Top Five Urban Design Solutions

With this highlight of urban design winners, we hope to draw out a discussion around public space and built form.  The focus of this list is current trends in urban design, ones that have been built rather than ones that haven’t happened. There are heaps of exciting ideas coming from firms, competitions and students that are very innovative. The real winners, however, are the ones that actually happen.  Today, high quality urban design is widely applied in our urban centers as a critical element in any municipal density initiative, as it is recognized to have positive impacts on ecological, economic and social well-being.

1. Urban ecology

The Dockside Green neighborhood in Victoria, BC received LEED designation, in part because of its attention to urban ecology. Thanks to J. Scratchley on Flickr for the great Creative Commons photo!

Vancouver’s Olympic Village recently was called “the greenest neighborhood in the world”.  This is quite a statement considering the achievements of nearby Dockside Green in Victoria. Together, they are the first two neighborhoods to receive LEED Platinum designation. These developments also share a commitment to biodiversity and urban habitat creation along with highly integrated stormwater management. We can look forward to a future with more bioswales and urban wetlands, as made famous by Seattle’s Street Edge Alternative (SEA) streets.

2.  Kiosks (Covered Outdoor Space):

Director Park in Portland, Oregon offers a welcoming covered space. Thanks to Tedder on Wikimedia for the great Creative Commons photo.

Kiosks are typically used for small commercial retail enterprises, but they don’t have to be.  It’s often enough to just build a simple covered structure so that people can do that outdoor living we’ve all been hearing about (especially when it is raining). This shelter in Portland’s Director Park is a great example of how kiosks can offer flexibility in addition to opportunities for community economic development.

3. Deep Facades:

Cooper Union's new academic building in New York City uses its deep facade to conserve energy. Thanks to Dandeluca on Flickr for the Creative Commons photo.

If you have heard architects using the puzzling term ‘skin’, this is in part what they are referring to. Deep facades meet with green building to provide additional insulation to improve energy efficiency, as well as for managing passive solar and air circulation. As pilot tested in Vancouver’s South East False Creek, planners may have to modify zoning regulations to allow for these deeper building walls. As shown above, the Cooper Union Building by Morphosis Architects has an extra façade layer of mechanical screens that open and close automatically depending on the building temperature in order to manage energy usage.

4. Salvaged urban infrastructure:

The Kraanspoor office building in the Netherlands was built on an old port related craneway. Thanks to Batintherain on Flickr for the gorgeous Creative Commons photo.

No matter how ‘green’ planners and designers try to be in designing new infrastructure, re-using what already exists often remains the more efficient choice. Popular examples of infrastructure for reuse include shipping containers, industrial buildings and materials for recycling (plastic bottles, books, cans…) In Atlanta, Georgia, reuse of infrastructure is happening at the city scale with the BeltLine Green Corridor.  A disused rail line now circles the city. With the help of Perkins+Will and Field Operations (of New York’s Highline Park), Atlanta will eventually have a new 22-mile-long park.

5. Car Free Villages:

The village of Vauban, German is car free, as shown in this Creative Commons photo by Wikimedia Commons user Claire7373.

Completed in 2006 Vauban, Germany is a car free community of about 6,000 people where street parking, driveways and personal garages are prohibited.  Only 30% of the residents own cars, single-family homes are not allowed, and the buildings are limited to five stories for maximum resource efficiency.  This idea is slowly catching on elsewhere in the world as well. While we are at it, let’s turn the parking lots into gardens!

….and Bonus No. 6: Street Furniture

Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens sports bright orange hammocks and Adirondack chairs for passers-by to watch the water. Photo by author.

On the subject of outdoor living, public space can be furnished with chairs, lounges, benches, beanbag chairs, bike racks, waste bins, and games. An interesting social experiment, cities have even found that street furniture does not even need to be locked down. If it can work in Times Square it can work anywhere. The Gantrys State Park in Queens offers bright orange lounges and hammocks. Now it’s time to bring back the public drinking fountain!

Please share some of your own winning urban design examples with us in the comments below!

LinkedInRedditGoogle BuzzTumblrStumbleUponNetvibes ShareCurrentGoogle BookmarksDeliciousYahoo BuzzGoogle ReaderNewsVineShare

Related posts

3 Responses to “Top Five Urban Design Solutions”

  1. Denis said:

    Apr 07, 10 at 6:38 am

    Really interesting post!!

  2. Vanessa said:

    Apr 07, 10 at 3:58 pm

    I’m excited about green roofs becoming more widespread. They can have significant effects on reducing urban heat island effect, not to mention providing oases of wildflowers or even food crops in a crowded city.

  3. Kelly O'Brien said:

    Apr 12, 10 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for spreading the word on sustainable design solutions!