York Urbanist

Urban Design – Iconic Buildings Define a City

December 7th, 2011

Good urban design is that which gives identity to a place.

Having developed urban design guidelines for various cities, my fear was repetition of what is considered good urban design.  Such repetition in Vaughan and Markham has given us some pretty, but perhaps senseless results.  Let us look at the urban design concept of having the building “address the street”.  This is an excellent URBAN criteria. However, plunk it down in suburbia and you have a doorless front that creates a wall on the street.  The example is pictured at Weston and Rutherford. The featured architecture is really a sign.  Faux windows stand as “articulation of the frontage” but no real purpose.  The great lawn in front is not a welcome mat, and lacks only the sign “Do not walk on the grass”.

And this is no better than noise attenuation walls that seal off a neighbourhood from its community. The example is Thornhill’s noise wall south of Centre Street on the Markham side of Yonge.  This wall is much of the reason why Thornhill Village cannot take flight.  Instead potential patrons are sealed from the street or scared from the district by inactivity.

Thornhill Village - Lost

This missive on urban design introduces our next list of “Iconic Buildings” of York Region.  All the urban design guidelines cannot make an identifiable building.  The building must have unique qualities that sets it apart.  Paris has the Eiffel Tower, which some called a monstrosity upon completion.  Big Ben identifies the architectural culture of London. The Burj Dubai became the world’s tallest building when it opened in 2009.  All are iconic, and their uniqueness define their cities! Will the Marilyn Monroe, Absolute World, buildings define suburban Mississauga? If nothing else, they have brought notoriety to the city and the Chinese architect, Yansong Ma.  The answer is that buildings must be iconic to gain attention.  Attention to good building design can identify a city.


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