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Planners slam rogue designers as forum puts focus on functionality.

As cities evolve and "starchitects" become more popularized for scraping their signatures across the skylines of the world, leaders from six global cities last week gathered to examine the scope of urban planning using a wider lense at the Forum for Urban Designs 2007 cities conference at the Museum of Modern Art.

Peter Rees, city planning officer from London spoke of the danger of taking architects who create buildings simply to promote "anarchy" too seriously.

"Out there now, there are a lot of architects who produce really bad designs just to be provocative. What they don't seem to understand, what we don't seem to understand in promoting them, is that it doesn't make any sense to do something crazy--like, for instance, to build an art gallery with no vertical walls or a fire station where you can't get the fire truck through the door. If a design is not functional, it doesn't matter how provocative it is, it's still bad design," Rees said.

New York's director of city planning, Amanda Burden agreed. "We have to decide here, what aspects of design make a great city. Should we only be focusing upon great architecture as we have been doing so much of lately, or should we be focusing on the more all encompassing aspects of city planning and how to improve the quality of life for the city's residents. I think improving quality of life is probably the primary goal that each of us is trying to achieve," Burden said.

Cheong Koon Hean, chief executive officer of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the national planning and conservation authority of Singapore, spoke of how the city's original geography helps to determine whether a city will be inundated with iconic buildings or not.

"When you are talking about iconic architecture you have to take into account whether you go the route of Dubai, where there is no setting really in the middle of the desert, and build lots of iconic architecture, or Vancouver where the city is really built into the setting and there is not such a drive for iconic architecture. We always have to look at the quality of architecture in the context of how it blends into the fabric of the city," Heart said.

Panelists revisited the idea of placemaking, a term coined in the late 1970's to describe the creation of waterfronts, streets and public squares; in examining ways city planners could draw more scenery out of city landscapes and make their residents more comfortable.

"We like to think that landscape architecture is the glue that can hold the city together," said Kairos Shen, the director of planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the economic development and planning agency for Boston, Massachusetts.

"We have done that in attempting to knit back the Emerald necklace," Shen added referring to the Olmstead designed series of parks restored over several generations in Boston.

Hean said Singapore may have followed New York's example with Olmstead's Central park, as a model in reclaiming a substantial partial of land to help cleanly blend the lines between the old city, and the new city that began developing about twenty years ago as more people began teeming into the country.

Leaders also advocated the use of infrastructure projects to gain leverage on large scale city projects. They drew examples of this from Boston's Big Dig, the $2.8 billion projects to relocate much of Boston's labyrinthine highway system underground, and the World Olympics which in the past has helped regenerate areas of London's East End and Vancouver.

In response to an audience members question about why Mayor Bloomberg quietly withdrew New York vying to be the host cities of the Winter Olympics 2008 Burden said Bloomberg did so because he had looked at New York from a wider scope.

In doing so he saw that compared to the other Olympic host candidates New York was a city that was already built up past it's edges, implying that before we thought of bringing an influx of people into the city, leaders had to find a way to create a little more space.
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Comment:Planners slam rogue designers as forum puts focus on functionality.
Author:Wolffe, Danielle
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 30, 2007
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