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Learning to wear the third skin.

garethace

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
Here is my diagram of the perception and experience of Architecture and Places by human beings.

The confusion or mess of different issues associated with doing a very long course in Architecture does impose enormous stress on both the individual student and the system of education required to teach Architecture. I think the senior years in Architecture School aught to be about laying foundations for good practice later on in life. Part of that foundation should for me include learning to cope with all the current mess and confusion of issues an Architect must deal with.

In my late twenties, I am still young enough to incorporate many new and difficult ideas into my understanding of Architecture. Yet I am old and experienced enough to learn those ideas much better than someone much younger. Things such as pedestrian movement and other phenomenological aspects of Architecture indeed do form the backbone of many a good design scheme. Yet I have devoted very little of my effort until very recently toward studying these reality-based phenomena for myself. In short I needed to work toward an integration of many different phenomena in Architecture. But do so in a manner that avoided confusion and wasted effort. So I could speak about Architecture like a third skin I can wear, or conceptualise independently for myself.

In college or work experience I would normally find myself doing incubation work for a design concept, or working on the earliest, broadest brushwork stages to an Urban Master Plan project. One must learn to appreciate Architecture first as a third skin. In order to design Architecture and urbanism, one must first feel comfortable in Architecture and urbanism. To design anything in Architecture requires one to have good understanding of peoples’ everyday interaction with their environment. Developing the project is ultimately about refining its diagrams on many levels.

Unfortunately I believe the Studio environment in Architecture college, or the office environment in work experience can be too studio/office based. An experience of Dublin city in the cold, damp month of November or December doesn’t make the best third skin I will admit. But imagine if by some miracle the Architecture Studio program in the colleges could be run over the summer? Though often perceived as an opportunity to ‘get away’ from the worries of doing projects, etc, I must be understood that summertime is the best time to experience much Architecture, cities, spaces and places. Especially as one can experience the built environment, and observe how the cities inhabitants manage use the city as an amenity. The streets, parks and public spaces become spaces for availabilities.

I think it is all too easy to build up a negative perception of the urban environment, from spending too many cold winters merely ‘holed up’ in a warm college or office environment somewhere. During summer months, people will tend to move greater distances in the city and more frequently. It is important to appreciate the environment as a place connected together by strands of transport infrastructure, walkways, cycle ways and bus lanes. I know it is not that common a practice, for a University student to study the environment in so much detail. But in fairness, how many other courses do require a student to design the built reality?

Students of fashion design will spend long hours making and constructing the clothing concepts for their models to wear. Architecture students are not so lucky having to depend upon the diagrams they draw to illustrate their meaning. The trouble with my development of awareness of the built environment is having to devote more time as I get older to reading the observations of experts like Lynch, Jacobs, Bacon and others. I have found the Local Area Master Plans produced by County Councils and City Councils a god send. Because I can experience those environments myself on bicycle, on foot or by automobile transport.

It is very hard to advance towards becoming an Architect, if one does not possess the coherent framework of human perception necessary to organize the huge amount of knowledge, awareness and learning a Student does over the years in Architecture school. Architecture has become more than ever before, a confusing mess of Computers, Graphics, Projects, Clients, sabbatical years, repeat years, changing college staff, aging college staff, personal study and experience of Architecture. The class trips, the class walks around town, the wonderful design projects, the very interesting discussion, freehand drawing exercises, development of observation, site analysis and lectures on urbanism. I see Architecture as a real opportunity to get badly confused, disorientated, sidetracked and even mislead.

As if drunk on the weight of information and learning the Architecture student receives, confidence and motivation can quickly slide into disorientation and apathy – in a New York minute. The widespread success of the third level education system in my country has much to do with the quality of secondary school education. Without a good foundation, it would be very difficult to manage all the challenges presented by Third Level. I think studying Architecture in third level is similar to starting without that foundation – since very few of the skills developed in Secondary school are useful in Architecture Colleges. In short the young Architectural student has been deprived of the most basic form of independence they possess – a good secondary education.

Architecture is about the only third level course, out of the whole panorama of courses, that hasn’t become firmly bolted onto the back end of the secondary educational system. Without that necessary connection, I feel students of Architecture are left hanging in the breeze without much substitute. Without any foundation, I feel it is hard to develop an independent awareness and self-confidence – the most essential attributes of any successful practicing Architect.

Brian O’ Hanlon.
 
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mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
13,187
Points
47
You can be my architect

wow!

I thought architecture students were supposed to be bad writers!:-$

I agree that the Architects needs to spend more time studying and deeply contemplating the real world built environment and how we, as humans, function in it. This should go for planners as well!!

I try to spend as much of my free-time as possible walking in the built environment. I have this deeply rooted need to explore and understand my built environment.

When, if ever, I get to Ireland, I will definitely need to have a drink and talk with you.
 

garethace

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
It is nice I find to organise my writings, photography, sketches, reading, experiences by date now using computer technology. I.e. Digital pics + PowerPoint + Text in dated folders on my computer = chronological record of this endeavour.

Of course, this is the age old 'Logbook' idea, which Architects have been using since people like John Ruskin back in Victorian England. Or Leonardo Da Vinci in 15C. An Architect would always argue that sketching makes one look more deeply than writing or photography. I would argue that walking and real experience is perhaps more central to the dynamism of environmental problems than sketching is. This summer was really the first summer I managed to separate myself from my computer and CAD softwares. So you see, it is rather relevant that I wrote this piece about wearing a third skin, on 14th October 2003.

I like the analogy of buildings and clothes, I think Frank Gehry has explored this too in his buildings. I think Armani, Prada and these great design houses must be very in touch with peoples' needs and daily reality to command such huge profits from designing clothes. I see something like the surface we walk on, be it cobbles, pavement, broadwalks or tiled floors as a kind of extension of human behaviour too - projected in the fourth dimension of time. Helmer Stenros and Seppo Aura - an Architect and psychologist from Tampere University in Finland, combined together to study this phenomenological perception of Architecture. They wrote much about it, in their book Time, Motion and Architecture.

You will find this idea about Architecture particularly strong in the work of Rem Koolhaas, where he treats the ground surface like an extension of human behaviour - a sort of skin upon which activity can happen as it were. It is hard to approach the work of somebody like Koolhaas any other way in fact. Since he deprives the participant of the experience of the buildling, of any of the traditional cues and cliches, which lead one to build some impression of space and experience. You will also find that places such as Holland, France and elsewhere, where Koolhaas has built, are places well trooden by humans, with many layers of alteration and habitation.
 

tim

Member
Messages
7
Points
0
I think it is all too easy to build up a negative perception of the urban environment, from spending too many cold winters merely ‘holed up’ in a warm college or office environment somewhere. During summer months, people will tend to move greater distances in the city and more frequently. It is important to appreciate the environment as a place connected together by strands of transport infrastructure, walkways, cycle ways and bus lanes. I know it is not that common a practice, for a University student to study the environment in so much detail. But in fairness, how many other courses do require a student to design the built reality?
My argument with this is that people experience architecture 365 days a year, rain or shine. Even during the winter people still move around, they aren't holed up 24 hours a day. As a student of architecture you should be paying attention most when the environment is unpleasant. How quickly can people get from the bus stop to their destination when it is raining? How well protected are the sidewalks from plowed snow? Is there anywhere to get out of the hot sun at noon in July?
I think when it's miserable outside is when people notice architectural mistakes the most, even if their perception of it isn't concious. It's real easy to make a turd of a plaza seem like Rome on a nice spring day.
 

Michele Zone

BANNED
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7,657
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29
garethace said:
It is nice I find to organise my writings, photography, sketches, reading, experiences by date now using computer technology. I.e. Digital pics + PowerPoint + Text in dated folders on my computer = chronological record of this endeavour.

I like the analogy of buildings and clothes, I think Frank Gehry has explored this too in his buildings. I think Armani, Prada and these great design houses must be very in touch with peoples' needs and daily reality to command such huge profits from designing clothes. I see something like the surface we walk on, be it cobbles, pavement, broadwalks or tiled floors as a kind of extension of human behaviour too - projected in the fourth dimension of time. Helmer Stenros and Seppo Aura - an Architect and psychologist from Tampere University in Finland, combined together to study this phenomenological perception of Architecture. They wrote much about it, in their book Time, Motion and Architecture.
I have begun thinking about design in 4 dimensions and the importance of addressing that, so your comment really caught my eye. I also originally wanted to be an image consultant. So, your analogy -- about a building being like clothing -- strikes me as being about ergonomic design at its finest -- about 'wearing a building' like a comfortable old sweater. Ergonomic design is increasingly important in the design of cars and I think it should be far more important in the design of the built environment.

I finally started taking pictures this year of my apartment and recording some of my reasoning behind the way I deal with things. This is a project I have been thinking about for at least 2 years but life kept getting in the way. I am still trying to explore methods for representing the evolution of the space over time. I have picked up a few books, like “How Buildings Learn,” as a means to begin examining existing models for how to represent design through time. In chapter 2, it speaks of “shearing layers” and has some diagrams. It lists 6 layers of a building, starting with the site and ending with the interior design, and illustrates how these different layers move through time at different rates of speed of change – and says that the differences in rate of change of the various layers of a building produces, in essence, “time shear”: There is “friction” caused by these layers being out of sync.

I think one of the issues you are wrestling with, as an architecture student, is the fact that you are responsible for designing parts of the building that will have a long life. Therefore, understanding a building in not just 3 dimensions of space but also 4 dimensions of time is crucial to your ability to design something that will not be obsolete before the construction is even complete.

As for some of your other points: I think you are wrong to assume that other fields get better preparation at the secondary level. Elementary and secondary education has serious issues all over and is often not well connected to what is done at the university level. I took 4 years of college-level math before I ever got to college in order to ‘prep for college’. Then I arrived at college and took a placement test. I was promptly informed that I would have to take calculus in order to fulfill my requirement to have 2 math classes at college. We routinely punish the best and the brightest for being more than adequately prepared. No one suggested I test out of my math requirements. Heck, I would still like to know why that “placement test” didn’t automatically exempt me from having to take ANY math that wasn’t particular to a degree requirement!

I homeschool my gifted-learning disabled sons, one of whom is also medically and visually handicapped. Legally, I am the administrator and teacher of a tiny private school with two students. I am responsible for our ‘gifted program’ and our ‘special ed’ program and I have to design curriculum from scratch twice a year in order to accommodate the needs of my kids from both ends. Naturally, I do quite a bit of research on the best way to do that – and I have developed a certain level of expertise concerning education and the education system. The short version is that few people today are adequately educated when they leave secondary school.

My background in coming to a decision to pursue a career having to do with the built environment is very different from yours. We bought a house as a young couple in our mid-twenties with small kids. We have always lived on one income. So, I re-habbed that house and poured my blood, sweat, and tears into it. I began stripping wall-paper with a wet rag and my fingernails, and didn’t acquire spiffy tools like a scraper and step-stool until much later. I loved re-habbing my house and I later helped my sister do substantial work on her house as well – both ‘design’ advice and hands-on help in painting, etc. It was that very hands-on experience and how much I enjoyed rolling my sleeves up and making my vision happen that caused me to conclude I wanted to make a career in a field dealing with the built environment. I did substantial research before concluding I would someday pursue a Master’s in Planning.

I still do a lot of hands-on stuff. I rescue furniture from the curb that someone threw out and I re-hab that these days, as well as doing the ‘design’ work on my apartment to meet the needs of all the handicapped folks who live here (me included, since I happen to be medically handicapped). I am very much a hands-on person and I think it is important to get your hands dirty if you are ever going to really understand good design.

I live in a Mediterranean climate, with temperate weather year-round. But my medical issues and the demands of my two special-needs sons keep me in-doors most of the time. My experience with being housebound much of the time has brought me to a conclusion the opposite of yours: like someone else said, when the weather is bad is when the quality of the built environment impacts your life most profoundly. Who needs great design when the weather is fantastic? Being housebound so much and being told that my medical condition is incurable so “get used to being sick and learn to live with it” has dramatically heightened my interest in and need for good design of my immediate built environment. And that is the origin of my project to record my apartment and the design ideas here.

Additionally, accommodating the needs of my twice-exceptional kids means looking at what they CAN do and helping them achieve whatever they need and want to achieve, since they are plenty smart. Most of the time, I tend to “forget” how handicapped my oldest son is, because we have so many ergonomic office tools and kitchen gadgets and because I have put so much time, effort, thought, and research into designing a physical environment that allows him to be productive. I have had to learn to ‘walk a mile in his shoes’ and view every detail through his subjective experience of having trouble seeing things the way most people see, etc. So, our apartment is very much designed to ‘fit like a glove’ – and I really relate in a very immediate way to the analogy of designing a building like it is ‘clothing’: If I and my other family members cannot move through this apartment comfortably and easily for doing what we need to do in spite of our limitations, it really hurts – like a bad-fitting new shoe on a long and miserable walk.
 

garethace

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
Very good reply.

Well as an Architect working in a design practice I would often be asked to make things smaller. If I was designing an apartment, the measurements came down to millimeters quite literally. And after squeezing the dimensions down small enough for an abled bodied person to maneuvre, I would then start to think about construction details, which would communicate to the contractor how to fabricate the design.

What this constant emphasis upon smallness of design, and millimeters and construction details does, is to make one forget about people in a dynamic sense - I don't mean dynamic as in siting down, turning 180 degree in the one spot or reaching for a tin of baked beans. I mean the fact that people can go 4mph walking, perhaps 20 mph cycling, 30 mph on horseback and 40mph on light rail systems.

Even though wheel chair people cannot do as much, you have to appreciate them as mobile also - just a bit slower. But if ordinary average physically capable human beings can go 4mph, and cover a shocking about of time and space each day, every day of their lives. Then it would not surprise me to find, that wheel chair people or handicapped people do motor around quite a bit too.

The experience of movement, of not being able to take in the whole design concept from a single vantage point - that the interior of your apartment even can become a whole landscape of routes, vantage points and focal points - is well worth exploring by whatever means you can. The process you describe of photographing the apartment is exactly what I like to do for a city scale. A lot of the best concepts for interior space and public buildings come straight out of medieval cities and street design.

Look at Villa Savoie by Le Corbusier from a movement point of view. Someone in the worst piece of architecture thread has got a picture of a pavilion by Le Corbusier, which is actually quite nice to experience from a human being movement point of view. But unfortunately, we are a bit too programmed to experience buildings from just an aesthetic point of view.

This is one of the buildings in Dublin which extended an old Art Gallery. It has street furniture like a street, police people like a street, shops and cafes like a street and connects two different parts of the city like a street - yet it is indoors in a building.
I picked up Rob Kriers book about urban space, Herman Hertzberger has a couple, Rem Koolhaas has that book SMLXL which is good. I would like to sit down and work on those books. But to be quite honest, I would advise you to get a couple of maps of the city or town where you live and start walking, cycling and busing. Then having done that for a long, long time go to the books. Not the other way around.


I think where I grew up in rural Ireland, we learned from a young age to look at the outdoors as bad, the weather as bad, and as Tim points out quite rightly so, the best spaces are good spaces to be 365 days of the whole year.

I don't think you can have a positive idea of designing Architecture or urban space, unless you learn to live outdoors as well as indoors. I mean, as an Architect I am living in Dublin which has some of the worst and some of the finest outdoor built environments known to man. But I never benefitted from the experience of this contrasting urban environment while studying architecture at third level.

Most other students I knew personally in Dublin, including myself expressed constant negativity about our city, our architectural schools, and our ability as designers. We would make trips to Barcelona, Amsterdam, Helsinki and Paris to see what Architects have done there. I know all those cities quite well at a 1:20,000 scale. But I only knew a fraction of my own city of Dublin at 1:20,000 scale until very recently.

I know there is a bit of a gap between 1:20,000 scale and 1:200 scale (the most often used scale to present a final architectural scheme) but they are also intimately related to one another.

Brian O' Hanlon.
 

Michele Zone

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I want to briefly go back to an earlier comment of yours, that: “An Architect would always argue that sketching makes one look more deeply than writing or photography.” Because of my background homeschooling my ‘twice exceptional’ kids, I have had to learn a good deal about the different ways that people innately process information efficiently. In short, I would say that most architects and urban planners are likely to be ‘visual-spatial learners’ – which is to say that our minds process information in pictures, which isn’t true of everybody.

I think sketching is a means for such a person to think more deeply because taking a picture is about ‘taking in’ information but sketching is about getting the vision in your head ‘out’. It is also a ‘where the rubber meets the road’ kind of experience, in that you begin to see where you abstract thoughts do not work in reality. For example, when considering solving a design issue in my apartment, I brainstorm and come up with different possible approaches, many of which won’t actually work once you start taking measurements, etc. Sketching is often the first step in figuring out what is more likely or less likely to actually ‘fit’. And it is a whole lot less effort than actually rearranging all the furniture, only to realize it does not work. I would think that is many, many times more true when it comes to constructing a building.

Neither I nor my son are wheelchair bound and a mere 3 years ago I was walking 6 miles, 2 or 3 times per week, for exercise. I really do not like driving and I consider it to be a ‘necessary evil’ of American life. When I lived in Germany, I walked, biked, and took the bus a whole lot more and I prefer that. But it isn’t very do-able in most American communities.

Many American communities do not pre-date the advent of the automobile by all that much. You just do not find sections of town that are hundreds of years old and built on a completely human scale here the way you do in Europe. Visiting towns that are hundreds of years old in Europe, well, as an American, I was quite shocked by the smallness of scale.

Additionally, visiting castles and looking out on the valley below from the castle was quite a fascinating experience in terms of understanding the way that the built environment can shape one’s mind. The nobility of Medieval Europe had a subjective experience of space that was radically different from that of the commoners. That literally had a ‘long view’ every day – looking out over the valley -- that most people lacked, and I believe that it helped them to learn to take a ‘long view’ figuratively as well.

However, your points about people traveling on a large scale is more in the area, I think, of urban planning than of architecture. Jane Jacobs makes the point that diversity in a city increases neighborhood stability by making it possible for one person to continue to meet their changing needs over time, as kids grow up and move out and as they change jobs, etc, without having to change addresses. I think she is absolutely right about that. I, personally, expect to remain in the San Francisco Bay Area for the foreseeable future (and possibly for the rest of my life) in part because I am in the only town on planet earth midway between 2 large cities with the unique medical resources I need.

I have a newly discovered mild form of Cystic Fibrosis. I believe there are only 12 hospitals in the entire U.S. with specialty units specifically devoted to treating CF. Most people in the U.S. who get referred for testing for this disorder must travel a very long way to even get the test. And I live halfway between 2 of these 12 hospitals. Additionally, there is a facility (I think in San Francisco) that does research on CF. I sincerely believe I would have died in 2001 had I not moved up here about 5 or 6 weeks before 10 weeks of sinus infections turned into pneumonia. Most people – including most doctors – have never heard of my disorder and it was ‘discovered’ by genetic research a mere 4 years before I was ID’d. I am incredibly fortunate to even have a diagnosis because it is just so cutting edge.

So, for me, personally, one of the appeals of my present physical locale is its relationship to resources in this region as a whole. Planning is done a lot at the county level for things like traffic and transportation but it is a regional issue and generally poorly handled. Such things are of real personal concern for me. When I look at the present rail plan and I see that two of the three planned new stations are in the middle of nowhere and the amount of parking available is one of the big concerns of the people working on this plan but these 2 stations are nowhere near existing bus routes, I am kind of disgusted. When I am too impaired from medication to be a safe driver but not too sick to go do stuff, the requirement that I drive to the train station could prevent me from going anywhere at all.

Additionally, we are a one-car family. If I have access to the car to drive somewhere, why would I take a train when I have more control over my schedule by car? When my husband needs the car, he cannot leave work to drive me to the train station and we certainly cannot afford for me to drive to the train station and park the car and leave it all day while I take the train. Siting the train stations so they work only for 2-car families is highly discriminatory towards anyone who has physical limitations that prevent them from driving or financial limitations that prevent them from owning 2 cars. In essence, it excludes the very people who most need alternatives to getting somewhere by car.

As a medically handicapped person who has limitations on my energy a lot of days, I am acutely aware that there is a general lack of awareness of real convenience for keeping regional travel geared towards a ‘human scale’. For me, ‘reasonable walking distance’ to a transit stop is more in keeping with the more conservative ¼ mile distance that some illustrations use. The ½ mile distance that I sometimes see used is too far to be of much use to me and a lot of people who are not wheelchair bound and may not appear to be physically handicapped yet have limitations on how far they can reasonably walk. Such obstacles can make using public transit all but impossible for someone who is moderately impaired and frustrated in their attempts to find alternative means of getting around that do not require so much effort and mental focus.

It galls me that the local bus stops have absolutely no route information whatsoever posted nearby. If you are not a local and have not gone and gotten the pamphlets and so forth to learn all about the local routes, etc, the local bus systems seem completely illegible and utterly useless to ‘an outsider’. Such obstacles have, so far, prevented me from learning to use the train system for going to Sacramento for doctors visits, even though I wish I could because I get lost almost every time I go see my doctor. I wind up driving to where my son’s doctor is located, a few blocks away, and the maze of one way streets and the like makes for a ‘you can’t get there from here’ experience. I was 20 minutes late for my most recent appointment because I spent half an hour within about 6 blocks of my doctors office and had enormous difficulty ‘getting there from here’.

I don’t feel like I am making the connection very well, but all of this does relate to your point about the relationship between the 1:200 scale and the 1:20,000 scale. I got a certificate in GIS last summer and one of the things done in a GIS is that the level of detail changes at various scales in order to keep the whole thing legible. At one scale, you might put in the name of every town. At another, you might only name a few major cities. Naming every town at that scale would so clutter the map with labels as to make it useless.

Which kind of takes me back to my first point, about visuals being information-rich resources and a good way to process certain kinds of data. A point that was driven home last summer is that a map is a good way to represent a dense amount of data in a fashion that is more readily absorbed than the endless tables which make up the database underlying a GIS. GIS is uniquely suited to zooming in and out and comprehending relationships between different scales of an environment. And some GIS professionals are beginning to explore what it would take to develop a GIS that works in 4 dimensions, with the thought of incorporating historical data and also looking at change over time.
 

garethace

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
That talent many architects exhibit in visual thinking, is only fully harnessed when they link that graphic understanding up with a real physical experience of movement and space, by their own human bodies.

Just look at any the documentaries about robotic or machine movement, which show how difficult it is for robots to move in an environment exclusively designed around human beings. Sure if you do a web search you will find amazing robots designed to crawl along sewer pipes for maintainance and inspection purposes, to dispose of bombs etc, and deal with terrorists situations. But the era of machines dominating the earth as in the Matrix is a long way off.

In other words if robots ruled instead of humans, you possibly wouldn't have architecture anything like we have now. The Spielberg city in Minority report is interesting though.

Sketching is often the first step in figuring out what is more likely or less likely to actually ‘fit’.
Kevin Lynch in his book called Site Planning, particularly in his chapter called 'Design' describes a process similar to that. Well worth the read. Kevin was one of the first to describe the environment in terms of four dimensions. His book entitled Image of a city is good too.

When I lived in Germany, I walked, biked, and took the bus a whole lot more and I prefer that. But it isn’t very do-able in most American communities.
Perhaps that is where the American writer Kevin Lynch, Edmund Bacon and others were coming from? Trying to rectify this?

You just do not find sections of town that are hundreds of years old and built on a completely human scale here the way you do in Europe. Visiting towns that are hundreds of years old in Europe, well, as an American, I was quite shocked by the smallness of scale.
I will admit that Starsky and Hutch would have trouble turning their car in European Streets - hence the fiat, and Morris Mini cars I suppose. Hence the sleekness of the Ferrari and Porsche. But I think the problem in Europe is that we are so used to small narrow streets, we tend to forget it. I mean when studying the architecture of Brunelleschi and the Renaissance, we as European Architects tend to forget there was no buses, metros, railways or cars back in those days. Hell there wasn't even bicycles! We are looking at Renaissance Architecture and city design with the eyes of 20C European car drivers.

I have found here at Cyburbia, the widths of streets depicted in the photo gallery here huge. Rotterdam was a city leveled in the War and hence architects and planners got a blank canvas. James Stirlings project in the 1970s for Frankfurt etc are about giving the city back to pedestrians. Tom Mayne in Los Angeles is heavily influenced by Stirlings designs for bombed German cities, but tries to use them for places like LA!

In Beshing in China the city is very well organised around concentric highways, so you end up driving around this square highway system to get anywhere. Recently public transport systems there have tried to cut straight between places. In Paris, Hausmann decided that the Parisian slums would require 'ventilation' to be easier to patrol or move in armies to crush uprisings. What has resulted is a nice pedestrian city, but it is cut by some huge boulevards. Mussoli made a very bad 'grand street' leading to St. Peters in Rome, during Fascist times that is well documented by urbanists. In Dublin we had a very brief 'wide streets commissioners' period when some large cuts were made into the urban fabric resulting in O'Connell Street today, which is the biggest boulevard we have, but has lots of problems too.

However, your points about people traveling on a large scale is more in the area, I think, of urban planning than of architecture.
Not so, think of the piece of Architecture at its best as allowing the natural flow of movement, from the city surrounding it to continue, not become interupted by the piece of Architecture. What you can have in many cities is 'super blocks' which can halt the natural flow through the city for centuries. Even the smallest chink or circulation route cut through these superblocks can bring the city back to the people. A lot of the palaces you described were superblocks, which ruined the city directly around them. Here in Dublin we have a place called Trinity College and St. Stephens Green, both of which i think interupt the continuity of the city in a negative way. The idea of 'being behind walls' is a mentality of institutions and urban dwellers here in Dublin for too long. It needs a Hausmann.

www.abk.co.uk

Has a scheme for Trinity college, built in the 1970s which made a 'hole in the wall'. This hole in the wall connected Trinity college back to the city again, and has been a great sucess ever since.

I got a certificate in GIS last summer and one of the things done in a GIS is that the level of detail changes at various scales in order to keep the whole thing legible. At one scale, you might put in the name of every town. At another, you might only name a few major cities. Naming every town at that scale would so clutter the map with labels as to make it useless.
I came across a rare map for a town in the west of Ireland - rougly 1:1000 scale, but imperial of course. I was amazed having experienced the area on foot initially, how much information and history that old map contained, and in such detail. It showed that the site I was building on had been an orchard since centuries back. It even showed the lines of apple trees! I would never have known that without the map.

We have a primitive form of GIS in the planning department of the local corporation/councils. It is useful though to think in terms of space at that scale. I have gotten a bit more used to the area tool and the measure distance tool. Having spent so many years measuring distance in terms of metres/millimetres and sq. meters. It is strange and different now trying to understand understand half a kilometre, which sitting in the comfort of my warm drawing office I always thought 1/2 Kilometre was a long distance. But at least now I understand that real people in real situations have to negotiate the built environment at those distances. This is a big new surprise for me as an Architect. In college, it was all cavity walls, timber battens and roof trusses. We used to calculate bending moments and shere calculations - such small details, important for the building.

But all in all, I do feel pretty inadequate, innocent and unqualified to understand problems on a large spatial scale. Regretably. The other Architectural college in Dublin didn't have engineering or technical people attached to it at all. They got deep into Jane Jacobs and that was a completely foreign stance upon Architecture for us - one which we were trained to treat with suspicion and no small amount of disaproval in fact. Shocking behaviour for Architects really, sad but true.

Brian O' Hanlon.
 
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