Book Review

The Urban Block

A Guide for Urban Designers, Architects and Town Planners
Jonathan Tarbatt and Chloe Street Tarbatt

This book analyses and celebrates the urban block, using case studies to explain and illustrate this essential component of urban design. The authors see that generally there is very little consideration of what goes into block design and layout, and yet urban designers are busy ‘making new houses, neighbourhoods and new local centres’ in vast numbers, so the block needs to be a critical part of their design processes.

The book is divided into four chapters, and the first, Understanding the Block, looks at both theory and practice. It includes historical examples such as The Buttermarket in Canterbury, classics such as Haussman’s Paris and more. It ranges from colonial uses of the gridiron block, the Modernist design of Park Hill in Sheffield, the Post-Modern IBA housing schemes in Berlin, and New Urbanism, through to the publication of the Urban Design Compendium, therefore covering the rise, fall and rediscovery of the urban block as a key tool in urban design thinking.

The second chapter, Defining the Block, provides a taxonomy of urban forms to give basic block types and their implications for urban life. It begins with the perimeter block with its simple public-private space relationship, and breaks it down into its courtyard and ‘nested’ derivatives, including for each of them a useful summary of the key features and design challenges. It then looks at point blocks, ribbon blocks, courts, closes and cul-de-sacs.

Designing the Block, the third chapter, deals with the key design issues and variations, what the block needs to accommodate (permeability, density, mixed uses) and adapt to (access and parking) based on Western concepts of the block. The fourth chapter, Illustrating the Block, uses case studies drawn from a range of densities and contexts, to show their various strengths and weaknesses. The examples from the Netherlands (8 House and Steigeriland), Norway (Barcode), and France (Neptune Logements) are particularly interesting, alongside English ones presented in the same format. The block diagrams are drawn at the same scale throughout the book, each with scale bars and oriented the same way, which is a great help for comparisons. The only unsatisfying part of this publication is its cover, which feels slightly unfinished and not robust enough to withstand the amount of use that this valuable book will undoubtedly have.

URBAN DESIGN 155 Summer 2020 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 155 Summer 2020

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The Urban Block Publication Urban Design Group
RIBA Publishing
978 1859468764
Reviewed By
Louise Thomas