Archives for the month of: October, 2010

Quick update on the most recent projects, related to the group projects done with two classmates: at threemagnets.wordpress.com, and agiatas.wordpress.com/.

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Just a quick update of some of the designs I’ve been working on over the past 2 weeks- we’ve been playing with Photoshop in the design course lately, and while I still feel like I barely understand the program, I know infinitely more than I did a few weeks ago.

(to see closer images, click on one, then use the orange arrows to browse; once there, you can click on the dimensions [i.e. 200 X 300] to see the full-size image)

There are so many things to consider when designing a city- but when considering urban design specifically, here are what I believe to be the top 10 indicators of a well-designed place (in no particular order):

1  A Space Becomes a Place– the concept of placemaking is absolutely essential in creating good urban design.  To go from being just any physical location to a place people feel connected to takes design that considers human scale, culture, and the needs of that specific community as far as use, location, design, and scale.

2  Built on the Past– every city has a history, and a great urban design will incorporate that into new plans.  Building on the existing not only saves materials, but helps to create a richer experience rather than a completely new settlement with no character of its own.

3  Connected to the Landscape– it is incredibly important to consider the local ecology of a site before designing it- local watersheds, plant life, and potential impacts the development will have on the land are all vital in creating a good design.

4  Expect the Unexpected– a good design has definition and character, but doesn’t eliminate the possibility of changes in use or additions to the design in later years.

5  Mix and Match– multiple uses in a small area keep “eyes on the street”, as Jane Jacobs would say, keeping streets safer as people use them for different things throughout the day.  Mixed-use designs also bring in a wider variety of people, keep places interesting, and continue to thrive even if some uses slow down in the coming years.

6  Cohesion, Not Uniformity– what many Americans love about old European cities are all the stone in old London or whitewashed plaster in Greece- but when we’ve tried to copy that in our suburbs, they just look monotonous.  A careful but not demanding palette and material list keeps a design looking cohesive but not over designed and dull.

7  Economically Viable– though its a boring concept, its important to consider the budget you can work with in creating a design.  If you create something too extravagant, the entire plan won’t be built, which could really backfire upon the entire design and the livability of the new development.

8  Equitable and Inclusive– designing for one socioeconomic class, whether in housing or retail, will create more socioeconomic disparity than already exists, a boring street life, and an area that outsiders don’t feel welcome in.  A good design includes people of all walks of life.

9  Environmentally Conscious– using sustainable materials, considering the weather patterns, and building with green technology are all important factors in design, especially when considering the many problems with climate change and energy usage of today.

10  Focus on the People, Not the Car– for too many years, planners and designers focused on the highway and the car, placing it in importance above the individual person.  Wide sidewalks, vegetated medians, street trees, and bulb-outs are all ways of making the pedestrian feel comfortable and slow cars down.  If you want your design to have decent street life, be financially stable, and connect to people of all kinds, you need to put the pedestrian first.

For five days of last week, I joined about 50 MUPs from our program in an educational trip to Philadelphia, PA, where we embraced the city through a variety of tours, discussions, and exhibitions.  One aspect that I found to be extremely exciting was the tour I took with the city’s park system administrators at Fairmount Park.

We began at the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art, and discussed the origins, benefits, developments, and trials of the Ben Franklin Parkway, a lovely boulevarded street that connects the museum to City Hall.

Ben Franklin Parkway and extension to City Hall

As we walked along the Parkway, there were many design components that I found intriguing:

Point of View + Viewsheds- the parkway, which was created through demolishing 1700 structures initially, functions much like boulevards in Paris or Washington D.C., creating a viewshed that connects two incredible civic buildings.  The two green, fountained circles along the way (Logan’s Circle and Eakin’ Oval) provide human scale, attainable views, while the magnificent buildings that flank the parkway provide large scale, perspective views that help to give the city character.

One particularly interesting aspect of the importance of view sheds is that when the gentleman’s agreement of 200+  years was broken in 1987 with the Liberty Building rising above William Penn’s hat on City Hall, the city created a viewshed protection that was relatively unique for its time.  There are currently 12 protected viewsheds of City Hall, meaning that from 12 main directions, no building rise to the height that it would be behind a view of City Hall, retaining its silhouette against the sky.

From City Hall Observatory Deck, Mike Mergen for The New York Times

Aesthetics- the importance of continuity whilst not depriving artisans of their creative powers is inherent in the Parkway.  This is seen not only in the classical styled City Hall and main art museum, but with the reflections of them in many of the current and rising civic structures: the main branch of the city’s library, family court, science center, and art museums dedicated to specific artists and collections.  At the same time, Logan’s Circle and Eakin’s Oval boast very different kinds of sculpture and fountains, as well as Love Park further along the Parkway towards City Hall.  The aesthetic balance of continuity and creativity is part of what makes this space so elegantly designed.

City Hall, at one end of the Parkway

Functions- Fairmount Parks is currently struggling with concepts of how to balance every day use of the Parkway with monumental occasions.  For example, how can they keep up nice green areas that are enjoyed by commuters when they are annually trampled by tourists at the gigantic 4th of July celebration?  With federal stimulus dollars, Fairmount is now revitalizing the experience by refurbishing the sidewalks, building more museums along the way, and moving the bike lane away from the central motorized lanes.  There is also a new cafe on the end near city hall that displays information about the Parkway and where tours of it begin.  There is still a major problem with traffic and how to get pedestrians across at Eakin’s Oval, which was changed from a traditional traffic circle to its oval form in the 1950’s urban renewal era.  Hopefully, the functionality of this space for a variety of users will continue to increase.

Executive director Mark Focht explains the pedestrian maps in Fairmount Parks has put inplace