God bless, historic downtown Springfield, Illinois… they are trying, they really are. Unfortunately, for every smart decision to promote vibrant urbanism, you can find another decision (or indecision) holding things back. The most important and destructive is the continual adherence to a one-way traffic system that has only one purpose: moving vehicles as quickly as possible through downtown. It is especially mind-boggling considering the large numbers of people (including school groups) visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Historic downtown Springfield is vibrant urbanism waiting to happen, trapped in its cage so automobiles can pass through quickly while only paying the minimal, necessary attention to pedestrians.
Another questionable design choice: locating a ‘dead’ facade parking garage across the street from beautiful, historic Union Station (now an accessory structure to the Lincoln Museum), thus creating an urban void absent of any active frontages. The parking garage was obviously built for the convenience of people visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum located one block away but does nothing for the street life along this one-way, ‘rat run’ segment of East Madison Street. The street trees seem like an apologetic, after-the-fact attempt to hide this failure of urban design and planning from citizens and visitors alike.
In the above photograph, you can see how much street width is dedicated to moving cars through the one-way street system in downtown Springfield and the amount of pavement pedestrians have to overcome to cross a street even though there is plenty of room for landscaped medians, enhanced pedestrian crosswalks, and on-street parking with a 20-25 mph speed limit to efficiently move (instead of stop-and-start) the traffic… perhaps, even the elimination of some stop lights using the design principles of shared space.
The HOK design of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is O.K. (not great, not awful, hardly objectionable) though the 2nd floor structural crossover of East Jefferson Street wouldn’t be necessary at all with traffic calming, generally in historic downtown Springfield and, specifically, on this segment of East Jefferson Street so people could pass freely from one ground level entrance to the other using the street without having to wait for the crosswalk lights to change.
William Morgan was an American Modernist architect based in Jacksonville, Florida, who passed away earlier this year (December 14, 1930 – January 18, 2016). Three of his designs are included on the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects list of Florida’s Top 100 Buildings including The Williamson House in Ponte Vedra Beach, Morgan’s Residence in Atlantic Beach, and Dickinson Hall at the University of Florida. Morgan grew up in Jacksonville and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University before serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. After the war, he returned to Harvard to study architecture. He studied in Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship and then returned to Jacksonville to open his architecture practice in 1961 (Source: Wikipedia; Photograph: Florida Times-Union).
The William Morgan House located at 1945 Beach Avenue in a Atlantic Beach, Florida was commissioned 1971. The 1,800 square foot house is made of timber construction. Two triangular masses meet to form A-frame styled house, which sits partially atop a sand dune with the lower level resting on beach. There is a symmetrical exterior with stepped balconies, rough-sawn interior and exterior cedar siding with central-entrance stairway (Source: North Carolina Modernist Houses). Morgan’s use of the A-frame in the design to accommodate parking in street-side carports is remarkably similar to the prototypical design of the Southern California ‘dingbat’ houses of the 1950s/1960s.
William Morgan’s Dune House is a small earth-sheltered home in Atlantic Beach, Florida, which is actually a duplex of two near-identical homes of 750 square feet in size. As Morgan lived next door, he did not want the new house to block his view of the ocean so he preferred to keep the landscape natural. Morgan’s solution was to bury the house in an existing sand dune, which was constructed in 1975 for use as vacation rentals. It is barely visible from the street above. From the ocean side, it appears somewhat frog-like with two large rounded openings framing the twin patios. The mass of sand over and around the homes moderates the inside temperatures year-round so very little heating or cooling is needed (Source: Small House Bliss).
FROM THE VAULT | Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia by Robert Fishman Review by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor
I’ve been an admirer of historian Robert Fishman ever since reading Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century (MIT Press, 1982) in the early 90s but especially after hearing him speak at CNU20 in West Palm Beach, FL in 2012. Given this, I was a naturally excited to read this book when I came across it many years after its publication. However, I have to begrudgingly admit I was mostly underwhelmed by Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (Basic Books, 1987). Partially, this is a matter of timing. When Fishman wrote and published this book in the late 1980s, it seemed like the cumulative apex of suburban expansion and urban decline in the United States. In hindsight, Fishman’s history of suburbia come across as a dated, unconditional surrender to what must have seemed to many people at the time as the inevitable (despite the ‘fall’ mentioned in book’s title). Of course, we now realize there was still a significant part of the story waiting to play out over the subsequent three decades (see New Urbanism/Smart Growth, collapse of the mortgage bond market, and 2008 Financial Crisis).
However, it is not all a matter of timing. Fishman is so determined to fit his subject into the thematic structure began in Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century that he tends to cast aside any evidence contrary to his central thesis, especially when it comes to the American experience of suburbia. For example, you will not find the phrases ‘exclusionary zoning’ or ‘restrictive covenants’ anywhere in Bourgeois Utopias, which seems like an odd oversight for a purported history of suburbia. Fishman also oddly ignores ample evidence in the historical record (as well as John Reps’ seminal histories The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States and Cities of the American West: A History of Frontier Urban Planning) that there were, in fact, only a few examples of the modern American suburb type (Llewellyn Park, New Jersey and Frederick Law Olmsted’s Riverside, Illinois being the most obvious 19th century forerunners) before World War II because the regular grid dominated in American land speculation activities until the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.
This creates a problem because Fishman has to, more or less, cast aside the narrow, formal definition of suburbia he adopts at the start of the book when discussing early suburbs in London and Manchester, England for a much looser definition (basically, any single family home with front yard setbacks) when approaching the American experience, especially in Los Angeles. In fact, Fishman’s entire chapter on Los Angeles reads as a regurgitation of Reyner Banham’s arguments in Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971) so both have the same flaws in underestimating the power of the urban grid. It is also another case in bad timing since Mike Davis’ City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles was published only a few years later in 1990. Davis’ book has its own flaws but it is an invaluable resource for understanding the historical development of urban form in Los Angeles including the role of water pilfering in that city as well as the insidious role of the automobile industry in the Red Car’s demise.
By far, the best and most compelling part of Bourgeois Utopias is Fishman’s research on early suburbs in England during 18th and 19th century and Olmsted’s mid-19th century plan for Riverside, Illinois (basically, pages 1-148). Indeed, any reader should be able to sense the author’s greater interest in these pre-20th century examples compared to the amalgamated cancer of 20th century suburbanization in the United States, when it seems as if Fishman is trying to ‘run out the clock’ on the book. In fact, if Fishman wasn’t so determined to ambitiously fit this topic into the ‘utopia’ theme, he might have been better served to limit his historical research to these pre-20th century examples. Fishman astutely identifies the changing nature of family related to longer life expectancy during the 18th and 19th century in England as the social origins for suburbia. Fishman briefly mentions life expectancy (which seems far more important than the words given in this book) before devoting most of his time to the evolution of familial relations in the workplace and/or home. Fishman also makes an important, useful distinction between the productive and consumptive suburb that has broader implications than spelled out in the book. It is fascinating research, which alone makes the book worth the effort. In the end, though, there are some good parts (Anglo examples) and some head-scratching parts (American examples) in Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia so the book deserves, at best, only a 3-star rating.
Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia by Robert Fishman
Basic Books, 1987
Paperback, 272 pages, English
You can purchase Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia from Amazon here.
From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.
Dana-Thomas House located on East Lawrence Avenue in Springfield, Illinois is one of the earliest examples of the Modernist Prairie Style of architecture designed by its leading advocate, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1902-04. The State of Illinois bought the house in 1981 and it became a historic site under the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which led a restoration effort in 1987-1990 to refit the house to its appearance in 1910. It is believed to contain one of the most intact Frank Lloyd Wright architectural interiors in the United States (Source: Wikipedia).
There is an interesting, contradictory dynamic at work in the scale of the house in the horizontal and vertical dimension. Simply put, this house has a gigantic footprint! The house is 12,600 square feet, with thirty-five rooms and sixteen major spaces (Source: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency). This square footage is so far over-the-top that the top “is a dot to you” and me. This is the equivalent of five houses for the average American homeowner today! The horizontal emphasis in the designed elevations of the house (especially adjacent to busiest, public streets) allows this house to somewhat sit comfortably in the Springfield neighborhood in the vertical dimension of the elevation of the houses. However, the footprint of the house is equal to the size of four lots either immediately across the street or adjacent to the house. I suppose it is a testament to horizontal emphasis in Wright’s elevation designs that the house fooled me into thinking it was (only) around 6,000 square feet; itself, a extremely large house (and perhaps the footprint of only the first floor without the accessory structure/courtyard to the rear is around this number). The more you move around the house, the more conscious you become of how out-of-scale the Dana-Thomas House is to the surrounding urban context in the horizontal dimension of the plan.
Cloak and Dagger Theory in Peter Eisenman Houses covers the apparent ‘rules’ of geometrical composition underlying the design of plan in early houses by architect Peter Eisenman. The effect of these compositional rules, tied to the design process of ‘decomposition’ as described by Eisenman, in the generation of layout in these houses is examined using some basic representational techniques in the space syntax toolkit. In particular, this includes the effect in structuring the relationships, if any, between public (e.g. everyday living) and private (e.g. bedrooms) functions as well as the household interface between inhabitants and visitors. The course offers a better understanding of the relationship between the architect’s stated aims in his own theoretical writings and the probable functioning of these houses as architectural objects (1.0 hour course).
NOTE: This course does make use of some basic space syntax analysis. However, even if you are not familiar with space syntax, it should not be considered a deterrent.