Here is a constant refrain: Why is so much new building junk? This is a golden age of the American city, with urban centers more prosperous and popular than ever, but somehow we continue to build boorish and boring works that do nothing to enhance the public realm, and all too often diminish it. How does this continue to happen, and right in front of our eyes? Who is to blame, and what can we do about it?
It is a problem that vexes architects. Isn’t it their fault, anyway? This was the presumption at a panel discussion, “How to Rebuild Architecture,” during last week’s Congress for The New Urbanism (CNU) annual conference, here in Dallas. The session was prompted by an opinion piece in the New York Times, authored by Steven Bingler and Martin Pedersen, that suggested that architects have abandoned “the physical laws and mathematical principles that undergird the fundamental elegance and practicality of the natural world” and that designers needed to seek out a “radical middle” to advance the field and repair the built environment.
The essay was seized upon by members of the CNU, an organization that is at once widely misunderstood and in the midst of internal upheaval. To the uninitiated, the phrase “new urbanism” simply connotes progressive urban design—pedestrian-oriented streets, a focus on public transit, development of mixed-use neighborhoods, sustainability, historic preservation. […]