Issue and inquiry; 2; The New Architects: Can They Save Our Cities?
From Northeastern University the National Information Network presents issue and inquiry. People say that for example in the in a given community under existing zoning practices that quarter acre lots are much too small. Well they are too small. If you put the same old house with the same old windows on all four sides poking out in all directions on these quarter acre lots because what's in fact happening is that you're throwing away the land which is all around those houses. So to that extent a quarter acre lot can be called a disaster your view from your bedroom window is through somebody else's bedroom window. If you take an eighth of an acre lot and use the land properly you can really get something positive out of it now this has not been demonstrated in any broad sense to Americans. This week on issue an inquiry here hard Kalman Professor architect your heart. University and designer of the new Boston City Hall. And literature my own.
Principle of architecture and design in Cambridge Seven associates. This week's program. Then you architects can they save our dying cities. Here is your host. You know so far. By most standards aesthetic social or economic The American city is a grim disaster area and many people would claim for human habitation our urban environment seems to be intimidating to the individual and oppressive to the census. Gentlemen do you agree or disagree. Let's take a crack at it. Peter can I add I would say that in many ways cities should be looked at positively precisely in order to make them become wonderful places which they can be and that your initial statement which certainly is true in many ways. Has an implication of condemnation of the city which I would object to because I think cities can be very wonderful and in fact I would support
urban life very much in favor of suburban life as it is often becoming in this country because the intensity of interaction between people that goes on in the city the wonderful life and variety the many things going on. It's a very rich human experience even when it's suffering from fumes in cars in Latin America the reason given for the mass migration of so many people from rural areas to the city is very similar to what you describe they call it the Movimento the excitement and yet I wonder if that is not the case that in the United States there is a tradition of condemnation of the city intellectuals. Jefferson thorough Emerson contemporary people tend to see the city as suffocating somehow. Any chance for a man tapping himself to the fullest potential to get through. I think we're failing to make cities work and so that to that extent they become hostile environments.
And to that extent we are all of us becoming latter day many Thoros we're all escaping to some world of peace. World of privacy. Some world of nature which we can find in desperation we hope somewhere but that's not to say that some of these values for example that are represented by country life at its best cannot be incorporated within cities if we can only focus on the cities and make this happen and I do think it takes a while what relish markets and what can the architect do to indeed make that focus a much more profound one when it comes to the human being. Well I think one way that was indicated in what Peter said was that the architect has to get in the decision making process ahead of where he stands now that he's now left to carry out briefs that are not valid not appropriate brace and that and I think many of the younger people in the profession are students want to go where the real action lies and that is in the definition
of the values of what it is to be built as environment and what they want to get right in there in their formative process. And not only be involved in giving form to decisions some of which are very dubious and that's the role of the actor today to go into a version where you maybe blame for things which you really have no responsibility. Such are you saying that they are just a priority given to the car and the automobile which governs and which determines to such a large extent what the architect does is a parameter with within which he has to work. And since he can't control the car he can't get rid of the guy by his own action. He mustn't be blamed for it. We want to define the role of the architect much much more broadly. You want to give him some say some control about these other parameters these other factors the current all powerful role in the planning process. Precisely. And I was in this revolutionary aren't you totally redefining what we've traditionally come to call the architect of America. No I think some of this has already happened. I do know for instance that some
of my Harvard students now are not in the traditional architects office that may just be reshaping these irrelevant briefs but they are in the planning agencies that determine right from the beginning whether such building volumes should happen at that part of the city or not that's where they want to be. They are in these transportation decisions which as Peter pointed out provide the armature for the first city. And this is what they're training for and that's why they are asking for much less conservative training program at school and one in which they can make decisions and can act responsibly in these areas of movement systems. And how would you gentlemen compare American cities with European cities when it comes to the mall let's coin a phrase the livability quotient factor. I think if you look at the core areas of the European cities look at the historic
center before the advent of the automobile. One would could define most European cities as very humane environments within which to walk within which to be at a human scale and to operate I think almost everyone who goes to Western Europe anywhere in Italy for example is astounded by the pleasure that he has in walking around and being in a town. Do Americans walk. Do they ever take walks anymore you never see people walking just for the sake of strolling or walking in Los Angeles you can't see a living soul in any of the pavements. They just get out of cars and into there's no way to walk to those. And it is like a city after an atom bomb had formed you know what the maps are going to have or how lazy I mean this is not the concern of the architect what you know what I think they've been conditioned in the sense that they develop bad habits because of the car as a convenience has led to the expense the expansion of the elements which it connects so that a man no longer can walk from point A to Point B he can't get from A to B unless he drives so that they die of heart disease
because they don't walk anymore. Well let's take a look at the American city a little bit more. Gentleman the unicorns have become pockets of poverty. That's the cliche that the phrase that is used to describe it and middle and upper income America seem to be fleeing to the suburbs now can the architect with new urban designs help to reverse this migration out of the city into the suburb and get people back into the inner core. I think the architect has a very small role in achieving that. But there's not an adequate priority given to this kind of question of let's say housing and livability in the cities to yet make it a simple matter of improved design. Again looking at the opportunities that the architect has he's simply unable Bines deal with major economic questions he can't create a standard of housing if the methodology doesn't exist for him for producing that housing there are many many
architects who for the last 50 years and it has had lot more exposure to this whole history than I have. Who have been presenting notions of housing concepts of housing urban high density housing which are magnificent in a human sense but because we don't give this kind of thing an adequate priority yet because we're not prepared to spend the money. It's not happening and an architect is simply unable to make it happen by himself so that if if the alternative isn't presented to a man who is let's say making $20000 a year and he seems that he can have a decent house on a one acre lot somewhere just out of town within a half an hour commute he's going to choose that because at the moment the better option. Your statement applies to question that it has a sort of a revolutionary tinge to it. You might look at it this way but the way we set our priorities here in America is through the democratic capitalist free enterprise system. Now is there something wrong with this way of setting priorities with regard to what comes first second third and fourth in the in the American city. Peter Hart Yes well I first of all questioned that this free
enterprise system is not a myth. As against what is really happening we have all accepted a number of constraints. Once we have chosen to live together we don't burn our rubbish all day long which we can do in our one acre said. We follow in fact an extraordinary and sometimes unnecessary amount of constraint so it's implicit in the building of the city and the restructure of the city that we will have to accept as maybe more imaginative restrictions we have found already that building volumes today are more imaginatively circumscribed than they used to be 15 years ago for instance in New York City. If people are building more of a little below they can put up more volume up above and make more money up there. Or whatever you know there has been evolving a whole box of encouraging beneficial building development yet accepting certain constraints of hyped lines that are no longer quite as rigidly followed but for instance we are now saying you can build so much floor area per site and we don't say how high you build it
or whether you make a very low completely covering building covering your whole site or you're building a taller one and gain more floor space. This is already. The options are available for you. Building is a private enterprise builder. However at the scale that we are now building I think we are seeing the last tail end of the road to freedom because all these tall tarts that we are seeing in those meaningless placers are the result of this ownership of that small pocket of land. The kind of horizontal contiguity is the horizontal sheltering structures that we as architects now begin to feel we should really build cannot be built under this organisation of ownership that has to be pooling of sites which is mixing and mixing of uses in order to make the city not deadly at night we have to bring you know other uses in front of Commerce is another question. You know the city center the ground floor is so expensive now that we can't have the small very chops that we
would like to get there. Somebody must subsidize this. We must find a way to let in the concourses of the transportation system that somebody would literally say we will give this over to these small scale shops even if they don't pay most. They went because they cannot. But we want them for their liveliness. This means a rearrangement of your values. You really have to not just think of the first dollar that way no great city has ever been built. And in fact we are beneficiaries of the munificence of other ages all our great parks and all the heritage of the generous ages. We don't create new ones you know you simply erode the ones we've got here we're not good enough. There's no very good point on point because it just occurs to me that the kinds of buildings and the kinds of cities that you gentlemen would like to see build perhaps will never be built or which will not take the light of day in the next hundred years because they'll run aground on the rock of a very fundamental American tradition practicality. Many Americans would like to see
but we're not going to park. Well I beg to differ because we are now designing the city square in Boston and we have the question of Pemberton square the new Pemberton square and I talked to the judges and I said you can either be forgotten man because you want your parking lot out there or you can be remembered in Boston for having giving it a fine new pedestrian Square. And then the next day the judge just waited for the cars. But the mayor insisted that this should become pedestrian Square. You can't trust people you know if you asked just in their self-interest to answer a question that they would definitely give the answer that is of most long term value to themselves and to the community. You can't trust people being not selfish. And I think we've got to be very clear about if you put everything to the vote and you pass a law down to everybody's private interest everybody will vote. Myself included perhaps for an immediate private gain that I can get out of a situation rather than an all over again which will be slow in coming and which encompasses other people as well.
And I think it's very difficult to to ask people to be idealistic but we are creating new city squares now. But we must also face the fact that they will cost money to maintain to plant and to water and that needs as much energy as to build them. I would also like to another point which is simply an amplification of the same one to some extent. The notion that we are living in a condition of free enterprise is an illusion I think of false premises. When you look at some of the processes that do go on within these apparent freedoms for example the highway building programs. Now here is a case of what could be to fairly described as to Tyler Terry an interference with it with the general welfare in many many instances. A program which is its apparent purpose serving the community in the sense of making it possible to move so many cars such and such a volume of cars is very seldom planned with real sympathy for the broader impact that it has on its surroundings and to some extent the power that has been placed in the hands of
highway building programs in the last 20 years. It's almost a totalitarian power because the community has not been involved in the location of highways look at the inner belt controversy in Cambridge just as an example. The community was given the opportunity to object and did they ever. It was one of the first instances where the community could speak up and do something about it before it happened 10 years before that when the power in the hands of the highway people was even more to Tyler Perry and let's say. They went right through the downtown of the city. Cut it in half and nobody said boo. So I'm not only going against these powers. I'm arguing for these powers in conjunction with the community. It was for the participation of the community with broadly powerful agencies who are in fact thinking comprehensively. We should pause at this point in the program to let people know listening around the country that we are talking with two very innovative up and coming architects in America and the very successful architects here in the city of Boston Peter Jeremiah
Hogtown. Gentlemen I would like to change the course of our discussion to a very broad question. We've talked about cities we've talked about the importance of constructing cities and buildings within which human beings can live. Now the broadest question of all would be what do you see as the greatest single problem facing city dwellers and can it be solved yog. Well I think there's a number of problems one is of course that the size of the cities and the threatening size of population. I do think perhaps at this moment the problem is not on the technical area problem is about the loss of a sense of participation. Of the people in the building of this city and in the general arrangements of the city and if we cannot find a constructive way in engaging the communities in this restructuring of the city then it then however technically brilliant It may be it will fail.
Now on an earlier program with cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead we talked about the problem of the city worker and I think you gentlemen of the people in our audience would be very interested to see her reaction to the question what can we do ought we to build from the ground up what we do give up and start a note with the American city. Here is her answer to that question. Now I'm thinking much more of taking that have a core identity have some kind of existing existing population and using them as a base for expansion. There is a small city that has no good library no university no theater is a kind of a shell without of the thought that you can put institutions into cities and build them into something probably better than we know how to build from the base up yet we don't we aren't very good at building townships. John would you agree or is the American unable to build from the ground up
build a new township as modern media. I would say is unable. I would imagine that our capabilities are infinite but I would agree very strongly with what she said in there. To do this from from scratch is incredibly difficult. Whereas existing cities have so much there to begin with as a starting point so that without any question I would agree that the place where we should be focused is in our existing cities to make them take advantage of what's already there and grow from it. Yard I like to pick up another point where I may have a slight disagreement with Peter here. The future no doubt is going to be in restructuring the present large city but also in decentralization. And I think they'll be regarded as part of the same process as a sort of dialectic relationship because the work is no longer concentrated in a few cities. Work can be almost anywhere because of our communication network.
It will be possible for people to choose a place of work that are not in the big cities and we will develop the whole structure of the decentralized and the centralized nucleus within a kind of structure compliments each other. Just you elaborate on that a bit. That work is no longer concentrated in a few cities and how can people living out in the remote areas continue to do their work successfully through our communications network. Well we have seen already that big industries have found it very advantageous these days to put their headquarters right out in the country. They can provide decent housing for their employees. They have an easier way to work. They can have a central computer facilities maybe in the city if they want to. There's no reason why they should be any more at this one point. They could be near an airport for instance and have people coming in from all over the country. This is what I meant by this. The thing that I would like to feed in when we talked about people living in the high density areas of cities we have first of all quite new
ideas about how high densities could operate high density of residences meant until quite recently high rise buildings there have been many research is carried out particularly in England which have pointed out that you can produce as much high density residents much closer to the ground. And we are all beginning to get involved and interested in what we call high density but medium rise or closer to the ground coverage of the area. The English architect Professor Leslie Martin has found out that you could resettle the whole of Manhattan. On Manhattan buildings that are no higher than I think 12 stories high and have 25 Washington squares. So you've accommodated the same volume that at the moment is polarized in tall towers in lower structures stepped donut shaped structures with great open chords in between and get the same amount of people into there. Could you explain more specifically how that will be done if you have
a square area of land and you have so many apartments to put there. You have the choice that you can put into a concentrated tower shape right into the center of the square small area and you can build up to add in all 30 floors of forty four that's one way of putting those residences there. But if you would go to the perimeter of that square and build around the edges of the square you can put the same amount of space in because at the perimeter your amount of area available you know increases enormously through the mathematical properties of the what this called the Fresnel square that you can put them all round there and have the enormous inside garden of these huge public gardens have accommodated the same amount of people and not used the remoteness of the placement of people that you get in the polarized tar structure. Now all I'm saying is that the boundaries of the building volume that so far was polarized in high slabs of high towers that people associate with high density living in cities in which they don't like.
This polarization is no longer necessary. We can build its campus type of structures that you find on campuses. Maybe Americans don't like to walk without the two floors but it could be elevator service to lower blocks which would be a much better child environment. Secondly I would still say that the ideal environment for the child and their family with small children would be as close to the ground as possible. You could then mix inside those courtyards First of all low buildings which have their gardens on the ground and the child can be supervised by the parent from the kitchen or else you could go into a more suburban situation so I think people have to play all those variants in order to satisfy the needs that people have for various options of living. I don't think we're all the same at certain times of our life we would like to have this garden and when the child grows up later on their college we want to go back into a different kind of situation we just always build one of a kind we don't build enough options and that's what we've got to do in the future.
Yes I agree entirely with what gear has just been saying I'd like to make a further point about density which to a large extent I think is misunderstood particularly in this country by. Americans let's say who have not been at all exposed to high density working for you. It's thought of really as a negative term. It's thought of as an inhumane environment we don't think of the tar we think of a solid mass we think of being removed from daylight removed from air removed from the ground removed from nature trees birds Sun What have you and it need not be that at all because the kind of high density is low to the ground the guy who is talking about and I have been suggested in numerous projects which have attempted let's say to put houses even and single story on the ground together with shared walls for example where they are contiguous where houses are touching each other and actually achieve in many instances and this of course is difficult to describe only verbal to a greater degree of exposure to the out of doors and more
meaningful exposure to light and sun and birds and trees and neighbors and neighbors. Then you get in the normal sprawl in other words what is not. I think generally understood in this country. Is that you don't even need a full acre to have complete privacy and extraordinary exposure to nature. People say that for example in a given community under existing zoning practices that quarter acre lots are much too small. Well they are too small. If you put the same old house with the same old windows on all four sides poking out in all directions on these quarter acre lots because what's in fact happening is that you're throwing away the land which is all around those houses. So to that extent a quarter acre lot can be called a disaster your view from your bedroom window is through somebody else's bedroom window. This is an absurdity of planning and misuse of a conventional traditional house form. If you take an eighth of an acre lot and use the land properly you can really get
something positive out of it now this has not been demonstrated in any broad sense to Americans. Gentlemen are you optimistic about the future of the American city. Peter Jerome I have. Yes very much so. I'm very optimistic. Only in the sense that I believe in cities and I believe and I capacity to make them work because we are an inventive active people. And I think that we all gradually learn to restructure them not only the big cities but all communities with a hierarchy of functioning parts things that communities let's say that work at every scale get hard. As an architect I am a hopeless optimist and I think we've got to do everything we have to build absolutely new cities. Margaret Mead is afraid of the monarchy. I think we are confident enough to make an experiment and we will have to grow the nucleus of existing small cities to produce this maybe a new version of a suburb in the constructor sense the way that in 1910 suburbia of Oak Park etc. Chicago
was successful and we will build restructure the inner cities to bring people back to the cities. If they get proper school security I don't see any reason why the middle classes who have now fled the city will not come back and there will be a much richer mix for the city with all the stratification is that a big city should have in terms of its population. The listener whose picture of an architect was purely a picture of a man all from the hard realities of life and a man calculating with a slide rule an accomplice and the various geometric diagrams. The listener who had that picture will have to change his mind after this past 30 minutes gentlemen. Two very humane and cultured architects talking about the future of the American city.
Northeastern University has brought you here hard Kelman professor of architecture Harvard University and a designer of the new Boston City Hall. And future my office. Principle of architecture and design. Cambridge Seven associates. Today's program the new architects. Can they save our dying cities. The views and opinions expressed on the preceding program were not necessarily those of Northeastern University or of the station. Questions I asked were the moderator's method of presenting many sides of today's topic. Your program host has been Joseph armiger director Dept. of radio productions. This week's program was produced by Martin visored directed by Stephen Weatherby. With technical supervision by Peter Robinson. Executive producer for issue and inquiry is Peter Lance. Issue an inquiry is produced for the division of instructional communications at the nation's largest private university. Northeastern University's request for a tape recorded copy of any program in this series may be addressed to
- Issue and inquiry
- Episode Number
- Producing Organization
- Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-b853kd2q).
- Issue and Inquiry is an analysis of public affairs issues such as environmentalism, public health, education, and politics. Produced for the Division of Instructional Communications at the nation's largest private university, Northeastern University.
- Asset type
- Social Issues
- Media type
Producing Organization: Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 70-11-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “Issue and inquiry; 2; The New Architects: Can They Save Our Cities?,” 1970-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 26, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-b853kd2q.
- MLA: “Issue and inquiry; 2; The New Architects: Can They Save Our Cities?.” 1970-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 26, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-b853kd2q>.
- APA: Issue and inquiry; 2; The New Architects: Can They Save Our Cities?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-b853kd2q