Prolegomena to an understanding of the architectural provision of urbanity
ABSTRACT: If happiness is associated with concepts of full-living, and if full-living is associated with city life, the tasks of architecture relative to the city assume an ethical cast. A better understanding of that nexus –full living, urbanity, city, architecture—will help inform those tasks, but the interrelation of those ideas is not obvious, and conventional presumptions regarding those relationships are inadequate. Despite conventional conflation of the two terms, cities do not guarantee urban living: even a dense, expansive city might lack or only weakly exhibit qualities associated with urbanity. A partial explanation for this non-synonymy between city and urbanity is that inasmuch as cities are physically composed of architectural works, neither does architecture guarantee urbanity: as with the city of which it is a part, a building, even if successful in other ways, might neglect or eschew provision of conditions conducive to urbanity. Much like a dining table’s essentiality to certain social structures of the meal, architecture is essential to the structure, character, and perpetuation of urbanity.
Of the many sets of architectural questions that emerge from those premises, two are primary. If detachable from concepts of city, how should we understand the term urbanity? And, what kinds of architectural attentions effectively engage urbanity and render it more available, more probable? In short, what is urbanity and what is its architecture?
As a preliminary move toward exploring those questions, this paper turns to Sverre Fehn’s Hamar Museum (1972). An unlikely building to bring to consideration of the architecture of urban life, a strong and purposeful concern for urbanity is nevertheless evident in its architect’s thinking and design. Fehn’s project helps inform an understanding of the nature of urbanity, and shows how an architectural concern for urban situations manifests at the scale of a building, from conceptual approach to the finest of constructed details.
KEYWORDS: city, Fehn, culture, history, theory, ethics
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