The Architect as Totalitarian

Theodore Dalrymple dissects some of the destructive tendencies of the modern architect Le Corbusier:

Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy. Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything.

Via David Sucher.

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Will Harrison Square hate pedestrians?

Will the Harrison Square retail development in downtown Fort Wayne make pedestrians more or less welcome? And why would I ask the question, seeing as how there are so many pedestrians drawn on the architectural renderings?

But there’s a potential problem with the above streetscape, and David Sucher’s Three Rules for urban design (PDF) addresses it directly. Allow me to quote from his book, “City Comforts“:

If the problem is to create a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, much of the answer is architectural. Actually, it is not so much “architectural” in the usual sense of the word, for it ignores style. Site plan trumps architecture. …

The key decision is the position of the building with respect to the sidewalk. This decision determines whether you have a city or a suburb.

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

Now, at first, it may seem that Harrison Square meets the conditions. It will be built to the sidewalk, the front will not be bare walls, and obviously there’ll be no parking lot in front.

But take another look at the streetscape above. The retail establishments are not at street level; they are maybe five feet above street level, separated from the street and sidewalk by seven steps and a brick wall.

Now, imagine walking by the retail stores. You would not be eye level with the stores. You’d be ankle level. And when you drive down Jefferson Boulevard, you’ll have the same problem of not being able to see directly into the stores. This elevation of the retail establishments reduces the building’s “permeability” — not completely, but partially.

Another interesting wrinkle is that the rendering above seems to show on-street parking on Jefferson, which would require reducing Jefferson’s four lanes to three. Is that really part of the plan? I hope so, because if not, that small sidewalk with a wall on one side and heavy traffic on the other will not feel so friendly to the pedestrian, trees or no trees.

But here’s the clincher: If you are handicapped, how do you enter the stores?

Well, if you have the misfortune of approaching Harrison Square from the west, you’ll have to travel an entire city block to find a ramp that allows you access to the stores.

Now, before my criticism gets criticized for being too, well, pedestrian, please remember that these details matter. City residents will not approach Harrison Square from the air, as in the virtual fly-throughs. We will approach it on foot. And the way we interact with the building as pedestrians is the only way we’ll ever know.

I know that renderings are only plans, and are subject to change. But since construction of the stadium has been underway for some time, bringing the first floor of Harrison Square down to street level is probably out of the question.

— images from the city of Fort Wayne Web site