As Strong Towns advocates concerned with the financial strength and resilience of our places, we recognize that architecture plays an important role in setting the stage (literally) for a productive place. Building design can improve the quality and value of the public realm, by drawing people into it and creating a sense of place, or it can degrade the public realm by creating spaces that are hard to access or navigate, unwelcoming, or unsafe. Architecture also conveys messages about the permanence or transience of a place and its value.
The history of human settlement, across many places and civilizations, reveals a set of remarkably consistent insights into what makes architecture “work” at a human scale. The commonalities among vernacular (folk) architectural traditions include well-proportioned and symmetrical facades, visually prominent front doors, and buildings that frame the street and create a sense of enclosure. They are the product of thousands of years of trial and error and adaptation to human needs.
At the same time, architecture is and should be intensely local, adapted to local needs, culture, materials, and climate. We observe that local building traditions often exhibit ingenious forms of low-tech resilience, much of which has been disregarded in the 20th-century trend toward homogenized, top-down development approaches.
Strong Towns advocates need not favor any particular architectural style. And, importantly, architectural beauty is not a prerequisite for a strong town. Rather, it is a consequence of one. Places that are productive over generations almost always end up with beautiful, distinctive, and beloved buildings.