Biblio (83) The city at eye level

biblio83 city eye level


Sometimes you stumble upon a website that happens to be a the entrance to a book. This Biblio is just that, but it also seems to hold the promise for more things. To be sure, it is at heart the site of a business (a planning practice, which is nothing to be ashamed of), but it is worth the visit.

The main thesis of the book is that street plinths (that horizontal strip of building space that you see when walking the street) are an essential part in the character and liveability of any given city. Something I will hardly contend with, as I have often to work on urban space matters, be it retail or overall design. Sometimes Americans seem to think (I know there are millions Americans, I’m only judging from what I read often in blogs) that Europe is the lost Arcadia for urban shape, but in fact this is not always true, and this book, combining views from different geographical perspectives give a rich picture of it. The main authors are Dutch (Stipo, a multi-disciplinary team), but they have invited contributors from other countries, so you can see how the urban spaces of Rotterdam work, but also a plea for urban garages by a Flemish architect, among other things.

The book states, taking the forecasts of experts, that 30% of current retail units could be wiped out by the internet commerce; I assume that this can be an average for the Netherlands, but anyway things are changing in every country (for instance, variations in lease price rise limitations that exist in some places can be a more powerful factor). So one of the central points of the book, that urban plinths are not limited to retail use, become ever more needed as reflection grounds. That said, the book also has sections on retail that are interesting.

This book is based on an European view on the city that has some parallels to the US New Urbanism, but with the difference that it intends to work mainly on the existing urban tissue, so with more potential effect on how everyday life can be improved for far more people. Besides, the issue is not so much a given architectural “style”, but rather a play with the defining elements of the streetscape (something Americans as Christopher Alexander have worked with)

Housing (6) Kiefhoek

The entrance to the neighborhood, with the two shops

The entrance to the neighborhood, with the two shops

Kiefhoek is a working class development built in 1925-1930 in south Rotterdam by J.J.P.Oud. It is one of the iconic housing experiences from the interwar period in Europe that most architecture students have to know around the world, as it exemplifies many concepts. The area consisted of 294 houses, two shops, a water distillery and two warehouses/workshops.

The homes were designed for low income families, with a standard of 61 sq m per unit, around the idea, common among architects at that time, that by reducing the housing unit to its minimum requirements the masses could receive a decent home. The architecture is therefore simple to reduce costs, but it is elegant, and the two shops at the entrance of the compound show how you can make more with less.

Its 1925, so there is no garage; but there is a small garden, today occupied partially by ancillary buildings. Google maps has an excellent coverage of the area, so I think it is a good idea if you indulge in a virtual walk around the area.