There are many spaces in our built environment that are consciously designed and fall within the bureaucratic scope of local government. The architect designs the buildings and the immediate surroundings of the building. The landscape architect designs the “natural” areas and other parks. And the urban planner lays out a larger plan that is assumed will provide a better cohesion between the destinations and the circulation within the built environment.
But there are those spaces, almost accidental in a sense, that are realized after its surroundings are developed. Sometimes they are defined by their boundaries, other times they are identified by an object or an event. These spaces typically reside in the peripheral of the design focus of the architect, landscape architect, and even the urban planner. These are the spaces that are chronicled by Small Scale: Creative Solutions for Better City Living.
The authors – Keith Moskow and Robert Linn – categorize the projects into three categories: service, insight, and delight. The projects dedicated to service play a more functional role within their respective programs, whether it’s a pedestrian path and demonstration space symbiotically attached to the underside of an existing vehicular bridge (Marsupial Bridge, Milwaukee, WI), a four-story high tower that dispenses rental cars (Zipcar Dispenser, Boston, MA), or a security measure against potential vehicular terrorist attacks that actually eliminates the need for unsightly and cumbersome barriers (Tigertrap, Prototype Design). The most famous project listed within the service category is The High Line in New York City, which transformed a dilapidated railroad bridge into a nature-inspired linear park.
The other two categories – insight and delight – seem to dwell within the same realm of form without a purely utilitarian function. The insight projects combine art with a sense of social commentary or awareness (such as Sidewalk Series or the TKTS Booth), whereas the delight projects are formed more on a pleasing aesthetic with a subordinate purpose (Canopy and The New York City Waterfalls).What these projects remind me is that art does not have to be something displayed indoors with a paid admission. Art can occupy our everyday world, and can easily become part of our daily routine.
The hardest part of designing anything for the built environment is having too many variables. Design suffers greatly when every alternative is an option. It’s when designers face strict parameters concerning budget, scope, construction limitations, and the surrounding built environment that design can elevate itself above the mundane and find that harmonic balance between form and function.
Dense urban environments lend themselves well in providing a test ground for reimagining, repurposing, and reinventing small-scale design. The authors have provided an intelligent collection of projects that will provide inspiration for anyone solving a large problem for a small space.
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