In Architecture there is this concept of “Identity” that is super important.
In the same way that a person might hold on to the identity of being shy or being outspoken, or nice, or a winner, or a looser… cities have identities. For example, Charleston, SC, has an identity that encompasses its historical qualities.
Check out this video I shot a while ago when I was in Charleston…
So for example, Chicago is perceived to be clean and modern as opposed to New York that has a more edgy, rich, and “broken-in” identity. Asheville North Carolina has an earthy hipster identity. Charleston, South Carolina has a relaxed, southern charm and colonial identity.
Each of these cities has a pretty distinct style that is affected by certain characteristics. Glass in Chicago, a melting pot of stuff in New York, rusticated stone and wood buildings in Asheville, and porches and pastel colors in Charleston.
So we have this IDENTITY, that is determined by the DETAILS of the building materials, structures, and typologies that are driven by over-arching VALUES of the place like historical events, climate, and context.
VALUES affect DETAILS. DETAILS affect IDENTITY.
Good cities have clearly defined identities. Same thing with people. If a person knows who he is, what he stands for, and what he believes, then he is confident, and admired. If a person doesn’t know who he is, is uncertain about what he stands for, undecided about what he believes, then he is insecure, and repulsive.
This is why cities with clearly defined identities are admirable and suburban sprawl is repulsive.
Suburbs do not have identities. They have Applebee’s, and Kroger, and McDonald’s, and cookie-cutter houses, and Wal-Mart. Every suburban town is like the insecure guy who looks to other people to tell him how to behave. He is unsure about himself and will only borrow characteristics that are already accepted by the population in general. He tries to fit-in and not to stand out.
In my opinion, urban and architectural identities are great. I think that an identity should generally be further solidified with every building that goes up. But in places where the identity is a non-Identity (suburbs), I think it should be challenged and defined.
However, there are some that might see the suburban identity as a FREEDOM from constraints, or potentially creating an identity beyond the urban scale: like a national identity.
Ultimately, I would argue that as an architect, you should consider the identity in your designs and make a decision INTENTIONALLY about weather you want to respect and enhance it, juxtapose it, or even purposefully dilute it.
It doesn’t matter so much what you choose. It matters that you make a decision.
What do you think?
Drew Paul Bell