MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Filtering by Tag: urbanism

How can criteria for ranking the world's 10 most livable cities inform other places?

Monocle magazine periodically publishes city rankings. Reflecting on the way to developing a list of the world's 10 most livable cities, Tyler Brule came up with an unexpected list of criteria (presented here). The introduction to his column in the Financial Times offers the context –

Sometime between writing last week’s column and settling down to tap out today’s I had a slight change of heart about the essential ingredients regarding quality of life. While cities get high marks if they have low crime rates, good public schools, smooth-running buses, trams and subways, and if they offer a healthy climate for starting up a small business, my daily holiday regime on the coast of Tuscany had me questioning whether there should be simpler measures to judge whether a city is delightfully liveable.

On Brule's "simple measures" list are things such as sufficient water pressure to get a good blast in the shower, great orange juice, public seating, and good windows.

It is very rare, it seems, that we reflect on the simple things that can improve our own environments and those we design for others. Most frequently, the dominant criteria are abstract metrics imposed by the providers of space rather than the experiential metrics of those who live and work in the spaces we design.

Consider Brule's point of view, your daily regime when in your favorite vacation spot – How can these experiences overcome your typical demands of the workplace and influence a different approach to its design?

The Power of Empty Space (part 2)

Twenty years ago, we had a project to plan and design a new national standards lab for Abu Dhabi. This was after that first great wave of American architects' participation in building in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia began to invest in new urban infrastructure and development. Abu Dhabi was looking to a future with a great need for transforming ignored resources like the great salt ocean into powerful resources to generate a sustainable agriculture and support and grow their population. A new national standards lab would be a key institution to support this regional transformation.

More interesting, however, was the intention expressed to us by the leaders of the country to grow and sustain a national professional and scientific knowledge base. The suddenly emerging wealth of the country meant that its youth were enjoying the opportunity of getting educations in some of the best universities in the world.

However, with that education, the young people of the country then sought to contribute and benefit from the opportunities that the world provided, very few of which were available to them in Abu Dhabi. The development of a scientific infrastructure was a commitment to develop the institutions that would attract the country's educated children back home and provide them with opportunities for growth and recognized contributions there.

Our project involved the planning of a building with state-of-the-art laboratories that would be largely empty and unstaffed, in a sense. That is, we had developed a co-laboratory concept that would allow those Emirate graduates to continue their lives and research in the great knowledge centers of the world but develop and perform scientific exploration remotely in the new labs back in their home countries. Over time, the strategy assumed, the education of the staff at home, the growth of embedded technologies and legacy science in the new labs, and the application of discovery to national and regional development would gradually draw their newly and highly educated younger generations back home.

That strategy – building supply well before demand – looked initially so inappropriate from our resource-rich perspective. I thought of this while reading this PSFK interview with the authors of Al Manakh 2 Gulf Continued, the new volume of studies on the urbanization of the Middle East. Architects and planners from around the world initially rushed to participate in what is now perceived as the overbuilding of Dubai. Then as the global economic debacle took hold, we began to look with fascination at the empty buildings of Dubai, much as we do the "ruin porn" of Detroit.

Certainly, there was much hubris in the rapid development of the Emirates, but was there vision as well? I was interested in the "time to activate" concept in this portion of the interview.

If the question is addressing Dubai — the unlit windows one sees in new buildings in the Jumeriah Beach Residence, for instance — yes, it all seems rushed. The financial crisis has suddenly given developers an opportunity to claim the criticism of Dubai’s harshest critics: that cities don’t happen over time. So it follows, these places just need time to become activated. To damn Dubai now for building too much too quickly, would be too short-sighted. It’s a question we’ll have to answer in years to come.


There are voices within Dubai, primarily Emiratis, who are saying Dubai needs to amp up its image as a place of entrepreneurship. Make it a place where you can easily set up shop as a business owner. I find this fascinating because it has a ring of Dubai’s yesteryears, when traders and businesses set up shop along the Creek. That’s what created Dubai in the first place. Of course supporting entrepreneurship can’t be the only goal, but it suggests a general direction. More broadly, it suggests a focus on people.

(More on Al Manakh, here, and here)

The Power of Empty Space, part 1, on a different consideration of urban architecture, is here.

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3. From MPG to ?

The primary measure of the efficiency of the car, and a significant factor in its design and engineering, is miles per gallon. In the physical world, however, there are many other costs associated with the design of the automobile – widths of streets, breadths of intersections, sizes of parking lots and parking spaces, miles of highways, acres of interchanges, rights of way, sizes of storm sewers, etc. If we consider the costs of maintaining and operating all of this, including its environmental costs, how would the cost/mile of driving a car – more complete Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)metrics – be perceived?

We now legislate fuel efficiency, and the growing awareness of that measure in pocketbook and environmental costs causes a response in buying patterns from consumers and a response from car manufacturers in the engineering and design of their product. Similarly, food labeling, including not just ingredients but also nutritional information and, in some places, distance from origin information, is affecting consumer decisions and moving back up the supply chain to influence even how farms are managed.

How much else might change in the design of the car if all of these other infrastructural and environmental costs were a matter of commonly understood and shared information? For example, what would the infrastructure look like and what would it cost if cars had collision-avoidance/self-guidance systems, for example? Which is more expensive in TCO – technology or land?

What if the labeling on a car had all of its other cost “ingredients” listed? What if I understood that, on this car, the turning radius, parking requirements, and other physical impacts had a 20% higher infrastructural cost than another model?

Thoroughly modern

From the Detroit Free Press In an excellent post on his blog, Landscape + Urbanism, Jason King recalls his work with an AIA SDAT recently addressing this recurring theme in these posts on the "Detroit dilemma."

The initial report of the team, continuing themes from the 1994 Mayor's Land Use Task Force, is worth a review. It's available on the AIA web site.

"We hope for better will arise from the ashes"