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Response to "Classicism vs. Humanism"

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  • J.H. Crawford
    Hi All, There s been a lot of reaction to my musings on this topic, more than I had anticipated. It s obvious that there are some major flaws in the first
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 26, 2002
      Hi All,

      There's been a lot of reaction to my musings on this topic, more
      than I had anticipated. It's obvious that there are some major
      flaws in the first draft of the idea, and I'm going to take some
      time to think about them and to begin some serious research. I think
      the notion does have some merit, but it's going to need work.

      I'll post here parts of some of the most important responses.

      Nikos Salingaros

      >>>>> I think you already know the second article. Your ideas are right on,
      but your solutions are, I believe, incomplete. Furthermore, they cut off a
      significant portion of good urbanism from consideration in the way you
      state it -- or, better put, if someone reads your letter hastily.

      Yes, much more work needed here.

      He pointed out two very useful articles he has written that bear on this
      topic. They're quite long but necessary reading for those seriously
      interested in the topic. (I'm not finished with one of them myself.)


      ABSTRACT. Structural principles developed in biology, computer science, and economics are applied here to urban design. The coherence of urban form can be understood from the theory of complex interacting systems. Complex large-scale wholes are assembled from tightly interacting subunits on many different levels of scale, in a hierarchy going down to the natural structure of materials. A variety of elements and functions on the small scale is necessary for large-scale coherence. Dead urban and suburban regions may be resurrected in part by reconnecting their geometry. If these suggestions are put into practice, new projects could even approach the coherence that characterizes the best-loved urban regions built in the past. The proposed design rules differ radically from ones in use today. In a major revision of contemporary urban practice, it is shown that grid alignment does not connect a city, giving only the misleading impression of doing so. Although these ideas are consistent with the New Urbanism, they come from science and are independent of traditional urbanist arguments.


      Erik Rauch:

      >>>>> I think your argument has one flaw, though, as you suggested - equating
      Greco-Roman architectural styles with Cartesian grid patterns. If you
      could actually go back to an ancient Greek city, its streets would be
      irregular, too. The important buildings would be in the high style, but
      others would be in a vernacular. The Greek temple's architecture has the
      same relationship to those vernacular buildings that the Gothic cathedral
      does to the little townhouses that populated medieval streets. The temple
      and cathedral are a pinnacle, but coexisted with humbler buildings which
      are just as important in a different way.

      This is going to take some study. Rome itself was a tangle, I gather,
      but the cities Rome built elsewhere were mostly on grids. I had raised
      the question of a city full of classical buildings only as a way to
      focus the question, with the classical taken to its logical extreme.

      >>>> Whether something is easy or hard to express something mathematically
      may not be the right distinguishing quality. Architects in the Greco-Roman
      style made a lot out of simple mathematical relationships in their
      buildings, golden ratios and such, but they are really unimportant, and
      hardly tell you anything about the building. Mathematical formulas are by
      no means used to derive the design of these buildings. Both vernacular and
      Greco-Roman high architecture are, roughly, statistical fractals, which is
      far more important - and distinguishes them from most 20th century
      architecture. Make the ratio of a temple's width to its height a bit more
      or less than 1+sqrt(5)/2, and you hardly do anything to it. But removing
      the detail on its smaller spatial scales would completely kill it.

      As to detail, I agree entirely. On the question of mathematical formulae
      being used to determine the design, I'm less sure. Jim Kunstler has
      written that the rules were often ignored. More study needed.

      Jeff Smith:

      >>>>> I found your idea to be a very interesting read. From my own
      experience, it fits in with some of the key concepts we are taught in
      software engineering, and the development of complex software systems.
      Organization is always determined by a use-case, and systems are
      "grown" over time with an appreciation for the greatest efficiencies
      that can be built-in. While designing systems, it is always a struggle
      to maintain the balance between overall "macro" coherence, and "micro"
      complexity. I've often thought that the design of our computer
      programs is as limited as our ability to understand it, which explains
      why new computer languages are developed...! Maybe cities can be
      looked at in a similar way, as a system of organized complexity.

      >>>>> I've often thought that the mistake of modernism has been the
      arrogance of mankind to think that science could replace a few
      thousand years of cold experience.


      Another post:

      >>>>> I realize it's fun to bash philosophers but this is one area where
      contemporary philosophy *radically differs* from Cartesian. There is
      no room for either divinity or revelation in modern philosophy. In
      fact, if you refer to Descartes' method in the specific (as you must
      since you refer to specific flaws) then your accusation that
      contemporary philosophy is founded on his methods is completely false.

      I don't think so but can't provide support for my position at this
      point. I've GOT to find that missing book.

      So, that's all for now. I'm in the middle of shifting bases back to
      Amsterdam for a little while, and I've got to get the paperback edition
      off to the printer next week, so I'll be too busy to do anything on this
      for a while. I do, however, have a stack of books on the way that will
      serve as the beginning of serious research on this topic.

      Bulletins at once!

      Thanks & regards,

      -- ### --

      J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
      mailbox@... Carfree.com
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