Darryl Chen, 21 12 09

DIY Urbanism makes a debut in this quarter’s Urban Design magazine – the voice of many an embattled professional urban designer and sourcebook for shared surface roads, character-based place-making and high quality inclusive public realm (among other para-governmental best practice design guidance).

The journal devotes its regular Viewpoint pages to the “cheeky? incisive?” TTT project which is otherwise featured on this site as “How to be a successful urban designer” (scroll down for that post in this column).

The more people involved in the regeneration planning process, the more it seems to require very smart people to negotiate that process for an engaging and innovative urbanism. There’s a breed of urban designers who are struggling within a bureaucratic, risk-averse and stultifyingly political design environment – and it comes to light in any issue of the UDG journal.

But that’s no excuse for pattern-book common-denominator trite that passes for urban design – and DIY Urban Design’s main targets are those organisations that have a made a buck out of banal formulaic masterplans. Follow the 10 steps and you too can be an urban designer!

So what? That’s life, right? Well, here are two slightly random offerings that spring to mind and that might offer a way beyond.

Foucault turned his latter-day attention towards the elusive idea of the heterotopia, suggesting a more compelling urbanism was taking places outside of the control of a deliberate design agenda. Ok, so he didn’t really finish his speculations, but he implies a mode of enquiry that could constitute a fresh take on UK regeneration practice. Lesson 1: Value the obscure!

Thom Mayne has been expounding a kind of auto-generative design – part enjoying the messiness of the architectural process, part celebrating crazy and unexpected spatial experiences. He accepts the mediation of his design impulse by the forces surrounding his commission and ends up with works he is proud of, even as he eschews knowledge of them! Lesson 2: Enjoy the unexpected!
Want more ideas? The Slow Thoughts column will be filling up with more projects and slowly gestating work from the minds of Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today.

And remember: Think twice before drawing a perimeter block!

More of my urban design ranting here.

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