For the Love of People January 15, 2024

Everyday architecture shouldn’t be banal. It should elevate and enrich the human experience.

By Jason F. McLennan, Chief Sustainability Officer, Perkins&Will

Imagine yourself for a moment in one of your favorite cities or towns. I’m willing to bet your memories conjure feelings of cultural richness and human connection. These feelings are the hallmarks of a great urban experience; they reflect a place’s unique identity and zeitgeist, and they are profoundly shaped by what we in the design community call urban fabric: the colorful tapestry of hundreds of smaller, often unassuming yet beautiful buildings that make up the totality of the community.

What makes up urban fabric?

Urban fabric includes the housing stock, the typical building on Main Street, and everyday civic and cultural institutions like post offices and libraries. It also includes the streets, sidewalks, parks, and other open spaces between buildings through which people move and interact.

World-class urban fabrics are quilted with beautiful buildings
that have several defining characteristics:

Unfortunately, in North America we lost a lot of our rich urban fabric in the 1950s with the dawn of sprawling suburbia, the proliferation of the personal automobile, and an infatuation with capitalism over civic good. Many of our communities are now marked by construction that is banal and soulless, littered with fast-food restaurants and architectural one-liners that reflect a commercial brand. Worse yet, many of the new construction buildings in our communities today are barely designed at all, let alone designed by architects; they’re the product of the lowest first-cost budget possible.

I believe there is no better time than now to reinvest in our urban fabric—to design consistently beautiful, thoughtful, functional buildings at every scale and in full support of healthy, sustainable communities. Every building should breathe life, love, and vibrancy into our cities. Fortunately, we haven’t lost the ability to design and build this sort of architecture. In fact, contemporary examples of it can be found if you look in the right place.

These six urban fabric buildings elevate and enrich the human experience of the common place.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Love + Regeneration, a quarterly publication by McLennan Design.