Design Matters – Ferdinand S. Johns

Ferdinand Johns, FAIA gave a gorgeously illustrated, impassioned speech at the 53rd Conference in Rome arguing that the way our buildings and cities are designed really matters. We cannot let the market decide, and we cannot let big corporations or starchitects make all the decisions or we end up with a very unlivable city.

There are a number of what Johns calls “big dumb ideas” about how to plan a city, and some of them, depending on their appropriateness to the topography, result in magnificently livable cities. But the most important principle, Johns asserts, is to understand and design for patterns of life – tame the car and enhance alternatives; create a walkable and accessible public realm; weave a tapestry of experience; control building bulk, height and setbacks; etc.


To achieve success requires a fine grained architecture that focuses on human scale and the pedestrian experience; engages all our senses; responds to climate and patina; creates an architectural conversation, not confrontation; and celebrates everything! We must decide, says Johns. Perhaps it is not about architectural style, but about lifestyle. It is about principles derived from life and people. Its about looking hard, figuring out what’s really important, and how to get there from here.