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May 8, 2012

My highlights from the Desire for Northern Living: Urban architecture for dummies

March 5-9, 2012, Alta, Norway

Sometimes it is boring to just sit and listen to the speakers and their topics that are not so much relevant for your own area of expertise, especially when it comes to architecture. Being an engineer, when I heard that another architect will take the stage, I was ready to be not able to understand the fine sketches and visions. But I was so wrong!

On Wednesday, David Sim from the Gehl Architects from Copenhagen in Denmark came to share his experience with the master planning and urban design architecture. In a clear language, he explained the basics of life between buildings and the use of public spaces. He started with the visual images of Alta, one of the Norwegian cities, where streets were designed for cars, not for people, thus, the streets end up deserted and only wind blows through. By the way, I think this was a great presentation for local urban architects. He moved on to talk about small and dense streets of Copenhagen, which creates a good microclimate between buildings. The streets of Copenhagen are curved to create nice corners with a variety of places for coffee shops. The buildings have pitched roofs which allow sunlight to penetrate and warm the ground. With these car-free and sunny streets, the city moved itself to the Mediterranean-style village style instead of being a Nordic rushing city.

The climate and culture may be different, but the way the people inhabit spaces is the same. Human beings are walking animals. People are small, slow and sensitive creatures with walking speed of 5 km/h. Our senses are multitasking, when we walk, we have a certain focus area and we look a lot on the ground. This strategy is used by merchants to get our attention with intelligent marketing of their products in approximately 3 meters surroundings. David presented several images showing the busy streets in cities with many shop window displays and he compared them with the streets which are created by simple plain walls. These plain walls are not attractive to the public and are often deserted. Also people prefer to walk in the sunshine, not in shadows. This was confirmed by studies conducted in hospitals, where the more trees you see from the hospital room, the faster you heal.