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The population of the world has been constantly increasing, according to last year’s statistics, there are nearly 80 million new residents in the world (UN, 2019). Urban planners, designers, architects and all other related professions have been creating new urban areas and even brand-new cities respond to the needs of people.

Forest City render, Malaysia     Source: forbes.com

According to architect Alejandro Arevena (2014), we will have to build a city with one million population per week during the next fifteen years to provide resident for everyone. Unfortunately, the process of design is not always imaginative and original. As a result, what we have is mostly generic cities or similar environments.

Housing Area, UK      Source: mikaelstrandberg.com

When I first came to the UK, I found interesting that the urban areas full of redbrick single-family houses. It was a new and unique experience for me being in these places. As a new resident of the UK, I lost my interest because I started to see these similar housing areas everywhere I go and it start to became more meaningless in time. This is the reality of the world we live in, cities full of places that feel the same, presenting almost no new experience to people, and so familiar to everyone. An ocean of endless similarities in terms of Edward Relph (1976). Imagine a place that you have been there for the very first time, but you know everything about it, and you have seen everything in it.

Whenever I found myself in one of these places, they usually empty except a few people walking or driving. This is just an example from the UK, but every country substantially has the same problem in different ways. The generic cities are the universal problem of the world thanks to the modernism.

Ghost City, China     Source: independent.co.uk

Consequently, we start losing our sense of place over time because of the mass production of urban areas. According to Canter (1977) drawing on Relph’s (1976) work, physical attributes, activities and conceptions are the components of place.

The Components of Place diagram   Source: Canter (1977)

These components and the relations among them constitute the sense of place therefore the identity of place according to Canter (1976). And trying to create an identity starting from physical attributes does not usually work for instance; the Chinese ghost towns and housing areas of New Islington in Manchester. Physical attributes of a place are obviously not enough to constitute the sense of place without the other two components.

It can be said that the design without harmony with activities is just a decoration. New Islington is maybe looking different in a good way than the other housing areas, but it is not working differently than others. Kevin Lynch (1984) uses the term fit as a design principle to explain the importance of the relation of form and activities. According to Montgomery (1998), the fit is formed by different types of physical attributes and various activities.

New Islington, Manchester       Source: architecture.com

In historic cities, the physical environment was shaped by everyday life over the years, but nowadays we don’t have that much time to build cities. We need to respond quickly to people’s needs. In order to create successful places for people, we have to understand the rhythms of everyday life. Copenhagen is a good and relatively new example of how a city can be shaped regarding the activities. Jan Gehl’s work, an examination of daily life through activities led him to create a vital city life for Copenhagen. He understood what everyday life is in Copenhagen and what it can be. Over 30 years, Copenhagen’s physical realm was changed with an activity-based approach regarding Gehl’s work. Not only Copenhagen but also this approach was achieved successful results in Melbourne, Lyon, Strasbourg, and Portland.

Copenhagen Pedestrianization Process      Source: Gehl (2013)

Activity is related to two main concepts which these are vitality and diversity according to Montgomery (1998). When we consider the diversity in global scale it can be related to the locality. Cultural differences are based on various localities and their reflection on daily life activities, and it must be supported by design to create places that have strong identities. The information age we live in, produced and keep producing homogenise culture and similar lifestyles with the effect of technology and globalisation (Castells, 2001). In my experience, people that I have met all over the world from different nationalities share similar versions of the modern lifestyle. Similar lifestyles produce similar activities, and they demand similar physical attributes. We have to develop a new way of looking at cities methodologically in order to read the signs of localities and understand the rhythms of everyday life as soon as possible. We learned that we have limited sources in the 21st century. I believe that the prominent source is the land in this context when we consider the long term. We – urban designers – must be more careful and effective the use of this source. As a conclusion, it can be said that the practice of urban design getting more and more challenging.

 


References:

Borowiecki, K. J., Forbes, N., & Fresa, A. (2016). Cultural heritage in a changing world. Springer Science+ Business Media.

Canter, D. (1977). The Psychology of Place. London: Architectural Press.

Castells, M. (2015). Space of flows, space of places: Materials for a theory of urbanism in the information age. In The city reader (pp. 263-274). Routledge.

Gehl, J. (2011). Life between buildings: using public space. Island press.

Gehl, J. (2013). Cities for people. Island press.

Koolhaas, R. (1995). The generic city (p. 1255). Sikkens Foundation.

Lynch, K. (1984). Good city form. MIT press.

Montgomery, J. (1998). Making a city: Urbanity, vitality and urban design. Journal of urban design3(1), 93-116.

Relph, E. (1976). Place and Placelessness. London: Pion.

https://www.greentechmedia.com (2019). 2,500 Cities Have Taken Up the Climate-Change Fight. [online] Available at: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/how-cities-are-taking-up-the-climate-change-fight [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

https://www.independent.co.uk (2019). 12 Eerie Photos of Enormous Chinese Cities Completely Empty of People. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/empty-china-cities-12-eerie-photos-enormous-chinese-completely-empty-people-ghost-towns-abandoned-a7982646.html [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

https://www.bisnow.com (2019). Modular Housing: The Future, or a Bundle of Trouble. [online] Available at: https://www.bisnow.com/manchester/news/multifamily/modular-housing-the-future-for-the-north-west-or-a-bundle-of-trouble-98025 [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

https://www.architecture.com (2019). Islington Square. [online] Available at: https://www.architecture.com/awards-and-competitions-landing-page/competitions-landing-page/islington-square [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

https://www.mikaelstrandberg.com (2019). Looking Back: Moss Side 2013. [online] Available at: https://www.mikaelstrandberg.com/2019/04/08/mosside/ [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].

https://www.forbes.com (2018). New Cities That Are Set to Shake up The Future for Better or Worse. [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2018/03/29/5-new-cities-that-are-set-to-shake-up-the-future-for-better-or-worse/#5f8eb9d27250 [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].

https://data.worldbank.org (2019). Population Total Statistics. [online] Available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].

https://www.ted.com/ (2014). My Architectural Philosophy Bring the Community into the Process [online] Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/alejandro_aravena_my_architectural_philosophy_bring_the_community_into_the_process?language=en [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].

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2 responses to “Practice of Urban Design Getting More Challenging?”

  1. Furkan, such an interesting piece. I feel urban design has been testing since the offset, but maybe I’m biased. Now, I’d argue the latest challenge is the changing role urban designers in the design process. We have great potential to shape the future development of our cities. Urban Task Force stated the ideals of working collaboratively with politics, to influence principles for best urban development and maybe this engagement, through practices such as Public Practice influencing local authorities, could we greater serve humanity and our fellow citizens[1]. Our climate emergency requires new ways of developing cities to facilitate rapid world population expansion, whilst also caring for our planet.

    Whilst I agree the expanse of eerily uncanny, generic, housing distinctive of UK suburbia does not create a sense of place, I think mass production holds opportunities. Modernism is often perceived as a failure, but many of Le Corbusier’s principles for efficient, component design could be useful now[2]. Commodities in fashion are highly mass produced, yet very few would argue fashion is bland. Users select and arrange certain garments together in an outfit, portraying their individuality and flare. Similar customisation is found in bicycle design[3]. Surely the same could be implemented for our urban environments?

    As technology, techniques and structural capabilities advance, this could allow stitching together of basic, perhaps generic, building blocks to create beautifully rich quilt works of cities, as long as they are carefully managed, aided by collaborative design development. Perhaps a catalogue of tools, materials and constructions, known to all, would allow designers to concentrate on how to piece these together in response to the sense of history, nature, craft, limits and place[4]. Development would respond to context and character, protecting what Christian Norberg-Schulz[5] describes as the ‘genius loci’ of a place. This is only possible if we design, as Calthorpe and Fulton[6] described, simultaneously addressing the scale of neighbourhood and region, to avoid homogenisation.

    Your reference of Alejandro Arevena is particularly poignant as the work of his practice, Elemental, such as ‘Half a Good House’ in Ville Verde and Iquique are ‘imaginative and original’, winning him the Pritzker Prize. Their radical approach to city design, provides affordable housing for the poorest in society, moving locals from periphery slums to centrally located homes. Elemental use their design knowledge to create the more complex half a house,[7] the kitchen and bathroom, relying on the resident’s existing skills to build the other half as required. These communities are far from generic and may be considered to relinquish too much design agency to the residents. We are in unprecedented times. In contrast to the waves of bland, placeless, copy-and-paste design scattered across the globe, is this so bad? They design for actual people, allowing for the natural evolution of a place and giving a sense of ownership to the neighbourhoods, which Jane Jacobs suggests[8], is fundamental to city vibrancy and street life.

    Maybe this, and wiki-house[9], are projects yet to reach full potential because designers are scared to relinquish design influence to inhabitants. People have visions and ideas, and even the money for projects, but it is designers who can bring this narrative to life[10] and envision the collective potential. So rather than be worry, maybe we can utilise these skills for future development of anything but, generic cities.

    [1] Force, T.U.T. (1999) Towards an Urban Renaissance, 1 edition. ed. London: Routledge.

    [2] Dezeen. (August 10, 2018). ‘What If Houses Were Designed like Bikes?’ Says Phineas Harper. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2018/08/10/futuro-house-prefab-housing-phineas-harper-opinion/. (Accessed January 18, 2020).

    [3] ibid.

    [4] Kelbaugh, D. (2012).’Critical regionalism: An architecture of place’,in Larice, M. and MacDonald, E.The Urban Design Reader. London, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge. p296-306

    [5] Norberg-Schultz, C. (2012).’Critical regionalism: An architecture of place’,in Larice, M. and MacDonald, E.The Urban Design Reader. London, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge. p272-284

    [6] Calthorpe, P. & Fulton.(2015). ‘Designing the region’, in LeGates, Richard T., and Stout, F.The City Reader. 6 edition. London ; New York: Routledge. p360-366.

    [7] ArchDaily. (2008). Quinta Monroy / ELEMENTAL | ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/10775/quinta-monroy-elemental. (Accessed January 24, 2019).

    [8] Jacobs, J.(2015). ‘The uses of sidewalk: safety’, in LeGates, Richard T., and Stout, F.The City Reader. 6 edition. London; New York: Routledge. p105-109.

    [9] Bernheimer, L. (2017). The Shaping of Us: How Everyday Spaces Structure Our Lives, Behaviour, and Well-Being. 01 edition. London: Robinson. p253-291.

    [10] Bullivant, L. The Guardian. Cities.(March 5, 2015). How Are Women Changing Our Cities?. sec. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/mar/05/how-women-changing-cities-urbanistas-architecture-design. (Accessed January 13, 2020).

  2. I agree with Furkan’s opinion that at first when I came to the UK I am very interested in the red-brick housing style, but it seems like everywhere and that reduces my attention. I think the housing style may be affected by weather, culture, or lifestyle such as we will see a lot of bricks and thermal mass material in cold weather countries, bare cement and wood in South East Asia countries, or special structures in earthquake zones in Japan, etc. In my opinion, these still can reflect the characteristics, it may not reflect the small scale like a local scale or village, but it might reflect the whole image of the city, region, or country.

    In addition, it would be considered as generic cities as Furkan said. But for me, generic cities are not bad problems, we can see them as the potential to develop the character of the cities, for example, Singapore, some cities in China, or Borneo where will be the new capital of Indonesia.

    Singapore is a good case study because Singapore has started to develop since the zero and develop very fast during the past over 50 years, we can see from the quality of life statistics that Singapore is in the 4th rank(Expat Insider 2019), 18th rank(U.S. News & World Report), and 25th rank(MERCER) of the world. Tianducheng in China, is a city that tries to clone Paris to China. They clone every city element as Paris, even the Eiffel Tower. However, this Chinese generic city has become a tourist attraction for both locals and foreigners.

    This blog also mentions similar lifestyles, activities, and people’s needs, which produce similar designs. In my opinion, it is just a human adaptation. It is like in the past era, humans lived in the stone, cottage, or cave, then we lived in houses, and nowadays we have many types of living units such as flat, apartment, condominium, floating house, etc., and in the next 100 or 200 years who’s know that we might need to live on the moon, Mars, or other planets if it would be like that the housing designs will be changing too. In addition, today’s modern world, the smart city and sustainability are promoted, we can see these trends in our era by many designs have considered those methods which integrated with natural or technology and innovation such as green roof, greenhouse, renewable energy, home automation systems[1], etc. Finally, I believe that we will see more and more creative and efficient design in the future.

    [1]home automation systems – systems that optimize water and energy use by leveraging sensors and analytics to manually or automatically eliminate inefficiencies. Includes optimized lighting and HVAC as well as features such as access/security control and parking information.

    Turner, B. (2019). Best home automation systems of 2020. [online] TechRadar. Available at: https://www.techradar.com/uk/best/best-home-automation-systems [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

    Automated Home. (2019). Home Automation Systems and Technology Choices. [online] Available at: https://www.automatedhome.co.uk/home-automation-technology-choices [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

    Bendix, A. (2019). Indonesia is spending $33 billion to move its capital from a sinking city to an island where forests have been burning. [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/indonesia-capital-move-jakarta-borneo-environmental-concerns-2019-8?r=US&IR=T [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

    Internations.org. (2019). Expat Insider 2019: Quality of Life Index. [online] Available at: https://www.internations.org/expat-insider/2019/quality-of-life-index-39831 [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

    U.S. News & World Report. (2019). Quality of Life. [online] Available at: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/quality-of-life-rankings [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

    mercer.com. (2019). Quality of Living City Ranking | Mercer. [online] Available at: https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/quality-of-living-rankings [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

    Khan, G. (2018). Photos of the Chinese Town That Duplicated Paris. [online] National Geographic. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel-and-adventure/2018/04/photos-chinese-town-duplicated-paris [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

    hannahlund252. (n.d.). Tianducheng. Atlas Obscura. [online] Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/tianducheng [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

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Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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