(Originally published on Harry's blog)

Oscar Niemeyer (Architect of Brasília’s Cathederal) said:

In architecture it isn’t enough to just have the right building that works well. It can also be beautiful. It can also be different. It can create surprise. And surprise is the main thing in a work of art. I like and respect Brasília very much. It is a simple city, a rational one. I always defend the urban design of Brasília.

A charming quote, made even more interesting by this biting counterpoint from Architect and Human-Centred Urban Quality Consultant Jan Gehl :

Brasília was the ultimate modernistic city, built on all the ideas of the modernistic manifests. It looks fantastic from the airplane. But if you are down at eye level, on your feet and going from one place to another, Brasília is a disaster. Every distance is too wide. Things are not connected. You have to trample for endless miles along completely straight paths. Nobody ever started to think about what it would be like to be out in Brasília in between all these monuments.

Jan explains :

As far as I am concerned, the people scale is THE important scale of all of them. We have the city plan scale, the site plan scale and the people scale. And definitely the people scale, where you touch the city, and where you touch the buildings – that’s what counts for quality. […] I find it striking that the quality of the urban habitat of homo sapiens is so weakly researched compared to the habitat of mountain gorillas and bengal tigers and panda bears in China.

At Clearleft we often talk about what happens when you design at the wrong level of zoom. Dribbble, for example, encourages you to focus in on a 400×300 pixel rectangle, so you end up with something beautiful that has no bearing on the real user experience. It’s easy to marvel at the theoretical perfection of your work but ultimately it’s not your judgement that matters. The end users – the citizens who has to live in your streets – these are the people who determine its success.

The video clip above is from Gary Hustwit's Urbanized, which you can now watch online for just $3.99. Highly recommended.