Urban Design: Top Down vs. Bottom-up

 

 

Compare and contrast: two bus stops. The one at the top is on Post Oak, near the Galleria, and is part of their futuristic "space city" themed street furniture. It's a study in how to spend the greatest amount of money to achieve the simplest goals, but then, that's the point. The boosters of the uptown shopping district want to identify themselves with ostentatious high-end design, and are using this bus shelter as a vehicle.

The lower photo is on Heights Blvd. at 8th St., and was arranged from chunks of used concrete by the owners of the antique store in the background. The tree provides shade and a little rain protection. It's not much, but it's better than standing around or leaning against the building which, I suspect, the seat may be designed to prevent.

In both cases, nearby businesses have taken ownership of the streetscape, choosing bus furniture that suits their purposes and budgets. As pathetic and uncomfortable as the low-tech bus shelter may be, it's accessible, human scale, unimposing, mutable. It was made by people who actually live there. The only reason it's there at all is because somebody cares for that corner and has take personal responsibility for it. The uptown shelters are an example of the wrong kind of ownership — a generic entity far removed from the site's actual users becomes, by default, a reflection of the pretensions of the architects, and we're stuck with it. Trendy overdesign that's fully as baroque and contextless as if the thing was covered with acanthus leaves.

also by Bill Davenport

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3 responses to “Urban Design: Top Down vs. Bottom-up”

  1. with all the exhibits out there, Bill…

  2. Do you even ride the bus or use public transportation? I do, and on a rainy day (of which Houston has a few), I would much rather be at the covered bus stop. Whether or not it reflects the architects’ prentensions is a moot point for me, as it does deflect the rain. Perhaps the perspective is different from the driver’s seat of a car.

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