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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Human Scale

Last night I attended the opening of the Architecture and Design Film Festival, seeing The Human Scale, a documentary that "questions our assumptions about modernity, exploring what happens when we put people into the center of our equations." The heart of the film is Jan Gehl and his eponymous architecture office that is responsible for urban designs in Copenhagen, New York, and other cities around the globe. The film focuses on these two cities as well as Dhaka, Bangladesh; Chongqing, China; and Christchurch, New Zealand.

The film's title indicates much of what Gehl and his compatriots promote: walkable and bikeable cities, and low-scale buildings (no more than, say, five stories) that enable often spontaneous interaction. Gehl's presence is fairly small and low-key (unlike the quippy talk he gave at the Center for Architecture three years ago), but architects from his office also chime in, providing much of the film's direction. While Le Corbusier makes an early adversarial role, fortunately the film does not denigrate into other urban clichés, instead focusing on fairly logical and no-nonsense means of making cities more lively.

For people who follow urbanism and urban design, the film doesn't really provide anything new, but its argument and heart are strong. The ideal audience, though, are the people who have a stake in shaping Dhaka, Chingqing, Christchurch, and other cities. By seeing the positive contributions that Gehl's office has made to Copenhagen and New York, ultimately the film is about good urbanism, not just a good architectural practice.

A preview of the film:

If you missed the film at ADFF last night, have no fear; The Human Scale is opening tomorrow at IFC Center, running for five days. As part of the film's run at IFC, certain screenings have in-person appearances:
Fri Oct 18
6:30pm: Director Andreas Dalsgaard, Jeff Risom (Head of the Gehl Institute), and Andy Wiley-Schwartz (New York City Department of Transportation)
8:25pm: Dalsgaard, Risom, and David Byrne (Talking Heads founder, writer, musician and avid urban cyclist)

Sat Oct 19
8:25pm: Dalsgaard, Fred Kent (Founder and president of the Project for Public Spaces), and David Sim (Partner Gehl Architects)

Sun Oct 20
6:30pm: Dalsgaard, Alex Marshall (Author -The Surprising Design of Market Economies), and Caroline Samponaro (Transportation Alternatives)
Director Andreas Dalsgaard previously made a documentary on Bogotá, Colombia, which led him to learn about Gehl and eventually make The Human Scale. Bogotá Change (2009) can be seen below in its entirety:

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