Day 74: If I Ruled The World

Christopher Alexander
Christopher Alexander

Architects! Who needs ’em?

No one really. That is, if we just want structures that stand alone and do nothing to improve our quality of life. Engineers and property developers have had the American economy by the balls with an increasingly tighter grip, eschewing those crazy designers on the pretense that it’s just not economical to go around talking about “space” and “light” and even worse… feelings. It’s a building, for heaven’s sake. No need to get all emotional about it.

Or is there? Raise your hand if you think back to the house you lived in at nine years old without one shred of emotion. *chirp, chirp* That’s what I thought.

The truth is, buildings create communities and communities create people.

A city is not a tree.
A city is not a tree.

Skyscrapers have been critiqued by members of the architectural community for years because of their isolating nature and their tendency to prevent residents from creating roots.

“High buildings have no genuine advantages, except in speculative gains for banks and land owners. They are not cheaper, they do not help create open space, they destroy the townscape, they destroy social life, they promote crime, they make life difficult for children, they are expensive to maintain, they wreck the open spaces near them, and they damage light and air and view.”
Architect Christopher Alexander proposed a four-story limit to all housing in 1977 which sounds pretty ideal if creating community is the focus. But I’m not so sure this is the best case scenario. Many six-story buildings create communities just fine, why is that? The answer is:
  • Internal semi-public space: A protected, personalizable space for the building or neighborhood creates a sense of co-ownership. Kind of like that club house you and the other neighborhood kids hung out in.
  • Temporary interstitial space: Street vendors are a good example and so are the wide sidewalks that collect them. Benches outside of a building can provide a place for neighbors to interact as well as a cafe or fruit stand can.
  • Proximity to other similar nodes: One good building does not a city make.

There’s a lot to be said about the connectedness cities should enjoy. Stay tuned for more details as the 365 Day Creativity Challenge continues!

What do you like most about the city you live in? Where have you enjoyed living more? What makes a good city in your opinion?


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