Will we ever see the organic quality of midieval cities in new development?
- This is a musing which seems like it would be best
addressed by following up on the references mentioned
---- but here it is anyways!:
Will we ever see the organic quality of midieval
cities in new development?
This has been in the back of my mind for some time.
It sounds like this is what Joel will be addressing at
(but I won't see it unless they webcast/record it)
I've seen the new urbanist attempts to engineer in
randomness, like horton plaza-
(and some of las vegas)
but those have more of the feeling of caricatures.
Now, with a boring apartment building with balconies,
once individual residents move it and do different
things with their balconies, a lot is added to the
What sort of framework could / would be put in place
when you get a block of space in a brownfield near
downtown seattle, say, to get a new area with the
midieval quality of feeling? (carfree of course)
It can't be as simple as requiring different
architects for different lots and even different
floors... as the the streets themselves must have
significant variation and individuality.
It seems to me that we can never create a new midieval
town... it is almost like trying to evolve a
grasshopper from an early predecessor...
intentionally, and without the earlier conditions and
the vast amounts of time.
Of course we don't need the midieval feel to enjoy a
well-designed carfree environment.
But if we did get a huge block of land on which to
build a carfree city the "problem" of having it feel
like disneyland, las vegas, or a master-planned
community seems significant.
Since carfree-ing of areas is progessing gradually (at
least in some places), this might not be a significant
issue... and yet it is a significant issue if you've
had the chance to experience anything like the Jerde
projects http://jerde.com (http://paseoatsdsu.com is
one) or just about any of the new urbanist
developments I've seen (like
If Joel says to wait for the conference, I will... (or
for his new design book
http://www.carfree.com/design/intro.html ) I'll
probably start asking if they have provisions for
putting videos of the presentations on the web...
I guess if zoning and government regulations are
overcome, the streets could be designed with great
variety (as in Joel's districts), difference of
materials, difference in time, and likewise with
everything else. It requires more time and less
efficiency (more diversity), which suggests that is
the correct approach.
In fact, it may require entirely new (or different,
rather) social structures for such a thing to happen.
The only US location I've been to where I could
imagine this happening (a new midieval feel) is
Earthaven Ecovillage (http://earthaven.org). They
don't quite have it there, due to auto use... but they
could, and may...
A key part of it is that many people are building
their own houses in entirely different ways, likewise
with the community buildings... and while there is a
forestry coop building multiple buildings with a
similar feel, their practices and skills have evolved
Interestingly, the midieval towns do have a sameness
within them (I've been looking at Joel's pictures)...
having to do with the material out of which they're
constructed, and a common style. No doubt the age of
the structures (along the lines of
perhaps) and what has been done to them in time is
part of the draw.
I am making a basic mistake of architecture though: it
is not the buildings, but the life between and within
the buildings that should concern us, and be our
- Hi All.
Colin posed a bunch of questions, but I don't have
time to respond in any detail right now, being in
the middle of writing the book in question and
moving from the Netherlands to Portugal. I'll reply
to a couple of key points, however.
>Will we ever see the organic quality of midievalYes, if we want it.
>cities in new development?
>I've seen the new urbanist attempts to engineer inThis is the key point. This is NOT randomness. These
>randomness, like horton plaza-
>(and some of las vegas)
streets were laid out by the people who used them and
thus by people with an intimate familiarity with the
site. Changes were made over the centuries, during
which, I believe, earlier mistakes were corrected.
The key point is to allow the features of the site to
inform the development. (In featureless sites, the
need for a center around the transport halt will lead
to radial/concentric streets, and allowing small groups
of future users to arrange the area to their liking
will introduce uniqueness and variety.)
>Now, with a boring apartment building with balconies,Go visit a 1950s suburb and notice how much it's all
>once individual residents move it and do different
>things with their balconies, a lot is added to the
changed since it was built; people have modified their
spaces to suit their individual needs. The result is
that these places are much more interesting than when
they were built.
>What sort of framework could / would be put in placeIf you're working with an existing gridiron, I imagine
>when you get a block of space in a brownfield near
>downtown seattle, say, to get a new area with the
>midieval quality of feeling? (carfree of course)
that you'll choose to retain it and its valuable
infrastructure (unless this is old enough to require
complete reconstruction, in which case you might fully
assemble the parcel and lay out the streets anew.
>It can't be as simple as requiring differentUsing Alexander's approach to housing, each family
>architects for different lots and even different
>floors... as the the streets themselves must have
>significant variation and individuality.
designs its own quarters. The trick is getting folks
to work in a consistent enough style to make the
area coherent. This would have to be by way of common
agreement, a matter that has, until recently, simply
taken care of itself. Even fairly wide variations in
style aren't a problem as long as the character of the
buildings is reasonably consistent (mainly, width of
frontage and number of floors).
>It seems to me that we can never create a new midievalTrue, conditions are different, but the reference design
>town... it is almost like trying to evolve a
>grasshopper from an early predecessor...
>intentionally, and without the earlier conditions and
>the vast amounts of time.
really only alters the medieval model in the matter of
providing more floor space per inhabitant and by the
provision of a heavy transport network. The passengers
all alight at one stop in the center, and the heavy
freight is all delivered (at least initially) along a
single route that passes close to the center. I think,
in fact, that what led to the Renaissance changes that
included wider streets and the application of grids is
that the capacity of narrow streets in small medieval
communities was not adequate to the transport needs.
By using high-capacity rail systems that occupy very
little space, we solve the medieval transport constraints
in a way only Leonardo imagined.
>I guess if zoning and government regulations areVariety is essential to making places interesting;
>overcome, the streets could be designed with great
>variety (as in Joel's districts), difference of
>materials, difference in time, and likewise with
>everything else. It requires more time and less
>efficiency (more diversity), which suggests that is
>the correct approach.
at the same time, coherence makes them something we
can relate to. I suspect that this relates to our
inherent brain wiring, which likes to store and
manipulate data in fractal (or near-fractal) form.
>In fact, it may require entirely new (or different,Again, see Alexander on The Production of Houses.
>rather) social structures for such a thing to happen.
The arrangements are quite simple and not artificial.
>Interestingly, the midieval towns do have a samenessThe use of local materials governed by local climatic
>within them (I've been looking at Joel's pictures)...
>having to do with the material out of which they're
>constructed, and a common style. No doubt the age of
>the structures (along the lines of
> perhaps) and what has been done to them in time is
>part of the draw.
conditions tends to lead to a common style.
>I am making a basic mistake of architecture though: itThis is largely but not entirely true. The design of
>is not the buildings, but the life between and within
>the buildings that should concern us, ...
individual buildings DOES matter, but it is the arrangement
of public spaces is crucial.
Hope this helps some. I'll try to participate in this
discussion as time permits, as it helps me to develop
the ideas I'm about to start working on for the next
-- ### --
J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities