IDLE TALK No. 1
Today, everything is designed. A ‘designer’ aesthetic invades almost every aspect of contemporary urban life. We have absorbed design so deeply into ourselves that we no longer recognize the countless ways in which it prompts, distracts and excites us. It’s absolutely normal. It’s the way things are. However, urban design is not just about the aesthetics of cityscapes – urbanism should be about making things work. It should be about ensuring the efficient management of land, infrastructure and services, as well as adopting ideas of a balanced and stable community. While the complicated relationship between society, space and architecture forms the basis for hundreds of theories and hypotheses, what really affects us, what really matters to us as human beings, is our everyday experience of the city.
Aésthetist editor-in-chief Lily McFly meets young British designer Chris Dove to discuss how urban design professionals make the modern city livable and lovable.
Interview by Lily McFly
Illustrations by Chris Dove
I think it’s crucial that architects always have one foot in the past and one in the future. Develop your aspirations and ideas of the future, yet ground them in something tangible
Aé: Does the city inspire you?
CD: I do really enjoy urban life. I can understand how people might find living in cities too intense, but I have always lived in cities. I grew up in Liverpool, studied in Glasgow, and now work in London. I find it really interesting to move and see new places, seeing how different cultures deal with the individual and unique conditions of a place. I find this leads to the physical materials of a city, how things are put together. I’m really interested in how materials change from place to place, and what effect this has on the feeling of a city. For instance, the heavy stone facades of Glasgow is much different from London’s clay / brick influenced architecture. Should this effect how new interventions in the city are made? How does a material feel right for a place? These questions of materiality is something I’m really interested in, and is something that really drives the projects I work on.
Aé: As the global population increases and becomes more urbanised, urban planning becomes a highly controversial issue. Does that make the work of an architect more interesting? Or does it create more obstacles for conceptual architecture projects in big cities like London?
CD: The importance of urbanism in the modern day is an interesting debate. The current generation of architects have opportunities to work on cities that have not been built yet, in places in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and China. It’s not something I have ever been part of, and I’m always really curious to understand how you design a city / area completely from scratch, with no or little context. Because of incredible financial growth, there is now a lot of opportunities for development in places like this. No matter how much of a blank slate a place is, I believe architects should always look to learn from the past. I think it’s crucial that architects always have one foot in the past and one in the future. Develop your aspirations and ideas of the future, yet ground them in something tangible.
Aé: What is an ideal city? Is it an ideal place to live, or is it an ideal architectural creation?
CD: Some of the most beautiful, well designed cities have grown over years and years, instead of being designed and becoming instantly successful. The city and the designer, must work hard, together, to make it work. My favourite example of this is Ildefons Cerda’s plan of the Eixample district in Barcelona. Cerda aimed to create a city condition that could control the density, and aim to tackle social problems that had taken a hold of the city. The blocks have a set height and mass, which means there is always access to sunlight, whereas the corners of each block are chamfered, creating small social points in between every intersection and increasing connectivity and visibility. The inhabitants of Barcelona adapted to this, and over years has become a really successful idea of urban design.
Aé: What is the future of big cities?
CD: For me, a concern for future cities is in public space. We have a responsibility as architects and designers in the future of cities of all scales, we have to be interested in retaining and preserving the public space of the city. And we must care about public spaces of all scales – from vast public squares to private courts, and huge parks to gardens. They are important moments of how you connect with one another as people, how you feel about architecture, how you engage with the city. For me it is about being a citizen. Citizens should look to contribute to the social greater good of a place, and I believe architects should have an important role to play in that. An important physical part of this, can happen through caring about the public places of the city we all have access to. •
Chris Dove is a young British designer & architect living and working in London. In 2012, Chris Dove and Craig Mitchell designed ‘Stone Bench’, which won the City of London Corporation’s Stone Bench Competition 2012. It’s located on Cheapside, near St Paul’s Cathedral, Central London.
Cover & photographs © Chris Dove