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2007 02 03
Architecturally Mediated Urban Environments Of The Future: Reprised
This story originally published in December, 2006 but we liked it so much . . .

Buckminster Fuller's proposal for a dome over central Manhattan

Norman Foster's scheme for Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan

This morning, the CBC had panelists William Thorsell, Brigitte Shim and Larry Beasley on the Sunday Edition radio show talking about high-rise buildings and the design of cities. The discussion moved from the topic of high-rises to the real issue: the overall design of dense urban centres and who is responsible for that design. It turns out that Toronto suffers from a spaghetti-like bureaucracy that demands the cooperation of nine different agencies to change -- as William Thorsell noted -- the design of street amenities around the Royal Ontario Museum. That process explains one of the reasons why our urban landscape is so poorly considered.

The panel's discussion on the overall design of cities made me think of the news release this week on Norman Foster's new project for Kazakhstan's capital city of Astana and its predecessor, Buckminster Fuller's dome proposal for Manhattan.

While Fuller's plan was theoretical, Foster's scheme is going ahead and will be completed in as little as one year (although that seems optimistic). The project is more than a tent over a city though, it creates a complete, architecturally mediated environment:
Underneath, in an area larger than 10 football stadiums, will be a city with squares and cobbled streets, canals, shopping centres and golf courses.

The idea is to recreate summer, so that when the outside temperature is -30C, the residents of the Kazakh capital can play outdoor tennis, take boat rides or sip coffee on the pavement cafes.

Cities may be the ultimate test of applied complexity theory. Those that offer best practice benefits of design and livability manage to provide a framework where millions of possible design variations on the micro level weave together and form a coherent whole on the macro level. Foster is attempting to create a fully-designed urban environment in one year. Will it be successful? Will Foster be able to conjure up a livable city? The project will be an interesting one to watch as it will test the architectural profession's ability to design an environment for living. Odds are it won't work for the same reasons any large project with one design vision does not work: people want urban complexity. They want surprise, delight, and variation.

Which takes us back to Toronto's problems. Can we simplify the bureaucracy that stifles the city? Can we build a best-practices system of urban design that will allow us to have both a complex and beautiful city?

[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 02/03 at 04:04 PM

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