Messy Urbanism Part 3 of 3: BWM Guggenheim research shows mess enables culture, engagement

From BMW Guggenheim Lab blogger Christine McLaren: "The debate at hand at the Lab that day was all about aesthetics: when it comes to the city, what is beauty?  Who gets to decide that?  And what are the consequences of that decision when it’s applied to the urban fabric?  I needn’t tell you that there was no consensus nor did anyone expect to find it. "However, one of the panelists, Jürgen Krusche from the Institute for Contemporary Art Research at the Zurich University of the Arts, brought to the table the argument that ugliness — a word he used to describe the sort of chaotic, patchwork wildness or messiness that a city garners when it is left to fall apart slightly — is what enables vibrancy to happen. What’s more, he argued that that vibrancy is more important to quality of life than 'beauty,' which is often defined by cleanliness and order.

"'Decay,' he said, 'leaves gaps that allow for life to spread' and for people to self-build the urban fabric in accordance with their own dreams.  That gives us a connection to our city, which makes us feel comfortable in it.  Krusche made this same case in his now famous article, 'Berlin ist hässlich—und das ist gut so!' ('Berlin is ugly—and it’s good that way!'), arguing that this is the phenomenon that helps make Berlin such an attractive city.

"Anyone who has been to Berlin knows that it is not, in the traditional sense of the word, a beautiful place.  It is not only a city of mismatched architecture, much of which comes from what I would personally go so far as to call some of architectural history’s most depressing periods, but also one whose political and economic history has resulted in a much slower investment or re-investment process than in other places.  That is a part of what has enabled Berlin’s seemingly lawless and DIY aesthetic to proliferate until now.

"It’s not only Krusche that argues for this state of things in cities.  When New York Lab Team member Charles Montgomery and environmental psychologist Colin Ellard gathered data about people’s emotional and physiological reactions to different forms of streetscape and urban design during their co-designed 'Testing, Testing!' experiment, one of their surprising findings reflected, to a certain extent, the case for messiness.

"They found that people actually felt happier and more activation, excitement, and engagement standing in front of an older, more crowded, messier streetscape than they did in front of a newer, simple, clean, blank façade.  What’s more, as Ellard emphasized to me recently when I called him to rehash my understanding of the experiment, the contrast was even stronger in visitors to the neighborhood and city than it was with local residents.

"If ugliness is better for our cities than beauty, if messiness makes for better, more vibrant, and livelier spaces than manicured perfection, how can we build that?  Is this something that can only come with time and disintegration, or is there a way to apply this to new development?"  Full post here.