The Five Thousand Pound Life: Land was a symposium on rethinking land and its value in light of climate change organized by The Architectural League and co-sponsored by The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design in September 2014.

Participants in the Density panel drew on their backgrounds in architecture, landscape architecture, geography, city planning, and urban theory to discuss the value of density and the forms that it takes — or should take — to mitigate ecological impact.


5KL: Land | Density | Emily Talen | Recorded September 26, 2014

While believing that we as a society now accept higher density living as a positive, Emily Talen cautions that “density is not the same thing as urbanism.” She details the prevailing trend of walkable urbanism as a “no brainer” from a research standpoint — with studies almost universally pointing to its benefits from environmental, crime, safety, and health perspectives — as well as a personal one — with an increasing number of Americans seeking services and resources in walking distance. She uses Walk Score, an index of neighborhood walkability, to demonstrate the enormous disconnect between supply of and demand for these neighborhoods. Particularly concerned with the corresponding issue of affordability, she suggests a three-prong approach of “subsidize, stabilize, and grow”: preserve the walkability and affordability of inner ring suburbs; offer subsidies or vouchers in highly walkable, unaffordable neighborhoods; and build walkability into neighborhoods that are dense but neither walkable or affordable.


5KL: Land | Density | Albert Pope | Recorded September 26, 2014

Albert Pope urges us to “be in panic mode” in response to climate change, arguing that the implications of climate science need to be taken on as a cultural problem and “issue of urban reform.” With 75 percent of our built environment now spine-based, rather than grid-based, urbanism, he insists that designers need to leave affinity for the grid behind and begin responding to the non-walkable “cul-de-sac world” that predominates today. His research into the potential of spine-based neighborhoods shows that Hong Kong has by far the lowest per capita energy consumption of any modern city, particularly in newer portions of the city built following Radiant City planning principles. He concludes by presenting his design proposal to reimagine the Fifth Ward in Houston as a dense, carbon neutral neighborhood with open spaces for carbon sequestration and high-rise housing units built from emerging wood technologies.


5KL: Land | Density | Charles Waldheim | Recorded September 26, 2014

Charles Waldheim brings an academic perspective to the relationship of density and carbon, building a case for a new professional identity for the design disciplines based around a framework of ecological thinking. Contending that we still haven’t decided the question “In what model should be urbanize?”, Waldheim presents his team’s efforts to find or build a projective model for looking at the city that is “socially progressive, environmentally leavened, and culturally relevant.” Seeking to move away from reliance on policy and exceptional built projects to dictate models for urbanism, he calls for an “empirical urban position” that shapes outcomes that are not only formal but performative with regard to carbon, water, solar, and other environmental considerations. At a time when disciplinary and professional roles are in flux, Waldheim advocates redefinition with ecology and biology at the fore.


5KL: Land | Density | A Conversation on Density | Recorded September 26, 2014

In conversation with Vishaan Chakrabarti, a principal at SHoP Architects and author of A Country of Cities, Talen, Pope, and Waldheim debate the varied forms that density does or should take. Waldheim refers to a significant shift in the perception of closely shared living space, with dense environments now considered a status symbol, which Talen builds on by noting that this increasing demand for density exacerbates social segregation and separation. Pope suggests that the suburbs can break free from their horizontal form and build vertically, creating walkable environments. The panel debates the designer’s role and responsibility in class separation and gentrification, as well as imperatives to look at morphologies beyond the grid when considering urban form.


Emily Talen is a senior sustainability scientist and a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University.

Albert Pope is the Gus Sessions Wortham Professor of Architecture at Rice University. He is the author of Ladders (1997) and numerous articles concerning the broad implications of post-war urban development.

Charles Waldheim is a Canadian-American architect, urban theorist, and John E. Irving Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

Vishaan Chakrabarti is a Principal at SHoP Architects, author of A Country of Cities, and Holliday Professor and Director of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia University.


The Five Thousand Pound Life (5KL) is an initiative of The Architectural League on new ways of thinking, talking, and acting on architecture, climate change, and our economic future.