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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Intensity Will Become a Measurement for Survival

I’ve been searching for this title for some time with my previous essays. I wrote “Replacing Density” to explain that it and the floor area ratio were inadequate measurement languages for city planning and design leadership. I’ve written a number of others to explain the concept of intensity measurement, forecasting, evaluation and decision. I’ve also explained that activity and intensity combine to produce a measurable indication of context and economic stability -- and that these measurements can indicate negative conditions to be corrected. Throughout these essays, however, I have never clearly stated the obvious. Population needs shelter to survive. Intensity decisions will determine its ability to find shelter and economic stability within a limited Built Domain that does not threaten its source of life. This statement may place a political, social and economic issue in its proper physical context -- the context of architecture and city design within sustainable limits.

The language of intensity and the vocabulary of design specification values are my attempt to rationally address the issue within a Built Domain that must be limited by science. The whole is still the sum of its parts and we can't ignore shelter, since each structure will contribute to sprawl until leadership recognizes the problem. The ultimate solution is symbiotic, and we must get there. Buildings alone will not solve the problem, but buildings and the land they occupy are part of the problem. They serve to frame the issue of shelter for growing populations within a limited Built Domain.

Organic architecture is a wonderful phrase. It has often been interpreted to mean a building that appears to grow from the land. Unfortunately, they don’t; and their fields of sprawl spread like weeds in a garden. I have suggested replacing the term “organic” with the term “symbiotic” because growth without limits and mutual benefit is a threat to survival. A truly symbiotic goal may never be reached but we can do better.  I have tried to create a vocabulary and software tool to address the issue with an approach I’ve called city design. Vocabulary is simply a collection of words, however, until it is connected with measurement, forecasting and evaluation to create a language and dictionary of intensity decisions.



Intensity is a measurement of place within cities. The context of a single place is created with architecture. A collection of places is created with city design. City design determines land use (activity) allocation and development (shelter) capacity. The combination of activity and capacity produces intensity, which must not threaten the physical, social, psychological or economic health and safety of the population sheltered. City design for development capacity, activity and economic stability produces an average level of intensity within a Built Environment. This environment must only expand within the limits of a Built Domain defined by science, and this will influence our evaluation of intensity options.

The ability to measure, catalog, forecast and define intensity options for city design evaluation is explained in my book and software.

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