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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".

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