The MA Architecture + Urbanism course is the Manchester School of Architecture's taught postgraduate course which conducts research into how global cultural and economic forces influence contemporary cities. The design, functioning and future of urban situations is explored in written, drawn and modelled work which builds on the legacy of twentieth century urban theory and is directed towards the development of sustainable cities.

Monday 20 December 2010

Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961)

A precis by Chen Xu

Jane Jacobs was an American-born Canadian writer and activist with a primary interest in communities and urban planning and decay. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States. The book has been credited with reaching beyond planning issues to influence the spirit of the times.

When I first read this book, to my surprise I found that the writer Jane Jacobs had a non-professional background in urban planning and architecture. She studied at Columbia University's extension school for two years, taking courses in geology, zoology, law, political science, and economics. However, this Book is considered a greatly influential book on the subject of urban planning in the 20th century.

In my opinion Jacobs observes cities and she is a very careful observer. She watches the cities from a normal person’s perspective. She analyses what she sees. She has the enthusiasm and sense of responsibility. She believes that people should be responsible for watching their own surroundings, thereby bringing safety and helping to make the area vibrant.

For example, Jacobs talks about sidewalks, neighborhood parks and city neighbors, and how these elements form a the peculiar nature of cities. How important are these elements? We are familiar with the things which Jane Jacobs talks about because they are around us. We can see them in our daily life, such as sidewalks, parks, neighbors and so on.

Opposing expressways and supporting neighborhoods were common themes in her life. In 1962, she was the chairperson of the "Joint Committee to Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway", when the downtown expressway plan was stopped. She was arrested during a demonstration on April 10, 1968. In the same year, Jacobs moved to Toronto, where she lived until her death. She quickly became a leading figure in her new city and helped stop the proposed Spadina Expressway. A frequent theme of her work was to ask whether we are building cities for people or for cars.

Personally, I believe Jane Jacobs has become someone more than a writer as well as a fighter. She was already been a public leader and people trusted her more than governments. The book's purpose was to criticize the values of American urban planning from the 1950s and 1960s, when in many cities in North America the problem facing the decline of downtown areas, the former prosperity of downtown slums, and massive postwar urban renewal was under way. This was the era of the rise of modernist planning, of Le Corbusier's dream in the progressive realization of the city.

Jane Jacobs's critique is that this kind of urban planning and lifestyle, will make the city lose its vitality, resulting in a loss of pleasure. She believed the city is an organism, detailed and diversified, so that economic and social activities mixed with each other produce vibrant city, so it should be seen in the context of life science urban rehabilitation, rather than cold figures, scientific planning razed to the name of a large-scale urban redevelopment. A great city values the diversity, and this diversity is the need to maintain a certain environment, such as street life, the importance of neighborhood life is to control the car and refuse repetition of the urban landscape.

The street itself does not actually exist, it only refers to the use of building edges. But the "street" is when you think of a first impression of the city. Cities and suburbs' or towns' biggest difference lies not in size, but in the city "full of strangers." The most basic elements of the city is safety in the streets you can trust to make contact with strangers.

Jane Jacobs thinks the first thing to understand is that the public peace - the sidewalk and street of the cities - is not primarily kept by the police, necessary as police are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among people themselves.

Some people think that the middle-class or upper-class family build good neighborhoods and poor families fail to. That is wrong. For example,within the poverty of the North End of Boston, or within the poverty of the West Greenwich Village waterfront neighborhoods, good neighborhoods were created. In the meantimes, within the upper-class Boston ‘s South End, bad neighborhoods were created, neighborhoods which internal failure grew greater with time instead of less.

Throughout the 1950s, the cost of building rose. There is a simple fact that no matter how steady the construction costs are. a old building requires less income that one which has not yet paid off its capital costs. Among the most admirable and enjoyable sights to be found along the sidewalks of big cities are the ingenious adaptations of old quarters to news uses. The town-house parlor that becomes a craftsman’s showroom, the stable that becomes a house, the basement becomes an immigrants’ club. the garage that becomes a theatre, the warehouse becomes a factory. These are the signs of life and are forever ocourring where a city has vitality.

Fifth Avenue in New York is an example has been mentioned many times in Jacobs’ book. She thinks this is good area for preserving the aged buildings that makes this area vibrant. It shows how good a city can be. Between 40th Street and 59th Street it is tremendously diverse in its large and small shops, bank buildings, office buildings, churches and institutions. Its architecture express these differences in use, and differences accrue from the varying ages of the buildings, difference in technology and the history of taste. But 5th Avenue does not look disorganized.They are sensible and natural contrasts and differences. The whole hangs together remarkably well.

In contrast railway tracks, waterfronts, campuses, expressways, large parking areas, and large parks have much in common with each other, insofar their tendency to create vacuums. As many city elements as possible must be used to build a lively, mixed territory, and as few as possible must be used to create unnecessary boundaries.

Automobiles are hardly destroyers of cities. The fact is that there are too many cars on the roads! Today, cars and cities should have been allies, however, they seem to be enemies.

When life science developed quickly, people hoped that they would find a new method to analyse the city. As to whether there is some connection between science and urban planning, Jane Jacobs does not confirm her attitude. Personally, I believe Cities are different from nature. cities include economy, society, social activities. Urban planning can simply copy from life science.

Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to overcome problems and needs outside themselves.

Monday 13 December 2010


Emma Watson, Nima Dibazar, Gaia Zamburlini, Pardip Bansal and Marwa Al-Nahlawi

The first graduation ceremony featuring the 2009-10 MA A+U cohort took place today 13 December at the Whitworth Hall. The graduates received their awards from the Chancellor of the University of Manchester, Tom Bloxham MBE.

Nima Dibazar modelling his academic dress before the ceremony. Nima, Pardip and Marwa all featured in the brief video about the course available here

Monday 6 December 2010

Teresa Stoppani

Dr. Teresa Stoppani (University of Greenwich) will be leading a seminar for MA A+U at 10,30 am on Thursday 9 December.

Her new book Paradigm Islands: Manhattan and Venice, Discourses on the City has just been published by Routledge.

Concerning architecture and the city, built, imagined and narrated, this book focuses on Manhattan and Venice, but considers architecture as an intellectual and spatial process rather than a product. A critical look at the making of Manhattan and Venice provides a background to addressing the dynamic redefinition and making of space today. The gradual processes of adjustment, the making of a constantly changing dense space, the emphasis on forming rather than on figure, the incorporation of new forms and languages through their adaptation and transformation, make both Manhattan and Venice, in different ways, the ideal places to contextualize and address the issue of an architecture of the dynamic.

On the previous day Wednesday 8 December Dr. Stoppani will be speaking at a seminar at the University of Manchester on Piranesi's Erasures in G19 Mansfield Cooper Building at 4.00 pm

Thursday 2 December 2010

Snowed Off

Today's scheduled fraternal visit by MA A+U to the University of Sheffield MA in Urban Design course has had to be cancelled. Snow on both sides of the Pennines, the closure of university campuses and the cancellation of trains have all been against this particular innovation in the calendar.

Eamonn Canniffe's lecture Park Hill: It is what it is ... has also fallen victim to the adverse weather.

Both events will be rescheduled for the New Year.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Simon Sadler: The Situationist City (1999)

Discussed by Christina Gregoriou

The author of the Situationist City, Simon Sadler was born in 1969 West Midlands. He is a Proffessor in Architecture and Urban History at the Universtiy of California, Davis and formerly a lecturer in Architectural History at the University of Nottingham. This book was intended to extract the Situationist architectural theory from a revolutionary program that attempted to confront the ideological totality of the Western world. The aim of the book was to search for the situationist city among the manifestoes, and works of art that the Situationists have left behind. Sadler focused on the early situationist program to try and save it as he says ’from the obscurity to which it was later on banished by the Situationist International.’

The Situationists were a group of revolutionaries influenced by the artistic avant-garde groups of the time. Early situationism was formed in 1957. The principle group and journals that formed Situationist International originated from two main lines: The expressionist groups of COBRA, and the International Movement of an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB) and the conceptual groups of the Lettrist and Lettrist International.

The Naked City

At the first part of the book, The Naked City, Sadler take us through the Situationisms’ critique of the environment as it currently existed. The Situationists were affected by the writings of thinkers like Henri Lefebre and Michael De Certeau who explored the principle of everydayness. They developed an awareness of the social structuring of the city into self-contained distinct quarters, of the city based on class occupation and function, but yet reliant on other components of the urban machine. Sociology implied this traditional planning that had grown under a rationalist umbrella, had reduced city structuring into a misleading, simplistic level.

Their experiments and case studies, analyzing the psychogeographical factors, influencing their mood, behavior and their choice of route as they were having their “drift” around the city. Each case study of the redevelopment of the naked city illustrated the situationist claims that urbanism represented a drive to rationalize, homogenize and commercialize Paris

An example of that is Debord’s and Jorn’s psychogeographical map where they cut up city street maps of Paris in a process of studying indigenous working class-zones. The map mourns the loss of old Paris, represents the city of the future, and explores the cities structures and use.
It serves as guides to areas of central Paris threatened for redevelopment, retaining those parts worth visiting, disposing of all those parts that they thought had been spoiled by capitalism.

Formulary for a New Urbanism

In the second part, Formulary for a New Urbanism, Sadler examines situationist principles for the city and city living The situationist city was a constant play of contrasts, between confined and open spaces, darkness and illumination, circulation and isolation. They described their drifts as radical rereadings of the city. They uncovered the social body of the naked city by ‘becoming streetwise’. They would explore discreet public gardens. The passages of the drifts were lined with cheap-shops and cafes; the guettos offered not only a different ambience, but also a non-bourgeois cost of living. Situationists would use their experience of language as a way of revolutionizing our consciousness of the city. Graffiti became regarded as a sign of the primitive energy of the everyday life of the masses. They even suggested the abolition of museums and the distribution of masterpieces to bars; believing that this would completely undermine cultural imperialism and elitism

New Babylon

In the third part, A New Babylon, Sadler described the closed situationists reached in making their ideas into reality; and that was through their proposal of the New Babylon. They ultimate goal was to reconstruct the city through a series of constructed situations. They assumed there was a ‘formulary’ that existed that would permit situations to be produced on demand. They claimed that each constructed situation would provide décor and ambience of such power that it would stimulate new sorts of behaviour, a glimpse into an improved future social life based upon human encounter and play. Sadler describes the Situationists' ideas of the Unitary Urbanism where it would no longer be driven by capital and bureaucracy, but by participation. It would be a unitary organism with different organs, dependent and inter-dependent on each other. In each experimental city, unitary urbanism was to act by way of a certain number of force fields, quarters. Each quarter would tend towards a specific harmony, divided off from neighbouring harmonies.

The Situationist International began to feel that unitary urbanism should not abandon the existing city in flavor of a virgin ground. That is why Constant’s New Babylon is shown suspended over entire cities and countries making literal Situationist International members', Debord and Jorn's, invocation in the pages of their Memoires of a ‘floating city’. In the structures that he proposed he would house some of the multiple functions that the traditional city accommodates individually. A typical sector in New Babylon could handle leisure, transport and shelter, addressing some of the situationist worries about the separation of activities by rational urbanism.

For the New Babylonians fun would not be a break from work and social normality. The principal activity of the inhabitants would be continuous drifts. They wanted to create that sort of disorientation, with changing landscapes from one hour to the next. The taste of the drift tends to promote all sorts of new forms of labyrinths made possible by modern techniques of production. Situationism tried to explore the concept that the accelerated movement and change of the city in the 20th century were incapable of relation to the pattern of a preexisting fabric. New Babylonians could physically rearrange the street they stood in. Every space is temporary, nothing is recognizable, everything changes, and nothing can serve as a landmark; the sense of labyrinth and disorientation that Constant wanted to emphasize that it could work supremely well as social space

At a later stage card holding members of the Situationist International comforted themselves that it was they, not ‘the technichian’ Constant who held the key to the effective use of those situationist ideas merely represented in New Babylon. After Constant left, he was denounced as a 'public relations man…integrating the massed into capitalist technological civilization’ with his ‘models of factories’.

After a few editions of the Situationist Interantional, they took an intensive critical turn that soon terminated their direct interest in Art & Urbanism, which also put Constant’s view of the Situationist City as the New Babylon out in the cold.

Monday 15 November 2010

Tony Garnier: Une Cite Industrielle (1917)

Reviewed by Supriya Pundlik

Tony Garnier's Une Cite Industrialle is one of the most comprehensive ideal plans of all time.Published in 1917, it is not only an outstanding contribution to architectural and planning theories but also a sensitive expression of thought and cultural conditions of its day. Dora Wiebenson's framing of the book focused on the Cite’ s lesser-known role as a product of its cultural context, and as a bridge between nineteenth and twentieth century planning and between academic and non-academic theories and techniques.

The end of the nineteenth century was a time of great change throughout Europe. The advent of industrialisation altered the landscape of the city forever. Many of the changes were not for the better and living conditions in industrial cities steadily deteriorated. The Industrial Revolution had the effect of bringing more and more people from the countryside into the heart of the city looking for work. Such dramatic over-population and unrestricted urban growth led to slum housing, dirt, disease and a lack of communal green spaces within the city landscape. Modern urban planning arose in response to this disorde. Reformation of these areas was the objective of the early city planners, who began to impose regulatory laws establishing housing standards for housing, sanitation etc. Urban planners also introduced parks, playground in city neighbourhoods, for recreation as well as visual relief. The notion of zoning was a major concept of urban planning at this time.

Tony Garnier was a French architect born in Lyons in 1869 and it is clear that the city and surroundings had a great influence on him. Whilst growing up Lyons was an industrial centre for textiles and metallurgy, the two industries catered for by Garnier s proposal for his industrial city. Garnier studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and in 1901 won the prix de Rome competition and was sent to the French Academy at the Villa Medici. It was here where Garnier started to formulate his proposal for the Cité and in 1901 Garnier sent back the proposal to the École. However, the École refused to exhibit the work and instead insisted that Garnier produce the work on classical and renaissance architecture. Garnier continued to work on his proposal alongside more traditional work and was eventually able to exhibit his work in 1904. Afterwards, Garnier continued to develop his plan culminating a two-volume work published in 1917.

By the end of 19th century the theory of urbanism had expanded far beyond the unitarian and geographical concerns to include the total regional context in which the city was situated. Major reports on municipal reforms in the last part of the 19th century were made by individuals like Albert Shaw, who basically stressed the organic relation of the city to the country and predicted their eventual integration. These theories of regionalism attained their greatest popularity in England. Chief among them was Pattrick Geddes (1854-1932). Garnier's philosophy in the Cite Indutrielle was similar to that of Geddes in the emphasis on city decentralization, it being developed in relation to the industries, occupants and customs of the surrounding region.
Geddes's theories were considered similar to those expressed by Ebenezer Howard with regard to his Garden City. Two of Howard's basic assumptions were also stressed by Garnier: the emancipation of man from the monotony of his labour in order to take on more fruitful occupations and the view that all men are inherently cooperative and equal. The schemes are also related in such details as the inclusion of electric energy, the emphasis on planting within the city and widely accepted 19 th century ideal of a house and garden for each family.

In his preface to Une Cite Industrialle, Garnier specifically included most of the major elements of contemporary regionalist theory; the Cite was to represent one of a federation of cities, among which a bond would be created through emphasis on communication and exchange of goods. Local historical and botanical museums for regional expositions and a school of arts and industries were to be included in this project. Local crafts were to be taught. Nearby water power was to be used.
Deliberate proximity of the Railway Station to the old town to make it easy for the visitors, should be understood as an interpretation of the regionalist theory of preserving and promoting an interest in local monuments. However regionalism was never associated with socialism, and thus in this major philosophical tenet the Cite industrialle doesn't conform to the regionalist thought. Individual imitative is not stressed in the City, property is owned in common and public conveniences are maintained for benefit of all. Garnier had worked in the workers quarte of the city, some of his later planning may reflect social doctrines to which he was exposed while there. In his city employment services and free hostels as well as meeting rooms were created for workers' syndicates that a socialist government is presupposed. Many public facilities were provided like slaughter houses, flour mills etc, and equality to both sexes in education etc.

At the end of the 19th century it was believed that many social reforms could be achieved gradually through moral and intellectual education leading to a future ideal state. Garnier believed in the basic goodness of man :when asked why his city contained no law courts, police force stations, jail or church he is said to have replied that the new society governed by socialist law would have no need of churches as capitalism would be suppressed.
In the Utopias of this period, fundamental, natural and primitive conditions were stressed; the emphasis on exercise, health, and physical well-being was a corollary to the awakening interest in natural life. Garnier‘s inclusion of a large public area for sports and spectacles in his city related to early utopian philosophy, pagan antiquity and love for games.

Lyons had undergone extensive urban remodelling from mid 19 century. Here public schools began, syndicates were formed, a new industrial quarter was planned. Reinforced concrete was used for industries as well as housing. In 1894 the 15 th congress of the Societe Francaise Geographique met in Lyons and established a program for the region, including construction of public utilities and dams. He was emphatic about separating the functions of the city from each other in order to allow for independent expansion, functional convenience and ease of transportation. Garnier stated in his preface that the siting of the city was determined by the location of water, the source of power.

Garnier ‘s proposal was an industrial city for approx 35,000 inhabitants situated on a area in southeast France on a plateau with high land and a lake to the north, a valley and river to the south. Une Cite industrialle is a well coordinated and monumentally conceived plan placed in a park like setting where both the classical spirit of the academic tradition and the primitive simplicity of utopian ideas is demonstrated. In his proposal, Garnier tried to take into account all aspects of the city including governmental, residential, manufacturing and agricultural practices. The various functions of the city were clearly related, but separated from each other by location and patterns.

The public area at the heart of the city was grouped into 3 sections: administrative services and assembly halls, muesum collections and sports facilities.

The residential area is made up of rectangular blocks running east-west which gives the city its characteristic elongated form. The residential districts are the first attempt towards passive solar architecture. Garnier had energy efficiency in mind as the city was to be powered by a hydroelectric station with a dam which was located in the mountains along with the hospital.
The city was completed by a railroad d station to the east.

Garnier found a sympathetic point of view in the teaching of Julien Gaudet, a professor of architectural theory at the Ecole. Guadet's concern with rational planning, based on axiality and clear articulation of the separate parts of the building and his interest in the relationship of architecture to contemporary functions. The programme for the Cite hospital is close to Gaudet’s analysis of hospital planning. Gaudet favoured an arrangement of separate pavilions including separate building blocks for different functions.

The main factory is located in the valley at the confluence of the stream and river. A railway passes between the factory and the city, which is on a plateau, and further up are the medical facilities.

In the homes, the rooms should have at least one large window oriented south for the entry of sunlight The land for the construction of the residential homes, are initially divided into 150 meters from east to west and 30 meters from north to south, dividing into lots of 15 by 15 meters, with one side facing the street.

Primary schools are scattered throughout neighbourhoods and in the northeast corner are the secondary schools.

Garnier’s Cité Industrielle was never built but echoes of his vision can be seen in Lyon where the mayor appointed him the city architect in 1905, a position he held until 1919. The most important work to emerge from his Cité Industrielle was the large stockyards complex, the stadium, the Grange Blanche Hospital and the housing project known as Les États Unis. The most important connection of Garnier with later planners is definitely through Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier was the first well-known architect to discuss Garnier's work and possibly the reason why Garnier became known as a pioneer of modern architecture and urban planning.
This is not to say that Garnier's vision of urban utopia is neither important nor successful. Much of what he proposed is at the least relevant today and there is no doubt that at the time someone with Garnier's vision was required to propose what he saw as a solution to the problems that faced society at that time.
This brings me back to the start, a utopia by its very nature is impossible to realise. Without people proposing their visions of a Utopia there can be no progress as out of generous dreams come beneficial realities.

In his praise, Edouard Herriot said:
“This builder, this realistic person, was spontaneously human. His sensitivity was only equal to his modesty. His culture proved to be often surprising. Indeed, Tony Garnier was a master, with all the nobleness and intelligence included in this word. A master, which means a guide and an example… But the Man was as admirable as the scholar; his moral qualities were equal to his genius.”

Monday 8 November 2010

So what did you really think about MAXXI?

During their excursion to Rome MA A+U visited Zaha Hadid's MAXXI. Here's what they thought about it.

Jonas thought it was a brave intervention that represented a new era for Rome.

Angela liked the use of the light

Supriya found that there was a lot of unutilised space

Luke thought it was a generic place that could be anywhere in the world

Jack felt the experience was dominated by the personality of the architect

Craig detected a surprising discontinuity of route which detracted from the experience of the building

Bill said it was untraditional - but didn't like it

Kathryn thought the building had a confusing layout but that is not necessarily a bad thing

Meliz liked the exterior but couldn't find her way round

Carrie thought the big window was an anti- climax

Chen thought that the building had tremendous meaning for the future of Rome
Preeya found the building disorienting

Natalie thought the artworks were overpowered by the building

Angad felt it was an adorable experience of unconventional spaces

Christina thought it was self-centred and out of context

Ketki observed that the look of the structure was out of context with what Rome is all about

Saturday 6 November 2010


MA A+U paid a visit to the British School at Rome on November 3 to meet Dominic Holdaway (pictured centre) and discuss their film projects in connection with the conference The Postmodern Palimpsest: Narrating Contemporary Rome to be held on 26 February 2011 at the University of Warwick and jointly organised by Dominic and Filippo Trentin.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Ebenezer Howard: Garden Cities of To-morrow (1902)

Reviewed by Luke Butcher

Perhaps one of the most influential books in the field of urban planning in the past 150 years, Garden Cities of To-morrow was the second edition title (1902) of Ebenezer Howard’s book To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Reform (1898). Within its pages Howard put forth designs for a “social city” that attempted to bridge between the individualist (capitalist) system of the time and the ideals of socialism that were gaining political impetus, with Trade Unions, Co-operatives and ideas of communal land protection (central to Howard’s argument).

Dreamt up during a time when countries were beginning to urbanize (15% of the world’s population were urban, a rapidly growing figure), there were squalid living and working environments and the working class were unable to afford a decent home. Howard’s response was just one of numerous utopian visions that spoke of a better future, with the key difference being that he aimed to produce a scheme that was both realistic and achievable.

The model of a “Garden City” set out in the first chapter of the book is ultimately the greatest legacy of the book, rightly or wrongly, with the subsequent formation of the Garden City Association in 1899 (that 42 years later would become the Town and Country Planning Association) leading to the “Garden City Movement.” The construction of two garden cities – at Letchworth (1903) and Welwyn (1919) – would act as further catalysts for change, that culminated, but was not way limited to, the post-Second World War New Towns Act.

Ebenezer Howard

Born the son of a shopkeeper in the City of London, on the 29th of January 1850, Howard, after schooling, took on a number of clerical posts. In 1871, aged 21, he emigrated to the ‘frontier country’ of America to become a farmer. This would prove unsuccessful and he subsequently spent four years living in Chicago, witnessing its’ rebuilding following the great fire. It was during this time he began to contemplate ways to improve cities. He eventually returned to London, in 1876, to a job producing the official verbatim record of Parliament. This would become the primary occupation for the rest of his life and meant he was constantly exposed to the political elite of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Howard began to move in certain social circles, originally through various religious groups, that saw him become involved in late-19th century English social reformism, without ever entering into the socialist mainstream. His political ideologies were more closely aligned to that of the co-operative movement, as opposed to trade union movement.

In addition to these socialist ideologies Howard was heavily influenced by the utopian visions of Edward Bellamy and his publication Looking Backway (1888). According to the ‘great admirer’ of Howard, Frederick J. Osborn, “under the impact of the book the conception of an ideal town came to him as essentially a socialist community.” Howard, in the book itself, highlights three major influences: the proposals for an organized migratory movement of population by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Professor Alfred Marshall; the system of land tenure proposed by Thos. Spence; and the model city of James Buckingham. The ideas put forth in To-morrow were a synthesis of his personal experiences and the works of others.

The Evil of the City

“We are becoming a land of great cities. Villages are stationary or receding; cities are enormously increasing. And if it be true that the great cities tend more and more to become the graves of the physique of our race, can we wonder at it when we see the houses so foul, so squalid, so ill-drained, so vitiated by neglect and dirt?”
Dean Fararr

It is important to understand the context to which Howard’s work was a reaction. London (and other cities) in the 19th century were in the throws of industrialization, and the cities were exerting massive forces on the labour markets of the time. Massive immigration from the countryside to the cities was taking place with London compared to “a tumour, an elephantiasis sucking into a gorged system[s] half the life and blood and the bone of the rural districts” (Lord Rosebery). This situation was unsustainable and political commentators of all parties sought “how best to provide the proper antidote against the greatest danger of modern existence” (St. Jame’s Gazette, 1892) – the importance of the Boer Wall call up and the realization that the health of the English fighting man had greatly deteriorated can not be forgotten either.

The Three Magnets

To Howard the cure was simple – to reintegrate people with the countryside. In trying to understand and represent the attraction of the city he compared each city to a magnet, with individuals represented as needles drawn to the city. He set about comparing the ‘town and country magnets’ but decided that neither were suitable attractors for his utopian vision. Instead he believed that “Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together” – his solution “the two magnets must be made one.”

The Town-Country Magnet

Building on the principles of the Three Magnets, Howard begins to establish a hypothetical scenario for the testing of his proposals for social reform. To do this the reader is asked to imagine a 6,000-acre estate, purchased for £240,000 and vested in trust to four honourable gentlemen. The Garden City itself was to cover 1,000 acres and be home to 30,000 people. Taking a circular form the city would be divided into six equal Wards, by six main Boulevards (named for pioneers of Human thought) that radiated from a central garden. Around the centre garden would be placed the civic institutions (Town Hall, Library, etc) and then a ‘Central Park,’ which in turn is enclosed by a ‘Crystal Palace’ – an arcade of indoor shops and winter garden. A series of concentric ringed tree-lined Avenues provide the major streets for houses, with a ‘Grand Avenue’ 420-feet wide that is both a 3-mile continuous public park and home to schools and churches. At the edge of the city Howard placed the ‘heavy’ industry of factories and warehouses, with direct access to a Municipal railway that aimed to alleviate pressure on the cities street network and connect the Garden City to the rest of the nation. Surrounding the city the remaining 5,000 acres are a designated Agricultural Belt, home to 2,000 people, with cow pastures, farmland and welfare services including an asylum.

Despite being incredibly descriptive in his proposal Howard repeats on a number of occasions that the design and ideas on planning he puts forth should not be taken verbatim, instead any design should be entirely dependent on the context. The principles, which Howard wanted to emphasise, were not morphological – with the exception of an agricultural belt to limit city growth and concentrate social life within the city (Robert Fishman) – but sociological.

Revenue and Expenditure

Central to Howard’s argument was that the Garden City could operate economically and allow the community to have ownership of the land. He goes to great lengths to demonstrate how the revenue derived simply from rents could be used to:
- Pay the interest with which the estate was purchased (providing a 4% return for the initial investors
- Provide a sinking fund for the purpose of paying off the principal
- Construct and maintain all the works typically undertaken by municipalities (including a detailed breakdown of associated costs)
- Provide a large surplus for other purposes including old age pensions, medical services and insurance


In dealing with the administration of the Garden City the first question to be dealt with is the extent to which municipal enterprise is carried out and to what extent it should supersede private enterprise. Howard does not advocate the complete municipalisation of industry or the elimination of private enterprise, instead he proposes a cautious and limited municipality that doesn’t attempt “too much.” The activities are to be closely related to the rate-rent of the tenants and would “grow in proportion as municipal work is done efficiently and honestly.”

With this in mind the structure of the municipality and its administration is proposed with a Board of Management composed of The Central Council and The Departments (Public Control, Engineering, Social and Education).

A Welfare Municipality

The Garden City proposal could be read as being in a state of tension between individual and social ideals. This is particularly evident in the explanation of how to create local choice, in terms of goods and services available to citizens, is made by heavily regulated private enterprise. Instead of “an absurd multiplication of shops” providing the same service – a single shop is allowed with the threat of competition (if the community feels the shop keeper is keeping prices to high, paying insufficient wages to his employees, etc) designed to keep prices low and service high. These local tradesmen are in essence municipal servants in all but title; not being bound in what Howard calls the “red tape of officialism.”

Howard hopes that, as opposed to other socialist (including communist) reform experiments of the day, that his proposal would appeal to not only individuals but to co-operators, manufacturers, philanthropic societies, and others experienced in organisation.

City Growth

Assuming the Garden City model was implemented and found to be successful Howard begins to describe how the City could grow and become part of an integrated network of Garden Cities. The principle of “always preserving a belt of country” around cities should always be maintained, argues Howard, so once a city has reached capacity a new one must be founded outside the agricultural belt (the influence of colonial-models prominent). The off-shoot city would grow organically, a ward at a time. Eventually there a central city (of perhaps 58,000 inhabitants) would be surrounded by a number of smaller off-shoot cities, connected by railroad and canal infrastructure.

Dystopian London

Howard ultimately turns his attention back to London, as an example of the “largest and most unwieldy” of 19th century cities, predicting that Garden Cities had the potential to dramatically change London: reducing population, clearing sums and ultimately turning it into a Garden City.

“The time for the complete reconstruction of London – which will eventually take place on a far more comprehensive scale than that now exhibited in Paris, Berlin, Glasgow, Birmingham or Vienna – has however, not yet come. A simpler problem must first be solved. One small Garden City must be built as a working model…”

These predictions are the most utopian of the book and perhaps would have come to fruition if not for a number of external factors that Howard either couldn’t have foreseen or failed to realise the importance of – notably the rise of the automobile.

Legacy of Howard and the Garden City

When To-morrow was first published the world was very different to the media-rich urban environment we currently inhabit. Despite this Ebenezer Howard is still regarded as one of the most important figures in the international development of urban planning. His simple diagrams of the model city have been taken up and reinterpreted a hundred times over across the globe but Howard’s most cherished ideas of social reform had very little impact – his social reformist message was lost.

“Very quickly, the Garden City came to be understood in a more limited sense, as an urban planning model to reform the spatial arrangement of social and economic life. It is through this understanding that Howard’s legacy has largely been experienced.” (Stephen V. Ward).

He set in motion new ideas about hierarchy of services within the city, the essential components of community, being planned with clear zoning principles. Whilst the ideas about hierarchy and zoning were not original in themselves, it was the holistic approach that Howard adopted that helped lend them legitimacy. The idea of the agricultural belt, the ‘bounded’ city, is directly responsible for policies of ‘Green Belt’ in the UK (and other parts of the world) that has since evolved and changed but essentially remains about constricting and controlling urban growth.

Additionally, the debate about the future of American Cities in the 1950s, with the infamous arguments between Jacobs and Mumford, can be traced back to the Garden City Movement. It will forever be associated with the ideas of suburbia and, increasingly, new urbanism.

If there was one enduring legacy though, beyond the physical make-up of the city, it is the importance Howard gave to creating a sense of community and harbouring relationships between human beings, enhancing them through good planning and design that promoted sociability.

Garden Cities of To-morrow Micro Site

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Architecture + Urbanism recommends: Moretti at MAXXI

Until 28 November Zaha Hadid's MAXXI in Rome currently hosts an exhibition of the work of Luigi Moretti
Entitled 'From Rationalism to Informalism' the exhibition traces the long and varied career of the architect through his works in Rome and elsewhere. Maristella Casciato and Bruno Reichlin discuss the exhibition in this short video.

Friday 22 October 2010

Volker M Welter: Biopolis - Patrick Geddes and the City of Life

A review by Kathryn Timmins of this study of the influential urban thinker Patrick Geddes

The theories, obsessions and beliefs of the Scottish urbanist, biologist, sociologist, historian, geographer and town planner Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), are the main focus of this book by Volker M. Welter, along with the people and studies affected by his work.
Originally trained as a biologist, Geddes was intrigued by the evolution of human life and its future possibilities within its growing urban context. Working at the turn of the century, where the entity of the city was starting to develop at a fast rate, Geddes was part of an era that asked questions about this new urban life, its origins and subsequent expectations. He was born into a “century of cities.”
Placed in context and examined and explored, Geddes’s work is complemented and compared with research of similar topics by fellow intellectuals from the past and present. The book is not a biography of Geddes, but an investigation into the questions that he raised and the studies that were affected by these. It looks not only at town planning on an architectural scale, but the metaphysical, spiritual, individual and global one.

CHAPTER 1 - “Angling for Cities!”
“Vivendo Discimus - by living we learn.”
Patrick Geddes

Studying biology at university, Darwin’s theory of evolution influenced Geddes and his study of life, consequently resulting in his journey as a ‘scientist of life’. Geddes became obsessed with classification from his biological work and consequently looked at the classification of life throughout his career, attempting to ‘give back to the world a structure. The study of habitats and environments stems from this starting point and leads to Geddes’s work with towns and cities trying to understand how human life can be improved by the growth of a town into a city.
Welter looks at how Geddes’s involvement in the Revolt against Reason (a movement consitisting of intellectuals at the time questioning fact and looking at “the significance of religion in all human societies”) lead to his spiritual, metaphysical studies of human life;
“Geddes did not hesitate to marvel at the mysteries of life or capture them in the symbolic, imaginative forms of art or literature. Yet he always went a step further and asked how life could be improved, rather than merely understood.”

CHAPTER 2 - Patrick Geddes’s Theory of the city
“City and citizen are bound in an abiding partnership of mutual aid.”
Patrick Geddes

“ As the landscape changed its appearance, the life of the people changed too.” Victorian Britain, the age of vast industrialisation and expansion of cities encouraged investigation into city life itself. Therefore, people began to look back at antiquity to find better previous models of society ie the Middle Ages, the Greek polis. Geddes devised various ‘thinking machines’ as a way of studying this human interaction with its environment. The Notation of Life was his most successful and widely examined. It focused on the headings; TOWN, SCHOOL, CLOISTER and CITY IN DEED integrated with the triad of WORK, PLACE and FOLK.

Geddes attempted to use this with the Town-City formula he devised as a law of the evolution of cities from towns. The Act-Deed formula also investigated this transformation on an individual scale, looking to raise individual human life to higher levels of conscious existence to transform a town into a city. This individual process then had to be applied to communal psychology; how the individual acts within a community to enable transition as a collective. Moreover, Geddes explores the idea of using the Cloister to embody ideas for a city into the urban fabric, creating a city soul (comparable to the Acropolis in Athens);
“ The soul not only gives life to matter but is also the carrier of knowledge about ideas and forms”

CHAPTER 3 - The City and Geography
“Our town and country divisions…are now for the most part totally inadequate for modern purposes.”
Patrick Geddes

Elisée Reclus (the French anarcho-geographer) suggests that the town and country merge as the city, “transforms and elevates the countryside to its own, more highly evolved level of social and cultural life.” The Valley Section designed by Geddes explores this and discusses the various settlement types, occupations and physical environments of the region-city and how they interacted. Welter states that instead of the city taking over the rural areas, Geddes believes the “town arises and renews itself from the country…in character, individual and social.”

Considering these new studies of the city and city life, Reclus assumed that world peace must be a “pre-condition of the ever-expanding city” contrasting Geddes’s view that this will be achieved through the constructive activity of city building. The author therefore progresses the study from regional to universal looking at The Outlook Tower where individuals were theoretically able to understand and reflect upon the environment at a range of scales, encouraging an individual citizens transition from town to city

CHAPTER 4 - The City in History
“The world is ever beginning anew, each community with it, each town and quarter”
Patrick Geddes

The Arbor Saeculorum, ‘The tree of centuries’, was originally a design for a stained glass window at the Outlook Tower in Edinburgh, and was for Geddes a summary of all known history at the time. The two scrolls to the left and right sides of the sketch, depicted symbols relating to each known time period with the tree in the middle representing the future of human history. It illustrateg history as a continuous process of growth as, “a city is more than a place is space, it is a drama in time.” It again shows this belief that individual members of each type must realise their role within society as a whole.
Investigating this further, Geddes understood four social types; PEOPLE, CHIEFS, INTELLECTUALS AND EMOTIONALS, “a city is only achievable if the four groups work together harmoniously.” However, Welter discovers that little thought into the interaction between these social forces and their different classes is given.

CHAPTER 5 - History in the City
“Architecture, it has been said, is crystallized history
Patrick Geddes

Restoration spread through Britain in the nineteenth century, which sparked Patrick Geddes idea for ‘conservative surgery’, “including the whole city within the potential scope of preservation activities,” planning to engage the citizens with their cities' current conditions as well as past. The historical survey looked at the earlier city in the context of the four social types and aimed to, “put the historical city at the disposal of the contemporary one.” Conservative surgery was then used as a tool in modern city planning, amending an area by minimizing the amount of historical demolition for new structures, it "preserved the built heritage by adapting it to ‘the requirement of the present’ and was used to rebuild Crosby Hall. The Cities and Town Planning Exhibition played a large role in this, it became a place where city surveys and reports on the Past, Present and Possible of cities could be displayed, helping people to understanding the evolution of cities (phylogeny).

CHAPTER 6 - The Metaphysical Imperative in Urban Design around 1900
“In every city there are men inventing, dreaming, finding the city its soul”

Building the Ideal Community -
“We must build a city, a whole city, anything less would be pointless…we shall create a world… from the overall design down to the last detail, all governed by the same spirit, the streets and the gardens and the palaces and the cottages…all expressions of the same sensibility, and in the middle, like a temple in a sacred grove, a house of labor, both artist's studio and craftsmen's workshop, where the artist will always have the reassuring and ordering crafts, and the craftsmen the liberating and purifying arts about him, until the two finally merge, as it were, into a single person.” Joseph Maria Olbrich

As a result of these city explorations and studies, Geddes began to examine the need for a metaphysical center for the city, a place for the individual to experience himself as a member of the whole. This would therefore provide a place for this personal transition from town to city. Temples as a vital role in city life was a common thought at the time, whether it be a Temple of a particular religion or not, or simply a center for thought. The book places this Temple discovery in context looking at similar designs and innovations of centers and hence Temples of a similar perioid; the Rock and Castle oF Seclusion for example by Richard Dadd in 1861.

CHAPTER 7 - The City and Spirituality
“evolution considers form and function no longer statically, but in movement”
Patrick Geddes

Geddes lost faith in traditional religion and so turned to these Temples of life, thought, geography etc as a metaphysical center for the city. The Temple of Geography, a Nature Palace conceived by Geddes, included biology, anthropology, geology, astronomy; the individual was to exposed to various exhibitions and installations before being encouraged to reflect in the temple space. The idea of the Globe itself was used as a teaching tool in exhibitions initially, “ a macrocosm of the microcosm itself”, then picked up by Geddes and used in his temple designs as a catalyst for thought and reflection.

In addition to this, Geddes returned to his study of The Greeks and their polis, supposing that they were the closest to a perfect society with their spiritual emphasis. Therefore, the nine Greek Gods which, “expressed the ideals of humanity” also became pivotal parts of informing his designs.
Obviously according to Geddes, there was a need for religiosity in human life and the Temple was designed as a place for unity between science and religion in cities.

CHAPTER 8 - From the Temple of the City to the Cultural Acropolis
“Our town becomes a City indeed, with Acropolis and Temples
Patrick Geddes

To create transformation from Town to City, needs not only the individual “Town Thinking” or “Town Feeling” but a whole communal experience. Geddes believed that a physical space was definitely needed for this, plus a place for city scale events and festivities to celebrate the city itself. Geddes looked closer at the Cloister (possibly a University area) to achieve this, as an “institute of Synthesis”.

“Geddes’s city is not ruled by God but by the eternal idea of life sybmolized in the temple of the Greek Gods” - he looked at this ‘feeling’ development of Dreams and Deeds and tried to create a place where these could be applied to reality; “interact with religion and polity with thought and action…these create Acropolis, Temple.”

In antiquity, what Geddes described as a Cloister (or Cultural Acropolis, as it developed into a center for theatre, spiritual learning, academia, the arts etc) was always raised high above the town to attempt to concentrate these elements into one space (eg the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon). This followed through into his own designs which are demonstrated in the book's diagrams and sketches. Others at the time also followed the “City Crown” idea of the cultural and educational center for the city, for example Bruno Taut and Tony Garnier.

Notes, Conclusions and Questions

Looking at the spiritual side of city life is extremely interesting, but are these centers successful at transforming the individual? What exact process do they need to go through to progress the town to a city? How does this then work as a whole community thought process? Every citizen is unique, how does this apply to all of them? Could a town successfully complete this transformation according to Geddes’s path? Have any towns already done this?
Intrigued to discover more about the Greek way of life in the polis, why does Geddes think this is so perfect? If their spiritual ideas and ways of life could have been applied to Geddes’s era, are they still relevant today?
It is interesting that Geddes disregards class in his studies, especially at a time when class becomes more and more relevant in society at the turn of the century with the vast urban growth and poor city conditions, do his colleagues who study class come to any similar conclusions about city design? How did Tony Garnier and Bruno Taut come to their decisions about the city?

Monday 18 October 2010

Architecture + Urbanism recommends: Villa Frankenstein

The current exhibition at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale curated by muf is well worth exploring. Read more about it here.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Architecture + Urbanism recommends: Notes from the Archive

Notes from the Archive: James Frazer Stirling, Architect and Teacher
14 OCTOBER, 2010 — 2 JANUARY, 2011

at the Yale Center for British Art

Stirling's work has been interpreted by historians and critics in a number of varied, and often conflicting, ways. Some have seen it move through a series of eclectic modern styles; others have insisted that Stirling was a steadfast Modernist; while still others have proposed a fundamental break with Modernism in the mid-1960s. Stirling himself contributed to these diverse views through his own writings. Notes from the Archive, curated by Anthony Vidler, Dean and Professor of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union, will deepen our knowledge of Stirling's unique approach to the design process and demonstrate continuity in his work from his early days as a student to his final projects. According to Vidler, "This exhibition offers the potential for the re-evaluation of Stirling's career as an architect, revising the often contradictory assessment of his work from the 1960s on, through the evidence of the notebooks, sketches, presentation drawings, photographs, and original models the office."

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication authored by Anthony Vidler. The book will interpret the James Stirling/Michael Wilford fonds at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, as a living document of Stirling's attempts to broaden the language of Modernism while remaining faithful to his twin precepts of accommodation and association. While not a catalogue of the exhibition, this publication follows the themes of the exhibits and develops the interpretation of Stirling's contribution to the history and vocabulary of modern architecture that is presented in the show. It is published by the Yale Center for British Art and Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, in association with Yale University Press.

Friday 8 October 2010

MA A+U Colloquium 2010

image by Vincent Walsh

You are cordially invited to a celebration of the work of the MA Architecture + Urbanism graduating cohort of 2010 on the afternoon of

Thursday 14 October in 303 CHATHAM

2.00 Edward Cutler MA
Body//Space: Living in The Carbon-Silicon Gap

2.30 Vincent Walsh MA
Densifying Patchwork Ecology

3.00 Parvinder Marwaha MA
SCREAM: The Analog Rite of Passage

3.30 Richard Cowley MA
The Inner Madman has designs ...


Wednesday 6 October 2010

Tibetan Talk

On 15 September MA A+U graduate Marshal Nandi Han gave a presentation at The Architecture Foundation in connection with his project in Lhasa for which he was awarded the 2010 AF / KPF Travel Scholarship, offering a unique opportunity to view and hear a new generation's responses to public space today.

Friday 1 October 2010

Cities and Urban Ideologies 2010

For the new academic session the following books will be reviewed by the following newly enrolled students. Their reviews will be posted on the blog after the seminar commences on 21 October 2010

Ebenezer Howard
Luke Butcher

Volker Welter
Kathryn Timmins

Tony Garnier
Supriya Pundlik

Eric Mumford
Matthew Pilling

Simon Sadler
Christina Gregoriou

Kevin Lynch
Natalie Macbride

Jane Jacobs
Chen Xu

Larry Busbea
Jonas Komka

Aldo Rossi
Angad Kasliwal

Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter
Jack O’Reilly

Rem Koolhaas
Carrie Bayley

Rob Krier
Meliz Kusadali

Peter Katz
Angela Heaney

Albert Pope
Ketki Tendolkar

Lars Lerup
Preeya Vadgama

Manuel de Sola Morales
Laleh Fadaipour

Steven Holl
Rongxiao Han

Monday 27 September 2010

An Analytical Overview and a Viable Design Approach: Brownsfield Mill, Manchester

This design project for Brownsfield Mill by Gaia Zamburlini, exploring its industrial archaeology and architectural conservation, was recently awarded a Distinction in the MA Architecture + Urbanism final examinations. Congratulations to Gaia and the other successful graduates. Further examples of student work will be posted soon.

Monday 13 September 2010

Manuel de Sola-Morales: A Matter of Things (2008)

A book review by Stephen Gingell

“Turning the city into a metaphor is a distraction at best, there are no theories beyond the city itself”

The book comprises some theoretical writings by de Sola-Morales and others, interspersed with a review of his work in practice between 1988 and 2005. The book is well illustrated but could benefit from a larger format/larger photographs. It traces the development of his ideas from a fairly conventional viewpoint to his own, individual and occasionally mischievous stance.

De Sola-Morales is a Catalan architect who came to prominence during Spain’s cultural and economic renaissance. This was fostered by the return to democracy, growing regional autonomy and culminated in the urban regeneration of Barcelona for the ’92 Olympics. Barcelona became the model for the urban revival all over Europe.

He identifies a “rupture” between architecture and urban design and traces this back to a CIAM conference in the 30s. Architecture and city planning diverged, one becoming primarily visual and aesthetic and the other, technical/geographical. He works this gap. Working seamlessly between the two now distinct and often-conflicting disciplines.

His approach is neither an abstract technical one or purely aesthetic. Instead he is interested in the tangible be they things of significance or insignificance, hence his title – “A Matter of Things” with all their rich complexity of buildings, roads, railings, signage and scaffolding.
He does not lament the passing of the traditional city with its visual order and hierarchy. He has an optimistic outlook:

“Cities are not becoming uglier, (but are) growing (visually) richer.
Though formal relationships are less common the City is not in retreat to cyberspace, there are more places and more contact.”

He does not avoid the metaphorical all together – but uses it advisedly when referring to the city as surface, as a skin. Every wrinkle is worthy of scrutiny and can be of equal importance when determining how a site should be treated. This is his “Urban acupuncture”: small interventions, which create a ripple, not comprehensive development. Embellishments like the sinuous canal side bench and installation in the Netherlands. Where does this surgical insertions begin and end?

He displays distaste for the cult of personality in city building and architecture, taking the view of the traditional city as the result of limited types, means and forms largely unconscious in their shaping:

“Architecture..(should be) anonymous…cities grain should be punctuated by key buildings”

“attracting attention with architecture is less and less interesting. In today’s city the work of the architect cannot stray into the illusion of his or her mirages”

This self -effacement becomes almost a fetish in his urban housing blocks squeezed into the cramped historical centre of Alcoi, Spain. There is no outward show – partly as this is an urban infill with little opportunity for display but where there is, the palette is limited. One window type punched into simple render lights all rooms regardless of their function.
As mentioned in my introduction the format of this book doesn’t allow for sumptuous photography but perhaps that does not matter? De Sola-Morales is more interested in the process, rather than the individual signature buildings and their display in journals. These views of Alcoi show this. They are what they are: highly serviceable, pragmatic and restrained. One gets the impression again from Alcoi that “fuzzy edges” and raw finishes (which work well in the Spanish sunshine) are what he is about. The story is incomplete and is open to future embellishment in the way that cities traditionally have been.

The Alcoi development shows De Sola-Morales’s confidence in allowing things to be prosaically what they are -“complication is the short sighted refuge of many urban projects.” In his Leuven station, Belgium, the program emerges from a rigorous analysis of movement of overlapping and competing circulation patterns: pedestrian, cyclist, train, bus and private vehicles.

Turning to roads in particular they are now the domains of the city engineer. We think of them as traffic management systems and have forgotten that they were once the edges of other things. They would have changed their nature and dimension along their length rather than what they now tend towards, a continuous and uniform conveyor.

His proposal for the Genoa Express Way, though not conforming to tradition is a formal abstract architectural composition. Inserted catheter like into the old fabric of Genoa – (an extension of the body, surgical analogy which we have seen earlier) - this would have been a radical insertion providing the relief of 21st century infrastructure to this historic core.
His intention was, that it would allow the continuing functioning of the port rather than a banal tourist conversion as he describes its alternative fate.
The earlier writings and projects in the book cover somewhat familiar territory. The idea that we should work with the city’s grain and be broadly contextual is now orthodoxy. At the time of writing (early 1980s) these ideas would have still been emerging and tested in the neglected cities such as Barcelona.
But follow the road out, away from the certainty of the historic core with its fine grain and incremental changes to the “territories without a model.” De Sola-Morales sees the city as spreading tentacles almost infinitely. He sees continuity from the centre to periphery- a hierarchy of roads, which extend out beyond the city limits. These connect to the next urban centre, and by doing so give everywhere an urban sensibility - even low density rural locations.
This is where I feel a step change in the book – a development of original ideas. He is marking out new insights as he travels out into these new territories. He describes it as a slick- but an interesting one. He argues that the city is conventionally seen geographically as a series of concentric rings with a diminution of form and interest at the periphery.
In recent decades there has been an emphasis on the centre at the expense of the periphery. But these new territories are important. Many people live here and never leave here. The centre is done, but the periphery is uncharted. It provides new opportunities for material things and new opportunities for expression. Up until now it has mostly been left to filmmakers to imagine and make visual sense of this new frontier.

He does identify one important ordering principle of this zone: namely the sprawl is an attempt to distance one self from another – development acts as magnets which repulse in their attempt at privacy- creating a coherence of the void – the opposite figure ground relationship to that of the traditional city core.

His views are refreshingly optimistic when balanced up against the conventional ideas of “sprawl.” However it is difficult to see how this view could be whole -heartedly embraced on a small island with deep attachments to the idea of a green and pleasant land. It has more of the flavour of the vast dusty and seemingly limitless interior of Spain or the Hispanic USA.
Interestingly the book does not feature any of his projects built or unbuilt within this “slick.” Perhaps as this is a region unvalued and unseen no one would commission an architect to build anything of merit here.

Before my summing up I would like to outline a few of the techniques in de Sola-Morales’s “toolkit.” Again we have the deployment of the scalpel. He is the surgeon who cuts and crops though city fabric to show continuity. He does not wish to encompass a site but will slice through the arteries and networks of the city almost perversely to imply their continuity. Remember for him the city, suburbs, exurbs and beyond are part of a continuum, a boundless mesh some times dense and tangled and sometimes-flung open.

“The choice of the working field in clipping the city is the most substantial act of all projects in the city”

The second technique is the drawing of a long section in an urban project. This allows you to think of the ground plan, elevation, topography and use all at the same time.

Thirdly, and finally a technique and an observation. Within the gridiron city such as Cerda’s grid of chamfered blocks in Barcelona the introduction of the diagonal (for example from the southwest corner to the northeast corner)“scans the grid” - revealing its extent by implying its planar form. This aids navigation and frees the diagonal desire line.

In conclusion de Sola-Morales’s standpoint is one of humility and pragmatism. Architects have the capacity to add and enrich but not to solve. Architecture should not be heroic, ideological or about engineering society - a dangerous ambition. His approach is not about comprehensive redevelopment but surgical insertions.

There is no fundamental difference between design and theory in his work. Theory does not exist above and beyond practice. His projects “do not believe in Leon Krier or David Gosling, in Christopher Alexander or in Colin Rowe.
Even though, of course, they take some few elements from each of these models, they are operative and pragmatic, an ethic that is more professional than ideological, for they are distrustful of principles and highly appreciative of results.”

Here is a short film about Manuel de Sola-Morales's Transparent Building in Porto made by Year 3 students at msa

Thursday 9 September 2010

Graduate presentation at The Architecture Foundation

Nandi Marshal Han who graduated from MA Architecture + Urbanism in 2009 will be presenting his award winning project for the 2010 Kohn Pedersen Fox / Architecture Foundation Student Travel Award at The Architecture Foundation, London on 15 September 7.00 - 8.30 PM.

The event is free but booking is essential. Booking details here
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