Archive for category Buildings
Architects, builders, planners, and developers are doubtless aware that 3D printed buildings and larger communities are on the horizon, with early prototypes now in the popular and professional press. In this approach, large three-axis printers, or alternatives such as ones pivoting from a central point, are used to place materials in a specific order via design and printing software.
While this potential is well-recognized, at least three important aspects of this likely change in construction methods may be overlooked. First is that it will both require and strongly incentivize new Design for Printibality (DFP) standards and practices. On one hand, this will be necessary to enable reliable use of the technology, and also encouraged by the fact that machine-printed buildings with high DFP quotients – from backyard sheds to urban skyscrapers – may become substantially less expensive to construct and maintain than traditionally-built ones.
To Sense Potential Changes, Consider Which Form Is Easier to 3D Print
Second, as my intentionally provocative photo suggests, perhaps few of us have considered how radically DFP may alter building design and engineering, and the typical building shapes and fine-scale design features that we typically employ and take as given today. But to quickly understand this prospect, consider that much of human architecture, historically and in our time, has a low DFP quotient and is likely to be strongly disfavored or disincentivized by 3D technology.
Third, perhaps just as few of us are aware that DFP standards exist already, owing to the rise of desktop and industrial 3D printing, that these standards appear broadly applicable to building design at all scales, and also that they likely offer a significant window onto future building design and construction.
I would like to briefly summarize key DFP principles from desktop and industrial printing, and then discuss their implications for building design and construction in a 3D-printed era. But let me first offer a quick acid test of building and structural design printability up-front. Simply put, if you can’t print a design model on a desktop 3D printer, it is unlikely to be printable at full-scale – though there may be exceptions to this rule, some of which we will discuss.
3D PRINTING OVERVIEW
As outlined, the primary technology of 3D printing in our time involves either X-Y-Z or pivoting printers, along with their enabling software. Together, they allow us to render computer generated images in plastic or some other extruded or sprayed, quickly-solidifying, and usually self-binding material. Typically, objects are printed in small layers or planes, one upon the other, in a process known as fused deposition. And already, 3D printers can produce a variety of items – from gears and art to toys and teeth.
Example of Industrial 3D Printer In Action
Importantly, other 3D printing technologies are possible and indeed seem inevitable in building construction. A good example of this, in use today, is the 3D etching of silicon chips and other materials. But even here, subsequent depositional layering and fusing is employed to place new materials within or above etched areas. Similarly, 3D milling technology is now in increasing use, where the printing nozzle of a 3D printer is replaced with a spinning drill or high-energy laser, and used to sculpt objects from larger blocks of material.
Since it appears that future 3D printed building technology will primarily, or at least initially, involve fused deposition techniques, perhaps with robotic insertion of modular elements – from rebar and lintels to floors and conduit – my comments regarding DFP will primarily focus on depositional methods. In any case, they come with the understanding that new printing techniques naturally will come with their own DFP demands and opportunities, some specific to the technique and others more general or broadly applicable to mechanical printing in all its forms.
Looking at the literature on artisanal and industrial depositional printing (example 1, example 2, example 3), a number of core DFP principles quickly emerge. Notably, all are fairly intuitive, nearly all center on resisting or working with gravity during and after the printing process, and most appear to have direct corollaries in the architecture of natural geological deposition. These DFP principles include:
> Selecting materials for adequate strength, endurance & other qualities
> Establishing an adequate base or foundation for the object
> Limiting the depositional incline or cantilever of materials
> Avoiding large unsupported prominences and flat spans
> Use of temporary printed buttresses to support materials while solidifying
> Inclusion of curves, ribs, and articulation to increase final object strength
You probably can see that this list of DFP considerations is largely, if not wholly, transferable to the printing of buildings and other larger-scale structures, and perhaps to printing approaches beyond depositional techniques. However, one important exception to this idea of transferability is that, unlike desktop and many industrial objects, buildings and other large structures may be less tiltable or relocatable after printing, thus potentially increasing their natural DFP demands or constraints.
By contrast, another likely set of exceptions to this transferability centers around the greater overall cost and complexity of printing relatively large and more heterodox or multi-lithic structures. This elevated cost and complexity may allow the economical use of mechanical aids to support or augment materials during the printing process – such as the use of permanent and removable formwork (ranging from traditional decking to airforms). Again, the greater expense of buildings also may permit integration of various modular elements or components, via robots or human labor, before, during, or after the printing process, and all in a way that may not be economically or practicably feasible in small-scale printing.
BUILDING DESIGN IMPLICATIONS
While the above general DFP principles may broadly carry forward to 3D printed building design, it is worth touching on some of the specific design considerations the technology suggests for wholly or significantly printed buildings. As a preliminary summary of key building printability issues, and to spur your thinking in this area, let me highlight several crucial ideas and themes:
> Integral design – as with 3D printed objects of all kinds, there will be great advantage in selecting materials and design forms in tandem and with the goal of their combination forming a fully or nearly complete building solution out of the nozzle, so to speak
> Layered design – since buildings are naturally more complex or involve more needed outcomes than many smaller objects – from thermal and internal air control to mechanical systems and weatherproofing – this suggests that, absent significant new advancements in materials science, the potential for fully integral, monolithic, or single-print designs will be naturally limited to some degree, and in turn that layered printing is more likely to be the norm
> Structural reinforcement – while robotic or human placement of reinforcing elements before, during, or after building printing is plainly possible, the practice of including reinforcement measures within the printing process – for example, within or alongside printed materials, via their overall shape, or through multi-layer printing – is likely to provide significant cost and durability advantages
> Foundations – as touched on before, 3D printing in all its forms requires a stable base upon which to build, but it is unclear if traditional foundation construction methods will continue forward into an era of printed buildings, with the clear potential for both site excavation (or milling) and foundation placement to become fully automated
> Walls – instructively, today’s early prototype 3D printed structures (example 1, example 2, example 3) often print the building walls only, employing simple curves and articulation to strengthen long wall segments, suggesting that the printing of vertical or modestly tilted walls will be the least challenging aspect of 3D printed buildings
> Floors – in contrast to walls, the 3D printing of floors, especially elevated ones, will require significant design and engineering attention to be practicable, and is likely to involve special measures to allow horizontal printing and ensure a durable result – including the use of non-printed formwork, the use of temporary and permanent printed buttresses, and/or insertion of modular decking or ground-printed floor members
> Roofs – representing a middle condition of complexity between walls and elevated floors, the roofs of printed buildings either may constructed more traditionally (as demonstrated here and in some of the early prototypes links above) or they may employ curved shapes for both structural and waterproofing reasons – otherwise, 3D roofs will need to be printed much like elevated floors, especially if they are designed to be flat or in the form of non-curved spanning inclines
> Weatherproofing – building on these ideas, most 3D printed buildings of course will need to be weatherproof to some degree, and specifically to shed rain and other precipitation, again suggesting curved or heavily buttressed 3D printed roofs as just outlined, or the avoidance of 3D printed roofs and building capping via other methods
> Doors, windows, & mechanicals – as highlighted before, these important aspects of modern building do not appear to lend themselves to 3D printing techniques in the near term, with some exceptions (such as sprayed membranes for solar energy collection), though eventual robotic fabrication and placement of these elements is clearly possible
> Overhangs & ornamentation – in keeping with our discussion, building overhangs and other jutting features will be less desirable, have a lower DFP quotient, and will require more design attention to be practicable, but other forms of building appendage and ornament of course are plainly possible, though more intricate ornamentation is likely to require smaller printer nozzles and thus perhaps a separate or secondary printing process
Today, 3D printing of buildings is in its infancy and proof of concept stage. But forward-looking designers and planners especially should begin to prepare for this technology, since it is almost certainly coming, and sure to be disruptive when it does. In particular, 3D printing may dramatically change the way buildings look and are constructed, alter regulation and inspection needs, reduce initial and long-term costs, and increase overall efficiency and sustainability.
As a simple, awareness-building next step in this process, you might begin to assess the printability of the designs you are working on or see proposed around you. In the meantime, I welcome your comments and questions on this important set of ideas.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of ArchaNatura.
Tell others about ArchaNatura…encourage modern natural design!
Do you wonder if common building forms or approaches are the most efficient possible?
Since much of architecture and design today, as in the past, is concerned with aesthetics, norms, status, expression, and therefore communication, you may suspect the answer is no, and even strongly no.
But before you answer, let me point out that when we think of form or design efficiency, we can mean more than the direct costs or immediate resources and energy involved in constructing and using buildings, along with the larger settings they create in combination, as important as this is to determining efficiency.
In a complementary and informing way, we also can consider the indirect costs of buildings and developed areas. This crucial but less obvious category of costs or efficiency factors is often substantially overlooked, taken as separate from or beyond the scope of building and development, or expediently treated as “free” to some degree – thereby becoming externalities, or public or unborn costs, in the terminology of economists.
Importantly, indirect building and development costs can be as significant as direct ones. They include the often unexamined costs of pollution, dislocation, future inflexibility, sprawl, resource degradation, eventual obsolescence, and the potential for blight. As a practical matter, such indirect and commonly overlooked costs are essential to understanding the true cost, and thus the true efficiency, of any design, building, or developed area.
Fortunately, we can simplify this complex topic for a general discussion by recognizing that two basic design principles or features often substantially predict both types of costs, and thus the general efficiency of building and development. The first of these principles is that development, buildings, and spaces that are more compact or reduced in scope will tend to be less resource-intensive, less costly overall, and therefore more efficient, as long as they meet essential needs or are effective solutions overall.
The second principle is that buildings, infrastructure, and material inputs using renewable resources – and failing this, readily recyclable or reusable ones – will tend to be less costly and more efficient overall as well, by often producing fewer externalities or indirect costs for others to contend with in time. There are of course exceptions to these two rules. But overall, it is a much more difficult general case to advocate for expansive and non-renewable building and development on efficiency grounds, even as this is still our most common approach to building today.
With these ideas in mind, let’s examine a few instructive studies in or candidates for the most efficient building form possible, notably by looking at: 1) available building profiles or basic shapes, 2) possible plans, layouts, or distributions of buildings, and 3) the potential for solar energy collection or production by buildings and developed areas (click to enlarge each exhibit).
For our first study, examining building profiles, or their basic shape or street view, I have begun with the sphere in my first exhibit. As you likely know, this shape is naturally or geometrically the most efficient in terms of minimizing surface area for a given volume, and thus can be relatively efficient in terms of enclosing interior space, and heating and cooling space too.
But spheres and their variations suffer from natural drawbacks or inefficiencies, on the earth or water, and even in space. They of course are naturally likely to roll and thus require steadying, can be difficult or intricate to build unless constructed monolithically or geodesically, and often require extra effort or otherwise prove inefficient to partition, furnish, equip, and modify for human use.
Solving some of these natural inefficiencies are the next two forms in the exhibit, domed and arched-shaped buildings. These shapes are also very efficient in terms of surface to volume ratio, and as with spheres, are often superior when seeking to span large areas and enclose space homogeneously. But the two forms similarly can be less practical and efficient for many applications. Domes and arches also frequently waste or leave unusable internal space, and often prove less effective as overall solutions for modern and generally rectilinear human living.
These issues lead us to the square or rectangular building profiles that are the mainstay of settled human life, and also notably to the hybrid form that is the cylindrically shaped building (which generally blends the advantages and disadvantages of curved and rectangular forms). Overall, rectilinear building forms are less efficient from a surface-to-volume standpoint and are naturally weaker structurally than spheres, domes, and arches, but they can be much simpler and thus more efficient to build and use in many cases (again excepting buildings requiring large spans and having homogeneous interiors).
Importantly, square and rectangular forms also can be much easier, or more efficient, to modify, expand, or adapt over time than spherical and curved structures, and this is likely a crucial driver of their ubiquity in human life. However, one important disadvantage of perfectly rectilinear buildings is their flat roofline, a widely unnatural and inefficient approach to providing shelter from precipitation. In practice, this drawback of course is mitigated via the use of special materials and pitched roofs of various slopes – which we can view as variations on or extensions of basic rectilinear forms, as I have indicated in the exhibit.
Efficiency of Development Plans
Our second study moves from considering the efficiency of basic building shapes or profiles to that of overall building distributions, or the general organizing plans, layouts, or top-down views of buildings and developed areas. As the first graphic in the second exhibit highlights, round, spherical, and cylindrical buildings, rooms, and other spaces are most efficiently planned in an alternating honeycomb format, though this still leaves significant unused space between buildings, even when they touch.
As you can see in the next graphic in the exhibit, one solution to this natural inefficiency is to use hexagonal or other tiling polygons for building plans, which reduce unused exterior space and also have a natural beauty or aesthetic appeal. But this approach suffers from many of the drawbacks of spherical and cylindrical buildings mentioned above – including potential added complexity of construction and frequent interior spatial mismatches for many applications. In addition, the lack of direct or straight entry and exit from hexagonal and similar grids may disadvantage them from an efficiency of access and use standpoint in many applications (though this feature can advantage them in others, as I will touch on).
Once again, these natural trade-offs bring us to the ubiquitous human form that is the rectilinear building plan and larger grid layout, whether buildings are square or rectangular, along with potential variations such as triangular grids (but which have many of the same properties as hexagonal and other non-square grid patterns). Overall, rectilinear grids often waste less space both inside and outside of buildings, and thus can be more spatially efficient across many human applications. But one disadvantage of rectilinear and similar grids is that they can be too regimented or belittling experientially, and thereby emotionally unappealing or unsettling. That is, they may be aesthetically inefficient amid their practical and geometric efficiency.
As shown in the last graphic in the second exhibit, a solution to this aesthetic, emotional, or experiential limitation is to alternate, honeycomb, or otherwise stagger rectilinear buildings in one plan or layout dimension. This has the effect of reducing access efficiency somewhat, but can produce a more effective solution overall in many applications, including the development of neighborhoods and other intimate public, semi-public, and private spaces.
Efficiency of Energy Production
Our third study considers building profiles and layouts in combination – in street, side, or profile view once again – and in particular, resulting opportunities for solar energy collection or production. Owing to this, it therefore considers the potential for transformative modern building efficiency from new design profiles and layouts, even to the point where buildings might produce or capture more energy than is consumed in their construction and use.
Intuitively, and as the first two graphics in the third exhibit illustrate, any building will cast an amount of shadow in sunlight, and of course in proportion to its overall shape, size, and height. When buildings require no energy input or benefit from shade, such shadowing is not a problem or source of inefficiency, and even may result in efficiency gains.
However, if we wish to collect solar energy along the sides or walls of buildings, this will necessitate a wider distribution or layout of buildings, spaces, or building elements than might otherwise be the case. In other words, it will involve new optimization of building shape and layout based on the relative efficiency benefits afforded by compactness on one hand and renewability considerations on the other.
As shown in the second pair of graphics in the exhibit, a natural solution to the problem of unwelcome shading from plan compactness is to design for solar collection on the tops of buildings only (roofs and upper walls). This approach allows for close placement of buildings without the unwelcome shading of solar collectors, and also with perhaps beneficial shading of building walls in warm climates, but it does require relatively uniform or otherwise sun-friendly building profiles overall.
Depending on building energy demands, limiting solar collection to the tops of buildings may be an ideal solution, but it is clear that building height and occupancy will be limited overall, especially if 100 percent solar power is a goal, and simply given natural spatial constraints. In this approach, and in a way that is still quite unusual today, building height would be primarily determined by rooftop solar gain potential, system efficiency, and expected building energy use patterns, instead of structural or aesthetic considerations.
I hope these ideas and analysis are helpful to you, and will help you to explore, pursue, and encourage more optimal natural design and development in its many potential forms.
Provocatively, our discussion suggests three overall efficiency ideals for solar-powered building, leaving aside industrial and other high-span applications: 1) low-rise buildings placed closely together and primarily using rooftop solar collection, 2) mid-rise buildings placed a moderate distance apart, and using roof and wall solar collection, and 3) high-rise structures spaced even more widely apart and also collecting energy on both roofs and walls. Importantly, the ideas we have examined further suggest that rectilinear buildings and rectilinear grids, significantly compacted in shape and layout, will be most efficient as well – though again, perhaps with the use of partially staggered or honeycombed layouts in some applications to improve aesthetics, appeal, or spatial intimacy.
Of course, there are other factors or application demands, beyond solar energy production and building autonomy, that will determine which building profiles and development formats are best or most efficient in particular cases. But I want to end our discussion by pointing out that much of our traditional and contemporary built environment does not match the above archetypes, and also often is not substantially compact as well. Given this, many historical and ongoing approaches to building and development are likely to prove less efficient and desirable, as we move to greener or more ecologically-friendly development, and especially as we switch to naturally more distributed, decentralized, and thus democratic sun-based energy production.
As you can readily observe, nearly everywhere we look today, we see tall and mid-rise buildings packed closely together, low buildings often far apart and sprawling into the landscape, and similarly wandering and inefficient building shapes, especially in the latter case. There are numerous reasons for these patterns of development, including historical building practices and inherited community zoning practices. But if we are serious about renewable, sustainable, and efficient human building and development, this must change.
I would welcome your comments and questions on this crucial and far-reaching set of design ideas.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of ArchaNatura.
Tell others about ArchaNatura…encourage modern natural design!
In our era of increasing excess, but also increasingly inaccessible excess, there is now an important counter-trend – one favoring mobile homes, smaller homes, and even tiny homes. This trend often seeks to promote less expensive living, less encumbered living, more intentional living, ecologically greener living, or all of these complementary goals at once.
While this overall movement has produced many interesting designs and innovations, one home feature that is frequently lost or missing in the pursuit of smaller or more minimalistic homes is privacy, and especially private outdoor space. Fortunately, this omission is readily avoided and there are a number of ways of preserving or creating private space as today’s architects, builders, property owners, and developers downsize the footprint of housing.
Model Of Small Classical Courtyard – An Option For Modern Minimal Living
Simple steps to increase home privacy generally involve the use of natural or artificial screening around a building site, which can result in designs that are creative, functional, satisfying, space enhancing, and quite beautiful, as I wrote about in Rethinking Walls & Fences. However, sometimes we will want a solution that creates greater privacy, and especially greater acoustical and visual isolation, than screening and similar approaches may afford. Here, we can look to pre-modern urban and suburban building to see an earlier widespread method for creating significant household privacy, especially on a small scale or in fairly dense living conditions. As my title highlights, this method involves the use of courtyards.
The idea of bringing courtyards to modern minimal living and small or tiny home designs may seem an extravagance. But the truth is that, except in mid or high-rise urban cores, courtyards can be created simply and inexpensively, for little more cost than the land the courtyard occupies. Indeed, sometimes courtyards even can be created almost for free, as in the case of mobile living on public lands or when reconfiguring inefficiently designed spaces. And as the focus for this discussion, homes themselves also can be designed from the start to be naturally self-screening or area-enclosing, creating private courtyard spaces automatically, as they are built and quite simply.
In many countries today, there is a rapid movement toward green building.
Often, however, this goal is cast somewhat narrowly – as creating buildings that require little or no external energy for their daily use, or fabricating structures with a fairly high degree of autonomy.
While this goal is laudable and has led to a number of important innovations, there are at least two broader, more rigorous, and ultimately more socially beneficial ways to conceive of green building design.
A second, broader conception of green building also considers the amount and nature of resources that go into the initial construction of buildings. In this expanded definition, architects, builders, developers, and regulators seek to: 1) minimize resource use during building construction, 2) reduce reliance on non-sustainable or non-recyclable resources, and 3) build in ways that are either minimally impact or positively enhance land, water, and air quality around buildings and their communities. As you may know, this sense of green building design is increasingly more common – and can be explored at green building.
A third and still more expansive definition of green building further extends the concept to include consideration of the long-term ecological and social impacts of building and development overall. In particular, this view enlarges our analysis to assess the relative effectiveness of building and development patterns both at meeting human needs and promoting human health, including the essential foundation of all natural health that is ecological sustainability.
What Is The Correct Scope For Green Building & Development?
Importantly, and often somewhat unintuitively or inexpeditiously, the natural – or renaturalized – goals of meeting human needs and promoting human health generally lead to a basic rethinking of traditional building design and construction practices, along with community and societal development norms more broadly. This is a complex topic, but let me point out that the aim of serving human needs and promoting overall community and societal health invariably must consider how building and development impact people generally, and how these efforts can serve the greatest number of people.
Working with a prospective client recently, a recurring idea in building design came up – the notion of wasting space.
It’s a term designers and clients frequently use, but also one we don’t always consider carefully. Today, I want to provide a framework for thinking about wasted space in design efforts of all kinds, and to highlight two important and common ways of wasting space in building design. In their essence, these two ways are creating space that is either too full or too empty. And by avoiding each extreme, we can reliably avoid wasting both space and time.
In the client discussion I mentioned, we were considering two design ideas for a project. The designs each had the same enclosed floor area and basic plan, but differed somewhat in the amount of garden space and walkways around the living areas. Overall, the first design was slightly more compact in its total dimensions and the second had a somewhat larger total footprint, owing to the expanded garden and walkway areas. But all other things were equal, and the two designs had identical interior proportions. So, is it correct to say that the larger plan had more wasted space?
Enormous, Luxuriant Space – How Much Of It Is Wasted?
The first design clearly used less space and in this sense was more efficient or compact. Similarly, the second design can be seen as using space less efficiently, or as containing more unused or unfilled space. But the second design was also more compelling and livable, and felt much larger and more open than its modestly greater dimensions might have suggested. One might argue, then, that the second design was a better use of space – especially if both designs were affordable or within budget, which they were in this case.
These considerations point to two fundamental, sometimes competing, but not mutually exclusive goals in spatial design – the task of achieving adequate efficiency or compactness and then sufficient elegance or extension. Both goals are integral to excellence in natural design, and arise again and again in a variety of creative and artistic domains (for example, even in the non-visual arts of music and writing). In total, ensuring both efficiency and elegance is a challenge we all must often repeatedly address and resolve, if we are to design and create successfully.
As my sunset photo above suggests, in an important sense space is never wholly wasted if it is elegant. And the 150 million kilometers of extension that lie between us and the sun are hardly wasted space, even in strict utilitarian terms, since the earth would warm and life would be curtailed if this distance were much less. More artistically, our solar system and larger universe likely would be far less elegant – or less mysterious and intriguing – if either were tightly compact and plainer to the eye.
Still, efficiency considerations are a natural concern in design, art, and fabrication, since all uses of space and other resources have costs and alternatives, and never only provide benefits. At the same time, there is a certain marvel with or satisfaction in the efficient or dense use of space, though this is rarely enough to be a substitute for true elegance in design (again, with useful analogies in music, writing, and other artistic domains).
But just as the single-minded pursuit of elegance can overlook or miss efficiency considerations, a preoccupation with design efficiency can unduly, and often needlessly, impinge on essential design elegance. In practice, both inadequate efficiency and insufficient elegance are reliable ways to reduce natural excellence in design and to waste space. And both shortcomings are likely to occur whenever designers, builders, or clients act inattentively, or without an essential understanding of these twin natural needs when creating.
To demonstrate these ideas, and to make them more tangible and applicable, below are three brief case studies. Each explores and underscores the importance of meeting the essential natural design goals of efficiency and elegance. And each suggests that this process involves striking a balance – or what I have elsewhere called a natural centering, or the avoidance of limiting extremes – in this case between excessive compactness and openness, clutter and emptiness, or expedience and extravagance. In these and many other cases, excesses in either direction can be understood as generally wasting space, and reliably produce designs below our potential. Read the rest of this entry »
Judging by building and architecture around the world, there seems to be a strong tendency in us to clearly delineate the places where we live, and to physically set them apart from those of others.
This delineation of our living spaces may be for security, to afford privacy and quiet, for exclusivity and status, or simply to follow local custom – custom often rooted in our agricultural past, but perhaps with older and more natural origins.
Though most take the practice for granted, it is distinctive and noteworthy. Imagine, for contrast, a system of architecture with minimal personal or family space and copious shared or community areas. Such systems exist, ultimately may be more beneficial for us, and have been proposed by modern architects (such as Le Corbusier). But they are not the norm, especially amid modern affluence and individualism.
Our enclosure or privatization of space of course begins with our residences themselves, and is often limited to our indoor residential space when we live at high densities. But in the lower densities of our suburbs and exurbs, this process nearly always extends outdoors to some degree, and quite frequently all the way to the edges of the property we own or use.
In practice, land enclosure at our personal or family property boundaries commonly takes the form of perimeter walls, fences, and other barriers, which visibly demarcate, and practicably domesticate, all of the land we own or occupy. This traditional mode of dividing and demarcating private space maximizes the area we have available for our exclusive use, may offer legal advantages, and often provides other practical benefits.
But this segregation of our living spaces in what we might call a maximalist manner has a number of disadvantages too. It can be expensive, especially on larger properties. It can be bad for local ecosystems, reducing wilderness and limiting the ability of wild animals to naturally move through settled areas. And as my photo above suggests, perimeter barriers and spatial maximalism can lead to a dominating and constricting built environment overall – for everyone, regardless of which side of walls or fences we find ourselves.
Given these limitations, I’d like to highlight a ready alternative to traditional perimeter walls and fences – an alternative that avoids many of their shortcomings, while providing distinct, more useable, and often far more interesting private space. This approach employs architectural barriers in a more restrained, attentive, and creative way, and in particular pulls them back from the boundaries of our residential properties.
My title might sound like the beginning of a novel. But instead, I intend it to introduce an important and often greatly neglected principle for optimal architecture and urban planning – how we design the final steps, say the last 100 or so, to our homes and neighborhood buildings.
As a practical matter, and as a foundation for more conscious architecture and design, there are two basic ways we can take our last steps home. First, we can take them ourselves, on foot, here including using bicycles and other personal mobility aids. Second, we can finish these final steps home in vehicles – in cars, motorcycles, and the like.
This idea might seem obvious, and yet almost no one thinks about it today, including many architects and planners, whereas we, and they, all should. Why? Because the way we take our final steps home significantly determines the basic design and character of our neighborhoods and surroundings – including their scale, their livability, their inherent healthiness, their initial cost, their ongoing resource demands, and their ecological impact.
As my photo above of Serthar Larung Gar in Tibet highlights, when communities are designed so that we take our last steps home on foot, this can greatly change the form and nature of our houses, neighborhoods, and larger communities, compared with designing for the option, or requirement, of covering this final distance in vehicles. Roadways can shrink to footpaths, large labor-intensive yards become superfluous, noise is appreciably reduced, and the natural intrusion and hazard of moving vehicles is eliminated.