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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Missing Design Decision

            Architects must react to the land available. They have had no way of efficiently forecasting capacity without time-consuming drawings that explore a limited number of options, and no way to insist on minimum levels of project open space to offset building mass and pavement that produce intensity.

Open space, however, determines the weave of urban fabric and form, and we have little knowledge about the impact of fabric, form and intensity on our daily quality of life. This, however, determines the relationship between architecture and public benefit beyond the box. It also determines the relationship of the Natural Domain to the sustainable future of an artificial environment called the Built Domain. In other words, open space is critical, but architects cannot predict its impact on development capacity at the project level, let alone argue for city design plans that emphasize the integration of architecture with the Natural Domain.

This is organic architecture and city design, but it cannot proceed without the tools needed to predict the relationship between development capacity and open space at the project level, since this is where real estate value is calculated. Conscious project open space provisions have been ignored because their limits on development capacity could not be efficiently predicted. Project open space has been a left-over. Inclusion has been arbitrary and mandatory requirements have been considered a “taking” of individual property rights. A new method of measurement and calculation, however, offers a new ability to accurately and efficiently predict the development capacity implications of open space provisions, and to ensure equal treatment on the basis of improved knowledge.  Project open space is the missing design decision and it must align with our need to shelter growing populations within a sustainable Built Domain that retains its quality of life. This is the promise of organic architecture and city design. There’s a lot to learn because we have not been able to define and measure intensity, let alone study its implications.

            Intensity begins with architecture in the Shelter Division of the Built Domain. The Built Domain remains to be defined, but the built environment continues to expand its consumption of the Natural Domain. Shelter is served by the Movement, Open Space (agriculture, public open space) and Life Support Divisions of the built environment. This environment will continue to threaten the Natural Domain until organic architecture and city design live up to the promise implied by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. This will not happen until improved measurement systems can support organic research. We are currently borrowing engineering measurements to define energy conservation and consumption while consuming the land with abandon. This is not organic design. It is sprawl.

Intensity measurement can become the foundation for organic urban research. It will eventually become essential, because development capacity must equal population growth within a limited Built Domain. Intensity measurement, evaluation and prediction is the future public benefit of architecture, and one reason why I began work on the second version of Development Capacity Evaluation software. It is attached to the second edition of my book, Land Development Calculations published by The McGraw-Hill Companies in 2010. This sounds like a blatant attempt to sell software explained by a book, but it represents my sincere desire to make a contribution.

It’s time that city fabric and form represent the goal of organic function within an urban biological system that can achieve symbiotic status with its natural partner. This can only begin with a measurement system equal to the research, evaluation and knowledge required to improve design decisions by individual practitioners. It cannot be achieved without consciously addressing a missing design decision that offsets intensity and is the foundation for our quality of life. There is no question in my mind that architecture will be recognized as a public benefit when it leads, or joins, a collaborative professional and scientific effort to study the implications of design specifications and their ability to take organic design to the next level of cultural adaptation. At this point, design specification knowledge will be supported by local, state and national governments.

AUTHOR NOTE: The problem has been that we have not been able to accurately predict the development capacity of land when a specified amount of project open space is retained as a contribution to both project and urban context. This makes intensity a wild card that is dealt by chance from a land owner’s deck and sprawl an inevitable result. When an architect leaves project open space to chance however, he isolates himself and is less able to convince others of public benefit. This is why I have focused on the ability to predict development capacity options (intensity options) when project open space is specified. Forecast models make it possible to predict hundreds of these options in a fraction of the time it would take to sketch one. It can change the way we appraise, use and preserve the land for future generations, and is one step closer to the dream begun by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolf Frankel.

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