Drawing from Chinese and South East Asian societies, which share the custom of giving gifts in red envelopes or packets, LWK + PARTNERS’ three-part Red Envelope series seeks to freely share thought and insight as a global source of knowledge.
Conceived as part of LWK + PARTNERS’ recent transformative relaunch, which involved the opening of its Dubai office in 2018 and the start of a new approach to being a global design, innovation and knowledge leader, the Red Envelope series is a platform for exchanging insight, information and data that deepen our understanding of the global built environment. Despite the surge in digital media, it also made sense for us to develop something that was not only informative and lovely to read, but that also made you want hold onto it, revisit and collect it.
As the series’ first installment, this journal offers a platform for pondering possibilities – urban design and architecture are at a crossroads. As an urbanist myself, I question their role as the stage for the perpetuation of human culture, which, if not recognised and redefined, may find their current lackadaisical condition to be terminal, witnessing the continued diminution of their status as perpetuators. The work of the architect is a work of imagination, yet it cannot simply be a dominating gaze, an act of whim, or, conversely, a sacrifice at the altar of commercial interest alone.
Rather, the architect or urbanist’s role could be something different, something that is investigated, explored, tested; a reconciliation and a point of reference for more than itself. Cities have long fascinated architects and urbanists of all generations and cultures. Some designers look for new forms of order and stability, while others seek a dynamic redefinition of urbanity.
Thinking about responsive and contextual urban design and regeneration starts with places that we choose to call home, and for the majority of us, ‘home’ is the city. But as our metropolises continue to expand while new ones emerge, it is clear that not all are made equal.
Some cities just work, while others flounder and fail. So what are the necessary ingredients for building a city or an urban environment that adds value to the quality of life for its citizens and not just for the elite or those living in gated communities? How do we get those key urban balances right, like the need for safety along with the buzz of ‘a place – a culture’, or the desire for private space as well as public parks?
In this first issue, we do not propose that all urban environments are equal or need the polished efficiency of modern, wealthy megalopolis. Some of the places that respond in the right urban way are often held together by brown string and sticky tape, and yet still possess the quality-of-life and way of doing things that are seductive, responsive and effective.
Our journal is a global chronicle of the people, places and ideas that aim high, deliver innovation, challenge the conventions and force us all to reevaluate our own perceptions. The essays laid out ahead operate within the disciplines of the built environment, while furthering interdisciplinary understanding across five contrasting horizons.
LWK + PARTNERS’s design director, Kourosh Salehi, addresses very prescient challenges around global security, and how natural and man-made disasters have always shaped the planning of cities. Mohamed Adel Dessouki explores the lives of the world’s oldest planned, still inhabited street which continues to reflect the ongoing transformations of an ever-evolving city. While, one year on from the 2019 revolution in Sudan, Ola Diab explores how a country’s streets and buildings have been given a make-over, courtesy of Sudanese street artists.
In India, Nipun Prabhakar shares how a community in Gujarat responds to an emergency re-urbanisation plan following the disastrous 2001 earthquake. One particular case study takes us to Sardar Nagar, a rehousing settlement that threatened to become a slum of thousands.
Elsewhere, our editor engages in a conversation with Syrbanism, a community of urban practitioners and thinkers who want to contribute to development alternatives and be active in creating avenues where better urban solutions can be created, analysed, exhibited and popularised. Lastly, we discover Baghdad’s original urban design, which marked the beginning of the Abbasid Caliphate.
We hope our general optimistic take on the world, and in particular our urban environments, will find a following of readers looking for fresh glimpses and aspirations in both emerging and established markets. Because in a world where digital media is establishing new paradigms of communication and challenging perceptions of traditional communication, urbanism and architecture may indeed be able to carry continued value, conveying meaning through physical metaphor and embodying cultural understandings by creating places for all to cherish.
This article was originally published in the Red Envelope series, as part of the first journal themed ‘Urban Planning & Regeneration’. The Red Envelope journals are published by LWK + PARTNERS, and edited by Round City co-founder Rima Alsammarae. They aim to provide knowledge and insight on global urban design for readers interested in architecture, design, development and the built environment.