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MICHIGAN DEBATES ON URBANISM VOLUMES I, II AND III

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technical & practice

University of Michigan, 2005. $17.95 each Everyday Urbanism Margaret Crawford vs Michael Speaks, edited by Rahul Mehrotra New Urbanism Peter Calthorpe vs Lars Lerup, edited by Robert Fishman Post-Urbanism & ReUrbanism: Designs for Ground Zero Peter Eisenman vs Barbara Littenberg and Steven Peterson, edited by Roy Strickland Presentationally, these books are unappealing: full of out-of-focus conference shots, name badges, platform handshakes and water being drunk. Content-wise, they are quite useful, although the verbatim-style transcript is awkward. The first volume looks at the role of the market in urban design decisions. It explores the concept of social capital (those networks and affiliations that hold society together) and its role in spontaneously driving urban design decisions. It posits the social benefits of vernacularism, populism and ad hocism in positive opposition to - disingenuously - 'official' architecture.

In the way that only academia can, Volume II tries to place New Urbanism in the middle ground between Post-Urbanism and Everyday Urbanism. Calthorpe, co-founder/director of the Congress for New Urbanism wondered whether New Urbanism should be open-ended or guided by a set of canonical rules, but concluded that it has high moral principles predominantly to do with creating 'neighbourhoods'.

Volume III is the last of the series, with a focus on Ground Zero. Described in the introduction as 'avant-garde' and 'anti-urban', Post Urbanism is said to be 'driven by aesthetics rather than by normative principles.' Eisenman's comment that 'architecture is supposed to be the locus of the metaphysics of space' kicked off a pretentious essay that seemed to reflect a hedonism of defeat. I end with a quote from Eisenman for you to dream about: 'If matter is now animated with forces which are integral to matter, then the space between buildings can no longer be just left over? We can no longer have geometric mathematical formalism.

Instead there will be calculus formalisms which deal with much more complex relationships between space, time and buildings.'

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