Small, Medium and Large

Andrea BranziNiels Ole Lund
Even today different parameters of judgment are hardly ever applied in comparing urban phenomena of such differing scales as the metropolis, the town and the village.
The instruments of study applied to such urban agglomerates are differentiated only as far as the volumes of traffic or the markets of the area are concerned, but substantially the specialists in this field are still convinced that between such phenomena ( metropolis, town and village) there is no more than a difference in scale.
Indeed, qualitative judgement tends to be inversely proportional to their size, so that the village represents the best model of urbanization owing the balance which has been struck between the individual, urban spaces, and the «overall form» of the village; and the metropolis is judged by the same yardstick – that is, according to wether or not certain values typical of the village have been preserved.
This «continuity» within differences of size is supposed to guarantee the permanence of human scale (to judge from what one commonly hears) even in big agglomerates, and juvenile delinquency becomes the symptom of the disappearence of such qualities.
There has been no progress at all in the elaboration of differentiated models of behaviour: the sun, green areas, the square, the fountain, the municipal park with its benches – have all remained the immovable symbols of a dream, and are still the only typically urbanistic-architectonic tools for mediating between the individual and the megalopolis. The visual relationship which bound the villager to his village is still the same which accompanies the town-dweller to the metropolis: urban phenomena are seen as being no more than visual structures. To this day the town planner is still unable to comprehend an urban structure which does not correspond to a certain system of representation. Mediating architectonically between the individual and nature, has become the outer limit beyond which town planning will not venture.
Differentiated figurative episodes within the city limits should constitute a kind of qualitative and narrative succession of use in orientation (and for the markets of the area) and more generally, taken as a whole, they do make up the so-called «FORM OF THE CITY».
The «form of the city» is a hierarchical structure capable of qualifying every single square meter or town, and of organizing single buildings and single sequences in relation to one another and in relation to the whole. In cities and villages such an overall figurative structure is made up of the traffic lanes (which originated in the history of the birth and formation af the said city) and the location of significant episodes of a monumental or natural character.
In the metropolis such systems of reference and figuration no longer exist, and even if they exist they no longer play the structural role described above. The manhattanite walking along the regularly patterned streets of his town will always be in the same significative point in the sense that he never encounter scenically differentiated episodes but always the same elementary prespective structure created by the perpendicular crossing of two streets.
His urban experience goes no further than the reading of street signs: above this level ( of 5 to 6 meters ) the city is no longer a phenomenon that he perceives. The skycraper is no longer the super monument that it was in the thirties: it is the undiferenciated accumulation of cubic meters which may rise to dizzy heights but can hardly be felt as a figurative presence. Such an accumulation rises from an elementary and extremly low distributive base ( which is what the town-dweller figuratively utilizes ) and developps in proportion to the cost of the area. In its time the Empire State Building was proposed as a kind of mega-cathedral for an improbable mega village: today nothing differentiates it from the cluster of other Manhattan skyscrapers, unless perhaps the error in foresight it reveals.
Source :
Andrea Branzi, Radical Notes, in Casabella, 1972
Picture :
Niels Ole Lund, Collage Architecture, Ernst & Sohn, 1990