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 20 November 2013

Invisible (Manchester) Cities 4

I know a city where everyone is drunk because the alcoholic drink is free. This means that the town has real difficulty doing the simplest of buildings like a drunk struggles to do up shoelaces. It can only build one building at a time but completely forgets about the buildings it has just finished. Like a drunk it has lost the keys to its own front door as it does not really have any idea how to plan its space and doesn’t care about what style of architecture appears on its streets.

Because it is easily persuaded of the latest novelty, each of its buildings is different example of a building type, like a children’s textbook of architectural styles. However the rule of this particular city is that every building must be the same size as the one next it. All the buildings look quite nice from the front. But the architects were either not paid or forgot so they have no backs at all except visible service pipes and broken windows; in this city you should never look at the backs of any of its buildings.

The oldest of the buildings are made of brick and ceramic tiles. These were designed for a city that used to have lots of ceremonies and processions where everyone would dress up as a historical character and the wealthiest people would stand on balconies and wave. These early buildings are very self conscious about status and class. These buildings really wanted to be great European cathedrals but were in reality only insurance companies. The builders preferred to impose moral instruction on those who used them, using difficult to see lettering, mostly in Latin. They wanted the buildings to teach good manners and good morals to everyone who went in and out or who walked past them. Sometimes the builders wanted to dress their buildings as if they were from a long lost world of chivalry. These highly decorated fantasy buildings were mostly made from an inner skeleton of iron, but this is all kept hidden from public sight because it would have looked lower class.

The Victorian buildings were superseded by the next post-war generation who did not like styles and wanted architecture to look like colossal repetitive packaging units, similar to egg boxes. This new generation specially hated the inscriptions and moral saints. These modern buildings have nothing to say in terms of written inscriptions except the word “push” on the door. The very recent buildings from the 1990s only use windows because they hate walls because they are a reminder of the snobbish and class ridden Victorian and Edwardian buildings.They are glass boxes who don’t even want to be buildings at all, constructed for employees to make their photocopies in. It is a strange irony that the furniture that you will find inside of all the 3 different generations of building is exactly the same for each, whatever period they were built. It should also be noted that this city is particularly bad for people who walk, because it rains every day of the year, which destroys their shoes. So the pedestrians have to get out of their cars to buy shoes. All the shops in this town sell shoes. Or cars, which can sometimes look like big shoes when seen from a distance

Finally, two old serpents live in this town. One is a canal and the other is a railway line. The railway is a very friendly, welcoming place and is full of very happy drunk people looking for love. The canal is vengeful. The canal is unhappy because it is ignored by the happy drunken people looking for love. So it occasionally snatches a victim who drowns in the cold waters. The city has no subway like other European cities. Because it forgot to, in its pride it thought it would not need an underground but preferred to surround itself with large and small roundabouts like a sort of medieval theme park where the best rides require the drivers to go round and round in circles, which used to be seen as great fun many years ago. David Chandler

Saturday 16 November 2013

Postgraduate Courses Fair Wednesday 20 November

MA Architecture + Urbanism will be participating in the MMU Postgraduate Courses Fair on Wednesday 20 November between 2.00pm and 6.00pm. To discuss the course with Programme Leader Eamonn Canniffe please come along to 809 Chatham at 5.15pm (or meet in 306 MMU Business School at 5.00). Further course information here

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Invisible (Manchester) Cities 3

When you are walking down the streets of Manchester towards city centre on weekdays there were many different pubs on other side of the road, during the time you’re passing on narrow alleys around Oxford Road there is not enough space for a person to pass by without colliding with other pedestrians.Comparing the city centre pavement with a flat stone road, the university campus's narrow sidewalks become quite dilapidate, the surface of the stone is broken and the underlying bricks are exposed.From the colour of trees with yellow and brown falling leaves you feel Autumn is coming, with chill winds passing through your clothing gaps. But suddenly sun will show up, surprisingly giving a warm touch on your face, giving a flash back of sunny days in summer. This is typical Manchester weather. Good memories of summer time, when the old red brick houses used to glow in the sunshine, but the cold winds are the sign of a long winter that the charming old industrial city will sleep for a while, like a sleeping beauty waiting for a charming sunshine prince to wake her up again.Aidin Ahani and Yubing Xie

Sunday 3 November 2013

Camillo Sitte: ​City Planning according to ​Artistic Principles 1889

A précis by Reece Singleton

Camillo Sitte’s 124 year old text, 'Der Städtebau nach seinen künstlerischen Grundsätzen' is his most famous and respected critique on 19th century urban aesthetic and city planning. It was arguably ahead of its time as the majority of its arguments are still being widely and fiercely debated today. His main concerns are that of public space (the Plaza) and the interaction of the built fabric of the city within its setting. He describes buildings as oil paintings that must have a good frame to work as a whole. He goes on to criticize contemporary planning technique as ‘unartistic’ and defines the approach to modern planning is seen as a ‘technical problem’. He ultimately tries to redress the lack of artistic flair through his theoretical solutions to public space.

Sitte’s background as Architect and Academic informed his thoughts and theories of how city planning should occur. He frequently brings the focus of the text back to antiquity and looks at how the ancient civilizations managed their public space, going on to say that they were able to marry art with function in a way that was quickly being forgotten in modern city planning. His examples of ancient Rome and Greece describe the essence of the city as Sitte saw it and how space, particularly plazas, could be an overwhelming myriad of experiences from the ephemeral transient journey to the protracted and truly spiritual revelation. He emphasizes how the ancient populations developed their cities in a way that was dominated by open space. Homes were designed around courtyards and public plazas where therefore to be looked upon as open, yet contained public rooms. These plazas therefore, were a space of practical and vital functional use, so the space was integrated into surroundings buildings, creating a rapport between the square and public buildings.

Sitte cites this integration of Plaza and Buildings as a key feature of antiquity that makes squares in the ancient cities of Rome, Pisa and Athens feel comfortable.
Sitte speaks of ancient city squares and plans with great passion and fervor but laments that, in the nineteenth century, we have lost through modern planning techniques the ability to create spaces that feel right, in both scale and decoration. He speaks about the new order of modern public space, its uniform regularity such as the ‘gridiron’ urban form developed in Mannheim and its lack of containment. He says that the modern city plan is thought of too much in plan and little thought is given over to the vertical proportions. Sitte sees the modern square as excessively large and out of proportion to the buildings it is surrounded by. He sees that the regularity of Urban form as ‘boring’ and unappealing to the visitor of the square and that, modern buildings of the era were being used as the basis of public space and that little consideration is given to the public space and overall outcome. He argues that more emphasis is given to the function of public space as a means to lay out a city plan than the overall form which in turn can influence function. He stands against the popular principle of symmetry and geometric design, going on to explain the original principle of symmetry is more aligned to proportion than a mirror image. He speaks against boulevards, street and square widening as embracing isolation and providing too much with which the eye could contend. This is contrasted with the irregularity of the ancient square and how they were considered as a whole with the buildings that encased them and the monuments and artistic flourishes that are equally important, developing the overall form and beauty of the space.

Sitte travels across Europe referencing differing examples of the plaza from Germany, Austria and Italy. Using these key examples he develops a way of understanding the squares of the ancient times and perception of its proportions between monuments and surrounding urban fabric. He argues that there is too much of a trend for isolation with monuments, stating the example that the modern Church is typically placed in isolation in a square, and that consequently rather than making a square, a wide street is created that round the entire distance of the Church. He argues that monuments should not be given over to the geometric centre of public space but should be placed around the edges of the space to provide a backdrop and interest.

He describes modern planning as being to restrictive and obsessed with issues of the day such as hygiene and transport. He goes on to say that by making the city healthier and more hygienic, something that he calls a noble aim and success story, we have created a sterility in the art and design of the city. He suggests that some artistic flourishes would no longer be allowed, such as a sweeping external staircase, for fear of health and safety in icy weather, and deplores the fact that some of these ancient design features will be internalized and lost from the public realm. Sitte again describes his despair at planning becoming a technical exercise, confined to the drawing board of municipalities, with little aspect of competition and creativity, accepting that in these fields pragmatism can come before the picturesque.

In the end of the book, Sitte tables ideas of how to improve the plaza and public space. Using the example of Vienna, his home city, he develops pragmatic solutions to some urban planning issues. He explains how street layouts can affect traffic flow and how best to counteract this, how to ensure the city does not become a monotonous block and emphasizes the importance of views and experience in the decoration and organization of public city space. He goes on to lay a foundation for planners, saying that the detail is not for them, that planning should concern only the streets and city at large and the rest be left to private design.

Although Sitte argues for the use of planning techniques of the ancients, he doesn’t appeal for historical replication of what has gone before. He argues that Urbanism calls for solutions of the day, but that by applying well worn and justifiable principles of years gone by we can create better space for our Cities. His works have influenced generations of Urbanists and Planners, and after falling out of favour, became the inspiration of some of those involved with the Townscape movement. Sitte’s argument for better city planning by embracing the intrinsic artistic nature of humans is a noble one and has led to the development of beautiful cities. Whether we have learned any lessons from his writings and continue to develop in a way he set out is still to be seen.

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