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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Excerpts from The Science of City Design

Shelter design: The correlation of two dimensional areas and three dimensional building mass to protect human activity in a single project area.

Urban design: The correlation of land use allocation and shelter design within a limited aggregation of project areas.

City design: The correlation of land use allocation and urban design within a jurisdiction.

Built Domain: A collection of jurisdictions that shelter and serve human activity.

Natural Domain: The source of life for all activity

The Goal: To shelter growing human populations within a limited Built Domain that protects their quality and source of life – the Natural Domain.

The Policy: To establish a symbiotic relationship with the planet.

Design: The definition of a problem and an exploration of potential solutions with instinct, observation, education, anticipation, comparison, evaluation, correlation, measurement, logic, talent, and perseverance. In many cases, the result is failure. In some cases, the result is knowledge. Darwin called it evolution and adaptation. Others have called it chaos.

Intelligence: The ability to memorize, retain, and apply both information and knowledge.

Fine Art: A category of successful and unsuccessful design solutions established by aesthetic opinion.

Design can be considered fine art and fail as a solution to a problem based on the two definitions I’ve written. Design involves the use of logic. When that fails, the result may still be considered fine art but is not a successful answer to the problem. This is the paradox we face. Design and fine art are separate issues. When the priority is form, appearance, and fine art, design can suffer and the solution can be compromised; not to mention the education provided. The goal is to correlate priorities. The policy is symbiotic survival.


If you had one acre of land and were asked to find its ideal gross building area potential, you would first ask if parking were required; and identify the parking system to be provided.

If you were given a gross building area objective and were asked to find the buildable land area required, you would first ask if parking were required; and identify the parking system to be provided.

These two sentences represent two questions:

1)     What gross building area options can be produced on a given gross land area, and what are the intensity implications when floor quantity is an option?

2)     What land acquisition options can accommodate a given gross building area objective, and what are the intensity implications when floor quantity is an option?

Our ability to accurately and consistently answer these two questions will determine our ability to shelter the activities of growing populations, and to protect their quality of life, within a limited Built Domain that does not sprawl to threaten their source of life: The Natural Domain.

This goal cannot be achieved until we create a reliable leadership language to:

1)     Consistently measure existing physical conditions with a vocabulary that can be used to compare, evaluate, and correlate the social, psychological, environmental, and economic implications of these measurements.

2)     Consistently forecast future options with the same vocabulary, and an increasing store of measured knowledge, for comparative evaluation.

The objective of this book is to provide a conceptual foundation supported by a vocabulary and language that can be used to build a Science of City Design. We cannot lead until we learn how to speak. This is the message from those who could not speak and pondered the cave paintings of Lascaux, Altamira, and Font-de-Gaumme 17,300 years ago. The scientific language and cellular awareness of Biology is one result.


Unlimited urban growth is sprawl. It continues to expand over the face of a planet that is our source of life. It is encouraged by a primitive definition of “growth”, and a leadership language based on emotion and opinion that does not fear what it cannot see. We could solve climate change and still suffocate the Earth with this expanding blanket.

There are now two worlds on a single planet. The plant and animal kingdoms of Linnaeus have been superseded by the Built and Natural Domains of the 21st century; and the inhabitants of the Built Domain are threatening to consume their indispensable host.

Zoning ordinances are not written to address the issue. They contain conflicting design requirements that encourage arbitrary results within an expanding Built Domain. As a consequence, we have not had a leadership language capable of consistently measuring problems, predicting options, evaluating solutions, accumulating knowledge, and creating a design strategy:

To shelter growing populations within a limited Built Domain that protects their quality and source of life.

This book will propose a scientific language of city design based on a shelter classification vocabulary, architectural algorithms, and master equations. It will introduce six universal shelter design categories, three residential activity groups, design specification templates, and forecast models for each category. Architectural algorithms will calculate topic quantities from specification value decisions; and they will correlate results for use by a category master equation. Master equations and subordinate equations will predict the shelter capacity and intensity options implied by a collection of category specifications. A change to any specification value will produce a new shelter capacity and intensity forecast for evaluation. The topics and equations in a forecast model will clearly demonstrate why density is a social measure that cannot lead shelter design toward physical objectives, strategic plans, or policy goals.

Shelter design categories are occupied by activity groups. Activities add a social and economic dimension to physical capacity, intensity, location, and condition. Design categories, activity groups, specification templates, architectural algorithms, master equations, and planning forecast panels introduce a quantitative, comprehensive method of measuring and predicting the shelter capacity of land, and the intensity of the options predicted. The vocabulary and equations to be introduced will represent a city design language that can correlate capacity and intensity with activity on any land area to achieve pre-determined physical, social, psychological, environmental, and economic objectives.

I should add that the compatibility of land use allocation is compromised when the shelter capacity, intensity, and activity planned or present is not correlated with the municipal revenue required to meet expense per acre over time. The mathematical language and forecasting ability of city design makes this strategic correlation feasible.

The classification system and mathematical language of city design is a means to an end. It makes the accumulation and evaluation of comparative knowledge feasible. Success will be symbolized by the form and appearance of shelter that emerges from symbiotic solutions correlated by the science of city design within a limited Built Domain.


The satellite images of sprawl and one image of Earth from the Moon tell us there is no world without end. It’s time to imagine the threat, the relevant detail, the relationships, and the language that can lead us toward solutions that meet the challenge to survive.

We should all be concerned with the answer to a single question.

How do we shelter the activities of growing populations within a geographically limited Built Domain that does not threaten their quality of life with excessive intensity and their source of life with sprawl?

The answer depends on the information available, and this creates two subordinate questions that will be addressed throughout this book. When gross land area is given, the question becomes:

What maximum gross building area can be accommodated on a given gross land area without excessive intensity?

When a gross building area objective is given, the question becomes:

What minimum buildable land area is needed to accommodate a given gross building area objective without excessive intensity?

Answers depend on the shelter design category chosen and the specification decisions adopted. The shelter capacity of land will determine our ability to protect growing populations within a geographically limited Built Domain; but solutions cannot threaten their quality of life with excessive intensity. This means that we must be able to accurately measure, evaluate, and forecast shelter capacity and intensity options.


The answer to each preceding question depends on the shelter design category chosen. A design category is gross building area classified by its primary parking system, except for combinations of surface and structure parking that are classified by the parking structure configuration employed. There are six building design categories within the Shelter Division of the Built Domain.

1)     G1: Buildings surrounded by a surface parking lot

2)     G2: Buildings above a surface parking lot

3)     S1:  Buildings adjacent to a parking garage

4)     S2:  Buildings above an underground parking garage

5)     S3:  Buildings above a parking garage at grade

6)     NP: Buildings with no parking requirement

A design category may be occupied by any permitted activity group. This distinction separates two-dimensional land use planning from three-dimensional city design, and the two must be correlated to create sustainable cities and a desirable quality of life within limited geographic areas.

The remainder of the book is devoted to the generic design categories that may contain any permitted activity group. These categories represent our source of shelter within the Built Domain. They are customized to suit a particular occupant activity. Their capacity, intensity, location, and condition combine with land use allocation to determine a city’s economic stability and quality of life.


The city design language you will encounter offers the opportunity to evaluate shelter capacity, intensity, activity, economy, and quality of life options on a quantitative basis in a very brief period of time. We have been handicapped by an inability to measure, evaluate and predict the consequences of shelter design decisions in a precise language that is capable of repeating success and avoiding failure. This has led to a Ponzi scheme of land use misallocation and consumption that we call annexation for growth and economic development. It continues to grow in rings from an expanding core of decay to consume our source of life because we do not speak in terms that can make a difference.

We survive in the nucleus of a cell we have artificially created with property lines on a planet that does not recognize ownership. These property cells multiply as populations grow. They are part of a Built Domain that is sprawling to threaten the Natural Domain with its concept of property rights, but the planet and the universe do not bestow rights. They demand compliance with commands that must be anticipated. Knowledge follows.

We have produced sprawl and pollution on the face of a gift we have had the temerity to challenge with theories of freedom and concepts of power. The planet and the universe have not given us freedom or power. They have given us responsibility. Acceptance of this responsibility will begin when we use the mathematical language of city design to understand a property cell and organize its aggregation to protect our quality and source of life. This organization will produce an anatomy that is not a gift. It is a challenge to our creative ability, and the price for our presence on a planet that is losing its patience.
The preceding has been an excerpt from my book, The Science of City Design. The book can be found on and

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