I was walking by a tight construction site last night and it got me thinking. Besides the obvious environmental benefits of building up, as opposed to out, compact urban sites can force something else: intent.
One of the ways I think about good design is that it is intentional. It is about seeing problems and/or opportunities and then being deliberate in how you respond. Every creative decision needs a reason why. I like how John R. Moran talks about design in this blog post from 2014:
“The opposite of design, then, is the failure to develop and employ intent in making creative decisions. This doesn’t sound hard, but, astonishingly, no other leading tech company makes intentional design choices like Apple. Instead, they all commit at least one of what I term the Three Design Evasions.”
The three design evasions he goes on to talk about are (1) preserving, (2) copying, and (3) delegating.
The thing about compact and constrained urban sites is that they can force you away from the three design evasions that Moran lists in his post. You can’t just repeat what was done in the past or copy what someone else has done, because that precedent probably didn’t have the same challenges you face.
Of course, if this were enough to promote great design, our cities would look a hell of a lot different. Still, it’s one of the reasons why I’m attracted to compact forms of development such as laneway housing and other urban infill.