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Monday, January 8, 2018

Urban Places, Seeing the World through Design

Most people today live in cities or small towns around the world. I always pick places to sketch that illustrate an architectural integration with the landscape in a way that reflects their unique place on the earth. They are places where culture and landscape are closely connected. They are often historic and some are contemporary, but all exhibit places where landscape is integrated into and with buildings in very comfortable and simple way reflecting climate and culture. Some of the sketches of compact urban places, like narrow medieval streets or plazas connect with nature only through the sky. Sometimes it is the character of the line between the earth and sky that catches my eye and that is why I drew it.

Dewey Thorbeck, FAIA, FAAR

Land/Water Places, Seeing the World through Design

Often the most dramatic places I have visited are those located where land and water meet. Perhaps it is because all life evolved from water providing a visceral connection to the edge between water and land. Water may be along the sea, along a river or lake, but all reflect an interesting connection that sometimes is work related, sometimes transportation, and sometimes agricultural. They may be historic as well as contemporary, but are all to me very clear, dramatic illustrations of the connection.

Dewey Thorbeck, FAIA, FAAR

Rural Places, Seeing the World through Design

The rural areas of the world are special because they are places that have a strong connection with the natural and cultivated landscape illustrating the closest possible connection between land form and architecture reflecting the character of people who live and work with the land. The sketches are of places that I have visited that illustrate this connection and often are working places where the land is cultivated and utilized as the primary economic source. They may be historic places as well as contemporary, but regardless exhibit a clear and understandable relationship of site, culture, and climate.

Dewey Thorbeck, FAIA, FAAR

Seeing the World Through Design

Designers, architects or landscape architects who draw and record their travels in sketches have a special way of seeing the world. It is a methodology where images are engraved in their mind rather than on film. The photograph shows you reality as seen through the camera lens, while the sketch records the emotion and character of place as seen through the eyes and hands of the designer.

I studied architecture at the University of Minnesota and Yale University and later was fortunate to win a Rome Prize Fellowship in Architecture to the American Academy in Rome. During the two years I lived there, I had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Italy and Europe, drawing places that have a strong and close integration between humans, architecture, and landscape. To me the most beautiful places in the world are those that express this connection in a profoundly human way.

I find that when I look back at my sketches it was the rural hill towns in Italy that attracted me the most, because they were so different from the rural communities in Minnesota where I grew up. On a recent visit to Italy, my wife and I were having breakfast on a restaurant terrace in the hill town of Montepulciano and I made this sketch showing the edge of the city and the valley below (Figure above). The sketch illustrates the nature of an Italian hill town as a city on a hill where for centuries farmers lived together as a community, loaded up their donkeys in the morning and went down into the valley to grow food, and then returned in the evening back to the community.

Since my early travels in Europe, I now have over 35 sketch books filled with drawings that record places I have visited. They are important as I have expanded on my architectural and teaching careers, and later as founder/director of the Center for Rural Design at the University of Minnesota. The Center, now terminated, was the first in the world to consider design as a problem-solving process for rural issues.

Several of my sketches are included in my first two books to help explain rural places, and my third book now in process will include 200 drawings. The sketches are of rural places that have a strong connection between the natural and cultivated landscape, reflecting the character of people who live and work with the land, urban places where rural culture and agriculture are closely connected, and the most dramatic places where the land and water meet linking agriculture and boat transportation for transfer to food markets elsewhere.

Sometimes when I am sketching in a public area I will have a whole group of school kids hanging over my shoulder watching me draw. Other times they cluster around because they want to see what I am drawing, as in this photograph of me showing my sketches to young school kids in a rural village on the Ayerwaddy River in Myanmar. (Figure below).

My sketching technique is to use black ink pens on the site and then add watercolor later that evening in the hotel. The sketches are all of places that I think are exceptional and make a unique statement about the relationship between humans, animals, and environments. All have a relationship with the landscape that I found very interesting, meaningful, and beautiful.

Dewey Thorbeck, FAIA, FAAR

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Environment and Comprehensive Plans

MDC senior research fellow, John Carmody, and I have presented at a series of workshops for the planning staff of the Alliance for Sustainability, who are responsible for delivering comprehensive plans to the Metropolitan Council by the end of the year. The Metropolitan Council is the regional policy-making body, planning agency, and provider of essential services for the Twin Cities metropolitan region. The Council's mission is to foster efficient and economic growth for a prosperous region. The 17-member Metropolitan Council has guided the strategic growth of the metro area for nearly 50 years. John talked about sustainable buildings and district energy systems, and I spoke about the impact of electric-powered, shared autonomous vehicles in reducing air pollution, fossil fuel use, and impervious surfaces – all of which will be very good for the environment. Thomas Fisher

Towerside and a World's Fair

Our own “innovation district” is emerging east of the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.  Buoyed by 4 light rail stations, and - at last count - 4 craft beer breweries, new housing and a grocery store, Towerside is a laboratory for lifelong learning, research and innovation, and sustainability and resilience. MDC prepared a district framework plan and developed design guidelines for the district in 2016.   We are assisting private and public projects advance within this framework, including EXPO 2023, for which Minneapolis is one of 3 finalist cities to host the event. If chosen in November 2017, much of the World’s Fair’s complex - buildings, activities and events - would take place on a 60-acre site in the Towerside district, east of TCF Bank stadium.  Over 3 months, EXPO 2023 would offer a collection of local and international exhibits and activities addressing the theme of “Wellness and Well-Being for All.” It is predicted to draw 150,000 visitors per day. Outcomes could include the new Granary Parkway and the completion of the Grand Rounds missing link, which is part of the Towerside vision.
Tim Griffin

Frank Lloyd Wright's Urbanism

The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive shows how much the most famous American architect thought about cities. While MOMA presents two of his most famous urban proposals, Broadacre City, and the Mile-High Skyscraper, some lesser-known projects seemed more revelatory. In 1926, Wright imagine a nine-block area in Chicago’s Loop with skyways, traffic-dominated streets, and towers looming above lower buildings – recalling downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Six years later, during the Depression, Wright designed a farm unit that would enable farmers to live, work, and sell their produce in a single mixed-use development that today’s struggling farmers might want to consider. A third urban proposal, designed in 1946 for Galesburg Country Homes in Michigan, has single family homes occupying circular lawns with shared spaces between pairs of them, bringing to mind the rethinking of suburbia that Shane Coen and David Salmela proposed in Mayo Woodlands in Rochester, and realized with Jackson Meadow in Marine on St. Croix, MN. Wright may be famous for his architecture, but his urban ideas may be more significant over the long term. 

Tom Fisher