Books on how to create and support good urban design and public space are hard to find.
There is a new beautifully illustrated book out this year called “Public Realm: The New Makers Handbook by landscape architect and urban designer (and Vancouverite) Michael Von Hausen.
Printed on good stock paper and well illustrated with drawings and colour photos this book is a road map on how to look at public space and cities, and how to assess, analyze needs, and come up with options that best suit each particular space and community.
Michael who teaches Urban Design in the City Program at Simon Fraser University dedicates this book to his students at that university as well as Vancouver Island University, and to future placemakers.
The book itself reflects Michael’s learnings and explorations of urban space and design over decades of practice in Canada and beyond.
Michael’s illustrations sets the stage for the book, with the opening pages showing the Cheongyyecheon Stream in Seoul Korea. This intervention in the middle of a city was actually the removal of a multilane highway and the resurfacing of a major stream that flows into the Yellow Sea.
The stream mediates the temperatures in the downtown of the city by two degrees celsius in summers, and is a major destination as a recreational park and people place. It is an extraordinary project that has been very successful, but is not often included in discussions of good public realm. It should be and Michael does not disappoint.
But instead of referencing past work as the foundation of good urban design in the future, Michael’s intent is to look at the past and the future, looking for the best elements of design to inspire complete places. He embraces the importance of physical space as not only a design space, but one that “has a social, cultural and psychological experience as well as contributing economic asset”.
That comes through in his review of what public space has meant then and now, and how networks of green streets or greenways are a new way to create public space that is within easy walking distance to every resident, and maybe this century’s big contribution to creating new badly needed public space in high density areas.
This book is an insider’s short course on who were the major influencers and contributors to public space thought in the last century, and expands their work into what the 21st century will bring. Michael’s book contains his own personal experiences discovering places that change and that need to change, and covers his best practice thoughts with images from Barcelona to Paris, Chicago to New York City.
The concept of designs that incorporate all five senses, the importance of “five season patios” and the vitality of providing public space and access to enhance mental and physical health are key in Michael’s thoughtful road map on how to create good public space. He illustrates and draws his own best practices on how to identify a space, how to figure out the light and wind angles, and how to take advantage of items like flexibility and adaptability, ownership and care.
No matter where you are in terms of career development, this book lays out the careful and practiced thoughts of a great local urban designer. Well referenced with good appendixes, this book is a tremendous starting point to understanding the philosophy and design development of great spaces, as well as the experiences of a landscape architect that has greatly influenced work in this region.