6 January 2013

THE OUTDOOR ROOM

130106 Paris

Paris / City of Many Outdoor Rooms


My architect world-view changed with the realization that one of the things I appreciated most about cities is the spatial progression down the streets and public places, the ever changing volume between buildings and level of activity that revealed itself as I walked or rode. The change in my perception came from the realization over time that this continually changing outdoor space was of the public city was considerably more important in its totality then any of the given buildings along the way-no mater how significant and finely executed. The dynamic tension between the great and small spaces created between structures, the 'leaky' interstitial, the collective details and textures compelled me as something that made for a greater whole. It's now a key part of what makes me understand a city, and it's a realization that greatly affects how I practice as an architect.

I believe that the great public outdoor room is the most important room of the city.

Others have observed and explained pieces of this experience. Allan Jacob's book Great Streets provides drawings and verbal descriptions of great public places throughout the world. He explains features and characteristics of great streets, and what contributes to them. He describes the architecture of the block-faces, how things like street trees and landscaping contribute, the activities of the storefronts and building openings that line the way, and how this great street might compare to similar streets that are not so great. He goes into great detail about each of his examples, and makes careful and complete explanations about why he believes each of these examples work so well. It's a great resource.

I believe there is further dimension to these streets and spaces then even Mr. Jacobs describes. Elsewhere I have made my writing about the importance of procession and the relationship it has with the 'static' collections of buildings that line the outdoor space. There is something to the quality of 'moving through,' a dynamic that is in its entirety difficult to describe, and yet so rewarding to the person that participates in it, either passively, or with full consciousness.

As you experience a procession through a great urban space, you are being drawn through, easily propelled, or squeezed down. The space is defined by surfaces of varying interest, and some of them draw your interest for a time, deflecting for a moment the procession. And there are gaps, street-corners and the like, along with the other breaks, the 'leaky' things that break the wall face and break the wall-face of the room. Like any well-planned interior space, the journey through the exterior is planned with comfort in mind, with street trees, awnings and canopies, and other covered areas. Looking ahead, there is always a draw towards something. As the procession continues, that draw shifts from one thing to another. One thing draws the attention, and then something else, as the procession continues. The room can be straight and orthogonal. It can twist and turn. The walls vary in height, as do the details of the buildings.

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