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Reverse Zone, weblog on urban planning, sustainability, and technology.

Martin Laplante

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Thu, 12 Feb 2009

Shaping the Public Realm

From John Massengale's Veritas and Venustas blog

In traditional architecture and urbanism, the first role of an urban building is to shape the public realm. In Modernism, the first role of a building can vary from being an interesting object, to being an expression of technology, to being a monument to the architect's genius, to being something cheap and big. Many Modern buildings do all four. All four frequently interfere with shaping the public realm and making an outdoor place where people want to be.
There are three types of architects perspective drawings that get shown before a building is started. One is the bird's eye view, showing what a building would look like if you were suspended hundreds of feet in the air. I have always wondered why architects design interesting features to buildings that will only ever be seen by a crane operator. The second is the non-Euclidean perspective drawing. This is used especially where a proposed building has a scale out of proportion to the streetscape. In this drawing, small heritage buildings, trees, and pedestrians who wandered into the shot look big and the new building seems to be the same size as all of them. Requires a telephoto lens and a very deep hole. The third is the real estate brochure, where the building is new and the trees and landscaping are old and lush, and the surrounding buildings look drab.

Which begs the question, why not build something that looks appropriate in its context, is conceived based on its impact at ground level, and that gains some maturity as it weathers? I will remain ignorant about architecture, but positive space is something that requires only a small amount of humility on the part of the architect, and costs nothing to build.


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