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11.2. Small Groups Of Elements

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In laying out a Public-Private Place Management, a Walkable Streetscape or a specific building or structure, consider the groupings of elements and whether they are legible to residents.


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Problem-statement: There is something inherently appealing and satisfying in compositions that are groups of small numbers of elements, typically two, three or four, but rarely more than seven.


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Discussion: There is evidence that the human brain prefers to view compositions made up of nested small groups, which are easier to grasp mentally. George A. Miller’s classic 1956 paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two” showed that people prefer these kinds of compositions, made up of subsidiary elements or “chunks” as he called them, totaling a maximum of approximately seven elements (up to as many as nine) within any one group.¹


Most traditional buildings adhere remarkably well to this pattern. It seems to have its roots in the grouping patterns that form spontaneously in nature, and that humans have encountered repeatedly in their evolutionary history — for example, the Fibonacci Sequence, in which each number is a sum of the two preceding numbers, i.e. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8…


Many contemporary buildings deliberately violate this pattern, favoring a relentless large-scale repetition. They do so in what one architect has called an “alchemistic promise to transform quantity into quality through abstraction and repetition,” which he dubbed a failure and a hoax. But this design trick is certainly attention-getting, probably because it contrasts so sharply with natural structures. Of course, getting attention is not the same as creating satisfying human habitats.


There is evidence that monotonous repetition tires the brain, which keeps on computing to find hierarchical meaning missing from what the eye sees. Complex systems (including living systems) avoid monotonous repetition by grouping elements into clusters, then repeating those clusters. This process can be understood as the creation of hierarchical scales, which result in a Fractal Pattern below. As in music, repetition needs to be anchored in rhythm with sufficient complexity.


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Many “modernist” buildings deliberately violate this pattern — with results that are dramatic for them, but simply ugly and stressful for many others.


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Therefore:

Follow a rule of thumb of grouping elements, and making groups of groups — especially twos, threes, and fours. Avoid designs that repeat more than nine elements at any one scale.


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This pattern is a valuable aid in achieving Human-Scale Detail and other characteristics of a more legible, human-centered design. …




¹ The classic paper by George A. Miller has been widely influential. See Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63(2), 81. Available on the Web at https://pure.mpg.de/rest/items/item_2364276/component/file_2364275/content



SECTION I:

PATTERNS OF SCALE


1. REGIONAL PATTERNS

Define the large-scale spatial organization…

1.1. POLYCENTRIC REGION

1.2. BLUE-GREEN NETWORK

1.3. MOBILITY CORRIDOR

1.4. 400M THROUGH STREET NETWORK

2. URBAN PATTERNS

Establish essential urban characteristics…

2.1. WALKABLE MULTI-MOBILITY

2.2. LEVEL CITY

2.3. PUBLIC SPACE SYSTEM

2.4. BIOPHILIC URBANISM

3. STREET PATTERNS

Identify and allocate street types…

3.1.URBAN GREENWAY

3.2. MULTI-WAY BOULEVARD

3.3. AVENUE

3.4. SHARED SPACE LANE

4. NEIGHBORHOOD PATTERNS

Define neighborhood-scale elements…

4.1. STREET AS CENTER

4.2. PEDESTRIAN SANCTUARY

4.3. NEIGHBORHOOD SQUARE

4.4. NEIGHBORHOOD PARK

5. SPECIAL USE PATTERNS

Integrate unique urban elements with care…

5.1. SCHOOL CAMPUS

5.2. MARKET CENTER

5.3. INDUSTRIAL AREA

5.4. HOSPITAL

6. PUBLIC SPACE PATTERNS

Establish the character of the crucial public realm…

6.1. PLACE NETWORK

6.2. WALKABLE STREETSCAPE

6.3. MOVABLE SEATING

6.4. CAPILLARY PATHWAY

7. BLOCK AND PLOT PATTERNS

Lay out the detailed structure of property lines…

7.1. SMALL BLOCKS

7.2. PERIMETER BLOCK

7.3. SMALL PLOTS

7.4. MID-BLOCK ALLEY

8. STREETSCAPE PATTERNS

Configure the street as a welcoming place…

8.1. STREET AS ROOM

8.2. TERMINATED VISTA

8.3. STREET TREES

8.4. STREET FURNISHINGS

9. BUILDING PATTERNS

Lay out appropriate urban buildings…

9.1. PERIMETER BUILDING

9.2. ARCADE BUILDING

9.3. COURTYARD BUILDING

9.4. ROW BUILDING

10. BUILDING EDGE PATTERNS

Create interior and exterior connectivity…

10.1. INDOOR-OUTDOOR AMBIGUITY

10.2. CIRCULATION NETWORK

10.3. LAYERED ZONES

10.4. PASSAGEWAY VIEW



SECTION II:

PATTERNS OF MULTIPLE SCALE


11. GEOMETRIC PATTERNS

Build in coherent geometries at all scales…

11.1. LOCAL SYMMETRY

11.2. SMALL GROUPS OF ELEMENTS

11.3. FRACTAL PATTERN

11.4. FRAMING

12. AFFORDANCE PATTERNS

Build in user capacity to shape the environment…

12.1. HANDLES

12.2. CO-PRODUCTION

12.3. FRIENDLY SURFACES

12.4. MALLEABILITY

13. RETROFIT PATTERNS

Revitalize and improve existing urban assets …

13.1. SLUM UPGRADE

13.2. SPRAWL RETROFIT

13.3. URBAN REGENERATION

13.4. URBAN CONSOLIDATION

14. INFORMAL GROWTH PATTERNS

Accommodate “bottom-up” urban growth…

14.1. LAND TENURE

14.2. UTILITIES FIRST

14.3. DATA WITH THE PEOPLE

14.4. INCREMENTAL SELF-BUILD

15. CONSTRUCTION PATTERNS

Use the building process to enrich the result…

15.1. DESIGN-BUILD ADAPTATION

15.2. HUMAN-SCALE DETAIL

15.3. CONSTRUCTION ORNAMENT

15.4. COMPLEX MATERIALS



SECTION III:

PATTERNS OF PROCESS


16. IMPLEMENTATION TOOL PATTERNS

Use tools to achieve successful results…

16.1. FORM-BASED CODE

16.2. ENTITLEMENT STREAMLINING

16.3. NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING CENTER

16.4. COMMUNITY MOCKUP

17. PROJECT ECONOMICS PATTERNS

Create flows of money that support urban quality…

17.1. TAX-INCREMENT FINANCING

17.2. LAND VALUE CAPTURE

17.3. EXTERNALITY VALUATION

17.4. ECONOMIES OF PLACE AND DIFFERENTIATION

18. PLACE GOVERNANCE PATTERNS

Processes for making and managing places…

18.1. SUBSIDIARITY

18.2. POLYCENTRIC GOVERNANCE

18.3. PUBLIC-PRIVATE PLACE MANAGEMENT

18.4. INFORMAL STEWARDSHIP

19. AFFORDABILITY PATTERNS

Build in affordability for all incomes…

19.1. INTEGRATED AFFORDABILITY

19.2. COMMUNITY LAND TRUST

19.3. MULTI-FAMILY INFILL

19.4. SPECULATION TAX

20. NEW TECHNOLOGY PATTERNS

Integrate new systems without damaging old ones…

20.1. SMART AV SYSTEM

20.2. RESPONSIVE TRANSPORTATION NETWORK COMPANY

20.3. AUGMENTED REALITY DESIGN

20.4. CITIZEN DATA