayor’s design advisory group have offered guidance to both architects and urbanists on how to create ‘Lifetime Neighborhoods’ in this recent report.

Patel Taylor’s Courtyard Housing in Barking, London, aims to address some of the challenges of maintaining an affordable, mixed-generation neighborhood. The economic model of their housing development in Barking is based on that of traditional English almshouse, in which accommodation is provided by a charitable body for citizens who are unable to support themselves. The social housing project was designed to support independent living as residents grow older, but can be occupied by people and families of any age. “The scheme aims to provide council tenants with quality of life and pride in their homes”, say Patel Taylor.

Interestingly, some retirement communities may spontaneously arise from a natural process of aging in place, which is one of Simpson’s ongoing research interests at KADK. Brooklyn-based design studio Interboro Partners have analyzed a number of housing projects in New York City which have emerged due to families moving in during at a specific time then remaining in the same housing block. “I believe that the naturally occurring retirement community is an interesting case to discuss when we focus on dense urban environments”, suggests Simpson, “in the NYC examples, they make use of elevator access and nearby park-like space, at the same time they are tightly integrated into a vibrant and amenity-rich city.”

A main characteristic of a co-living approach is to form independent but connected living arrangement to ensure sufficient degrees of privacy, while benefiting from shared social spaces.”

Senior living dream 4: Co-living

Loneliness and the rising cost of care are some of the most challenging aspects faced by both ‘Young-Old’ and ‘Old-Old’ age groups. Based on a traditional Japanese concept first trialed in Tokyo, some architects are experimenting with combining seniors with other demographic groups with free time but minimal disposable income to create skill-sharing communities. Examples include this nursing home in the Netherlands which is also a student dorm and the Mount’s Intergenerational Learning Center in Seattle.

A main characteristic of the co-living approach is to form an independent but connected living arrangement to ensure sufficient degrees of privacy, while benefiting from shared social spaces. When applied to senior living, this approach aims to challenge the stigma of the ‘granny annex’ to create a multigenerational family home where two or more generations can co-exist peacefully. Lennar’s Next Gen Home is innovating in this market—their new build homes combine two separate houses together to form a ‘home within a home’, each area accessible from a separate entrance. In their promotional material, the ‘Next Gen Suite’ has been tested both with aging relatives and adult children with severe disabilities. For more on co-living stay tuned for next month’s feature.

Lennar’s ‘Next Gen Home’ incorporates a separate apartment within the main footprint of the house. Image © Lennar.

Senior living dream 5: The Cruise Ship

While at first glance it might seem slightly farfetched, increasing numbers of cruise liner companies are now offering live-in possibilities following a wave of media speculation that constant cruising was a more cost-effective prospect than a room in a traditional care home. Back in 2015, USA Today covered the story of 86-year-old Lee Wachtstetter, who took her daughter’s advice to sell her home after the death of her husband to go and live on the Crystal Serenity cruise liner.

The Florida-based shipping company Residences at Sea were one of the first to provide an exclusive long-term rental offering and other enterprises such as Crystal are now following suit with customisable apartments, some as large as 4000 square feet. Cruise Retirement now allows retirees to buy their own cabins. This reflects a boom in the cruise industry overall—according to the The Cruise Lines International Association, over 25 million passengers are predicted to set sail in 2017, with over half of them in the 50-74 age range. However, it is unclear what data the cost predictions that cruise living is cheaper than other accommodation preferences is based on, as circumstances and prices vary dramatically for seniors across the globe. Difficulty in securing affordable insurance, few complimentary onboard meals and lack of access to specialist care onboard may well outweigh the senior discount. In addition, the logistics of living constantly on a cruise ship may be impractical at best—where would possessions be stored? What would the arrangements be while the ship is in port? How might this lifestyle be sustained year after year?

Cruise lines are also selling their elderly living packages as lifestyle products, bearing certain similarities to the first retirement villages. This phenomenon is what Simpson refers to as ‘youthfulness without youth’—environments which, while alluring, are unfortunately seldom designed to support their residents during the complex process of physical and mental decline. “It is only recently that some of these retirement villages have given in to pressure to provide assisted care facilities”, he explains, “it’s not part of their branding as lifestyle products. They do not have cemeteries, sometimes they remove the deceased during the night, reflecting taboos about death and illness amongst this age group.”

It is only recently that some of these retirement villages have given in to pressure to provide assisted care facilities, it’s not part of their branding as lifestyle products. They do not have cemeteries, sometimes they remove the deceased during the night, reflecting taboos about death and illness amongst this age group.” Deane Simpson

Sun City Arizona retirement community. Image © Deane Simpson from Young-Old.

Since the 2008 financial crash, the perception of the ‘Young-Old’ as a pleasure-seeking group that is benefiting from the welfare economy while leaving other groups disadvantaged has generated a great deal of anger. Yet, societal expectations of this age group are changing fast. While 30-40 years ago, the ‘Young-Old’ might expect to retire to warmer climes to enjoy an expanse of leisure time—whether moving from the Midwest to Florida, or from the UK to Spain, up to 60% of Americans over 60 now say they will look for a new job after retiring according to Careerbuilder.com, a US jobs website. Many people in this age group are also taking on additional childcare responsibilities, as their children often have a two working parent household which is now required to support a modest income.

However, the push factors forcing people out of their homes today remain broadly similar to what they were back in the 1960s—including an inability to maintain a household, inadequate neighborhood leisure amenities, proximity to healthcare and other amenities, high living costs, adverse climate aggravating health conditions such as arthritis, fear of crime, or the death of a spouse. Yet new experiments in senior living promise companionship, lower housing expenses, provision for poor health, and closeness to family. Housing for the ‘Young-Old’ remains a site of experimentation and innovation, which will have an increasingly significant impact on the market overall. “In the past decade or so”, suggests Deane, “the great majority [of citizens who fall into the ‘Young-Old’ age category] have opted to age in place. This does not mean the desire for a fresh start and to move away is necessarily disappearing. Outcomes of different surveys also emphasize what can be problematic about the current living conditions for those who are aging in place.”

Outcomes of different surveys also emphasize what can be problematic about the current living conditions for those who are aging in place.” Deane Simpson

Costa Del Sol, the Retirement Capital of Europe. Image © Deane Simpson

What makes an age-friendly city? How can architects and urban planners ensure communities possess a rich social life and cross-generational activities? How can segregation and social isolation be reduced? Throughout 2014 the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) compiled a volume of knowledge from both industry and breakthrough research into an Alternative Age Friendly Handbook, which offers some helpful insights. In the US, the American Architectural Foundation cites a lack of diversity, lack of access to continuous and accessible walking routes, few intentional social spaces and restricted access to both healthcare and crisis assistance as key areas for improvement. While these features are aimed at older adults, it is necessary to recognize improvements in these areas are also of great benefit to everyone in the community.

Bates recommends that architects engaged with accommodation for the elderly acknowledge the specific needs and requirements of aging residents, some of which are often overlooked. “There are many models that still need to be explored, in particular, the development more mixed-age collective housing solutions rather than residential forms that cater to a homogeneous age group,” he suggests, “architects need to go back to experimenting with housing in the way they did in the ‘60s and ‘70s. More experimental housing typologies should also be tested to respond to other demographic trends, such as the growing number of single households in western cities. The proliferation of micro[flats is definitely not the only, nor the most appropriate answer.”

Both Bates and Simpson are in agreement that complex, vibrant, diverse and amenity-rich neighborhoods should drive the development of housing in this sector. “That means thinking beyond the conventional real estate modernist plan”, suggests Bates, “to look at pre-modernist models, as there is much to learn from them, and being more imaginative and flexible about how daily lives can unfold within domestic settings. Housing is the most codified sector in construction and too often homes end up being the unimaginative result of compliance with existing standards and regulations”, Bates continues, “I think we should be much more ambitious and much more open to looking beyond modernist orthodoxy.”

Architects need to go back to experimenting with housing in the way they did in the ‘60s and ‘70s. More experimental housing typologies should also be tested to respond to other demographic trends, such as the growing number of single households in western cities” Stephen Bates, Sergison Bates Architects.

Huis Ten Bosch, Japan. Image © Deane Simpson from Young-Old.

According to the American Architectural Foundation, senior housing has positioned itself at cutting edge of innovation in the housing sector due to a willingness to try the new with a hope that it will improve on what we remember of the old. “The ritual of aging is that of continual reinvention, not of tradition, and the senior housing industry is deeply vested in understanding and responding to evolving market desire,” they state. The emergence of AI in household care and the opportunities of digital mobility also present interesting opportunities for tailored elderly care suited to individual needs, therefore unlocking previously unimagined living arrangements. Might a domesticated model of care be delivered without a semi-hospitalized environment? How could healthy routines be designed into the building fabric of new developments using new technologies?

“The architect’s role in this would be to produce a diversity of possible models. This diversity should develop through an openness and willingness to experiment and promote the exploration of alternative models to the limited bandwidth of options in the current market environment,” suggests Simpson. “When one is designing for a certain age group, an essential aspect is to address the fact that the user, him or herself, will age in that given environment. This is sometimes overlooked. When designing for the ‘Young-Old’, one has to bear in mind that in 20 years they are likely to be amongst the ‘Old-Old’. So it becomes relevant to factor in how one develops the capacity for these environments to support the people dwelling in them, in different stages of life which in turn correspond to different needs. In responding to this challenge, it becomes relevant to overcome the stigmatization of elderly-friendly design aspects”, he continues, “ as well embracing a diversity of users and preferences. We should keep in mind that seniors are as diverse a population as the rest of us.”

The ritual of aging is that of continual reinvention, not of tradition, and the senior housing industry is deeply vested in understanding and responding to evolving market desire.” American Architectural Foundation

In the US, the Living in Place Insitute provide additional assistance on the options for renovating an existing home to the needs of aging.

To read more about the urban and architectural experiments which come out of these different urban environments, different typologies of retirement see Deane Simpson’s ‘Young-Old: Urban Utopias of an aging Society, published by Lars Muller.

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Placemaking…is a questionable concept in so many ways.

This critical view by Dean Saitta of the concept placemaking and its narrow implementation in many planners and designers views of what is a relevant version of placemaking, is welcome, especially here in South African cities  and in Africa generally, where racial stereotypes and gentrified views obscure the reality of the majority of users needs and understanding of what contributes to a places reality, beyond its physical attributes and aesthetic considerations. 

An extract form Deans commentary on a presentation to his university on some campus improvements from Plantizen shows  that these stereootypes of  “public space ” are in fact creating an ersatz or quasi  place, that these concepts are are pervasive and as irrelevant in his context of a North American university campus as they are in our cities. 
Hi post elicited a good conversation that is worth reading.
“There’s very little that differentiates proposals by four distinguished planning and design firms to better connect my university to its immediate neighborhood and the wider city. Why is that, and does it have to be that way?”

Differentiators of planning and design philosophy were few and far between. One firm didn’t mention faculty as a key campus constituency, which was a terrible mistake. Another firm celebrated its impressive data base of campus master plans from all over the country, although it wasn’t entirely clear what’s to be learned from these comparisons. A couple of firms channeled the Denver Union Station metaphor that our academic leaders routinely use to envision our future as a crossroads for people on journeys of discovery. However, Union Station is much better known for its Terminal Bar and trendy restaurants than anything else. One firm mentioned that “place grows from context,” but no real examples were provided of what that would look like in this particular case. One bit of context would be the university’s location on Cheyenne and Arapaho ancestral land, but nothing was said that suggested an awareness of that deep indigenous history or the extraordinarily painful period of contact with white settlers, including DU’s founder. Other contexts can be found in the area’s more recent Euro-American history. In the early to mid-20th century DU was known as Tramway Tech, a theme that could be picked up in re-imagining the campus Light Rail station.

Come to think of it, the Denver area has always been a locus of interaction between different cultural groups. An attending staff member at one firm began to get at this point when he suggested, almost inaudibly from the stage’s edge, that “people use space in different ways.” This might have been the most important comment I heard during the entire four hours of public meetings, but it was left unexplored. Absent a substantive engagement with cultural and historical context, the most obvious differentiator between the firms was their style of public presentation. Some firms were much more participatory than others in soliciting opinions from audience members about what they would like to see in a regenerated campus neighborhood.

Campus Green with Adirondack Chairs. (Image by Dean Saitta)

In fairness, the lack of obvious differentiators was understandable. All firms want to be guided by planning ideas offered by the campus and neighboring community. However, none of them gave any real indication that “community” is plural, except for the one staff member’s comment described above. Nor did any indicate that we might want our university neighborhood to draw visitors from other neighborhoods that aren’t populated by white people. None indicated the role that a liberal arts education—as distinct from professional training—could play in producing STEM innovation. Ideas for using culture and the arts as anchor venues for campus edges (e.g., a museum, art gallery, cultural center, or some other kind of learning lab or Idea Store) were not mentioned. None took up the multicultural theme briefly mentioned in passing by ULI, and what this might mean for the quality of public space, green space, public art, signage, historical markers, amenities, and residential housing. The commitment to multiculturalism—or, alternatively, interculturalism—should certainly amount to more than just making signs in Spanish as well as English.

Read the full a post here:

 

The New Landscape Declaration

This renewal of a half century old landscape document in many ways echoes the feelings of frustration many of us feel over the  seemingly mindless pursuit of self interest and greed that continually threatens to overwhelm us, yet unless we are able to get more politically engaged within our communities of interest and beyond; into the other professional and public domains, we are preaching to the converted and our words are unheard by those who are crying for creative steps towards overcoming the myriad challenges awe face in our cities, towns and rural environments.  If you feel this to be true and worthwhile then I urge you to head on over to LAF  , sign the declaration and decide how you can let it be heard more widely than the jus the community of landscape architecture.

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On June 10-11, 2016, over 700 landscape architects with a shared concern for the future were assembled by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Inspired by LAF’s 1966 Declaration of Concern, we crafted a new vision for landscape architecture for the 21st century. This is our call to action.
Across borders and beyond walls, from city centers to the last wilderness, humanity’s common ground is the landscape itself. Food, water, oxygen – everything that sustains us comes from and returns to the landscape. What we do to our landscapes we ultimately do to ourselves. The profession charged with designing this common ground is landscape architecture.

After centuries of mistakenly believing we could exploit nature without consequence, we have now entered an age of extreme climate change marked by rising seas, resource depletion, desertification and unprecedented rates of species extinction. Set against the global phenomena of accelerating consumption, urbanization and inequity, these influences disproportionately affect the poor and will impact everyone, everywhere.

Simultaneously, there is profound hope for the future. As we begin to understand the true complexity and holistic nature of the earth system and as we begin to appreciate humanity’s role as integral to its stability and productivity, we can build a new identity for society as a constructive part of nature.

The urgent challenge before us is to redesign our communities in the context of their bioregional landscapes enabling them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its root causes. As designers versed in both environmental and cultural systems, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring related professions together into new alliances to address complex social and ecological problems. Landscape architects bring different and often competing interests together so as to give artistic physical form and integrated function to the ideals of equity, sustainability, resiliency and democracy.

As landscape architects we vow to create places that serve the higher purpose of social and ecological justice for all peoples and all species. We vow to create places that nourish our deepest needs for communion with the natural world and with one another. We vow to serve the health and well-being of all communities.

To fulfill these promises, we will work to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession. We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks. We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution. We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.

We pledge our services. We seek commitment and action from those who share our concern.

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