The Pursuit of Form

Jan Gehl talks about the problematic history of architecture, landscape architecture and yes, planning, when it comes to building cities for people rather than celebrating form for its own sake.

Talking with the American Society for Landscape Architects (ASLA), Gehl gave landscape architects some credit:

"The landscape architects, maybe they are the nicest. I always felt, visiting landscape schools, that they had a nicer atmosphere. They were closer to the ground. But still the education concerning people is very weak if nonexistent."

Gehl makes a plea for turning the attention of the professionals to making cities for people:

"They would be safer because if people are using a city it will be safer. They would be more sustainable because suddenly it'd be much easier to make cities where we can have a good quality public transportation system, where we can walk in style and dignity to and from the station day and night in safety and have a good time doing it."

Full Story: Interview with Jan Gehl

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Gehl on Modernism vs. Humanism

Gehl writes "I use about 30 or 40 pages in my book to painstakingly detail what human scale is and how you can find out about it. It is of course based on Homo sapiens, the speed with which we move, the way we move, how our limbs are organized, how our movement system, how our senses are geared to our being a walking animal. ... We have been through all this evolution over all these millions of years. We are basically Homo sapiens with the same body worldwide."

This new humanism contrasts strongly with modernism, which was based on the premise that new technology had changed things fundamentally, so we can now ignore all the lessons of traditional architecture and urbanism about how to build the sorts of places where people feel comfortable.

Humanism now dominates the thinking of urban designers, who have generally rejected modernist urbanism.

But Modernism still dominates the thinking of most architects, despite criticism from theorists such as Christopher Alexander and Leon Krier.

Eg, look at the first picture in Gehl's article, a place which virtually all urban designers would agree is bleak and anti-human.

Then compare it with the picture of a building designed by Thom Mayne at http://preservenet.blogspot.com/2008/08/thom-maynes-federal-building-in-...

Mayne created a place that is just a bleak, but architects still admire this sort of anti-human environment on the grounds that is very avant garde and therefore "progressive." Mayne won the Pritzker Prize for this sort of garbage. The Pritzker Prize is completely devoted to celebrating form for its own sake.

Charles Siegel

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