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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Quantifying Intuition

Intuition is telling many that we can’t continue to consume, pollute, and disrupt the land and resources of the Natural Domain without consequences. When the built environment includes agriculture, I’ve referred to the combination as a Built Domain that must not consume our source of life - the Natural Domain. When population grows within a limited Built Domain however, shelter intensity must increase based on the development capacity of land because sprawl is not an option. This means we must be able to efficiently and comprehensively predict shelter capacity options and evaluate the impact of shelter intensity on our quality of life.  In other words, intuition is telling me that we must protect our source of life from sprawl and our quality of life from excessive intensity within sustainable geographic limits.

I have focused on the prediction of shelter intensity options with templates related to generic building design categories to quantify the evaluation of options within sustainable geographic limits. These building categories are part of a classification system for the Shelter Division of the Built Domain. Choices within the classification system lead to a specific forecast model. The values entered for each template topic in a forecast model are used by the model’s embedded equations to predict gross building area GBA options in its planning forecast panel. These GBA alternatives represent potential levels of intensity for a given buildable land area. Table 2 illustrates the specification template and forecast panel format of a typical model.

Forecast models can be used to evaluate the development capacity of land areas in a city, but first let me explain the term. Development capacity is the gross building area GBA that can be constructed under the conditions specified in a design specification template. Changing one or more values in a template changes the GBA forecast. The GBA produced by a set of template values has also been referred to as a level of intensity. This means that design specification templates can be used to correlate land use allocation with intensity. This knowledge can be used to predict anything that is a function of gross building area intensity such as, but not limited to, population, traffic, construction cost, and return on investment; not to mention municipal revenue and expense.

Urban economic stability is a function of land use allocation, shelter intensity, building condition, and prosperous activity. This combination also affects a city’s physical, social, psychological, and environmental quality of life. Even if you don’t agree that our source of life can be consumed by the sprawl we build, this may persuade you to more seriously consider the impact of intensity on a quality of life that begins with the economic stability present.

In other words, shelter intensity is the relationship of building mass and pavement to open space. It is a condition that can be measured, predicted, and has lifestyle implications. In my opinion, it is one key to protecting our quality of life within sustainable geographic limits; but many are required. For instance, acceptable levels of shelter intensity must be supported by organic functions before we can consider them part of a symbiotic survival solution.

The term “organic” began with the paraphrase “form follows function” from the poetry of Louis Sullivan. “Organic” was a Frank Lloyd Wright translation that referred to building style, space, appearance, and landscape integration; but this was not Sullivan’s intent in my opinion. Sullivan meant that a flower blooms from organic function that is programmed by design from a power beyond comprehension, and that building design must attempt to emulate this example. Building appearance has yet to bloom from organic function, and this is the design challenge architecture, city planning, engineering, and science have been given. The fact that this must occur within sustainable geographic limits introduces the issue of development capacity and shelter intensity.

I was able to forecast the development capacity of land (gross building area potential per acre) long before I was able to calibrate the intensity options represented with a standard measurement system. In fact, I’ve made a number of attempts that were too complicated to explain or too simple to consistently lead many efforts toward common objectives. This is my best effort to date, but it only addresses shelter intensity. Organic architecture is still a dream that began with fine art when domination began to threaten global survival and coexistence became a common concern for many. It continues to remind us of the goal that must be won.

Intensity design represents the context format for organic architectural functions. In other words, the urban form of shelter is produced by intensity design that must eventually be served by organic systems.  Shelter intensity represents my effort to begin quantifying context intuition, and it begins with the following assumptions. The result is an intensity equation and a method of intensity measurement that can help us index research and build knowledge for succeeding generations. In the end organic functions will improve our chances of survival and intensity context will make life worth living.


1)   Increasing building height (f) increases intensity INT on the same land area.

2)   Increasing gross building area GBA increases intensity on the same land area.

3)   Increasing parking, loading, and miscellaneous pavement PVT increases intensity on the same land area.

4)   Increasing a project open space percentage S decreases intensity on a given land area.

Based on these assumptions, intensity increases when the number of building floors (f) increase and project open space S remains constant on the same land area. Intensity declines when project open space increases and building height remains constant. In other words, f/S represents a partial index of intensity. This explains the relation of building height and project open space to intensity but does not explain the relationship of gross building area and pavement.

Gross building area and pavement combine to produce total development area TDA. Intensity increases when total development area increases and the buildable land area BLA remains constant. Intensity declines when the buildable land area increases and the total development area remains constant. In other words, TDA/BLA also represents a partial index of intensity.

To think of intensity as simply a function of building height overlooks the effect of building mass, pavement, and project open space. Intensity is a function of all four. Any equation that predicts intensity INT therefore must show that intensity on a given land area increases with building height (f) and total development area TDA. It must also show that intensity INT declines when project open space S and/or buildable land area BLA increase.


Multiplying (f/S) by (TDA/BLA) is a simple way of expressing these intensity INT relationships.

INT = (f/S) * (TDA/BLA)

The equation states that intensity INT increases with increasing f and TDA values. It declines with increasing S and BLA values. In other words, increasing building height (f) and/or total development area TDA increases the intensity INT on a given buildable land area BLA and project open space provision.

This equation illustrates the complexity of intensity when you realize that total development area potential TDA is equal to gross building area plus pavement; that both are a function of many values entered in the design specification template of a forecast model; that one or more values in a template can be changed to produce a new TDA forecast; and that many templates are needed to define the range of generic building design categories available. (See Figures 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 in “Planning with Architectural Intensity” for decision trees that lead to a specific forecast model. Each model includes a customized design specification template.)

To avoid confusion, I have referred to gross building area GBA options as “development capacity options” and to gross building area plus pavement options as “total development area options” TDA. In other words, TDA=GBA+PVT. Pavement area PVT is equal to the sum of parking, loading, and miscellaneous pavement areas.

Table 1 presents several generic intensity calculations to illustrate a range of intensity results. Table 2 illustrates how intensity is predicted in the forecast model CG1L when a full set of design specification values is entered.


Shelter intensity is similar to blood pressure, which is an analogy I’ve used in the past. Blood pressure is a benchmark that indicates the health of a complex set of anatomical relationships. Samuel von Basch is credited with the discovery of systolic blood pressure in 1881. Scipione Riva-Ricci introduced a more easily used version in 1896. Harvey Cushing modernized and popularized systolic measurement after visiting Ricci around 1900. Nikolai Korotkov added diastolic measurement in 1905.

Medical history is not the point, however, even though I’ve always found it amazing that medical progress of significant general benefit only began in the 20th century. My point has been that von Basch developed a method of measurement  for intensity based on his intuitive belief that there was a relationship to illness. Diagnosis was correlated with measurement and knowledge accumulated over time to improve the credibility of prediction.

I am suggesting that shelter intensity is a similar topic related to the anatomy of our Built Domain. It can be measured and correlated with the evaluation of health, safety, and welfare that ensues. The knowledge gained will add to the credibility of planning and prediction based on measurement with leadership potential, and I hope it will help us learn to live within sustainable limits that do not threaten our source of life with sprawl and our quality of life with excessive intensity.

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