Rumble in the Urban Jungle – Michael Sorkin vs. “New” Urban-ists & “Landscape Urban”-isms

Heated debate in the riposte’s & the  responses ( read the comments in the original- see link below) from the Architectural Record – Like Michael Sorkin says here – it seems  a pointless debate – one that is particularly irrelevant here in the global South – we can’t really see whats the “new” in New Urbanism or what is really different in the Landscape Urbanism from what Landscape Architects here have always done – stewarded the environment on which we all depend – and try to get their clients to do what’s best for all the actor-networks involved in the city, human & non-humann – wealthy as well as the disenfranchised- not just themselves .

August 2013

A recent book by New Urbanist authors revives an old battle with Landscape Urbanism.

By Michael Sorkin

The High Line in New York, designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is criticized by Andres Duany for being too expensive and over-designed.
Photo © Iwan Baan
The High Line in New York, designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is criticized by Andres Duany for being too expensive and over-designed.

It’s hard to keep up with the musical deck chairs in the disciplines these days. The boundaries of architecture, city planning, urban design, landscape architecture, sustainability, computation, and other fields are shifting like crazy, and one result is endless hybridization–green urbanism begets landscape urbanism, which begets ecological urbanism, which begets agrarian urbanism–each “ism” claiming to have gotten things in just the right balance. While this discussion of the possible weighting and bounding of design’s expanded field does keep the juices flowing, it also maintains the fiction that there are still three fixed territories–buildings, cities, and landscapes–that must constantly negotiate their alignment.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, one of the leading firms in the New Urbanism movement, designed a master plan in 2012 for Costa Verbena in Brazil. The designers say the plan respects the site's topography and its sensitive ecosystems, while applying a traditional street grid.
Image courtesy DPZ & Company
Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, one of the leading firms in the New Urbanism movement, designed a master plan in 2012 for Costa Verbena in Brazil. The designers say the plan respects the site’s topography and its sensitive ecosystems, while applying a traditional street grid.

Real Urbanism Is Rare

While I am not fan of New Urbanism , the regeneration of suburbia is a pet interest of mine and Chris Bradford’s commentary on the problems experienced in Austin Texas from Sustainable Cities Collective highlights the real problems experienced in trying to solve the parkiing problem and how we are not prepared to pay individually or collectively to solve its problems – its probably “someone else’s” problem isn’t it?

Back in 1998, Cedar Park adopted a comprehensive plan that set aside 42 acres of land along Highway 183 for a mixed-use, village-like town center.  They imagined something like this:

Cedar Park Town Center
The plan called for the city hall to be built there to anchor the town center and for the rest to be filled in with apartments and boutique shops.   But in 2007 the city voters turned down a tax hike to build the city hall there,settling on a cheaper location that had existing buildings.

The plan was approved in 2001 and has been updated since, but the large tract of land lies fallow.  D.R. Horton owns the tract and has been seeking PUD zoning that would allow it to break from the boutique-shop plan and build something more like a generic shopping center.  This upset a bunch of the people who bought near the tract on the assumption that it would be a new-urbanist village.   Their protests have evidently worked, for now, because D.R. Horton has taken down its rezoning application.

I don’t blame the folks for wanting a quaint, urbanist town center.  But, honestly, the kind of thing they want is really an urban kind of thing, and is very hard to grow in a cow pasture.

Here’s the economics:

There are no buildings in the town center today.  Everything must be built from scratch.  That means the retail must be built from scratch.  And new retail space in a mixed-use village is just as expensive, if not more expensive, to build as retail bays in a new shopping center.

No one’s going to build that retail space unless they get the rents to make it worth their while.  And in order for the small shops they have in mind to generate the necessary rents, there must be a lot of traffic.  The kind of traffic this area will never generate on its own — there are no significant job centers nearby, and there is no chance that the center will develop the residential density that could sustain a retail district by itself.  The town center doesn’t even sit astride a major arterial, so drive-by traffic is out.

There’s simply nothing to generate the kind of traffic retail would need to pay the rents to justify the construction cost . . . unless they were to build a lot of retail, with anchors to ensure a steady stream of traffic, and a lot of parking for all those cars.  But that’s a shopping center, not a town center.

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Landform Building: Stan Allen & Marc McQuade

More investigations on the origins of Landscape as the source or basis of architecture and its divergence form the precepts of Landscape Urbanism and its closer alignment with Mat -Building as I commented in recent article: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Beat Out Strong Competition at Aberdeen City Garden Project the thickening of the land into a multilevel connected landscape is the antithesis of New Urbanism and other reactionary ideas of how we build the cities fabric, integrating existing fragments, infrastructures, retail clusters and green spaces into a new vision of public to private space as a set of nested hierarchies within a dense urban context, : embedded “heterotopias”  a la David Graham Shane’s  Recombinant Urbanism and Urban Design since 1945 or in semi rural “natural” environments,. such as the visitors centers, experiential museums and restaurants built at historical or “natural wonder” sites,  which in their nature use are still actually very urban.

A book review by Ethel Baraona Pohl from Domus

In their recent book, Marc McQuade and Stan Allen analyze the evolution of the critical relationship between architecture and landscape

Landform Building

Stan Allen and Marc McQuade, eds. in collaboration with Princeton University School of Architecture. Schirmer/Mosel, 2011 (416 pp., US $65)

The common link between landscape and architecture can be defined by the concept of megastructure, or at least this is the first message perceived when opening the book Landform Building and flip through its pages. But this close relationship has been changing fast in the last ten years, from the biological to the geological; the desire to make a responsive architecture is now fulfilled with references to landscape. As Stan Allen points, now a parallel trend looks not to the biology of individual species but to the collective behaviour of ecological systems as a model for cities, buildings and landscapes: “Architecture is situated between the biological and the geological—slower than living but faster than the underlying geology.”

Image: Vicente Guallart, a Barcelona-based architect whose work explores the mineralogical remaking of whole terrains – including how to make a mountain

The start point of this new way to understand architecture was in the early 1990s, when the emergence of Landscape Urbanism was focused on experiments on folding, surface manipulation and the creation of artificial terrains. Mostly all of these strategies can be related with some avant-garde projects of the 1960s, such as Hans Hollein’s Aircraft Carrier City in Landscape or Raimund Abraham’s Transplantation I; a time when architectural proposals included per-se the transformation of landscape, better explained by Erwin Rommel [quoted by Marida Talamona], “Any work of architecture, before it is an object, is a transformation of the landscape.

Natural tectonic can be understood as the architectural reconstruction of nature, as pointed by David Gissen and it could be a positive approach if we start thinking again on the idea that architecture can also bring nature back into the view and experience of the city. We want to end quoting Gissen: “Through this lens, we understand “nature” as something that was (past tense) in the city. By bringing it back, we reconstruct the former reality of the city but also acknowledge the end of nature as we understand it.”

[1] Landform Building, Architecture’s New Terrain. Conference at Princeton University School of Architecture [visited on 29th August 2011]
[2] Thinking big. John Rajchman talks with Rem Koolhaas [visited on 29th August 2011]
[3] Michael Jakob, “On Mountains, Scalable and Unscalable” MS [4] Reyner Banham, “Scenes in America Deserta”. The MIT Press, 1989.
[5] Fumihiko Maki, “Investigations in Collective Form.” 1964. PDF available. Visited on 29th August 2011]
[6] Kenneth Frampton, “Megaform As Urban Landscape”. University of Michigan, 1999.

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AoU Landscape Urbanism notes & questions _ TIm Stonor

A commentary on the threat that fragmented urbanism poses to  the future city – is this the full story ? from Tim Stonor’s The Power of the Network

Fragmented urbanism: the rise of Landscape Urbanism & the threat it poses to the continuously connected city

TS intro
This is a crucial moment for urbanism. In the UK, the Portas review, highlighting the UK’s threatened high streets. Around the world, cities are growing faster than ever. But cities – as we knew them – are under threat.

First, from the car. Car-dependent urbanism is the principal form of urbanism on the planet. our cities have become so fragmented by road systems in the last century that it is now almost impossible not to be far dependent – not without a major demolition and reconnection programme.

Second, from designers, accepting of the car and intellectualising around this complicity.

The aim of this talk
I have been forming my own views and am looking to raise a discussion within the Academy of Urbanism and beyond. Do people agree with me? If so, how do we respond? If not, why not?

Landscape Urbanism & New Urbanism: it shouldn’t be so divisive (via The power of the network)

I thought it worthwhile to repost this is an lucid commentary on Landscape Urbanism and New Urbanism in respect to the post by Duany on CNU’s inclusiveness and previous post by Waldheim, Tim Stonor sets out the problems created by this divisiveness in professional territories and that both are tending to create localized silo’s that further disrupt the fabric of the city at its human scale making it more difficult to integrate the continuos urban movement economy and as he lays out in the post on Spacial Layout – giving over the design to traffic engineers and politicians…..

Summary Despite the efforts of each party to highlight its differences, there is a significant overlap between Landscape Urbanism and New Urbanism, both positive and negative. Positive: a concern about urban harmony. Negative: a tendency to fragment (call it sprawl). Urbanists of both colours would do better to recognise this common ground and realise that fragmented urbanism risks the social, economic and environmental health of cities. Some tho … Read More

via The power of the network

Duany attempts to set the record straight about New Urbanism

After stirring the ‘dirt’ on Charles Waldheim’s supposed usurping the Urban Design agenda at Harvard and the resulting flurry around the antagonism between New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism see my earlier post  The battle of the “- ism’s” & the “-ology’s”, here is  rejoiner from Andres Duanny  BY DAMIAN HOLMES of LAND Reader

“Andres Duany has written a new article, New Urbanism | The Case for Looking Beyond Style for the Metropolis Magazine that seeks to set the record straight about New Urbanism (NU) as it is defined by the Avant-Garde Establishment (AGE). An interesting article that seeks to try an explain away the ‘over simplification’ on NU.

SUBURBS #1 NORTH LAS VEGAS, 2007 The theme of Burtynsky’s work is “nature transformed through industry.” At the time of the photo, Las Vegas was one of the fastest-sprawling regions in the country. Edward Burtynsky

Taking on the “avant-garde establishment,” Andrés Duany attempts to set the record straight. (Note to the avant-garde: feel free to respond.)

Within the Avant-Garde Establishment (AGE), the New Urbanism has been defined by a strategy to willfully mischaracterize it. The few live debates have consisted of dreary factual corrections by the New Urbanist side. Now Metropolis provides the opportunity to establish the actual record:


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What Does a ‘Sustainable Community’ Actually Look Like?

Noted in LAND Reader , from the Atlantic by Kaid Benfield

Is this your idea for a” sustainable community” – to me it looks like a boring version of middle of nowhere – modeled on a dream of child-like American idealism – most of us think differently – but its good to know hart we are not missing:

Imagine a suburb—but probably not like any suburb you’ve ever seen. Welcome to Sustainaville.

One thing that I have learned in six months in my new position as director of sustainable communities at NRDC is even a lot of environmentalists don’t quite know what to make of the phrase. This may be particularly true for my fellow travelers in the legal profession, who tend to think in terms of statutory mandates and causes of action and have little patience with the fuzzy stuff.

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