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March 17, 2005

Walking Generates Architecture

“Walking has always generated architecture and landscape, and…this practice, all but totally forgotten by architects themselves, has been reactivated by poets, philosophers, and artists capable of seeing precisely what is not there, in order to make ‘something’ be there.”
-Gille A. Tiberghien
from the Introduction of Walkscapes (p.13)

Delhi is very much a macro-city or a megacity. It’s population of over 14 million people is nearly equivalent to that of the Netherlands, and puts it in the same category as the greater Los Angeles area and Beijing, cities which have both high populations and sprawl. But megacities are counterproductive to nomadism. This does not mean that they prevent movement, but they make it more difficult, less efficient, more time consuming, more wasteful of resources.

Paolo Soleri says that the “urban effect” is the act of miniaturizing our habitat. It is reorganizing our environment into “an intense, interlocking, interweaving, interacting set of elements” that creates an urban consciousness rather than just a structure. It is about overlapping activity. In this sense Soleri realized that the city is more about movement and the creation of paths than about physical structures. I think that this notion, along with the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin and Charles Darwin that life evolves through complexification, is what makes Soleri’s city designs so human and so liveable. Notwithstanding the enormous differences in population and locale, my experiences of staying in Arcosanti and Delhi could not be more opposite. Both are high density, both are defined by movement. But Arcosanti is designed around the idea of paths, movements, open spaces, density, complexification, and miniaturization. Delhi is not planned. It has spread out chaotically, has grown too large, not in terms of population but in terms of land area. Density has come at the expense of open space. The paths formed by the urban nomads of Delhi must constantly fight against the chaotic non-planning of the streets and the distances between various enclaves.

One of the defining characteristics of the transformation of the city in the latter half of the twentieth century has been the decay of the ordered core of the historical cities and the rise of the chaotic periphery. This has also lead to the rise of more citizens engaging in “transurbance”, the rediscovery of the dimensions of the path-journey and the reconceptualization of physical space using a phenomelogical paradigm rather than a Cartesian-grid paradigm. When mapped on foot and through personal experience, the city becomes a world with districts undefined by Cartesian maps, where nomadic street vendors ply through chaotic territories uncharted by the traditional architects and city planners.

Despite the chaotic appearance of the decentralized, sprawled city, the design of the city from the perspective of its nomadic inhabitants, and the elements in motion, can be interpreted as an overlaying of complex geometries. These geometries are not only overlayed but also interwoven and interacting form the more vital structure of the city the physical buildings. Francesco Careri posits that cities naturally grow and evolve in a fractal structures without regard to the physical structures imposed on them, and organically form “fractal archipelagos”. These urban islands or enclaves intrinsically form around open spaces within themselves as well as between each other, for the path and the interaction of paths is the critical constituent of architecture. Open spaces inside of cities, which exist either because they were unbuilt or because a structure was destroyed, are often called “urban amnesias” because they are defined as negative spaces, devoid of architectural memory. But these are not simply blank spaces waiting to be filled with structures. They are living spaces filled with paths and meanings.

Posted by Julian at March 17, 2005 11:43 AM


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