From the introduction to Townscape by Gordon Cullen:
One building standing alone in the countryside is experienced as a work of architecture, but bring half a dozen buildings together and an art other than architecture is made possible. Several things begin to happen in the group which would be impossible for the isolated building. We may walk through and past the buildings, and as a corner is turned an unsuspected building is suddenly revealed. We may be surprised, even astonished (a reaction generated by the composition of the group and not by the individual building).
In fact there is an art of relationship just as there is an art of architecture. Its purpose is to take all the elements that go to create the environment: buildings, trees, nature, water, traffic, advertisements and so on, and weave them together in such a way that drama is released. For a city is a dramatic event in the environment.
We turn to the faculty of sight, for it is almost entirely through vision that the environment is apprehended.
In exactly the same way that Thom Mayne1 isn’t, Cullen is interested in the formal appreciation of the city. If Jane Jacobs – writing her introduction to Death and Life of Great American Cities in the same year (1959) as Cullen was writing his – writes solutions to the social/cultural problems of urbanity; Gordon Cullen sketches solutions to the formal/visual problems.
His proposals are categorized under three main titles: Optics (or Serial Vision), Place and Content. In an effort to better understand his principles and simultaneously revitalize the somewhat neglected sketches category here on no, too self, I’m going to try and explain a few using drawings. As a homage to the originals, they’ll be in a Cullenesque stylee, except I’ll be using Photoshop instead of Letratone.
First up will be examples of Place.
Place…is concerned with our reactions to the position of our body in the environment. This is as simple as it appears to be. It means, for instance, that when you go into a room you utter to yourself the unspoken words ‘I am outside IT, I am entering IT, I am in the middle of IT’. At this level of conciousness we are dealing with a range of experience stemming from the major impacts of exposure and enclosure.
Arising out of this sense of identity or sympathy with the environment … we discover that no sooner do we postulate a HERE than automatically we must create a THERE, for you cannot have one without the other. Some of the greatest townscape effects are created by a skillful relationship between the two…
Sketch 1: Glebe Place (sight of the previous postcard entry):
showing (click image for flickr notes),
fluctuation: ‘…the stimulation of our sense of position through moving from the wide to the narrow and out again into some fresh space…’
closure: ‘…the creation of a break in the street which, whilst containing the eye, does not block out the sense of progression beyond…’