Project vs reality

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Every human individual is a seperate individual: has various characteristics which basis is hard to define: genes, environment, culture, religion. But even our hairy ancestor realized that it is worth to sacrifice this independence in favor of safety and would’t get eaten by wolves. This reevaluation led us to living in herds, which we still practice, but it pinches us more and more. It is time to remember that in wild forest there is no help for rebels.

Post-war housing had a simple motto: as many people as possible on smallest possible area. Tight hovels in block of flats was a standard and noone even complained, many people didn’t have any place to live in. Their temporary nature turned out to be an utopian vision unless we can count it in decades. Poeple were slowly forgotting about blood and fear, they started do feel uncomfortable, wanted to live normally in good conditions, happiness and welfare (obviously). In the Netherlands this objection materialized in new projects of low intesity neighbourhoods which supposed to be a contrast to ones made quickly and anyhow in post-war panic and give people everything they might need. They started planning by analysing previoulsy appeared inconveniences. Most nagging problems were lack of common spaces and greenery, minimal square metrage, monumental building scale without relationship with surroundings and unification. Reversing mentioned disadvantages into their opposites we can gen recipe for „human” neighbourhood, which good example is Dutch Bloemkoolwijk.

Ideas were laudable and mostly achieved: small row houses in different sizes and shapes connected by common areas filled with greenery, no fences and minimized car traffic. At the beginning everything almost worked, people were spending time together, childern were playing, at last it was someting which was missing. But as it often happens in such fairytales, things that we already have aren’t attractive anymore. Technological and sociological changes almost ruined beautiful design goals, made people appreciate privacy, silence and calm instead of integration.

Architects haven’t predicted many problems. First of them was gigantic growth in car popularity and, by extension, necessity to design proper number of parking spaces which are crucial for residents. If such thing wasn’t planned people manage themselves by occupying squares and lawns which interfere project reception and demage its assumptions.

Another unexpected phenomenon is a change from collective to private domain. Several years ago people more often spent time with their neighbours, but its reason was rather banal: they simply had nothing better to do. Now we have TV, Internet, a car to go to the cinema, shopping mall, to our closer friends etc. Our life doesn’t depend on a place where we live anymore. However it doesn’t mean that we stopped carry about properties: private initiative is still visible but now behind the fences. All proposals are cumulated on interior of houses and on the gardens. What is going on around mostly doesn’t matter.

Mentioned fences are another problem arised when the project met reality. The Cauliflower neighbourhood was designed with no barriers, space in between supposed to be common, semi public, but it was very unrealistic. People need sharp boarders, privacy, possibility to avoid each other. If architects didn’t understand it and predict such needs, people would have to organise it themselves and in that situation coherent, balanced and unified design is impossible to achieve.

History for the umpteenth time circled back: we start appreciate things we were previously fighting against. Multimedia toys are not so attractive anymore, we miss real contact with people, common spaces are coming back to designing practices. The question is if architecture had a power to change people’s lives, educate them and as a result improve sociological situation or is too weak up against private initiatives, extensions and parking on lawns?

The Cauliflower neighbourhood case shows variety of problems which appears after the collision of design and reality. Urban planner has always very difficult job to do and should be sometimes more a researcher than a designer. Proper plan has to be based on a sociological knowledge, historical context and understanding people’s needs. It is impossible to impose even laudable principles and believe that society will kindly accept it and behave in a way we want them to behave. Inhabitants won’t be thinking about whole complex but only about themselves and their own wants and finally get it. Everything which isn’t planned and predicted will be organised on their own initiative – our perfect design will be ruined by different fences, coverings etc which usually don’t fit. Even if proffessionals and media have negative opinion about such interventions, we need to understand that in many situations this is architect’s fault.

I think that architecture and urban planning can be a tool to improve people’s behaviour, change their wrong routines or show them better way to live and integrate, but it need to be done in a clever way. First we need to provide their all basic needs and then encourage them to do want we want by using details, good appearance, well functioning elements etc. People need to feel that they have a choice and that they make all decisions themselves.

Project vs reality

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