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. Read More

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. Read More

Technology – it’s the new concrete!


Pouring concrete used to be the “macho” expression of urban planning power. Today it is technology. “Macho” has translated into “cool”.

Risk – we jump too quickly through the filter of common sense ie the “What’s all this for?” filter.

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. Read More

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”. Read More

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.”

One New Change open for business

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. Read More

Chance encounter – not so random


An algorithm in Facebook organises the frequency of seeing different friends’ news feeds – based on the frequency of your Facebook contact with your friends. Some friends are only contacted by certain people on Facebook because they don’t necessarily want contact with them outside of Facebook. The downside is that Facebook prioritises these people, whose news is not necessarily as valued as the news of the friends that some people would prefer to engage with outside of Facebook. Read More

J-term course proposal

Instructor Name
Tim Stonor

Loeb Fellow


Previous teaching experience
1996-1998 Course Director, Master of Science in Architecture, the Bartlett, University College London.
Current Honorary Senior Lecturer, the Bartlett, University College London.

Course title
Introduction to Space Syntax theory, technology and practice

Course description
Space Syntax is an architectural theory that investigates relationships between spatial layout and a range of social and economic phenomena including patterns of movement, public space use, land use and crime distribution. Built on quantitative analysis and computer technology, Space Syntax provides a set of evidence-based techniques for the analysis of spatial configurations of all kinds, especially where spatial configuration seems to be a significant aspect of human affairs, as it is in buildings and urban areas. Applied in both academic research and practice, Space Syntax treats cities and buildings ‘space first’, that is as the network of spaces that people use and move through. Read More

Bill Doebele’s wise words

Bill Doebele talk to the 40th Reunion of the Loeb Fellowship

Piper Auditorium, Harvard Graduate School of Design

8th October 2010

This is the script used by Bill to guide his talk. His actual delivery may differ in some minor respects.


Thank you all for making this the most memorable weekend of my life.

Also my thanks to Jim and Sally for making this one of the richest and best organized reunions ever.

I promise that I will be as brief as it is possible for a former professor to be.

I will begin with a note of appreciation, then mention one concern that I have about the future of the Fellowship.

I must begin by sincerely thanking each of you here who have astonished me by contributing to the William A. Doebele Fellowship. I salute both your generosity and your good judgment.

When I was a callow youth in the high school of a small town in the hills of central Pennsylvania, I dreamed the romantic dreams of the young. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I said to myself, if I could do something in my life that would improve the world in a way that would endure beyond my own brief existence on this troubled planet. A modest but lasting memorial to my having been here.

Today it is hard for me to express the degree of my gratification in finding that the consummation of that youthful dream is being achieved, not by my own efforts, but through the incredible generosity of your gift. Read More

Don’t fight fire…

World Bank data suggest an urban population in 2050 of approximately 7 billion, of which close to half will be living in unplanned settlements: favelas, barrios, slums. Delegates at this weekend’s Loeb Fellowship 40th Anniversary Reunion are necessarily concerned.

When the Fellowship was established in 1970, America was in turmoil with civic unrest across the country, major urban centres on fire, tanks on the streets of Detroit, the National Guard deployed against the population.

Faced with this extreme reality, John and Frances Loeb didn’t say “Let’s train a new generation of firefighters”; they decided instead to invest in a strategy of prevention.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. Read More

Designing for transaction

Today I gave a presentation to architecture students at the Graduate School of Design titled: “Designing for transaction: the importance of spatial layout, emergence & multi-scale movement”. Here’s the introduction…

“Sites – such as the one you have been asked to look at in Queens – raise important questions about connections: how many, where, for what purpose? At what scale? For what kinds of movement? Land use? Questions that require analysis, foresight and forecasting.

Who is best skilled to judge? Transport planners, planners, architects, sociologists?

Read More

How Faversham fights – machine guns and pints

The last military conflict to take place on British soil occurred near Faversham, Kent on 27th September 1940. On one side: the crew of a downed Junkers 88. On the other: members of the London Irish Rifles. Following a brief but intense exchange of fire, in which no one was killed, all the participants retired to the local pub, the Sportsman, for a few pints.

Is this model of conflict resolution appropriate for situations beyond mere global conflict?

Augmented reality with Nicco Mele

I had an interesting discussion this morning with Nicco Mele, Visiting Edward R Murrow Lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government, comparing thoughts about the network of the city and the network of cyberspace – each a network of things. I introduced him to Space Syntax and shared a few thoughts I have had since reading “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, one of the readings on his course: DPI-659 Media, Politics & Power in the Digital Age.

Nicco had earlier sent me a link to a post on Dan Hill’s blog: “The City of Sound“, which added further food for thought about relationships between different kinds networks: digital and spatial. Read More

Email update to colleagues at Space Syntax

Dear All

Warm and friendly wishes from Harvard!

We are one month into term now and I thought you would be interested to hear what I have been up to. To be honest, it feels as if I have been here for 6 months – so much has been happening. Read More

Harvard Urban Planning Organisation

Today I gave a short presentation to urban planning students at the Graduate School of Design titled: “Urban sustainability: the social, economic & environmental influence of spatial layout”. Here’s the introduction…

“In this presentation I will focus on one particular aspect of sustainability: the patterns of human activity – movement, co-presence and interaction – that occur in buildings and cities.

These patterns emerge as the result of design decisions.

I want to show how spatial layout is a critical aspect of design; how spatial layout influences human behaviour and how this has a fundamental bearing on the sustainability of urban places.”

You can find my full presentation here on slideboom.

Daniel Schrag: Climate Science & Climate Change

Notes from a lecture given as part of:
IGA-310 Energy Policy: Technologies, Systems & Markets

22nd September 2010

Prof Daniel Schrag

Atmospheric C02 hasn’t been above 300 parts per million in last 600,000 years, with large fluctuations, until recently. Likely to rise to over 600. Currently c390. 

Just because there are natural cycles doesn’t mean that human actions aren’t significant.

Equator is place of stability, so melting there is v significant.

Key question is whether rate of change can be accommodated. Previous historic change 

We know C02 is a greenhouse gas, we see it going up and we know it’s happening faster than ever before in history. 

Can we prove that C02 is causing the warming? We can’t but you’d be a fool to bet against it. 

C34 million years ago, ice formed at poles, leading to greater seasonal variation, with ice reflecting heat. 

Likely to be worse than scientists forecasts since scientists work to 95% confidence intervals cf military <50%. 

People don't experience global avg temp, they experience local effects.

Guarantee there will be surprises. 

Gulf Stream is NOT caused by ocean currents but by winds created by circulation of the earth, which is not going to stop spinning.l 

Boston has cold winters because of westerly winds not because of Gulf Stream. 

London benefits from ocean, which absorbs heat in summer and release in winter. 
So, Cape Cod 10 degrees warmer in winter than Boston but cooler in summer. 

Pacific Ocean thermocline, warmer in west and cooler in east, w cold water closer to surface. El Nino brings warmer water to east, with global effects.  

North West Passage opened from ice in 2007 cf Panama Canal. Plus thick ice at 50% of 2007 levels.

North east passage has opened too.

Key about sea ice is reflection of sun and insulation of sea from atmosphere.

Rain on ice sheets is problematic. 

250 cubic kilometres of ice being lost from Greenland per year = 5mm per year. 
But unclear if rate of melt is steady.

Ross Ice Shelf – high consequence, low probability event? We don't actually know. Its a known unknown. Lots of sea level bound up in ice sheets. 

Building a sea wall is not a long-term strategy.

500 billion tonnes of C02 in permafrost which, if released (from microbe action) into atmosphere is greater than all fossil fuel burned to date.

Problem is going to be with us for a long time.

Eg if all fossil fuel burned, atmospheric carbon likely to peak below 2,000 parts per million, then settle c 400 for tens of thousands of years. 

What can be done?

European negotiators obsess on timescales 
But what matters are cumulative emissions over a time period of c100 years
Most likely way forward is to grow emissions to build up capacity then reduce rapidly. 

Prob of cap and trade on linear path is that best path may not follow. 

Impact = population x affluence x technology
An identity

Emissions = pop x GDP/person x emissions/GDP

Isn't problem about population growth
Not entirely true. Growth from 6 to 9 billion growth is only 50%. 
Economists predict global GDP will grow from 20 trillion 2008 to 250-500 trillion by 2100. 

Problem is therefore because people are richer and therefore more carbon emitting. 

US and China accountable for 50% of emissions.
Africa doesn't figure in emissions reductions. 

One of problems of Kyoto is involvement of everyone. 

Better for smaller group eg bilateral US/China. 
What Obama did was v imp because he got China, Brazil, South Frica into room to set new direction.
British and German cuts were achievable because Britain had ended coal industry and Germany anticipating reunification and removal of inefficient East German practice. 

Ways to reduce emissions of C02
1. Use less energy – efficiency/conservation
2. Non- fossil fuel energy: renewables and nuclear
3. Carbon capture and storage

Nees to be thought of as a threat similar to terrorism. 

Some detractive interference between factors eg oust on 1. Will drive price of energy down. 
Price matters (linear correlation of efficiency of use versus price of energy)

Ccalifornia uses 40% less energy per capital than rest of US, effect of Gov Brown in 1970s

Electricity generation by state

This an experiment on planet not performed for millions of years
Poss more than predicted
Adaptation necessary
Mitigation necessary
Stabilizing greenhouse levels is possible but looks unlikely now
So massive suffering by human societies and natural ecosystems is likely

Churchill – democracy is the worst form of government apart from the alternative

[Longer applause than the polite norm]   


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