A city is not only the result of the equation that summarize an indefinite number of buildings; instead it is more likely considerable as the result of many layers and grids overlapping on each other creating patterns in ways that can generate uniques rhythms.
It is that innate pattern that confers a specific beat to its citizens, certainly depending on its structure and geometry with the consequence of making it all appear like some sort of earth’s heart, connecting places through veins, arteries pulsing at different rhythms.
As human bodies can be affected by diseases, the same can happen to cities. For instance, a single case of a building’s degradation can be compared to a simple flu; whether a wide degraded area, affected by delinquency might look in its structure, more similar to a cancer that might grow and affect other surrounding areas if not cured. Primarily, planners, like doctors, have the responsibility of analyzing the disease and finding the right cure. This process relies on the individuation of the right diagnosis as each city is obviously not equal to any other. Surely it is not with drugs that we can cure the sickness, but the interaction with urban planning and architecture, when incorporated to efficient local administration politics and citizens’ sensitivity, can prevent or solve city’s pattern diseases.
There also seem to be cases – as Jane Jacobs teaches in her “Death and life of great American cities” – like the one of the North End, Boston. In fact, it used to be a dangerous place, but the way its citizens, little by little started to renew it, even without following any real urban plan, managed to turn it into one of the safest and nicest place to visit and live in. It is probably just one of the few cases that shows how important citizens’ roles can be.
In considering the variety of diseases, it is remarkable how some of them don’t have a direct impact on the architecture of the city itself, instead they silently manage to affect today’s society. This type of disease can be considered as a sort of mental depression. In this case designers should act like “psychological planners”. Patterns then, seem to act more like cities’ DNA. Even if obviously each city is not equal to any other, indeed there still are some common features that can be compared because they are similar. So far only the wide range of diseases that affect this DNA has been considered and widely analyzed, on the other side it seems much more difficult to notice and analyze all the disease that affect this DNA itself.
This is the case with some specific structures that are not only widely used and taken for granted as good solutions in terms of DNA planning, but they tend to have a negative result on today’s society, or better, on individuals.
Scientists commonly think about mankind as a social animal that is intrinsically characterized by a cooperative nature. In order to stimulate this nature, man should live in an environment that can increase his curiosity. Curiosity and creativity find a fertile place where to grow anywhere there is an edge. Architecture and urban planning are experiences of the edge, as well. Talking about edge, it should be explained that there are two different types of edge: borders and boundaries. Borders are all those places where we can find the maximum interaction of life (a clear example of this case is where water meets the land – it is remarkable that first villages and cities were founded along rivers or on the coast); boundaries are, instead, all those places where interaction decreases.
Unfortunately, in terms of architecture, the tendency of building boundaries such as big office complexes or even campuses is more and more evident. The reason why these spaces are to be considered boundaries is because they tent to increase individuals’ isolation instead of real cooperation. In fact they tend to stimulate competition (that is not always meant to be a good system to challenge people’s way of working); they are built pretending to be little cities including banks, markets, shops trying to satisfy every need, just like closed communities inside the bigger city so that rarely its inhabitants are in the need of interacting with other individuals outside that boundaries. What happens inside these spaces is a particular phenomenon: individuals seem to feel protected from any external possible danger with the only side effect that their capacity and natural tendency in socializing decreases tremendously – most likely the percentage of interaction with colleagues belonging only to their same environment is much higher than the one with people dealing with the exterior world.
Living in a stimulating social environment is as important as living in a safe place even if, nowadays, safety seem to occupy a higher spot in a scale of values, with the only result that this choice has been affecting mankind’s social nature. Humans basically work, act, create and think in a more efficient way when their social sphere is widely fed, as this generates some general serendipity. When this happens, cities are happier places where to live, and architecture can get a lot of benefits out of it as well.
Building, planning and designing places for mankind is what is supposed to be architects’ and planners’ primary role. So far, a valid method used in order to cure this disease has been experienced in Holland with anonymous housing: dwellings designed for each type of individual, rich and poor ones, that live in the same neighborhood. The same is going to be experienced in London with the houses in the Olympic village. Merging the differences has always created a fertile soil for people to increase their creativity.
Città Analoga – A. Rossi
Arquitecture d’aujourd’hui – A.Rossi