Saturday, June 13, 2009

Csont and New Urbanism

David Csont is one of the most admired members of the American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI). He’s a principal of the firm Urban Design Associates in Pittsburgh, which is a leader in New Urbanism. New Urbanism is a movement to design communities to be more walkable, diverse, and sustainable.

Mr. Csont spends a lot of time meeting with his clients all over the world. He brings his watercolor setup to those meetings and paints right there at the conference table. Seeing his colorful renderings take shape before their eyes energizes planning groups and gets them thinking about specifics.

Although his firm uses computers extensively, this role of visualizing with traditional media can’t be replaced by the machine because of the artist’s ability to select and accentuate detail and to convey mood. Below: overviews produced by his team.

For Mr. Csont, the appeal of new urbanism grows out of childhood experiences of intact traditional communities. “I grew up in a suburban neighborhood,” Mr. Csont told me. “My grandmother lived in an old house in a traditional neighborhood. We’d sit on the front porch and watch the cars go by. There was a store on the corner and she would send me out for a loaf of bread. Those were my fondest memories.”
New Urbanism on Wikipedia and Official Site
Urban Design Associates website
Dave Csont Bio
American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI) website


Andrew said...

My uncle is an architect, with my cousin actually going to school right now with the same goal. When I was younger, whenever we'd visit them up in NJ, I'd go and draw in his home office, which was pretty much a studio, complete with a pretty awesome (at least to me at the time,) drafting table, and an old cast metal electric eraser (I remember that thing being ludicrously heavy.)

What always fascinated me in his studio though were the plans and renderings he'd sometimes have tacked up on his wall, drafted then rendered with marker. I think he still does some renderings this way, though I know he's incorporated computers into his firm now as well. It's nice to know some things just never go out of style.

Erik Bongers said...

Shopping malls and office buildings in the center of the cities force most people to spend much of their time in the car.
We never really chose for this, but it grew organically and now we're stuck with it.

So, the importance of urbanism on our lives is big, but often neglected and underestimated (in politics).

But urbanistic projects are often too large to be of intrest to politicians. Such projects take decades, while elections take place every 4 years. Thus a project needs to give some political return-on-investement in only 3 years.
Also, in a democracy, the only viable urbanistic progress you can make is through concensus and compromise. (Alternatively, a dictatorship almost always results in megalomane projects). All of this is quite a challenge for urbatects as they have to come up with solutions that can be implemented step-by-step.
How do you replace a shopping mall by several local shops in local communities in a step-by-step way?
And what if the people do prefer the mall?

I said it in a previous post, but it's a privilege of artists that they can show the audience a world how it could be. Dinotopia is of course a great example and happens to have something urbanistic to it as well. It gives children a view of how a world could be. And those children will likely make choices in their lives that are (perhaps unconciously) influenced by what they have read about. And they will become voters...

i, me said...

Have you read up neuroplasticity (book title: the brain that changes itself) ? It seems there is an emerging view that the brain and hand are intertwined with learning:

which sort of echos many of harold speed's ideas about seeing.

anyway, its seems to me that part of the thinking process is short circuited when we skip using our hands..or using them in a limited way (keyboard)

James Gurney said...

I, me: I'm aware of the concept of neuroplasticity, but haven't read much about it. I would make the case on behalf of my digital friends that computer rendering occupies every bit as much of the gray matter as does traditional painting, but perhaps it's leads to a different cognitive style (for example the need to consciously isolate steps and controls)-- I don't know.

Erik, yes, the political basis for new urbanism is the trick. One of their delightfully non-fascist principles is that the community should govern itself and make its own rules, more in the way traditional towns and cities did it. But getting a big new urbanist development off the ground in a greenfield site takes a lot of capital and long range commitment as you say. The new urbanists don't only work on greenfield sites; some of the most exciting things I've seen are their ideas for making over not-so-livable car-centric communities.

Drew, thanks for the recollections.

i, me said...

sorry to sidetrack again but...
one of the more fascinating studies in that book was about 'ADD'- and a neuroplasticity 'cure' that was more effective than drugs:: they would have ADD children learn long poems by rote and learn a language w/ a non-roman alphabet (usually farsi or urdu) and here is the key - they would learn to make the characters w/ their hands rather than by site.

Of course, to anyone who attended school prior to the 1960s this would sound familiar - schools used to make every pupil learn a long poem (ask your parents or grandparents - they can probably still recite hiawatha or the like)and they stressed pensmenship much more than today.

i, me said...

PS: eric i think it can be done in a much more organic manner- simply by creating conditions that lead to it- for example, obviously, subsidized roads led to bedroom suburbs and strip malls - if for example a major highway were to be ripped out and replaced with rail and light rail, a tighter, 'old urban' organic structure would emerge.

Andrew said...

Rethinking about this post, it brought to mind when Walt Disney unveiled his plans for EPCOT. For the folks unaware, EPCOT originally wasn't planned as an attraction at all, but a city, and one that was yeeeaaars ahead in design philosophy. No cars (with the exception of delivery trucks and that sort of thing,) streets separated from actual pedestrian ways to minimize vehicular casualties, etc. If I remember correctly, it ironically had very socialist ideas behind it, considering Walt's stance on that thing (again, if I'm remembering correctly.) It was essentially a planned utopian urban jungle.

Everything fell apart once he got sick and passed away, and the other top folk decided to shy away from such a long-term venture and make another park on the purchased land.

There's a big ol' wikipedia article on it, which covers it pretty accurately actually. I think there's also his original pitch film he made on youtube somewhere where he goes into detail all the plans made.

Jean said...

I spent some of my best childhood years on a small army base in Germany. We could walk everywhere safely: school, groceries, candy store, movies, craftshop. Only the high school kids had to be bussed to a larger base. There was always plenty to do, including just playing in the woods (and under those clotheslines I mentioned earlier). I don't know if a small military base would be a good model for a small community, but it's worth a thought.