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Newsmaker: Winka Dubbeldam

By Laura Raskin
September 16, 2013
Photo courtesy Architecture Forum Aedes
An exhibition this summer at Berlin's Aedes showcased the research and planning scenarios that grew out of MyIdealCity.com.

The start of the school year marks Winka Dubbeldam’s first fall semester as chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. But the principal of New York firm Archi-tectonics has hardly been on summer vacation. She has been traveling the globe to discuss MyIdealCity.com, a crowd-sourced, bottom-up urban planning project for downtown Bogotá, Colombia, that she and her office helped develop. (“I love working there. I might be a closet Latin American,” says the Dutch-born architect.) The project is propelled by an English-Spanish website on which more than 3,000 urban planning and lifestyle questions have been asked since it launched this spring. Dubbeldam and her team are drawing trends from the answers and feeding the information into an ongoing set of proposals for the city. The project and research was the subject of an exhibition at Architecture Forum Aedes in Berlin this summer. Record spoke to Dubbeldam about My Ideal City’s innovations.

Photo © Bret Hartman
Dubbeldam presenting My Ideal City at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh in June.
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How did you get involved?

Rodrigo Nino [president of real estate marketing company Prodigy Network and the creator of My Ideal City] asked the most perfect question I ever got from a client, which was: “Would you like to be the lead architect for a bottom-up proposal for downtown Bogotá? Put a team together, organize exhibits and academic events and TED talks, and run the whole thing.” For me it really combined what I’ve been doing academically for years and what I’ve been doing in my practice. I was more than thrilled. I put a team together with urbanist Gary Hack [former dean of Penn’s School of Design] and James Corner.

How is it different from top-down planning?

A top-down plan typically comes from city planning and the mayor. A bottom-up plan looks not only at the integration of people, but also the intrinsic qualities in downtown Bogotá, the economy, politics. And it’s much more geared to putting acupuncture-like effects in the site and then instigating spin-off effects. And there’s no government involved.

How did this project come about?

Over 3,200 people invested in a project called BD Bacatá. It’s the first skyscraper in years in downtown Bogotá. They raised over $200 million. But there is essentially no one living in downtown Bogotá, and there is a growing middle class and urbanization. But a whopping 1.7 million commute daily to downtown. One million of those commuters are students coming to over 33 universities there. We started thinking about micro and student housing, as well as how to instigate creation of supermarkets, laundries, Internet cafés, post offices. This would reduce traffic and pollution. One of our initiatives is working with local artists to create a new arts district.

Is the city government involved?

No. They are doing things, though. They just launched a plan by OMA for their government buildings. It’s very top-down [laughs]. I really love Rem so if anyone can do that, he can. But it was hilarious. Talk about top-down!

The $200 million was raised for BD Bacatá?

Yes, and essentially they raised too much. And they realized that just plopping a tower into the downtown wasn’t the way to go. You need to talk to the people, get them behind it, to get the whole area going. So I thought it was extremely enlightened for my clients to understand and focus on that.

Did the excess money raised go into funding MyIdealCity?

Yes, to give back the investment to the people and to downtown. We hope that it informs the next step.

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