Tag Archives: event

Architecture planning

The Social Media of Small Urban Spaces

In the 1950s, it was a commonplace that urban spaces were inherently antisocial. These days, it’s a commonplace that smartphones are degrading the quality of public interactions. How things have changed!

It took the work of a few people to tease out a more nuanced view of urban life. Rather than looking at the form of cities in drawings, they looked at the people from the ground. These amateurs looked at how inhabitants used space and elaborated from there, rather than starting from ungrounded first principles.

A key player in this movement was William H.Whyte, a journalist by training. When senior editor of Forbes Magazine, he commissioned Jane Jacobs to write some of the articles that catapulted her to fame as a keen observer of public space. Seeing that she had discovered a fundamental flaw in urban planning, he built on her work with the kind of empirical discipline that worked wonders on bureaucrats.

Mostly, he looked for patterns and then examined those patterns in more detail. He used photos, film, charts, timers, and a lot of assistants. I’ve mentioned a film that catalogues his examination Mies’s Seagram Building in New York. Why did this tower in a plaza work, when so many others didn’t?

This kind of empiricism is exhausting, so it hasn’t been replicated much. But the New York Times today ran an article on the work of Keith N. Hampton, a sociologist at Rutgers who has tried to replicate William H. Whyte’s studies of how people use public spaces. With one twist: he was looking at how digital devices are affecting things. 

His results, like Whyte’s, significantly disrupt the conventional wisdom that the diffuse presence of social media are harming our relationships. Not refute, just call into question how idyllic things were before, and whether we’re simply seeing a shift, rather than a decline.

It’s definitely worth your time to read it.

Hampton has some further resources available too, such as his video of Kevin Roche’s steps at the Met, a vintage video from Whyte’s Bryant Park project, and a photoessay showing how people use computers in wifi-enabled parks.

 

 

Architecture

The Basics

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces is the single most important book for creating non-monumental public spaces. The reason it’s so great is not just that it’s always right, but that it’s all about behavior and process and not so much about architecture, so it lets you expand on its rules, rather than just being some nuts-and-bolts guidebook.

So how awesome is it that Tropolism found this video of William Whyte going through the areas of the book. With the film you get to see a little more of the behaviors that don’t come across on the page and you get to see the time-lapse film that Whyte  used to make rigorous studies of the Seagram building. After you’ve seen this, you’ll see social spaces in totally different ways.

Local Reno Park Project

When a concert isn’t just that

reno-concert-1

Last night began week five of this summer’s Fort Reno concerts. The annual series of musical triptychs, which take place in an improvised venue in the Tenleytown park, may be the most urbane happening of any place in DC. Amid the mild yellow-orange light of a summer evening, a small local band plays and a few hundred people of various ages watch while they sit on the grass. But beyond that and behind the stage, those less interested in the concert partake in all kinds of leisurely activity. Really, I’ve never seen the park so well used. read more »