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  • Cristian Toc

Sustainable Community Design: Insights from Cross Works' founder, Hakan Agca

Our founder, Hakan, recently came to Gaziantep, Turkey, as part of an effort to provide expertise and assistance to re-house people who lost their homes in the earthquakes. With the growth of urban populations predicted to continue, the firm believes that sustainable, data-driven design proposals will provide the basis on which communities can thrive. Read below the interview Hakan offered to Ekonomim.

1. Can we get to know you?

I’m the founder of Cross Works, a cross-disciplinary design firm based in London, working on architecture, urban design and city planning projects globally. We’re currently actively working in the Middle East, Africa and Central & South Asia, on projects varying in scale from mixed-use buildings, through to plans for new cities and regions. Our main focus is to deliver data-driven design proposals, intended to solve the

specific challenges of a project, and provide the basis on which sustainable communities can thrive.

2. You were invited to Turkey by GYODER, and came to Gaziantep voluntarily. A very valuable move. What kind of support do you aim to provide ?

I was invited by the GYODER organisation, as part of a joint effort with the government and other stakeholders to provide expertise and assistance in efforts to immediately move to action, on the re-housing of people who are currently homeless or living in temporary housing following the tragic earthquakes. We are providing skills and knowledge in the realm of urban design and city planning, to ensure that the proposed new housing sites are developed with solid urban design principles, both to ensure efficient implementation, and to ensure the creation of active, vibrant and safe communities in the future.

3. It is predicted that by 2050, two out of every three people in the world will live in urban areas. According to the latest IPCC report, about 90 percent of urban expansion is taking place in developing countries, most in informal and unplanned settlements near vulnerable areas. In other words, as cities grow, their exposure to climate and disaster risk increases. A new perspective is needed. What do you think should be the priorities of the new urban agenda?

From generation to generation there are new concepts and approaches put forward, that are deemed to answer the specific challenges of the day. From garden cities to compact cities and beyond, the solutions are based often around a few key matters; development density, development distribution, and interaction with open space. These approaches look at different ways of answering questions around the ‘triple-bottom line’ of social, economic and environmental sustainability, with some of the approaches focused more heavily on one over another.

In more complex situations as this, where there are multiple constraints, such as the social need to rapidly house those who’ve lost their homes, the inherently hazardous natural environment, and indeed, the economics associated with the re-housing of a substantial population at an unprecedented speed, there is no silver bullet answer; we must approach the design of these places with a wide ranging commitment to answering all of the above, and prioritising what is best for those worst affected in a way that is as future-proofed as possible.

In order to do this, we have 3 key pillars to the design proposals:

1. Creation of dense compact neighbourhoods made up of a mix of building typologies, where sustainable communities can this grow.

2. Creating masterplans that are made up of multiple smaller neighbourhoods, each with a community centre, made up of education, healthcare, commerce and in some cases some cultural uses. This walkability ensures a lesser reliance on private vehicles, and an opportunity for social cohesion.

3. The use of the latest technology, to provide contextually appropriate proposals that are well-suited to the specific conditions of any given place; from aligning with topography and hydrology, to the protection of valuable green spaces, to the consideration of solar ingress, a variety of considerations will help to guide the design.

4. What can be done to raise awareness of sustainable urbanisation

In situations like this, it’s important to bring together the most experienced minds from all spheres; from public and private, as well as academics and any other relevant or interested stakeholders. Collaboration is essential, and we have great minds in Turkey who are well equipped to solve the country’s problems when we work together towards a common goal. Furthermore, bringing in the perspective of our international peers can only be beneficial to such a process, and this is something we’re looking into. The creation of a design review process, involving all of these great thinkers of contemporary urban design and planning, will ensure a cross-pollination of ideas, improving the final result.

It’s also relevant to note that urban design is a relatively new discipline in Turkey; it has been a discipline in it’s own right in the UK, Europe and elsewhere for many decades, but has only recently distinguished itself from architecture and building design in our country. Developing a widespread curriculum for this in Higher Education (university), encouraging more built environment professionals to focus on it as a specialism in practice, opening more roles for experienced urban designers in local authorities, and where possible, encouraging the younger generation of designers to travel, study and work abroad for a period of time to experience different approaches to this crucial discipline, will all help in pushing it forward in Turkey. It is a broad subject that requires an interest and passion across multiple disciplines, from architecture and engineering, to planning and mobility, to sociology and economics, and a wider remit of understanding often leads to more considered and future-proofed urban design approaches.

5. Architecture is redefined by the concepts such as sustainability, usage of durable materials, technological advancements. What kind of change do you observe in your occupation?

As with civilisation generally, industries improve from one year to the next; it’s in our nature to move forward. However, it’s also in our nature to move two steps forward, and one step back; it’s what makes us unique as a species. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes, and sometimes we don’t; hence, the one step back. City planning and large scale urban design is perhaps one of the most poignant examples of this characteristic, with the 20th century being of particular note.

Today, urban design and city planning is fascinating; it sees the culmination of vast advances in technology and communication (think working from home culture and social media), it sees vast changes in our thoughts and habits around transportation (think uber and the increase in cycling), it sees huge changes in the young generation’s renewed interest and consciousness around physical and mental health and well-being (think access to health facilities and green space); and also sees a change in the make-up of a household (meaning more diversity needed in our building typologies); as such we need to design our cities in a way that caters for the changing demands and requirements of society, whilst meeting the needs of today.

6. Which cities are the most successful when it comes to sustainability and resilience?

There are examples of resilient and sustainable cities in all corners of the world, and these are measured and ranked annually across a variety of established benchmarking institutions which can be found online. These benchmarks are based on varied but consistently systematic scoring that takes on board a variety of factors (quite detailed in the case of some benchmarks) which stand to measure the quality of the city across the plethora of parameters that exist under the umbrella of the triple bottom line. Such a data-

driven analysis of cities and their performance is also a good method to ensure the upkeep and maintenance of the standards in a city and on accountability if and when some of those measures begin to decline.

There is also a more empirical answer to this question, which is to say that every city has a spirit, and the measure of that spirit is often in the comfort, security and beauty that inhabitants and visitors experience. Often cities that score highly in the benchmarks, coincidentally score highly in people’s perception of the great cities to live in and visit across the world; it goes without saying that these include London, Tokyo, New York, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Brussels and so on. My personal favourite has always been Istanbul.

7. It is very important that urban planning is focused on people and the environment. What are the main deficiencies you see in Turkey? What should be the priorities in the rebuilding of cities destroyed after the earthquake?

Nature and green space are crucial components for a healthy city made up of healthy citizens. The World Health Organisation has set a standard requirement of 9sqm of green space per person across a city, so we would expect to hit this figure as a bare minimum and generally speaking exceed it. The distribution of green space is also crucial; ensuring that each person has easy access to green space so that they can maintain a routine that incorporates it into their day to day lives. It has been proven scientifically, that

access to green space helps people in terms of mental and physical health. Green space of course, also has a huge part to play in emergency evacuation, if there should ever be an extreme earthquake event in the future.

From a conservation perspective it’s also crucial to our environment to maintain green corridors for fauna and flora, to respect or valleys and hydrology, and indeed, to respect our natural and manmade heritage in all our masterplanning exercises. This ensures resilience and future-proofing, which is the primary objective of all good city design and planning; it is always better to work with nature, than against it; use it’s power and beauty for our good, than give it the opportunity to harm. Please click the link to read the article from the main source.

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