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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.