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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Expanding the Role of Architecture

Perception of architectural value will improve when its contributions are explained with more than a pattern language of images and the emotion of fine art. Don’t misunderstand me, however. I respect architecture and want to improve its foundation of relevance for this reason.

The fundamental contribution of architecture is shelter, but this is considered a private benefit for the wealthy. Public benefit will be recognized when architecture learns to prepare strategic plans that shelter growing populations within a limited Built Domain, since this domain must not be permitted to threaten its source of life – The Natural Domain. It goes without saying that these plans must protect the public health and safety; but “welfare” has been an ambiguous term that includes the physical, social, psychological and economic well-being of an entire population.

Architecture has primarily addressed internal health and safety issues because of the tools available, but the measurement, forecasting and evaluation of development intensity now makes it possible to correlate the buildings constructed with the public impact around them. In other words, architectural intensity can be calibrated and correlated with public benefit by a number of related professions. This will help us learn to shelter growing populations within a limited Built Domain that prevents excessive intensity. It is a foundation of knowledge that the fine art of architecture deserves. My book and software are simply an attempt to provide the concepts and tools needed to begin the work of building this knowledge. (See note below) 

Architecture will either serve the strategy of others or speak in a language that has leadership potential - once we all (not just architects) decide on where we’re going and the priorities that matter. 

Note: Development Capacity Evaluation v.2  is a software CD attached to its manual of explanation entitled, Land Development Calculations, ed.2, published by the McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An Overlooked Threat to the Family of Man

Cities are three-dimensional environments that are sprawling without restraint across the face of the planet. Satellite photography has made it very apparent that cities consume the land of their dominant partner and have not learned to live within limits. As a result, they have not struck a sustainable balance with the natural environment of the Earth, nor have they resolved their physical, social, psychological and economic deficiencies. 

City planning must become city design before sustainable relationships between The Built and Natural Domains can be established. A city’s land use plan is similar to a floor plan. It is not a strategy until its three-dimensional implications are considered.  

The default for land use plans and annexation is sprawl. Sprawl can only be limited by a conscious design for activity and intensity within geographic limits. Activity is defined by a land use plan. Intensity is defined by design specification values attached to land use areas. These values determine the gross building area expected per buildable acre.  

Design specification alternatives produce intensity options that can be predicted with Development Capacity Evaluation software. Decisions define the form that must emerge from a plan to achieve its physical, social, psychological and economic objectives. In other words, city design relates activity to intensity for physical, social, psychological and economic stability. 

The goal is to shelter and serve populations within sustainable geographic limits that protect ALL life on Earth. The tactics of architectural design will produce a response one project at a time, but tactics without a goal and strategy produce random battles across the landscape. The result is many casualties and little progress.  

In the end this is about people and the shelter, movement, open space and life support they build; since these divisions of the built environment consume the resources of their natural partner and pollute what remains. Our success in constructing a sustainable presence will be expressed by the nature of this evolving urban form, since it will illustrate our success in learning to live within limits.  

City design will depend on our ability to quickly and accurately forecast intensity, or development capacity options and implications. I say this because life within limits requires an ability to wisely use every acre we consume to shelter and serve the activities of growing populations. I can think of no greater challenge to the family of man, even though others may be equal.  


Development Capacity Evaluation is a software CD attached to its manual of explanation entitled, Land Development Calculations, ed.2, published by the McGraw-Hill Companies.

A Tool for Containing Sprawl

Death by sprawl would be such an ignominious fate. I couldn’t help laughing as I wrote the sentence. Mutual assured destruction (MAD) has so much more flair, but the unchecked global sprawl of human shelter implies the same outcome by other means. Is it possible that we could consume the face of the planet while distracted by parochial interests and the nuclear button? 

Architects in particular understand that floor plans are only part of the documents required to build a three-dimensional objective. From this perspective, city plans are floor plans that require amplification. They separate incompatible activities but sprawl in response to growth that will suffocate the planet if unrestrained. 

We all understand that land is a finite quantity that sustains life, and we are beginning to understand that shelter is an artificial intrusion that consumes this potential with sprawl. Development Capacity Evaluation software has been created to forecast better use of the land for shelter within a limited Built Domain that does not threaten its source of life – The Natural Domain.  

The odds against success are enormous because the current concept of free enterprise is challenged. City design means that land ownership is not a license to speculate, but design requires cooperation that has been rare in the history of our presence on the planet. We are learning, however, that the planet has an unwritten plan of its own that we must anticipate to survive. 

Real estate law has created cities and it will have to save us from them, but it is one thing to create a master plan that separates incompatible, unsafe and unhealthy land use activities. It is quite another for that plan to grow into a contained form of spatial balance, social benefit, psychological support, economic stability and environmental harmony. The sprawl produced to date an expression of the free market, and the law is not prepared to improve on this model without substantial help from many professions speaking a common language. 

At the present time none of us, including the law, is prepared to design cities within limits that shelter growing populations while preserving the land’s ability to sustain all life on Earth. We are not even ready to design a city that is economically stable, not to mention physically enjoyable and socially engaging. The few partial success stories that exist have evolved more by chance than plan.  

Cities are a threat to themselves as well as the environment. They decay from within and expand to compensate for the revenue lost. If land is not available they are forced to rebuild or continue their decline. This has been the only choice for some “first ring” suburbs with no room to grow, but the course of least resistance for most has been annexation and sprawl. Both solutions suffer from a lack of economic forecasting ability to predict yield from the land involved. (See “The City is a Farm”) 

The face of the planet is now covered with property lines that declare ownership and the right to improve on Mother Nature. We invented property law to protect us from each other, but overlooked the fact that we need to protect the Earth from ourselves.  

I am not challenging Jefferson’s declaration of an inalienable right to own property, but am pointing out that owning property does not convey an automatic right to convert its function in The Natural Domain – or its agricultural purpose in The Built Domain. This is a distinction we have been able to overlook because of abundance, but population growth is making the planet’s finite land and resources obvious. It is now becoming apparent to some that the Shelter, Movement, Open Space and Life Support divisions of a city are sprawling across the face of the planet to serve population growth, and disrupting the planet’s ecological systems in the process.            

Development Capacity Evaluation 

I began work on Development Capacity Evaluation software to improve our ability to evaluate land development potential, primarily because I found that the density concepts of zoning produced arbitrary results that could not hit a leadership target. (See “Replacing Density”, “The Limits of Shelter Capacity”, “The Variance Trap” and “Design with Space”) This is important because both overdevelopment and sprawl are a function of an inadequate leadership language that hinders our ability to visualize the problem and its alternative solution.  

Eventually, I realized that the embedded mathematics of Development Capacity Evaluation could be used to evaluate potential urban form throughout a city; and that urban form had the capacity to shelter growing populations within geographic limits. Options could also be forecast in a fraction of the time required by graphic evaluation. In other words, it offered the opportunity to forecast and define gross building area potential within growth limits established to ensure ecological preservation; and that these options represented lifestyle alternatives within these limits. 

Unfortunately, the law cannot save us from the sprawl of our cities. They are a political problem with an abstract mathematical structure that has physical, social, psychological and economic implications. Development Capacity Evaluation offers mathematical models that forecast shelter intensity options for a given land area without making composition and appearance decisions. This is similar to structural engineering equations that predict strength but make no choice. Both provide the equations needed to unravel a problem; and in this sense they both represent languages that produce options for evaluation before a decision is reached.  


I should mention that Development Capacity Evaluation in the wrong hands can simply improve his or her ability to overdevelop land by taking advantage of a zoning ordinance. Few if any, of these ordinances coordinate the design specification variables of development capacity equations. This simply makes the ordinance vulnerable to more sophisticated evaluation and targeted variance requests.

Development Capacity Evaluation is a software CD attached to its manual of explanation entitled, Land Development Calculations, ed.2, published by the McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Predicting Shelter Options within a Limited Built Domain

The capacity of land to shelter human activity is a function of its core area. The core area is hidden in plain sight and makes it possible to forecast hundreds of intensity options in the time it takes to sketch one. (See Fig 1) This is relevant because we must learn to predict and evaluate shelter options for growing populations within a limited Built Domain that does not threaten its source of life – The Natural Domain. 

Core land area equals the land remaining for building and parking after open space, unbuildable areas, rights-of-way, loading areas and miscellaneous pavement are subtracted from the gross land area GLA available as shown in Figure 1. Table 1 explains the arithmetic implied by Figure 1. Five gross acres is given. Ten percent of this area is estimated for rights-of-way and pavement, thus reducing the GLA to a net land area NLA of 4.5 acres. A further 20% of the GLA is subtracted for an unbuildable marsh, thus reducing the GLA to 3.5 buildable acres BLA. Arrows 1-6 in Table 1 point to values that further reduce BLA to determine the core area remaining CORE for development. Arrow 3 points to a 30% project open space provision that offsets building mass and pavement within the BLA. Arrow 8 points out that 64.3% of the BLA remains for development and Arrow 9 points out that this is 45% of the GLA purchased. In both cases the column to the right of Arrows 8 and 9 notes that 98,099 sq ft of core development area CORE remains from the 5 acre (217,800 sq ft) gross land area purchased.

The Planning Forecast Panel of Table 1 explains the development potential of this core area based on the design concept represented. (In this case, the model represents a non-residential building using a grade parking lot around, but not under the building.) The FLR column lists building height options from 1-15 floors. The gross building area column GBA predicts the building area produced by increased building height. The GBA column shows that the biggest building area gain occurs when building height increases from 1 to 2 floors. The gain from 3-5 floors becomes increasingly less, and the gain from 5-15 floors is practically irrelevant.  

The BCA column (building cover area) explains how the floor plan shrinks as the parking lot area increases in the PLA column to serve increased building height and area. The parking space increase is shown in the NPS column. Intensity is expressed as gross building area per buildable acre SFAC available, and is compared to the more traditional but less accurate, and far more arbitrary, floor area ratio FAR.

If a developer is not satisfied with the gross building area forecasts calculated, his only option is to increase the core area by altering his design specification values, and open space S is often the first reduction. Any such design specification alteration could easily involve variance requests, but its implications are difficult to assess without development capacity evaluation. 

Our ability to shelter human activity within environmental limits depends on our ability to accurately predict development intensity options for every core area within these limits. It also means that we must understand the impact of these intensity options, since our history has proven that the potential spectrum has physical, social, psychological and economic consequences that can threaten the health, safety, and welfare of any population.  

Population growth continues to place the built environment in competition with its natural partner. The extent of its land consumption for growth is a function of the planning decisions made to satisfy our need for shelter, since the movement, open space, and life support divisions of the built environment respond to serve this catalyst. The core area of every shelter project answers this demand, and our ability to forecast development capacity options, evaluate intensity, and offer variety will determine our ability to coexist with a natural partner that tolerates our presence within limits. 

Architecture can be designed, remodeled or converted to shelter any activity. It must simply respect the building and zoning codes that pertain. It can also assume any appearance. The shelter it provides, however, is an element of survival. The amount that can be provided is a function of the core land available. When land use allocation is combined with a three-dimensional strategy for core area shelter capacity, the result will be city design that has a chance of achieving symbiotic success. The architecture and context that emerges will again stand in mute testimony to the level of awareness reached.

Portions of this article were excerpted and edited from Development Capacity Evaluation software attached to my book, Land Development Calculations, ed. 2, published by The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010.

Design Specifications & Shelter Intensity

***Please see my latest book, The Science of City Design: Architectural Algorithms for City Planning and Design Leadership, on in both e-book and paperback versions.***

NOTE: This essay has been rewritten in 2017 under the title, "Comparing Shelter Design Decisions" to correspond with the updated format and equations in the book referenced above.
Within the Shelter Division of the Built Environment, design specification values define intensity. This is the relationship of project open space to gross building and pavement area per buildable acre available. When design specification values are entered in the template of a forecast model, embedded equations use these values to predict a site plan intensity option. When one or more specification values are changed in a forecast model, it predicts a revised option, but unrestrained values can produce excessive intensity. From this perspective, design specification values represent the DNA of shelter, but it is not a gift with the natural power of adaptation. It is our responsibility.  

Development Capacity Evaluation v.2 is a software collection of forecast models attached to Land Development Calculations, 2.ed. (LDC). They predict the site plan intensity implications of values entered in their design specification templates, and the results have larger Built Environment implications as well. When these templates are related to land use plans, they represent a city design for activity, intensity and urban form. This gives us the potential to achieve physical, social and economic objectives within the sustainable limits of a Built Domain.  

Generic site plan options fall into two land use families and are distinguished by their method of providing parking. Table 1 lists some of the decisions that lead to a forecast model. The complete set of decision trees is presented in “Improving the Argument for Architecture and City Design”. Each forecast is a function of the model chosen, the core area available (See Diagram 1) and the design specification values entered in its template.  

Core area is simply the land remaining for building cover (footprint) and parking cover after a project open space percentage is subtracted from the buildable land area available. Buildable land is the land remaining after unbuildable areas and public right-of-way dedications are subtracted from the gross land area available. 

Forecast models predict gross building and parking area potential per buildable acre based on the values entered. The intensity predicted indicates shelter capacity and activity for a given land area, but it can be overdone. Since design specification values define intensity, they represent the instructions required to shelter activities within the Built Environment. There are an infinite number of potential value combinations, however. Existing context evaluation will be required to appraise values and select options to produce a restricted Built Domain that protects its source of life – The Natural Domain.
Figures 1-4 are photographs of two projects based on the CG1L forecast model, but with different design specification values. The model pertains to non-residential land use activities (C) that use a grade parking lot around but not under the building (G1) when the gross land area (L) is given. This model includes a project open space allocation (S) and a parking space allocation (s) in its design specification template. Both provisions make open space a conscious decision rather than an afterthought assembled from left-over land. 

Fig 1 Office Project Aerial View

Fig 2 Office Project Parking Lot

Fig 3 Corporate Office Aerial View

Fig 4 Corporate Office Entrance

The green open space in Figures 1 and 2 is a rather typical quantity found in office projects around the globe, and is more generous than many. The green open space in Figures 3 and 4 is part of a corporate office park that is not typical, but present in many communities. 

The two projects do not look the same, but they share the same design specification template. The difference is represented by the values entered and the appearance applied. When appearance is ignored, the geometry is called building mass, or “massing”, and the relationship of mass and pavement to project open space is called intensity. Intensity can be measured and is defined by the contrasting values in Table 2. The values (s), (a) and (S) are indicators of the differences beneath appearance. 


The design specification values in Table 3 define the project in Figure 1. The planning forecast table at the bottom of this table also displays the options that were available if greater building height had been considered. Table 4 defines the project in Figure 3 and also displays the options that were available. Both tables are based on the forecast model CG1L, and a change in any design specification value would produce a new forecast of options. These value categories are the DNA of CG1L design. Value decisions represent DNA instructions that can lead shelter construction toward the goals of a Built Environment within the limits of a Built Domain. 

The parking lot areas shown in Figures 2 and 3 are often expanded to increase development capacity at the expense of project open space. Their internal parking open space may also be compressed to increase the number of spaces provided. This increases gross building area per buildable acre, or intensity, but decreases the project’s contribution to a city’s physical, social and psychological quality of life. Its economic contribution over time also comes into question when the building is placed in the middle of an asphalt parking lot, since it will rarely attract employment centers with the greatest revenue potential and appears to have a greater tendency to deteriorate.  

When a low value for (s) is entered in a design specification template, the forecast provides less area per parking space and must use it all for pavement. Higher values include internal area for landscape improvement to reduce parking intensity. The parking lot open space implied by the total value (s) combines with the project open space (S) specified to determine the relationship of people to the building and parking intensity created. (See "Parking Lot Design Implications”) This open space combines with the Open Space Division of the Built Environment and the expansion area of the Built Domain to define the fabric of a city and its weave into the Natural Domain of its host.  

The photographs and statistics for Fig 3 reveal another parking lot option however. The value (s) is low indicating that only pavement has been provided for the parking lot, but every parking bay is separated by a project open space finger that reduces the collective intensity of parking and provides a separate pedestrian route to the building entry for every parking space. Therefore, the area allocated per parking space (s) combines with the project allocation (S) in this design to reduce parking intensity, since ultimate intensity produces a sea of asphalt that has too often been considered an adequate substitute for project open space. 

This is the dilemma in a nutshell. More open space means less shelter capacity given the same building height and parking requirements, but we have not been able to predict the options available; and when you cannot predict you cannot anticipate nor plan for coexistence that protects our sustainable future. Design specification values are at the heart of the shelter issue. They are virtually unregulated, however, because independent zoning requirements do not anticipate the implications of interaction. The equations of Development Capacity Evaluation v.2 have been written to define this interaction, but context research and analysis is needed to define value limits that will offer lifestyle options while protecting our health, safety and quality of life. Context research therefore represents the potential to distill urban DNA to treat unsustainable growth on the face of a gift we cannot replace. 


The Natural Domain is at risk from our Built Environment. This domain is being threatened by site plans that multiply without the restraint of Built Domain limits; but if there were limits, internal growth of the Built Environment could not be guided by zoning regulations that are unequal to the DNA required. They are simply hurdles in the path of sprawl.

The Built Environment contains Movement, Open Space and Life Support Divisions that serve a Shelter Division. A site plan for shelter construction is the city design equivalent of cellular growth within this environment. Site plans in the Shelter Division contain various degrees of open space within their project limits, but shelter is the primary objective. The Open Space Division within the Built Environment contains, but is not limited to, agriculture and parks. Environmental open space is a separate Natural Domain. In other words, the Built and Natural Domains depend on open space because it is their common foundation for survival. From our standpoint, open space within the Built Environment, the Built Domain and the Natural Domain protects us from oppressive cities and an unsustainable future.  

The term “Built Domain” means the entire area available for the Built Environment. The Built Environment is an organism evolving within the Built Domain. At the present time there is no meaningful distinction between the Built Domain and the Natural Domain.  

The entire classification system for the Built Domain can be found in Appendix A of Land Development Calculations, second edition, published by The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010. The Open Space Division is meant to include undeveloped expansion areas within the limits of a Built Domain, but these areas must be distinguished from agricultural areas to be preserved and a Natural Domain to be protected.  

Open space in the Built Environment is at risk from overdevelopment. Open space in the Built Domain is at risk from annexation and speculation. Open space in the Natural Domain is at risk from sprawl that continues to consume the face of the planet.  

It’s easy to imagine a separation of domains that protects the planet’s ecological and environmental systems, but more difficult to imagine a Built Domain that can shelter population growth within limits that are physically, socially, psychologically and economically sustainable. The devil is truly in the detail of design decisions, since they must lead to the birth of a symbiotic future.  

In science, coexistence is a symbiotic state we are attempting to enter with environmental awareness. There are many facets, but the sprawl of our Built Environment is an underlying threat unchecked by city plans focused on internal risk from land use conflict and building construction. The sprawling result has now expanded to threaten a Natural Domain that does not compromise with ignorance. 

There are two fundamental questions: (1) what are sustainable limits for the Built Domain and (2) what are the physical, social and economic relationships within a Built Environment that can shelter population growth while protecting its health, safety and welfare?  

DNA is a frame of reference. In the world of Biology it is a leadership plan, a set of instructions and a measurement system that defines physical limits, operational responsibilities and functional relationships, but these definitions have been a gift at birth. It is our responsibility to define a similar plan for the organism we create within a Built Domain that will not threaten its natural host. At the present time, the physical limits of the Built Domain are unrestrained; and healthy relationships with the Natural Domain are as mysterious as anatomical relationships in the Middle Ages. We now have satellite images of urban anatomy on the examining table, but the patient is alive and we are staring at growth that is out of control with an inadequate regulatory system.  

Sustainable geographic limits for the Built Domain can only be defined by the science of many cooperating disciplines. Some geographic issues are obvious, however. For instance, building over jungles, forests, swamps, fault lines, wetlands and flood plains, below sea level and on the beach is not sustainable; nor is the continuous consumption of agriculture for shelter, the obstruction of migration paths, the disruption of spawning patterns and the diversion of rivers and streams -- not to mention pollution, resource depletion and energy consumption. Looking at each of these issues separately is scientifically essential because detailed information is required, but failing to treat them as overlays to reveal the land remaining for our Built Domain is an unsustainable habit. In the end, design is required, and it is the ability to imagine the forest after memorizing the trees on a tortured path of discovery.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Conceptual Design & Architectural Scope

This is a continuing dialogue with Patrick Quinn, FAIA that has been very helpful in my attempts to explain the concept of city design. Mr. Quinn’s remarks are included at the end of this text and refer to my essay, "Land is a Critical Design Element".

Mr. Quinn is right. Conceptual design is another word for inspiration based on years of study and experience. It is the critical phase in any creative pursuit. Visual imagination also frequently transcends logic. It is brought back to Earth in architecture by hundreds, if not thousands, of practical decisions; but allowed free reign in fine art. The scope of conceptual design in architecture has been limited by its focus on buildings and their clients, however. When it addresses movement, open space or the infrastructure of life support; the concern remains focused on the client and his shelter objectives. The reason is obvious, but an opportunity is overlooked. The same conceptual process can be applied to city design for the benefit of entire populations. It requires, however, that we develop a market from knowledge that can be created by the conceptual skills and abilities we take for granted. I wrote my book and software to get the ball rolling with a language of intensity and the tools of Development Capacity Evaluation. They are only a beginning, but they add dimension to the potential scope of design in architecture.

The conceptual design of a city involves architectural massing, or shelter, that is served by open space, movement systems and life-supporting infrastructure. The composition must be arranged to protect our physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life, as well as our health and safety. This in turn must be located within a Built Domain that does not threaten its source of life – The Natural Domain. A tactical architect-client relationship cannot accomplish this goal without a strategic plan.

I’ve called this strategy City Design. It departs from traditional city planning because it mathematically forecasts the gross building area created by design specification options for any land area. Gross building area combines with activity to produce intensity. Intensity, activity and condition affect a city’s health and safety. They also determine its physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life. The amount of gross building area within a city has previously been called urban form, but urban form has needed a persuasive analytical language to measure, study and advocate optional decisions. We have the language of planning and zoning, but it has produced inconsistent results and sprawl that is a threat to The Natural Domain. A new language is needed to produce consistent success within a limited Built Domain that can be incorporated into debate and adopted by law.

Land Development Calculations explains the vocabulary, language and forecasting software of Development Capacity Evaluation. The book and software are tools that can contribute to persuasive city design with three-dimensional leadership potential. (Land use plans separate incompatible activities with two-dimensional maps, and building height limits are not coordinated with economic potential.) I have called this the architecture of city design. It represents the mathematical ability to measure, predict and evaluate the physical, social, psychological and economic implications of land use allocation and massing intensity options within a city design context.

Traditional architecture will still involve the tactics required to achieve a client goal, but this goal will be led by a city design strategy. It is design that must advance from land use and zoning concepts that have produced sprawl. Architects will be qualified to take this step when they recognize the strategic implications of their tactical efforts, and resolve to organize this random effort within sustainable limits that can shelter growing populations -- without compromising their quality of life with excessive intensity. At this point their work to reach a client goal will take place within a strategic city design for architecture that can document the public benefit of the entire effort.

Note from Patrick Quinn, FAIA re: “Land is a Critical Design Element”

My position is that all four categories must be included in the development of schematic design. Even before that stage conceptual design is pretty empty if it does not involve all four considerations.

And that is precisely why the conceptual stage, upon which schematic is based, is to my mind the essential and critical phase.

It sums up all of the aspects in a synthesis while yet allowing for further development of detailed factors in any of your four categories. Otherwise teamwork, on which most architecture is based would be pointless and unsuccessful.

It is at the exploration that constitutes the evolution of a conceptual framework, that crucial design issues are at least framed for continuing discussion because design is indeed a continuous evolution.

It is also at this stage that making connections between the unlikely is usually possible and therein lie the roots of inspiration which can make a work significant or not. Otherwise all one is doing is what any competent intelligence can do.....follow a strictly logical process through prescribed sequences.

Visual imagination frequently transcends logic.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Land is a Critical Design Element

My correspondence with Patrick Quinn, FAIA has proven to be a rich source of inspiration and I’d like to relate the following for all to consider. It refers to my essay, “Improving the Argument for Architecture and City Design”. Mr. Quinn's note has been placed at the end. 

Dear Patrick,

I’m afraid there is no language substitute for the creative back and forth that leads to schematic architectural design decisions; but schematic design is not the first phase, or the critical phase, of architectural design. I understand why you say this, based on the history of architectural education and emphasis, however. Your letter is very helpful in reminding me to make a point that is crucial to an argument supporting the public benefit of architecture and city design. 

Architectural design does not begin with programming and schematics. These involve the architect-client interface. There is a silent partner in the room. It is the ineffective and disorganized zoning ordinance that has been our best effort to organize architectural decisions as they accumulate to form cities. It dictates the development capacity of land without understanding the role open space plays in this definition. 

Design begins with the land. I’ve tried to explain the role of open space in, “Replacing Density”, and “The Limits of Shelter Capacity”. Open space in all of its forms is actually the key to survival, since it begins to define development capacity. The Natural Domain is entirely open space. It is the area needed to sustain all life on the planet, but it has not been outlined. I’ve called the land remaining, “The Built Domain”. The Built Environment can only expand within the limits of a Built Domain if all life is to be protected.  

The Built Environment is comprised of four divisions: Shelter, Movement, Open Space and Life Support. This classification is further developed in Appendix A of my book. The Open Space division of the Built Domain contains agriculture at one end of the spectrum and project open space at the other. When open space is specified throughout the spectrum of land use categories in the Built Domain, shelter capacity is a function of the land remaining, the architectural design category chosen and the design specifications adopted. Design specifications include a project open space percentage and building height decision. The entire specification defines the intensity that can be achieved on a given land area. These specifications will determine our future ability to shelter the activities of growing populations within a limited Built Domain. The connection is presently abstract because development capacity evaluation and specification is not linked to city design, shelter capacity, architectural programming and the schematic design that follows.  

I’ve encountered clients with program requirements that would not fit on the land they owned, even when intensity was dialed-up to sacrifice all vulnerable open space. In fact, excessive multi-family intensity within permitted density limits started me on this quest early in my career. I knew density and floor area ratios permitted too much, but opinion does not prevail when argument confronts profit with intuition. 

Design is based on logic, but this logic begins with development capacity evaluation for land within a Built Environment. This environment cannot be permitted to sprawl beyond the limits of its Built Domain. Now that development capacity can be accurately predicted, architectural programming will have an adequate frame of reference and schematic design will follow. When architecture and city design acknowledge this sequence, they will begin the research needed to persuasively establish the wise use of land; the shelter it can provide; and the public benefit that accrues with this knowledge.

Thank you for the best testimony I have read when you wrote: "All of the buildup is basic common sense and calculation based on logical options...." I would have been gratified if you had not continued with, "... setting the stage, as it were, for the critical phase which will involve the crucial (schematic design) decisions on which ALL subsequent ones will be based." Schematic decisions are tactical building decisions. My intent is to set the stage with strategic architectural decisions that I believe are crucial. These involve the development capacity of land; our ability to predict and evaluate many shelter options in the time it would take to sketch one; and our ability to provide shelter for growing populations within limits that protect their source and quality of life. This will set the stage for schematic architectural design with decisions I have called the architecture of city design.

For more on architectural benefit, please see, “The Public Benefit of Architecture”.


“Dear Walter,

Thanks for letting me know of your website. I am flattered to have been quoted at length.

Everything you write in the tables 1-4 makes sense except for one thing.

You leave the most critical decisions, those that arrive at "Schematic Design" up in the air and this fundamental phase remains as a "to be decided" category in your logical scheme of things.

All of the buildup is basic common sense and calculation based on logical options.... setting the stage, as it were, for the critical phase which will involve the crucial decisions on which ALL subsequent ones will be based.

What the profession needs is language to enable architects to be more efficient in getting through that initial stage which forms the basis of all subsequent work….”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Improving the Argument for Architecture & City Design

I have posted this essay on my new web site at I’ve also posted, “The Public Benefit of Architecture” and some of the most frequently read of my previous essays.

If an image is too small to read on this new site, click on it. In the window that appears, go to the View menu, select Zoom and adjust the magnification percentage as required.

I will be concentrating on my new web site in the future and may not bring over all of my previous work on Google, so please consider Google a library which I will not eliminate and may expand.

I plan to activate the “Subscribe to Site at No Cost” feature of my new site in the future after the dust settles. This feature will send you an e-mail when there is a new essay or an adjustment to an old one if you sign up.

I’ve included a “Select Language” feature below the banner image for the convenience of my readers. I hope you find it useful.

You may return to this web site by using the link at the bottom of the Home page on the new site.

I have appreciated your interest in my work and encourage your feedback on the new site. It is light years ahead in appearance and I hope the content will encourage you to bookmark the location.

Walter M. Hosack
December 5, 2011
Dublin, OH

Monday, November 28, 2011

Strategic and Tactical Architecture

PLEASE NOTE THAT MY PRIMARY SITE IS NOW LOCATED AT “THE BUILT DOMAIN.NET”. A link is provided in the upper right hand corner of the home screen.

This is re-written from “Architectural Research for Survival with Dignity” 

Strategic research improves the tools and knowledge available to a profession. Tactical research identifies the characteristics of a unique project and applies the strategic tools and knowledge accumulated. Improving our ability to forecast and evaluate architectural options is a strategic professional objective. Applying that knowledge to a specific architectural commission is a tactical effort. Distinguishing the difference is a milestone for any profession, since it removes the leadership burden from practitioners who cannot carry the load.  

          Product research confuses the term “research” in architecture. Strategic research in this context is conducted by others to improve the product offered for sale. Architectural research is a tactical effort to select from the products available for incorporation in a building.

          Historic architectural research further complicates the term. History offers both strategic and tactical knowledge, but repeating the past responds to the future with ancient practice. Unfortunately, the Modern Period felt that a new response simply required a change in appearance and the adoption of science from others.

Programming research adds another element of confusion. It is focused on the client and his / her building objectives. (For non-architects, programming is a unique term that means a list of building rooms, spaces, relationships and services needed to serve owner activities.) The program was a given when I was a student. Client opinion was removed from the creative process and replaced with academic criticism of our opinion. We became the client and may have assumed that one day we would inherit the dictatorial power of our professors. This may sound familiar and implies potential educational improvement, but I’m getting off the point. Programming is a project-oriented research effort similar to a medical diagnosis. Evaluation only improves with expanded knowledge regarding options, implications and recommendations.

I won’t go on since I think I’ve made my point. Tactical architectural research is project-oriented. Strategic architectural research is profession-oriented. It is dedicated to the improvement of architectural evaluation, recommendation and decision. The distinction is needed to identify the strategic organizational knowledge required to improve the tactical value of architecture.

          In closing, I have never believed that the client is always right when his tactical interests conflict with public policy. This policy has determined that land use and building construction must be regulated to protect the public interest in health, safety and welfare. The rule of law has been a burden to private interests and their architectural representatives; but it actually represents a great architectural opportunity, since it is the only way an architect can successfully oppose owner demands when persuasion fails.

The problem is not public policy; it is with the regulations adopted to implement policy. They need leadership improvement. This will only happen when architecture can offer convincing alternatives from its strategic research efforts.

          Research regarding intensity will produce strategic knowledge and improved regulation in the public interest. Intensity is simply the gross building area (GBA) that can be introduced when parking, building height and project open space are stipulated. It can be measured, forecast and evaluated from many points of view. This is relevant because GBA capacity defines our ability to shelter human activity. The strategic importance of this potential can’t be overstated, because the options chosen will determine the scope of shelter available to growing populations within symbiotic limits. The solutions chosen will affect an entire population’s health and safety, not to mention its physical, social, psychological and economic welfare -- and its sustainable future. 

AUTHOR NOTE if you wish to read more: This essay concept was taken from Land Development Calculations, second edition, and its attached software entitled, “Development Capacity Evaluation”, by Walter M. Hosack and published by McGraw-Hill in 2010. The book explains a software collection of forecast models, which predict intensity based on the design specification values entered and a vocabulary written to support the city design of sustainable, symbiotic cities.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A New Language for Planning, Architecture and City Design

PLEASE NOTE THAT MY PRIMARY SITE IS NOW LOCATED AT “THE BUILT DOMAIN.NET”. A link is provided in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

Opinion is dominated by the law, which uses an established set of procedures to challenge the opinions of others. It demands knowledge to defend opinion in public debate. Architecture and city planning need a vocabulary to define and correlate research, and a language to defend opinion based on the knowledge acquired. 

We have become part of an artificial Built Domain that is threatening the Natural Domain with population and sprawl, and the Natural Domain does not compromise with ignorance. 

The Built Domain contains four divisions: Shelter, Movement, Open Space (including agriculture) and Life Support. Shelter is served by the other three. The challenge is to shelter a growing population within a limited Built Domain that does not threaten its natural host. Easily said, but the intensity patterns contemplated must not threaten the physical, social, psychological and economic welfare of the population involved. 

My book and software introduce a language of intensity that attempts to lay the groundwork for research and debate by all interested parties. A language is needed to address this issue in the public forums required by law. It’s an attempt to reconcile complexity with a structure built in the tradition of architecture -- and a vocabulary equal to the challenge of city design.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Citizen Participation is Like Urban Renewal

This is a response to a reader who uses the tern “urban design for all” to mean citizen, or public, participation. 

            Public participation, or “urban design for all”, has turned city planners into facilitators /administrators and architects into supplicants. Urban renewal failed because solutions were dictated based on opinion without knowledge. Citizen participation has failed for the same reason; but failure is disguised by popular participation that dilutes blame; considers experience knowledge; and mistakes issues for problems. 

            A problem must be defined before a solution can be found. A public grievance is a symptom, but is rarely the problem. The responsibility of leadership is to ask questions and conduct research to define problems; but admitting a problem can be political poison, so it is tempted to dance with the issues and ignore the problem. 

            Issues distract us from problems. This is typical because problems are abstract and issues are real, but medicine has already taught us that reacting to symptoms does not produce a cure. The urban public does not define problems. It lives with symptoms and will never produce cures, but it may ratify one when explanations justify change. If I use the phrase, “medicine for all”, the contrast with “urban design for all” may help to explain where we are and where medicine has been. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Protecting the Planet with Architecture

PLEASE NOTE THAT MY PRIMARY SITE IS NOW LOCATED AT “THE BUILT DOMAIN.NET”. A link is provided in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

This is a response to the italicized comments from Mr. Patrick Quinn, FAIA repeated below.

          Mr. Quinn, let me first say that I am always impressed by the background and experience you bring to these discussions. Every letter has been a contribution to my knowledge base. 

          There are many flies in the ointment, Mr. Quinn; and they will only be removed when they are recognized as symptoms of an issue that threatens us all. It didn’t take long to notice the Black Plague, but it took centuries to find a cure that included behavior modification through politics and law. Our current environmental issues remind me of the plague; but I’m not sure we have recognized the threat, nor have centuries to adjust. The sprawl of architecture reflects the problem. When the environmental record is written, the urban form, pattern and intensity of shelter will symbolize the success achieved. The fine art of exceptional architecture will bookmark the effort. 

          Your mention of GE is a perfect example of anticipation, but it will be an isolated phenomenon unless connected to a Built Domain designed to shelter growing populations within limits. The goal is to protect our source of life, the Natural Domain; while building the shelter, movement, open space and life support systems we need to function within the remaining Built Domain. The GE effort is part of this greater goal, and I can’t say enough about their vision, but in their world vision must be profitable. It’s an unstable benchmark when survival is the issue.  

It’s not too hard to imagine the consequences of unrestrained growth over the face of a planet with limited resources. It has been difficult, however, to create an architectural language that can address the problem of shelter within limits in strategic, quantifiable leadership terms. These are the terms needed to persuade as well as define, and they are the only terms that can be adopted by law to improve the architecture of city design under the concept of equal treatment. 

          The variable is intensity when shelter is considered. Many options have negative consequences that remain to be defined. My book explains the full spectrum of options in a language that has research, collaboration, debate, decision and leadership potential. The attached software uses this language to forecast hundreds of options in the time it would take to sketch one. Decisions will be taken by the politics and law of cultures, but a new language of intensity can replace planning and zoning surprises with reasonable expectations. 

          I would like to summarize by saying to architects: If it’s impossible, it may be worth doing. This has been our slogan since we first used our imagination to build the history of architecture? It began with impossible weights, distances, areas and spans. Brunelleschi’s dome at Santa Maria del Fiore is a classic symbol of overcoming the impossible, but certainly not the first example. We have now gone beyond astronomy and engineering to face impossible cities guided by two-dimensional plans and concepts of infinite growth on a finite planet. It’s a worthy challenge for the noble profession. 

Architecture has learned the necessity of collaboration and leadership on complex projects, but projects represent the tactical achievement of a given objective. Cities require a flexible, three-dimensional strategy for an infinite campaign of adjustment. Architecture will have much to offer when it can challenge the impossible with knowledge expressed in the quantitative language of intensity. It can then defend opinion and duplicate success with a language equal to its potential. 
Note from Mr. Patrick Quinn, FAIA

Re: “City Design, Urban Design and Architecture” blog on “Cities and Design” 

The distance between Jan Gehl's LIFE BETWEEN BUILDINGS and Baruch Givoni's CLIMATE CONSIDERATIONS IN BUILDINGS AND URBAN DESIGN is a great as that between Freya Stark's JOURNEY TO THE HADRAMUTH and Steven Erlich's report on his design research in South Yemen. Yet each of these volumes deals with fundamental principles underlying potential for the systematization of Urban Design. Each could lead to rules, strategies and regulations in their respective cultural contexts although they have implications for universal application. 

Walter Hosack's approach indicates the need to be able to sell strategies that will convince the political and communal city shapers that we professionals have a comprehensive and viable solution to the complexities of dealing with contemporary shifting sands of growth and change.
I cannot sufficiently stress that cultures modify approaches, and while global visions seem to dominate our visions, I cannot help thinking back to E.F. Schumacher's return to acting locally after he had thought globally for years.
There is a great big fly in Walter's ointment. Those who have most influence over our environmental decisions and whom Walter would persuade to adopt sound strategies resist all regulation with every fiber of their corporate and political beings. Strategy needs order. Order needs rules. Rules restrict economic "competitiveness" ( money making). All one needs to do is to cite current business efforts to minimize EPA fracking regulations even before they are formulated.
There are good signs, however. GE has begun to see potential profit in colossal wind farms and solar arrays. Other international conglomerates are preoccupied with similar alternatives, but they are mainly non-American groups.
Over here we still seem to want to live on in the spirit of the dog-eat-dog days of frontier colonialism.
Walter's scope and ambition are admirable and even achievable,...if adequately diverse teams can be assembled across disciplinary and political the macro level.
It may be easier, however, to begin at the local cultural level. That is why I mention Jan Gehl's LIFE BETWEEN BUILDINGS. I think also of the architect/landscape architect/regional planner, James A. Fehily, FRIAI, who once said about the ambitions of world changers" " They are all great men ( sic) and here am I trying to put two by fours together".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

City Design, Urban Design and Architecture

PLEASE NOTE THAT MY PRIMARY SITE IS NOW LOCATED AT “THE BUILT DOMAIN.NET”. A link is provided in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

It is my hope that architecture and urban design will become part of a city design strategy for stability, and that it will be based on the land use allocation of activity and intensity options within a limited Built Domain. Stability is a complex state but a worthy goal. Within cities, it involves shelter, movement, open space and life support systems. These systems attempt to protect our physical, social, psychological and economic health, safety and welfare. Normally, this sentence is disconnected for simplicity, but I’m trying to indicate that we are really attempting to protect: (1) our physical, social, psychological and economic health; (2) our physical, social, psychological and economic safety; and (3) our physical, social, psychological and economic welfare. It is a complex sentence that reflects a complex problem we are only beginning to appreciate, and shelter is an essential ingredient. In effect, the sentence is a question that asks, “Can we protect our physical, social, psychological and economic health, safety and welfare?” There is no answer at the present time, so I’ll call it a “symbiotic goal”. It implies a search for stability that has only been achieved in the uncompromising and flexible world of the Natural Domain. Fortunately, information technology now exists to link the data required for context knowledge and strategic evaluation of the question. Only then will informed city design decisions and compositions emerge to lead urban design and architecture toward a goal that will involve generations.

This should remind us of the Gothic Period. Generations will again be required, but not to build cathedrals. We are now asked to build cities that reflect reverence for a gift we cannot comprehend. The gift is a finite planet we do not own, and whose limits we only came to appreciate on July 20, 1969 at 20:17:38 UTC – the date and time the Symbiotic Period began.

Land use plans have achieved separation with sprawl while failing to produce stability because integrated context knowledge has been impossible to assemble in a reasonable amount of time. Information technology can only assemble relevant data, including context measurement, however. Research evaluation must tell us what activity and intensity combinations mean, and design must evaluate options in relation to the context knowledge acquired. These explanations may give design decisions the credibility they need to proceed toward our symbiotic goal.   

The term “urban design” is a rather ambiguous term. I can still remember my first interview after graduation when an architect asked me, “…what does that mean?” and “…how do you make a living with it?” I think of urban design as an effort to weave shelter, movement, open space, and life support systems into fabric that improves our quality of life within a limited area of a city. I think of city design as urban design for an entire jurisdiction with less emphasis on appearance and more emphasis on composition. It involves an architectural massing plan that emerges from land use allocation and intensity designations. These are arranged for symbiotic stability within a limited Built Domain. It is supported by an information system capable of monitoring success and modifying failure by forecasting options. Decisions will be based on research and knowledge that justifies adjustment.

City design is rarely successful based on popular opinion. The attempt is similar to a military campaign run by civilians using emotion and opinion as a substitute for the intelligence, tools, strategy and tactics that are the heart of any strategic effort.

Tactical efforts without policy, strategy and information produce random collisions across the planet. This is where we are with a host of environmental groups, and this includes architects pursuing energy efficiency. They will all remember this time as their “finest hour” in a confrontation with impossible odds and inadequate information. Once again man must use instinct to respond to threat while mobilizing a more adequate and successful reply based on collaboration and intelligence.

My essay, “The Public Benefit of Architecture”, attempts to illustrate the pitfalls of public opinion and the potential credibility of design advice when it is connected to development capacity forecasts and economic productivity. Advice will only trump opinion when it can prove consistently greater benefit.

The public will continue to believe it can make city planning, city design, urban design and architectural decisions based on popular opinion until we can prove the superiority of professional advice. This will require more knowledge and evidence to defend our logic, imagination and opinions. It sounds like medicine not that long ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pitch and Catch

The following is a response to an article by Wm. Farris entitled, ‘The Pitch” that is included in italics below.

The suggestion that good designers can’t speak and hide in corners will simply discourage a response to your question. The question was a good one, and I liked much of your essay; but professional improvement will depend on cooperation, not intimidation. It will also require a focus on design that is not always fine art.
My entire effort stems from a belief that design applies logic and knowledge to a question that may only be partially defined, and leads to appearance when confusion is organized and imagination is added. Fine art is an exceptional result, but may not be an adequate answer. The entire process will only gain public credibility when it is based on more than opinion and individual success. The profession needs a language and tools that convince the public success is a professional accomplishment and not a personal achievement by talent that cannot be duplicated.

My essays and blog have been an attempt to introduce the concept of development intensity evaluation and prediction to design professions such as city planning, economic development, architecture, landscape architecture, and civil engineering. I hope it will help us learn to live within limits, since they will be naturally imposed if not defined. I’ve often referred to it as context measurement, development capacity evaluation and city design for economic stability. The entire set of concepts and tools are contained in my book and software. The effort represents my attempt to offer the vocabulary and language we need to begin answering your questions with additional logic and knowledge. 

The Pitch by Wm. Farris 

If I were to enter a room full of spec writers, I would probably find a lot of comfort. Talking to a spec writer is always a great conversation with both a goal and a point, often with a sense of humor to boot. Being a spec writer is all about being specific. There is no sort of or kind of. It either is or it isn't, or we just don't know yet. It's either good or it's not good enough. Spec writers are real people who should be congressmen. We would probably get a lot done if they were. Instead, we have lawyers for congressmen (sort of kind of people).
If I were to enter a room full of artists, I might ask them about their art. But I will likely regret I ever did. The answers can often disappoint or confuse. An art professor warned me a long time ago to take what an artist has to say about their own work with a grain of salt. Boy was he not kidding. Just look, but don't ask. You have been warned.
If I were to enter a room full of design architects, I would probably leave very quickly. These are not the kind you want to see gathered in herds. They don't gather well. You will find them oddly dispersed, standing in corners, and at least one will be hiding behind a potted plant somewhere. It's something akin to an unstable molecule. They are like deer that might dart into the woods at any second should something rattle them. And try getting these guys to agree on something, anything. Keep it simple.
When I try to get designers to talk about design, it can be like pulling teeth. They might know how to design a building, but learning to verbalize their visual skills is not something most of them are heavily invested in. Of course, there will be a few who talk too much. Those are the ones who can't design very well. They compensate for their weaknesses by running at the mouth on behalf of their more talented peers. The conversation often has no goal and certainly no point that I am aware of.

I try to convince them that learning to theorize about their work will make them better designers. Trust me, it will. The herd looks away. The potted plant wiggles. It becomes even more obvious when you have to sell your skills to a client. Have you thought about how to sell what you do in this tough economy? When the chips are down, the stakes are high, and the competition is stiff, can you communicate a vision? Can you verbalize your craft? Can you prepare that pitch?
OK Mr. Designer, I want you to go back to your desk. You have 30 minutes. Come back here with six talking points of real substance to convince me I should hire you for this project. But let me first give you some talking points that are off the table. You cannot talk about meeting the budget because our project manager already has that one. You cannot talk about meeting the construction schedule because we gave that one to the project architect. You can't talk about programming or function because our programmer has that covered. You cannot say any version of a statement that sounds like we will give you what you want, because every single competitor is going to say that, and you said that in the last 50 interviews you did. That is not original, it's not substantive, and you, of all people on the team, need to sound original. You are the designer. I want you to talk about design. I need substance. Convince me that you know what you are doing.

What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?