Monday, 28 January 2013

Jaywalking is an Urban education problem

In our modern conurbations, the interaction between pedestrians and motor vehicles on our roads, are inevitable. Unless a cost effective method can be devised whereby pedestrians do not have to ever cross any roads, then this interaction between pedestrian and motorist, is here to stay.

This means that pedestrians will forever be at the mercy of motorists, and perhaps vice versa. For this reason, the pedestrian crossing was invented. The problem is that, although many western and/or developed governments invest a lot of time and money into providing pedestrian crossings and educating pedestrians from a young age how to effectively use these pedestrian crossings, there are inversely as many, (if not more) developing countries where pedestrian crossing are either not provided, or pedestrians are simply not educated in how to effectively use them.

Jaywalking is an Urban education problem, that appears to be more prevalant in developing countries. It is a term generally used to descibe the illegal or reckless crossing of a road by a pedestrian, between road intersections and / or outside of provided safe pedestrian crossing zones, without yielding to cars.  In most developed countries, it is illegal to cross the road in front of moving vehicles, if there is a pedestrian crossing within 100m from the pedestrian and there are often signs strictly prohibiting this practice. It is also punishable with a fine, when caught by police. In Singapore for example, jaywalking is punishable with up to 3 months in prison.

Pedestrian crossings are provided as specific and designated safe crossing zones for pedestrians. It is a point on a road, where the pedestrian has the right of way over any vehicles. Once a pedestrian enters this crossing zone, all vehicles, including public transport such as buses, are obliged to yield to allow the pedestrian to cross at these designated pedestrian crossings. In developed countries, hitting a pedestrian with a car on a pedestrian crossing, has very serious consequences for the motorist.

It appears as if Switzerland holds the pedestrian’s rights in the highest regard. Motorists in Scandinavia, New Zealand and Germany also have some of the most consideration towards pedestrians.

On the contrary, in some developing countries such as South Africa, the pedestrian crossings provided, are more often than not completely ignored by pedestrians. It appears as if pedestrians here have absolutely no cognisance of the intention of these demarcated  crossing zones. In fact, crossing the road unsafely in between cars, at times a mere 5 or 10 metres away from a pedestrian crossing, seems to be the prevailing culture in South Africa. It is therefore no wonder that pedestrian fatalities in developing countries far exceed those of developed countries.

In the next video clip, this pedestrian would rather risk life and limb, by running accross the road in-between moving vehicles, than to walk another 10m to the nearest safe pedestrian crossing zone.

Jaywalking has the further effect of diminishing the pedestrian’s rights, in the event of being hit by a motorist, especially if there is a provision to cross the road within 5 metres from such an accident scene.

Jaywalking just simply is not worth the repercussions! Millions can be saved annually in hospitalisation and vehicle repair costs in developing (and developed) countries, if pedestrians would simply just use the crossings provided and if motorist would similarly respect these zones.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Bring back South Africa’s Trams

One of the biggest disservices that the South African Apartheid Regime committed, other than the obvious segregation of its peoples, was the termination of the tramway facilities in its cities. Would you believe that fossil fuel driven cars were cited as “the new way” and the preferred mode of inner city transportation by that government in the early 1960’s, leading to the final closure of the tramways on 02 August 1961.


If there is one sure instance in which Apartheid can be blamed for the current state of public transport, then it is definitely this very short sighted termination of its tramway system. A structured system of trams, have made way for an unstructured, chaotic minibus taxi scheme.

The present day Rea Vaya RBT system may be an attempt to resurrect the much needed inner city public transportation structure, but unfortunately, being Diesel powered, it is neither very sustainable, nor a clean mode of transportation.
 Tramways are used extensively and effectively as a quick, sustainable hop on-hop off mode of inner city transportation, across most of the world’s leading cities, of which Johannesburg is regarded as one, however without a Tramway. Trams are a convenient, sustainably powered, low cost and disabled person friendly means of inner city transportation. In addition, they can also at times be regarded as hassle free, cosy and somewhat romantic.

The following video clip, shot in Warsaw, Poland, in January 2013, illustrates how an underground Metro rail system should be effectively linked to a Tramway infrastructure at street level.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Sick Building Syndrome

SBS - Sick Building Syndrome

Buildings that make us sick

What exactly constitutes a building that makes humans physically ill? When we talk about buildings that make us sick, we assume that it is the entire building, with all its multiple components, that make us sick. This is in fact not true, nor possible, unless some radioactive or other hazardous materials such as asbestos, have been used in the construction of a specific building. No, it is in fact only certain crucial components within a building, which we aim to identify herein, which make us sick. SBS is merely a phraseology used to describe that certain components within a building, are not attuned with either human wellbeing nor comfort.


Before we can identify the types of building components which make us sick and why and how they make us sick, we need to embark on a short analysis of what actually causes  physical illnesses such as influenza, to the more chronic psychological illnesses such as depression.


It is now a well-documented and well researched medical fact that, it is not cold air pursé nor even the short term exposure to cold weather that causes illnesses such as influenza, but it is the increased exposure to the airborne viruses, which are more prevalent during winter and which incubates in air at specific air temperatures, usually in indoors areas where we as humans tend to congregate more during cold exterior weather conditions, which cause these types of illnesses.


There is a distinct difference between being in the cold and being cold. One can be in the cold, yet sufficiently clad and therefor not exposed. If it were true that we contract influenza from exposure to cold weather, then people working externally, such as construction and farm workers, or people living in Alaska or Siberia, would theoretically have been the most affected, but they are not. Ironically and statistically, office workers, whom work indoors, have a higher sick leave absence rate than people whom live and work outdoors.


Yes, exposure to cold and dry weather does have an effect on internal human organs such as, for example, the mucus membrane in the human nasal passages which does consequently have a slight effect on the human immune system, but in the usual short term exposure that we encounter in our modern lives, i.e. walking from your car in a parkade area to a building, or even walking the dog or walking to the shops, or walking from our homes to catch a train, bus, tram or ferry and even jogging for leisure for relatively short burst at a time, exposure to cold weather does in fact resist the incubation of viruses obtained from the air that surrounds us.


Be that as it may, irrespective of the biological or physiological causes of illnesses, the point is… it is not OUTDOORS where we contract illnesses such as influenza or other bacterial infections, but it is in fact INDOORS. Inside our buildings.


So, let’s cut to the chase. The two single most building components that in fact does make us psychologically and/or physically ill in the majority of instances, especially so during the winter months, can be narrowed down to poor or insufficient ventilation and insufficient provision of natural lighting. According to Li Y, Leung GM, Tang JW, Yang X, et al. in a paper entitled The Role of Ventilation in Airborne Transmission of Infectious Agents in the Built Environment, effective ventilation may also help keep bacteria, viruses and other pollutants out of the indoor air. Research now shows that air flow and ventilation can affect how diseases either spread or are inhibited from spreading indoors.


Let’s have a look at the first factor, Ventilation. HVAC is an acronym used to describe the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning in a building. It is the V for Ventilation in HVAC that we are interested in, but more specifically inadequate and/or poor ventilation, in other words the rate or frequency of extraction of stale or saturated air and the supply of fresh air cycles in one hour, also known as Air Changes per Hour (ACPH).


Hospitals, which are buildings where humans conventionally go to be healed, very often end up being buildings where humans die and ironically not due to their ailments, but due to complications encountered after surgery by unsterile environments, as a direct result of inadequacies of specifically required air changes per hour (ACPH), which inevitably and consequently provides a breeding ground for all kinds of lethal airborne viral infections and bacterii.


Apart from very stringent air filtration requirements, certain areas within a hospital such as the Operating Theatre Block, the ICU etc, requires up to 20 ACPH, of which 5 must be Fresh Air Changes. This ensures that the air is sufficiently clean of any airborne contaminants, which could cause humans to contract infections or other illnesses.


It is not being suggested here, that the ventilation in other building typologies, such as hotels and offices, should meet the same requirements as an Operating Room, as this would make most other building typologies simply unfeasible, as these specific HVAC provisions are quite costly, but that careful attention is given to adequate ventilation, as required for a specific building typology, during the design of the HVAC system.


Other than Hospitals and Offices, Hotels are probably one of the building typologies where humans are at highest risk of contracting viruses and illnesses such as colds and influenza. The problem with hotels in general, and once again more so during winter months, is that most hotels possess a very basic HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system. In fact and at best, in the majority of hotels in the world, it is only HAC (Heating and Air Conditioning). The H (Heating) of a hotel room is performed either by wall mounted radiators or by means of a single wall mounted split type AC Unit, but the V (Ventilation) is completely omitted or absent, other than manually openable window sections, which poses obvious practical problems during winter months. Ironically, it is the V in HVAC, that actually ensures human health.


Yes, the H and the AC in HVAC provides for required levels of human comfort, depending on the season, i.e. heating in winter and cooling in summer, but air in hotel rooms, especially during winter when airborne viruses are most prevalent, is not being changed frequently enough, if at all. Hotel rooms generally require a minimum of 2 ACPH at a flow rate of at least 7,5 l/s. What happens in reality is, that the same old saturated, stale air, full of various airborne viruses, is recycled and re-circulated hour after hour after hour within the same confined space. Stale air is not extracted and fresh air is not imported, resulting in virtually 0 ACPH at 0 l/s. Yes, a window could be opened for short bursts at a time, but due to privacy, energy efficiency and/or security reasons, the door into the hotel room cannot be left open and thus, without sufficient cross ventilation, there is simply not sufficient natural ACPH.


It is no wonder that occupants of hotel rooms, actually contract influenza during winter months. To make matters worse, is when an already sick person spends anything between 3 to 6 days in a hotel room, coughing, sneezing and increasing the concentration of airborne viruses into that unventilated, confined space and then vacates the room, only for that room to be re-occupied almost immediately by another healthy person. This is a sure recipe for disaster! The three hours between the required checking-out time of 11h00 and the new occupancy time of 14h00, is definitely insufficient to achieve the required air changes within that hotel room, considering that the room has to still be heated again to ensure the comfort of the next occupant. The healthy person is guaranteed to vacate the room feeling ill. In reality, all the doors and windows in this room should be left completely open for at least 24 hours, before being occupied again, but we all know that financially or from an energy efficiency perspective, this is not even a considerable option.


The solution is that the ventilation of the air within our buildings, MUST meet with requirements pertaining to frequency and rate of changes per hour. One solution for naturally ventilated buildings such as hotel rooms, i.e. not fitted with any means of mechanical ventilation, is that it must be designed with ventilation stacks as part of the services ducts between rooms. These ventilation stacks must be open at the top and must have either a passive or an active means of effecting air flow from the interior of the rooms to the top of the stack and must be controlled by means of dampers at the point of intake of fresh air, to ensure the required ACPH without compromising the loss of heat from the rooms.


Let’s now look at the second building component which is most often associated with causing illness of the occupants and that being the provision or lack of natural lighting.


The two building typologies where we as humans most probably spend the majority of our time, are in our homes and at the office. If we are fortunate enough to live in a free standing house, then generally the provision of natural lighting (or natural ventilation for that matter) does not appear to be a cause of illnesses. However, when we live in high rise apartment blocks or work in high rise offices, then the provision of natural lighting could become problematic and a cause for illness.


Once again, as with the case for ventilation above, we need to embark on a short analysis of the human physiological reaction to the deprivation of natural sun light. It is now also a well corroborated medical fact that sun light provides amongst others, Vitamin D, which is essential for us as humans to remain in good spirit and generally happy and healthy.


Conventionally, buildings in the Southern Hemisphere face North, in order to maximise natural lighting into the building. Inversely, buildings in the Northern Hemisphere face South, for the same reasons. However, practically, penetration of natural lighting is limited to the surface area of the sun facing façade of that building, with a limited depth of penetration, after which rooms on the rear side of the building, being the South side in the Southern Hemisphere and the North side in the Northern Hemisphere, received very little if any natural sunlight.


Yes, there are a number of artificial lighting solutions to mimic natural sun light inside buildings, but there is no solid substitute for good old fashioned, full spectrum, natural sun light. Natural sunlight is a source of Vitamin D and produces this very essential vitamin from the minute sun light touches the human skin. It is now a known fact that Vitamin D aids with many things, from improving the human psyche which leads to enhanced productivity, to faster recovery from other ailments, to less negativity, to the absorption of other minerals and vitamins. And huge quantities are not even required.


One way of overcoming the lack of natural lighting in the rear or secluded parts of high rise buildings, are to provide lighting stacks or atrii, which will channel natural sunlight into these remote areas in a building. It will also have the added benefit of reducing artificial lighting dependency and hence a reduction in lighting based electricity consumption.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Suburban Sprawl and other devistating results of the infamous Single Use Zoning Model

Suburban sprawl appears to be more prevalent in developing countries, such as is currently occurring in the major SADeC conurbations, due to increased and rapid urbanization by individuals, for possible improved financial rewards.

Suburban sprawl, an unfortunate result of environmentally unsympathetic town planning principals, is one of the biggest contributors towards mankind’s carbon footprint today, and even more so in developing countries, for various reasons. Suburban living, contrary to urban living, relies on a number of negatively impacting characteristics.

The infamous Single Use Zoning - The Cancer of our modern Conurbations

One of the primary negative causes of suburban sprawl and its subsequent impact on the environment and most probably the cause for all the subsequent negative implications, is the Single Use Zoning.

Single Use Zoning causes a segregation between land uses, effectively dividing residential suburbs from commercial and other use zones, usually by means of large tracks of land, and in the majority of cases, without any provisions of a public transit system such as trams and it has very limited, if any, provisions for pedestrians or cyclists.

As a result of this, residents’ places of work, places of recreation and places of worship or education, to mention but a few, are segregated from one another and in view of the absence of a properly integrated public transit system such as trams or pedestrian friendly facilities, the car becomes the only viable option to perform the most basic of functions, such as shopping or commuting to and from work or school.

The most effective substitute for the sprawl caused by the Single Use Suburban Zone model, is the Transit Oriented Mixed Use Urban Zone Model, incorporating a healthy mix of uses within one neighbourhood or building, linked by means of an effective public transit system.

Unfortunately, the Single Use Zoning model, although largely promotive of sprawl, is still the most feasible model available to property developers today, as it affects their profit margins the least.

But in the words of Christopher B Leinberger:

“Good urban architecture costs upward of 50 percent more than typical suburban buildings. In urban areas, residents and businesses demand a higher quality of building, since you are walking past them, not driving by at 45 miles an hour with the buildings set back 150 feet”

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Floatable City

We have already determined that the earth's sea levels are presently rising and have been rising since the advent of the earth's current Interglacial (warming) phase known as the Holocene Epoch, which commenced around 15,000 ybp and that sea levels will continue to rise as the earth warms up and its ice sheets contract, during this naturally induced warming phase (read our previous blog on "Global Warming is inevitable":

According to an estimate by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), sea levels may rise up to 59cm during the 21st century. A 1m rise has not been ruled out.
This means that two facts remain to be dealt with. One, that buildings in low level or coastal conurbations will be ever increasingly exposed to flooding in the near future and, two, that the long term rise and fall of the sea's levels during the earth's Glacial and Interglacial cycles, is estimated at an average range of between 4 to 6m.
Now, as previously mentioned, the last time the earth's sea levels rose by 6m, during the peak of the Eemian Interglacial approximately 125,000 ybp, our human conurbations in coastal regions, were not yet existent. So, as a species, we have never faced such a threat before.

Given the above impending intermittent flooding and long term rise in sea levels of potentially up to 6m above the current level, conceivably over the next few thousand years, we, as architects, have three primary options. One option, and possibly the most extreme option, is to advise our clients against developing in coastal or low lying regions which could be affected by a 6m rise in sea levels, but due to present day settlement already located within these zones, this is not entirely practical nor feasible. A second option is to design buildings sufficiently elevated on fixed plinths to accommodate the inevitable rise in sea levels, should our clients still insist on developing within these risk zones.

The third option would be that we, as architects, start creating floatable buildings and cities, as opposed to floodable building and cities, within these low lying and/or coastal regions, with plinths that provide buoyancy and sufficient vertical movement range, to initially be able to absorb any potential flash flooding by rising with the water levels, and to eventually be able to accommodate a 6m rise in sea levels.

The floating city and floating buildings are already a viable concept in many parts of the world, especially in extreme low lying countries such as Holland. But the concept of floatable cities or buildings, should not be confused with floating cities or buildings. There is a fundamental difference between cities and building constructed to become buoyant in the event of catastrophe, and floating cities or buildings, which are purposefully constructed at sea or on lakes for that purpose exclusively, such as for example the Lake Huron Floating House .

What we are talking about here, are buildings constructed with plinths similar to a ship's hull, capable of becoming buoyant during a flood, yet still anchored to the earth by means of fixed mechanical foundations. These buildings would be analogous of ships sitting in a dry dock, awaiting the rising waters.

If one considers the enormity of ocean liners that exist today, such as The Allure of the Seas and The Oasis of the Seas, which could both be regarded as floating buildings, then constructing our future floatable building on dry ground similar to these principals, are not all that far-fetched. The only difference will be that a floatable building won't be going anywhere except up or down as required in the event of a catastrophical rising of water levels.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Formation of South African Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism

South African built environment professionals interested in joining the formation of the South African Interest Group and/or Chapter of The CNU (Congress for the New Urbanism) please contact Manus Heunis on

Very briefly, the CNU is head quartered in Chicago, Illinois in the USA, and an organisation which enjoys worldwide support for its efforts in and guidance on promoting more sustainable urban environments by means of, amongst many others, more environmentally sympathetic town planning principals, reduction of urban sprawl by means of mixed use developments and creating transit oriented and pedestrian friendly cities and neighbourhoods, all of which ultimately lead to a reduced urban carbon foot print.

For more info on what the CNU is all about, click on the link provided below

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

MAGIC? Watch the disappearing sidewalk!


In South Africa, public sidewalks which are usually provided as part of Single Use Zoned suburbs, almost always become overgrown extensions of suburban property owners' private gardens. Subsequently, pedestrians are most often forced to literally walk  in the streets and in so doing, have to compete with motor vehicles, causing a substantial risk to them and an increase in pedestrian accidents and fatalities.

The root of this practise of treating suburban public sidewalks as extensions of private gardens, stem from an unfortunate culture of public ignorance regarding the actual purpose of the suburban public sidewalk, which has been carried over from generation to generation.


Suburban public sidewalks are provided for a reason. They are not meant to become overgrown obstacle courses, in the form of extensions of private gardens, further restricting the already inadequate provisions of pedestrian facilities within the suburb. The private garden should end at the property boundary. The sidewalk is public space!! It does not belong to the property owner! And if vegetation should form part of this public space, then it should be by means of properly integrated landscaping, which will enhance the overall street scape and the public's use of the sidewalk and permit it to be used for what it was intended... pedestrians and cyclists. The suburban public sidewalk in the video clip below, almost gets it right...

The sidewalk below on the left, is approximately 6m wide and a complete waste of usable public space. It can quite comfortably accommodate cars parked off the street either at 45 degrees or parallel, plus a cycle lane and a pedestrian walkway and landscaping. It should look a lot more like the sidewalk on the right, which is a good example of a well-integrated sidewalk., allowing for parking off the street, a cycling lane and pedestrians.

Ironically, suburban private property owners go to extremes to "beautify" these extensions of their private gardens on public property, often spending a fortune on items such as irrigation, actually believing that they are making a positive contribution to their suburb. Can there be a more senseless thing to do, wasting large amounts of one of South Africa's most sparse resources, water, on such a pointless practise.


The sad reality is, that it is not only private suburban property owners whom do not comprehend the actual purpose of the public sidewalk, but very often the local municipalities as well and very often they themselves defeat the whole purpose of providing a sidewalk, by the absolutely dumbfounded act of placing signage poles, trees, barriers etc right in the middle of the walking surfaces of sidewalks. Could these signs not have been placed adjacent the walking surface with an arched overhead support? The two photos above left and right, are of the same location, but taken at different times of the day. The protruding bolts on the inside of the barrier, projecting right into the walking surface of the sidewalk, could cause some serious injuries, not to mention the signage post, slap bang in the middle of the walking surface of the "sidewalk", especially given that the pedestrian / cyclist is effectively forced to squeeze in between the post and the barrier!? And to make matters worse, a landscaping company, thinking that it is enhancing the suburb, has now placed fragmented rock and a thorny shrub to the left of the post, making it impossible for a cyclist and very difficult for a jogger to negotiate down this strech of sidewalk, especially when blinded by the headlights from oncoming traffic early on a winter's morning and not being familiar with the area. Landscaping, unless well integrated with the sidewalk, should stay off the sidewalk!!

The practice of walking in the streets, as opposed to on the sidewalk, has now become so ingrained into the South African culture that, even when the odd walkable sidewalk is provided, pedestrians still walk in the streets. Thus, after years of being denied access to sidewalks, the average South African pedestrian now no longer recognises the purpose of a sidewalk, when it presents itself.

Below are more examples of mindless suburban planning, or the complete absence of planning. Should you have more evidence of the disappearing sidewalk in your suburb, please forward them to us.