The Functions of the Physical Public Realm

Conceptually, the functions afforded by the built environment have not changed over the millennia. What has changed is what its users, policy-makers and designers consider important. Designers seldom consciously include more than a limited set of the potential functions that the built environment can serve in their analyses and designs. The world is too complex for every function of built form to be considered simultaneously. The same patterns of the physical public realm, either as surroundings or as objects, will, almost certainly, serve different functions for different people. One of the major functions of the components of the built environment is as a financial investment. All designers know this but it is seldom clearly articulated as a function of buildings in architectural theory. Architectural critics seldom write about it.

Many urban development decisions are made on fiscal grounds. For banks and other lending institutions, and for their owners, buildings represent an investment on which they hope to make a profit. The public realm, in this case, is only important to the extent that it affects investment decisions. Property developers may, however, voluntarily or under public coercion use their own funds to improve those aspects of the public realm that their developments affect or that affect their developments. Public agencies may use tax income to improve the public realm created by buildings in order to increase the value of properties and increase the inflow of tax revenues. These revenues are then used to support other governmental activities. For architects, landscape architects and sculptors

Hornimon Circle Plan
Figure 1.4 Horniman Circle, Mumbai in 2003. (a) Bird's eye view and (b) cut-away ground floor plan.

Figure 1.5 Double Bay, Sydney in 2001. (a) Bird's eye view and (b) cut-away ground floor plan.

Figure 1.5 Double Bay, Sydney in 2001. (a) Bird's eye view and (b) cut-away ground floor plan.

their professional work is not only a means of income but also an advertisement of their tastes and skills that, they hope, will yield additional income in the future.

In summary, there are three basic amenities that the milieu can provide. It can afford activities, provide shelter, and act as a display that communicates meanings. The design concerns thus range from '(1) instrumental aspects which are the most manifest through, (2) how activities are carried out, (3) how they are associated into systems, to (4) their meanings, their most latent aspect' (Rapoport, 1997). These functions can best be understood within a model of human needs. There is nothing new in this statement. It was central to the thinking of the Modernists. Our models are, however, much richer than those they had.

Human Purposes and the Functions of the Public Realm

There are a number of models of human needs. None is perfect but that developed by Abraham Maslow is held in the highest esteem because it seems to explain the most (Maslow, 1987). Maslow suggested that there is a hierarchy of human needs from the most basic (survival) to the most abstract (aesthetic). These needs trigger motivations to behave in one way or another and inspire people (and communities) to own valued objects and to be in settings that display specific characteristics. These motivations may result from inner drives but they are culturally shaped and often define a culture. This observation is one reason that urban design patterns developed within one culture are not necessarily transferable to others with success.

A model relating Maslow's hierarchy of human needs to the functions of built form is presented in Figure 1.6. The model specifies that both needs and the mechanisms to fulfil them have to be perceived within a social order. In urban design, the polar extremes of social order are represented by autocratic and democratic societies. In the former, decisions are centralized in the hands of an individual or a coterie of people; in the latter it is more diverse and, ultimately subjected to the opinions of the population concerned.

The diagram shows that the mechanisms (or patterns of built form) for achieving many needs are interrelated. The most basic needs, according to Maslow, are physiological. The fundamental need is for survival, which means that the environment has to afford us shelter. It must also protect us from life-threatening events. Some of these events, such as earthquakes, are natural phenomena, but we humans have created others. The perception of the potential occurrences of such events very much shapes what we demand of the built environment.

Once basic physiological needs are at least partially met, people are motivated to seek a sense of safety and security. Physiologically, safety and security needs are highly related to the need for survival. How best to segregate pedestrian and moving vehicles is a recurrent issue in urban design. Dealing with crime and now terrorism has become a constraint on what we can do to celebrate cities. Providing for people's psychological sense of security involves them having appropriate levels of privacy and their being in control over their social environments. People

Figure 1.6 Human needs and the functions of the built environment.
Figure 1.7 Anthropozemic and anthropophilic environments.

have an expectation of privacy for every activity pattern in which they engage as individuals or groups. Many of these expectations are subtle and depend on the personalities of the people involved.

The diagram also shows that the socio-physical mechanisms used by people to attain a feeling of self-worth are closely related to the achievement of safety and security. The built environment is very much an indicator of people's social status. It acts as a symbol of who we are. One of the debates in current urban design is whether to create images that refer to specific locales or to create international images favoured by the institutions of the global economy. (Compare for instance the designs of Battery Park City, Canary Wharf, Lujiazui and Paternoster Square as described in Chapter 8). For many people the layout of the built environment being in accordance with spiritual beliefs also meets these needs. It is important to recognize that the built environment, public and private, is a symbol of who we are and/or who we aspire to be.

The highest level in Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs is that for self-actualization - to be what one can be. The design implications for this level of need are unclear. Cognitive and aesthetic needs, however, have more understandable implications. They are manifest throughout our lives. We need to be able to learn to survive as well as to make advances in life so learning is present in achieving all our basic needs. Aesthetic needs not only have to do with the symbolic meanings of the environment as they refer to status and aspirations but also, for some people, to the understanding of designers' logics. For instance, understanding the nature of deconstruction philosophy and seeing it applied in the creation of architectural and landscape forms (as in the design of the Parc de la Villette; see Chapter 5) is meaningful to some observers. For most people, however, it is what they perceive and not the logic behind its creation that is important.

It is not only we humans that have needs but also the biological world of other animate species as well as, implicitly, the inanimate. Vegetation and animals serve many purposes in defining a healthy world but machines often rule. Kyoto Izumi, a Canadian architect, drew a diagram that distinguishes between those settings where questions of meeting human motivations are paramount (anthropophilic environments) and those in which the needs of machines are most important (anthropozemic environments) (see Figure 1.7; Izumi, 1968). Machines, it must be remembered, serve human lives. This book is primarily concerned with anthropophilic environments in Izumi's terms. Tank farms could certainly be regarded as an urban design product type but their design really falls into the domains of engineering and ergonomics.

Multiplier and Side Effects: The Catalytic Function of Urban Design Decisions

Multiplier effects generally refer to the positive impacts of particular investment decisions and patterns of the built environment on their surroundings; side effects generally refer to the negative. The urban design concern is with the catalytic effect both have on future developments. Do they start trends in investment policies or not? Do they establish new aesthetic attitudes? Many of the case studies presented in this book show how specific buildings (e.g. the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) and building complexes (e.g. Pioneer Place) have been successful in this sense (see Chapter 6).

A prime function of many urban designs is to enhance the quality of the urban environment by changing investment patterns. Unfortunately some urban design paradigms have been inappropriately applied and have had unanticipated negative impacts. The 'de-malling' of many streets that had been converted to pedestrian ways is an example (e.g. Oak Park, Illinois; see Chapter 5). Of great public concern nowadays is the impact of the built environment on the natural environment but it has yet to be reflected in urban design on any large scale. Although there have been some preliminary explorations, the paradigms for designers to follow have yet to be clearly articulated.

Buildings and other hard surfaces change the patterns of winds and breezes flowing through the environment, the processes by which water tables are created, and heat is reflected and absorbed. They, in particular, create heat-islands changing local climatic patterns. We are only just beginning to be conscious of these matters in urban design and in most localities the political will to deal with them has yet to emerge. In addition, our science is still poor on many dimensions. For instance, our knowledge of how winds move through cities flushing out pollutants is in its infancy. We are much better off in dealing with issues of energy consumption.

The Cultural Dimension

'All people have the same needs' Le Corbusier observed. Assuming that the models for designing the built environment can be reduced to a number of universal paradigms has proven to be a costly error. The ordering of needs, as Maslow perceived them, may be universal but the ways we strive to meet them show considerable variability. The activity patterns, from those of everyday life to the most obscure ceremonies, depend on our stage in life cycle, our gender, and our social roles, within specific cultural contexts. What we are accustomed to do and the environments we are accustomed to inhabit very much shape what we seek in the future. We are habituated to what we know. Departures from the norm, particularly major departures, can be highly stressful. Yet history is replete with examples of attempts, sometimes successful, sometimes not, to change the face of society through radical architectural and urban changes.

It is not only the activity patterns that vary from culture to culture, but also concepts of privacy and territoriality and attitudes towards public displays of status and wealth. In some societies there is considerable social dislocation and high crime rates and in others much less. Patterns of the environment, the materials of what they are made, their colouring and the whole manner in which they are illuminated carry meaning based on learnt associations. In some societies, the coding of status through design is readily observable and in others it is highly subtle.

Possibly the most important culturally based variable for urban design is the attitude towards individualism and cooperation. Much-admired urban places such as Piazza San Marco in Venice were built piece-by-piece over the centuries with each new developer and architect being conscious of fitting in with what had already been built. They had, what architectural historian Peter Kohane calls, a 'sense of decorum'. The same attitudes were a hallmark of traditional Islamic societies where a host of unwritten laws drawn from the Koran governed the design of individual components of the environment, ensuring an integrated whole. Such attitudes do persist but they are not a significant characteristic of the societies in which the case studies included in this book exist. The reason urban design has emerged as a field of professional endeavour has been in order to seek cooperative procedures that will enhance the quality of specific areas of cities.

Cultures evolve; they are not static. In an era of globalization, not only of the economy but also of information, various patterns of the public realm are perceived by officials as symbolically desirable because of what the international media promote as desirable. The desire for universal images in the public realm of cities often means that the requirements of many local activity patterns are overridden in the search for international symbolic patterns that enhance people's self-image. Many professionals receive their education, particularly at the advanced level, in societies other than their own and they bring home the patterns appropriate to their host societies as part of their intellectual equipment. They take time to readapt to facing their own societies' needs. Some never do!

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