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Rem Koolhaas and Jan Gehl Theories in City Planning Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Aug 20th, 2019

People take different positions when debating on a subject and this is not any different in the architectural world. The two architects presented in this paper have taken very different positions concerning how cities should be designed as outlined below.

Rem Koolhaas, in his interview with Spiegel Online titled An Obsessive Compulsion Towards the Spectacular, seems to be for the construction of large sophisticated buildings in the cities. For Rem, spectacular should be the main guiding concept when designing buildings in cities and not sustainability as being advocated for by environmentalists.

He asserts that experience and intellectual force are there in the world, for example in Middle East and the West, which can be utilized to come up with spectacular buildings. However, he is also aware of the challenge that exists in merging the experience from the West with intellectual from the Middle East (Koolhaas side 1). Rem seems not to like the idea of similarity in buildings designed by different architects, but also notes that it is sometimes inevitable.

He notes that the large architectural buildings in most cities are almost the same design. He, however, blames this on time limitation for research when designing buildings, which often force architects to borrow from existing buildings rather than coming up with new designs. He does not like this similarity, but also acknowledges that sometimes architects are forced by the customers to domesticate existing designs especially in air conditioned buildings.

This is because the owners of the buildings have pinned down the architects to what they want and not what the architects want to design (Koolhaas side 1). The constructions nowadays are meant to create ambiguity and complexity in order to escape the challenges that come with being explicit (Koolhaas side 3).

Jan Gehl, on the other hand, is also for large buildings in the city, but he insists that there has to be space put aside for people. In his interview with ASLA-The Dirt, Jan insists cities have to be planned for the people and that buildings have to be designed for the people to be able to live healthy lives (ASLA-Dirt side 3). Jan insists on sustainability as the guiding concept when designing cities. He notes that buildings have filled the landscape.

This has led to planning becoming a profession. Architects take care of the buildings and the planners do the planning. A building’s ground floor should be rich and the whole city will be rich. It should be designed to fit people’s interaction and communication (ASLA-Dirt side 2). He considers Pizza del campo in Sienna as a place where human care has been observed (ASLA-Dirt side 3). For Jan, similarity of buildings designed by different architects is not an issue so long as the buildings are designed with sustainability in mind.

The two architects, however, have some converging positions. They both agree on the fact that there is a need for a people’s space in the cities. Rem acknowledges trying to design Dubai as a true public place. He wants to create a city in Dubai that has space for people and not the place you find in every city like shopping malls, but also maintain an urban life for the people (Koolhaas side 1).

He notes that urban centers are not lacking anything, but are confused in that they are too densely populated that in future the cities could be insecure to live in (Koolhaas side 2). This could make the European city a history since nobody will live there anymore. “Biggest not tallest” is the common phrase that people use nowadays (Koolhaas side 2).

The difference between a science centre and the development going on in Dubai is the political environment and the amount of freedom and latitude the architects are given (Koolhaas side 3). The two main typologies of buildings today are houses and towers unlike in the 20th century when there were many types (Koolhaas side 3).

He thinks that competition between buildings to be the tallest is just a ridiculous idea. He notes that length is becoming less of a concern as architects focus on size so that the building can be multifunctional (Koolhaas side 3). T

he factor of big multifunctional buildings makes people to always be in motion while the buildings are constantly being renovated (Koolhaas side 3). He notes that the larger the space, the better, but the buildings should have a place where people could meet to interact (Koolhaas side 4).

Just like Rem, Jan too feels that the cities are too much filled with buildings instead of being planned for the people. Nobody takes care of the people living in the buildings (ASLA-Dirt side 2). He says that it would be better to take care of the people than to take care of the buildings.

Cities should be designed in such a way that it facilitates a healthy life, for example, encouraging people to cycle to work not to just sit and move in motor vehicles (ASLA-Dirt side 3).

We should always build for human scale not for structure scale. It is, however, very difficult to build considering human scale while the buildings there at the moment are built to structure scale (ASLA-Dirt side 4). This challenge is worse in third world countries where cars and motor cycles increase by the day (ASLA-Dirt side 5). This makes it difficult for city planners as they are forced to constantly revise the plans.

Critical Discussion

Rem’s point of view is good as it would lead to better developed cities with the best and most complex designs. This would also lead to better services and delivery of goods in an easy way as the infrastructure is well taken care of. However, the problem with Rem’s position is that his position does not concentrate on the most important idea of taking care of people and making cities secure for the people in the future.

Jan’s point of view is that the cities should be planned for the people, but also notes that buildings are an important part of cities. The weakness of this way of thinking is that there will be less development in terms of infrastructure especially in third world countries where cities are growing in population day by day. Leaving spaces for people in the cities would compromise city development.

The two positions can, however, be combined to make a wonderful idea. That is, combining spectacular with sustainability. Construction of complex buildings in cities can be encouraged so long as the architects have people in mind. This way, there will be more economic developments in our cities as the people are comfortable and healthy (ASLA-Dirt side 3).

Works Cited

ASLA-Dirt. Interview with Jan Gehl. American Society of Landscape Architects, April 13th, 2011. Web.

Koolhasa, Rem. An Obsessive Compulsion Toward the Spectacular. Interview in Spiegel Online, July 18th, 2008. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Rem Koolhaas and Jan Gehl Theories in City Planning." August 20, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/incompatible-positions/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Rem Koolhaas and Jan Gehl Theories in City Planning'. 20 August.

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