Tag Archives: life between buildings

Idea of the Day: Brasilia Syndrome

28 Nov

Meet Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl. If you have about 30 minutes, he can explain why the parts of a city that look so appealing on the approach from an expressway are often so boring to be in. He calls it the Brasilia Syndrome. If you don’t have that long, it works something like this:

Around 1960, Gehl says, architects and planners began designing streets and developments as compositions of landmark buildings, or with an eye toward how they could best accommodate the movement of cars. Other uses were given little consideration, if any.

Density was moved from horizontal to vertical as free-standing towers replaced smaller buildings  placed close together. Buildings were pushed back from the street. Banks, food courts, dry cleaners and post offices were added inside so that people could go the entire day without ever being in the surrounding neighborhood.

Planning cities “to make cars happy,” as Gehl describes it, resulted in a landscape meant to be viewed at about 40 miles per hour (think of an office park or strip mall – large signs, little detail, buildings seen best from a distance) instead of a pedestrian’s pace of around 3 miles per hour.

In extreme cases this type of planning produced the “helicopter urbanism” of cities planned entirely from the air, like Brasilia, or more recently, Dubai.

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