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Making a visual survey

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much of the character and appearance of the landscape and build-


ings. The following aspects of climate can be readily found in United
States Weather Bureau publications.
Temperature: Seasonal temperature and humidity as averages and
extremes which indicate the periods of relative comfort, the extremes
which must be ameliorated, and which therefore determine architec-
tural and urban form.
Light: The number of clear, partly cloudy, and fully cloudy days,
which conditions the light affecting the appearance of the city and of
buildings.
Precipitation: The amount of precipitation in the form of rain and
snow.
Sun: The angles of the sun in different seasons, which affects
viewing conditions and, thus, design. It is useful to make a simple
three-dimensional model to study these angles.
Winds: The prevailing seasonal winds including the direction
and intensity of cold winter winds, gentle or severe fall and
spring gusts, and cooling summer breezes. These affect design
considerably.
In addition to these quantitative factors there are a number of
qualitative aspects of climate which are as important in urban design.
Some cities are well oriented toward the rising sun or the setting sun.
Some cities have forms that derive almost directly from their cli-
mates—arcaded cities in the sun, for example, Considerable research
or experimentation might be done to determine how cold winter
winds could be slackened and cooling summer breezes induced. The
quality of light—sharp and clear or cloudy and dull—should be a
determinant in the design of building facades including their degree
of intricacy and their coloring. These are always a matter of artistic
consideration but a careful appraisal of actual conditions can help a
decision.

Shape

Every city has a general overall shape. There are several classifi-
cations of shape.
Radiocentric: The most frequently found urban form is the
radiocentric, a large circle with radial corridors of intense develop-
ment emanating from the center.
Rectilinear: A variation on radiocentric form is the rectangle,
which usually has two corridors of intense development crossing at
the center. This variant of the radiocentric form is found in small
cities rather than large. It is the radiocentric form with right angles.
Star: A star shape is a radiocentric form with open spaces be-
tween the outreaching corridors of development.
Ring: A ring shape is a city built around a large open space. The
San Francisco Bay is such an open space for the cities of the bay
area. A ring and star may be found in combination, particularly
where a loop road is built around the outskirts of an expanding me-
tropolis.
Linear: The linear shape is usually the result of natural topogra-
phy which restricts growth or the result of a transportation spine.
Stalingrad in the Soviet Union was planned as a linear city. The mega-
lopolis on the East Coast has become a vast metropolitan area with a
linear configuration.
Branch: The branch form is a linear spine with connecting arms.
Sheet: A vast urban area with little or no articulation.

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Articulated Sheet: The articulated sheet form is accented by one


or more central clusters and several subclusters.
Constellation: The constellation is a series of nearly equal-size
cities in close proximity.
Satellite: The satellite is a constellation of cities around a main
center.
These classifications of form have definite implications for a city’s
function. They have advantages and disadvantages related to circula-
tion, proximity to open space, and articulation of neighborhoods or
districts. Further, these classifications may be applied to the city as a
whole or to parts of the city, isolated for study, like open spaces or
circulation. The open spaces of a city may be linear or branched; or
they may form a radiocentric pattern. The circulation networks may
likewise be described as one or another shape.

Size and Density

Closely related to a city’s shape is its size, a quantitative aspect


which can be approached several ways. We first of all think of the
physical extent of a city: so many miles across or so many miles from
center to outskirts. We can also describe size in terms of the number
of inhabitants. The relation between size and density is impor-
tant, for it indicates the distribution of people and the city’s urban
massing.
Density can be computed mathematically in several ways: the
number of people per square mile; the number of houses per acre or
square mile; or the amount of building floor area in a given section. It
can also be expressed in terms of automobile population. In 1962
Los Angeles, the country’s most auto-oriented city, had 2,220 cars
per square mile and Washington, D.C., had 4,100 cars per square
mile. This comes as a surprise to most people. One would think that
those figures are reversed—which suggests a note of caution in judg-
ing aspects of quality from statistics of quantity.
The gross size of a city in terms of its population is also revealing.
Classifications according to size alone are quite useful. A basic popu-
lation of about 200,000 to 300,000 is necessary to support basic pub-
lic cultural facilities. Amsterdam, Holland, with a population of about
a million people, is of the maximum size that can be traversed on
foot by a hearty walker, from center to outskirts.
Unless a city is evenly built-up, studies of density are best made
on separate sectors of a city. Density figures indicate the relationship
between built-up and open land; therefore they can describe almost
graphically the image of a suburban residential area or an in-town
row-house area. Densities have definite implications for various
forms of transportation. In making a visual survey, it is helpful to
determine the density of various areas and to relate the density fig-
ures to physical patterns of land and buildings and, hence, the visible
form of the area.

Pattern, Grain, and Texture

Urban areas have distinct patterns. Usually these are seen in their
block and street layouts. Most American cities have rectilinear block
and street patterns. On rolling terrain, in outlying areas, curvilinear
streets and blocks form another type of pattern. A cul-de-sac system
forms a third pattern. Mixtures of open space and built-up space con-
stitute still another pattern. A basic design pattern can be very helpful

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in planning a residential area or a campus area. An urban pattern is


the geometry, regular or irregular, formed by routes, open spaces,
and buildings.
Grain is the degree of fineness or coarseness in an urban area.
Texture is the degree of mixture of fine and coarse elements. A sub-
urban area with small houses on small plots has a fine grain and a
uniform texture. With small houses on varying size lots, it could
still have a fine grain but an uneven texture. In the city, large
blocks with buildings of varying sizes could be described as hav-
ing a coarse and an uneven texture. If the buildings are uniform in
size, they could be described as having a coarse grain but a uniform
texture.
Such distinctions are easily indicated on a sketch map. They are
useful in evaluating an area’s form and in making decisions about a
design treatment for it. For example, a coarse-grained unevenly
textured area may be impersonal and repellent and could be treated
with some fine scale and unifying design elements, An extensive
and uniformly-grained area might well be treated with relieving
accents.

Urban Spaces and Open Spaces

Urban shape, pattern, grain, size, density, and texture are prima-
rily aspects of solid form—the building masses of the city, In archi-
tecture it is rather helpful to conceive of a building not only as a solid
but as spaces modeled by solids. It is also helpful to consider a city
this way. The spaces of the city range from the space of the street to
the space of a park system and, ultimately, to the vast space in which
an entire city exists. It is helpful to think of these spaces as two ge-
neric types: formal or “urban spaces,” usually molded by building
facades and the city’s floor; and natural or “open spaces,” which rep-
resent nature brought into, and around, the city.
Basically an urban space must be distinguished by a predominant
characteristic, such as the quality of its enclosure, the quality of its
detailed treatment or outfittings, and the activity that occurs in it. An
urban space should, ideally, be enclosed by surrounding walls, have
a floor which suits its purpose, and have a distinct purpose to serve.
If, however, any one of these qualities is sufficiently strong, it alone
may establish the sense of urban space.
A group of office buildings may contain a space around a poorly
designed plaza or a complex road intersection, the floor space be-
ing devoted entirely to traffic. This is an urban space which has a
sense of place in the city. It is both a landmark and a traffic node, as
well as an office node. An urban square may be beautifully land-
scaped as a restful urban park, but it may lack entirely the periph-
eral building facades which are needed for a sense of enclosure.
Here we have a poorly enclosed space, but a space nevertheless. In
another instance, a particular place in the city may function as the
locale of an important activity while possessing neither physical
enclosure nor appropriate floor. Times Square in New York is such
an example.
In all these examples we have a sense of space. Such spaces are
islands or oases in the city. But urban spaces can also be linear corri-
dors. Avenues and streets are linear urban spaces if they are enclosed
on two sides or have some element of unifying character—trees or
uniform buildings. Corridor spaces are spaces for linear movement.
Island or oasis spaces are stopping places. Of course the two can be

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