territorial corrections

Post-Ville Radieuse and post-Radburn environments do not provide the territorial clarity and comfort which is afforded by traditional urban forms. This lack of clarity generates uncertainty about rights of passage and possession. The uncertainty is psychological and social - and hard to measure. But it is very real. The proof that it is real is that tangible attempts at territorial clarification have begun to occur. And they have occurred exclusively in non-traditional post-Ville Radieuse and post-Radburn environments.

The most drastic reaction occurred in St. Louis. Pruitt Igoe was a large tower-in-the-park low income housing project. It was hailed as brilliant design when it was built. And twenty years later was dynamited because of disastrous social conditions and a complete lack of casual social control of the public environment.

Most territorial clarifications are less drastic. Post-Ville Radieuse and post-Radburn projects are enclaves isolated from the surrounding urban fabric. Normal mechanisms for social and spatial control are missing. It is unclear who is an insider and welcome and who is an outsider and un-welcome. Free passage through the grounds makes the residents uncomfortable. Because normal environmental controls and signals are lacking, the result is often a rise in petty or major crime (sometimes real and feared - sometimes imagined and feared). The reaction of the residents is to seal off the outside world: To reinforce the isolation of the enclave. This turf reinforcement usually involves extreme prohibition of entry (chain link fences, guard dogs) and artificially reinforced surveillance (private police in middle class projects, television monitors in others).

Turf reinforcement and project destruction are two almost opposite approaches to territorial clarification. The first attempts to salvage a sense of control of the environment and the second admits that a sense of control is out of reach. However, they are similar in that neither integrates the problem area into the surrounding urban fabric. They do not point specifically to the city block as a better solution. But both are clear statements that the environment does not work on its own.

In contrast there have been attempts at territorial clarification which make more direct use of traditional urban patterns. The problem-solvers, whether local residents or outside consultants, have not referred to traditional urbun structure and the city block per se. Rather, they have attacked specific issues of territorial signalling, maintenance, infringement, potection, or surveillance.

The solutions to specific problems have imitated, almost unconsciously, the traditional way of building cities.

Parks in post-Radburn projects generally abut patios and backyards. There are often problems with the parks, and in a number of these projects the residents have tried to clarify who belongs where. A frequent solution is to block entry to the park from outside the project. This simple solution keeps most of the public where it belongs - outside the front door. Blocking entry to the park does not re-create the city block. But it does approximate the traditional relationship between the general public and one’s front door.

In Winnipeg a continuous playing field contiguous with suburban backyards has produced a strong reaction. Residents of the upper-middle income development (Windsor Park) are uncomfortable about the park’s position, and so aware that it exists outside their normal territorial realm that they have shut out the park by building walls which leave no access from their backyards to the park. These walls seem a convincing statement that the park provides neither a beautiful view nor usable open space, but a threatening non-space to those who live alongside.

A number of condominium townhouse developments in North America have faced similar problems. An alteration to the pattern is occurring which effectively re-creates the city block: The continuous green space which abuts private open space is being sub divided so that each unit has a backyard meeting the backyard of the neighbour opposite. (As mentioned in the discussion of Utzon’s project.) Different reasons are given for these re-sub-divisions. Typically the cost of maintaining the park seems exhorbitant. No one wants to claim a portion of the park as his own responsibility when it “belongs to the condominium” (territorial confusion). Use of the park is sporadic and sometimes threatening. And often the residents quite simply prefer to have a normal backyard.

Sunnyside Gardens, a row-house project by Stein and Wright, was built on a repeating grid pattern. A typical block consists of row-houses with front doors and facades facing the street, small private gardens in back of each unit, with a large communal park in the centre of the block.

During the 1950s and 60s, the residents have sub-divided the central parks into extended backyards for the surrounding units - dispensing altogether with the idea of the communal park in the centre, and creating normal city blocks.

In the 1970s, the project was labelled an historic land-mark and local historicists tore down fences in the centres of the blocks - re-establishing the original pattern. The inhabitants had greater historical perception than the preservationists - a reminder that historicism is not the same as an understanding of the past.

re-integration

Territorial repairs to tower-in-the-park projects are usually turf reinforcements of fences, guards, and television monitors. However, in Toronto there has been a more architectural re-structuring which is intriguing because it is direct and because it has retrieved the city block. The tower sat in the middle of a city block in central Toronto. Grounds surrounding the tower were landscaped and maintained by the building owners. These grounds were accessible to the passer-by. Rights of entry were unclear and the park attracted occasional outsiders. Problems arose. The solution was to build around the base of the tower a new commercial building which fronted on to the surrounding streets.

This solution provides new income, greater variety of activity, and the territorial clarity and familiarity of the city block. It limits and defines the public network; it clarifies the rights of access to different parts of the block; and it creates a significant, regularly penetrated surveying protective-presentational boundary to the street.

Apartment and office towers have some oft-cited drawbacks. But they also have certain advantages - and more are being built every year. This development in Toronto provides an appealing model for the incorporation of the isolated tower into the traditional urban fabric. There are tower- in-the-park enclaves where a similar but unsuccessful pattern has evolved: The base of the towers consists of multi-storey parking lots. These parking lots present an impenetrable barrier to the public network; the public network is spatially defined but it is surrounded by blank walls. What is appealing about the Toronto development is that it defines the public network and creates a continually penetrated and surveying protective-presentational boundary - thus completing the significance of the public network.

The same strategy could be applied to extensive tower-in-the-park projects:

This idea of actually increasing density to clarify the territorial framework can also apply to housing developments which present backyards, patios, and patio doors to surrounding streets. New housing, stores, and offices could be built around the periphery of such developments: with front doors facing the surrounding streets and backyards, if they exist, facing backyards opposite. Such a policy might require both ingenious design and bureaucratic arm-twisting, but the benefits seem worth the effort. Surrounding streets cease to be simply by-pass routes; the enclave disappears and becomes an extension of the surrounding urban fabric; and all buildings gain a traditional relationship with surrounding public domain.

NOTE: This concept of transforming tower-in-the-park projects is not original to the author; among others, Jane Jacobs alluded to such a possibility in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and Rodrigo Perez de Arce has more recently experimented with possible transformations of tower enclaves in the 1970s.

A proposed transformation by Mr. de Arce

In order to illustrate one approach to such a transformation, I have taken another look at the épernay development in Houston.

Épernay is a typical post-Radburn project, with patios facing surrounding streets, and public routes passing sometimes by front doors and sometimes by exposed patios.

The strategy for re-integration involves:

  1. Changing automobile and pedestrian routes in order to insure that streets pass by front doors.




  2. Adding new row-houses in order to establish the continuity of the protective-presentational boundary.



  3. Changing entry points of units at the ends of row-house clusters in order to establish the continuity of the protective-presentational boundary.




  4. Sub-dividing a major portion of the existing public network so that most units have full backyards which meet their neighbours’ backyards opposite.





  5. Adding to units which are inevitably surrounded by public network. (particularly at the periphery of the site), so that both sides of the building meet the public domain with protective-presentational boundary. The most direct way to do this would be to develop units similar to 19th century English “back-to-back” housing.



An alternative approach would be to alterante entries and related architectural treatment and to protect exposed private yards.

From:

To:

This plan shows development of 15 additional units and front-entry renovations to 45 units. With care, a reinforced, territorially clear development could be achieved with as little as no new units, and 15 - 20 “front-back” adjustments.

The pattern of city blocks and public network which results is remarkably similar to the vernacular, traditional city:

clason point gardens

Oscar Newman is an American architect who specializes in analysis and solution of urban territorial problems. The problem areas he has studied are consistently non-traditional post-Ville Radieuse or post-Radburn developments.

Clason Point Gardens (original plan above) is a public housing project in the Bronx in New York. Originally it consisted of groups of row-houses. Public paths connected nearly every square inch of space between the buildings. Though the row-houses had a nominal front and back, the public network was ubiquitous, and normal territorial perceptions were severely muted. Newman was commissioned to solve the predictable problems of unwanted loitering, petty crime, and lack of security.

Newman seems to have concerned himself with specific points of conflict and confusion in the environment, and he proposed a number of specific territory-clarifying actions. In attacking a number of individual, explicitly territorial, issues he came very close to re creating a pattern of city blocks with their traditional relationship between public network, protective-presentational boundary, private domain, and private open space:

The protective-presentational boundary between units and the main paths were monotonous, limited to windows, doors, and small stoops. Newman 1) applied false stucco brickwork in different colours to the facades of the units; 2) allotted much deeper front yards to each unit; and 3) built small fences around the front yards. In actions he reinforced the public presentational boundary - and made special effort to celebrate the presentational offset of that boundary.

The public network was ubiquitous and undifferentiated. Newman 1) by deepening the front yards, narrowed the paths except at specific “play nodes” where expansions in the public network gain special significance; and 2) closed off the public network except where it passes the facades of the units. In these actions he made the private public barrier the active creator and definor of the public domain

revised Clason Point Gardens
(shaded areas are newly fenced-off and subdivided back yards)

Front and back were equally accessible and undifferentiated. Newman 1) exaggerated the significance and signalling of the protective-presentational boundary; and 2) isolated backyards from the public network - and from each other -with high tubular steel fences.

In these actions he clearly defined public and private territory, and made a system of city blocks and complementary public domain

Newman attacked specific issues admirably, yet does not seem to have completely absorbed the traditional city block model. We can see this especially in regard to the automobile. Pedestrian portions of the public network have been brought completely into line with conventional patterns. Yet automobile routes pass by backyards in a number of places - making the public network discontinuous for considerable lengths, and breaking down the city which he has come so close to creating.

These changes would make Clasen Point Gardens absolutely ordinary:

Backyards facing the schoolyard is not so easily solved; the closest approximation to tradition would be to close the street and create a densely planted mini-pastoral backdrop between the back yards and school


Most architectural solutions to territorial dis-ease, because they have attacked specific issues without the overview or guiding principle of the city block, have not completely retrieved the traditional environment. However, they do point to an unconsciously acknowledged realization that there are better ways of doing things - and that those better ways are really quite familiar.