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.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Pre-planning for the MA Architecure + Urbanism 2010 – 11

In the forthcoming academic session msa MA students have been invited to contribute a film presentation in answer to the question
“Can we still perceive the city as a ‘master narrative’, or do we need to challenge the notion of one city?’
The question has been asked by Dominic Holdaway and Filippo Trentin of the University of Warwick Humanities Research Centre in preparation for their conference “The Postmodern Palimpsest: Narrating Contemporary Rome” to be held at the University of Warwick in February 2011. Students will research the question and document their responses on film during a fieldtrip to Rome in October 2010.

Monday 24 May 2010

Rem Koolhaas: Delirious New York: A Retrospective Manifesto for Manhattan (1978)

A précis by Emma Watson

Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan is an engaging review of modern architecture and urbanism, setting a celebratory account of the surreal ‘culture of congestion’ found in Manhattan. Written while Rem Koolhaas was a visiting professor at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York, and first published in 1978 - written during a period of financial crisis, with the city government narrowly avoiding bankruptcy through a substantial federal loan. At a time when confidence in the city is at an all time low, Koolhaas promotes Manhattan as a prototype of the modern metropolis, a collaboration of visionaries that strive to make life in the city a ‘deeply irrational experience’.

Declaring himself as the city’s ghost-writer, Koolhaas tells the story of Manhattan, a ‘mythical island’ and setting of an urban experiment in which the city becomes a factory for man made experiences, a laboratory to test the potential of modern life. He claims that ‘Manhattanism’ is the one urbanistic concept that revels in ‘hyper density’ and is fuelled by the splendours and miseries than come with the urban condition of man made living. ‘With Manhattan as an example, this book is a blueprint for a culture of congestion.’

The first chapter gives an overview of the history of the island, discovered in 1609, and depicted by a French artist as existing European components reassembled into a single location, ‘A Utopian Europe’. A utopia that is indifferent to topography, imposing the mental over the real. The grid system in Manhattan predicted the future condition of the city; its two dimensional restrictions gave way to three dimensional freedom, and the millions of people that it now houses was envisaged far before a tiny proportion were even present. Much like the grid, central park was created long before the programmes which fill it had been realised, quoted as ‘a colossal leap of faith, the contrast it describes – between the built and the unbuilt – hardly exists at the time of its creation.’

The book is a representation of the grid: ‘a collection of blocks whose proximity and juxtaposition reinforce their separate meanings.’ Each block correlates to a chapter; Coney Island, the Skyscraper, Rockefeller Centre and Europeans.

When Manhattan transforms from a city into a metropolis, Coney Island offers a resort, the ‘safety value of the worlds most highly charged metropolis’. As demand for escape increases; ‘the island is forced to mutate; it must turn itself into the very opposite of nature’, and instead of providing a release from the urban pressure, Coney provides intensification. The island’s artificiality becomes an attraction, counteracting the theatricality of the new metropolis with its unique ‘super-natural’. Coney’s amusement parks Steeplechase, Luna and Dreamland emerge, each more ostentatious than its predecessor, providing an infrastructure that made the island the ‘most modern fragment of the world’. Within Coney these three parks act as the testing grounds for a ‘new technology of the fantastic’, from which stem the strategies and mechanisms that came to shape Manhattan.

A ‘glorious whole’ – the skyscraper represents a coming together of a number of urbanistic breakthroughs. The tower was first tested on Coney with the ‘snow white pinnacles’ of Luna’s skyline. Now, in Manhattan, building became tower through the union of the elevator and steel frame, giving way to a construction which was ‘able to support newly discovered territories’, the further you ascend, the more you leave behind the undesirable circumstances below. Any site could now be multiplied ad infinitum to produce a proliferation of floor space. The skyscraper was a utopian formula which could be used an instrument for ‘a new form of unknowable urbanism’.

Manhattan’s architecture under went a lobotomy, ‘less and less surface represented more and more internal activity’. By separating the internal and external, the monolith of the skyscraper spared the outside world of everyday life, a shell housing layers of reality. Entering a building in Manhattan, even changing floors, could become an act of moving between worlds. The deliberate disconnection of storeys – ‘the vertical schism’ – accepted the skyscrapers instability in a definitive composition, succumbing to cultural potential. Each new building spanning a block, like a collection of urban islands, each striving to be a ‘city within a city’, all potentially at war with each other.

Media technologies were structurally integrated into the modern metropolis, as can be seen in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Daily News Building, and most importantly the Rockefeller Center. Like the speculative Manhattan grid, the Rockefeller Centre was ‘an artificial domain planned for non existent clients’, it finds a perfect occupant in the Radio Corporation of America and its subsidiary NBC and their state of the art production facilities. The theatricality that was once experienced on Coney Island, and then of the interior activities of the skyscraper, could now be fabricated within the Centre and transmitted across the world, ‘the nerve center of an electronic community that would congregate at Rockefeller Center without actually being there. Rockefeller Center is the first architecture that can be broadcast’.

Manhattanism is ‘congestion for congestion’s sake’, and the reason why any of Le Corbusier’s schemes failed to be realised in Manhattan. Radiant City, which Koolhaas describes as ‘a majestic flow of humanist non sequiturs’, is a proposal to erase all the utopian urbanistic ideals upon which Manhattan was built and replace them with a uniform set of towers – Cartesian skyscrapers - evenly planted in green spaces. His desire was to purify the city, and give its residents access to light and air. His urban form removed the congestion, offering only the efficiency of banality in exchange. This congestion, in a realm divorced from reality, forces the metropolis ever upward into the speculative. There was no place for Manhattan’s technology of the fantastic within the Cartesian skyscraper, for Corbusier; ‘use of technology as instrument and extension of the imagination equals abuse…for him technology itself is fantastic’. The Cartesian skyscraper had been stripped of the stone cladding that enclosed the Manhattan skyscraper and allowed the ‘ideological hysteria’ of the internal architecture to thrive. Koolhaas concludes that the glass walls of Corbusier’s skyscraper enclosed ‘a complete cultural void’.

During these playful journeys through Manhattans history, Koolhaas advocates his duty to modernity, if not to architectural modernism as a movement. He focuses on Manhattan’s ability to invent the ‘modern’, creating a parallel to the sober and abstract ideals of Le Corbusier’s European Modernism. The city’s buildings are not advocated as architectural masterpieces, but the tools for reinventing city life.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Graduate Success

2009 MA Architecture + Urbanism graduate Nandi Marshal Han has been announced as the winner of this year's Architecture Foundation Student Travel Award sponsored by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF). Now in its 6th year, the award supports the industry's emerging talent by encouraging new creative thinking and engagement in international research.

Nandi, who is currently completing his Part II level in Continuity in Architecture won first prize for his submission ‘Urbanisation and Public Space in Holy City, Lhasa'. He will receive a bursary of £1,250 to fund further research through travel to Tibet, as well as a summer work placement at KPF's office in London.

Further details on the award can be found here

Friday 7 May 2010

Experimenting with Urban Narratives: A Colloquium

Creativity, Sustainability and Challenges presented by Cities in the 21st Century

Simon Green (Hurd Rolland Partnership Architects), Stephanie Koerner (University of Manchester) and Sally Stone (Manchester School of Architecture)

Thursday May 13, 2010
10.30 AM – 16.30 PM
MMU, Chatham Building, Lecture Theatre 304

Thursday May 13, 2010
18 – 21 PM
CUBE Gallery Film Screening and Round Table

In a time when some say that “we can almost no longer assume that anything can be assumed” (Sloderdijk 2005), few fields are likely to face more difficult challenges than architecture, urban design, and associated creative industries. Writing on these challenges in her proposal of fresh orientations towards the roles of these fields in contemporary society, Leoni Sandercock (Cosmopolis II 2003) stresses such socio-cultural factors reshaping cities and regions as:

uncertainties about climate change, instrumental employments of technologies that can and have resulted in reducing biodiversity as well as major human and ecological catastrophes, and about how best to contribute to sustainable development,

unresolved postcolonial conditions, the rise of civil society, and the new politics of social movements

international migration and ‘multi-cultural citizenship’,

diverging visions of for and by whom cities, their surroundings and their relationships to other cities (often very far away) have been and are nowadays being designed.

The aims of this colloquium are to explore:

the emergence of cities of difference in contexts of globalisation, ecological uncertainties and other, related, social forces,

challenges that what some might call “mongrel cities” present to city based professions, to city dwellers, and to conventional notions of shared histories and aspirations for the future,

contributions that architecture, urban design, creative industries, and cultural and educational institutions can make to widening the range of creative and sustainable means to address

questions of how we - in all of our differences can be at home in the 21st century’s complex and changing cities,

the importance of collaboration of urban design based professions, interdisciplinary scholarship and student communities to such explorations.

The colloquium will conclude with a showing of films made for the Colloquium by msa students at the CUBE gallery.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Raymond Unwin (1863-1940): Town Planning in Practice

Reviewed by Charlotte Gildart-Butler

“Town Planning in Practice”, a compendium of images and theories on Garden City design, followed on from the work of Camillo Sitte in Germany and is influenced by William Morris and Socialist ideas from Ebenezer Howard. In Howard’s book “To-morrow” 1898, he discusses how landowners’ desire to raise values of land resulting in overcrowding, overbuilding and inadequate town planning lead to concerns and Howard suggested an experiment where a town is planned on the opposite ideals. This plan, attracted reformers like Unwin and resulted in the Garden City Association being formed. Unwin, worked with his brother-in-law, Barry Parker and together they formed “First Garden City Ltd” in 1903; together they were appointed architects, of 16 km² of land outside Hitchin, purchased for building a new garden suburb, Letchworth Garden City. In keeping with the ideals only one tree was felled during the entire initial construction phase of the town, and an area devoted to agriculture surrounding the town was included in the plan - the first "Green belt". Innovation was seen within the planning with the first roundabout dating from 1909.
In 1909, five years after the Garden city at Letchworth was completed, Unwin wrote his book of guidance, “Town Planning in Practice”. He wrote as an influential planner, whose ideas and ideals were praised for more than three decades. Unwin is one of the greatest figures of the Garden City movement, which has had a tremendous impact on planning in both Europe and the United States and more recently within Australia. “Town Planning in Practice” has been regarded as the bible of neo-traditionalist planners. The book looks to the past for inspiration for the future, considering what evidence is apparent and discusses successes. The book is significant for today’s planners, with its reflections on the past and its insightful analyses of many towns within Europe and the United States, accompanied by photographs, plans, drawings and maps.

The Role of a town planner, according to Unwin

The book has 12 chapters, 8 of these refer to the practical issues of planning an urban area, not just the experiences of Letchworth, as many of the essential issues of planning an urban area are addressed. The city survey is an interesting chapter and dictates not how the survey should be completed, this direction has been left with Professor Geddes, who we are told has published some “helpful and stimulating essays on this subject”. Geddes is said to give a more complete treatment on the subject, though Unwin does recognise the importance of the survey. What Unwin does impress in the chapter is the job of a town planner.
“He should remember that it is his function to find artistic expression for the requirements and tendencies for the town, not to impose upon it a preconceived idea of his own…. He will, no doubt, have very definite ideas and preferences, and will express the requirements in the terms of that form which most appeals to him; … he has no need to go beyond that, no right to usurp the functions of a dictator decreeing what shall be expressed.”

The book has been written for planning scholars and Unwin states the town planner’s duty is to study the town, his people and their requirements, this will enable a place to be serviceable and importantly allow the community to express their needs. Planners are told to mix the artistic expression with the practical needs of the area to be planned. Descriptions of the extensive surveys to be carried out are described within the book. Unwin states that the planner must interpret these results, with his experience and technical skill and thoroughly study the site. The designer will need to be a visionary, giving thought to the location of transport networks, central sites, buildings of importance and drainage amongst many other necessary considerations. I personally believe that Unwin approaches the challenge of the built environment with rational thought and considered essential measures, but within planning policies as we have come to accept today we are often limited and constrained with artistic abilities and financial constraints.

Consider boundaries, centres and enclosures

Unwin dedicates 2 chapters to these 3 different topics, looking frequently to the past for inspiration and direction in his own thought process. Throughout the book there is a deep appreciation for the beauty of medieval cities, with their walled towns often described as a “picturesque effect” but also recognising their practicalities of defence. Unwin appreciated the need to limit the growth of modern towns but not essentially with walls as the limiting factor. What is important is the distinction between new areas and suburbs, towns and country. Unwin, I believe has a stoke of genius here,
“There can, however, be little doubt that it is possible to set a limit to the size to which a town shall extend continuously without some break, some intervening belt of park or agricultural land; and this at least it is most desirable to secure.”
Here the concept of Green Belt is introduced, with the intention of fostering a feeling of local unity for the community and a secure green space for wildlife and extensive leisure activities. Unwin has the passion of an artist and has the mind of a sociologist, with the desire to ensure land values are not the priority, but rather society and environmental issues.

The Relevance of this Book

Thanks to the New Urbanists, “Town planning in Practice” was brought back into circulation in the 1980s. Unwin, I believe, tries to deliver his own utopia, through his plans for developing a garden, “green”, city. A worthy read for students of any urban design discipline, as it contains excellent theories, worthwhile considerations of community needs and wonderful historical contents. However, the book does have constraints as not all road arrangements discussed transfer to the current urban road systems. Also, Unwin’s preference for optimum units of 12 per 20 acre for residential areas can be regarded as out-dated and restrictive as we are frequently accepting of apartment style living within multi-storey new builds and converted historical buildings.
Unwin’s social experiment in Letchworth has been a successful, inhabited development which is continually evolving. In 2007 architectural writer and broadcaster Jonathan Meades devoted a television programme to Letchworth. In "Heaven: Folkwoven in England" Meades suggested that many of the main features of British urban design in the twentieth century owed their origins to Letchworth Garden City - "a social experiment on a par with the Welfare State, a social experiment that affected us all and still does."

Unwin’s book further encourages planners to be individualistic with the artistic intentions, prioritising aesthetic diversity, drawing on an area’s local strengths, giving sites strong landmarks and encouraging design principles, warning against haphazard design and makes a strong case for rational planning and zoning. Unwin’s work has influenced the design of many towns and suburbs, including Wythenshawe, Hellerau, and Canberra, and continues to have a positive effect on the planning system of the future.

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