Architecture for Urbanism

Prompted by a 2015 meeting in Charleston South Carolina, I have worked with a few people to craft a set of "Canons for Humane Architecture," to complement the Canons of sustainable Architecture and Urbanism adopted by the CNU. This is a very preliminary draft, yet it probably comes fairly close to what most New Urbanists who prefer traditional architecture would agree with.

I will be proposing this in an "Open Source Congress" meeting at CNU 24, and welcome comments and suggestions.

De-structured space

What I call de-structured space here (pdf) is the kind of work we find in naturalistic Japanese and Chinese art and gardens, and in picturesque Western gardens and art.  

"Sargent Juniper, 1905-2007" by Ragesoss - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Sargent Juniper, 1905-2007" by Ragesoss - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

As natural as such works look, they require a great deal of care in design in order to sidestep the typical human desire to create simple rhythms and symmetries. The bonsai above looks natural in its way, but in reality it's quite difficult to create. The bonsai artist has to balance the asymmetry, make the trunk look like it's striving against mighty forces, and incidentally weave in driftwood.

Look at the wall behind, though. If the bonsai were at the side of a driveway next to a coiled-up garden hose, it would not even be apparent that it was tended. The blank wall behind it is just as important as the bonsai itself.

1st Principle: Break Order

The first principle of de-structuring is to break the easy symmetry of a doodle. 

"Doodle" by Dmn - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

"Doodle" by Dmn - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

This collection of doodles is decidedly untutored. However, several of the doodles have repeating, alternating patterns, symmetries, and rhythms. A couple of them grow from small to large. This basic instinct to pattern, which comes out even in a sketch, has to be carefully broken in order to create something like the bonsai. 

2nd Principle: Provide a foil

The bonsai would be difficult to appreciate against a random backdrop, or any strong  backdrop. It sings when against a blank wall. Together, the blank wall supports the bonsai. Even a very large building can attempt to erase itself, so to speak, by making itself a foil.

"John Hancock Tower - Boston, MA - DSC08138" by Daderot - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

"John Hancock Tower - Boston, MA - DSC08138" by Daderot - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

The John Hancock Tower in Boston was supposed to melt into the sky, so that its grid worked as a foil for nature: the clouds and reflections of the city. Of course it doesn't always work, but it certainly can. In the previous post, I mentioned that a pergola can act as a neutral backdrop. Certainly the best pictures of modernist architecture have trees and free-form sculpture in the foreground.

3rd Principle: A Subjective Stance

The third principle is to engender a subjective stance. Artists can usually depend on people to try to appreciate their art. This subjective stance is easy to come by in fine art, but difficult in architecture -- particularly urban architecture. When we come on architecture in everyday life, we're usually preoccupied by mundane concerns. Of course, we can often enjoy modern architecture when we have a chance to prepare.

Structured and De-structured Space

The following is an excerpt from Structured and De-structured Space (pdf). That paper introduces two kinds of compositional space I call structured and unstructured. Those are explained here. A third kind of compositional space, de-structured, is described in a subsequent post. (This post has been edited since it was initially posted.)

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Evolutionary Architecture: 2

The style wars between modernism and traditional design usually get stuck on the false choice between continuity and change, as if tradition just means copying the past, and breaking tradition equals modernity. Neither really captures the algorithm we need to follow in order to build better places: evolution. Evolution begins with the past, copying it. Then it goes much further. 

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Evolutionary Architecture: 1

There used to be a big debate on the beautiful versus the sublime. Forest edges are usually beautiful. They do not usually include things like sheer cliffs or water that goes to the horizon. Those have an "awesome beauty" or “sublime” quality that puts one at least slightly on guard. Our ancestors usually sought out beautiful places and were appropriately on guard around the sublime or awe-inspiring.

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Markets on Platforms as a Way to Solve Problems

Sometimes problems are big and regulations are onerous. They are too much for a small business, small builder, or everyday homeowner. One approach, taken in Lean Urbanism, is to reduce regulations, or to make compliance easier. Another approach is to both cooperate and compete: cooperate to create a platform supporting each other, and then compete in a market.

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The Social Media Plan

Steve Mouzon has written a very useful book for designers and builders (planners, etc.) who hope to capitalize on the web and social media. Steve asked many of us to review his book, and I took him up on it. I’ve already heard of slight revisions based on input, so what I read is the e-book equivalent of a “galley.” Apparently, something like 200 people agreed, so – following his book’s advice – I’ll limit my review to an area in which I think I can add value. For me, the central question is, “How should we approach social media?” That's second to "Who should buy this book?" I think there is a danger of becoming mercenary – and to his credit, I’m sure Steve would be horrified if that were to happen.

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