Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Linnaeus began to classify the plant and animal kingdoms of the natural environment but overlooked a second world. The built environment was a negligible consideration at the time, but has grown into a competing artificial presence that consumes the kingdoms of his work. This is a contest we cannot win in a universe that does not compromise. It is why every acre of land is precious; why we must learn to live within limits; and why we must use each acre wisely within our world as we attempt to shelter growing populations without consuming the planet. 

The consumption of land begins with the concept of property. I won’t even attempt to address this issue except to say that it has been the foundation of perpetual conflict, and that our current legal concepts encourage consumption that will either appear anachronistic or disappear at some future point in time.  

Adaptation requires a correlation of forces that is not inevitable. Correlation extends over millennia and makes competition possible within any given life span. Without correlation, competition produces extinction and the fittest do not survive. My objective is to provide the tools needed to correlate shelter options for growing populations within sustainable limits defined by the science of others.  

After Apollo 11 most will agree that the Earth is a finite resource protected by a thin film of atmosphere at risk; and that it exists within a universe that is one definition of infinity. Therefore, the development capacity of land to provide shelter for growing populations becomes an issue of survival, since the planet is also a source of life that cannot be consumed with impunity. In other words, the built environment competes for land with the natural environment -- and survival depends on the correlation of forces we barely comprehend.  

Land is used by four divisions within the built environment. The Shelter Division is served by the Movement, Open Space and Life Support Divisions. The relationship between building mass, pavement and open space within the Shelter Division is called intensity, which can be magnified by the surrounding intensity of its supporting divisions. Shelter intensity can be defined as the gross building area constructed per acre of buildable land available. Shelter capacity is found when gross building area is multiplied by the population anticipated per 1,000 square feet of building area forecast. The activities sheltered by building intensity combine to establish the social and economic characteristics of urban form. 

Intensity options can be predicted with Development Capacity Evaluation software (DCE) based on the forecast model chosen and the values entered in its design specification template, and hundreds can be forecast in the time it takes to sketch one. The evaluation of these predictions can help us learn to use each acre wisely, since I’ve pointed out that economic potential is a function of building intensity and activity; but over-development represents a threat to our health, safety and welfare.  

There has been no adequate definition of “over-development”, so the debate has wandered in a forest of detail and emotional confrontation that has only led to annexation, sprawl and blight. Debate has been limited by the language available, and DCE has been written to expand this vocabulary with accurate predictions of building capacity options. This may improve our ability to shelter growing populations within sustainable limits. 

Intensity and context combine to create neighborhoods, districts, cities and regions. When the equations of intensity embedded in DCE software are linked to the economic databases and mapping power of geographical information systems (GIS), the three-dimensional potential of urban form will emerge as options expressed in a visual and descriptive language. This can lead us toward life within limits that protect the health, safety and welfare of two worlds that must now learn to function as one.  

Intensity options represent context parameters. If we must learn to live within limits, then both intensity parameters and context design are critical to our health, safety and welfare.  

Within all divisions of the built environment, physical context is produced by the form, function, appearance, arrangement and intensity of building mass, pavement and open space. Social context is a function of the activities permitted within shelter. Economic context is a function of land use allocation, activity and intensity within a jurisdiction.  

Land use plans, building codes and subdivision regulations have been our most prominent attempts to establish context parameters, but our lack of ability to forecast intensity has produced a sprawling attempt to return to the farm. It will become an increasing threat to the planet until we can define the activity, intensity and land use allocations needed to shelter growing populations within symbiotic limits. This is a worthy purpose for our continued presence if we can accept our stewardship responsibilities for the Linnaean kingdoms and Darwinian correlations we have observed along our own evolutionary path. 
Author Note: Portions of this article were excerpted and edited from the second edition of my book, Land Development Calculations, and its attached forecasting software, Development Capacity Evaluation, v2.0 published by The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2009.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Introduction to Intensity

Architectural recommendations are difficult to defend when there is disagreement, but decisions affect our sustainable future as certainly as sprawl is consuming our source of life. I originally approached this problem with a desire to understand multi-family residential density. I intuitively felt it was an inaccurate measurement, encouraged over-development, and ignored the issue of sprawl. (See “Replacing Density”; “The Limits of Shelter Capacity”; “Improving the Argument for Architecture and City Design”; and “Context, Capacity and Intensity”) I eventually realized that project open space was a significant element in development capacity calculations and intensity evaluation, but an ignored factor in density regulation. It was the lime missing from the sailor’s diet. This meant that open space would remain a remnant of project design for all land use categories until its development capacity implications could be forecast to permit evaluation, consider alternatives, and justify requirement.

My interest in this topic stemmed from my belief that we simply did not understand “intensity”; could not measure its spectrum from under-development to over-development; could not forecast the spectrum; and as a result could not discuss the issue in terms that could lead development to improved results within limits that protected its source of life. My efforts have produced a method of development capacity evaluation and a vocabulary of intensity that I will attempt to briefly explain, since it has the potential to structure research, define conclusions and defend decisions that are presently vulnerable to attack by opinion. 

Shelter falls into three generic building families and each family uses one of three generic parking systems. Tables 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 identify these families and parking systems. They also identify the design categories that lead to specific intensity forecast models based on the information given. I’ve called these intensity models development capacity forecast and evaluation models because they predict rows of intensity options related to building height alternatives in their planning forecast panels. 

In effect, Tables 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 represent decision trees that lead to forecast model identification. Values are entered in the design specification template of a model to produce intensity option predictions in its forecast panel. Changing a value changes a forecast. Switching models changes the design premise.  (These tables are presented at the end of this essay to avoid the interruption they would produce here.) 

Residential and non-residential forecast models CG1L and RG1L are attached as examples labeled Tables 2 and 3. They represent two of forty listed in Tables 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3. The full collection predicts results for all generic parking solutions, including no parking. The approach allows all affected parties to focus on a design vocabulary that defines initial intensity options and shapes all future project direction. 

When evaluating intensity options, a user can alter values in the design specification template of a forecast model to compare results in the design category represented.  He or she can change models to compare design premise or, parking category, options. The result is a strategy based on design premise and specification values that have leadership potential and flexibility. 

It should be apparent after a glance at the design specification templates in Tables 2 and 3 that research is required to identify the implications of design specification values, since many will produce unsatisfactory results in the model’s forecast panel. The research, however, will support recommendations and add credibility to the decisions taken.  


Land use and shelter intensity allocation will determine our ability to live and thrive within geographic limits that protect our natural source of life.

Project open space reduces intensity but cannot be ignored, and is included as a conscious entry in all design specification templates.

The planning forecast panels in Tables 2 and 3 predict rows of gross building area options related to building height alternatives when project open space is specified. These capacity options are related to an intensity index INT in the right hand column that takes the form (f.S). The prefix (f) indicates the number of building floors involved. The suffix (S) indicates the percentage of project open space provided within the buildable area. Optional indexes with more detail are discussed in my book. The result is a forecast of intensity options based on an entire set of interactive design specification values.

We need shelter for survival, but total building area must be provided for growing populations within sustainable limits that do not contain excessive intensity. The composition of gross building area, pavement and project open space is shelter. When shelter combines with the movement, open space and life support divisions of our built environment, the composition determines our physical, social, psychological and economic health, safety and welfare.

Exceptional talent will always produce signature buildings that bookmark our progress toward a sustainable future, but design matters because architecture and city design are essential parts of a symbiotic correlation we have called evolution.

Competition produces extinction when correlation is absent. Competition may permit an individual or group to extend its lifespan, but correlation permits the species to survive over time periods beyond comprehension. It not about competition to consume. It's about a correlation of forces that permits continued competition without extinction. This is symbiotic awareness and the correlation of shelter with survival has entered a new dimension of competition where domination is failure.

I have purposely tried to keep this a brief introduction to intensity. For those interested in reading more, there is an extensive collection of free essays on my web site. The 40 forecast models mentioned can be found on a CD attached to my book: Hosack, Walter Martin, Land Development Calculations v.2, The McGraw-Hill Book Companies, 2009.


Table 2 Development Capacity Forecast Model CG1L


Table 3 Development Capacity Forecast Model RG1L

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Symbiotic Goal

Architecture is being advertised as fine art. This goal appears to be project-oriented and owner-specific. Public benefit appears to be a disposable objective, a weak claim and an unintended consequence of building display on the land available. I am not denigrating the effort. I am simply exploring the public relevance of a goal I have assumed. In my opinion, if broad public recognition of benefit is desired in this scenario, the goal must be adjusted to reflect the desire.  

In architecture "design matters" but it’s not a goal. It’s a statement of fact with a misunderstood term. Design refers to a thought process that leads to policy decisions regarding direction, function and result. The public impression of architecture, however, has been built around the term “fine art”; and the problem-solving, policy-making efforts of “design” have suffered by association.

Fine art ignores engineering while architecture has not recognized the difference between engineering policy and practice. For instance, the evaluation and choice of mechanical and structural systems is policy. The sizing of a duct or beam is practice.  

Architects are not practicing engineers. They synthesize diverse information from many technical disciplines to present project policy options and strategic definition. Correlation depends on creativity, knowledge and tools that are the foundation of credibility and persuasion.  One of these tools involves development capacity forecasting and intensity evaluation. It is based on the fact that open space offsets development impact to produce a measurable level of intensity, and the conscious provision of open space is a significant public policy decision within every architectural project. This is not too difficult to argue because open space can weave a city together with a commodity of acknowledged public relevance and benefit. It has been ignored in the past because it's an arbitrary requirement when there is no ability to predict its development capacity implications.

Design and production are terms that do not convey the importance of the policy decisions involved. Design decisions have been related to fine art. Production implies the absence of policy decisions during a process that requires more, not less. 

Imagine Roosevelt, Marshall, Eisenhower and Patton. In this analogy Roosevelt is the owner. Marshall and Eisenhower are design and production. Patton is construction. Design and production would be ambiguous references to the policy and strategy decisions of Roosevelt, Marshall and Eisenhower. Construction is more clearly related to the tactics of Patton, but his objectives were only part of the policy and strategy required to achieve the allied goal. I’d like to suggest that our goal is a symbiotic future supported by the containment of sprawl and the vocabulary of intensity.  

As a student, I was puzzled by the title of Sigfried Giedion’s classic book, Space, Time and Architecture. My professor, Rudolf Frankel, gave no explanation but named his master’s program City Design long before Edmund Bacon wrote Design of Cities. I have since come to believe that Giedion, Frankel and Bacon were attempting to say that city design is architecture over space and time, and that architecture is shelter served by movement, open space and life support systems. We are now realizing that its expansion must be contained within sustainable geographic limits without excessive intensity. In fact, intensity and land use allocation will become the language of city design; and architecture will refine these plans with tactical design to achieve each strategic objective.  

I have also come to believe that intensity is a feasible leadership vocabulary for the measurement, evaluation, and expression of city design policy; that intensity is the foundation for more detailed architectural decisions; that intensity plans must be codified to repeat architectural success over generations; that intensity does not threaten artistic freedom; that fine art will continue to flourish within intensity parameters; that this can only proceed with the support of public policy and law; and that the public relevance of architecture is linked to city design policies for a symbiotic future.


Architectural intensity per buildable acre is the relationship of gross building area and pavement to project open space. When unbuildable area is included it reduces the intensity calculated but increases the actual intensity experienced within the buildable area that remains.

Project intensity is further influenced by the presence of a city’s movement, life support, and public open space systems. A population’s awareness, understanding and allocation of land use activity and intensity will determine its ability to achieve and monitor physical, social, psychological and economic stability. The survival of a city’s population will depend in part on its ability to limit the encroachment of intensity into its source of life -- The Natural Domain.

I have written about city design in many essays and offered the concepts and tools of intensity measurement, forecasting, evaluation and regulation in the first and second editions of my book and software.

The Architectural Office

At the project level, architecture is based on a free enterprise format associated with competition and natural selection.

So where are we going with this concept of natural selection in architecture? Let me suggest that the answer is not as simple as the one from free enterprise. A reduction in offices and employment is distracting our attention while contributing to the chaos of sprawl. For those unfamiliar with the term, sprawl means an inability to contain shelter, movement, open space and life support systems within a limited built environment that protects its source of life.  

We are now living in the Age of Sprawl. This can only be considered the path to a symbiotic future if we recognize the threat in time. This is currently beyond the scope of private practice, but expanded business opportunity awaits the introduction of new tools and comprehensive leadership equal to the threat. 

Leadership begins with a question. In this case the question expresses the intuition of many. It asks why buildings have become cities of sprawl and if this is the path to a sustainable future? Sprawl is a symbol of competition seeking dominance. It is based on consumption that is a recipe for starvation, not survival. From this perspective competition is a primitive, territorial concept and Darwin’s theory of evolution actually describes a correlation of forces that we barely comprehend, but that improves the chances of survival over time.

Faith in chaos is fatalism that can lead to extinction. It ignores responsibility – and responsibility is a mandate we are expected to define with the gifts we have been given. We understand the term, but have yet to equate it with the natural correlation we must emulate to survive with the knowledge of science and the vocabulary of intensity.