Keeping up appearances

On Wednes­day 12 Feb­ru­ary 2014, a Dutch his­to­rian involved in urban plan­ning was quoted in a pub­lic state­ment as say­ing the fol­low­ing: “By the strength of design, we can draft and draw the cities of the future. But with all stake­hold­ers involved from day one, we have much greater pub­lic sup­port”. At first read­ing, it may seem as a gen­uine attempt to get stake­hold­ers involved in his projects. In order to make cities a bet­ter place, of course. After dis­sect­ing his words more care­fully, how­ever, it becomes all too clear what ulte­rior motives he has.

“By the strength of design, we can draft and draw the cities of the future”

This is rather straight­for­ward, albeit a lit­tle old-fashioned: sure, design­ers have the abil­ity to make vision­ary mas­ter plans as blue­prints for a bright and shiny future. But haven’t we sort of passed that phase by now? There’s noth­ing wrong with rigid plan­ning, as Le Cor­busier under­lined in his book Air­plane: “To those who love life, I say pre­pare plans. MAKE YOUR PLANS ! …”. We all wish we could make a plan that –on paper– fixes all of society’s prob­lems and shows us the path to a bet­ter life. That’s ok. But to put that in a pub­lic press release 80 years later and con­sider it inno­v­a­tive seems a lit­tle ignorant.

“But with all stake­hold­ers involved from day one, we have much greater pub­lic support”

Right. This is fun: let us involve stake­hold­ers solely for rais­ing pub­lic sup­port. Of course, why bother with all those ideas –based on years of prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence– that each of the stake­hold­ers has of their own? Nui­sance! They’ve already MADE THEIR PLANS! It’s the clas­sic exam­ple of pseudo-collaborative plan­ning: pre­tend like you care, but by all means don’t engage your­self with the true com­plex­ity of spa­tial planning.

  1. Make your plan;
  2. Find any way to get it done.

Fol­low the path of least resis­tance, espe­cially if there’s lit­tle time and money to invest in an inte­grated strategy.

Fine, but if you take that route, do it right: force your opin­ion on oth­ers, while cred­it­ing the stake­hold­ers for their input. Van­ity with­held them from doing the lat­ter. The whole pur­pose of col­lab­o­ra­tive plan­ning is to use design as means to visu­al­ize dif­fer­ent poten­tials (final states) in order to be able to reflect on alter­na­tive strate­gies (processes) together with all stake­hold­ers involved. Plan­ning and archi­tec­ture are two dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. In gen­eral, archi­tects don’t make good plan­ners. Those archi­tects that do make good plan­ners, are often not very inter­ested in archi­tec­ture to begin with. We’ll agree that a project draw­ing can be a visu­al­iza­tion of a future state, but plan­ning most cer­tainly is not merely the process of get­ting there.

Wait a minute, what exactly is the role of a his­to­rian in all of this anyway?!

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3 thoughts on “Keeping up appearances

  1. 1001 00101 says:

    See if you guys can guess who wrote this: “the architect’s ever dimin­ish­ing power and his grow­ing inef­fec­tu­al­ness in shap­ing the whole envi­ron­ment can per­haps be reversed, iron­i­cally, by nar­row­ing his con­cerns and con­cen­trat­ing on his own job”

    1. nomoreladida says:

      I would guess Denise Scott Brown, just because she was never cred­ited for writ­ing or design­ing anything.

  2. Kowalski says:

    Involv­ing stake­hold­ers means includ­ing in the pre­sen­ta­tion a pic­ture of a work­shop with kids.
    And some mood board full of sketches too!

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@Colt Sievers I will be the first to agree with you on all counts. I would love to read that article. If you ever want to publish it on my blogg please do not hesitate to contact me.

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@Conrad having worked in one of those offices that you mention, I have found your post as much provocative as naive and simplistic. I should make an entire post to explain why... will leave that for later. Thanks, anyway, to keep the discussion alive

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