The Urban Design Responsibility of Architecture

urb design responIt seems to me that the first responsibility of architectural design is an intelligent response and supportive contribution to what is around it. In other words, a new building’s form and spirit should respond to the terrain, existing vegetation, natural amenities, or most often, urban design of which it will become an integral part. All other architectural considerations are, or should be, secondary to this.

Take for example a street of two and three story buildings, with many of these buildings abutting, that is, without side setbacks. A new building is proposed. It is eight stories high, with large plazas separating it from its neighbors. We can evaluate the architectural style of this proposed building, the form, the materials, or the colors. These are important considerations to be sure, but only secondary to the first question: how does this proposed building enhance the neighborhood–what is the character (and the characteristics) of its urban design? If creating wonderful, livable communities is, as so many claim, our goal, each building must first support the formation, enhancement, and enrichment of the place in which it is located.  Do you think the buildings shown above do this?  Do the town homes on the previous page?

It is my experience that this is not a very well understood concept. So often we see architectural drawings or photos of proposed (or completed) buildings that do their best to isolate the building from what is around it. In the architectural journals it is very popular to not even have people in the pictures—only the building itself. It is as if the high art of the magnificent building is somehow corrupted by showing anything else, including the users for which it was assumedly designed.

This requisite urban design response is not formulaic—it is specific to each case, each site for which a new building is designed. Often it is a difficult job to define what this response should be—but it is of vital importance.  And only when it is successfully employed can we move on to the next Architectural Consideration: the Exterior Appearance.

Next: Architectural Basics: the Exterior Appearance