Search This Blog

Saturday, October 4, 2008

II: Design of a Good City - Building Components

Beginning with the basics and working backwards, Cities are made up of Towns, Towns are made up of Neighborhoods, and Neighborhoods are up of streets and blocks (S&B). In essence the DNA of a City is its system of Streets and Blocks (S&B). Thus, the basic character of a city is derived from the configuration of its S&B (and the articulation of its architecture). The axial grids of many American cities to the more organic feel of European cities are all a direct consequence of how its S&B have been planned and laid out.

Once the S&B system has been configured, next is the disposition of buildings within the system to create groups of neighborhoods which form a town, and groups of towns which form the city.

As I discussed in the first article of this series, the traditional neighborhood is one where daily human activity can be lived to its fullest within a half mile walking radius. The building typologies required to make this feasible were also discussed in the first article. Below are the six building typologies in their basic forms, and some images of how these typologies have been applied in different places.

Pictures: 1. Statue of Liberty, NYC - Tholos 2. The Parthenon, Greece - Temple 3. Palazzo Farnese, Italy - Regia 4. Flatbush Apartments, NYC - Domus 5. Theater at Epidaurus, Greece - Theater 6. Typical Shops, USA - Taberna/ Shops.

The characteristics of a good city is one which pays attention to the disposition of these buildings with respect to how the citizens of the city live from day to day. In other words, a good city is a place where a citizen can live, eat, work, play, pray and sleep, and be able to accomplish these 6 basic needs within a reasonable radius. If a citizen can accomplish a majority of these basic activities within a half mile radius (or a 15 minute walk), that is the characteristic of a city with an excellent S&B system and an excellent disposition of building typologies.

As I discussed in the previous article, the two factors holding back most African cities are the lack of different building types, and the zoning of buildings according to use. This means that everyone lives in a residential area, and everyone commutes to work on the same street networks to the business district (typically known as “downtown”), and at the end of the workday, everyone commutes back to their residential neighborhoods leaving downtown a literal ghost town.

When cities are configured according to building types (which will be addressed in the third article), the result is a place like New York City where citizens are able to live, eat, work, play, pray, and sleep within a reasonable distance.

The purpose of this article is to introduce the six (6) building typologies with respect to the six (6) basic human daily activities. As Africans, let’s begin to see if our cities conform to the way we live, or whether we conform to the way our cities are designed. If it’s the latter, then that is unacceptable. We should demand more from our government officials. The problem that I see is the government officials do not have a clue about how to proceed or what measures to take in resolving this critical issue.

The goals of these articles are twofold – to point out the problems, and to propose a solution. I sincerely hope that we can make a commitment to change the way we live in our African cities, and my goal is to make sure that if we do change, it’s for a better way to live. The next article will propose how a good city is planned, and how to transform our current cities into good cities. As always, my opinions are quite humble and I look forward to a good debate on how to bring about positive change.


nyanziza said...

"The purpose of this article is to introduce the six (6) building typologies with respect to the six (6) basic human daily activities. As Africans, let’s begin to see if our cities conform to the way we live, or whether we conform to the way our cities are designed. If it’s the latter, then that is unacceptable.

What are the (6) basic human daily activities, and according to whom? Is this person African? Are these basic human daily activities seasonal?

to "see if our cities conform to the way we live, or whether we conform to way our cities are designed" are both unacceptable. the act of '[seeing if]' only connotes the passive act of waiting...

As Africans, in the powerful driver's seat of design and urban planning, we need to usurp the government and show them how it's done... because clearly, they don't know how to do that. I believe 'that' has already been established. It's a matter of 'where do we go from here' now that everything's been messed up. What are our social standards based on? What outside entities infiltrate the brain/radiowaves of African custom? Creating this building type of our own necessitates a pure grasp of that which delineates from [here]. Our buildings should grow from its site, in a way that gives the African a sense of belonging -- that 'ah ha moment' -- a moment of discovery ... and overwhelming sense of SELF.

Of course, taking this traditional route of academia makes sense; the challenge is to take, rather juxtapose what it is you do know, to the history of the land to which you choose to architecturally identify with.

nandoh said...

I appreciate these insightful comments. Here is what I have to say as well:

I made the assertion that human beings need to 1.Live 2.Eat 3.Pray 4.Play 5.Work and 6.Sleep. Everything we do is essentially a derivative of these 6 basic activities. Asking if these activities are seasonal is really not thinking it through or overthinking. I'm not sure about anyone else, but I need to eat and sleep regardless of the seasonal changes, and I most certainly need to work to be able to afford to live, eat, and play. One can comment that praying is seasonal if you're one of those people who only enter a church on holidays, but I would presume that most people pray through the seasons. So I really don't know what purpose that "seasonal" comment was meant to serve, unless I'm missing the point.

It's also mentioned that the article takes a passive approach. Let me begin by saying that I am African (from Ghana... if you read my profile), and I was born and raised in Ghana. I now reside in the United States, and one does not simply go back and "tell people what to do." It's a simple sociological study. First you observe, and then make recommendations to appropriate people, and make convincing studies to influence change. Making the assertion that you need to tell government officials what to do because they have no idea to begin with is simply naive and a statement made from a lack of experience. Government officials have no interest in egomaniacs thinking they have the answer to a problem. Government officials are interested in discussing solutions to a problem.

I absolutely agree with the comments made about the necessity to study and create our own building types. Regardless of the forms these buildings take on, they have to be identifiable with regard to the 6 basic human activities in mind. By also having a disctinct form for buildings in Africa, we distinuish ourselves from the rest of the world architecturally. The reason we travel is because we want to experience something different. So why travel to Africa if all the buildings look like they belong in Italy, France or America. It just doesn't make sense. Africa needs to distinguish itself architecturally, and that is the sole purpose of this blog. To find out how we can come together in a common bond to raise African cities from architectural obscurity.