(Welcome! This is the 3rd post in the “Crafting Places” series, “kicked off” on October 4, 2010, with a “Preface”, accessible on-line at http://wp.me/pVUDj-np. All published posts in the series can be accessed through the “Urban Design” sub-page “Crafting Places” of this “RenaissanceRules” site.)
Antecedents and Contemporary Studies
A. Vreeland’s “New Vision”
Architecture of buildings is part and parcel of the design of cities, yet architecture is often ignored by contemporary “leaders” in city and urban planning and design, to the detriment of the cities they express a desire to “improve”. Such has been the case for far to long. In a speech at the California Conference of Architectural Education, far, far back in August 1985, Thomas P. Vreeland, FAIA, spoke to that concern – to both planners and architects – through his topic, “The Architectural Matrix: A New Vision”. Simple observation of the urban renewal and neo-traditional efforts that have since occurred give clear evidence that his key points, gleaned from notes below, are still most applicable today.
“We must show that what we are designing is just one small piece of a much larger entity, the city.”
“In structures, emphasize interdependency of hybrid structures rather than pure, free-standing structures.”
“No more selective vision of the isolated building, screening out surroundings; instead a new vision which sees the city fabric itself as the design. Architecture as part of a continuous matrix, or as the matrix itself.”
“Start not with a blank sheet of paper, but by carefully drawing what exists already and deriving your aesthetic from an existing architectural setting. Aldo Rossi’s ‘The Architecture of the City’ is very good in explaining how millennia-old building forms are handed down, transformed from age to age and remain imprinted on the city without losing their vigor. In history, review Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Washington, New York, Chicago. Spiro Kostof’s (N.B.: One of my favorite professors at the University!!!) ‘A History of Architecture’ gives the clear perception that it is collections of building and not isolated buildings that characterize their periods; entire cities are the real inheritance from one age to another.”
“The architect was responsible for the public domain; the façade of his building as it faced the square was one wall of his town. His primary responsibility was to do it well and only secondarily serve the private life of the client behind the wall.”
“Architects must lead the way as Burnham and McKim did with The City Beautiful movement, which may have given our cities the only urbanity they possess. It must happen again.”
“See from the beginning the dependency of buildings on one another in the city, understand how building walls form streets and squares, sense how the compression of the street prepares you for the expansion of the square, the banality of buildings lining a street or a square prepares the setting for special buildings.”
Abilities to be Encouraged and Applied
Vreeland did not leave his listeners or students with just a “start now with a blank sheet of paper”. He supplied a succinct methodology that began with fresh learning (Recapitulation!) received directly from the City, not from pedants, gurus and manifestos. Abilities must be cultivated in order to even begin what to comprehend from the City and begin to place on that paper.
“Ability to judge space in a city as you would in a room, sense the larger scale, related buildings to each other across vast space. Get over the ridiculous notion that every solution needs to be original. See architecture as progressive, building carefully on precedents. Explain the nature of back-ground buildings, of a building hierarchy (some ARE more important to society than others!).
“Ability to carefully document the city. Introduce the simple set of building forms from which architecture can be made. Spiro Kostof correctly stated that ‘Pure invention is rare in architecture, and originality more commonly manifests itself in the purposefully adjustment of traditional forms.’” This is absolutely true for the nature of the City, as well. “This gives a repertoire of well-established forms with which to work, readily understood. These become the elements from which larger complexes can be formed and spaces framed. Emphasize design of larger civic spaces. Accept a vocabulary of simple architectural types or prototypical forms which readily translate into, for example, classroom, reading room, place of assembly, porch, dwelling, shop, cloister, arcade, sanctuary, tower.
“Ability to change the way we look at cities – not as a collection of individual buildings, but as entities whose streets are read sequentially like passages of music, some slow and solemn, some fast and lively; sometimes punctuated by a brilliant figure from brass or soloviolin, at other times all instruments blending to make a great orchestral sound.”
A “New Vision”, in 1985, still unseen and uncomprehended by many communities and their planners today. There is an incredible amount of room for innovation and new solutions in every City, but those actions must be applied only with knowledge of the culture, history, people, commerce…the Place.
Vreeland was right then, and his “New Vision” remains correct today. Begin by acting to…
Get over the ridiculous notion that every solution needs to be original.