Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

Activity over Architecture

Closely related to informal urbanism, kinetic urbanism views the urban condition as flexible; less a grand vision than a series of small adjustments occurring over time. Often times, the frenetic quality of city life does not allow most formal planning or political systems to keep pace. Kinetic urbanism bridges the resulting gap by focusing on activity, not architecture. It views events and changes in time as more important than buildings and places in space.

Rahul Mehrotra, Associate Professor of Architectural Design at the MIT School of Architecture + Planningdeveloped the idea of the kinetic city. According to Mehrtra, the static city is “the buildings and structures that architecture deals with.” On the other hand, the kinetic city is the part that is “making and remaking” urban spaces and is “in opposition to the static city.” He also states that in a kinetic city, “events and changes in time are more important than monuments and places in space.” While Mehotra was specially focusing on the informal urbanism taking shape in Mumbai, the concept are applicable to almost an urban area.

When urban leaders look at activities such as busking or street vendors on their city streets, they should not automatically seek to control it through zoning or permits. This activity is often times not evidence of lack of regulation but rather an unmet need being fulfilled in a innovative way. Indeed it is what makes urban living so vibrant and exciting. Rather than seek to remove or regulate these activities, Urban leaders can embrace this entrepreneurism by looking, not at what ‘should work’, but at what is actually occurring day to day and season to season. They should include these patterns of activities in their plans so they can thrive in greater comfort and safety for all residents.

Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!


Generic Urbanism: Creating Cities without Qualities OR Quality

The term generic urbanism rose to prominence with the book S M L XL by Rem Koolhaus, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. The book contained an essay by Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and urbanist, titled “The Generic City.” This essay declares that progress, identity, architecture, the city and the street are things of the past. Koolhaas writes: “Relief … it’s over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can leave the theatre now…”

Generic urbanism describes a non-specific, identity-lacking urban landscape. The generic city has no specific reference points, either to its history or its residents. Rather it responds to urban stereotypes. In doing so, it turns cities into yet another commodity, interchangeable from one another. We can see the result before us as city after city converge in a pastiche of undifferentiated cityscapes.

Generic urbanism appears to have started in the American suburbs when developers creating interchangeable developments. Over the past half century it has crept into our urban cores, where the truest expression of civic identity were once found. This is, in part, a result of the effort by city governments to attract suburbanites (and their tax dollars) downtown—not by offering then something unique or different—but rather safe and familiar.

The concept is an oxymoron. A generic city resists urbanism and its inherent qualities of diversity and culture. All the qualities normally associated with a great city: iconic architecture, vibrant but messy streetscapes, unique neighborhoods, etc. become subsumed by global trends. Public space becomes formulaic; there’s nothing to notice to except stoplights. According to Richard Pouly, in the generic city “the paradigmatic urbanite will no longer be a latte-sipping hipster but the weary sales rep who never completely unpacks his suitcase” forgetting if he is in New York or New Dehli.

Koolhaas declared the generic city to be “a city without qualities,” I would add “A city without quality”



Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!

Big Urbanism: Not the Answer

Americans like to think ‘big.’ Urbanism is no exception. Ever since architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham uttered his maxim “Make no little plans,” nearly every urban plan continues to be modeled on it.

Despite a generation of planners brought up guided by Jane Jacobs and her crusade against the big urbanism of Robert Moses, large-scale redevelopment projects continue apace. Indeed, they appear to be regaining prominence. From Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn to CityCenter in Las Vegas to the various uber- developments in Dubai, city officials and developers continue to think ‘big’ when reshaping our cities.

However, as we previous learned in the post on adaptive urbanism, big urbanism is not necessarily a good thing. Indeed, these mega projects leave little room for flexibility, and as such are not responsive to shifting economic, environmental or political trends. As a result several big urbanism projects are viewed as relics even before their doors are open.

Check out the full ABC’s of Urbanism in this handy e-book!