By Yahya Jan & Norr Group
A theoretical model for dense living.
A theoretical model for dense living.
The ‘Habitat’ project is a theoretical attempt at addressing the challenge of high-density development within the contemporary urban condition.
Located somewhere in the Middle East, this model for urban living challenges the all-too-familiar and conventional typology for multi-use development: point towers, segregated by use, rising from a shared support podium.
The Habitat idea is predicated on a somewhat different premise: Inside, a variety of uses are massed as interlocking and interconnected elements that allow for accidental relationships and celebrate shared landscaped public realm spaces.
This model for density addresses critical questions and opens doors for further study in the reinterpretation of traditional urban structures. It responds to its social and environmental context and it proposes an alternative matrix for sustainable development. The need for a new typologyThe impetus behind the research and development of the Habitat model is the observation of the less than satisfactory trends in urbanism over the past century.
The tremendous strains faced by rapidly urbanizing societies, especially in the developing world, necessitate an integrated response that addresses the needs of the population and those of the changing natural environment.
Throughout the 20th century, the great urban centers of the Western world witnessed an unprecedented transformation in the form and density of their built environment. During this period, social, economic and political forces aligned to create high density city centers that, over time, have come to symbolize the achievements of the developed world.
In contrast to these historic developments, the urban centers of the developing world witnessed a somewhat different transformation of their own: Mass migration and high population growth. Scarcity of resources within developing countries also resulted in the emergence of ‘mega cities’, or expansive urban centres featuring populations of 10,000,000 or more.
The physical form of these cities is often comprised of low-rise buildings spread over vast areas, which is evidenced by the sprawl that has come to typify cities such as Cairo, Calcutta, and Sao Paolo.
In a timeline analysis of urban growth, perhaps the most disconcerting of all trends is the inability of society to adequately address the need for infrastructure and support services for a rapidly growing population. Urban sprawl, typically squalid and low in density, presents a challenge to infrastructure growth that is not sustainable in the longer term.
A new model for density
We believe the more recent emergence of higher density communities within Asia and the Middle East presents a unique opportunity to reconcile the best of urban design thinking from the past century while improving on aspects that have been less than successful.Perhaps the most obvious areas for improvement are the need to develop a new model for dense living and the need to create a sense of community centered on shared public and landscaped spaces.
The Habitat model, seen within this framework, proposes a unified and integrated approach to urban planning, architecture, engineering and landscape design. This model includes residential, office, hotel, and retail spaces that challenge conventional or traditional developer solutions for these types of projects.
As a response to the dire need for landscaped public and private spaces within cities of the Middle East, we have proposed ‘neighborhood parks in the sky.’ These shared spaces have the potential to act as catalysts; creating identity for the building while also helping to establish small group or community identity within a larger living space as a whole.
We believe the challenge for public and private enterprise is to question conventional wisdom and the currently formulaic approach to high density development.
This belief is based upon a collection of accepted realities. First, high-density vertical communities are the most sustainable living solution for the future. One need only to look to certain section of New York City, Tokyo and London for examples of sustainability in density to be emulated.
Second, throughout the developing world, rapid population growth will inevitably place increasing demands on scarce resources including food, clean air, water and land. If left unmet, these demands for basic human needs will lead to death, disease and destruction on a much larger scale than current figures suggest.
Third, societies and governments will need to find innovative ways to provide acceptable living standards and economic opportunities for their citizens if they want to move their countries from ‘developing’ to ‘developed’. This shift will become increasingly difficult as populations continue to increase faster than infrastructure can support.
The challenge for governments, developers, designers
It is incumbent upon governments, developers and designers to question conventional wisdom and the formulaic approach to high-density development. This group must identify creative ways to respond to environmental, economic, and social forces of change.
Decision-makers need to be open to the development of new archetypes in the form of buildings, cities and master plans. It is absolutely essential that they encourage the exploration of new and appropriate technologies that has the potential to give birth to these new archetypes.
Put simply, if this response does not happen on a large scale, and we don’t start thinking creatively about these issues, the world we leave our children will be much worse than this one. This is an issue that promises to get worse before it gets better.