Weekly update

22-28th November 2010


Meeting with Space Syntax colleagues regarding company strategy in preparation for visit to London next week.

Call with Steve Coast regarding open source software development.

Meeting with Jim Stockard, Curator of the Loeb Fellowship.


Call with Bridget Horner, Director of Space Syntax South Africa.

Meeting with Harvard GSD design student.

Lunch with Sally Young, Program Coordinator of the Loeb Fellowship

Meeting with Kishore Varanasi of CBT Architects, Boston.

Presentation to Kairos Shen, Chief Planner and colleagues at the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Meeting with David MacKay regarding speaking at an Urban Land Institute event on urban zoning in January 2011.


Call with Steve Coast.




Thanksgiving rcess.

Much much more with much much less

Inspired by a comment by Rahul Mehrotra, “Much much more with much much less” is the theme of next semester’s Loeb Fellowship Public Seminar series.

The four seminars in the series will take place at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

The working titles for the seminars are:

Resources, Money & Economy
Food, Agriculture & Basic Needs
Process, Participation & Engagement

Dates to follow…

Why it isn’t all about common sense…

There is a view that historic cities have all the answers and we just need to look at them. Or, in any case, it’s just common sense. If professionals had a bit more common sense they would make a better set of decisions.

There are at least three reasons why this can’t be entirely the case. Or, if it is, why our definition of common sense needs careful construction. Continue reading

Connectedness & continuity

There is a view that the creation of continuously connected places leads to sameness.

Looking at real places suggests otherwise – witness the distinctly different quarters of Paris, New York’s strikingly heterogeneous local centres, or London’s urban villages. So what is it that makes this possible? One seemingly counterintuitive factor, it turns out, is a continuously connected street network. Continue reading

Landscape Urbanism & New Urbanism: it shouldn’t be so divisive

Despite the efforts of each party to highlight its differences, there is a significant overlap between Landscape Urbanism and New Urbanism, both positive and negative. Positive: a concern about urban harmony. Negative: a tendency to fragment (call it sprawl).
Urbanists of both colours would do better to recognise this common ground and realise that fragmented urbanism risks the social, economic and environmental health of cities.

Some thoughts
The current Metropolis magazine exchange between Andres Duany and Alex Krieger, on the respective merits of New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism, has brought a simmering debate to the boil. This week’s 50th Anniversary celebration of Urban Design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD) looks set to be an intriguing engagement. Duany, a pioneer of New Urbanism, will be speaking alongside (among?) the pioneers of Landscape Urbanism. How will Daniel deal with the lions’ den?

Charles Waldheim, Chair of Landscape Architecture at the GSD, gave a revealing and stimulating presentation on Landscape Urbanism recently to Christian Werthmann’s class there on “Sustainability for Planning and Design”. The foundational concept of Landscape Urbanism – that a balance needs to be found between human and non-human habitats, between the green of the landscape and the grey of the city – is undoubtedly correct. The sterility of most contemporary urban environments is evidence of ignorance or antipathy among planners and designers towards the biodiverse landscape. The consequential impact of insensitive, resource-depleting and damaging development on watersheds, soils, flora and fauna is ultimately costly for the human economy. Water is, especially, a resource that can and does provoke hostility and conflict.

Landscape Urbanism proposes that a new attitude is taken towards first, the preservation of natural habitats and second, the introduction of these into the barren settings of our towns and cities. This is a difficult proposition to argue against in principle. However, in practice it is apparent that the means by which the ecological enhancement of cities takes place – the manner in which urban places are “greened” – is, above all, a design problem. And here’s the rub. Continue reading

Istanbul/Shoreditch crits


Richard Peiser
John Portman

TS site analysis
Site is at the intersection of a major radial and a major orbital route.
V strong road connections.
Potentially local drive/walk connections.
Key will be to exploit both. But local connections cost.

Nature of road to the north. Being treated as a negative.

Nature of route network. Precedents from elsewhere in Istanbul and beyond – all part of continuous spatial networks with overlapping and intersecting patterns of multi-scale movement. This site does not allow this unless connections are made.

3rd St Mall, Santa Monica

DNA of the site

Contours look steep.
How does route network map onto contours?

Plan B is cranked.

Need to see sections/true 3D.


Desire to integrate site with surrounding neighbourhoods.
Connections diagram would be more convincing if we could see what the new connections are connecting to.
Separating different modes of movement – why?


Land use plan – need fine-grained analysis

Land value – key is reln between City to south and Shoreditch to north. Broadgate was not in City and land value was low but development transformed this. Produce a large-scale plan to show this.

Conservation areas?

St Paul’s/other protected views?

Be careful about retail on interior of blocks – look at Broadgate latest phase. Where does ew route go? A retail anchor is not enough.

Likewise, inner block route running parallel to Shoreditch High Street.

Why 5*hotel an anchor?

Major bus routes and vehicular routes are also major pedestrian routes.

Order of phasing – why that order?

Christine, Andrea & Eric
Sophisticated analysis and design proposals.
Major open space – is it too big?

Go looking for the thing you can’t see

Architecture is obsessed with what things look like. Hence the focus on form and style; on the materials that buildings are made from; on the processes by which these materials are brought together. In school, in practice and in the media.

But this isn’t everything and it isn’t enough. Architecture is much more important. It is not only a physical and visual discipline but a social, economic and environmental one too.

Architecture creates social networks by influencing how people use the places they are given. It channels the flow of money down streets and corridors and it provides the locations in which this money changes hands. It influences the flow of energy from the micro scale of the lightbulb to the macro regional scale of the transport system.

As Rahul Mehrotra says, “The spectacle of the city is not the buildings but the activity that takes place between them”. He calls this the “Kinetic City”. Continue reading

Good ideas come from crowds & liquid networks

An article on the BBC Business website neatly summarises Steven Johnson’s research findings on the origins of innovations:

“Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down; but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies, frequent coffee houses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.”

“[Good ideas] come from crowds, they come from networks. You know we have this clichéd idea of the lone genius having the eureka moment.”

Spatial Justice in Urban India

Notes from a talk by Leo Saldanha and Bharghavi Rao on “Contested Terrains: Environmental and Spatial Justice in Urban India” at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, organised by HUPO, the Harvard Urban Planning Organisation.

A right to life includes a right to livelihood.

This challenged by:
– privatisation
– gating
– surveillance
– separation and marginalisation
– cleansing of the urban poor
– harassment of sexual minorities
– encroachment of the car.

This creates a fragmentation of communities. The problems are well understood by elected representatives – the problem is in municipal bureaucracies.

The future needs to be the “cheap city”. The small/medium-sized city is the future. Continue reading