Sunday, 27 June 2010

Book - City Building

It seems to be time again for book on how to build a city. This is as an answer or better a following step to all the publication investigating the city the logical step. Necessarily with such a project one has to define a position in many ways, conceptually, socially, technically, culturally or other wise and is in the following relatively bound. This should of course not be seen in a negative way, but rather as a potential. The in depth and thoughtful aspects are usually developed in such a context. That it will also allow for a lot of critique to be raised should similarly be seen as the start of a healthy debate. Earlier I have discussed the publications "A Manifesto for Sustainable Cities' by Albert Speer and Partners, Prestel and 'Asia Beyond Growth' edited by AEOM, Thames and Hudson.
Princeton Architectural Press has just no published a new book that fals into this category, 'City Building - Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century' by John Lund Kriken with Philip Enquist and Richard Rapaport. Interestingly what these publications have in common, they all come out of large planning companies. Each with a different approach and strategy, both, regarding the content but also the marketing / positioning. The latest one is very close to SOM, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, currently building the Burj Khalifa.
The book presents a structure of nine topics as principles of planning. This is meant as a framework for organisation and decision making. None of the selected headings will surprise you though, the topics have been floating around the professional debate for years now, but they make sense as a collection. A set to cover more or less all aspects of the design process one would come across in practice.

Image by SOM, taken from / Treasure Island: Sold To The Bidder Across The Bay For $105M (Plus), SOM to develop masterplan.

The approach to the different topics is very American, if this 'style' existis, otherwise let's call it commercial. SOM is an international practice, but particularly here this american school approach shines through, from how elements are explained and definitely in the sketches. For someone from Europe, some of the topics are some years behind. Trying to make things simpler than they are, is usually not a helpful approach. But beside these style preferences the presented structure of topics and the examples used to illustrate key points are clear and straight forward to understand. The real value is in the detail of the presented examples. Here the authors draw obviously from the large pool of SOM projects to provide in depth understanding of the topics. Maps and plans are at large represented at same scales which makes comparisons possible. Detailing goes as far as discussing aspects of climate and wind direction in their relevance to urban design. This is a element unseen in peer publications. However, at times the topics still remain on the surface and don't manage to impress. Maybe because the authors have chosen to go with widely discussed keywords.
The nine chosen topics are as follows: Sustainability, Accessibility, Diversity, Open Space, Compatibility, Incentives, Adaptability, Density, Identity.
"The city, in fact is a font of saving solutions for humankind because the way that urban settlement takes place links virtually all other environmental and social concerns. How humans come together in cities is nothing less than a key to the long-term stewardship of the land, air, water, and energy use, as well as to habitat preservation, health, security, and positive social interaction." (City Building, Part III, p.239) This, I would say, is a statement of someone who truly believes in the city as a model. Someone who lives and breathes the city, someone who loves the city. On the other hand these statements also demonstrate how the perspective shapes the story. In some way some of the contextual comments in this publication have mad me once more aware of the complications we face to conclude and frame a definite thought in the context of our own practice. And furthermore, the essential necessity to remain critical and reflective especially regarding the context and the product.

Image by SOM / SOM’s Master Plan proposes a variety of innovative solutions to facilitate the regeneration of this prime London location. Key amongst these is: the integration of future development with the rail, tram and bus interchange; strengthening the mixed-use core through increased density; amalgamation of green spaces; maximising pedestrian permeability. The scheme establishes a unique sense of place, and ensures social and economic benefits for the community.

This publication represents the perspective of the practitioner and manages to speak the appropriate language. The introduction and the conclusion provide a formal framework, but you really will be interested in the middle bit, with its numerous examples drawn from all over the world and presented in the context providing framework of nine topics, or, as called here, principles. The richness of detail and the relevants make this a very useful source for everyday situations in practice.

Preview on Google Books will also give you a first impression.

Kriken, J.L., 2010. City Building: Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

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