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New Humanism Appears in Urban Cityscapes

by Lori Hoffman

Filed Under : Design strategy , Humanism , Outdoor living , Uncategorized , Urban Living

Posted on September 1, 2015 at 12:11 pm



I recently read an article in MetropolisMag.com regarding “New Humanism.” What I found interesting was its focus on the human experience of a place. The crux of the article was its focus on experiencing architecture, landscapes and urban places, not just moving through them from point A to point B. What I found especially interesting was this fresh look at an old idea, where today, most people focus on only what looks cool.

I came across this idea in my first year of college when I was in the Architecture and Landscape Design program at University of Oregon. One of our required readings was Cities, by Lawrence Halprin. What struck me most about this book was his point of view, which may be summarized as follows: ”It’s not just a matter of [space], but of a whole appreciation of environmental design as a holistic approach to the matter of making spaces for people to live…[which] includes and is based on the vital archetypal needs of human being as individuals as well as social groups.” (adapted from Walker, Peter et al. (1994). Invisible Gardens: the Search for Modernism in the American Landscape, p. 9.




Growing up in Los Angeles, while I certainly appreciated architecture with its variety of forms and shapes, I can’t say I’d ever really thought about it as an experience. However, Robert Lamb Hart’s article, “A New Humanism” puts it beautifully. As humans, we unconsciously respond to the environment around us.

Think about it. We’ve all been to that musty, dreary accountant’s office, or the white, Formica-clad-linoleum-tiled sterile doctor’s office. Or equally as wretched, the cold, stark breezeway between two buildings that looks like a no-man’s land after the apocalypse. Who are we kidding? No one wants to walk through there, much less linger there. One has got to ask the question…How was it that these things were designed so poorly?




It really doesn’t take much to add just a few details. They certainly don’t have to be expensive. What about a hard surface material with a little personality? It doesn’t have to be gold-tipped acanthus leaves! How about just a little textured concrete, some select plantings and some thoughtfully placed benches? Apparently I am not the only who feels this way. Take for instance what’s happening in downtown Los Angeles and Highland Park at El Sereno.

As part of a demonstration project sponsored by co jointly by Council District 14 and an independent group called Living Streets they are launching a “parklet.” Also known as  street porches, the idea is to create inexpensive gathering spaces along city streets. Meant as unexpected gathering spaces, they feature wood benches and planters, thus creating a useable outdoor open space that people actually would like to use.




While it’s not the answer to all of our urban problems, it does provide some relief. At the very least it breaks up the monotony of a typical urban cityscape and provides an attractive backdrop to an otherwise bleak landscape, it also provides a rest area for those who might need to sit awhile. And who knows…when people sit down and stop for a moment, they might actually start a conversation. Once several conversations are started, maybe we will finally begin to develop a sense of community within our urban cityscapes.