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.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Alison and Peter Smithson: The Charged Void - Urbanism (2005)

Discussed by Gu Fang
The Simthsons made great contributions to European city planning and city development which were quite a positive philosophy at that time, although some projects have not been realised. “Buildings should be thought of from the beginning as fragments, containing within themselves a capacity to act with other buildings and be themselves links.” (Smithson, 2005) Urbanization is considered to be the product of a process, that is, from a point to a line, from a line to a surface, and then from a surface to a space. Although the urban construction is a fundamental principle, it should not serve as a model to copy and reproduce, every city should be integrated with the region's unique cultural, economic and political construction. Alison and Peter Smithson attacked the decades-old dogma propounded by Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius that cities should be zoned into specific areas for living, working, leisure and transport and that urban housing should consist of tall and widely spaced towers. The ideas of the Simthsons on city development used the clusters and street structures to match the city to the landscape. So, their philosophy was that the city should be fixed around the walls or some particular landscape. The Smithsons' projects put forward hierarchical form to reflect the contemporary city. For example, in the urban planning of Berlin, the extensive use of buildings and sidewalks, roads and green belts in an interspersed relationship, organised the city on a mobile grid. Following the line of the motorway, parking garages would form a shield against traffic noise. For the same reason, the ground tilts up along the sides to the feeder streets. The city has a downtown plaza, residents living in not suffering unsuitable living conditions, but also feeling the difference between the new city and the old city. They integrated this design philosophy into their urban planning, such as the Berlin Mehringlatz planning programs. The Mehringplatz had been one of three representative entries into the eighteenth-century expansion of Friedrichstadt. The project proposed to extend the existing line of events eastward from the Kurfurstendam to act as the social focus for the living areas, which in turn could extend a chain of events to serve the zones through which the line of the south tangential motorway passes. Route changes also enhanced the overall image of the city, and also strengthened the visual sense when walking on the street.
The Smithsons also proposed an idea of structuring a city or town by means of connective systems, such as those separated by a highway or a railway between the new city and the old town, and then used for soundproof through planting on both sides. Greenways link open spaces at the scale of the river and the motorway network, used for a green buffer placed in the middle of the industrial and residential areas, so people can break through it and the traditional combination of urban transport mode can provide a comfortable residential environment. Green channels directly connected to schools and hospitals, and other public facilities, so that they not only provide people with a comfortable use of the environment, but also provide sufficient oxygen for people to breathe. In short the green channels connect the various facilities in the urban areas, will occupy a great deal of land, but play a positive role. In a big city we were faced with an enormous mass of housing which, as one moves through it or uses it, is often so monotonous and confusing as to make one almost desperate. The Smithsons' work in the field of urban planning is a typical representative of British idealism, they wanted to build a city of their dreams, a castle in the air, but in the economic and cultural restrictions is not allowed. They wanted to build at Golden Lane in East London 'streets in the sky'. This complex group included a wide balcony on every third floor which, they hoped, the residents would use for children playing and chatting to neighbours like a traditional street. When realised at Robin Hood Gardens the project was plagued by structural flaws and a high crime rate, and was often derided as an example of modernist architectural folly rather than the role model for progressive social housing that the architects had hoped.


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