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Height does humanity harm

TWO VIEWS •ÊDo high-rises raise city or bring it down?

Your article 'Fight about height' (Jan. 20) quoted a number of developers and politicians as well as former New Yorkers who argue that only high-rise buildings can provide desirable density and an ideal urban environment.

Is it possible that the millions of Parisians, Romans, Londoners, Viennese and others who live in cities with rigid height limitations are delusional? Does anyone who has traveled in the world really believe that the ideal urban life is in New York from the 30th story of a high-rise?

Let us face reality. The issue is not density. All of the above cities achieve excellent density with buildings under 10 stories and thrive without all the inhuman characteristics of American urbanism.

As most European cities demonstrate, architects understood that human beings interact horizontally Ñ on the sidewalk; at a plaza; and in any space, indoors or out that allows face-to-face eye contact, body language and visible, as well as vocal, exchange. Because there are hundreds of people above and below in a high-rise, that does not mean there is human interaction. It certainly doesn't take place in an elevator, where most people avoid even looking at fellow passengers, let alone having any meaningful exchange of ideas.

One of the most astute 20th century architects and urban designers, Constantine Doxiadis, writes: 'The most successful cities of the past were those where people and buildings were in a certain balance with nature. But high-rise buildings work against nature, or, in modern terms, against the environment.

'High-rise buildings work against man himself, because they isolate him from others, and this isolation is an important factor in the rising crime rate. É High-rise buildings work against society because they prevent the units of social importance Ñ the family É the neighborhood, etc. Ñ from functioning as naturally and as normally as before.'

As for developers who argue that high-rises are the only way to make a profit and attract enough residents to support businesses Ñ they should visit the venerable cities in the world that offer centuries of proof to the contrary.

High-rise buildings are enormously expensive to construct, to operate and to maintain, all of which contribute to inflated housing prices. The community is left to contend with overloaded infrastructure, ground-level wind shear that creates a squall for pedestrians and perpetual shadow that shrouds surrounding buildings. This is no way to build a civilized city.

The sole reason for a residential building to be taller than eight to 10 stories is the megalomania of architects and the greed of developers. Regrettably, some of my colleagues are especially at fault.

Architect and urban critic Bernard Rudofsky said it all in 1969: 'Unlike physicians, today's architects are not concerned with the general welfare; they are untroubled by scruples about strangling the cities and the misery that this entails. Architects never felt the urge to establish ethical precepts for the performance of their profession, as did the medical fraternity. No equivalent of the Hippocratic oath exists for them.

'Criticism within the profession Ñ the only conceivable way to spread a sense of responsibility among its members Ñ is tabooed by their own codified standards of practice. To bolster their ego, architects hold their own beauty contests, award each other prizes, decorate each other with gold medals, and make light of the damning fact that they do not amount to any moral force in this country.'

Howard Glazer has been an architect since 1959. He was educated at the Institute of Design in Chicago. He lives in Southwest Portland and has served on his neighborhood association board for many years.