Thursday, 7 July 2016

Design and divide

Today has been cloudy and pleasantly cooler, so this afternoon I walked further up the footpath running along the Costa Norte clifftop, observing more places where sea defences have been strengthened, and beach access improved. In places, there are level paved sections, alongside the footpath, giving wheelchair access to the clifftop area. Providing the same access to beaches is more difficult however, with a 7-8 metre cliff to be negotiated. Only occasionally, where the beach is at the mouth of a barranco is this practicable. As many residents and visitors are older people, it's in everybody's interests to make it safer and easier to get down to the water's edge, so I imagine the improvements are likely to continue, if slowly, long term. 

I got to the end of the urbanizaciĆ³n Deveses where the shuttle bus turns around just as it was about to pull out, so I rode back to urbanizaciĆ³n Saldonar, for pleasure. The fare is still 60 cents, and the bus is rarely crowded. It must be running at a loss, yet it's a vital service for those who have had to give up driving. The coastal residential area, north and south of the town, is designed on the assumption that the vast majority are car users, as indeed are the multitudes who travel from inland cities to holiday homes on the coast. They will go to the main commercial centres for shopping and as a result there are very few shops of any kind along 3-4km of coast road.

There was an interesting Ted Talk video I came across today, from a Syrian architect, Marwa Al Sabouni, practicing in Homs. She observes that for centuries, Syrian society succeeded in being religiously and culturally mixed without falling into the chaos of conflict and social disorder. The traditional oriental design of buildings and public spaces in towns and villages, evolved in a way that physically obliged people to live and work together with their differences in close proximity, and mutual reliance. It was hard to avoid each other in that kind of social environment.

It's only been in the past half century when modern architectural layouts of high rise estates and shopping malls, imported from the West, became predominant, that ancient conviviality has been disrupted. Now the rich and poor, powerful and powerless no longer have to live cheek by jowl and notice each other personally. A framework of separation and isolation of people into social groups, in the name of more efficient modern living, makes an environment that ferments alienation and conflict, along with its claimed improvements in housing standards and social amenities. This is a substantial critique of the influential school of thought represented by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. There's hardly a town or city in the world that isn't affected. This warning voice from the ruins of the ancient city of Homs is one that makes us see our built environment from quite a different perspective.

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