Big City Life: High Density Pleasure

By Kieran McInerney
Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship

High-density housing has the capability to solve urban and social problems. But high-density developments have an image problem; being often depicted as either overcrowded and insalubrious environments riddled with social problems or as generic and bland tract housing.

On the other hand, the cities that urban designers look to as models and to which people are drawn to for street life, culture and beauty are cities whose basic fabric is high density housing.

I travelled to the cities of Venice and Perugia, to two neighbourhoods in Barcelona and, to exemplary buildings in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. These ancient, twentieth-century and contemporary projects challenge current perceptions by being both high density and highly desirable places to live.

The selected projects have densities that exceed accepted measures of high-density (100 dwellings per hectare) and have an average height of five storeys (“mid-rise”). High-density is not necessarily high-rise.

I then used time-lapse photography to tell the stories of the daily pleasures of big city life. The single photograph is a static and controlled image while time-lapse photography shows how a city is used in time and tells thenstories of daily life.

The projects are shown, then described and analysed. Dimensions and proportions are provided. Comparative densities are tabled. Environmental amenity is assessed. Finally, the success of these projects is discussed and their usefulness as precedents is considered.

High-density environments have the capacity to ameliorate urban problems such as housing availability and affordability, lack of infrastructure, environmental impacts and loss of arable land. It is also arguable that denser housing has more capacity to enrich social life by bringing amenity, coherence and belonging to many different people.

The time-lapse photos of cities and building tell stories of the pleasures of high-density living. Analysis and metrics allow assessment of these places as precedents when designing new high-density places for living.