Most human habitat, from metropolitan cities to hamlet villages and their respective buildings and landscapes, grow and decay much like organisms do. In our modern times, large cities have sprung up overnight around the globe without any local historical precedent, and new technologies have lead to new building designs that were not previously possible. Neither of these concepts are entirely new as city planning and the various utopian designs that come with it have been practiced for thousands of years, and new construction techniques and technology have lead to the principle design elements of each and every region on the planet. What makes things different now is the rapid pace and sheer scale of growth as populations skyrocket and economies boom. This growth is cyclical in nature, of course, but the trend is generally bigger and faster.
There are now calls for ‘slow’ cities, passive climate responses, re-purposing old structures, sustainability, and returning to a more human scale. Many designers and engineers still look to the great visionaries of yore like Mies van der Rohe, Robert Moses, and Frank Lloyd Wright as guides to our future. The world, however, is now a different place, and as genius as the great modernists were none of them could foresee the problems we face today, problems that were byproducts of their utopian dreams. There is also a sense of extreme urgency as climate change and overpopulation threatens humanity’s existence, and also a lesser urgency to return to the way things were, a simple more enjoyable life, before technologies like automobiles and air-conditioning ran rampant. An aspect of these ideas gets lost amongst the complexity of it all: great cities, and great towns, take time. I loathe the saying “Rome was not built in a day,” but the idea behind it holds true; the greatest man-built places on Earth took time to build, and lots of it. Centuries. Millennia. Economic booms. Economic busts. War. Atrocities. Generation upon generation of labor, craft and material. I propose a shift in ideology, an ideology that real sustainability takes time, that great places are made to last, great places are made of numerous smaller places, and most importantly: no single person can do it all. Places over time achieve greatness.
As a member of the architectural design community in Portland, I have chosen a certain level of anonymity for the greater intention of objectivity. With that said, I refrain from leaking ‘inside information’ or promoting anything from my employers or colleagues, rather, I encourage a respectful dialogue based on information I have either received direct permission to release or from within the public knowledge sphere.