As unreal as Whistler Village can sometimes seem (and isn’t that the point of a resort environment?), there are some valuable urban-design lessons to be learned. Indeed, Whistler is a carefully considered construct by Eldon Beck, the California landscape architect who in 1978 did the inspired lay-out of the village when it was still a garbage dump at the end of a gravel road.
Beck took the original design – a typical urban grid with major arterials and large parking lots on either side of the retail zone – and, using his knowledge of successful European ski resorts, created a series of linked pedestrian spaces oriented to mountain views. And, of course, key to the success of this dense urban environment, all the parking was put underground.
One of the most successful spaces is the Village Square, meant to be the place for major gatherings and impromptu meetings. And it works. I often wondered why it felt so comfortable – an ideal urban room – and so, thanks to Google Earth, was able to measure its diameter to the metre.
And it’s not the only 50-metre plaza:
Having heard that Beck had personally measured the great piazzas and squares of Europe, I wondered whether 50 metres was all that common. Back to Google Earth for a quick tour of the continent.
I thought I ‘d check out a space closer to home – perhaps the best urban square in North America, Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square. Even though the square fills in one of the city’s famous 200-foot-square blocks, the actual space used for performance and display occupies just over 50 metres on the diagonal.
So what’s so special about 50 metres, plus or minus a metre or so? Obviously, it creates a comfortable sense of enclosure, while both working at the individual scale and still accommodating large crowds.
It’s urban design scaled for the pedestrian, before the 20th-century commitment to Motordom: urban design scaled for the movement and parking of cars. As Whistler also demonstrates at the Marketplace:
More 50-metre models welcome….