August 31 2011

Architectural Design: Avoiding “The National Automobile Slum”

 In today’s urban realm, planners and architects are having problems distinguishing place from space. At first analysis, it may not seem like this is such a big deal. But in reality, argues acclaimed author James Howard Kunstler, the difference between the two is crucial in improving safety, social well-being, and even contentment in cities across America. In his TED talk, Kunstler argues “creating places that are meaningful and places of quality and character depends entirely on the ability to define space with buildings, and to employ the vocabularies, grammars, syntaxes, rhythms, and patterns of architecture in order to inform us who we are.”

Along this line of thinking, the current structure of suburbia – the place where most Americans call home – doesn’t make the cut. Cookie-cutter houses, strip malls, and big-box stores that offer no sense of place line the streets of “The National Automobile Slum,” a term coined by Kunstler referring to contemporary American suburbia. These are mere spaces that don’t inform us where we are geographically and even culturally. There is no sense of place here – we are not attracted to the routine and mundane. How, then, can we care about such a space? The reality is: We can’t. This lack of care fails to offer incentives to keep spaces looking and feeling pleasant, which leads to their ultimate demise. This phenomenon is taking place in many of the inner suburbs across America, such as that of Dundalk, a suburb of Baltimore.

There are a large array of architectural techniques that can be utilized to help establish a sense of place in American cities and suburbs, including:

  • Ÿ  Building new buildings inspired by the local architectural history;
  • Ÿ  Utilizing architectural design that encourages social interaction (“Social Architecture”);
  • Ÿ  Design places that are meant to sink into an individuals memory.

What do you think can be done in order to encourage more development of meaningful places instead of spaces? Please share on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments section below!

Daniel Sheehan

Dan Sheehan studied City and Regional Planning with a concentration in Urban Design at the Ohio State University. Dan has lived in several cities throughout the Midwest and is dedicated to exploring urban and environmental design issues as they relate to Midwestern cities of the United States. His passion for urban design and urban planning began during his studies in Columbus at the Ohio State University, and continues to pursue those passions in the realm of urban planning. Dan blogged for The Grid until October 2011.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 at 9:29 pm and is filed under Architecture, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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