Tag Archives: Thomas Sieverts

More thoughts on the edge (with a little gloom attached)

The comment thread on the On the edge (of cities) post right below shows there is a lot of passionate interest in the topic — Thomas Sieverts’ idea that architects need to lift their eyes from the city core and regard the outer limits of the city with the same intensity and, well, we’ll say it, love that they have for the traditional European city center. Whether that interest is also broad we’ll test with another post on the matter, this one arising from two Monday night events: Metro president David Bragdon speaking with Portland Spaces editor Randy Gragg at Jimmy Mak’s; and a big-name concluding panel at PNCA that featured Sieverts, architect Brad Cloepfil, Reed Kroloff (who runs Cranbrook Academy, supervised our tram design competition and who was dean of architecture at Tulane when Katrina hit), and Matthew Stadler as moderator.

The topic of both the panel and the Bragdon-Gragg exchange went something like this: What can governments do to encourage good design? And it frequently kept to the question, though this “healthy” topic also generated a number of tasty digressions and frankly was never as dry as the question seemed to promise. And thanks to Stadler, the Sieverts analysis/prescription was always lurking in the background.

I know from the clock on the wall that I won’t be able to give a full account of what happened in this post (I know what you’re thinking: O sweet mother of the Titans, don’t tell me there’s a third post brewing; what is this, the Halprin fountains?), but I will get a few thoughts out there, and perhaps the Scatter regulars at the event can fill in some details.

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On the edge (of cities): past and present

We’ve been MIA on Suddenly the set of exhibitions, lectures and events exploring the shape of our cities through the lens, primarily, of German urban designer/theorist/architect Thomas Sieverts. But we did make it to Sieverts’ lecture and a panel discussion Friday afternoon at the UO’s new architecture school branch in the White Stag building in Portland’s Old Town, a suitably central (or maybe, paradoxically central) spot to consider the remaking of suburbs, I suppose.

Matthew Stadler (a Scatter friend) did the introductions and moderated the panel, which was appropriate, because it was his reading of Sieverts’ book Cities Without Cities that suddenly changed his thinking about where the energy in cities really is these days and started this “movement” going. I think I’m getting ready to argue that Matthew’s was a creative misreading of Sieverts, though I’m waiting for one more event, another panel on Monday night, to confirm my first impressions, especially since I haven’t read the book(!).

Fairly early on in Sieverts’ lecture another friend of Scatter wondered about the intelligibility of his argument. But I think I understood the gist. The thought line he presented went something like this. 1) European cities are “splash” cities, meaning they no longer have compressed central cores. Instead, they sprawl a lot like American cities. In Sieverts’ powerpoint, charts and graphs showed just how “splashy” specific German cities had become. 2) The edges of this sprawl are chaotic and featureless. 3) German cities are shrinking in population, which makes it hard to change the edges through growth: It takes transformation. 4) Architects should address the problems of the edge, supplying aesthetic “meaning” and cultural coherence to them, even though planners tend to ignore them because they are so nondescript. 5) If these “edge cities” are going to compete in the global economy, they are going to have to attract “creatives” (Richard Florida’s young creatives, though Florida wasn’t mentioned), and that makes the transformation of these featureless suburbs, between spaces, crucial.
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