Whoever Rules the Sewers Rules the City

UCLA’s cityLAB has launched a new design competition called (somewhat lamely) WPA 2.0, where the WPA refers to the Works Progress Administration. But the competition itself looks cool.
Its tagline? Whoever Rules the Sewers Rules the City.
It’s a call for new visions of urban infrastructure:

We encourage projects that explore the value of infrastructure not only as an engineering endeavor, but as a robust design opportunity to strengthen communities and revitalize cities. Unlike the previous era, the next generation of such projects will require surgical integration into the existing urban fabric, and will work by intentionally linking systems of points, lines and landscapes; hybridizing economies with ecologies; and overlapping architecture with planning.

Sounds good in the abstract, but what are they specifically looking for? Quite a range:

This notion of infrastructural systems is intentionally broad, including but not limited to parks, schools, open space, vehicle storage, sewers, roads, transportation, storm water, waste, food systems, recreation, local economies, “green” infrastructure, fire prevention, markets, landfills, energy-generating facilities, cemeteries, and smart utilities.

Judges include Stan Allen, Cecil Balmond, Elizabeth Diller, Walter Hood, Thom Mayne, and Marilyn Jordan Taylor – two of whom (Allen and Diller) I’m proud to say that I’ve served I’ve been on design juries with in the past.
Here’s the competition brief as a downloadable PDF. Read more at the competition website – and good luck!

4 thoughts on “Whoever Rules the Sewers Rules the City”

  1. Actually, this will only work in the stirated spaces of the West. In the 'outside', however, whoever destroys streets (and exposes the sewers) will own the city – actually, they already do…Rio, Bombay and I suspect a host of other places do exist. No wonder, progress or, more precisely, 'being civilized' is to be more western! To have wide boulevards, a rational and ordered sewer system, organizing housing in blocks is a common refrain in India – after all, India is hurtling down the path of Westernization . BTW, a fascinating case-study exists for someone to do the street battles of Stalingrad during the Second World War…maybe if I can summon up enough energy someday…!


  2. The prizes being awarded for this competition (both the student and the professional version) are incredibly low, to the epoint of being exploitative.
    The organisers are bound to receive an abundance of innovative ideas for a very small price.
    I believe that competitions like these devalue the efforts and time of architects across the globe. A practice which must be halted.

  3. BTW, my post above is just an observation on the Title of the blog post "Whoever rules the sewers rules the city" and not about the competition…or maybe it does!!!!

  4. Isaac Asmimov's "Strikebreaker," where a single sewer worker stops a city, and no-one is willing to replace him.

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