December 25, 2011 at 8:38 am #158901
In Albert Camus’ opening to The Plague, he makes a succinct comment on urban design of waterfront cities on the western Mediterranean, using Oran:
“The town itself is ugly…a town without pigeons, without and trees or gardens, where you never hear the beat of wings or the rustle of leaves, a thoroughly negative place…
“The seasons are discriminated only in the sky. All that tells you of spring’s coming is the feel of the air, or the baskets of flowers brought from the suburbs by the peddlers; it’s a spring cried in the marketplaces.
“During the summer the sun bakes the houses bone-dry, sprinkles our walls with grayish dust, and you have no option but to survive those days of fire indoors, behind closed shutters. In autumn, on the other hand, we have deluges of mud.
“Only winter brings really pleasant weather.”
I am more along the lines of Ed Bacon, urban design needs a visceral esthetic, not a complex metric. Camus provides a visceral esthetic in the quote.
Comments on urban design and western Mediterranean climate?
Edward FlahertyDecember 26, 2011 at 1:20 am #158910Roland BeinertParticipant
Can’t a complex metric bring about a visceralaesthetic?
I think part of the problem with a lot of urban design, and design in general, is that it does not respond to climate. We group things into styles based on climatic regions, but then we use them anywhere we want without thinking about the consequences for the users.December 26, 2011 at 5:11 am #158909BoilerplaterParticipant
Since I’ve never read The Plague or have seen Oran (I’m assuming Oran, Algeria, considering where Camus spent much of his time) so I Googled some images of the city. I really don’t see what he’s complaining about. With a Mediterranean climate, I’d take it over the kind of crumbling, rusty, post industrial, ghetto-ized messes that a lot of our northeastern and midwestern cities have become. If I could choose a climate to live in, I’d pick the Mediterranean. For Mediterranean cities, I think of those whitewashed towns like they have on Mykonos, Italian hill towns, the great fine-grained urbanism of Hrvatska and Dubrovnik, vital, lively places not suffering from blight due to suburban sprawl…
I’m not going to allow Camus to damage my idealized mental image of mediterranean cities! Of course he needed to set a scene like that in order to make it a place where existential angst could blossom. Would he rather have a place where it rains much of the time and you rarely see the sun? For me, just having palm trees around improves my mood. They are such showy, extroverted trees…like green fountains on poles. Oran looke a bit on the dense side and had some rather plain architecture, but there was also some pretty historical stuff and some relaxing green spaces. You could walk to the ocean. That gives it a major plus over any land-locked city.December 27, 2011 at 2:04 pm #158908
You asked, ‘Can’t a complex metric bring about a visceral esthetic?‘ Good question Roland.
I have not seen any planning metrics that address standards for the five, shall I say, coarse modals of sense perception…sight, taste, touch, feel and smell. If someone can share experience of ‘code’ that addresses these senses as the basis of quality of life open space standards, I would be most interested.December 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm #158907
Anecdote time: I once worked in a climate and country where date palms, Phoenix dactylifera, were almost revered for just what Boilerplate wrote plus the essential fruits, plus the use of all parts of the tree for day to day appendages of life.
For variety on a project, I suggested using accents of Washingtonia robusta and darn near lost my job for suggesting the use of these ‘devil’ palms…logic being what good is using a palm that does not bear useful fruit for humans. 🙂December 27, 2011 at 9:30 pm #158906Roland BeinertParticipant
I’m not sure how any code could address taste, feel or smell, but most codes address sight to some extent. Form based codes probably do the best job of bringing about a unified look to entire neighborhoods.December 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm #158905Trace OneParticipant
and they also address ‘feel’ – I am thinking of the required setbacks for tall buidlings in NY, because of a percieved need to present less density for human health.
They also address smell- you can’t’ locate a dump in a residential neighborhood, Southampton even required plans for horse farms to address the placement of the manure pit..
I have no idea what this topic is, it seems like a bunch of gobbledygook to me..
Mr. Flaherty, ALL planning metrics are an attempt to bring about visceral aesthetics!
Perhaps you don’t live in America, with our zoning rules?December 28, 2011 at 3:34 pm #158904Les BallardParticipant
The Islamic tradition is to have cool courtyards away from prying eyes just as their art escapes human forms yet embraces mathematical patterns. When given a chance to start afresh and with money no object, you get places like the Alhambra Palace in Spain. When the area has to grow organically, in the heat and the dust, the wind and the dirt of a city, you get Oran, for example. If you go in on foot you may see nothing nice because the little gardens and water features are behind closed doors and below the parapets you associate with keeping out the sand storms, etc. You have to belong and then the art and beauty may be found, I think, though is myopically oriented. That is to say it is microcosm, not macrocosm and it will be a long time before there are many places along the North African coast much different, though I did see a garden had been made somewhere there for the public. It would be interesting to have a leading Iman reflect on this. We cannot seem to get any of those, however, to condemn suicide bombings or old guys marrying underage girls in sub-Saharan Africa, especially, who then die after too early childbirth with too few medical resources. While not holding my breath, therefore, it is worth noting that the more go-ahead states in the Northern region, Arab Spring aside and if not maybe because of it, are considering LA matters, town planning and the future.
I was interested to see a news item from Iraq. Whereas in the UK you can find 4 Halal butchers in a row in a terrace of flats over shops all in need of decoration, even refurbishment, all selling the same cuts of chicken and lamb and mix of spices, etc., here was a market where one butcher sold hearts, another general offal, another chicken and so on. The men were market traders and they had worked out a way for everyone to make a living for, clearly, they could not all sell the same goods, they would have no room for stock. However, the system remained where folk had what they needed to work and no more. Here in the UKand in Algeria or elsewhere on that coast, it seems – and throughout the Muslim world, for the want of a more accurate catch-all description – there is no pretentiousness or showiness, no desire to invest in a posh shop-front or better looking house – you have to look real close to find where one ends and another begins or the differences in the wealth of the residents. You have to be invited inside for that. Thus it falls to the planners and local/national government to plan ahead on behalf of the people to protect them from their own modesty and a lack of money/inclination for better design. Further, we are becoming just the same in urban environments.
I don’t know about Germany (and especially their immigrant Turkish population areas) which is very rent oriented for almost all. The Netherlands seems to span the two camps of ownership and rental and certainly many immigrants, who if you can tell them apart are probably Muslim, probably rent for a long time. However, there is a caught plague of ownership and aspiration to own and, eventually, many do and quicker than Westerners might achieve such a goal as our relatives are less likely to lend us small fortunes – there is not the pay back honour system, in the less religious and family oriented society we are becoming overall, we can associate with Islam and other religions or peoples. It is certainly more likely that a man will repay a loan if he is not going to get found a wife until he shows good faith! In the UK the emphasis has always been on ownership as soon as feasible but, with high prices and the credit crunch, native Brits are drifting away from the property ladder toward rental and folk have said we will end up more like Germany. This leaves more poorer property for the immigrants, who seem to make no outside improvements they do not have to. Inside, of course, homes can be little palaces and in keeping with religious and cultural traditions re beds made up on floors yet with many luxurious bathrooms. Of course commercial lenders may require certain external work done and then it is. The overall result is urban immigrants and rural wealth with the younger, more native poor caused to take whatever they can get. As a result, young people stay at home longer even if they marry a situation we were pleased to escape from at one time. Unemployment, of course, does not help but immigrant families may well host the young longer but because they always do or did, though their children are likely to be better, higher achieving students, with better prospects and professional qualifications after returning from the universities the poorer indiginous young do not attend. If not young professionals then they seem more likely to start their own, or enter family, businesses.
Many of the points I have made are well known, albeit subliminally and plans were made to create new cottage office towns in the hills once grazed by sheep. As it is, there is no money for that. Folk in rural areas fight any development including wind turbines, never mind a nice new road and a community suiting the artistic and others who can work from home, though infrastructure shops and services are likely to carry Asian traders to those new places where, currently, there are few or none. I assume similar dynamics occur in other areas so, overall, while a future for Oran and so on can be predicted, what is it here but a mix of Soilent Green and Bladerunner scenaria no-one needs or wants? Therefore we have to start again and design for the people of a century hence, not today just as those governments are having to do elsewhere.December 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm #158903BoilerplaterParticipant
Always enjoy a lengthy Les Ballard response! Ever considered doing a book? The Muslim influence on external aesthetics hadn’t occured to me, but I see your point. The few halal butchers I’ve seen in New Jersey maintain shops reminiscent of Communist Russia in their spareness and low-budget furnishing.
Due to the foreclosure crisis, the US is becoming, moreso, a nation of renters. It will be interesting how that plays out in how the exteriors of homes and apartment buildings are maintained and treated aesthetically. It seems like the only things you see under construction now are apartment complexes, dollar stores and discount supermarkets, none of which have much of a budget for good design or amenities. Kind of depressing to see where things are headed, as you realize it will not translate into a need for your services as a landscape architect!January 21, 2012 at 11:11 pm #158902Les BallardParticipant
they aint all lengthy but cheers! lol As for thebook I was waiting until I’m old and grey. Oh! I am – rofl
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