Editor’s Desk: Garden City Movement

A Century-Old Utopian Idea Gets Traction in Contemporary Design

At the turn of the 20th century, on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, mass migration, and development of urban areas in America, a counter-revolution of utopian idealists championed the idea of garden cities.  Originally intended to be an alternative to overcrowded cities, the Garden City Movement has metamorphosed over the past century to be much more than that.  New Urbanism, a popular, contemporary urban design movement that promotes walkable, environmentally friendly neighborhoods, got some of its original ideas from the Garden City Movement.

         Well, what exactly is a garden city?  Essentially, a garden city uses green spaces to enhance and connect a community, enrich ecosystems, and help combat climate change.  Village Homes is a 70-acre, 225-home community in Davis, California, that is one of the best examples of a garden city in the American West.  You might think a garden city simply means the homes have green roofs and they use reclaimed water for gardening.  In fact, it’s much more than that and it’s highly impressive.  Village Homes’ streets are oriented east to west, while homes are situated north to south, which helps the homes with passive solar designs makes full use of the sun’s energy.  The roads in this community are narrow and without sidewalks, minimizing the amount of pavement that can be exposed to the hot, summer sun.  A network of creek beds and ponds allows rainwater to be absorbed into the ground, rather than carried away by drains.  Edible fruit and nut trees are situated throughout the community and residents are invited to enjoy the ripe fruit year-round. 

         Of course, green roofs and living walls are also great ways for architects to incorporate more eco-friendly designs into their projects.  Green roofs and biophilia, which is the incorporation of natural materials and elements into the modern built environment, have been studied immensely in the past few years.  Research shows nothing but positive effects from green roofs, including reducing heat and stormwater run-off, lowering cooling costs, and preserving the roofing membrane.  In this issue of Architectural West, we feature a sustainable building in Houston, Texas, that utilizes a 550 sq.ft. living green-wall installation (see Living Walls, pg. ##).  Living walls not only help clean the surrounding air, but studies show they also increase the health and happiness of workers when used in a professional setting.

         The Garden City Movement has seen a steady rise in Europe over the past several decades, but the United States and Canada have yet to catch up.  Some designers scoff at the increased installation costs of biophilic elements, while others face resistance from clients due to the lack of current performance standards.  Hopefully, interdisciplinary research, coupled with biophilic-friendly federal policies, will lead to an increase in more sustainable architecture practices.

         Humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature, so why are we pouring asphalt when we could be planting flowers and trees?  Biophilia might sound like a complex term, but it’s actually one of the most simple concepts in our industry.  Embrace nature in design, use eco-friendly products, and be a champion for the environment.

Marcus Dodson

editor & publisher

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