Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Urban Design

Like everything else, architecture happens within a context. It can obviously vary a lot, but in general three or four basic contexts contain probably 99% of the earth's buildings. Urban. Suburban. Rural. Coastal, which is a particular case of any of the other three, but with enough distinct issues that it's logical to make it a fourth context.

Most people live in cities. The practical and quality-of-life problems and potentials of urban contexts make for an absorbing aspect of architecture. Although anything is fair game for discourse in a web log, the focus of this one, where cites are concerned, is primarily quality of life. That is, the public spaces between (and sometimes within) buildings and the way people live - the interaction between people and those buildings and spaces.

Urban design.

In Louis Kahn's served/service model, services are transportation, food, retail, storage and utilities. Offices, schools, parks and dwellings are the main 'served' places. Less fundamental places can be 'served,' like a passenger terminal for trains and planes, while being part of transportation, which is a 'serving' function in a broader sense. "Food" also has its served and service functions, with the acquisition, preparation and delivery being "service," and consumption being "served." (I don't want to make a huge issue of the served/service distinction, but it's always a useful way to put something in a context.)

Naturally, those who design for urban quality of life make a practice of studying, and simply noticing, all kinds of things that affect the quality of the way we live in a particular place. I think a lot can be learned by just noticing the way people move about between places. Besides real-life observation and academic/professional study, the basics of ones day can even be observed as it's played out in the course of a few minutes in a movie, with factors that support or diminish quality of life on display in each bit of the characters' day. Any particular thing that adds to ones grasp of this rather broad and challenging discipline of urban design can be considered a useful part of the tools one brings to its tasks.

Besides urban designers, anyone can expand their understanding and appreciation for the urban world around them by gaining a walking-around knowledge of the subject of urban design. The wiki link for urban design has an excellent overview of the subject. In particular, I think these books offer a concise and informative look at not just the "words," but also the "music" of the subject:

UC, Berkeley has a wonderful web page with one of the most remarkable drawings I've seen, Giambattista Nolli's Map of Rome. Each section of the map is clickable, and it's the only presentation of this map I've found that doesn't try to make money from it.

A remarkable thing about this map of Rome is the way it differentiates between public and private space - treating the publicly accessible space within buildings in the same way as the public space between buildings.

Here is a small section. Click to zoom:

1 comment:

  1. Rusty, I tried to post to tell you how fabulous this is and inspiring to me, but your blog did not like my url which has been the same for over 15 years and you have it anyway.Keep this up!Martha I'm choosing annonymous but you know that's not so.