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Old 05-25-2005, 07:58 PM
Khadaji Khadaji is offline
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Intelligent Architect story: Urban Legend?

When I was in college a professor told us a story about an architect (Developer) who would build all of his buildings, but put down no sidewalks. He would just plant grass. 6 months later he would come back and put sidewalks down where all the paths were worn. In this way, he assured that the walks would be where the people were mostly likely to walk. The point of the story was that we should observe how people do whatever it is we are trying to model in software and then build it to work that way, thus creating "user friendly" software.

Is this an urban legend? Anyone else know the story? Anyone know who the developer or architect was?
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Old 05-25-2005, 08:08 PM
Mr. Blue Sky Mr. Blue Sky is offline
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I found this site.

Quote:
I am told that when they built the University of California at Irvine, they did not put in any sidewalks the first year. Next year they came back and looked at where all the cow trails were in the grass and put the sidewalks there. Perl is designed the same way. It's not just a random collection of features. It's a bunch of features that look like a decent way to get from here to there. If you look at the diagram of an airline, it's a network. Perl is a network of features... It's more like glue than it is like Legos.
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Old 05-25-2005, 08:48 PM
kimera kimera is offline
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I really doubt that story is true, at least pertaining to UCI. There are two sets of cocentric circles which don't seem like something cows would do. UCI was a planned campus, so it is better laid out than most schools are. You can see a PDF map of the campus here.
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Old 05-25-2005, 09:36 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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The story has been around for decades and is so logical that it's in books on design. I can't provide any specifics but it would stun me if it weren't true.

I know places that have retrofitted their sidewalks to cover over the bare lanes made by people cutting through the grass, so by now it's undoubtedly occurred to enough people to try this from the beginning that it happens regularly.
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Old 05-25-2005, 09:50 PM
rjk rjk is offline
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A co-worker a few years ago told the same "Pave the paths!" story. She left shortly afterward to become president of a new college in Winnipeg (IIRC), and had been studying design techniques for quite a while, so she might have a better cite. Or she might have been listening to the same professor.
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Old 05-25-2005, 09:57 PM
CynicalGabe CynicalGabe is offline
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I heard this method as a common way of designing footpaths in Denmark.
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Old 05-25-2005, 10:19 PM
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The story has been around for decades and is so logical that it's in books on design.
Scientific American ran an article on similar methods of footpath design in the late 70's to mid 80's. Sorry I can't pin it closer than that.
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Old 05-25-2005, 10:31 PM
friedo friedo is offline
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I have heard the same story about the Apple Computer campus in Cuppertino, CA. I have no idea if its true or not.
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Old 05-26-2005, 12:45 AM
Shalmanese Shalmanese is offline
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IIRC: It appears in Douglas Normans "Design of Everyday Things", commonly referred to as the bible of Computer Interface design. You might trying checking that to see if you can find the original source.
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Old 05-26-2005, 12:58 AM
Crowbar of Irony +3 Crowbar of Irony +3 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Khadaji
Is this an urban legend? Anyone else know the story? Anyone know who the developer or architect was?
It also pops up regularly in another user interface book I have read. I think it's by Chris Crawford.
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Old 05-26-2005, 04:32 AM
Go You Big Red Fire Engine Go You Big Red Fire Engine is offline
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Well this is all just IIRC's AHOY isn't it?

See section 4.4: It's already been done at the St. George campus of the University of Toronto.
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Old 05-26-2005, 07:47 AM
LionelHutz405 LionelHutz405 is offline
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It seems like an inefficient way to design sidewalks to me. Really, itís not that hard to figure out where to put a sidewalk. If people make paths off of an existing sidewalk it is because the sidewalk is in the wrong spot. No thought was given to where people will actually walk. Chances are they picked the cheapest or most ascetically pleasing spot for the sidewalk. If you care about matching the placement of the sidewalk with traffic patterns, then itís not such a big challenge to predict where people are going to actually walk.

To get from A to B across a lawn, people will take the shortest route. You donít need to wait for the path to appear to tell you where that is. If it really isnít obvious where that will be than I doubt a clear path will form in the future anyway to help you out.
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Old 05-26-2005, 07:52 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Originally Posted by LionelHutz405
To get from A to B across a lawn, people will take the shortest route. You donít need to wait for the path to appear to tell you where that is. If it really isnít obvious where that will be than I doubt a clear path will form in the future anyway to help you out.
You're making big assumptions here. If A and B are on opposite corners of a square, then fine. But if they're at the mid-points of adjacent sides of the square, the 'average' route chosen will quite possibly be an arc. Individual humans may be rational, but the non-concious choice of route isn't a rational decision. Plus, you may need to design paths on a far more complex layout than a simple geometric shape, and you may also have points C, D, and E through Z to deal with.
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Old 05-26-2005, 07:58 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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...oh, and add a few irregular undulations and inclines to the mix, as well
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Old 05-26-2005, 08:08 AM
LionelHutz405 LionelHutz405 is offline
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Yes, if the layout is complex, then the resulting paths probably will be too. In other words; all over the place. So you won't be able to match the sidewalk to the existing paths and still keep the amount of sidewalk you build to a reasonable level.

If an obvious pattern forms, than I feel a little thought would allow you to predict it beforehand. You don't have to be perfect. Only if you get it drastically wrong will people ignore the sidewalk and still walk on the grass. This would only happen if you haven't given any thought at all to possible traffic patterns.

There is a cost to designing sidewalks this way. The construction crew has to return a year or two later to complete the job. This is more expensive than just doing it immediately. Also you have to put up with a year or two of no sidewalks, with the resulting dirt and mud being tracked through the buildings. I wouldnít want to be the architect (sidewalk architect?) who has to explain this inconvenience by saying ďI donít know where to put the sidewalks until I see where people actually walk.Ē It makes him look like he doesnít know what he is doing.

Iím sure many design decisions are made during the construction of the buildings that make where to put the sidewalks, look pretty simple by comparison.
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Old 05-26-2005, 08:14 AM
ShibbOleth ShibbOleth is offline
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Originally Posted by LionelHutz405
Yes, if the layout is complex, then the resulting paths probably will be too. In other words; all over the place. So you won't be able to match the sidewalk to the existing paths and still keep the amount of sidewalk you build to a reasonable level.

Perhaps this says as much about the layout as anything else.
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Old 05-26-2005, 08:18 AM
adirondack_mike adirondack_mike is offline
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I thought of christopher Alexander . Interesting stuff.
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Old 05-26-2005, 08:18 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Since people pretty quickly figure out where and who they want to go, you could probably delay it by only a week or two on a college campus. Actually, one problem I see all the time is corners. People don't walk on corners. They don't make right-angle turns, given the choice. So making sidewalks with right angles in the midle of nowhere is weird and usually winds up with a chewed-up bit of grass,
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Old 05-26-2005, 08:20 AM
TwoTrouts TwoTrouts is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Blue Sky
I found this site.
I lived in the neighborhood when UC Irvine was being built. It was a completely planned construction. The interviewee in the article you linked to may have been thinking about UC Santa Cruz, which utilized this natural planning concept for some areas.
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Old 05-26-2005, 08:26 AM
Shalmanese Shalmanese is offline
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Your missing one subtle point: paths which are cleared are slightly easy to walk over than uncleared land. This means the "optimal" path not only depend on where you are and where you want to go, but also where every single person before you has wanted to go. I'm not sure whether the observation lead to the analysis or the analysis lead to the observation but this is actually a hugh, non-trivial area of research in mathematics with many other practical applications.
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Old 05-26-2005, 08:28 AM
BobLibDem BobLibDem is offline
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The problem I have with the theory is that not all of the initial grassy area is going to be the same. There are going to be some low spots that will be the last to dry out after a rain. People will avoid those areas, even if they lie in what would be the nominal paths. So the path may get worn in a sub-optimal line just for that reason.

I think for the most part, you know where the pedestrian traffic is going to flow and can put down the sidewalks with relative confidence. Later, if the masses prove that you left out a spot, you can pave it over.
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Old 05-26-2005, 08:41 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Let's take a typical real world example.

Take an academic quadrangle. Six buildings. The two along each side have two entrances each. There are passageways to the rest of the campus in between those buildings. There are access points at each of the four corners of the quad. That's sixteen entrances and exits. Throw in the need for trees, plantings, benches, maybe a central statue of the founder.

That's almost as bad as creating a connection route for an airline. You don't want to make direct connections between each and every entrance because that would look awful and would be wasteful of materials. (Not to mention added maintenance, snow plowing, etc.)

You don't need to wait years to see what the most used connectors will be. It will quickly become apparent.

Actually, the best solution is a compromise between letting the students walk wherever they want and a few imposing pathways that force traffic to certain pathways.
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Old 05-26-2005, 09:21 AM
adirondack_mike adirondack_mike is offline
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I am at work and don't have access to my copy of "A Pattern Language" and "Timeless way of Building," but the OP sounds like the Oregon Experiment . Check the links to Christopher Alexander. I believe this is the source of the Urban Legend since it may have confused his philosophy with an actual project.
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Old 05-26-2005, 09:39 AM
Kevbo Kevbo is offline
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There are going to be some low spots that will be the last to dry out after a rain. People will avoid those areas, even if they lie in what would be the nominal paths. So the path may get worn in a sub-optimal line just for that reason.
This makes the path OPTIMAL for the terrain. Those places that are avoided would have puddles or ice patches if paved.

It is just this sort of detail that doesn't show well on a blueprint that makes the concept better than "just putting some thought into it". Somebody doing a drawing will make decisions based first on what is easiest to draw (square corners) and next on what appeals to thier sense of the asthetic. An archetect sitting in front of a CAD package in an heated/ air conditioned office is going to use a much different though process than a student, running late for class, carrying 25# of books (YES if it's a commuter campus) on a 20 degree day.

And it's not just where to put the sidewalks, it's how wide to make them as well. High traffic areas will get worn wider as people pass each other.
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Old 05-26-2005, 09:51 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Landscape architects call these paths "desire lines". (By the way, wouldn't that make a great title for a romantic novel or movie where the protagonists are landscape architects?"
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Old 05-26-2005, 12:06 PM
threemae threemae is offline
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Of course the obvious solution here is to pave over the entire quad, throw a hunk of torn up steel in the middle and declare,

"It iz aaaahhhtttt! Archuitexture in zee most seevere style!"
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Old 05-26-2005, 12:14 PM
BobLibDem BobLibDem is offline
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The opposite tack would be to pave the entire works, then put a thin layer of paint on it. After 2 years, those areas where the paint has not worn off are not being used and can be jackhammered out to put in grass.
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Old 05-26-2005, 01:44 PM
fifty-six fifty-six is offline
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You can tell alot about a person by how they use sidewalks.

Some keep on them at all costs, even if it means going way out of the way.
Some seem to avoid the sidewalks just the same.
Some cut the corners
And of course the unclassafiable meanderors, somewere-in-betweens, and curcumstanial departures.


I think that if a study was done of the sidewalks that have used mentioned method it would find that these types of people would still exist and the same amount of off sidewalk traffic would occur.

Some people just cant be hurded, and some want to.
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Old 05-26-2005, 02:18 PM
USCDiver USCDiver is offline
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Slightly off topic... I used to get a kick out of walking down the left side of the paths at my University (in the US). Oncoming people are so ingrained to pass on the left that they would walk off the path onto the grass to pass on my left instead of just staying on the path and passing me on my right. Buncha lemmings...
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Old 05-26-2005, 02:56 PM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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In my 8th grade Social Studies class, it was pointed out that Washington, DC and Indianapolis, IN were both designed from a blank sheet of paper. Both had a right-angle grid of streets, with diagonal spokes to the center thrown in for effeciency. This was in contrast to Boston, which my teacher said was laid out along existing cow paths. In the cow-path-laid Boston, he said, it's much harder to get around and figure out where you are.

My teacher, of course, may have been spouting bull-path.
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Old 05-26-2005, 03:31 PM
Balthisar Balthisar is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by USCDiver
Slightly off topic... I used to get a kick out of walking down the left side of the paths at my University (in the US). Oncoming people are so ingrained to pass on the left that they would walk off the path onto the grass to pass on my left instead of just staying on the path and passing me on my right. Buncha lemmings...
Or maybe they pass you to make you aware that you should be walking on the right? I have passed on the left shoulder on otherwise empty freeways just to get my point across to left-lane idiots that they shouldn't be there.
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Old 05-26-2005, 04:05 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Originally Posted by Balthisar
Or maybe they pass you to make you aware that you should be walking on the right? I have passed on the left shoulder on otherwise empty freeways just to get my point across to left-lane idiots that they shouldn't be there.
I would consider anyone who did this to be no more than a dangerous maniac. That you were doing it to make a point would never occur to me. As a general rule, doing something illegal never makes a point except a bad one about yourself.

AskNott, Washington was certainly laid out with a deliberate plan. The diagonals were not so much for efficiency, though, as to create sightways and display areas for the proposed major buildings and grand monuments that a proper capital city should have.

Angled grids are far more efficient. That's why New York City has a jumble of small streets at the southern end of Manhattan and the grid imposed above 14th St. Broadway was an existing merchant road and was integrated into the design.

I'm not as familiar with Indianapolis, but I'll note that as far back as 1940 Norman Bel Geddes was using the huge central monument with the multitude of streets entering into that traffic circle as a prime example of how older cities were inefficiently laid out for the age of the automobile.

Radially laid-out cities, such as Rochester and Buffalo, make it extremely difficult to get from one side of the city to the other. While they made some sense back in the days when downtown was king they are hopelessly inefficient today with dispersed centers of trade and industry. And the odd angles at which streets meet make both for bad traffic movement and bad real estate. Washington had to redo all those weird intersections with over- and underpasses to allow traffic to move.

Few cities ever get laid out from scratch, although the exception are usually for newly created capitals, as with Washington, Canberra, Brasilia, Chandigarh, New Delhi and others. Older central cities either need to have huge parts torn up to create boulevards, as with Paris, or freeways, as with Philadelphia. Robert Moses almost drove an expressway across lower Manhattan but a coalition of neighborhood groups stood up to him and forced him to abandon that plan.

There really aren't any good solutions to city design in a world of too many automobiles. The western cities with huge amounts of available land and the ability to make all their streets eight lanes or so have the easiest time, but all traffic designers know that the more lanes you put down the more cars you attract. I'd still rather drive down the wide roads of California than the three lane avenues of Philadelphia, though.
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Old 05-26-2005, 06:02 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskNott
In my 8th grade Social Studies class, it was pointed out that Washington, DC and Indianapolis, IN were both designed from a blank sheet of paper. Both had a right-angle grid of streets, with diagonal spokes to the center thrown in for effeciency. This was in contrast to Boston, which my teacher said was laid out along existing cow paths. In the cow-path-laid Boston, he said, it's much harder to get around and figure out where you are.

My teacher, of course, may have been spouting bull-path.
Yup, I think he was. He omitted the fact that nearly every European city is laid out on non-planned roads. And are successful, and don't result in lots of people getting lost (except for American tourists )
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Old 05-26-2005, 09:15 PM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
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Occam's razor suggests to me that this probably occurs, but without prior planning. "Dang, look at that, they've worn out the Zoysia over there... guess we might as well plant some concrete."
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Old 05-27-2005, 02:22 AM
abby abby is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
You're making big assumptions here. If A and B are on opposite corners of a square, then fine. But if they're at the mid-points of adjacent sides of the square, the 'average' route chosen will quite possibly be an arc. Individual humans may be rational, but the non-concious choice of route isn't a rational decision. Plus, you may need to design paths on a far more complex layout than a simple geometric shape, and you may also have points C, D, and E through Z to deal with.
Yes, this is an interesting point. I remember when I was at uni (large leafy and grassy campus), my buddies and I chose paths that were where the sun was shining.

I remember one of us commented in winter that we should take the sunny path, to keep warm.
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Old 05-27-2005, 03:32 AM
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I wish they'd done this at my university. It seems like they laid out the sidewalks just to create pretty geometric forms. I always walk the shortest distance between two points, and find myself on a sidewalk only about half the time it seems like. There's worn-down grass everywhere.
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Old 05-27-2005, 03:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brain Wreck
Occam's razor suggests to me that this probably occurs, but without prior planning. "Dang, look at that, they've worn out the Zoysia over there... guess we might as well plant some concrete."
Yeah. When I attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, a large new building was built (the Rec Center), and right beside it, a large lawn was put in. If you were on campus, you might walk across this lawn to get off campus, or you might walk across it to get to the health center. Even though the shortest paths would have been two seperate straight lines, people followed a single line most of the way, then branched off when they had to pick a direction. Every time I walked by there, I thought, "they should have put a y-shaped sidewalk right here." The following year, they did. Hard to say whether they waited a year to put the sidewalk in on purpose or not.

It's also interesting to note that the worn path (and the subsequently added sidewalk) didn't even follow straight lines -- for example, they curved to keep a comfortable distance from a tree, even though the tree wasn't actually in the path.
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Old 05-27-2005, 04:45 AM
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This is one of those things I thought of myself and felt quite smug about coming up with myself till I read this thread

Sort of like thinking Austin Healey would be a good Hitch Hikers name for someone instead of Ford Prefect, till I found out an English rugby player used it too
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Old 05-27-2005, 12:39 PM
js_africanus js_africanus is offline
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While I was at the Univ. of Oregon, I remarked to a graduate student in landscape architecture that people who plan walkways should do exactly what the OP describes. He told me that was how Thomas Jefferson laid out the walkways at the University of Virginia.
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Old 05-27-2005, 12:54 PM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
I'm not as familiar with Indianapolis, but I'll note that as far back as 1940 Norman Bel Geddes was using the huge central monument with the multitude of streets entering into that traffic circle as a prime example of how older cities were inefficiently laid out for the age of the automobile.
I don't know what was in the Circle when Indy was first built, but the monument is to the veterans and dead of the Civil War many years later. One north-south street and one east-west street meet at the circle, not a multitude. The diagonals don't go all the way to the center.

Bel Geddes's opinion of traffic circles may have been fashionable in 1940, but several cities are returning to the roundabout as a more efficient intersection. It takes some getting used to, but it's self-regulating, and it works.

Wedge-shaped intersections do make for pointy buildings, but architects have learned to use the dramatic shape to their advantage. One of the earliest skyscrapers was built on a flat-iron shaped lot.
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Old 05-27-2005, 01:12 PM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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Well, it seems as if this design technique has been attributed to just about every university in the country. This has Urban Legend written all over it.

It would surely occur to any architect using this technique that their clients wouldn't appreciate having to traipse (or, worse yet, roll a wheelchair) across grass and mud because the architect was too stupid to figure out where to lay sidewalks. In modern times, liability considerations alone would make this a very dubious strategy.
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Old 05-27-2005, 01:41 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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Former architect and civil engineering major here. The answer is "both". Generally you design park spaces in a campus enviroment with paths, focal points, common areas and whatnot right from the beginning. People will have a tendency to follow the defined paths. Now there might be new developments or people might find a shortcut so at some point, you might go in and pave a new path. This happened at my school. There was a dirt trail where people just created a path to wherever. One year we came back and it was all paved.
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Old 05-27-2005, 07:18 PM
fifty-six fifty-six is offline
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What the hell is wrong with a dirt trail?

Now someone is gonna have to break new ground.
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Old 05-27-2005, 10:45 PM
Patty O'Furniture Patty O'Furniture is offline
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Something like this would never fly now, or as far back as building permits have been requid. Building plans without sidewalks would never make it past the permit office.
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