I don’t have accurate figures, but am guessing architectural blogs and magazines showcase more free standing buildings than infill projects. In other words, not much that we drool over as architects matches the European town planning model preferred by planners and urban designers. We’re building fewer new areas with perimeter blocks, than we are building urban renewal zones characterised by free-standing buildings scatted over paved planes, that never have so many people.
I recently took my green folding Brompton to look at Jakob + Macfarlane‘s Orange Cube in Lyon. Most descriptions you will find on the blogosphere will tell you this building “brings life” to former docklands. Does it really bring life? Population density brings life, actually. Expensive civic events can bring life, on occasion. Bright orange cubes don’t bring life, they bring colour, in the banal literal sense of that word.
As with any planning disaster, I’m not all that bothered. Where life is spread thin, I ride faster. Where cities are bustling at street level, I ride slow, or else get off and walk. We can build however capitalism, politics and landforms dictate, safe in the knowledge that anyone with a bike is unlikely to suffer, so long as cars are kept out. Thankfully, cars usually are kept out of renewal zones, like the ones with the shiny magazine-cover buildings, like the orange cube in Lyon.
So by all means, let’s build in the image of Copenhagen or Barcelona, when there is a chance, but let’s not be afraid of cities like Nigel Coates has envisioned. His Mixtacity proposal imagines brightly coloured new buildings, shaped like knicknacks and bric a brac, sprouting from the dross that is London. Clean out the old urban fabric, and maybe put the cars underground, and such a city could be a riot, not for the pedestrians who would be dwarfed by those monuments, but for the cyclists who will scoot in between them.