Jan Gehl speaks in Melbourne about the future of Urban Property Design

Jan Gehl spoke recently in Melbourne about urban design and the increasing connections between physical form and human behaviour.

Jan is the retired Professor of Urban Design, The School of Architecture, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, and frequent visitor to Melbourne.

The traditional city is a mix of streets and squares: meeting places; market places; and connections spaces.  People traveled on foot.

Before the 1960s, cities expanded by adding small units on a human scale.

There was a change in the paradigm in the 1960s. Cheap petrol led to the car invasion.  Traffic planners focused on making room for more traffic.

Jan compared “5 km/h architecture” (small spaces; signals; details; people; distant views) with “60 km/h architecture’.

In the 1960s, there was a move to dropping modern towers from the sky and putting grass around them at the base.  Architects took a bird’s eye view: rapid growth; large units.  Nobody was looking after the people at the 5 km/h scale.

Jan discussed Jane Jacobs success to stop a cross Manhattan freeway and her book “The Death& Life of Great Cities” 1961.

He compared this with the Brasilia syndrome of 1955: city planning from 5,000 metres.  The city looks like an eagle from above, but shit at street level; at people scale.  The waterfront in Melbourne and downtown Dubai are similar examples. Jan showed a slide of architects looking down from above over a scale model of a new building of towers and tubes.

Architects are more and more focused on form.  The units are getting bigger and bigger, but people are still slow and small.  Jan referred to this as scale confusion.

The interaction between form and life; that’s what makes good architecture.

The most important scale is people scale – eye level – lively city; attractive city; sustainable city; healthy city – means less stress; less noise; less pollution – more walking; more bicycles; good public transport at any time of the day or night – more inviting to sit and linger longer.  While more roads, means more traffic,.

Copenhagen has a citywide network of bicycle lanes protected by kerbs and protected by moving out the line of parked cars.  Taxis must be fitted out to take at least 2 bikes.  Likewise trains are designed to take bikes.  The bicycle culture was developed step by step.  More cafe seats.  Designing streets and cross streets to make walking across the city easier.  Most streets have 2 side walks; 2 proper bike lanes; median strips and 2 lanes for 2 way traffic.  Designed to be safer to walk to school.  Building cities for the 21st century.

Jan’s latest book is “Cities for People”.

The talk was as part of a series by Melbourne Connections sponsored by the City of Melbourne.  The talk will shortly be available on podcast with ABC’s Big Ideas.

The next Melbourne Connections talk will be on 25 May at 6 pm at the Melbourne Town Hall: Contemporary Art: 50 years of the National Gallery of Victoria.

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