Jeffrey Inaba, Irrational Urbanism



Urban design is supposed to be rational. Plans are supposed to make sense. They are expected to have a clear reasoning to explain the form–every design move accountable within the budget and court of public opinion. Typically, the client group consists of numerous parties, each one having a specific set of concerns (money, programming, zoning, power and utilities, maintenance operations, transportation, etc.) that have to be addressed in logical manner. There is also the public: the form has to be understandable to the general community, and the design must respond to the interest of local groups each again having specific concerns (property value, traffic, safety, image, density, etc.). The design is asked to accommodate all of these competing demands.

To achieve this, we respond by creating a form premised on a clear diagram – one that explains the intent in a simple visual notation. It incorporates all of the varied aspirations of the project and translates it into a set of markings that represents a layout that all will agree as an acceptable representation of those interests. There has to be a coherent narrative based on logical argumentation that synthesizes the web of commitments and is legible in the diagram if the plan is to be ratified and developed.

This has been the essential MO of urban design and this is the prevailing pedagogical model in urban design and architecture programs. But that’s not to say that when realized successful urbanism projects are rational in form and legible in their design intent. For some, the process improves the project. Along the way, additional requirements, a shift in mandate by the client, a change in political tide results in an environment that is better than initially conceived. Or perhaps all along, the designers didn’t want a rational solution but only a rational argument to realize an irrational proposition as a necessary means to achieve an aesthetic end?

The studio will explore how on the much more complicated level of urbanism, a project can engage the real contextual issues at hand while advancing ideas about a single concern that is specific to building design and liberated from this urban design paradigm.