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The Efforts in Urban Design to Attain a Functional Environment

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The Efforts in Urban Design to Attain a Functional Environment



Key Words: urban design; elements; function; pattern; development; functional environment

1. Introduction
In defining urban design, many designers and planners have referred to the elements of urban design and limitations of geometry and technologies. There are many streams of thinking about urban design today, and urban design pulls together many lines of thought (Scott Brown 1982, 1990). As Jon Lang (1994, p. 211) notes:
… urban design is to create the public realms of human settlements that afford the fulfillment of human needs.
All human settlements consist of behavior settings, while behavior settings consist of a standing (or recurring) pattern of behavior and a milieu (a physical pattern). In fact, urban designers can be thought of as pattern maker.
In urban design most issues focus on the tradeoffs between the achievement of competing goals, between human needs and functions provided by the physical environment. Hence, urban design is more likely to be seen as a problem-solving approach from the perspective of the users in some specific environment. These approaches are committed to obtaining a higher quality of life in human settlements.
They could be achieved from the developments in both substantive and procedural knowledge that have resulted from the empirical research of the past three decades.
There has been much questioning about how best the effort in urban design to attain a functional environment. Paying more attention to it, this essay explores the key factors affecting the functional environment based on understanding of the main content about chapter 9 & 10. It then goes on to argue that it is essential for reasonably applying the

elements of urban design into practical programs in China. Moreover, development requirements are generalized and discussed relating to case study.
2. Urban pattern
2.1. Traditional factor
As a special traditional factor, Geomancy often plays an important role in urban design in China, thus affecting urban pattern in a unique way. Some traditional cities usually focus on establishing a central axis firstly which is helpful to guarantee the good prospects for urban development in geomancy. Then they always further form a geometrical morphology. The whole city plan of Beijing is largely effected by the issues of cosmology, in accordance with the old idea that the Earth was square and Heaven was round. It also symbolizes the harmony between man and nature (heaven and earth), and becomes geomantic “mode”. Moreover, the geometric form of the plan is in line with the aesthetic concept of the Chinese people.

1. The north-south axis

2. The Yuan City, Beijing

Owning a high status in hierarchy, the capital particularly also pursues distinct spatial sequences along the central axis in urban design. Old Beijing consists of north-south axis and the central Forbidden City presented in a rectangular urban form, imperial gardens and private gardens distributed in it. With a history of over 600 years, the
“chessboard” symmetric street layout was formed from in the Yuan Dynasty. The old city was enclosed by tall fortified walls, gates and a moat around it. The functions of the physical elements serve for some cultural tradition and political status enhancing

people’s feeling of belonging to their culture, so that people could seek satisfactions of higher needs.

3. City nodes along the central axis built in different years

In other words, considering the situation of the ancient city of Beijing, the urban central axis is a distinctive part with a historical significance. With a historically cultural significance, many important city nodes are linked together from south to north in this axis. Some nodes are historical sites which could well reflect the characters and cultural process of the city, such as Yongdingmen Gate, Qianmen Street, Tiananmen Square,
Forbidden City, and Jingshan Park.
2.2. Modern factor
In recent years, a large amount of projects about urban renewal have been carried forward in Beijing, especially for those traditional regions with a long history and abundant cultural sources. The project of Beijing Financial Street is a typical example.
With the development of new functions mainly on commercial and financial buildings, the area tends to accept the planning mode of high floor area ratio, high density and high rise. There is a distinctive group of modern buildings located inside Beijing’s innermost 2nd Ring Road, forming a 40 block area called Beijing Financial Street. The appearance and development of the financial centre is the product of the age stemming from history, and plays an important role in urban design of Beijing.

4. Skyline of Beijing Financial Street

5. Overlook of Street

6. Central Park

7. Shopping mall

8. Office Building

9. Bank of Beijing and

10. Ritz-Carlton Hotel

11. Retails and restaurants

12. Outdoor amenities

China Life Headquarters

Beijing International Financial Center Development strategic plan announced in May
2008 offers a collaborative environment for foreign and domestic financial institutions and Chinese regulatory agencies as the core of the financial center of Beijing, to position Beijing as a domestic center for business and finance. To be specific, the aim of new Beijing City Master Plan is to build the city into a world international and modern metropolis based on the development of the future financial industry, so it is necessary to provide a fairly large scale area for various kinds of financial activities such as concentrated offices, conference centres, a certain number of retails and other amenities. As a result, the district attracts over 1500 financial institutions to reside here including the central bank and all three national regulatory commissions of the central government. In addition, many foreign investment conglomerates are pleased to set up their headquarters here, such as UBS, Royal Bank of Canada, Goldman Sachs, JP
Morgan, and Bank of America. Further improvement of supporting service facilities have been achieved by providing five-star hotels, a wide range of upscale retails and cultural amenities. All above factors contribute to its powerful commercial allure.
Furthermore, its location and offerings make Beijing Finance Street a coveted area for tourists and residents. With diverse needs, People could acquire different experiences by walking through various environment which provides distinct functions.
In fact, other factors about technology are beginning to show irreplaceable advantages in modern society, including the improvement of urban design especially

for transportation systems. As Schneider and Francis (1989) note:
There is much speculation today on the impact of new communications technologies on urban form. The conjecture is that these breakthroughs

will afford dramatically new patterns of working, residing, and recreating, and that these changes will, in turn, radically change urban patterns.

13. Underground layered transportation system of Beijing International Financial Center

14. Plan in 1785

15. Plan in 1920s

16. Figure Ground in 2010

The development of Beijing International Financial Center takes the lead in adopting the underground layered transportation system. This efficient system could connect all the parts of the whole area, so that it finally reduce the commuting time and subsequently enhance efficiency in work. The significant feature of this system is to realize the separation of pedestrian and vehicular circulation: pedestrian flow circulates in buildings; the vehicle-only lanes are in different height tunnels; car parking space is independently designed in the whole system. In addition, it creates an opportunity for the large-scale development mode, not being limited in the historical urban pattern. All these efforts are devoted to meet different needs form people living in the different times. 3. Relationship between behavior and milieu
3.1. Positive adaptation
When the milieu serves a purpose that is no longer needed it is abandoned, or its affordances are recognized for another needed purpose and it is reused. Its structure may require some adaptation to serve this new purpose (Jon Lang 1994, p. 186).
Considering the necessity of changing, positive adaptation may obtain preferable effect.
In contrast, if the resources of changing are not available, it is likely to result in deterioration of urban structure. It may be worth noting that the evolution of Tiananmen Square is widely used as a national symbol place now. During the Ming
Dynasty, the country’s dominant bureaucracies were located in
Tiananmen Square. Since New
China was established, the square has been transformed into a place

17. Bird view of Tiananmen Square

in name of freedom and democracy. It becomes more appropriate for organizing different kinds of activities which come into being in the background of new times, such as assembly, parade, celebration and exhibition. In order to avoid the deterioration

in the transformation and satisfy people’s new behavior needs, some changes have been made in the original milieu, and the square becomes more adaptable to serve the new function and value required by the development of the city. Similarly, Jingshan Park has turned to be a public park serving for citizens from a private Royal park, encouraging more people to achieve a good experience of the functional environment.
3.2. Negative changes
Nevertheless, the huge change of city has brought threat to behavior settings. To be specific, although government has spent a great number of labour power and material resources, some cities get lost in massive demolition and large-scale construction, and put more attention to unrealistic image projects and performance projects, which have brought in large amounts of passive demands. For example, the construction of
Chenggong district in Kunming is a representative unsuccessful case. As the chief zone for the expansion of the city, superabundant projects of development are still in progress without any consideration about people’s authentic needs. Consequently, much of the newly constructed housing in Chenggong is still unoccupied, and it is reported as one of the largest ghost towns in Asia.

18. Views of Chenggong District

19. Old street view in Tianjin Street

20. New street view in Tianjin Street

On the other hand, it must be noticed that “the milieu carries meanings beyond any utilitarian use or aesthetic taste” (Jon Lang 1994, p. 187). Since the reform and openingup, China has been experiencing the rapid urban construction, especially in recent years, numerous pleasant urban spaces have been or are disappearing with the loss of countless city memory and the artificial regrouping of urban structure. For instance, as a business pedestrian street, Tianjin Street lost its original characteristic after redevelopment. More

than three shopping malls went bust one after another in less than one month after reopening. The main reason of its failure in that destroying the original fabric and demolishing many old buildings caused a loss of its intrinsic commercial atmosphere.
In fact, constructing some new modern buildings learned from other good examples is not enough for a renovation of the whole street. It also needs to maintain some unique features from original project so that the former memory about this site could be helpful for its further development. A good city memory is benefit for enhancing the sense of identification about the site from residents and achieving high cohesion throughout urban design, “carrying memories of past events, past ideas, past workmanship” (Rossi,
1982). Hence, an insightful city should realize the importance of city memory and be engaged in strengthening the “soft power” for the formation of the place spirit and regional culture.
4. Spatial context
4.1. Spatial structure
In the new general-planning of Beijing (2005-2020), different areas are supplied by correspond development references. The application of the element of axis contributes to form a clear spatial structure which aims to emphasize the importance of the urban centre. A cross-shape urban central form is based on the combination of the traditional central axis and the

21. General-planning of Beijing

East-West axis along Changan Avenue. The intersection of these two axis is located in the urban centre, and has a continuous development to seek a bigger functional extension area.
4.2. Cultural carrier
The culture is the soul of the city while the space is the cultural carrier. As the linear node along the axis, Qianmen Avenue is more familiar with people than Beichen Road, attracting more people with a comfortable environment. The reason, apart from the spatial scale factors, traditional culture has also played a role in the meaning of places, directly or indirectly.

22. Street view of old and new Qianmen Avenue

23. Beichen Road

Compared to those unfamiliar reinforced concrete forest developed in the modernization process, Qianmen Avenue has retained the traditional cultural elements with the prosperous and commercial atmosphere. Located in the famous Dashilar historical district, it originates from a traditional business street where people are used to going for shopping or recreation. After the redevelopment of the two sides of
Qianmen Avenue, it has provided more kinds of retails not limit to local brands which are usually reflecting the style of quaint and elegant. Several leading foreign brands also seek more storefronts here and bring a new development opportunity to this area.
Although it attracts a certain amount of tourists, the facilities could not serve local residents well enough. The main lane is occupied by the commercial space; as a result, the inhabitants’ daily life has to be shifted to the reconstructed transition terrace. These maybe key factors causing a relatively low popularity in workdays.
4.3. Spatial details
As an element of urban design, street pavement and some distinctive urban furniture can create a good atmosphere and bring vitality to space, especially for the business street as Qianmen Avenue. Conversely, in spite of remaining adequate space for the central landscape avenue, the overall environment of Beichen Road cannot achieve the desired goal. Because it does not have enough basic facilities for people in the large area relatively, lacking attractive buildings on both sides of the street. The diversification of architectural function could increase the patronage to promote the vitality of the region.
Several buildings and townscape could not make the best effects in spatial details. For example, in Nanjing
Fuzimiao, the limited spaces of different facades are occupied by a large amount of advertisements and

24. Nanjing Fuzimiao

shop signs. Numerous public facilities have certain space without an orderly arrangement in the public area, such as street lamps, telegraph poles, guardrails and signal lamps, causing a chaotic spatial view.
5. Development requirements
5.1. Continuity and integrity
With the development of urbanization, it is a key to maintain the continuity and integrity of regional scenery pattern and to safeguard the peculiar ancient urban style and feature. As Jon (1994, p. 187) observes:
“Buildings and urban patterns are worth saving to remind us of the continuity of life and our place in time and space, but often the marketplace and/or political decisions lead to other conclusions”.
Owning a unique local feature, Beijing urban central axis is worth preserving to ensure that ancient capital could keep the characteristics of the city and inherit the civilizations of the culture. Compared to the ancient times, the new era has endowed it with varied epochal characters which lie in the following aspects: the construction frame of the international metropolis in process of modernization; the coexistence of the modern urban centre and old city axis system; the important vision and feeling of place where people know the city, directly affecting people's impression of the city.
Assimilation crisis for city cannot be ignored in China. Meanwhile, we should affirm that culture diversity has a big impact in city diversity forms. The urban form of Beijing could not be suitable for other cities. Applying some certain forms blindly from a good example into another city may result in failure hindering its development.
5.2. New functions and values
In order to achieve a good outcome in the further development, it may be a good way of adding new functions and values into some nodes along this central axis. For example, taking the modern national fitness program into consideration, Wanning Bridge may seek an extension to be a new civil square serving the citizens. It also could combine with the meaningful canal culture to acquire a promotion of region identity. In terms of historical and cultural heritage as the ancient canal, if lacking the participation of people in the redevelopment process, it could only be a landscape having a deficiency in the

6. Concluding remarks
This paper has shown that attainment of a functional environment requires an approach based on a reasonable user-oriented application of elements, which are related to urban pattern, relationship between people’s behavior and the milieu around them, the spatial context, and development requirements. Urban design is a result of tradeoff between these elements under the limitations of technology and geometry. The elements of urban design are “those units of the overall environment over which an architect and/or planner can have, or should have, some control in the public interest” (Jon Lang
1994, p. 190). As a complex social system, city could be seen as a network consists of interweaved multiple relationships. Various physical elements are important resources that could be synthesized (not combined) to create efficient solutions to deal with overall problems in urban design, as well as objective existence. To attain a good functional environment not only means an improvement of physical elements, but also require a formation of good social environment which pays more attention to people’s behavior. To be specific, urban design policies and plans may strive to: encourage certain patterns of development in particular locations and discourage other unsuitable types; maintain good intrinsic properties to seek further meaningful functional extensions or conserve the good qualities of the present environment(natural and built); relate the new function or value to the existing on the basis of positive effects; manage the process of change to minimize the damage to desired ongoing standing patterns of behavior and pay attention to the continuity and integrity in urban design.
In the future, considering environmental fitness, “the need is to use what we have effectively, to understand the possibilities of alternative geometries and technological systems, and to seize developments that promise to make the city and the suburbs more functional in terms of the lives of their inhabitants” (Jon Lang 1994, p.210). From this point of view, we should emphasize the behaviors and physical demands of human beings; pay much attention to the creation of a functional environment in a changing world, which is helpful to achieve a higher quality of life in human settlements.

Lang, J. 1994. Urban design: the American experience. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Rossi, A. 1989. The Architecture of the City. Cambridge, MA.

Venturi, R. and Brown, D S. 1972. Learning from Las Vegas. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

Burnette, C. and Moleski, W. 1974. Designing for human behavior: architecture and the behavioral science. Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross.

Kostof, S. 1991. The City Shaped Urban Patterns and Meaning Throughout History. Bulfinch,

Sarason, S. B. 1972. The creation of settings and the future societies. Brookline Books.

Shirvani, H. 1985. The urban design process. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Krier, L. 1984. Urban components. Journal of Architectural Design, 54(7/8), pp. 40-70.

Youyi, H. and Lingling, Y. 2006. The introduction of the underground transportation system in
Beijing Financial Street. Journal of Underground Space and Engineering, 2(S1), 1252-1259.

Ling, W. and Jianping, F. 2004. The exploration of strengths and weaknesses about Beijing Financial
Street. Journal of Beijing Union University (Humanities and Social Sciences), 2(1), 3.

Jian, F. 2005. The cognitive image of urban structure from Beijing citizens. Journal of Geographical
Sciences, 25(2), 142-154.

Jianguo, W. 2003. A Study of the Urban Traditional Spacial Axis. Journal of Architecture, 5, 24-27.

Rong, Z. 2005. City memory and urban pattern. PhD Thesis, Southeast University.

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