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.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Camillo Sitte: City Building According To Artistic Principles (1889)

Reviewed by Jack Penford Baker


Written in 1889, Camillo Sitte’s book City Building According to Artistic Principles, is seen as the first publication to discuss the concept of Urban Planning. Cited still to this day, his critical analysis of the then modern planning principles and historical precedents paved the way for a new breed of theoretical practitioners in the art of Urbanism.

The book informally breaks down into three apparent sections. Initially Sitte outlines and documents what he perceives to be worthwhile paradigms of historical public spaces. Next he looks to the present, and systematically reveals the failures of the then modern city planning principals before finally outlining a set of solutions, presented in the form of a case study of Vienna’s own plazas, compiling the first significant documentation on what is now a global practice; Urbanism.


The early parts of the book look towards the analysis of Sitte’s depiction of successful urban space. Through decades of travelling across Italy, Germany and other central European countries he discovered what he understood to be the epitome of city planning. Italian cities with Roman and Medieval influences portrayed Sittes’s ideology, an ideology that looked at the personal experience of individuals within the spaces of the city, not of the city as a machine. To him Roman spaces worked and still work, and it is with the past’s understanding of urban space that is fundamental in the understanding of the problem with modern city planning.

Piazza Della Signoria in Firenze, Italy, displays a crucial element of piazza design. Within the square Michelangelo created the infamous statue of David, originally planned to sit upon the cathedral, Michelangelo argued for it to be positioned in the square. Instead of positioning it in the centre for all to experience, Michelangelo insisted for it to sit adjacent to the palazzo entrance. A somewhat odd request, however the choice resembled an element of town planning that Sitte believes is crucial in modern times. By sitting the statue away from the central axis it removes any interference with circulation, and views to the entrances and buildings. The concept is taken further with the principle addressed to the positioning of churches. As an Englishman, one would always assume that churches be isolated and monumental in their context. However Sitte believes that churches within a square should sit not in isolation, rather on the contrary, as part of the perimeter. By referencing Rome he outlines how some 6 out of 255 churches sit on their own, a striking difference. “That the center of plazas be kept free”.
He further progresses to outline other key principles of ancient urban spaces that he believes have been lost in modern planning. With his reiterated reinforcing of the pedestrians experience as the true factor of success, Sitte states how the design of streets in successful precedents always revolves around that of the experience. Their designs follow key formulas, for example he believes that all entrances views into a plaza should not infringe on each other, and should enter from an obscure angle. Other such rules relate to the dimensions of the space, for example the squares width must be greater than that of the focal building’s height, but not be anymore than twice its size in order to create a welcoming space.
Upon all of the guidelines that Sitte mentions through the use of precedents, he emphasises the natural growth of such squares, and the passing of time as a fundamental key to generating the ideal plaza. A natural selection, whereupon cities develop and through time the failing are removed and the successful remain.


Sitte believed that the approach of the then current town planners was a problem. To him the key shift in modern city planning was from an Artistic led ideology to that of a Service led, technocratic thought of mind. A city designed for machines, not for human beings.
The grid represented a critical failure in town planning. Sitte thought that the use of a grid led to inefficiency and hierarchically placed a critical element of town planning at the bottom of the list, public open space. The ‘grid’ is a service orientated approach. It concentrates on plumbing, hygiene, and the vehicle as the important elements, the public are seen more of a secondary if not tertiary component of the city. The ‘grid’ behaves in plan, but not section. It does not deal too well with difficult topography and land formation. The result leads to unused, unwanted space in the city that is normally deemed as suitable public open space. This idea frustrated Sitte, where the open space does not derive from anything, other than the offcuts, those irregular elements inappropriate for the built form. The open spaces should be around the activity, as in medieval squares, next to public buildings / markets / theatres. People flock to activity, the ‘grid’ eliminates activity.
Artistic principles were missing. It is those principles that generate a greater experience for the pedestrian and lead to the success of open spaces within cities. Sitte saw that the life of the common people has, for centuries, been steadily withdrawing from public squares, especially so in recent times. The lack of art acted as a catalyst for the transformation of the city into a machine.
Sitte saw the importance of the relationship between class and the public space. He outlined that the wealthy will always have other experiences driven by economy, the theatre and concerts for example, regardless of open space. Whereas the lower classes are affected significantly by those open spaces, ungoverned by their wealth. It is the parceling of plots, purely for economical considerations, that has become a problem in modern society and city planning. Sitte believed that the participation of art above all else affected those within a space.


Camillo Sitte concludes the book with his methods put into practice. Using the backdrop of his home city of Vienna, he adapts several existing spaces within the city to correspond to his beliefs. The Votive Church in Vienna sits isolated on it’s own, a characteristic deemed unsuccessful. He chooses to populate the plaza that envelops this extraordinary building. The building looks to create a series of smaller openings, looking to emphasise specific façades of the grand church, and concluding by manifesting itself into a comfortable experience for those that visit. 
His ‘Artistic Principles’ do not take that of a rudimentary lateral form. There is no list of rules to follow, on the contrary, Sitte’s book, for all of it’s accounts of modern problems, is rather chivalrous to the current state. For all the magnitude his practice today has become, he study was one of modesty. His work is that of the ‘Human Condition’, it utlises the terminology and practice of what we know perceive as Town Planning, to improve the urban form in which he lived. Using the backdrop of his home city of Vienna, he adapts several existing spaces within the city to correspond to his beliefs. The Votive Church in Vienna sits isolated on its own, a characteristic deemed unsuccessful. He chooses to populate the plaza that envelops this extraordinary building. The building looks to create a series of smaller openings, looking to emphasise specific façades of the grand church, and concluding by manifesting itself into a comfortable experience for those that visit. 
His ‘Artistic Principles’ do not take that of a rudimentary lateral form. There is no list of rules to follow, on the contrary, Sitte’s book, for all of its accounts of modern problems, is rather chivalrous to the current state. For all the magnitude his practice today has become, the study was one of modesty. His work is that of the ‘Human Condition’, it utlises the terminology and practice of what we now perceive as Town Planning, to improve the urban form in which he lived.

Saturday 26 November 2011

MARC Conference: Multi-Faith Spaces - Symptoms and Agents of Religious and Social Change

Registration has now opened for the forthcoming conference, eponymously titled: Multi-Faith Spaces: Symptoms & Agents of Religious & Social Change, organised by the Manchester Architecture Research Centre (MARC). This two day event will bring together a wide range of contributions; from academics, policy experts, architects, designers, theologians, chaplains, and facilities managers. The conference will focus very specifically upon the materiality of multi-faith space – the shared places, buildings, rooms and locations within which dialogue, worship and faith related practice are increasingly taking place.

Increasingly, both public and private organisations are attempting to accommodate religious diversity via the provision of multi-faith spaces (MFS). Some are small and mono-functional (located in airports, universities, hospitals, shopping malls, etc); others take the form of dedicated buildings or complexes, where different religions inhabit and utilise their own sacred space(s), whilst sharing collective ‘secular’ facilities. Here individuals can, notionally, come together to pray, relax, discuss and learn.

Date: 21-22 March 2012

Location: The conference will be held at St Peter's House Chaplaincy & Church (Precinct Centre, Oxford Road, Manchester. M13 9GH).

Further details are available from the project website

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Architecture + Urbanism recommends 'Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935'

Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935

Royal Academy of Arts, London until 22 January 2012

This exhibition examines Russian avant-garde architecture made during a brief but intense period of design and construction that took place from c.1922 to 1935. Fired by the Constructivist art that emerged in Russia from c.1915, architects transformed this radical artistic language into three dimensions, creating structures whose innovative style embodied the energy and optimism of the new Soviet Socialist state.

Exhibition website

A 1:40 scale recreation of Vladimir Tatlin's 1919 Monument to the Third International is displayed in the courtyard of Burlington House

Friday 18 November 2011

Architecture + Urbanism recommends 'Political Textures of the City'

Political Textures of the City
A Workshop on Word and Bricks in the Global South

Wednesday 23 November 2011

10.00am - 6.00pm
Room 1.69/1.70, Humanities Bridgeford Street Building University of Manchester

Keynote Speaker: Professor Matthew Gandy (UCL)

This interdisciplinary workshop will debate the production of material landscapes as political actions, referring to spatial tactics, architectural and material interventions, and the reassembling of urban imaginaries. Cities of the global south, characterised by acute inequalities, expansive popular urban mobilisations and frequently precarious and inequitable state policies, are particularly fertile spaces for discussing such territorial politics.

We welcome attendees from all disciplines. Places are limited, however, so if you would like to attend please send an email to Dr. James Scorer Places will be allocated on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Architecture + Urbanism recommends 'Thomas Mawson and Bela Rerrich'

Dr. Luca Csepely-Knorr (Manchester School of Architecture)
will be speaking on


as part of the prestigious seminar series on The History of Gardens and Landscapes at the Institute of Historical Research Senate House University of London Friday 18 November 5.30pm in the Court Room, South Block (First Floor).

Dr. Csepely-Knorr was the recipient of the 2010 RIBA Goldfinger Scholarship

Monday 14 November 2011

Raymond Unwin: Town Planning in Practice (1909)

Raymond Unwin's pioneering book in a précis by Ahlam Sharif

Sir Raymond Unwin lived between 1863 and 1940. He worked with his brother-in-law, Barry Parker and together they formed “First Garden City Ltd” in 1903, after which they were appointed architects of 16 km² of land outside Hitchin, purchased for designing a new garden suburb, Letchworth Garden City. Unwin was then asked to design Hampstead Garden Suburb in 1905, where he utilized the planning principles used at Letchworth. In 1906, he moved from Letchworth and resided in Hampstead and in 1909, five years after the Garden city at Letchworth was completed, he wrote his book of guidance, “Town Planning in Practice”.

Unwin started his book by mentioning the problem of the nineteenth century in England, which witnessed an exceedingly rapid growth, not allowing much time for town planning. This was accompanied by the decision on land usage being made by individuals on economic bases. The result of that was the extensive need for town planning. Although Building bye-laws laid a good foundation for healthy conditions of living, they lacked certain amenities such as art and beauty. It is important to attach art and beauty to town planning, which are expressions of community needs, life and aspirations. Studying old towns is useful for town planning because they provide good examples for works which were well done and visually successful. This study might help us to judge but not to copy what is likely to lead to the best outcomes.
Unwin mentioned individuality as a quality that characterizes and distinguishes each town from the other and provided examples of historic and even prehistoric cities to prove the existence and development of town planning throughout history.

After the nineteenth century, two schools of town planning were developed; the regular or the formal type and the irregular or the informal one, each side having its characteristics and arguments. Both of them had some results of marked beauty that highlighted the necessity of rethinking a combination and balance between them to work in a spirit of appreciation of the informal nature as well as the beauty of the formal human design. Unwin argued that in town planning, the planner needs to understand the beauty of old cities but also the changing conditions of today to ensure his or her design is realistic. They should also consider the requirements of the inhabitants and the circumstances of the site.

As the designer is responsible to find artistic and practical expressions for the requirements and tendencies of the town, without imposing a preconceived idea of his own, a survey is needed to collect and analyze as much information as possible that helps him/ her to have an image in mind of the town before being drawn on paper. This includes the collection of information from different parties, the interpretation of such information and the visualization of the site.

Unwin then discussed the main elements that shape the largely conceived framework of a town which he preferred to be of a size that introduces a sense of scale and proportion in relation with other parts. Those elements include the boundaries and approaches, the centers and the main roads. In order to study each element, he returned to the old towns as good examples that lead us to think of the importance and beauty of such elements, not by copying them but by using their ideas in modern shapes and requirements.
He discussed the main roads as highways for traffic and sites for buildings and emphasized considering them in relation to both these functions and in order of their relative importance. In his point of view, while the curved road is less monotonous and provides ever-changing direction and views, the straight road - besides being more comfortable for traffic - still has the ability to be beautified by either letting it lead to an important element or beautifying its sides by trees or by breaking the lines. Trees and grass can form natural decorations for streets and places forming avenues and adding further elements of beauty. While considering road treatments, street junctions are of extreme importance, as upon them much of the effect of the town depends. This entails trying to secure a terminal to the street picture, enclosure, easy line to traffic and maybe an open view from the building down the road.
After studying town planning, which focused on the general convenience of the town and the arrangement of the main roads, Unwin moved to study site planning as a smaller scale that considers the arrangement of buildings and the development of the site, and within that Unwin mentioned the relation with town planning and emphasized the required alignment between both. He also mentioned most of the treatments, which he applied earlier to town planning, as they were applicable to site planning.

In site planning, the residential roads, plots and the placing of buildings are of importance where Unwin provided different treatments and details, which mostly were applied in Letchworth Garden City and Hampstead Garden Suburb. His aim was to show how to beautify sites while providing the practical best advantage for inhabitants’ requirements, the local conditions of the site and the collective needs. He provided multiple examples of how to provide a variety of treatments for the street junction and residential building groups around green areas and subsidiary roads; among those treatments he emphasized the necessity of securing a combination and a balance between a sense of enclosure and an extended outlook.
Unwin then moved on to discuss the difference between suburbs in the past and his current time with regards to variety and homogeneity. In his view, earlier suburbs had more homogeneity in material amongst their buildings mixed with a variety in colors that made them distinct. This was later disrupted by the use of cheap rail transport that mixed different building material brought from outside the suburbs.
Setting out from the notion that city identity reflects its people, Unwin believed that the architect needed to plan the site based on the needs and requirements of its residents and by creating relations between groups of buildings. He argued that better development of sites would be done if they were owned by smaller bodies (neither the government nor individuals), as they will focus on building communities rather than focus on the economic aspects of planning.
Unwin concluded by discussing the building bye-laws in England, where he saw that some of such bye-laws were arbitrarily developed and resulted in what he called “bye-law architecture”, which was distorted in form. In his view, to develop realistic building bye-laws, they need to be discussed with a number of concerned parties before they are finalized.

Friday 11 November 2011

MA A+U in Lisbon

Several MA A+U students joined MMU Interior Design students for their fieldtrip to Lisbon this week. Here Wanxin Wu and Ahlam Sharif are seen at the workshop introduction. The fieldtrip tumblr is here.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Lost Industrial Manchester

_LOST_INDUSTRIAL_MANCHESTER from Jack Penford Baker on Vimeo.

MA A+U student Jack Penford Baker has made this short film for his 'Lost in Space' project. You can follow his work via his tumblr which is linked in the sidebar.

Monday 7 November 2011

PUBLIC SPACE - the square in the contemporary city - Lisbon 13-14 January 2012

The Department of Architecture of Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa will be hosting an International Symposium on the theme PUBLIC SPACE:”THE SQUARE IN THE CONTEMPORARY CITY” on 13-14 January 2012.
The aims are to celebrate the square as a public space of excellence and understand its value in the contemporary city.

The organisers, who include Dean Flavio Barbini can be contacted at

Eamonn Canniffe has been invited to deliver a keynote paper at this symposium.
Other speakers include Alberto Ferlenga and Gonçalo Sousa Byrne.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Tumblin' Twice

MA A+U students Damien Woolliscroft (above) and Jack Penford Baker (below) have both started tumblrs to document their progress during the academic year. Follow their work from the links in the sidebar.

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