The Origin of failing cities, December 2015
Show me the street section of a city; and let me tell you about the regions cultural values..
The direct affects of culture and societal habits are visually trackable in our built environment. Not one brick or cubic volume of concrete has been poured on this earth without preliminary lengthly debates among its financiers, builders and regional policy representatives. Its safe to view our built environment as a living proof of the societal values of its region.
Why do i directly link the people of a given territory to the architectural style or urban spaces of a place? Let me explain further by starting with a simple analysis of an Architect’s design process.
An Architect in the western world goes through a competitive educational marathon in order to obtain licensure to sign projects. The education process is based on self improvements, reading, writing, presentations that need to be convincing and artful craftsmanship of 3d physical and digital models along with orthographic drawings. If there is one major in university that demands you to constantly question yourself I would think of architecture. You are truly immersed in the jungle of visual and abstract ideas during the educational process, which ultimately never ends. After surviving this difficult journey and you come to your late 20s it time to building a real building. I’d like to categorize the 2 different types of clients before i get into the design process: 1) A Project that is brought to you via a developer 2) A project that is brought to you by the land owner, who doesn’t have a lengthly career of contracting. Number 2 is always the better, but in reality most architects receive 80% of their commissions from developers.
The Developer, is the person who is the the king of the project, he is the one that makes every final decision because in the end he will be financing everything including the architects fees. If the developer does not fully trust his architect the design process becomes tainted and the designers simply start to become his private draughtsmen. But if the developer trusts and imposes confidence upon his architects and just leans back to enjoy the product; the design process becomes much better. The latter happens only if the architect has regional or international fame or if the architect has previously worked with the developer and made him a handsome profit from his works. In reality especially in Turkey the Architects are viewed more as providers for working drawings with designs that are roughly explained by the contractor.
Nevertheless, successful developers are financially intelligent independent and critical thinkers. Unlike the architect who is driven by aesthetics, the developer is driven to the market for the sole purpose of making a profit. He simply sees money when he looks at an empty plot or old buildings to be torn down and rebuilt. Obviously only if he can successfully sell all units of the building he can make a handsome profit. In the case of a residential project, his clients would be people looking for a new home, second home or an investment to secure a unit to later rent for additional income. Whatever the people demand and buy the developer will continue to build. It is as simple as this basic fundamental principle of Supply and Demand in economics. Thats why little is left for the architect but to design details of the facades and make unit configurations inside this limiting concrete box. If my bread depended on selling my units i would also build for the people in order to sell. So there is little to be achieved in arguments with developers to improve our built environment. The real argument and persuasion that must take place is with the common people of the region.
In Turkey we are witnessing how the concept of public outdoor spaces in cities are rapidly moving towards instinction. Every now and then we get a visionary cute urban design project that expresses the need of urban spaces, but this concept never leads into the minds of mainstream developers.
Nice Boulevards and walkable streets that are designed in a sectional level does not even exist anymore. Instead of giving funding and design energy to the public realms of a city we are more and more concentrating on all inclusive, all in one mixed use buildings that have shopping centers below and residential/office towers above. Making the environment more and more car dependent and the building complexes placeless. Instead of urban spaces our youth has taken social networks like instagram, fb, twitter as a public gathering place to interact and meet one another. Becoming more and more digital and unnatural to nature itself and real time interaction.
In the mid-East the first thing one does when entering a home as a guest is to take off their shoes to show their respect and receive a pear of slippers to be worn during the time of stay. A very innocent, functional and respectful act at first glance, but when looked at this custom deeper towards it sources, we may start to realize that the origins of this custom is formed from the idea that the outside world is a nasty contaminated place that needs to be avoided and left behind. A tradition that must have started from a feeling of disgust for the pavements of our common streets.
Why is it so damn difficult to make a nice boulevard in this part of the world? By nice, i don’t mean the regular hosting Brazilian carnivals and music concerts for generating activity but i mean the simple zoning and planning of the the street section. The questions that must be answered for each specific city is about sufficient lengths for pedestrian walkways, measurement for parking, types of physical barriers that should be used to not let people park in pedestrian walkways so that people and cars don’t share the same narrow street. These are the questions citizens should first ask and demand answers from, instead of continuing to use the old wrong tradition of sharing pedestrian traffic with vehicular traffic. Upon request the planning department could start to put attention and stress on such matters.
Lastly, i would like to write about the feeling of containments in regards of urban space. This feeling is important for rooms in a dwelling. There is a unique and peculiar sense of place in our bedroom in contrast to our living room. Maybe our living room is more visible from the entry foyer and therefore less of a private place. With containment comes order, character and place. With complete transparency and volumetric chaos comes undefined spaces devoid from order. The same relationship of rooms in an apartment could be considered in a larger scale as the city. A city has rooms just like a residential dwelling. The big urban space in front of the train station could be the entry foyer of an apartment, the prime boulevard; the corridor that connects to other rooms, the urban space in front of the religious buildings; our bedrooms in an apartment which is our sanctuary, the place where we have ultimate peace and rest. Another challenge of making nice outdoor spaces and boulevards in city’s in the East is the fact that we cannot attach buildings to each other. There are the setbacks that exist to cripple urban design intents. These setbacks in my municipality range anywhere from 10m (front yard) to 5m mandatory setbacks from property lines, which may increase depending on the amount of height. Some property owners like and prefer this because it enables more facades per unit, but at the cost of losing order and containment at the streets. I personally would rather have one less exposure to the north and have a more defined streetscape in front of my apartment building than the opposite. But since the majority of people don’t give a damn about the long term benefits of having a better neighborhood and the only thing that matters is themselves in the short term; they will continue to be shortsighted and buy such units and developers will continue to finance the projects for the status quo.