Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I said, I am an Urban Designer.

I changed my residing city. Looking for a suitable job here. Each time, one does this, one has to re-look at his professional direction. Make sure he or she is on its path to the summit, and not waivering off. I have always been a dreamer. But i dream with open eyes. While outstandish aesthetics and idealism in planning alure me, I showcase my real world habiting traits by creating solutions to make it happen. This is what has given me an edge over my peers. I have strived to be in the system, to change the system. And every now and then, that I have been categorised under a label, my scrutiny begins.

"I said, I am an urban designer" - the new post on my blog, and the statemtent in this phase of life happened at one such crossroads.
Urban designer ? did my degree in Italy or Wales label me into the niche minority ? an expert in the field ? do i seize being an architect ? where do i draw lines ? why isnt a project no longer about people ? why is it more about design and construction ? whats urban design now ? I ask the urban designer within - who am i ?

The labels given to fields of human endeavour change as the issues perceived by society to be important change. Urban design is a label coined at a time, in the English-speaking world at least, when architecture and city planning were developing distinct and clearly separate identities. Whether or not the term ‘urban design’ will endure or soon be replaced by a more precise term or terms remains to be seen. The term will probably continue to be used loosely as it is now. Maybe it will be abandoned for the same reason – because it is imprecise.

All the traditional design fields are undergoing change. City planning has broadened in its scope of concern in an attempt to be comprehensive in its outlook; landscape architecture has considerably extended its domain of interest from a horticulture base to include urban environments, while architecture has many practitioners who focus on different aspects of the built environment. If anything, architecture has contracted its scope of concern spinning off sub-fields as new environmental problems have arisen. Architecture and urban design were once seen as one endeavour everywhere. In some European countries they still are but as architects are being asked to address urban issues with greater thought, urban design may spin away to become an independent (although not exclusive) professional field.

There has been a shift in the intellectual processes involved in urban designing over the past 50 years. Urban design began in an era when Modernist architectural ideas about the design of cities and their precincts held sway. Rationalist and Empiricist design paradigms vied for hegemony. Urban Design emerged as an identifiable professional field in response to the limitations of, particularly, architectural ideas about the nature of the future city as presented in the Athens Charter of Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) . The utility of Empiricist ideas, particularly as represented by the Garden City paradigm, was also strongly questioned.

The world is a complex place. Whether or not it is growing increasingly complex and changing more rapidly than before, as we are wont to believe is open to conjecture. Maybe the observation that it is, is our contemporary conceit. The fundamental concerns of urban design have, however, been with us from the time that human settlements were first consciously designed. How do we deal with group interests in relationship to individual in urban development? How do we define the public interest?

While Modernist site designing ideas, if not architectural, still hold considerable sway in the minds of architects across the world, new paradigms have emerged. Most recently it has been the New Urbanist or Smart Growth movement that has been attracting the most international attention. As a basis for designing the future it possesses strong Empiricist tones as it draws heavily on past urban patterns that have worked well. The world, however, is changing. It would be grossly unfair to claim that the Rationalists amongst urban designers were not centrally concerned with public interest issues, human life and human needs, or motivations. They were. Their concern was, however, based on their own perceptions of what the world should be. These perceptions were based on an analysis of what was wrong with the world rather than observations of what works and what does not. Our understanding of the functions of built form has been considerably broadened in recent years. The definition has been extended from the one that the Modernists used to one that recognizes the purposes served by the symbolic aesthetic qualities of the environment in terms of the self-images of the people who inhabit and use it.

Our understanding of how the world functions and what different patterns of built form afford people will undoubtedly deepen in the future. Maybe the world is no more complex than before but we are being asked to deal with the complexity rather than to develop a simplistic view of how the world works. Too often we redefine the problems of the world in a simpler, manageable way by eliminating many of the variables from our domain of concern. We then design for that simpler world. It is the easiest thing to do. This approach can and has created further problems, many of them in terms of the functioning of the biogenic environment.

The greatest shift – in urban design thinking if not practice – during the 1990s has been carried through into the first decade of the twenty-first century. It may well be a major concern of the next generation of urban designers. It is the concern for the natural systems of specific terrestrial locations. The shift has resulted from a much greater understanding of the fragility of the planet Earth and its limited and depleting resources. An interest in the health of the planet by individual city planners goes back a long way (e.g. to Patrick Geddes in the first decades of the twentieth century), but it is only recently that it has become a major issue in discussions of urban design.

Much urban and architectural design has to deal with antisocial behaviour and more recently with terrorism. In an equable world designing to reduce the opportunities for such activities will, one hopes, as Tony Garnier did in his design for the hypothetical Cité Industrielle (1917), not be necessary.

In this blog, i also put forward discussion of the scope of urban design in democratic, capitalist countries that permeates this blog - "I said it" and the endless, but important, debate over individual and communal rights. Few developers and their architects favour any restriction on what they perceive to be their creative rights. Often they are fighting against antiquated or poorly considered building regulations and guidelines but often they simply want to get their own way in the face of community opposition. Those property developers who are strong proponents of urban design see it leading to urban environments of quality that reinforce their own investment decisions. (note : I have nothing against Lavasaa)

Debates over what is important and what is not will continue. Urban design projects of various types, scales and sizes will continue to be built. The conclusion is that the city is indeed and will continue be a collage of parts, some distinctive and others a mélange. So be it. What is important is that cities provide a rich set of behavioural opportunities and aesthetic displays that enrich the lives of all the people who constitute it. Urban design becomes particularly difficult in multi-cultural societies and in those where the interests of groups of the population fall outside the concern of market forces. Few of the projects in India, have focused on the needs of the poor. (remember Ameet ? the conversation we had about neo-Neelachal-ism ! for the poor ?...i offered solutions, u criticism....we argued untill we fell do all the urban designers !)

And as i continued to explain my role as a professional to the Kolkat-ian developer and architectural community, I face an ethical and intellectual series of arguments with my own professional decisions. More broadly, about my professional label itseld. Urban designer.

The questions now in front of us designers are: ‘Is urban design becoming a profession and a discipline in its own right?’ and ‘If it is, should it be?’ I, personally, hope that urban design will continue to be a collaborative field of design rather than an independent discipline and profession.

No comments:

Post a Comment