qualities of density

Dense environments have always carried dual connotations – on one side they are considered positive due to the sustainable use of resources and the intense social links they generate, but on the other side they are recognized to generate negative effects on humans, such as stress. Starting with the industrial revolution, a strong debate arose regarding the benefits and downsides of density, especially regarding the relation between existing crowded urban environments and the programmatic development of new healthy environments. The debate remained unsolved for a long time, until recent studies have determined an important element that actually shifts the balance between good or bad density, namely the quality of an environment.

I’m currently reading cities full of space, qualities of density by Rudy Uytenhaak. He argues that the built density is the source of a loss of (natural) quality, and the role of urban and architectural design is that of neutralizing this effect by eliminating oppressive spatial configurations and by generating diversity through the design of “intelligent puzzles”.

rudy uytehhaak-desaturatedRudy Uytenhaak Architectenbureau

The quality of density is the most significant feature of the urban built context, and as Uytehnhaak R. points out, “without sufficient quality, density does not work – it even becomes dangerous”. This idea balances the previous interdisciplinary discussions about the justifications underlying positive or negative high-density architecture models of the architectural culture, determining the defining criterion for models with a correct functioning. Spatial quality, as he states, should be sought for in the architectural design of new buildings as a way of compensating for density and its potential negative effects.

Dietmar Eberle (Baumschlager Eberle), in a lecture held at TU Graz on Density, talks about density as determining the urban atmosphere, and that this atmosphere is mostly dependent on the character of the empty public space. The empty open space is what makes us relate to a place. After studying 4 different cities and 40 different locations within those cities, he concludes that the quality of density isn’t good or bad, but it simply has automatic fixed determinations upon quality, atmosphere, people  fluctuation etc. Also, the categories of density represent the current values of time and society. Currently, the quality of a neighborhood is proportionally related to the quantity of public owned open space – 30%…40% for qualitative neighborhoods. So, open space must be increased in order to obtain quality in dense environments. Buildings and open space remain un-ordered in built densities under 1,5, meaning that the position of buildings remains insignificant to other buildings and their organization is based on other characteristics of the interstitial spaces. With densities higher than 1,5, the open space and buildings start to become ordered in relation to the other buildings. higher density attracts also an increase in visual richness (important in relation to quality),in the careful care of public space, the walk-ability and the mixed-use quality of a neighborhood.

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