2009 May 31 Sunday
Michael Blowhard Calls For Tradition In City Park Design

Down with modernity. Up with public spaces that people like to look at and spend time in. Works for me.

One easy lesson to take from this: Modernism (and its stylistic descendants) can be reasonably conceived-of as "the defiance of common experience." Modernism: Endless experiments based in theory and speculation, very few of which work out. Tradition: Practices based in experience that almost always succeed.

Another lesson: If public space is to serve any useful purpose it shouldn't be dealt with as "empty space." It needs to be crafted and created as a positive thing in its own right.

Designers rise to the challenge and botch designs of plazas and parks.

I was reminded of a great line from William H. Whyte: "It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished."

The problem comes from narcissistic design. We need more of a customer-centered focus with plazas and park areas.

(A short parenthesis: Modernists just love putting their creations up on pedestals. Think of all the stark geometric skyscrapers you've seen that sit up on plazas five or six steps above sidewalk level. Why do modernists do this? Simple answer: They want their creations to be taken as freestanding artworks. You're meant to experience these buildings as autonomous creations, rather like sculptures on stands in a museum.)

Accept tradition. Accept proven solutions.

If "decent," "workable," and "pleasing" is the goal -- as, by the way, it almost always should be in architecture and urbanism -- then why not start by accepting tradition (hey, another name for tradition is "what has shown itself to work") and go from there? Memorable may not be achieved, but acceptable is pretty well guaranteed. And -- especially where public facilities go -- acceptable is pretty damn good.

Sounds like Total Quality Management is needed. No risky design changes. Use proven components. Make the same thing and control your process to ensure you make the same thing.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 May 31 11:43 PM  Cultural Wars Western


Comments
anon said at June 1, 2009 8:55 AM:

Modernism is simply liberalism in practice. Those who are big fans of modernism seem to live in pretty traditional places though. Funny that...


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