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    Aseem Inam: Meaningful Urban Design

    Kurt Neiswender
    Jan 31, '12 1:33 PM EST

    Reading Summary

    Aseem Inam’s essay titled: Meaningful Urban Design: Teleological / Catalytic / Relevant brings to discussion a thorough cross section of urbanists and architects, such as Rem Koolhaas and Christopher Alexander. The essay suggests, meaningful urban design is a multi-faceted question, one that can be answered with a number of solutions, with as many opinions of what makes meaningful urban design. Of the three subjects, teleological was not part of my vocabulary, and Inam defines this term as “purpose driven design”, I understand this to be more about the function than the form of a given urban design.

    The following two terms defined, Catalytic and Relevant, call into question the varying socioeconomic factors that contribute to individual contextual urban design. Inam outlines his argument with equal amounts of precedent study, case study, theoretical pedagogical commentary and field observations. By using specific definitions from Koolhaas and Michael Sorkin regarding what constitutes a successful urban design, Inam sets up his hypothesis of what he provocates constitutes “Meaningful Urban Design”.

    Urban Design

    According to Inam, Urban Design, in order to be meaningful, needs to be teleological (functional), catalytic and relevant. His essay is useful in the sense that it draws in many viewpoints from prominent urban thinkers of the past and present, however the essay leaves a lot of information out when it comes to the case studies of particular urban developments. For example, when describing economics of urban developments, Inam states that theme parks and casinos are definitely good for the owners as as profit generating projects, but does not go further to describe their contextual impact, or the holistic synergy that one of these developments would impact if placed in any particular urban setting. He does not dig much deeper than a shopping mall is good for commercial urban (or in many cases suburban) areas, but are not very successful in their contribution to a larger urban context.

    Inam closes his essay with some case studies of urban design that represent the argument he raised in his hypothesis. I have experienced fist hand some of the urban spaces he describes (Horton Plaza, San Diego and CityWalk, Los Angeles), and these are extreme examples of thematic event spaces that can fulfill the requirements of Inam’s definition of meaningful urban design at the surface, but they are also somewhat bias because of their primary concern with aesthetics.

    Inam concisely states that a successful and meaningful urban design is primarily purpose driven rather than aesthetically driven, however, in his conclusion he states that the primary determining factor of success is “Does it look good?”. This statement completely abandons the teleological hypothesis he first defined. “Does it work?, or the function of the urban design is relegated to the second determining factor.

    What Urban Design Can Be?

    The question of what urban design can be is one that can travel down many different paths. As a relatively young profession and pedagogy, urban design is evolving in definition as it becomes more a part of the human lexicon. Inam’s hypothesis, that it is, Teleological/Catalytic/Relevant, begins to tap into the potential that urban design is not comprised of, or can be defined by, one clear and concise term. Urban design is becoming a holistic and multi-disciplinary field of study that attracts theories from many different professional fields. Instead of becoming a muddy soup of uncharacteristic voices, the diverse array of contributors greatly enhance the development of the field.

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About this Blog

This is my personal blog to express my thoughts and research on architecture and urban design bridging academic and practice. My interests are in exploring the sustainability of urban environments.

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