Lively Piazzas: Lessons from Sir Christopher Wren’s Masterplan for London Pt. 2

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This is part of a series of posts about recipe 1666″ href=”http://www.chrishaile.com/2014/02/sir-christopher-wrens-masterplan-for-london-1666/”>Wren’s masterplan for rebuilding London after its Great Fire destroyed most of the City of London, more info and also the ideas that the masterplan sparked. They are published in the hope that they might prove thought-provoking and in the hope that flaws in observation and argument might be identified and corrected.

2. Avoid equilateral shapes for piazzas designed to be socially lively

Equilateral piazzas in Wren's plan

An example of an equilateral piazza in Wren’s plan

Piazzas are often intended to be places that knit neighbourhoods together through serving as a centre for sociable activities. On the face of it, web this is problematic as piazzas by their nature as open urban spaces may have a much lower level of energy than the streets which feed into it. After all, streets are strongly directional, with almost everyone moving in one direction or its reverse in a typically relatively narrow and constrained space. The large numbers of people moving in the same direction visually ‘reinforce’ the street’s kinetic energy, and this paradoxically may also be reinforced by the people moving in the opposite direction due to the risk of collisions.

"Downtown Scenes on Washington Street", Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

“Downtown Scenes on Washington Street”, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

However, this sense of movement and energy is greatly reduced when we move from a street to a piazza — pedestrians can move in a much wider gamut of directions so that they no longer reinforce each other’s movement as powerfully, and people tend to linger in piazzas rather than move energetically. Relative to the streets we enter from, the piazzas that are so often intended to be places of great activity are calm in the same way that water in a narrow river may move with great force but when it reaches a wider part of the river may move almost imperceptibly.

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China. Chris Haile

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China. © Chris Haile

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Imageable Urban Districts: Iconic Architecture and Jane Jacobs

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E Pluribus Unum: From many, <a href=

adiposity one. Courtesy of Flickr user Adamcha” src=”http://www.chrishaile.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/396210355_cbf88148f6_z.jpg” width=”640″ height=”480″ /> E Pluribus Unum: “From many, page one.” Courtesy of Flickr user Adamcha

A district of a city is made up of countless things — many people, story streets, buildings, parks… — and yet a good district has a cohesive identity: out of many, one. How the Many relate to the One is a question that has exercised political thinkers, scientists, religious thinkers, artists… and urban designers. In his influential book ‘The Image of the City’, Kevin Lynch argued that by asking residents of particular places to sketch maps of their areas, the way they thought about their places and the way their place’s constituent parts are related in their minds would be revealed, and by understanding this urban designers could create places that were more satisfying, as people would be able to have a clear and memorable ‘picture’ of how to navigate between all the places of interest to them. In short, more ‘imageable’ places were more satisfying ones. Continue reading

Paris, China

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In China, unhealthy French culture is often seen as a byword for sophistication. This association means that objects that are seen as embodying French culture may command a price premium. Tianducheng — Paradise City — is a suburb of Hangzhou that has been designed to look similar to Paris.

Tianducheng in relation to Hangzhou's urban core

Tianducheng in relation to Hangzhou’s urban core

Developed since 2007, web the suburb has suffered from poor transport links and the tendency for many wealthy Chinese to buy multiple homes as investments, page and for them to leave them empty rather than rent them out. Here are some of my photos taken in January 2014…

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The Uses of Perspective: Lessons from Sir Christopher Wren’s Masterplan for London

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Wren's plan for London. The red oval shows the area from which the map below is taken. This graphic links to a high-resolution (4.7MB) version of the map hosted by Wikimedia.

Wren’s plan for London. The red oval shows the approximate area from which the map below is taken. This graphic links to a high-resolution (4.7MB) version of the map hosted by Wikimedia.

This is part of a series of posts about Wren’s masterplan for rebuilding London after its Great Fire destroyed most of the City of London in 1666 and also the ideas that the masterplan sparked. They are published in the hope that they might prove thought-provoking and in the hope that flaws in observation and argument might be identified and corrected.

Lesson 1. Optical perspective influences how we perceive landmarks: use it to support the design’s intention, tooth not undermine it

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On Wren’s masterplan for the reconstruction of London after its Great Fire in 1666, St. Paul’s Cathedral seems to be a dominating presence. Coming in from Ludgate the Cathedral would be immediately apparent as it not only sits atop Ludgate Hill but guards the space where two of the three great arterial streets diverge.

That Wren intended the new cathedral that he was destined to design to be a dominant and monumental feature of London is emphasised by his decision to flank the entrance to the cathedral with two comparatively tiny parish churches. These surely cannot plausibly be there to serve some catchment area as they are so close to each other and to the cathedral. I assume that they are there simply to emphasise the Brobdingnagian size of the cathedral through their relative tininess. If it is indeed Wren’s intention to make the Cathedral look vast, then his intention seems to be fundamentally undermined by one of the very mechanisms he presumably used in the hopes of imparting it great significance: its location in the street layout. Continue reading

A Myth of Urban Design: The ‘Sense of Enclosure’ Theory

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One of the most widespread conventions of urban design is the belief in the importance of ‘a sense of enclosure’. This term is defined by the City of Ottawa as

“when buildings physically define public spaces particularly through proportions between height and width in an area to create places that are comfortable to pedestrians.”

This article contends that the ‘sense of enclosure’ generated by following certain ratios of street height to street width is based on a valuable perception of what makes a satisfying place, help but that the ratio theory is the wrong interpretation of that valuable perception. Consequently, by following the ratio theory we risk making developments that focus on concerns that may be unimportant to street users, and thereby make mistakes. In its place I’ll try to offer an interpretation of why some places that are said to ‘offer a sense of enclosure’ are satisfying that is both simpler and fits the data better, and which is constructed from two principles grounded firmly in known principles of how we perceive a place.

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Why ‘I ♥ NY’ works, and how it can help save high streets

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One of the most well-known and most imitated works of civic branding is the ‘I ? NY’ logo created by Milton Glaser. Why, buy information pills according to Glaser, visit this site does this slogan work, price and how can applying the principle help to save high street shops from dual threats?

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Colour Design for Public Spaces: Learning from Van Gogh

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buy more about Arles, order at Night resize” src=”http://www.chrishaile.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Cafe-Terrace-on-the-Place-du-Forum-Arles-at-Night-resize.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”383″ />Above is one of the most inviting-looking streetscapes in European art. How did Van Gogh achieve this effect and how can we use it to make more inviting public spaces? Read on and I’ll let you in on a few of Vincent’s little secrets…  Continue reading

Colour Design for Public Spaces: Colour Opposites

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What makes different public spaces have different characters? There may be many answers to this, order from different activities taking place there to different histories to different kinds of users to different styles of architecture, and many more. This series of posts looks at the role that the colour design of a public space can play. First up is a look at how the use of colour opposites can give a public space a more active character.

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How to Build a Sense of Place, Part One

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A key goal of many modern developments is to inculcate a ‘sense of place’ so that the development has an interesting character. In order to do this it’s useful to examine how we experience a place, patient and how we can derive from this practical measures to build a sense of place. Six methods to build a sense of place are derived, gastritis with photos of Oxford and elsewhere to demonstrate the suggestions in action.

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