05/05: Reflections on Urban Morphology

The Case Studies in Contemporary Urbansim, Landscape Architecture and Design had an exit essay of sorts, which I wrote this time last year. A portion is represented here:

One of the most important lessons offered in this course is that urbanism is a study of four dimensions, not simply three. We covered a few examples of Modern urbanism, in North and South America, which operated mostly as two dimensional urbanism: shape-object buildings were dropped on a site and extruded up. What you see in plan view is what you get in the built environment. But in a place like La Libertad in Caracas, life took over. Time, the force most overlooked by mid century Modernists, took over and brought in the informal developments to occupy the acres in between housing block towers. The fourth dimension brought variety to the vertical dimension of the neighborhood. Any and every proposal for the built environment requires a respect for the inevitable evolutions, adaptations and flows which shape and change cities. The best plans are ones that identify the political,ecological, cultural and socio economic forces acting upon a particular people and place, and can adapt to changes and variances among these forces.

google earth

The discussions of favelas and informal settlements over the course of the semester have kept me thinking about examples in Algeria, a country which I am a citizen of and which I will be visiting this May. Most of the examples of informal settlement found in Algeria date back to Ottoman times in the 17th and 18th centuries. These neighborhoods and cities share many qualities with the modern day informal settlements, including the fractured and labyrinthian street grid, the lack of open space, the canyon like proportions of streets and alleyways, and the ad hoc insertion of modern day utilities (electricity) or the lack of infrastructure (spotty plumbing and sewage distribution). Add to this a culture which prizes the separation of public and private spaces (the internally focused courtyard house with minimal connection to the street), adobe and earthen construction and centuries of history, and these neighborhoods become incredibly rich in character and incredibly complex and problematic.


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