Geometry and life of urban space
NikosA.Salingaros, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas & Lecturer of Architecture at the Universities of Querétaro (Mexico), Delft (Netherlands) and Roma Tre and Pietro Pagliardini, Senior partner Pagliardini, Rupi, Andreoni & Gazzabin Architectural Firm & Member- Environmental Structure Research Group (ESRG )
Public space represents a common value,a meeting place, even and especially in the information age.Urban fabrichas biological characteristics.It represents a “super-organism”,a complex structure that is created by combining space with human beings.In fact,common space is the next-largest socio-geometric structure following that of the individual and his/her family.
Urban space is even sacred, because it constitutes a link between geometry and humanity.
Our interaction with the environment comes from our evolution in the open spaces the in prehistoric times,subsequently applied to define the open spaces of the city as an extension of our ancestral open areas.
Some Fundamentalist Mistakes
The purpose of most new public spaces is, in fact, pedagogical: erecting industrial “design” symbols so that people are exposed to them. We face a problem that goes beyond the planning of urban plazas in order to understand how man deals with his surroundings. Humans need to connect to the natural environment. For this reason, having nature present always adds life to a square. By contrast, the products of contemporary design are deprived of organized information on the human scale.
The user’s perception of an open space is optimized with rather low buildings.The proportion of open space compared to the height of the surrounding buildings determines the size of the square, which cannot be too wide;otherwise you get an effect of discomfort.We have to avoid the imposition of inhuman dimensions,often coinciding with urban blocks that are much larger than traditional ones.
The opposite geometry is achieved with an isolated structure,the most damaging of which is the modern skyscraper. All the space remains outside and is thus exposed. A person in this exposed outer space strongly feels a lack of protection in a geometry that is too open.The open space around the isolated building, whether it’s high or low,is useless.
Development of open spaces from “outside” to “inside”following the plastic deformation of the built fabric
A plastic deformation that develops some isolated blocks ends up with a much more complex built fabric.At the same time,the urban space becomes much better defined. We must, however, overcome a design prejudice that privileges the building’s footprint rather than the shape of urban spaces:you can’t have both, and, obviously,you have to sacrifice the abstract and formal plan of buildings to obtain public space.
How to connect at all building into the urban fabric using a complex base on the human scale
Given that inserting tall buildings into the urban fabric is nowadays more and more common,we have to think of how to do this inorder to limit the damage. Instead of the detached building defining an open space all“outside”,we can establish its base on a more human scale..A connective urban fabric that is predominantly low-rise can help at all building to become part of the city.
General characteristics of public squares
• Due to their nature as urban nodes, they must be easily identifiable spaces in the city’s structure.
• They must be spaces with a high degree of connectivity, connected to the rest of the urban nodes and the rest of the city’s lattice structure through both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
• They must be spaces of high pedestrian permeability, which means that they must be easily accessible and open to pedestrians.
• They must be highly versatile spaces, allowing the development of all kinds of public activities including the ground floors of many of the surrounding buildings. They spaces should also offers a wide range of sensory experience to users through their architectural and urban characteristics.
• The architectural characteristics and urban design properties must make these spaces safe for the population from the point of view of crime.
Specific characteristics of public squares
• Their shapes and sizes will be similar to the gardens and traditional squares of modest size with proportional relationships between width and height of surrounding buildings.
• Each square can contain vegetation planted at ground level, and trees, wherever possible according to local conditions.
• Parking can be tucked away in the back of the surrounding buildings, in exceptional cases in the basement of blocks, but should never be around the square.
• The roads destined for vehicular traffic next to the square must contain suitable sidewalks (that are wide enough) for pedestrian circulation. You have to control the width of the streets and sidewalks to clearly define the priority of the square as pedestrian space.
• At least one side of each square can be designed as a portico/arcade (with solar orientation depending on the climate).Street furniture such as seats, benches, and other structures must find their relationship with traditional urban furniture.
Architectural forms for the environment
• A design language typical of the traditional forms used in local architecture should be adopted, along with the use of traditional and natural materials, local symbols, and artisan crafts.
• A varied building fabric must be sought, with different buildings constituting an urban front instead of a single building, so that the urban variety becomes attractive and rich.
• The success of a square depends primarily on the surrounding nodes of interest more than from the internal ones. It is therefore a mistake to fill the square with structures or objects of “design”.
• Surrounding commercial advertising should be subject to the criteria of scale and traditional design in shapes, colors, and typefaces, and avoiding the use of neon.
• Successful public space becomes social life in itself; an understanding that goes beyond thinking of this as simply a space for social activities.
Unfortunately, several generations of architects are committing an innocent mistake. All building and zoning laws are now formulated in a way that is unfavorable to urban space. The intention as formalized in society’s regulatory system has become a tool for self-destruction. Commercial interests have stolen and have erased public space, to then recreate it within private boundaries, while knowing full well that human beings need this space to live.