Minimalist Urbanism

Photo by: Photogris & written by: Corey D.C. Pembleton

Photo by: Photogris & written by: Corey D.C. Pembleton

As an urbanist, there’s some (very) minor discord in my life: living a generally minimalist lifestyle on one hand while promoting and enjoying the quintessentially non-minimalist life of being in a large city. This had me thinking; why is simplicity and minimalism so enjoyable in private places and in art, yet so terrible in public on a large scale, or in large quantities?

What many would consider to be good urbanism can be seen as antithetical to minimalism: the streets are cluttered with bicycles, animals, trees; store fronts and apartments give a sense of unity and place and also a new, interesting canvases every 10 metres. Without these elements, our cities would be barren landscapes: the last thing I want a city to be is minimal. Walking down Clark Street in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood, I cross what can only be described as a minimalist building. It fits in with the old, it is unique and in its’ own way fitting. When I compare this to brutalist, minimal design of entire neighborhoods, it is apparent how there is seemingly a quantifiable limit on how much minimalism we want in our streets.

We can see instances where minimalist architecture removes buildings from their surroundings - the extreme and intentional contrast is absolutely jarring; and in others it adds to the playfulness of the streetscape. It is good, but shouldn’t be used as the dominating design choice amongst city planners and designers.

Stepping into an art gallery, apartment, or room which is nearly empty provides some refuge from the city outside, it’s a modern sanctuary and refuge from the sensory madness which is what I love most about cities, and maybe that’s the scale minimalism is best suited for.

Photo and design: Adolfo Perez

Photo and design: Adolfo Perez