A New Urbanist’s Take On Skyscrapers

A New Urbanist’s Take On Skyscrapers

Skyscraperists and New Urbanists generally don’t make a happy couple. The Prince of Wales is a well known advocate of the latter, and when asked to address a group of skyshapers during a conference in 2001, his opening line was:

I must confess that it is something of a mystery as to why I have been asked to join you for this most important debate about how, where, or, dare I say, whether – a new generation of tall building should be built in our towns and cities.

In 2010, Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin reviewed the recently completed Elysian Hotel & Residences in Chicago. Where those who consider traditionalism as cardboard architecture, Kamin tried to give it a fair shot.

If all we do is laugh at traditionalism, rather than figuring out how to do it better, then the joke’s on us.

You might have already guessed that the juxtaposition of modern versus traditional is no laughing matter. Or is it?

Leon Krier is a well known representative of New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture movements, and also the first laureate of the Driehaus Architecture Prize in 2003, which is awarded to those active in the field of New Classical architecture. In 1988 Krier presented Atlantis (see image above), an ideal town of art and culture on the steep hills of an oceanic island, inspired by the most perfect models of Ancient Greece and the finest examples in the foundation of historic cities.

It’s indeed easy to do away ideas like these as nostalgic, misplaced and out of touch, but next to being an architect, Krier is also something of the sketcher with cartoon-like qualities. As cartoons are great to make a point, exaggerated for maximum effect, let’s have a look at some of the points Krier is trying to make.

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Even though he seems to favor classical architecture over modernism here, in this one he has a good point that mixing sizes, shapes and architecture is a good way to make a less predictable and hence more surprising city.

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Here another one stressing on mixed urban use, in this one mixing icons with “urban carbs” of the city.

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Again, variety makes a city taste better.

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Yep, height is indeed related to money. Us skyscraperists are not ashamed to admin we already knew that.

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On density. If this is a plea to for slow infrastructure in cities to keep them large measured in travel time, that wouldn’t be a bad idea. 

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If only the architect of this building had taken notion of this one…

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Cityscapes judged by their tallest building. Interesting!

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Note the elevated highway separating the two cities in the top image.

If you consider cartoons to says something in images and especially between lines, and keeping in mind what Blair Kamin had to say about traditionalism, what I’m getting from these is that a New Urbanist like Léon Krier isn’t against height per se, but more of an advocate of pleasantly dense, mixed size design on a scale that’s appealing to the real life experience. 

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  • Raul A. Guzman

    Very interesting. I agree with Krier. The cities of today, especially the cities of the U.S. surrounded by suburbia, need to do a better job at densifying and making their centers true urban centers.

  • designgauge

    I’ve been very impressed by Krier since I first heard about him from the Seaside Florida development in the 1980s. The charming drawings really help.

    Nice that this sort of thinking is much more mainstream these days – every little old commercial downtown area in the cities ringing San Francisco Bay is booming, and the surrounding neighborhoods are finally adding density. Even my backward old town of Berkeley is building a slew of high-rise apartments in the old downtown.