Most of the contemporary urban areas in the developing countries, including Sri Lanka, have been following the same path and strategies of physical development the major cities in the developed world pursued and in most cases failed to be successful, socially.

By Jan Gehl, Translated by Jo Koch – 2006 | Reviewed by Architect Jayantha Domingo

During the planning and detailing stages of the lively traditional urban centres of the past, a great emphasis has been placed on the social dimension. Their predominantly pedestrian oriented streets, city squares, open parks and the market places brimming with people, are good examples for this. Further, the low and middle-rise buildings, opening on to the pedestrian friendly streets, their character sometimes enhanced by the arcades, were salient elements of a city in Europe from the early 19th century, which characteristics were introduced to developing countries also by the colonials. Such streets in Colombo too, are still valued and frequented by the Sri Lankans.

In writing the Foreword in 2006 to his book “Life Between Buildings”, Jan Ghel states, “at this time in history, when cities all over the world are undergoing great changes in the process of growth and modernisation, it is my hope that the humanistic planning principles presented in this book can serve as an inspiration for these important processes.”

Jan Gehl is an Architect, Professor of Urban Design, School of Architecture Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and Partner, Gehl Architects. He has been engaged for more than 40 years, and still continues to be, in studying, picking up and advising on the application to today’s context of the positive aspects of Place  making in urban situations, both in traditional and contemporary situations, in the Scandinavian countries, the USA, Italy, Greece, France, UK, Australia, Singapore and more recently in India.

He gave the Keynote Address at the National Conference 2012 of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects on the topic Invigorating Public Spaces and the Cities.

The book contains four key areas related to Urban Area Planning and Detailing: Life Between Buildings, Prerequisites for Planning, To Assemble or Disperse and Spaces for Walking and Places for Staying.

All the statements are well supported by photographs, plans, sketches and explanatory diagrams, which aptly and convincingly demonstrate the point he wants to make.

“Life Between Buildings”, though originally published in the 1970’s with the broad intention of awareness building among decision makers and addressing the issues of solving environmental problems, it is still very useful as a publication to create awareness regarding the importance of the social dimension – using people as the guiding principle – in designing public spaces and urban area planning. It contains very useful ideas for the town Planners, Architects, Urban Designers, Government Officials, and the Students in this sphere, in addition to the present day final decision makers in urban area planning in a country – the Political Authority. This book provides both inspiration and information for those who wish to elevate the livability of cities and towns around the world.