Cities in North Africa, the Saudi Arabian peninsula, and the Levant face unique challenges from the tremendous heat and dusty winds of the surrounding desert and high humidity along coastal areas. These environmental forces along with social and cultural norms have resulted in unique cities created over the past several centuries. Built in the pre-industrial era, these old cities offer many lessons for designing dense urban districts that are environmentally responsive and sustainable. There are many fine examples of modern cities influenced by international planning techniques but adapted to the unique environmental challenges of the MENA region.
Unfortunately, recent urban growth has departed from sensible planning in some areas. One reason for this departure is the adoption and use of international engineering criteria for streets and infrastructure without proper consideration of the region’s unique and traditional urban patterns. This short paper attempts to capture some of the design elements that were used in the old and early modern cities.
The statistics are staggering. Over the next five decades, if present trends do not reverse dramatically, humanity is set to create more sheer volume of urban settlement than it has in all of human history.
The photo above is phase 2 — mixed-use buildings and a church tower — nearing completion in Cayalá, a new town in the suburbs of Guatemala City, Guatemala. I have to assure readers that the photo is real. The town looks like it is built for the ages and the streetscape — designed so that all of the pavement is to be shared by vehicles and pedestrians — hides modern below-ground parking. We reported in detail on phase 1 of this project in the March issue of BCT. The mixed-use buildings in phase 2 are designed by Estudio Urbano (Pedro Godoy and Maria Sanchez), the Guatemala-based Town Architects of Cayalá, with Richard Economakis of the University of Notre Dame, in collaboration with architect Leon Krier. The Campanile (tower) is by Godoy & Sánchez, the first stage of the town's church by the same firm. The developer of the project is Grupo Cayalá, who are based in Guatemala. Click on headline for more photos.
China is building the entire country around the automobile — making the same mistakes the US made in the last century only faster, warns urbanist Peter Calthorpe in a startling Foreign Policy article. China will pay in social costs and pollution, and the world will pay in carbon emissions, argues Calthorpe, who completed numerous designs in China, including a low-carbon plan for the nation. "In the last five years, China has built 20,000 miles of expressways, finishing the construction of 12 national highways a whopping 13 years ahead of schedule and at a pace four times faster than the United States built its interstate highway system," he says. Like the US cities of the 1950s and 1960s, he writes, Chinese cities are working to accommodate the explosive growth of automobile travel by building highways, ring roads, and parking lots. Consequently, auto use has risen sixfold in Beijing since 1986, "while bike use has dropped from nearly 60 percent of trips to just 17 percent in 2010." Many high-ranking officials are aware that China needs to move in a more sustainable direction, he says. But because things are moving so fast, "China's leaders have a limited window of opportunity to plan for prosperous, livable, low-carbon cities."
The US military may retreated from Vietnam in 1973, but nearly 40 years later American-style sprawl seems to have taken over, reports Michael Mehaffy in Urban Land. The southeast Asian country is growing rapidly, and many of the new developments feature wide new roads with suburban-pattern development — some including the "towers in the park" first proposed by modernist architect Le Corbusier. Mehaffy reports on the efforts of planner Ngoc Nguyen, who teaches at Da Nang University, to promote more sustainable ideas based on new urban principles and Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language. "We are still a young economy, and we have a chance to show we can do better," he says.
Two years into its financial crisis, Europe "is facing a cultural calamity for which there is no emergency bailout fund," The Washington Post reports. Billboards have been stretched across parts of historic facades, sometimes on scaffolding, like the ad shown above on the Milan cathedral known as the Duomo. Revenue from the signs helps pay for needed building repairs. Some magnificent structures, like the 17th-century Palazo Manfrin in Venice, are being offered for sale. Citizens groups have filed lawsuits to stop officials from carrying out some of the transactions. Because of European currency and economic problems, governments are simply less able to spend money preserving their architectural legacy.