Ideas That
Matter
to stimulate public discourse

The Quarterly

Volume 1, Number 3

The Forgotten Art of the City
by Eberhard Zieldler

Art is not a substitute for life.

If I talk here of art, I should not be misunderstood. I am not considering a city as a piece of art in a singular way. I am talking of the amalgamation of a thousand pieces that develop, touch and flow into each other and create in each area of the city a special visual coherence which in the end creates a whole.

In a city, this visual order does not relate to the individual building but to the street or the plaza as its prime spaces. The individual building must be seen as a part of this urban space. It is obvious that visual order can be achieved through many means but the purpose of visual order in the city is not an aesthetic issue alone. The two major tenets that are essential in its creation are urban activities and urban space in which the activities can unfold. Therefore, this urban space is not merely a functional event but must contain in itself also a visual and emotional quality.

Queen's Quay Terminal, Toronto

Queen’s Quay Terminal, Toronto

This is a building that contains all the functions a city should have: living, working, shopping and entertainment. The building echoes its setting and has the complexity that makes it interesting. It stands at the edge of the harbour, linking the city life with nature.

Jane Jacobs gives a powerful warning, not only to planners but also to architects, that is as meaningful today as it was thirty some years ago: “Do not make the mistake of attempting to substitute art for life.” But that does not mean that there is no order for art in the city. Jane continues, “instead of attempting to substitute art for life, city designers should return to a strategy of ennobling both art and life: a strategy of illuminating and clarifying life and helping to explain to us its meanings and order–in this case, helping to illuminate, clarify and explain the order of cities. To see complex systems of functional order as order and not as chaos, takes understanding.”

She calls back to our attention a forgotten tenet that was clearly understood in the past, of clarifying the order of cities. Camillo Sitte, a Viennese urban planner of the 19th century, was perhaps the last who defined such urban order. But there was a lapse of over half a century until Jane Jacobs said again, “streets provide the principal visual scenes in cities,” and sadly few architects and few critics have understood the true meaning of her insight. Jane recommends “heightening and celebrating the intense street use by giving it a hint of enclosure and entity” and she talks of “unifying devices to suggest that the street with all its diversity, is also an entity.” Landmarks are not isolated elements in a city, they are orientation clues, which emphasize and dignify the diversity of cities and “visually acknowledge” certain city areas and their function.

The Rational and the Emotional in Cities


Intuitively we seem to feel that the rational approach to-wards our understanding of the city does not achieve the desired results for which we are longing. There are issues that we cannot reach through reasoning merely on a rational basis. Research into environmental psychology indicates some of those hidden issues. The environment, as we respond to it emotionally, influences our well being, the way we feel, the way we work, even our health, in a more profound way than was until now assumed. However, the full depth of our emotional response to our environment has only been partially explored through environmental psychology. Yet there are enough indications that indicate the importance of such reaction: we no longer ignore our emotions and rely only on rational reasoning.

Let us explore the changes that we are facing. While we are not at the “end of science” as John Horgan attempted to convince us in his book by the same name, we have reached a moment of bifurcation in science that we must recognize. We can no longer consider only that which we can prove rationally and discard the rest as unimportant. Karl Popper stated that only that which can be falsified is science. He left things that we cannot falsify as essential issues in existence; however, they did not belong in the province of science.

Mühlendorf Housing Development–Tetlow, Germany

Mühlendorf Housing Development–Tetlow, Germany

In this green part of Berlin, densities maintain the minimum required to create a subway station. The housing types are complex and varied–rowhousing, condominiums in garden houses, and towers, which incorporate retail and entertainment and, at the same time, form the centre of the settlement around the transit stop.

Horgan believed that science is not cyclic but linear. In other words, we can only discover the periodic table, the expansion of the universe and the structure of DNA once. His obstacle to the “resurrection” of science, therefore, is its past success. In other words, he believed science is a has-been and all that scientists can do now is write footnotes to past discoveries. He also included in his thesis the end of philosophy, as long as one regards it as the handmaiden to science and dismisses Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend and others who attempted to relate philosophy to science.

Architecture, of course, seen in such a rational approach could only be realized through function and construction. Any expression not captured through these factors was meaningless. But that left the whole realm of emotion out of such equations and, if we consider architecture as the building block of the city, then the whole realm that was touched by emotion was neglected in its planning.

Cities have grown through the centuries and will continue to do so in the future. They are huge mosaics, not planned utopias. We accept from the city what each one offers us and attempt to influence their future form. Cities have been created in many different forms and have influenced our lives differently. We have to be careful trying to change them, because it is not only their physical form, but also the social structure housed in the physical form that determines our urban life. This symbiosis between structure and activity can undergo tremendous changes, from creating urban life to destroying it, all within the same physical structure as we have seen in American cities.

We have been attempting to find the reasons for such successes or failures using a rational methodology. We have condensed from these findings concepts that will improve our cities, avoiding the mistakes of the past and integrating its successes. While we cannot advance without such action, based on rational reasoning alone, such action does not reach the fullness of the city.

A city will need also an emotional approach that reaches for the many shades of life. This is difficult to assess on a rational level. I have used emotional as the opposite of rational. I would have liked to call it irrational, but that would have too many incorrect connotations connected to all the issues science has discarded in the past as “folklore” or “myth” as well as irrational aberrations. We are reaching a point where we realize that science and its rational approach will not solve all the mysteries that still exist. While we will, in time, solve some of them, there will always be a fuzzy borderline between the rational and emotional. We cannot merely ignore it. Attempting to understand the emotional in the same way as the rational will lead us to a questionable pseudo-science. Yet we can probe and comprehend in a certain way this world of the irrational through our emotions. The streams of rational understanding that we inherited from the scientific past and that flowed uninterrupted into hoped-for conclusions are suddenly joined by different emotional streams. Out of the confusing whirlpool of the old and the new knowledge, a new current seems to develop. Yet we are only beginning to grope for the meaning of it.

Eaton
Centre, Toronto

Toronto Eaton Centre Galleria

Shopping is a major activity of the downtown, along with all the other amenities: entertainment, food, working and living. The Eaton Centre has provided this, not as an entity in itself, but as an integrated part of pedestrian traffic paths and the city street grid. Its galleria attracts some 50 million visitors a year. Yet at the same time it enlivens Yonge Street through its stores and has brought the area back to life. There are today more pedestrians along Yonge Street than there were before the Eaton Centre was built.

The Influence of Nature on the Human Psyche

When we look at our present situation we have to accept the fact that the majority of humanity has to live in metropolitan areas that seem to grow rather than diminish and seem to remove us farther and farther from nature. While we must make this human habitat physically pleasant and enjoyable there is another condition in our psyche that we cannot overlook. Roger S. Ulrich discusses this in Biophilia, Biophobia and Natural Landscapes: “If natural selection has favoured the development of higher thinking capabilities in humans generally, what role might natural physical surroundings play in a person’s performance of higher tasks? Cognitive science research [shows] that one’s emotional state has a profound effect on virtually all aspects of thinking.”

He concludes that “[N]atural settings exert positive emotion states [that] may facilitate creative problem solving or high-order cogitative functioning.

“[A] growing number of studies have found that unthreatening natural environments are effective in eliciting broadly positive shifts in emotional states.” Returning to the “functional-evolutionary arguments–those natural environments that affected abundant primary necessities such as food and water in conjunction with security–savanna-like environments, in open settings with non-turbulent water.”

Garden cities seemed to pay heed to these findings yet at the same time disregarded the urban necessity of density as well as their integration into the metropolitan area. If we, however, look at the organization of a transit-oriented metropolis, we find that we can introduce the natural park space of a savanna-like setting between the transportation nodes and bring nature within a short walking distance from the living areas. Each five to nine-minute walking node would contain approximately 250-850 acres and could have a population of approximately 20,000-60,000 people. The streets would be lined with trees to bring the savanna-like feeling close to the houses. This schematic outline should not be executed in strict rigidity but used as a foil for development. Such a setting could be achieved even in the existing Toronto area, with minimal changes to its existing structure.

I used our relation to nature to begin the discussion, as it is the one in which coherent research exists that links our emotional state to the physical environment. This link does not exist with the same clarity in research that relates the manmade environment of the city to our emotional state. It has been developed in detail for individual elements in this field but to my knowledge there has not been an investigation as to how the total built environment influences our emotional reaction. Intuitively we know that it does.

Accommodation, Transportation and Nature

To live, work and enjoy a city on an emotional level, we have to integrate the various activities into a harmonious balance and make them visually enjoyable. Not that there is a standard solution. There are a thousand variations and that is the mystery and delight of the city; however, there are certain conditions that help to make the city more enjoyable to live in. They have to be considered in relation to each other.

Cinedom-Cologne, Germany

Cinedom–Cologne, Germany

This development has added not only to Cologne’s workplaces, but also to its living places and places to shop and to enjoy oneself, not as an entity onto itself but as an attraction for the city as a whole. The two million visitors that Cinedom attracts do not come only from MediaPark but make MediaPark the centre of attraction. It shows the way in which open space and nature can be combined. On one side, MediaPark looks into Herkulesberg, the beautiful park system that winds itself through Cologne; on the other side there is a place similar in size to the plaza in Siena. All of the activities of MediaPark open into this plaza, as do cafes, restaurants and places to sit. At the same time, it displays MediaPark from Cologne’s major feeder street where 30,000 cars enter the city daily. Yet the plaza is separated from the traffic by an artificial lake that gives the plaza its quiet and special charm.

I think that the problems of ecology that we face today have taught us that we must live within a certain discipline to maintain our world. The unlimited expansion and rape of our environment that we have practised in the past must be curtailed. We must integrate our working, living and entertainment environment in connection with the natural environment and the mode of transportation that is necessary to foster such urban life. At the same time we also have to consider the societal structure that makes this life possible, and finally our emotional perception of this environment.

No decision in any of these sectors can be taken in isolation, because each will influence the other. In the end we must restructure our life in the metropolitan area. The living environment for the future will be different and should enhance not only our rational material life but also our emotional one.

The first condition we must achieve is to create a certain density of living accommodation which maintains connections to public transit and nature. Without limiting the movement radius of the individual, we don’t have to make miles of car travel a necessity that consumes unnecessary resources and hours of daily life. It is a precarious balance, but I believe it is worthwhile to attempt such dense integration. For example, to achieve good living environments it is not necessary to build endless tracts of space-consuming one-family housing, nor is it essential to press families into dense high-rise buildings. The majority of the population demands a living place that creates, on the one hand, contact to enjoyable social life and, on the other hand, solitude and the possibility to communicate with nature. These conditions can be achieved in various building types that in the proper combination can achieve a density of 40 units per net acre, interspersed with entertainment and working. However, such density requires public transit.

Despite the traffic disaster that has been created by the individual automobile – the dream that has become a nightmare–at present there is little forethought given to public transit. Despite Toronto’s success in its early transportation planning, its later decisions were fraught with mistakes.

A transit oriented city must develop not linearly but centred around the points of its subway stops. These concentric circles will have a decreasing density (three-minute walking distance) most desirable with the greatest density (five-minute distances). This would tend to develop satellite nodes around these stops, all fused with each other as part of the metropolitan area. The beauty of such organization would be that these stops could be slightly separated, as the train would only need seconds to transverse this space. Natural parks could interweave these nodes and at the same time be short walking distances from the urban nodes, satisfying our emotional need to find connection with nature.

Hospital
for Sick Children, Toronto

The Hospital for Sick Children

A hospital should not be an isolated entity, it should be an integral part of the city. Not only attractive to those who have to be there, it should also become a place to visit. The atrium of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is such a place. Its cafeteria invites passersby to rest for awhile. The activities of the hospital are viewed through playrooms in the atrium to create a healing community. In addition, the hospital becomes a pass-through connecting two city streets.

Urban Coherence


While architecture is the building block of the city, its rules–so well defined by Vitruvius and translated by Wotton as commodity, firmness and delight–must now adhere to urban coherence. In other words, one cannot follow these architectural rules and only consider them in relation to their isolated self; they must relate to the setting in which each building stands in order to resolve the urban situation. A wide variety of urban functions, whether within the same structure or in different buildings, must be related to each other so that they can create the vital urban symbiosis that makes a city work. Furthermore, the physical form of building must express this and also bear a relation to its neighbours.

This, of course, is an issue of complexity that did not exist in Vitruvius’ time. When the functions of living, working and entertaining were combined in the home. The buildings that accommodated these functions were similar, as were the techniques used to erect them. For this reason, these buildings could be arranged naturally in coherent urban settings. Of course, there were a few building types that needed different expressions–the temple, the public bath, the theatre, etc.–and these created orientation points.

Initially, it was the Industrial Revolution that separated working from living. While this had been foreshadowed in prior times, what had been an exception became the rule with the Industrial Revolution. Of course, in the beginning the various building types were mixed. In fact, people were proud of the smoke-belching factory chimneys dispersed throughout the city, as many of the old “progress pictures” show. However, modern planning theories decreed the strict separation between working districts and living districts. The two building types were set apart from each other and the ritual began of men leaving the housing district in the morning and coming back at night. The segregated location of these working districts seemed to eliminate some of the worst problems of the previous times, namely noise and pollution but started to destroy urban life.

While in the early industrial city transportation was restricted to railways and trams that demanded a relatively dense settlement, the industrial attraction of more people to the city and the parallel invention of the car created vital changes in the settlement pattern. These changing conditions in the urban equation brought about an unanticipated total restructuring of the city. It allowed the dispersal of the city over huge areas as the car could now accommodate a separation between living and working. This concept got further confused through the belief in the self-contained “sleeping” suburbs which seemed to make the old image of the city outdated. Concepts like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacres, where every American lived on one acre of land, became the prototype for our suburbs.

Automation and the dwindling labour force, which was related to the old smoke-belching, noisy industry, eliminated the need for separation between living and work place. Furthermore, the never-ending growth of the metropolitan areas made it necessary to create greater densities.

We must now consider the emotional needs of human kind that require a different city form, perhaps more related to the late 19th century than the cold visions of the 20th century. We need a city form that creates urban visual coherence and integrates living, working and entertainment with an allusion to nature within a transit connected density.

Canada Place, Vancouver

Canada Place

A building can become a landmark combining the downtown with the harbour again. Canada Place in Vancouver brought the joy of embarking on ships back into the awareness of the city. Its terraces connect with the downtown streets so that one can stroll, enjoy the view over the harbour and the mountains, watch the workings of a harbour, and also visit the convention facilities, a world trade centre, hotel, shopping centre and entertainment.

Furthermore, its urban coherence has to respond to the emotional needs of human kind, the city should be not overpowering or frightening but create the positive emotional stage that has a profound effect on virtually all kinds of human activities.

Conclusion

Urban coherence is an aspect of architecture seen not only from the rational level, but also from the emotional level. It relates to the visual expression of urban structure.

There are many examples, from humble streets to landmarks, that follow these rules. I would like to use as an example the Galleria in Milan which connects the cathedral to la Scala and provides shops and offices in between.

First, the activities that are included have to be of a compatible nature. They must relate to each other to create an urban symbiosis. We cannot connect a meat packing plant to a church.

Second, the urban space has to be of a certain quality for the given action to unfold in the right framework.

In Milan, the glass enclosure is big and grand to contain the shops; it is a fitting connection between the two important civic monuments.

Third, the constellation of this framework, its surroundings and its activities has to create a delightful and beautiful setting to evoke a feeling of fulfillment within the participant. Without this, the first two conditions become meaningless.

The beauty of its architecture has made the galleria in Milan a wonderful place for such urban interaction. Slowly we weave the knowledge together: the fabric of the city should delight our emotions without neglecting its rational needs.

The city is not only a container for our life, it is our life. It has to fulfill the dichotomy of life which in the end is one, like the yin and yang in Chinese philosophy. The city must respond to our material and rational needs; it must also lift us beyond these needs. Like Calvino’s Venice, the city must weave together the dreams of the Romantics, the delightful, the beautiful, the small and the large.

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