Architecture students are usually taught that the internal demands of a project come first, and what happens outside on the street - happens as an afterthought. So what a nice surprise to hear an architect of the stature of Richard Rogers
tell a convention of university architecture professors in Philadelphia that their students should think less about individual designs and more about making cities livable
Rogers, who turned the profession inside-out with buildings like the Pompidou
Centre in Paris and Lloyds
of London, was interested in urbanism
and environmental sustainability long before they become the mainstream issues they are today. He did his first master plan for London in 1986 and today serves as an adviser on design and planning to Mayor Ken Livingstone.
He's come to believe that the fate of cities and the planet are inextricably linked, a subject he explored in "Cities for A Small Planet."
Unless the world moves quickly to rein in sprawl and reduce carbon consumption, the earth is headed for rocky environmental times, warned Rogers, who was in Philadelphia on Saturday to address the Association of Collegiate Architecture Schools. "We're at the tipping point," he said.
What's the environment got to do with educating architects? A lot. As many others have noted, construction of new buildings is a major contributor to the problem of climate change. (Rogers blamed it for the 75 percent of carbon emissions, though that sounds a bit high.) Rogers argues that architects now have a moral obligation to lobby their clients to include sustainable elements in their projects
And the only way to make truly sustainable buildings - as opposed to the kind that simply incorporates some earthy-crunchy finishes - is to build in existing urban areas at relatively high densities.
A lot of the ground Rogers covered on Saturday has been well trod by the anti-sprawl crowd: Stop developing cornfields and build in existing urban areas. Don't be afraid of density. Keep cities economically diverse by supporting affordable housing. Make urban places livable
by including public amenities in new project
. But when these ideas come from the mouth of an internationally respected designer like Rogers, the architecture community is more likely to take notice. It doesn't hurt that Rogers has that British, lets-pull-together-mates manner of speaking, and that he is known for being married to one of the top chefs in Britain
, Ruth Rogers, of the River Cafe
. So rather than coming off like a stern nanny urging you to take your medicine, he makes the project of urban regeneration sound like great fun, something to be accompanied by leisurely meals with friends.
Actually, one of the most charming and compelling parts of Rogers' talk was his vision of cities as sociable
places "first and foremost for the meeting of friends and strangers." His emphasis on environmental sustainability can't be separated from good urbanism
. Rogers believes cities have to be comfortable places to live, with plenty of parks and narrow, walkable streets, and regular supplies of good coffee. Some other interesting comments:
-Density has nothing to do with height. Barcelona, which caps its buildings at eight stories, is the densest city in Europe.
-Jane Jacobs' "eyes on the street" is better than any security camera in deterring
-While 60 percent of Los Angeles
' land area is devoted to asphalt roads, only 15 percent of New York's ground is covered by streets.
-The U.S. consumes three-times as much carbon fuel per capita
It wasn't clear whether the audience of architecture professors was buying everything Rogers had to say. But toward the end, the dean from the University of Michigan's architecture school asked Rogers if it were really possible to maintain the"look of the traditional urban street and still have great modern architecture
." Rogers replied amicably, "you don't always need a street, but you have to a mix."