Helicopter architecture

In such rapidly changing global circumstances, is it not a prudent time to ask a simple question:  how does this impact on the cities that we are planning for the future?  Over the last fifteen-years we seen the rise of the celebrity architect, mega-iconic buildings and beautifully crafted masterplans that says more about global branding than about local communities and urban serendipity; Governments have committed themselves to the construction of “Ecotowns” based on sound sustainability principles, yet the feasibility of their delivery lags far behind their noble vision. 

Possibly now is a time to return to the question of what we want cities to be; what quality of urbanity do we want to celebrate; how do well-planned cities contribute to our sense of community and quality of life.  Masterplans that express their ideas as a series of building blocks, axial routes and formal civic spaces are about helicopter architecture – we should recognise that people experience their cities from the STREET, rather than from the AIR; we interact within the SPACES framed between the buildings rather than the blocks of buildings themselves, consequently such grand statements are inappropriate. 

Our cities of the future should be compact cities that are well served by public transport;  they should be planned to recognising that agglomeration economics is essential for the well-being of cities;  they should respond to local environmental context;  they should illicit surprise and delight in their design;  final,  they should acknowledge that we interact globally but live locally.

The on-going debate between Prince Charles and The Architect Fraternity is about acceptable style, but very little is said about the essential content of what makes for liveable cities.  Quite honestly, a mix of classical and modern styles appears to be quite workable in mainland Europe, yet in the UK this continually evokes the discussion of social divide and elitism. Cities are more than just a series of architectural set-pieces, they are about the very fine tuned and dynamic interaction of people lives, the transfer of goods and services, the need for movement and accessibility allowing people choice – true democratic cities provide an infrastructural framework to which the private sector responds; there is continual change, mistakes happen yet people accept this as part of a cities BACKDROP to their lives. Perhaps it is a bit presumptuous of Architects to presume that their work holds such merit and significance for communities.

We should accept that city building is a process – there is renewal, management, maintenance, neglect and renewal within continual changing societal paradigm shifts.  It is when the professions stop arguing about style, and focus on process that we will begin to realise truly sustainable cities of value and leave a legacy of quality for the future.


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