Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Organic Growth of Tent Cities (Part 1)

I just finished reading Cristopher Alexander's A New Theory of Urban Design (1987), which I found directly applicable to tent cities.  The book takes an anti-masterplanning stance towards urban design and instead emphasizes organic growth, similar to a living organism.  "The Idea of a Growing Whole" is the central theme of the theory.

"What happens in the city, happens to us.  If the process fails to produce wholeness, we suffer right away.  So, some how, we must overcome our ignorance, and learn to understand the city as a product of huge network of processes, and learn just what features might make the cooperation of the processes produce a whole (19)."

Alexander proposes a single over riding rule to be followed:

Every increment of construction must be made in such a way as to heal the city.

After this, seven intermediate rules of growth are introduced:

1. Piecemeal growth
"It is necesssary that the growth be piecemeal, and furthermore that the idea of piecemeal growth be specified exactly enough so that we can guarantee a mixed flow of small, medium, and large projects in about equal quantities."

2. The growth of larger wholes
"Every building increment must help to form at least one larger whole in the city, which is both larger and more significant than itself."

3. Visions
"Every project must first be experienced, and then expressed, as a vision which can be seen in the inner eye (literally).  It must have this quality so strongly that it can also be communicated to others and felt by others, as a vision."

4. The basic rule of positive urban space
"Every building increment must create coherent and well shaped public space next to it."

5. Layout of large buildings
"The entrances, the main circulation the main division of the building into parts, its interior open spaces, its daylight, and the movement within the building, are all coherent and consistent with the position of the building in the street and in the neighborhood."

6. Construction
"The structure of every building must generate smaller wholes in the physical fabric of the building, in its structural bays, columns, walls, windows, building base, etc. in short, in its entire physical construction and appearance."

7. Formation of centers
"Every whole must be a 'center' in itself, and must also produce a system of centers around it."

My next step is to map the tent city in Ann Arbor and see how these rules have been applied.


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