Sneak Peek: TEDxRVA Explores Responsible Urban Design

It’s no secret a lot of folks at Baskervill nerd out on all things urban design. What can we say? We love RVA; it’s been our home for nearly 120 years. That’s why we’re so thrilled to hear from renowned architectural historian Robert Russell as he prepares to take the stage at TEDxRVA later this week. We hope to see you there!

Robert Russell will present at upcoming TEDxRVAAs a mechanic in the mid-1970s, Robert Russell spent his afternoons at a local Oregon library. It was the only place he could go on his lunch hour without having to buy something. After gobbling down his sandwich, he’d plow through entire sections of books. Since he wanted to become a potter, he started with arts and crafts. His trajectory forever changed when he stumbled into the next set of stacks filled with texts about architecture and design.

“I still remember looking at a picture of a gothic cathedral,” says Robert. “…I thought ‘I need to find out about these buildings –who built them, how they got built and why.’” To do so, Robert went back to college, picking up a Ph.D. in History of Art and Architecture along the way.

In the not-too-distant future—April 8 to be exact—Robert will take the TEDxRVA stage at Dominion Arts Center’s Carpenter Theatre to share his thoughtful views on architecture and urban design, backed by more than 20 years of experience in academia. He was kind enough to give us a sneak peek of his presentation. Brace yourself for some tough love.

“Architects seem to have forgotten how to design buildings that contribute to the cities in which they are built,” says Robert about the crux of his presentation. He’ll explore how buildings fit together in cities, how parts of cities relate to one another and how those cities work for human beings.

To Robert, a city is far more important and more powerful than any work of architecture. A key to best meeting the needs of the city is respecting the interconnectedness between the streets, the buildings and the people who move about it all. “Cities can accommodate a whole range of people—locals, transplants, rich and poor. To be successful at attracting and keeping people, cities must be diverse enough to give all types of people something to live for,” says Robert.

State of the Cities

Taller, shorter, brighter, darker–buildings are flexing any and every characteristic to stand out. Can you imagine a seven-mile stretch of New York’s Central Park that rests 100 feet below ground level? Check out the recent conceptual design for a “horizontal skyscraper” meant to make the park more accessible to more people. To be fair, the subterranean concept is captivating. Think back to Robert and his views on urban design and ask yourself: Is this bold concept a complementary caramel coating for the Big Apple? Or maybe not a fit?

Image of conceptual work to ponder how design decisions impact cities

Architecture gives us a sense of place and belonging; it’s a thick, binding thread in any community’s fabric. That’s why Robert points to a greater responsibility that both the people who want buildings to be built and those who make it happen need to consider: How do architectural projects impact our carefully constructed communities?

Robert wants attendees to walk away with one thing: awareness of the greater context, allowing for buildings to blend in with a community’s unique vibe. “Let’s reset our sights on making cities beautiful to give everyone the opportunity to experience a glimpse of that beauty daily,” says Robert. “That doesn’t necessarily take money, it takes concern and care.”

See you there?

Carving out a whole day away from work can be tough. If you don’t think you’ll make TEDxRVA and want to know more about community design, go here and here.