Week 2: Ideas That Shape Cities

MOOC Summaries - Designing Cities - Ideas that Shape Cities - City Design

Week 2: Ideas That Shape Cities

“Modernist City Design… Traditional City Design… Green City Design… Systems City Design…” 


  • 2-1: Introduction
  • 2-2: Modernist City Design
  • 2-3: Traditional City Design
  • 2-4: Green City Design
  • 2-5: Systems City Design

2-1: Introductory Discussion

  • Two ways to talk about history of cities design:
    • cities and architecture following a progression i.e. move from one historical style to another;
    • different ideas had different prominence at different times i.e. different ideas are like different strands of different ideas knitted together into a cable, and at different periods, one coloured strand would be more prominent.
  • For this week, we have divided the strands into four ideas:
    • Modernism/Modernist City Design i.e. present-focus;
    • Traditional City Design i.e. accumulated wisdom;
    • Green City Design i.e. environment and ecology;
    • System City Design i.e. incorporates lots of technology change.
  • A lot of conflict in discussions about history and theory of cities, and different groups think they are right and the others are wrong.
  • In contrast, we do not take this view: we think all ideas are significant that interplay with each other.
  • Should think of ideas are as more or less important at different times e.g. Garden City is an old idea (120 years old!) but is currently a very strong idea that has also evolved and adapted for different purposes.
  • The designer thus has to be able to combine different ideas, picking and choosing the right ones for the project at hand.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://www.coursera.org/learn/designing-cities/lecture/s94i9/introductory-discussion

2-2: Modernist City Design

  • Ideas of a tiny number of people had a surprising and large effect.
  • In 1922, Le Corbusier made a visonary concept of tall buildings set into city blocks surrounded by open space, with elevated highways; was a very powerful and influential idea.
  • Running highways through cities, and clearing the land around them for new towers has inspired urban renewal plans for many other cities.
  • Concepts and cities influenced by these ideas, with adaptations, can be found in General Motor’s model at the 1939 World Fair, central Stockholm, glass curtain wall towers in the US, and Brasilia etc.
  • Walter Gropius: another individual whose ideas were influential in in shaping cities.
  • One of his ideas: the taller buildings are, the farther they can be apart, and still accommodate the same amount of space; and with right orientation, buildings can be spaced so that sunlight falls on the full facade of the neighboring building.
  • These ideas are now law in many countries e.g. China, Japan, Korea etc.
  • The U.S. has had mixed experiences with high rise housing for low and moderate income tenants; not building any more, but in many places worldwide, high rise housing is accepted as norm (e.g. Singapore, central Shanghai, near Stockholm etc).
  • A waterfront development in Dubai is a good summary of the consensus view of modernist city design today that integrates the river, highways, districts, residences, and office clusters.
  • Today, the significant form and sculptural aspect of modernest architecture has become characteristic of cities, because engineers know how to make and build any shape e.g. Sydney Opera House.
  • Now we are back to the tower by the elevated highway, but shaped by new forces.
  • Next session: Traditional City Design, rejected by Modernists rejected, but which continue to influence cities today.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/37

2-3: Traditional City Design

  • Traditional City design examples:
    • Christopher Wren presented a new plan for London after 1666 fire (and was a radical document);
    • L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for Washington DC.
  • Similar ideas include circular plazas, where radiating avenues meet (and the ideas might in fact have come from France).
  • Paris was itself re-designed starting in the 1850s: new avenues were across the existing city and new buildings along them had to follow exact design guidelines.
  • People came back to the U.S. and asked why their cities could not have parks and boulevards like like Paris.
  • Another big influence: Court of Honor, the White City, at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition; many people went home asking why they could not have this kind of civic experience in their own city.
  • The result? The design of many park and boulevard plans for American cities, and this phase in the history of planning is often called the City Beautiful Movement.
  • Many cities have civic designs that date from this time e.g. Denver, San Francisco and Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • Traditional City Design has also always been the language of authority, and continued to be favored by 20th century dictators e.g. Hitler/Albert Speer and Berlin, Mussolini and Rome, Stalin and Moscow.
  • Pattern of Traditional City design commissioned by authoritarian governments was broken mid-century by several projects such as those at the Lincoln Center.
  • The group of six famous architects who had been assigned different buildings at Lincoln Center, struggled to find an unifying idea. Eventually, they settled for traditional symmetrical organization i.e. a Traditional City Design.
  • Philip Johnson came up with this compromise was in fact an early supporter of Modernism. But he recognized that modernism did not give a strong basis for organizing groups of buildings and hence willing to fall back on tradition.
  • New Urbanism is applying Traditional City ideas to suburbs e.g. Seaside in Florida.
  • Traditional City design continues to have a role in central cities e.g. Vancouver.
  • Traditional City design ideas can provide a basis to organize city, which Modernist City design cannot.
  • Next session: Green Ciity design.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/17

2-4: Green City Design

  • Green City Design is a cluster of ideas about integrating natural landscape into the designs for cities (some call this landscape urbanism).
  • Most pre-industrial cities were small and the natural landscape was always close by.
  • Modern urbanization on the other hand covers big areas – relationship of natural and constructed environments more and more important but more and more difficult to achieve.
  • Climate change is also introducing a new factor e.g. rising sea levels, as many cities grew up around seaports.
  • Cities will need to adapt and adaptation means learning new ways to organise the natural environment.
  • This is possible because we have been doing so since maybe ten thousand years ago e.g. digging system of canals in Athens, Hangzhou’s West Lake was consciously designed, Kyoto’s Katsura Palace, gardens in Europe etc.
  • As cities expanded, becoming bigger and bigger, they became more and more removed from the natural landscape; became clear people needed some relief.
  • Central Park, New York City: brought what appeared to be a natural landscape into a close relationship to the surrounding streets; an artificial and constructive environment matured into a functioning and natural landscape.
  • As cities become industrialized, and further from the country, parks no longer seemed to be enough; people began to ask why they could not be in touch with nature all the time.
  • Ebenezer Howard published a book in 1898 which he later retitled Garden Cities of Tomorrow; he wanted to create what he called town-country: a mixture delivering the benefits of city living along with the fresh air, greenery, birds and animals found in the country; ideas included green belts, and satellite towns, themselves surrounded by green belts.
  • Environmental design and engineering also made it possible to correct some of the earlier mistakes introduced e.g. by industry, highways and railways; these include taking down a highway in Seoul and opening up the stream underneath as a landscape park, and converting an old freight line in Manhattan into an elevated park.
  • Adaption to climate changes is  another factor; city designers have to pay closer attention to natural forces; an example is the construction of flood surge protection, barriers, and gates as protection against hurricanes and rising sea levels, especially for coastal cities.
  • Next topic: system city design such as new computer aided technologies, which can help design solutions to complicated modern problems like climate change.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/33

2-5: Systems City Design

  • First systems: structural systems e.g. city walls, determining the size and shape of cities up to the mid 19th century, when explosives made them obsolete.
  • More recently: standardized structural parts, (utility pipes, beams, columns, large sheets of glass etc), which helped to make tall and large buildings possible.
  • The comparatively simple Crystal Palace and Buckminster Fuller’s dome structure can become the framework for something more complicated functions. Examples include the Mall of America, Hong Kong International Airport, and Madrid Terminal; the latter two are each the size of a small city.
    • The idea is functions can be plugged into the overall system; ideas can also be traced to the Plug in City (where buildings, living capsules etc are plugged in).
    • Other examples: Charles de Gaulle Airport, Lloyd’s Building, and Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building in Hong Kong, Nagakin Tower in Tokyo etc.
  • In reality, the plug in city has had mixed success as some of the ideas turned out not to be practical.
  • IT today has enabled systems thinking to go in new directions to study the collective effect of individuals’ decisions on where they live and work.
  • One way is through mathematical equations, cellular, and automaton, producing and testing patterns of where people choose to locate against reality; however this does not really explain city development, which includes other behavioural elements.
  • Another is analyse large amounts of data and information using powerful computer tools e.g. ArcGIS; the game SimCity also demonstrates cities are made up of systems.
  • We are just at the beginning of applying powerful computation tools, and these are likely to become more important.
  • Future sessions: looking at some of the important systems e.g. transport.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of  https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/19

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