Case Studies Successes and Failures

Case studies represent the accumulated history of many fields of human endeavour. The design fields use them extensively although what is meant by 'case study' varies. When designing we rely heavily on the knowledge developed through individual cases being cumulatively converted into prescriptive theories or paradigms. The design fields are not alone in acting this way. Law and medicine rely heavily on case histories in both practice and education.

If Orwell had been writing today not only could he have included urban design in his set of dubious terms, but also case studies. What we designers call 'case studies' tends to be descriptive statements of the geometric qualities of specific designs. The way the schemes were brought into existence (if they have been), the dynamics of the political forces that shaped them, their cost, and modes of financing, even the way they function, all fall outside the realm of concern of such studies. If done thoroughly, however, case studies can provide empirical evidence of the processes and methods used to achieve specific design ends.

Case studies take a variety of narrative forms. The form chosen here is descriptive and analytical. The purpose is to demonstrate the nature of urban design and urban designing to both professionals and lay people, particularly politicians. The form should also be useful in the education of budding designers. The objective is thus to provide professionals with an information base that they can use in the creation of the appropriate design and implementation process for tackling a given urban design problem, and students and other interested people an understanding of the scope of urban design.

Good case studies present comprehensive histories of projects from their inception to their conclusion. They distinguish between the pertinent and the peripheral, identify the problems being addressed in context, the constraints acting on the development of solutions, the solution and how it evolved, and the strategies and implementation devices used to reach it. They can also identify the successes and failures of design projects in place.

What is perceived to be a success or a failure depends on a perspective. Many of the schemes included in this volume are highly regarded because of their financial successes. Financial benefits and costs can be measured although the arguments as to who has benefited and who has not persist. Yet a number of these apparently financially successful projects have been challenged in terms of the quality of life they provide specific segments of the population that inhabit or use them. The multi-dimensionality of the functions of the built environment means that every project that is studied here is successful in somebody's eyes and a failure in somebody else's.

Most case studies in urban design consider a designed product from the actor's (the creator's) point of view. Case studies courses offered in universities consist of designers explaining what they did and, ideally, why. In doing so they tend to miss describing the dynamics of the design/decision-making process. They focus on the form, the architecture. The emphasis in developing case studies needs to be placed on drawing from the observations, secondary though they may be, of those outside the process looking critically in on them. The designers' voices need to be heard but placed into context. There have been a number of case studies of urban design work that do this.

Martin Millspaugh (1964) wrote a critical study on Charles Center, Baltimore, Leonard Ruchleman (1977) studied the dynamic political and design processes that brought about the building of the late World Trade Center in New York, Alan Balfour (1978) described the various machinations involved in building the Rockefeller Center, and David Gordon (1997) has written on the history of the ups and downs in the development of Battery Park City. There are also extensive statements on La Défense and on Canary Wharf, already volumes on the barely initiated World Trade Center site development. Scattered references to many aspects of the urban development and design processes appear in the architectural and planning literature. This book draws, unashamedly, on existing commentaries. An attempt has, however, been made to triangulate information by studying diverse, often contradictory, data sources, conducting interviews and by carrying out field observations.

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment