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Unsustainable urbanism: The Urban Design Handbook.


By Urban Design Associates. London: W. W. Norton & Company. 2003. [pounds sterling]29.95

The US urban design practice, Urban Design Associates, was founded in 1964, when a group of young architects was funded by a branch of the Ford Foundation to study the problem of segregated schools in Pittsburgh. Now, almost forty years later, UDA is a major consultancy practice undertaking projects all over the US. This book is based on their in-house design handbook and illustrates the ways in which they approach projects from the regional to the architectural scale.

A flavour of the firm's ethos can be gained from the book's introduction. 'Design is the creative focus of our process--a participatory process in which we bring together citizens, economists, engineers, architects, developers, policy makers, government officials, and builders to construct humane and appropriate visions for the future.' The application of this process is illustrated by a number of case studies. This is all fine, but further on we discover that a highly specific and deeply conservative agenda lies behind this front of sweet reason.

The key instrument of this is 'Traditional Architecture'. They assert that, 'In the course of our 35-year history, UDA has progressed forward from "modernist" to "traditional" architecture.' The design process is based on 'Pattern Books'. These draw upon the following 'styles', Colonial Revival, Classical, Victorian, Coastal, Italianate, Arts & Crafts and Mediterranean. The resulting projects are, almost invariably, low-density neighbourhoods with tree-lined streets of revivalist style houses. Participation produces 'anything you like as long as it's traditional'.

This may go down well with Middle America, it does nothing to question the values of profligate consumption, and there is no reference to any kind of sustainability. It is business as usual. Everyone apparently travels by car. The large detached houses of the pattern books, with their multiple bathrooms and living rooms called 'Great Rooms', don't seem to make any concessions to energy consciousness. There is no attempt to characterize the society that inhabits these places. It is sad that amid all this professional expertise there is no evidence of critical engagement with any dimension of the condition of contemporary America. The book has no bibliography; it is a totally hermetic, self-satisfied vision that, in my view, offers little hope.
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Hawkes, Dean
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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