Last May ID/Lab crew attended a lecture called “Cities for People” by the famous urban planner Jan Gehl. Gehl mentioned that in the early days cities were all about people who moved around by feet. The square was a beautiful meeting place where everything was happening for our eyes to see.
Then between 1955-1960 the invasion of the motorcar started. Urban town planners started making room for motorised traffic, making the cars happy and people were treated as arbitrary. The urban scene changed from a 5 km p/hr zone to a 60 km p/hr zone.
Architecture started to change and the urban face transformed to large spaces, huge signals, no details and no more focus on people!
Another shift took place in the sixties where the city limits started expanding and rapid growth took priority. The people scaled city transformed into a city planned one and from there into a site planned city.
No one was looking at eye level scale anymore and this hasn’t much changed in the last 50 years. Then another phenomenon took place, the Brasilia Syndrome: City planning from an aerial view. Looks great from the sky but not so at people scale which gets completely neglected. Jan used the term bird shit architecture and took Dubai as example…
Architects enjoyed the freestanding form but it was not designed for people scale at all. People often feel lost in such an environment. People like to spend time in a human scale environment. It seems the architects got their scale confused as interaction between form & life has been mostly ignored. People who are put in design examples by Architects always seems to be very happy and content with their surroundings, but are they? A good public realm is very important. People scaled cities provide protection, comfort and enjoyment. People shape the city/buildings and then they shape us.
Some solutions to create great urban spaces are to scale down our cities, create aesthetic quality and positive experiences like possibilities for walking and sitting, protection from wind and draft, noise, protection of crime & traffic accidents by creating street life and areas free from cars. At ID/Lab we use similar paradigms on the urban projects we are working on.
At the moment we are involved with a couple of residential developers who want to encourage their clients to walk and cycle more on the new estate; what can we add/remove in the urban fabric to make this happen?