Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Critiquing Rudofsky's Streets for People

Rudofsky published Streets for People a Primer for Americans in 1969. Until that time, the Library of Congress lacked an official book about streets and Rudofsky aimed to fill the void. However, the book mainly compares Italian and American architecture and planning, and assaults the American form while holding the Italian superior. Not once does Rudofsky attempt to consider why the landscapes differ. Instead Rudofsky lambastes American’s apparent ignorance for urban design in comparison to the Italian’s theaters, plazas, porticos, frescos etc.

Streets for People exemplifies the notion that it is easier to chastise but far more difficult to provide valid solutions for an ailing urban form. Rudofsky does not teach, he berates. Granted, the highly articulated Italian style deserves praise; however these landscapes were developed with a different vision and purpose. Some may argue that when comparing the United States versus the Roman Empire there are many differences. The development, history and age of our establishments are distinct. Our governments are different as well as our cultures, and therefore our needs.

While reading Streets for People, I hoped to gain greater insights about how to in fact make streets for people. Rudofsky’s flagrant diatribe even lacks constructive criticism. His one-size fits all approach, Italian design, is not applicable for places that do not aim for such a level of opulence. Rudofsky’s Streets for People leaves me asking one question; “do places and streets for people have to be extravagant?”

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall

In Hall’s A Hidden Dimension, he examines how humans interact with each other and perceive things at different distances – a field he calls proxemics. Different cultures establish different distances for personal contact. For example, Americans are comfortable at close distances, six to eighteen inches, only if they intimately know one another. Americans often feel uncomfortable when someone is in their face or inside their personally established boundary. However, when Hall studied individuals from the Arab community, the personal boundary dissolves. They are far more comfortable at closer distances.

One of the memorable concepts from the book is when Hall distinguishes between painters and sculptors. The sculptor works at a much closer distance to the subject, within a few feet whereas the painter works within four to eight feet. The painter wants to capture the whole visual field yet the sculptor is concerned with replicating tactile qualities. Likewise, Hall notes that features are accentuated at close distances which enhance the characteristics in sculpture but distort images in paintings.

The distinction between the two disciplines makes me wonder if we are designing places from the wrong distance or scale. If designing cities were seen as truly an artful endeavor, what distance would we use to capture our subjects? With the invention of computers, internet, geographic information systems, auto-cad, etc. – are we properly addressing landscapes from afar? Yet, examining space from six to eighteen inches is not desirable either. How do we feel spaces, and design for human’s needs when technology may distance us?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time

A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time is a rich collection of short essays written by J.B. Jackson between 1984 and 1994. The compilation is broken into three sections that cover the southwest, human interactions with the environment and modern towns with their cars and roads. Jackson’s writing is distinct, full of details. He examines diverse topics from automobile engine maintenance to the unique features of New Mexico’s landscapes.

Jackson proposes that our sense of place is not necessarily physical, but temporal. He dares us to “ask the average American of the older generation what he or she most clearly remembers and cherishes about the home town… what comes to mind are… nonarchitectural places and events such as … a traditional football rivalry game, a country fair, and certain family celebrations” (p.158-159). Yet in all his pieces, he seems to explore the connection between humans and something – whether an adobe-clad home, or one’s first view from an airplane window. These instances do not have to be memorable – like how one quietly tinkers with the wires in an automobile’s engine. Essentially, Jackson writes about human’s shared experiences.

Jackson has the ability to weave intricate tapestries within his writing. However, in the last chapter, Towns, Cars and Roads, the style loosens and the fabric unravels to a point where the reader wanders between odology and the early years at Landscape magazine. In A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time, each chapter stands as a singular piece yet the overall collection seems to lack cohesion and flow. An updated collection could further develop the context between readings or provide section introductions for the series of pieces.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Great Streets by Allan Jacobs

Great Streets is a collection of essays that truly depict the poetic nature of streets. Jacobs’ examples of great streets span many continents and time periods. For example he explores the Roman via, medieval street, and grand boulevard. He identifies characteristics through a fluid dialogue, translating between the street and the reader. The literature is accompanied by many graphical representations of the street including figure ground, maps, small sketches, and large gray scale drawings. Also, he uses architectural plan and section drawings to display dimensions and qualities.

Jacobs really encompasses many different qualities of the street. As if telling a story about a place, he lets the details unravel naturally and the characteristics unfold. The details evolve organically as if one is walking or sitting along the street. How at first, one might notice the detail in a cobblestone, or when one witnesses the delicate design of a lamppost. Then, one might see the balconies and then the details in the building’s façade.

His writing captures the essence of streets, exemplifying their truly memorable qualities. Not only does he tell the story of street, he also shows how one can have a relationship with the street. For example, while examining cobblestones on Paseo de Gracia, he notes “the color is a soft blue-gray that shines and sparkles and looks blue-green when wet.” He welcomes the reader to the street, and offers them his vision. When reading Great Streets, the large format book opens into a portal where one can easily close their eyes, escape, and instantly walk or sit along that particular boulevard.