The Jan Gehl Effect

February 11, 2016 |

How Philadelphia's Public Spaces are Influenced by Jan Gehl's Legacy of Human-Centered Design

Think of three places in this city that you keep revisiting. Chances are, the places you’re thinking about were designed by an architect, urban planner, or both. This month at the Center for Architecture we’re celebrating one architect who has spent his life advocating for cities that benefit the quality of life of the people who inhabit it.

Jan Gehl and his team at Gehl Architects build spaces that inspire citizens. Gehl’s book “Cities for People” explains his philosophy in very simple terms: city design should always take into account the relationship between physical form and human behavior. In an interview with the American Society of Landscape Architects. Gehl asks (and answers) “Look at the architecture school, are there any psychologists, sociologists, or doctors? No.” Gehl’s team works to build cities in the ‘human dimension’, cities that appeal to the senses of the people who walk the streets.

It’s no secret that some spaces in Philadelphia are more pedestrian friendly then others. Luckily, interactive public space is high on the priority list for Philadelphia’s planners. In the last 10 years Philly’s seen a spike in the construction of public spaces that encourage physical activity, social interactions, and even some peace and quiet.

Here’s a list of pedestrian friendly spaces constructed in Philadelphia over the last decade: Spruce Street Harbor Park, designed by Groundswell Design Group, Dilworth Park at City Hall, designed by KieranTimberlake and OLIN, Pain’s Park, designed by Anthony Bracali and Brian Nugent, and the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, designed by URS, Pennoni Associates, CH Planning, and Michael Baker Engineers – and The Porch at 30th Street Station, designed by Groundswell Design Group with swings manufactured by Bill Curran Design and designed by (drumroll) Gehl Architects!

According to University City District, “UCD challenged the team at Gehl to think about a variety of critical components for the swings, such as ergonomics, materials, the user base, the constraints of the space, and integration with the recent updates from Groundswell”. The result? Strikingly beautiful chairs that always seem to be filled with relaxed Philadelphians.

Gehl’s architecture is appealing to everyone- and that’s the point. If you’re interested in learning more about Jan Gehl, come hear Gehl speak at the Center for Architecture’s Annual Edmund N. Bacon Lecture on February 25th. Click here for more information and to buy tickets. Ed Bacon's book Design of Cities will be onsale at the Lecture!

About Edmund N. Bacon

Philadelphia’s most iconic city planner, Ed Bacon [1910-2005] was Executive Director of Philadelphia’s City Planning Commission from 1949-1970 and is the only city planner to ever grace the cover of Time Magazine. His impact on Philadelphia’s urban environment began with his epic 1947 A Better Philadelphia exhibition, which drew nearly 400,000 people over five weeks to its visionary displays covering two floors of Gimbel’s Department Store. Click here for more information visit.

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