Tag Archives: built environment

MORESO | The Vitruvian Oath

A ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for architects, urban designers, town planners, developers, politicians, and anyone involved in the creation of our built environments.

The Vitruvian Oath

I swear by the Great Architect, my Creator or creators of the spirit and/or of the flesh.

I swear by our shared Humanity.

I swear by our most vibrant and livable Cities, Neighborhoods, and Buildings.

I swear by my Brothers and Sisters in the world, wherever they live, whenever they lived or will live, making them my witnesses of the past, the present, and the future.

I swear I will perform, according to my given talent, merited ability, and best judgment this solemn oath and duty to and for our built environments, from the most humble abode to the most magnificent metropolis.

I will use my skill to enhance our built environments, according to my talent, my ability, and my judgment, always with a view of the people, by the people, and for the people.

I will keep pure and sacred life, body, and art in performing this duty.

In whatever lands I will enter, I will do so to help my fellow citizens, and I will abstain from intentional wrongdoing and harm to the form and function of our built environments, especially the abusing of my position for personal gain and vainglory.

And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession in my intercourse with colleagues and clients, if it should not be publicized, I will never divulge, holding such things as sacred secrets, except for transparency in those things that advance human sciences and knowledge.

Now I shall carry out this oath and perform this duty and break it not, for myself and my fellow Man, may I gain forever a worthy reputation among humanity for my life, my body, and my art; but if I transgress against this oath and forswear myself, may the opposite destroy me.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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PRE-ORDER NOW | The Syntax of City Space

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton (co-editor of Take One Building) is now available for pre-order from Routledge, Amazon, and other online retailers. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group will release The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids in November 2017.

Many people see American cities as a radical departure in the history of town planning because of their planned nature based on the geometrical division of the land. However, other cities of the world also began as planned towns with geometric layouts so American cities are not unique. Why did the regular grid come to so pervasively characterize American urbanism? Are American cities really so different?

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton (co-editor of Take One Building) answers these questions and much more by exploring the urban morphology of American cities. It argues American cities do represent a radical departure in the history of town planning while, simultaneously, still being subject to the same processes linking the urban network and function found in other types of cities around the world. A historical preference for regularity in town planning had a profound influence on American urbanism, which endures to this day.

Download the Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group European promotional flyer here.

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids is available for pre-order purchase with Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, Amazon, Waterstones, and Foyles in the UK as well as other online retailers around the world.

Visit our Books for Sale page here.

About the Author
Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is a graduate of Clemson University, University College London, and the University of London.

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids
by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton
Hardcover, English, 260 pages
Routledge, First Edition (November 2017)
ISBN-10: 1138301566
ISBN-13: 978-1138301566

Purchase from Routledge/Taylor & Francis here.
Purchase from Amazon here.
Purchase from Waterstones here.
Purchase from Foyles here.

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Top 10 ‘Must See’ Films for Architects and Planners

Top 10 ‘Must See’ Films for Architects and Planners
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The Outlaw Urbanist recently made available the six-hour Architecture and Film ($39.99) course series on its professional development and continuing education learning platform. The series is composed three 2-hour courses, which are also available as individual components: Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings? ($14.99); The Architectural Competence in Cinema ($14.99); and, The Best of Both Worlds ($14.99). The course series is a wide-ranging discussion about architecture’s impact on cinema in the mise en scène (e.g. everything in the frame) of film-grammars, involving general rules for the depiction of built environments in support of cinematic narratives. The course series reviewed dozens of examples in film and television. The question naturally arises about what might be the most definitive examples of architecture’s impact on cinema. What is the essential ‘must-see’ list of films for architects and planners to see?

Without further ado, here is the Top 10 ‘Must-See’ Films for Architects and Planners…

Honorable Mention: Logan’s Run (1976)
Are you still confused about what a ‘smart city’ might really be? Four decades ago, the central premise of Logan’s Run was based on the premise of a smart city. The computers of the city control every significant aspect of the lives of its citizens including decisions of life and death… unless you become a runner. After Logan 5 and Jessica 6 escape the city, the film quickly loses pace. Ultimately, the story cannot bear the weight of its intriguing premise, which is why Logan’s Run barely missed the cut for this list. Logan and Jessica explore ‘outside’ for only a few days, then even they (much like the audience) can’t wait to get back to the city, if only on some ill-defined mission to undercut the society living there.

10. Inception (2010)
The most effective film to date to make use of Computer-generated imagery (CGI) manipulation of the built environment in order to convey a distortion of reality to the audience. In this case, it is the dream-within-dream premise of Christopher Nolan’s narrative. Marvel’s 2016 Doctor Strange deploys the same digital tricks, only more so. As cool as these visual effects are, the most effective consequence has been more realistic cinematic depictions of built environments generating their own gravity in ‘hard’ science fiction films with settings in space such as Interstellar, Elysium, Star Trek Beyond, and so on.

9. The Truman Show (1998)
One of the most comprehensive examples of filmmakers transforming a real place (New Urbanist resort town of Seaside, Florida) into the fictional setting of Seahaven, Florida, which is really a set in Hollywood, California for a reality television series watched by millions around the world. The payoff for the narrative and premise comes at the climax when Truman (played by Jim Carrey) sails to the outer wall of the set to escape his manufactured reality (see above). Pleasantville (1998) in the same year is also worth a look, if only for the joke about the common paradoxes associated with urban geography in cinema. Hollywood films that are basically about Hollywood itself always border on the edge of self-indulgence. Both The Truman Show and Pleasantville avoid this trap, for the most part.

8. Harry Potter (2001-2011)
The Harry Potter films had to walk a very fine line between real and fantastical settings. It is a testament to the genius of J.K. Rowling’s source novels and the creative talents of the filmmakers that the Harry Potter film series successfully navigates this line. The use of film-grammars involving cinematic built environments and spatial concepts play a large but subtle role in achieving this objective. Harry Potter offers a good example of historical juxtaposition and a very specific use for the abnormal scale film-grammar in architectural elements to support  the Harry Potter narrative.

7. “Q Who”, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989)
There is a great advantage for extended narratives on television, especially for a franchise like Star Trek. There is more time for filmmakers to play with, even subvert well-established film-grammars when it comes to depictions of the built environment in service to the narrative. The problem is selectively choosing only one or two examples of these ‘world-building’ efforts, which are sometimes expansively and exhaustively developed over years, even decades in the case of Star Trek. The 1989 episode “Q Who” on Star Trek: The Next Generation is a good, stand-alone introduction to the larger Star Trek universe. Using the film-grammar of abnormal scale to convey narrative threat has never been done better before or since on Star Trek.

6. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Depictions of the built environment (primarily, historical juxtaposition) for the world-building of these films plays a crucial role in visually conveying important narrative information to the audience. There is a very tight, thematic structure associated with the built environment and nature in The Lord of the Rings, which is effective for supporting the protagonist and antagonist requirements of the narrative. The origins of this thematic structure can been traced right back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s source novels.

5. The Matrix (1999)
The definitive film about the potential allure and negative consequences of life inside a simulated environment. At its core, The Matrix is a sophisticated science fiction escape narrative. Its depictions of built environments are rudimentary for the most part, relying on real locations in Sydney, Australia though the filmmakers manage to make it look like a hyper-real amalgamation of Los Angeles and New York. The cinematic narrative soars when it comes to the visual effects associated with manipulating the simulated reality of the Matrix.

4. Star Wars: Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
When it comes to mise en scène in support of cinematic narratives, The Empire Strikes Back directed by Irvin Kershner might be the most perfect film ever made. Almost every scene conveys a rich amount of information to the audience through the use of background, middle ground and foreground in the frame. In fact, you might be able to watch The Empire Strikes Back absent its dialogue track – leaving John Williams’ crucial musical score in place – and still understand almost every nuance of story and characterization in the film. It is brilliant, plain and simple.

3. Game of Thrones (2011 – present)
The extended narrative of this HBO series (only 10 episode per season so 60 episodes through six seasons though some run times extend beyond the standard one-hour format) is a master class for using the rules of film-grammars in world-building production design to support cinematic narratives. Mainly, this occurs with on-location filming and CGI enhancement of built environments to create the fantastical settings of Westeros and Essos. The filmmakers go far beyond George R.R. Martin’s source novels, which often rely on literary conventions (i.e. allowing readers’ imaginations to fill in the descriptive gaps). We can only hope the climax of the final two seasons of Game of Thrones deliver a satisfactory conclusion to the creative brilliance of the series to date.

It is always difficult to avoid ‘the usual suspects’ at the top of this list…

2. Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott was at the height of his creative powers as a filmmaker during the period coinciding with the release of Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Apple “1984” television commercial. Blade Runner represents the ‘oxygen-depriving’ summit. Long before the CGI age, Blade Runner relied on ‘old school’ techniques of on-site location filming, constructed sets, physical modeling, lighting and set dressing to create the futuristic setting of Los Angeles in 2019. Architecture plays a starring role in the film right along with Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer. The narrative is tight and thought-provoking. The production design is outstanding. Scott’s use of mise en scène and ‘tried and trusted’ film-grammars to visually convey narrative information to the audience transforms the film into a deeply rich experience on several levels. Despite its reputation in architectural schools,  Blade Runner does not actually break the cinematic mold. It merely elevates it to unforeseen heights of artistic expression.

1. Metropolis (1927)
If Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is the ‘Revelation’ for mise en scène and film-grammar depictions of the built environment, then Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film classic Metropolis is the ‘Genesis’, especially for the science fiction genre. The (often-repeated) film-grammar of abnormal scale for conveying the antagonistic threat of the narrative began here (see above). In fact, a lot of the cinematic conventions most familiar to audiences (if only on a subconscious level) have their origins in Lang’s German Expressionist film. Blade Runner may have elevated the cinematic mold to unforeseen heights but Metropolis invented that mold.

Purchase the Architecture and Film course series here ($39.99)
Purchase Part 1, “Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings?”, here ($14.99)
Purchase Part 2, “The Architectural Competence in Cinema”, here ($14.99)
Purchase Part 3, “The Best of Both Worlds”, here ($14.99)

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Planning Naked | June 2016

June2016_coverPlanning Naked | June 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Your (hopefully) hilarious guide to everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

The Rise of the Aqua Planner. “Water Everywhere” in From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director section by James M. Drinan (pp. 3) discusses the intense focus on water issues during sessions of the recent APA National Conference. While the subject of water management and resources is, of course, important, especially in light of rapid urbanization and population growth around the world, I can’t figure out if the APA was being intentionally ironic, cleverly subversive, or just plain clueless by setting this conversation in Phoenix, Arizona. A city on the edge of an arid desert that gets a lot of its water from the Colorado River and probably should not exist at all based the precepts of generic function. It suspiciously sounds like APA is more interested in creating another specialized planning silo – the Aqua Planner.

June. 2016. A date. Which will live. In infamy. APA is finally forced to publish the obituary of Robert Moses’ ideas in “Farewell, Robert Moses Parkway North” by Tara Nurin (pp. 6). More like ‘good riddance’ since the real infamy is it took a quarter of a century for this project to get off the ground.

The Advance of Shared Space. “Chicago Neighborhood Puts Pedestrians First” by Allen Zeyher (pp. 7) details the shared space conversion of a three-block stretch of Argyle Street in Chicago. Pedestrians First? Isn’t that slogan some sort of right-wing synthesis of vehophobia (“fear of driving”) and xenophobia (“fear of outsiders”)? Brad McCauley at Site Design Group, Ltd. offers the absolutely priceless quote of the article: “in pedestrian-heavy corridors, it’s a no-brainer to reclaim space that was formerly given over to cars,” which implicitly confirms our suspicion that the overwhelming majority of urban planners do not possess a brain. Perhaps a trip to Emerald City to see the Wizard is in order?

States lead. Federal hampers. Oh wait, State hampers, too. At first glance, there is more evidence in the News Brief section (pp. 7) that there isn’t any problem the Federal government won’t try to regulate its way out of (e.g. more EPA requirements) whereas it is the States that are really leading (e.g. Colorado Supreme Courts overturns local fracking ban)… except for the last news item about the Texas Department of Transportation adding ‘informal’ lanes by using inside shoulders during rush hour for motorists to double average speeds and produce “smooth sailing.” That’s called medicating the symptoms, not curing the disease. At least, TexDOT have their ‘evidence’ for another costly lane widening project. Let’s be honest, motorists were probably already using the inside shoulders and TexDOT merely acknowledged the fait accompli.

Speaking of fait accompli. “Tactical Urbanism Goes Mainstream” by Jake Blumgart in the News and Legal Lessons section (pp. 8) seems to stamp tactical urbanism with APA’s approval because the brand has now been proven capable of securing money for things that don’t, in fact, have anything to do with tactical urbanism. The Philadelphia example cited in the article is for pool amenity improvements, not tactical urbanism. The $184,080 granted in Detroit isn’t for tactical urbanism, it’s nominally ‘planning for tactical urbanism’ but the first project discussed is – yes, you guessed it – pool amenity improvements. It’s disturbing how concepts get twisted to mean almost anything you want when the money gets involved in the United States.

Real Reporting. In “Scalia’s Land-Use Legacy,” William Fulton briefly reviews the legacy of the recently deceased Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia on land use law for the Legal Lessons section (pp. 9). It is a well-written, objective piece about, primarily, the Nollan and Lucas decisions. Fulton discusses their legal importance and Scalia’s intellectual role in crafting the majority decisions. The article is informative while blessedly free of ‘hidden’ agendas or positions. Ah, real reporting!

Tsk-tsk. Aaaaaarrrrrrrggggggghhhhhh. “Mixed Income, Mixed Results” by Craig Guillot (pp. 10-17) discusses the combination, for good or ill, of market rate and targeted affordable housing in developments. Housing policies in the United States from the Federal level to State and local government has been completely ass-backwards ever since the 1949 Housing Act and APA has been – and continues to be – complicit in perpetuating this ass-backwardness. All of the evidence you need is this quote, “Brennan says funding has been a barrier,” which again boils everything down to ‘give us more money.’ Giullot’s article therefore ably covers all of the problems this ass-backwards approach entails and reaps without ever addressing the core problem that everyone is basically talking out of their ass when it comes to housing. The short answer is found in the scale of developments, build-out times, land appreciation, and recognizing that a city does not ever, ever, ever remain statically frozen in time or character. The purposeful convolution of this issue is frustrating beyond belief and a direct consequence of early 20th century Euclidean zoning and suburban land tenure theories. But, by all means, continue to fiddle with market and affordable housing percentages and waste the next 50 years as well.

Here’s Your Consolidation Prize. “Separated City” by Lee R. Epstein (pp. 18-23) about Capetown in South Africa is actually a really interesting, informative article. Epstein seems to skip over the fact (or maybe, I missed it) that cities like Capetown actually represent traditional urban patterns in most of the world where lower income people live at the edges (e.g. suburbs) and higher income people live in the center. In contrast, the American urban model became inverted due to suburbanization during the post-war period. However, what’s really suspicious is how this story on Capetown immediately follows Guillot’s article about mixed income neighborhood planning efforts in US cities. Am I being paranoid that this article represents a consolidation prize to make American urban planners feel better about themselves (“See, it could be worse. Just look at Capetown, South Africa”)? Maybe, maybe not.

My God! Real Science in Planning Magazine! The use of biometrics to track human eye movement in the built environment is not new (perhaps it’s new to the APA and/or Americans). It’s been around for a while now – being worked on at University College London using virtual reality 20 years ago – in one form or another. It’s a fascinating area of research about the built environment but we need to be careful to fully appreciate the implications and not assume it’s an issue of quantity [“No wonder visitors from around the world like walking through Venice or Copenhagen — there’s so much (our emphasis) there to stimulate our sensory system, no matter one’s native language, culture, or personal history”]. There is a LOT of meat in this subject, too much to go into here but you can look at some of the work of Dr. Ruth Conroy Dalton at the Northumbria University and Dr. Beatrix Emo, Cahir of Cognitive Science at ETH Zurich. The key takeaway from the article for architects and planners right now is this quote: “I realized how people are really attracted to people.”

My God! Housing Sanity in Planning Magazine! Finally, someone articulates a reasonable perspective about the issues of housing in the Viewpoint section, “The New Home Ownership Reality” by Professor Anthony Nelson (pp. 48) of the University of Arizona. Professor Nelson does not implicitly tackle the house size part of the equation (e.g. tiny houses/small house movement) but any discussion about affordability has to begin with rental housing and ownership of affordably sized homes. Professor Nelson’s Viewpoint article is a good place to start.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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COMING SOON | Continuing Education Courses

COMING SOON!

The Outlaw Urbanist
Professional Development and Training Courses

The Outlaw Urbanist will soon be launching an online series of professional development, training and continuing education courses about urbanism and the built environment for professionals, students, and other interested parties.

The courses are specifically tailored for architects, urban designers and planners requiring continuing education credits with the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), American Planning Association (APA), American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU-A). However, many courses will be accessible to anyone who is interested in the architecture, design, planning, real estate development, ecology, geography, sociology, and history of cities. The courses will be available for a small, competitive fee ($9.99 for one hour courses, $12.99 for courses for one-and-half-hour or longer) payable by debit/credit card through PayPal.

In keeping with the manifesto of The Outlaw Urbanist, our courses are firmly anchored in the ‘first principles’ of physical form and design. From this foundation, the courses will make the link to a variety of functional, social, and economic factors that are relevant for anyone interested in the built environment and urbanism. As such, students and those with specialist degrees and backgrounds in architecture, planning, and other fields may encounter unfamiliar – yet essential – principles and concepts about the art and science of buildings and settlements.

A sample of our initial course offerings include:

The Generic City and its Origins
This course covers the inherent, often unspoken constraints placed on the physical form and design of built environments by human nature and our basic needs for shelter, water, movement, food and specialized urban functions such as barter and defense in the founding and locating of cities (1.0 hour course).

The City’s Essential DNA and its Pattern
This course covers the most essential aspects of physical form at work in the design of all cities around the world from older, highly-localized urban grids in the Middle East/Africa to deformed grids in Europe to regular grids in the United States/Americas. The purpose is to provide an understanding of the basic typologies and geometries that can be found underlying all settlements, to one degree or another (1.0 hour course).

(Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
The demolition of Pruitt-Igoe in 1972 (Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

Unmasking Pruitt-Igoe: A Failure of Modernism
This course examines how (seemingly minor) design flaws in the architecture and planning of the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in St. Louis, Missouri established the preconditions – in combination with Federal, State, and local policy failures and institutional racism – for its rapid decline as a community. This eventually led to the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe only twenty years after it was heralded as a masterpiece of Modernist architecture and a planning model for urban housing in the 20th century (1.0 hour course).

The Hidden Corruptions of American Regular Grids: why space syntax doesn’t work in the United States when it looks like it should
This is a specialist course of those interested in space syntax (e.g. configurational modeling of urban networks based on lines of sights) and its lack of application in the United States. Undue emphasis on the economics of profit in American real estate development and planning in combination with the failure of space syntax to monetize its methodology creates a barrier for widespread implementation in the United States despite its track record of widespread success in many other parts of the world (1.5 hour course).

Watch a 30 second video preview below:

mark_v3Each course includes a prerecorded slide presentation with narration by The Outlaw Urbanist himself, Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A. A brief course synopsis and biography is also provided for self-reporting purposes to your professional organization, employer, and/or academic institution. Slide handouts PDFs can be downloaded for each course. For now, we are asking participants to take advantage of opportunities to self-report continuing education credits. As we develop courses and the functionality of our online learning management system, we hope to eventually provide pre-approved credit opportunities for users, especially AICP planners. In the future, we also intend to supplement courses with written narratives of the presentation with additional opportunities for learning about the topic, e.g. bibliography, videos, exhibits, etc.

We hope you decide to take advantage of The Outlaw Urbanist professional development, training, and continuing courses! If you have any questions or would like to suggest a topic to be covered in a future course, email courses@outlaw-urbanist-com.

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