top of page


“The most destructive force I continue to see is the grafting of suburban types – building-lot configurations, street types, landscaping, public works, and open space – onto urban settings. This has fueled the destruction of the city as well as frustrated the construction of new urban places.” – Chuck Bohl

Civic design is an approach to urban planning and architecture that benefits citizens and the public realm. The de-urbanization of the American city has abandoned civic design principles resulting in a massacring of the urban space.  In addition to developing destructive dependency on fossil fuels, we have also increased our need for technological salvation.  Our current way of life is starving our local and national economies and erasing any semblance of what a city should embody.
Chicago, the United State’s third largest city and one of the largest and most significant metropolitan areas in the nation, has suffered greatly from unbalanced development and a lack of civic space.  Interconnection and urban life was traded for segregation. Consequently, we have been left with a disjointed collection of neighborhoods.  Local economies are paralyzed due to lack of residents, commercial development and updated infrastructure.
“Setbacks, Height Limits, Open Space, Parking requirements (S.H.O.P.). The four stooges of zoning have effectively outlawed compact, affordable, walkable, mixed use (CAWMU) in the United States.” – Fenno Hoffman


Zoned Out
In 1919, Chicago passed its first zoning law (Glakin Law), which gave the fairly young municipality the right to pass zoning laws with the approval of a majority of neighborhood property owners.  In this early version, 40 % of the residents had to agree for the rule to go into effect.  Just two short years later (1921), this law was repealed; giving power to the municipality to make all of the zoning decisions. This was later backed by the Supreme Court in 1926 when the vision was to protect the development and maintaining of single family homes- a move that is decidedly un-urban.
In 1954, Chicago instituted a “modern” zoning code which began to focus around vehicular oriented development.  This was assisted by the inclusion of floor-area ratios (FAR’s) and the implementation of various measures used to assess the desirability and performance standards of new developments.


It was not until 2000 that zoning in Chicago began to focus again on pedestrian- oriented environments. While zoning is practiced in suburban municipalities to ensure separation of uses, this is usually accompanied by a comprehensive plan.  In an urban environment, the separation of uses is the anti-thesis in the pursuit of more sustainable communities.
If laws are meant to give equal opportunity and control the use of land, it should have the same affect in all areas of the city.  However, the combination of the zoning designation and the FAR has left some communities out of the loop.  There are no mix if uses and in some cases, nothing but vacant land and no social life in neighborhoods that could and should be able to sustain themselves.


“The beauty of urban life was illustrated by the words of  Emile Chabrand who said,  “The plaza is where the city life comes together throughout the day; it is here where the on trades, one speaks of politics, one discusses and debates, one schemes, one courts, one strolls, one reads newspapers one waits to intercept the influential people on their way to ministries, one keeps track of the scandals of the city, and in the evening, in the same way, when the lamps are lit and the music is heard, all the society of the capital comes to its favorite paseo to chat and meander in the coolness until the middle of the night.”  [Blanco 1996]

Everything that is right about urban development, principles that fosters healthy communities, has been made in essence, illegal, either through actual law or through the brainwashing of the people that are affected in the day-to-day reality of the physical world created as a result of rouge thinking.  Gradually over years of “urban planning” and development, the suburban model of vehicular centered has been grafted into our cities.  The resulting debauchery is the destruction of civic life where it should be alive and kicking and a dismantling of urban civilization.
“The opposite of bad development is good development, not no development.” – Padriac Steinschneider


Urban Assumptions 
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the housing boom set off a storm of residential construction and millions of people were enticed to buy homes in neighborhoods that they may not have purchased in (or been aware of their existence) due to “speculation”.   Speculation of property values going up (in two years, we will be able to send junior to college off this sell!!!), commercial development nearby (you mean, I don’t have to drive to the grocery store to get bread!!!), and of course a more social atmosphere around the block (we can ride our bikes and take evening walks down the street!!!) (McCullagh 2005)

Question:  I live here, now what?
Answer: Drive 10 miles to the grocery store, coffee shop, cleaners, etc.

“We must not build housing, we must build communities.” – Mike Burton
If American cities are going to be viable healthy urban centers we need to consciously develop and enact civil design principles that serve the greater good.  People have suffered long enough.  Living a life sculpted by rules that were borrowed from suburbia to create space in the city is shameful and simply not good enough for the great American Metropolis.  We deserve chess games in the park, live street music, social spaces, walk-able communities and diverse, integrated uses.  Public spaces should be strategically enveloped by buildings that activate them. It is pertinent plans be devised and realized for the revitalization of underdeveloped (or poorly developed) urban areas before more of the communities ceases to offer citizens a place worth living.


It is essential we create mass transit oriented, community focused, sustainable, high density, mixed use urban destination.  The embodiment of all of these factors into a physical form will translate into enhanced quality of life in our communities.  For urban areas that have infrastructure already in place, this is the only logical next step.

The solution, Urban Redux, is a response to these important issues.  Included are mixed-income housing, flexible commercial spaces and business offices all arranged around a central public courtyard that is accessible to everyone.  The project provides an intense mix of uses for various types of people and forms a small community with its own economy.


“The 20th Century was about getting around. The 21st Century will be about staying in a place worth staying in.” – Jim Kunstler              

In his 2004 TED talk, James Kunstler asked us to create a country worth living in.  Neither the electric car, nor the solar panels are going to save us and there are not enough natural resource to sustain the reckless wasteful lifestyle that we live.  Economic, social and physical survival are hinging on the design and implementation of spaces that ensue efficiency, foster diversity, and nurture social interaction.

By: Darin Triplett and Sharon Samuels

Caspall, Joseph P. Schwieterman and Dana. Encyclopedia of Chicago, Zoning. 2005. (accessed March 2011).
Kunstler, James. James Kunstler Dissects Siburbia. February 2004. (accessed March 27, 2011).
Nozzi, Dom. A Collection of Urban Design Quotes. (accessed March 27, 2011).




Buildings consume nearly 50% of all energy used in the U.S. The average person spends over 36% of their annual income on housing of which one-third is consumed by household operations and utility costs. If we continue to design, construct and run our built environment in this way, many of our natural resources will be completely depleted due to our current practices. According to Hubbert’s Peaks 1, by 2020 natural gas production will enter a period of continual decline in the US until all of our resources are depleted. This decline will surely translate into a continual rise in cost of utilities, goods and services. A more efficient way of living is desperately needed.
We must explore alternative ways of sheltering and providing for ourselves. It is pertinent we raise our standards of designing buildings so that they function well. One idea is the use of passive design methods. Passive design is not a new idea. In Europe, passive design strategies have been used widely since the mid part of the 20th century with positive results. The main ideas of passive design are very simple. The first decision,– the awareness of the site (climate, orientation, exposure, etc.)- is determined beforehand in most instances. The strategies that follow are straightforward as well:
- Compact floor plan
- Well insulated and air-tight exterior shell
- Strategically placed and Efficient glazing components
- Energy saving appliances and fixtures
- Use of Preheating, Heat recovery, etc. to increase efficiency

It is wasteful for a building to rely heavily on mechanical equipment. According to the Passive House Institute 2 , homes that utilize passive design strategies can be up to 90 % more efficient than the current average American home. The average heat requirement for a home is 50,000 btu/sf/yr and annual heat requirement for a passively designed house is about 4,000 btu/sf/yr.

Passive design is easier to execute in new residential construction however, it can also be applied to the existing building stock (single and multi-family housing as well as commercial buildings) that comprise most of our cities. Yes, the construction cost can be about 10-15% more than what is thought of as “traditional” construction, however that is a small initial price to pay for a 90% utility cost reduction. Within 10 years of operation this extra effort becomes money in our pocket and not carbon emissions in the air. The goal is to produce a building stock that will benefit us as well as protect our fragile natural environment.

In as little as 5 years, people not using these strategies, will find themselves going back to the drawing board, or “down to the studs” in an effort to catch up with those who chose to stay ahead of the curve. The result is lower or non-existent energy bills, low maintenance, a healthy indoor environment and smart resource usage.
The benefits to our quality of life, the ability of our planet to support life and the longevity of our natural resources are at stake—-we cannot afford to be passive any longer.


Architecture 2030
solquest design unlimited
1. Hubberts Peak Theory. The Hubbert peak theory posits that for any given geographical area, from an individual oil-producing region to the planet as a whole, the rate of petroleum production tends to follow a bell-shaped curve. It is one of the primary theories on peak oil. Although Hubbert peak theory receives most attention in relation to peak oil production, it has also been applied to other natural resources. Peak gas is the point in time at which the maximum global natural gas production rate is reached, after which the rate of production enters its terminal decline. Natural gas is a fossil fuel formed from plant matter over the course of millions of years. It is a finite resource and thus considered to be a non-renewable energy source.
2. Passive House Institute The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) is a consulting and research firm working to further the implementation of Passive House standards and techniques nationwide. Passive House Institute US is a registered 501(C)3

By: Darin Triplett and Sharon Samuels​




During the Oscars a couple of weeks ago, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” won for best special effects for making Brad Pitt look twice his age, but at the end of watching this move, all I could think of was the real star of the movie—-The City of New Orleans.

I remember feeling and knowing that this story could not have taken place in any other city, and the fact that the story took place in such a magical city as New Orleans—made it that much more plausible. Sure, the world is aware of the plight of the city since Hurricane Katrina and the fact that Brad Pitt has made it his mission to help rebuild—but with this movie he proves his passion to help the city grow and restore itself.

The story is one of triumph and growth — after all, when Benjamin is born—he is not expected to last very long— but as he grows younger, he becomes stronger and in the end he leaves a life well lived with both mistakes and triumphs.

In the case of New Orleans, wouldn’t we like to see this same scenario as it moves along in its history, one of failures (which we have already witnessed in the aftermath of Katrina) and triumphs so that when history looks back on this city, it will be a place of mystery and admiration.

As an Architect, I am constantly thinking about place and how it affects people’s lives and our experiences, and I am glad to see that people are recognizing this–namely one of the biggest movie starts on the planet. Everyone talks of “New Urbanism”, “Sustainable Design”, “Design for All”, but none of this matters if we can’t lift the human spirit in some way, whether thru movies or architecture. In this case—IT IS all about the place.


For more insight:

Clarke, Gerald. “Brad Pitt Makes it Right in New Orleans.” Architectural Digest, January 2009: 60+

bottom of page