|Leon Krier at the Congress for the New Urbanism national conference in West Palm Beach.|
The CNU is a non-partisan, big-tent organization, whose members include many who espouse urbanism in its most dense, intense form--think Manhattan. Then there's Leon Krier. He urged members to advocate development at true human-scale. In Krier's view, buildings should never exceed three stories. "Palaces are two stories," he pointed out. He characterized skyscrapers as "vertical sprawl." He compared new skyscrapers to when "you lose your teeth and you go to the dentist and he gives you an elephant's tooth."
He urged architects in the audience to design buildings in scale and in accordance with their typology. An apartment complex should never take on the architectural characteristics of an oversize cottage. Nor should buildings overwhelm an adjacent, historic church.
He said it would have taken 160 airplanes to destroy the 10 million square feet of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, if dispersed as three story buildings.
He pondered, "What will our cities look like in 2,000 years? In 3,000 years?" He said that, after humans have depleted the earth's oil stock, skyscrapers, which depend on elevators propelled by fossil fuels, are not viable "unless you have a donkey or a slave on top."
I appreciate urbanism in all its manifestations, including Manhattan. But I must concede a bias for cities with strict height limits, including Paris and Washington, D.C., and for lower-rise business districts, including the well-done CityPlace, across from the West Palm Beach Convention Center (which Krier called "a step in the right direction"), as well as Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, whose old buildings house a vibrant night-life.
Krier urged a return to classical architecture, which he described as an "almost scientific system for dealing with the environment." "Classicism is about putting the right shapes and the right materials in the right proportions." Classical architecture's antithesis, concrete-built modernism, is "beyond the human scale. It is not truthful. It is not authentic."
Urbanism doesn't require classical architecture--see, for example, South Beach in Miami. The New Urban SmartCode does not mandate any particular architectural style. However, it's no accident we once called New Urbanist communities "neo-traditional," and that their architecture often displays classical or vernacular elements. Krier's influence on those communities' planners is undeniable. Krier represents the New Urbanism in its purest form.