Urban Planning: the future – special reference to Sri Lanka by Ashley de Vos

Urban Planning: the future
special reference to Sri Lanka
Ashley de Vos

Part One

Jane Jacobs in her book “Dark Ages Ahead” talks about the end of culture, especially the way we live it today. Picture books do not protect the loss of a culture. The printed media is incapable of passing down a culture. It has to be experienced, it has to be lived. Hence the importance of vibrant communities to carry the culture forward.

We have forgotten that cities were created for people and not for the motor vehicle. Today we have completely forgotten the reason why cities exist and are changing our cities to fit the vehicle. The vehicle was never scaled to the requirement of the city. If they were, they would have been very small and highly efficient. Public transport not cars is the solution, for efficient movement of people, the tram, the bus and now rapid transport systems are rising to the real needs of the city. Foot walks should be people friendly and especially in the tropics well shaded to avoid them becoming heat soaks.

The gentrification of our cities, is a sure indication that society is on the decline. It leaves many people, especially the communities, the preservers and the repositories of the cultural matrix helpless and disorientated.
Jeff Rubin in the “End of Growth” argues that ‘the present concept of world growth is dictated by the price of oil and with the increased cost of exploitation and inherent increases in cost, development as we know it would grind to a halt. The growth cycle is receding and the world is in recession. This will effect everything we do’. Of course, unless we continue to wage wars, killing thousands of innocents, to get our hands on cheap sources of oil.

Population growth is the result of the economic expansion in the past decades and the only sustainable solution today is in the lowering of this demand for energy. A study done in the Netherlands about ten years ago concluded that a minimum 80% drop in the standard of living was required to bring all in line with the best in the developing world. Even though the environment and economy is inextricably connected and should be treated as such, the sociopolitical landscape sees it differently. In “Everything under the sun” David Suzuki refers to ‘geo-engineering as the height of our arrogance, we are using hydrocarbons to produce carbohydrates’. Is the human species well on its way to extinction ?, at this rate yes.

The high rise building is an expression conceived during the era of cheap oil, and is still seen by some as the solution for all our ills. In some countries they are demolishing their tall building as they are designated as sick buildings, as failures. While in others the herd instinct prevails. Is this new expressive gimmick driven trend evidence of the end of a culture or a revelation that no culture ever existed.


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Though built over many centuries, its designers respected the scale of the City of Rome .







Newer Buildings were constantly added, but all respected the human scale of Rome. The vehicle is seen as a mode of transport not really a part of the city. Roads have not been widened, they are still with the community of Rome.

Beautiful Global Architecture Symbols in Rome IT Rom Piazza Navona

Beautiful Global Architecture Symbols in Rome IT Rom Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona, a city square in Rome, built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, in the 1st century AD, and follows the form of the open space of the stadium. The buildings around the square were built over many centuries, at different times, they all respected the scale of the Piazza and the City as a whole.






Rome’s architecture over the centuries has developed from the Classical and Imperial Roman styles to modern Fascist architecture. Rome was once the world’s main epicentres of classical architecture, developing new forms such as the arc, the dome and the vault. The Romanesque style in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries was also widely used in Roman architecture, and later the city became one of the main centres of Renaissance and Baroque architecture.


EUR is a residential and business district in Rome, located south of the city centre. The area was originally chosen in 1930s as the site for the 1942 world’s fair which Benito Mussolini planned to open to celebrate twenty years of Fascism, the letters EUR standing for Esposizione Universale Roma. The project was originally called E42 after the year in which the exhibition was planned to be held. EUR was also designed to direct the expansion of the city towards the south-west and the sea, and to be a new city centre for Rome. The planned exhibition never took place due to World War ll. The vision for EUR in a way saved Rome for the people and for the many visitors .





EUR Benito Mussolini’s new city


Conservation should be sympathetic and respect the periods. Mouldings were different from period to period. If we copy mouldings on the basis that one looks better than the other, we are falsifying the Historicity of the building. In fact, destroying the city, instead of preserving it. ICOMOS International has clearly stated that , retaining the facade only, demolishing the inside and in its place constructing a new storied building has nothing to do with conservation,
it is designated a destruction of patrimony



The Mosque by Paolo Portoghesi
In the 1970s during a state visit to Italy the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia complained to Italian officials about the lack of a suitable mosque in Rome. The request caused some embarrassment amongst Italian politicians, most of whom belonged to the Christian Democratic Party, who were concerned that by placing a minaret among the bell towers of Rome they would displease the Vatican. The choice of the site was therefore well pondered: but at the same time a hill hid the minaret from the historical panorama of Rome. Paolo Portoghesi, a leading Italian architect and art historian, designed the mosque and the adjoining buildings, trying to strike a balance between modern architecture and the need to relate to
the donor country (Saudi Arabia).


MAXXI by Zaha Hadid. In 1998 the Italian Government decided to provide Rome with a proper Centre for Contemporary Art with the space which is required by some “installations” designed by today’s artists. The site chosen was a former barracks near Via Flaminia with a very large courtyard surrounded by low early XXth century buildings. In 1999 the project developed by British architect
Zaha Hadid won an international contest. One of the strong points of the project was that it took into account the urban layout of the neighbourhood and in general the landscape of Rome by avoiding the construction of a tall building, which would have modified the historical view of Rome from the Janiculum. In 2010 Zaha Hadid was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize for this project


Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso by Richard Meier

Chiesa del Dio Padre Misericordioso has been conceived as a new centre for a somewhat isolated housing quarter located outside central Rome. The church was built for the Jubilee year 2000, although it was not completed until 2003. Three great shells constitute the most impressive feature of the building; they represent sails, a reminder of the traditional iconography of the church as a boat. The five bells have a meaning too: they represent the five continents: a topic already existing
in many other Roman monuments.


The curved sails offer many interesting views; however a lateral view perpendicular to the axis of the church is less satisfying because the sails seem to merge in just one shape, while by slightly varying the visual angle they return to be three. In the afternoon a small opening in the rear wall sends sun rays onto the main altar: maybe Richard Meier had in mind Bernini’s Confessione, the decoration of St. Peter’s apse.For centuries architects and painters have tried to show the blue sky of Rome on the ceiling of churches, often painted with stars, etc: modern technology and materials make that dream come true.


Auditorium by Renzo Piano
Renzo Piano is most likely the best known living Italian architect. In 1994 he won a competition for providing Rome with a multi-function complex dedicated to music. His winning project is characterised by three “music boxes”: three halls with different capacities (2800, 1200, and 700 seats) as well as an open-air amphitheatre for 3,000 people.


The domes of Rome, including St. Peter’s dome are covered with lead, as this metal protects the structures below from the impact of excessive variations of the outside temperature. The way Renzo Piano has designed and assembled the lead panels covering the three halls is no doubt the most impressive.

(to be continued)

Paper presented art the International Conference “Cities, People & Places” 2013
The Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. Colombo
15th October 2013

(c) Ashley de Vos