"New Urbanism"

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by adrianblaine, Dec 10, 2006.

  1. adrianblaine macrumors 65816

    adrianblaine

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    #1
    I'm finishing my masters in Architecture and my school focuses a lot on "New Urbanism." When I talk to a lot of people I realize just how much of a Bubble I live in because we talk about it all the time at school (in fact we just designed a town in Mississippi for my Urban Design Studio) and not many people out of my circle of friends really know what it is.

    There are a few Threads here on MacRumors that mention it a little bit, but I am specifically pursuing a discussion on New Urbanism.
    I was wondering how many people in the MacRumors community know about it? Do you like it? hate it? don't really care?

    I have a few reservations about the whole thing, but in general I think it is a step in the right direction. I don't want to go too much into it right now if there is no interest, but if anyone wants to talk about it, I am most willing.
     
  2. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #2
    New Urbanism became the buzzword of the '90s in architecture and planning circles. I have very mixed feelings about it, now as then. On the one hand, I see it as a victory for those of us who were promoting the virtues of traditional urbanism back in the days when demolishing fine old urban places to build a variety of faceless corporate monstrosities was the norm. On the other, I think the New Urbanists have hugely oversold the concept by orders of magnitude. I think they have collectively proven themselves to be far better at diagnosing the disease than curing it, and at the same time, spun off acres of cliched and shallow architecture, that is somehow supposed to be virtuous (and transform its inhabitants into better people, no less), because the designer subscribes to the New Urbanist doctrine.

    But this is the fundamental problem with architecture and architects throughout recent history, IMO. I have always asked why it is architects, no matter how good they may be at designing buildings, so often mistake themselves for insightful sociologists. Never have had an answer to that question! The irony is, the Modernists (against whom the New Urbanists are theoretically rebelling) believed the very same thing about themselves 50 and more years ago -- and look at the mess they made of our cities.

    New Urbanism is a mixed bag, to be sure. I had great hopes when the movement began, but I began to lose that hope when I started hearing some of the movement's principal proponents mouthing what sounded to me like so many empty platitudes.
     
  3. adrianblaine thread starter macrumors 65816

    adrianblaine

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    #3
    This is also where a lot of my fears lie with New Urbanism. It feels very commercialized at the moment and a lot of it is being done half baked. I do believe that design influences behavior though. By creating sprawl, we as a society behave differently and have different priorities than before sitting in traffic for 2 hours to go to work.

    My teacher grew up in Germany and he views New Urbanism as a necessary evil for the US. Before New Urbanism we were left without a choice in what or how to build. Offering at least one new choice is a great step forward. My biggest concern is that New Urbanists don't focus enough re-building our old urbanism first. I feel like we are now creating a bunch of new urban sprawl.

    Lol, that does happen. I know studying Vitruvius pushes architecture students to think of themselves as more than "just" an architect, but a person that possesses knowledge of lots of different things. However, it doesn't mean they know enough to be doing the things that they do. I think my school believes that Architects and Urban Designers should strive to know how people behave in designed places. We are required to go to Europe for a month and study Architecture and Urbanism. I know I learned more on that trip about how the urban environment affects people more than I could have by looking at New Urbanist projects.
     
  4. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #4
    Germany, the birthplace of modernism? I'll bet you don't get to mention that to him!

    Some of the first New Urbanist projects I saw were little more than suburban tracts homes in a new dress. Sure, the streets were a little narrower, and the homes were closer to the street, and of course they all had their symbolic little front porches. But otherwise, it was just a bunch of post-war style single family homes built on the urban fringe. Yawn!

    I recall watching a taped lecture by Andre Duany many years ago. I had great expectations. The Godfather of New Urbanism! Apart from his trademark "I have found it!" rhetoric, his bankable ideas were few and far between. Sure, 60-foot residential streets are nuts. I knew that. Then he shows us a slide of Georgetown, or someplace like it. This is his model of The Way it Ought to Be. "How is that relevant to California, where I live?," I ask myself. Besides, how do architects create organic urban places like Georgetown? They keep their mitts off it, to be perfectly honest.

    It gets worse in the 20th century, particularly after FLW. Then every architect wanted to think of himself as the total designer -- "I design the building, you must learn to live in it," was the message. I'm not convinced that the New Urbanists are much better. They still think they know what people need.

    Incidentally, I spent my freshman year of college at the Illinois Institute of Technology, in the architecture program. The House the Mies Built. This was the early '70s. I was really only a kid but somehow within that year, I managed to figure out that they were teaching architectural insanity. I might well have become an architect, had it not been for that experience, which left me confused about what architecture was supposed to mean, and how architects were to relate to the real world.

    Yes, Europe is an essential place for prospective architects to visit, keeping mind that Europe has made many of the same mistake as we have in the U.S. In fact, they invented a few of them!
     
  5. adrianblaine thread starter macrumors 65816

    adrianblaine

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    #5
    Lol, yeah, he admits at one point he wanted to grow up designing skyscrapers but had a huge change of heart after coming to the US and started to miss his ancient home town...

    Andreas Duany came to our school and gave a lecture two years ago and it was both enlightening and disturbing at the same time. He has had to commercialize his idea so much (for people to buy into it) it isn't very recognizable anymore as the great idea it started out to be.

    I agree with you on places like Georgetown. The great urban places we love today took hundreds of years to develop into what they are. We have become so impatient we want results like that over night when it just doesn't seem to be possible. We talk a lot specifically about this problem.

    I do believe that urban places need good designers, but the architecture profession has lost the ability to make the great urban buildings to finish off the great urban place.

    I go to school in SW Michigan and we visit Chicago regularly. We spent a whole day at IIT and I grew to really dislike Mies after that trip. I don't know if you would be happy to know, but we are taught architecture in a very different way. Although it is still flawed I love how we are taught. It is hard to describe in words exactly, but I have some of my work posted online.

    http://www.rachelandmichael.us/Site/Architecture.html

    As with probably everyone, I would go back and do things differently if I had the chance. My stuff tended to be very traditional/classical. The cool part about our program is we are taught to design while thinking of construction, and not designing something they will have to figure out later how to build.

    I have one more building left to design before I graduate and we are required to do a "thesis" while designing it. I have chosen to study Christopher Alexander and his Pattern Language as I design this building. Do you have a view on his philosophy of urbanism? I know his stuff is way out there sometimes and can get a little wacky, but part of me really likes what he has to say. I know he had some criticism as a keynote speaker at the last Congress for the New Urbanism that New Urbanists were designing places, but not great places. I believe his idea of a "quality without a name", but at the same time it is incredibly hard to grasp and have that in my own projects...
     
  6. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #6
    I could tell you some IIT stories. Suffice to say, Mies designed some great art, but terrible buildings. At IIT, even in the early '70s, they were teaching Bauhaus dogmatically, as though it was still relevant. The first energy crisis hit the year I was there. Something clicked in my mind, and if I'd been sophisticated enough at the time to figure out just what it was, I might have stayed with architecture. I ended up in historic preservation via urban planning, but I could have gone to technical preservation via architecture -- but almost nobody was doing that at the time.

    I am only slightly familiar with Alexander, so no help there I'm afraid. I was raised on Kevin Lynch and Lewis Mumford, stuff like that. The old dead urbanists.

    One skill I think has been lost to architects is doing good historical revivalism. Whether you're a fan of historicism or not, it's clear to me that the last couple of generations of architects has had historical architectural styles so completely washed from their brains that they can't do a credible neo-whatever to save their careers. Just look back to buildings as recent as the 1920s to see the difference.

    Speaking of whacky, have you ever encountered "How Buildings Learn" by Stewart Brand? He's really out there, but he does make some interesting points.
     
  7. iSaint macrumors 603

    iSaint

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    South Mississippi y'all, near the water!
    #7
    Was the city design for a coastal town in Mississippi? I know there's a lot of talk as to what to do with what's left of our coast after Katrina. I've seen many wonderful ideas from students such as yourself. I think it would be really cool to be a part of something like that, if and when it gets used.
     
  8. adrianblaine thread starter macrumors 65816

    adrianblaine

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    #8
    I've heard of "How Buildings Learn" but do not know much about it. It sounds like a good read.

    Architectural styles are an interesting topic as well. I've argued with some of my classmates about what "style" of architecture makes good urbanism. Some think as long as the urban design is good, it doesn't matter what style of architecture makes it up. I don't find that to be the case. Some great urban streets in Chicago feel dead because of the architecture surrounding it. Going to back to Meis and his federal building complex in Chicago. Cool urban square destroyed by the heartless modern architecture...

    I personally love traditional American architecture. It is very distinct in that you can see the European influence but it is very different at the same time. I don't understand modernists drive to throw it out. I understand the desire to not do something for just for the sake of tradition, but throwing it out to go completely in the other direction doesn't work for me either.

    We actually were able to tackle a different problem. Since the coast was (severely) damaged, New Urbanists from all over flocked to the coast to help but left those inland without direction. Because many people are now moving away from the coast the need to help prepare for that growth inland is lacking. We did a design for the community of Saucier, located about half an hour north of Gulfport MS. We are currently finishing our final document to submit to the county. I'm not quite sure how to share the information over the web... It is a 120 page book basically... It is a different community than I am used to in that it encompases roughly 120+ square miles and has around 10,000 people. They are predicting the population to double in the next 10 years and the people living there did not want "sprawl" to come in and take over. They love their rural lifestyle and sprawl would have destroyed a lot of it. One of the things I love about urbanism in general (whether it be "new" or not) is that preserves the rural landscape while at the same time creating a beautiful urban landscape (depending on its design of course).
     
  9. xsedrinam macrumors 601

    xsedrinam

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    #9
    Interesting topic, forgive the slightly ot, but it reminded me of Mactastic who has been absent for a while. Anyone knows if he's okay or has heard from him? I IM'd him, but no response so far.
     
  10. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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  11. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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  12. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #12
    I wonder what architects think about Brand's book. It's a little frustrating to read -- Brand relies way too heavily on quoting his friends (who aren't architects either) in an often besides-the-point way, but he does give us one or two good take-aways. The first is that buildings that are overly designed to serve a specific purpose seem to fail more often, not only for the intended purpose, but also when they have to be adapted for others uses later on. More "generic" spaces work better, is the message. I think he's right.

    The second, is that architects make poor assumptions about the need for buildings to adapt to changing technology. For instance, he asks why we still insist on running electrical and mechanic systems through stud walls and otherwise inaccessible areas. Good question! From the moment I read his book, I decided that if I ever designed a home for myself, it would at the very least have accessible raceways for electrical systems and other wires.

    I think architecture has yet to entirely recover from modernism, which is why we still find it so difficult to talk about styles. Modernism was supposed to transcend, and in a way eliminate, architectural style. This was a pretentious and silly theory of course, but the profession pretty much bought into it whole-heartedly for 50 years or more.

    I don't think any given style makes good urbanism. I think context is the key. Modernism tried to do away with context. If you already like traditional American architecture, then I think you're on the right road.
     
  13. IJ Reilly macrumors P6

    IJ Reilly

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    #13
    More than once today, I see. :)

    So was I actually. And if the OP is wondering why in the context of this thread, it's because he's an architect.
     
  14. adrianblaine thread starter macrumors 65816

    adrianblaine

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    #14
    I was kind of wondering about that.

    I remember a lot of my architectural theory class spent discussing modernists eliminating style. Of course it ended up creating a style of its own. Kind of doesn't make sense! I guess right now I'm just frustrated being at the end of my education and needing to make some big decisions about where I am going to employ myself. I feel that New Urbanists need some help and that I have something to offer (Having been trained to think of urbanism from the age of 20...) but at the same time I look at the buildings being built today and wish I could help there too. Like you mentioned earlier ...

    My background building studio was exactly on this topic. We were required to design 3 buildings that could be easily adapted for different uses all on one block. My street elevation ended up looking like this. It was in that studio I wanted to switch back to architecture rather than urban design... (I think my love for traditional american architecture really shows through in this drawing)

    I'm starting to think I need to read even more on just urbanism in general. Any feelings/views on Jane Jacobs?

    [​IMG]
     

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