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This week I am posting Will Bruder’s excellent essay for the 98th Arizona Town Hall meeting, “Capitalizing on Arizona’s Arts and Culture”.

I’ll be posting the essay in 3 parts. In today’s post, Will defines architecture and the urban fabric.

How does Arizona’s unique architectural character add value to the lives of our residents/visitors and how can the urban fabric of its towns and cities help move our state forward in a distinctive and sustainable way?

In this essay I will address these questions and suggest ways that we can protect and sustain our already unique heritage while embracing the challenges and opportunities of an ever-changing cultural and economic reality.

First a definition of terms to clarify the percepts on which my comments will be grounded.

What is architecture?

The essence of architecture is evident in those structures of human activity that do not merely shelter our bodies but engage all our senses. Architecture challenges our intellect to view the world from a different perspective, a perspective that is grounded in the specificity of time and place. Architecture is a careful balance of the pragmatic and the poetic. It combines that which is functional, logical and efficient with that which is indefinable, inspiring, and unexpected. Architecture is where the most ordinary of materials are configured in ways that transform them to make places of extraordinary resonance and memory…places where small visceral experiences are as significant as big ideas.

Architecture that is conceived to give the instant wow experience too often is only of its time, while architecture that truly aspires to be of its place and time is that which has the potential of becoming the timeless. Architecture should aspire to engage us, to be grounded in a real experience that wells up in us and takes us over, producing the  ‘whooshing up’ described by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly in their new book “All Things Shining”. While architecture is always best measured in relation to the scale of the human, architecture must also be appropriate to the scale of the landscape, both natural and manmade, that it inhabits and the velocity of the world in which it exists. Architecture always reflects how a culture views itself. It is a barometer of how a community expresses social change and renewal over time. Architecture is the most fragile of art forms, as evidenced by the many empty lots where buildings once stood in our cities and towns. Yet architecture leaves the most permanent markers of our cultural heritage.

What is an urban fabric?

While we often see the architecture of buildings as the key objects that make great cities, it is really the quality of the pedestrian realm, i.e. the sidewalks, the street edges, the landscape and the spaces between the buildings that make cities enjoyable, accessible and memorable. A sustainable urban fabric preferences people in its scale, texture, level of detail and connectivity, not the velocity of the car. When the urban fabric is strong, neighborhoods evolve and thrive. Cities are but neighborhoods and experiences linked together, like a richly textured and animated three-dimensional quilt.

To understand where Arizona is as a place to live and visit it is helpful to survey the past century of our built history.  This history holds the keys to understanding our identity and offers lessons we must appreciate as we go forward.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a brief history of Arizona’s architecture in part II of Will’s essay…

Photo Credit: A snapshot of the urban fabric of Downtown Phoenix. Photo from Get Your Phx.

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4 Responses

  1. Paul P says:

    If this is a single essay, why is it being split in three parts, each posted on separate days? Why didn’t you link directly to the source document? The event happened in May, right?

    Maybe there’s a great reason for this “in three parts” stuff that I don’t understand, but it seems like a strange way to treat readers.

    For others who might want to read the essay as Will wrote it, the whole thing is here, starting on page 76 of this PDF: http://aztownhall.org/pdf/98th_Background_Report.pdf

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Hi Paul, thanks for the link to the whole essay. The essay I’m publishing is also as Will wrote it, it’s just split up into three parts due to the length. My blog readers are used to a certain length of posts and I didn’t want to overwhelm them with the entire 2700 + word essay in one post. Thanks to you, though, my readers will have a chance to read the entire essay in one sitting if they wish.

  2. […] I’ll be posting the essay in 3 parts. In today’s post, which is the second part, Will gives an extraordinary account of the history of architecture in Arizona. If you missed part I, where Will defines architecture and the urban fabric, catch it here.  […]

  3. […] local resources and plug into the sustainability progress happening globally. Make sure to read Part I and Part II of this essay if you haven’t […]