Design from a human view not a “bird-sh.t” view

In the 1950 – 60s design changed. It became grander, bigger, faster with no detail and no catering for people. Designers and town planners even went up in planes and helicopters to design our cities, as happened with a lot of the planning in Pittwater too. These designs look good from the air but from the ground look like shit.

Design cities from a bird-shit viewThis is “bird-shit” architecture, according to Jan Gehl, an architect and urban designer based in Copenhagen. “But this is what many architects and urban planners were taught and some are still being taught today … Dubai is a perfect example of this; looks great from the air but on the ground … well shit.”

By 1961, people like Jane Jacobs raised her voice about this new situation in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. But, not much happened for three or four decades. The idea of “Cities for People” became an overlooked and forgotten dimension.

We now must have a shift in paradigm, Gehl argues. We can see this happening with urban planners looking at making cities and suburbs more liveable.

To do this we need to design from a human view; on a much smaller scale, at a slower place.

Copenhagen started doing this almost 50 years ago. The result, again, in 2013 Copenhagen was voted the world’s most liveable city. This is the seventh time in a row Copenhagen has won this accolade. There are obviously lessons to be learned.

Just some of the lessons:

  • Design for pedestrians and bikes – on a much small scale and at a much slower pace, 5kmph instead of 60kmph
  • Invitations for traffic just gives you more traffic
  • High density living doesn’t need to be high-rise. It should be sensitive not senseless, don’t have building which over-shadow or create wind-tunnels
  • Use parked cars to protect bike-lanes, not bike-lanes to protect parked cars
  • Design spaces in which people want to gather. If a space is empty – it is not a good space

As Jan Gehl says “it is cheap to be sweet to people”.


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