Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Small Urban Maintenance Vehicles

Cities designed at the scale of the human, rather than the scale of the automobile, often feature compact street dimensions.

But - normal city functions like street maintenance and cleaning must still take place!

This can effectively be accomplished with small urban maintenance vehicles.  Modern compact urban maintenance and cleaning vehicles are effective at their jobs and are often even small enough to share sidewalks with pedestrians.   A variety of manufacturers produce these vehicles today.

Here are some great examples recently seen in action in the public spaces of Budapest:

Dulevo 850 Mini:

This first example is one of the real work horses of urban street cleaning in Budapest.  The Dulevo 850 Mini, available worldwide, is produced by the Dulevo International company in their facility near Parma, Italy.

The machine is small enough that it is used for sidewalk cleaning in Budapest.

The very compact street flushing vehicle seen in these photos appears to be a slightly older variation of RCM's current compact street cleaning product, the Patrol Suction Street Sweeper.  The RCM company is located in Modena, Italy and distributes their machines quite widely around the world.

This small municipal utility vehicle is seen used flexibly for a variety of tasks in Budapest, from hauling landscaping materials to collecting trash.  The rear load bed is able to tip to the back or to the sides.  The Grillo Agrigarden Machines company is located in Cesena, Italy and distributes its machines in 55 countries across 5 continents. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Outdoor Bus Stop Cycle Gym

A cool idea seen here recently in Budapest: 

At a downtown Pest bus stop near our apartment, a small outdoor built-in cycle gym was installed so people waiting for their bus can pedal and get a bit of exercise!

The sign on the bus stop translates roughly to "You missed your bus...while you wait, give the pedals a push!"

The customized bus stop was interestingly installed by the Coca Cola company, who have an ongoing public health campaign in Hungary titled "Testébresztő" or "Wake Up Your Body!"  They're encouraging healthy lifestyles that incorporate greater levels of physical activity.

Click here for a link to the Coca Cola company's health campaign website - which features a short video about the bus stop installation among their other projects.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"We have bad weather - people won't walk here!"

This is one of the familiar refrains I often hear in car-oriented places where plans for the development of new walkable urbanism are being proposed.

It can often really be hard for people living in places designed around automobile dominance to imagine that, with the right built environment, traveling on foot could be possible (even pleasant!) in challenging weather.  

I want to share a reassuring typical winter snapshot from last week here in Budapest: 

This is the Szent István körút, one of Budapest's large ring avenues.  (4 lanes of traffic, plus dedicated center tram lines and outer bus / bike lanes).  

The temperature is 18 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius), and the sidewalk is covered with a layer of ice and snow:

Though the temperature is quite cold, all that is required for comfort are a few layers of winter clothing.  People (including my 4-year old son Benji in the red hat) are going about their normal daily routines and enjoying their stroll along the broad sidewalk.

The key is a built environment that is specifically designed to be comfortable for people on foot.  

The relatively simple but powerful ingredients are time-tested:  

  • The street space is well-shaped by buildings to form an embracing "outdoor room".
  • Plentiful front doors and windows face the street to add liveliness.
  • Sidewalks are generous in width.
  • Well-placed trees and bollards protect people on foot from moving cars.
  • There are interesting shops, signs, architectural details and people to look at.
  • A rich mix of uses helps provide places to occasionally step in out of the cold.

BTW: If you're interested in learning more about the design details of great streets, I highly recommend the book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns by Dover, Kohl & Partners' own Victor Dover and his co-author John Massengale:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ice Skating Pavilion as Civic Architecture

The best new traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs) feature a sprinkling of extraordinary focal architecture amid a setting of more ordinary background buildings.  Focal architecture provides visual spice to the physical design of a neighborhood and results in landmarks that make a place more memorable and legible.

This can be seen in the image I drew below of the civic meeting hall in Dover, Kohl & Partners' Lowcountry project Kerr Village:

It is often a challenge, though, to find uses to inhabit these focal sites.

Here is a beautiful historic example for consideration, that provides warmth and joy during the colder months of the year.  The Pavilion of the City Park Ice Rink (Városligeti Műjégpálya) in Budapest:

The gorgeous Neo-Baroque Pavilion building was designed by Imre Francsek in 1895 for Hungary's Millennium Celebrations marking the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of 895.

The Pavilion features a grand tripartite central mass crowned by elaborate compound domes with finials.  This central mass is flanked by two smaller octagonal domed masses connected by long linking arms.  The resulting focal yet broad composition embraces the ice skating ring and imbues the large space with a sense of charm, intimacy and warmth.  (To see a more in depth discussion of the articulation of architectural massing types click here). 

A historic image of the Pavilion can be seen in this 1895 commemorative etching of the grounds of the Hungarian Millennium Celebrations.  The Pavilion is at the bottom center of the image just to the right of the exedra of the Heroes' Square monument and the bridge marking the grand entrance to the Exposition grounds:

The ice skating rink and Pavilion were so popular during the Millennium Celebrations, they were afterward made into permanent fixtures of the City Park.  

Today, the Pavilion building still houses ice skating equipment rentals and changing facilities, as well as a restaurant, cultural center and an events hall.  While it continues to serve one of Europe's largest ice skating rinks in the winter time, the Pavilion is now also used for a wide variety of cultural programs throughout the entire year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Most Beautiful McDonald's in the World

When one thinks of sensitive rehabilitation and reuse of historic structures, McDonald's is not usually a company name that immediately comes to mind.  The American fast food company, however, deserves a great deal of credit for its elegantly-implemented restaurant in the historic Nyugati Train Station (Nyugati Pályaudvar) in Budapest:

The beautiful iron and brick Beaux-Arts train station was originally designed by August de Serres and built by the Eiffel Company.  The station first opened on August 28th, 1877 (12 years before Gustave Eiffel would go on to build his famous Tower in Paris for the 1889 Exposition Universelle).  The train station features a soaring, airy iron-ribbed central hall and a series of majestic and well-organized passenger ticketing and waiting spaces:

The station is embedded seamlessly into Budapest's urban fabric and fronts directly onto the sidewalk of the Grand Ring Boulevard (Nagykörút).  For this reason, the station is very convenient for passengers to access by foot, street car (Villamos), and bicycle.  As with many well-designed urban train stations, the vast majority of passengers arrive by these means, rather than by automobile:

During Hungary's post-WWII decades behind the Iron Curtain the Nyugati train station, like many structures in Budapest, grew in need of renovation.  The McDonald's corporation was one of the very first Western companies to establish itself in Budapest during Hungary's transition away from Communism upon its declaration as a Republic on October 23rd, 1989.  McDonalds' very visible location in one of the main train stations in Budapest was a potent symbol of the country's re-connection with the West:

The McDonald's corporation deserves accolades for the careful manner in which it painstakingly restored the architecture of the Nyugati Train Station's former dining hall, preserving the gorgeously-detailed original exterior as well as virtually the entire elegantly vaulted and ornamented interior.  This respect of the train station's magnificent historic architecture has earned the restaurant the affectionate moniker among locals as "The most beautiful McDonald's in the world".

Note: Click here to see my post on: The Most Beautiful Home Depot in the World!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Water Tower Can Be A Delightful Landmark?

Here's an example!

Budapest's Margaret Island sits in the middle of the Danube River as it runs through the City.  The island was once settled during the Medieval period as a religious center, but during more recent history has evolved into a verdant reprieve - filled with parks, gardens, recreation and cultural facilities utilized by the whole city - similar to New York's Central Park.

One of the main landmarks of Margaret Island is its famous water tower. Constructed in 1911, it was designed in a stunning Art Nouveau / Secessionist style by the Hungarian architect Rezső Vilmos Ray.  Ray remarkably achieved both the functional utility of reliable water supply to the island, while also creating a breathtakingly beautiful lookout tower designed to give visitors sweeping views:

The 187 foot (57 meter) high water tower has a capacity of 158,503 gallons (600,000 liters), and was remarkably also the first building in Hungary to make use of reinforced concrete, a new technology at the time.  

The beauty of the architectural expression of the water tower has made it a universally cherished local landmark. It has been incorporated into a marvelous new open air theater and underwent a renovation in 2012.  It is open to visitors to this day as a lookout tower.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Living and Working in Budapest

After the recent birth of our new little baby, my wife Krisztina and I flew our boys Christopher & Benji for an extended stay to Budapest - where my wife grew up and her relatives now live.

It's wonderful to experience daily life with them in an intact cosmopolitan European city built largely before the automobile.

Budapest achieved much of its current "UNESCO World Heritage Site"- designated built form during a dramatic expansion that occurred between the 1870s and the onset of World War I.  During this period Budapest was a twin capital, along with Vienna, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Of note for those interested in urban design:
  • The city is comprised almost entirely of 4 to 6 story mixed-use courtyard buildings with apartments and offices on upper floors, and street-facing commercial on many of the ground floors.  
  • Most buildings have no front setback and are built right to the edge of the sidewalk.  
  • Gorgeously proportioned and articulated architecture ensures that street spaces feel good, and not "canyon-like".  
  • Wider streets tend to have regularly-spaced trees.  
  • Narrower street achieve their shade from the adjacent buildings and typically feature only occasional trees.  
  • This relatively intensely built transit-served city functions well with virtually no parking other than on-street parking.

My Daily Commute from Home to Work:

We found a great little apartment on the top floor of one of the many courtyard apartment buildings in the city's historic core close to the Danube.  I'm working every day in a nearby co-working office about a half kilometer away.

What follows is a brief photo journey of my daily 10-minute walking commute to work:

1. Just stepping out our front door onto the walkway around our courtyard.  I love the light and airy feel of the glass canopy and intricately curved metalwork:

2. Looking back toward our front door.  The subtle modeling of the stucco surfaces gives the walls of the courtyard a more intimate sense of scale:

3. The double door across the courtyard in this view leads to a grand stairway (and tiny elevator) to the ground floor:

4. Budapest's beautifully-detailed historic courtyard buildings provide a wonderful standard of living while achieving an astonishingly efficient use of land.  Historically, the designs of Budapest's courtyards were closely regulated to ensure they were dimensioned to provide plentiful access to light and air.  Budapest's courtyard buildings were conceived as a way to build humanely at city densities, and were partially a corrective reaction against the older notoriously dark and unhealthy historic tenements of New York City.  These courtyard buildings in Budapest were considered the architectural state-of-the-art at the time they were built:

5. Our elevator lobby at the top of the grand wrought iron-railed staircase.  That's Krisztina with Christopher in the front-carrier.  Benji's already on the elevator.  (A woman living in the building told us the story of how the beautiful original wrought iron and wood elevator was unfortunately bought by a collector renovating another apartment building.  He replaced the historic elevator with this fairly bare bones modern one - which we were told is slower than the original!):

6. Broad steps, large windows, lovely iron scroll work and sculptured stucco details make using the staircase a grand experience:

7. The floor of our courtyard.  Elegantly carved masonry brackets support the walkways encircling each floor above:

8. Virtually all of Budapest's historic courtyard buildings feature a grand vaulted passageway leading to the street entrance:

9. Looking from the main street entrance back down the passageway into the courtyard:

10. The gorgeously articulated architecture of the street outside our front door:

11. A few steps to the corner unveils a view of the stunning Vigszinhaz theater across the street:

12. Our block has an amazing diversity of business facing the street.  In just this view are a convenience store in the far left shopfront, a youth hostel and the entrance to one of Budapest's biggest nightclubs in the center doorway, and the corner of a Thai restaurant visible in the foreground:

13. Continuing down the street, this same block face also accommodates two coffee shops, a vintage book shop, a couple of additional small convenience stores, a pharmacy, an art gallery and a seller of historic military collectibles!:

14. The historic buildings of Budapest are beautiful from far away, and also up close.  These architectural details are 'visual gifts to the pedestrian' and play a critical role in making such an intensely-built urban environment so pleasurable to walk through:

15. The Szent Istvan Korut - a four lane urban arterial with on-street parallel parking / bus stops on the sides, plus two dedicated center lanes for light rail.  Building-to-building width across the street is about 125 feet.  The street is well-shaped with street-oriented architecture fronting onto wide sidewalks.  Street trees help separate pedestrians from the vehicular travel lanes.  It all adds up to an environment so comfortable that my 3-year-old son Benji (in the tan vest) is confident strolling along looking at the fruit for sale, without having to hold his mother's hand.

16. Benji loves discovering the different architectural sculptures on each building facade!:

17.  The light rail system in Budapest is called the "Villamos", pronounced [villa-mosh].  As we reach the end of the block I drop Krisztina, Benji and Christopher off at the stop for the Villamos line that they'll take to go visit some friends.  They'll ride past the beautiful Hungarian Parliament building whose dome is visible in the distance:

18. Turning  from the Villamos stop, I can see the embankment forming the approach ramp of the Margaret Bridge that crosses over the Danube.  The way the bridge meets the city's edge is quite seamless for pedestrians and cyclists:

19. A small park at the foot of the Margaret Bridge:

20. Looking across the Szent Istvan Korut toward my office, I can see what must be in the running for 'Most Beautiful McDonald's in the World'!  It's in a gorgeous 6-story mixed-use building with no parking, built right up to the sidewalk. The transit stop in the foreground is for the Villamos line that runs down the Szent Istvan Korut and crosses the Margaret Bridge over the Danube:

21. Before I cross the street, I step into a bakery and grab a coffee and a snack to eat at the office:

22. Crossing the Szent Istvan Korut.  Rossmann is a drug store which is the European equivalent of a CVS or Walgreens in the United States.  Here, like McDonald's, it sits quite happily in the ground floor of a 6-story mixed-use courtyard building with no parking or drive-through:

23. Looking down the Szent Istvan Korut, the fences in the foreground are construction barricades that are in place while the tracks of the Villamos line are being repaired:

24. More gorgeous, people-friendly urbanism:

25.  Walking down the wide tree-lined sidewalk in front of the Rossmann drug store:

26. One more view down the Szent Istvan Korut before I turn the corner to my office.  This is one of the biggest, busiest thoroughfares in the entire city, but its thoughtful combination of design elements makes it completely comfortable for mothers with strollers - civilization!:

27. More sculptural 'visual gifts to the pedestrian'!:

28. Budapest is famous for its sidewalk flower vendor kiosks, overflowing with colorful merchandise:

29. The Secession-style building housing my co-working office fronts another small park on this side of the approach ramp of the Margaret Bridge:

30. The small park on this side of the Margaret Bridge has a docking station for Bubi, Budapest's bike sharing network:

31. That's a protected bike lane or 'bike track' up on the sidewalk behind the bollards, leading to the Bubi bike share docking station:

32. Finally, after 10 minutes of walking, I arrive at the entrance to my office!  Kubik is a great co-working facility here in Budapest:

33. Kubik's main work space.  My desk is in the far corner at the window.  Its always fun to see all the interesting things everyone is working on:

I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of commuting on foot from home to work in beautiful Budapest - thanks for joining me!

BTW: If you're interested in finding out more about the fascinating urban and cultural history of Budapest, I just read and highly recommend the very well-written book (in English) Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture (by John Lucacs) available on Amazon.