11.03.2008

A Tall Order for Poverty

I've been hearing a lot lately about the increasing density of our cities, especially in developing countries like India, Nigeria, and China. It's a sort of conundrum because when we think about dense cities, we tend to think of tall cities. Lagos and Mumbai are far from tall cities and their populations are set to exceed record numbers in the next 5 to 10 years. With huge amounts of impoverished citizens living in 3rd world conditions, and density going through the roof, some suggest building tall is the answer. It's really a quite interesting notion that brings to mind a lot of interesting questions regardless of how realistic the situation may be.

How would it work? Social housing has long been an issue for big cities and rarely have we found extremely successful models. So how do you take a problem, we already don't know how to solve, and try to apply it to the high-rise? It's a really complex issue, though Ken Yeang has some interesting theories about tall buildings and how they work. Though not directly related, he speaks of tall building design as urban design, flipped vertical, which might be an appropriate approach to a problem such as this.

Also, What implications might this have on the tall building typologies? What sort of social hierarchy would a project like this create? I mean, in today's high rise condo markets, everyone knows the higher up you go, the more you pay. Well how does that work when people can barely afford to live? Who gets the top floor? Perhaps the upper levels could be dedicated to community activities, or communal spaces, and the bottom floors committed to food services and shopping, with the middle strictly residential. Or would we have mixed income high rises, similar to the overwhelmingly successful Lafayette Park by Mies van der Rohe in Detroit?

And what would a project like this do for the social status associated with living in tall buildings? Furthermore, what happens if these high-rises that seem to be going up like hot cakes suddenly aren't selling? I mean, in an economy like ours right now this doesn't sound so unreasonable. The idea of social high-rise may not be realistic or eminent, however it may be in the future if it could be done right.

What are your thoughts?.


(Photo from Flickr user mihir. The original full-sized color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)
(Photo from Flickr user ChicagoEye. The original full-sized color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

2 comments:

jackson said...

Much of the success of Lafayette Park stems not from Mies' high rises themselves, but from the way high rise buildings are incorporated into Ludwig Hilberseimer's overall plan and Alfred Caldwell's landscape design for the site. Although it may be useful to consider high rise architecture as "urban design, flipped vertical," urban design on the ground is still critical to any high rise development's overall success (or failure...)

selophane said...

Having studied the barrios, favelas, and fringe communities of Latin American cities, I have to say, that high rise buildings are infinitely better at providing basic services legally - such as running water, sanitary systems, electricity, etc. These buildings have problems when maintenance and upkeep is lacking, but in theory (and with the right budget) they are the better solution.

The sprawling shanty towns on the other hand, do provide a better sense of community and culture, and given enough time they too develop paved roads and basic social services, but the road to get there is paved with vice and corruption.