Monday, February 15, 2010

Architecture on a Human Scale

Innovative architecture intrigues me – a revolving tower in Dubai, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. But, as I read Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space by Jan Gehl, I realized that these buildings might be interesting, but they weren’t people friendly.

Jan Gehl urges architects and urban planners to consider not only the buildings, but the space between buildings. For this is where social interaction takes place – a market, a juggler, a sidewalk café, a playground.

“Living cities, therefore, ones in which people can interact with one another, are always stimulating because they are rich in experiences, in contrast to lifeless cities, which can scarcely avoid being poor in experiences and thus dull, no matter how many colors and variations of shape in buildings are introduced.”

Downtown Saskatoon offers very few spaces for human interaction. There are no benches or squares to stop and break your journey. The new credit union is shiny and imposing, but it presents a blank, unfriendly façade to passersby. You can’t observe what is going on inside or enjoy a colourful window display. There are no nooks and crannies with benches or shrubbery.

Denmark has begun to regulate architecture on a human scale. For example, “To counteract the problem of dull and dying facades, many Danish cities have passed building codes to restrict the establishment of banks and offices at street level. Other Danish cities very successfully have allowed banks and offices to be established on city streets, but only as long as the street frontage is not in excess of 5 metres (15 feet).”

Let’s Go to the Mall
I was startled to realize that shopping malls are people-friendly spaces. Each of the many storefronts is wide open so that you can peer inside. The displays spill out into the central space, encouraging shoppers to stop and look. The central space is divided into two alleyways that are just the right width – wide enough to move freely but narrow enough to observe and greet the other passersby. And there are benches and food courts where people can rest or visit.

It’s no wonder that people spend so much time at the mall. It’s not just so that they can make purchases; it’s so that they can interact in a building on a human scale.

See Also:
Cities for People, Not Cars
You Can Do It

1 comment:

andrew said...

Much as I hate the consumerism inherent in malls, I have to agree they're more people friendly than our streets. But they still don't have sidewalk cafes in most malls.

We need some people friendly places that aren't aimed solely at buying more stuff.

Another reason for malls being more people friendly, in our climate, is that malls are indoors.

There's something to be said for the "crazy" idea of a dome over city center. If nothing else it would presumably keep out the cars! But you'd also need to redesign the streets within.