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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
List of Figures
1 The More Things Change
2 Communitites of Sadness and Self-Reliance
3 Communities of Contentment
4 Natural History
5 Misremembered Cities
6 Genius Loci and Embodiment
7 Language and Dislocation
ARCHITECT KNOWS BEST
Architect Knows Best Environmental Determinism in Architecture Culture from 1956 to the Present
Simon Richards University of Leicester, UK
Routledge Taylor & Francis Group
LONDON AND NEW YORK
First published 2012 by Ashgate Publishing Published 2016 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Copyright © Simon Richards 2012 Simon Richards has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Richards, Simon, 1973Architect knows best : environmental determinism in architecture culture from 1956 to the present. -- (Ashgate studies in architecture) 1. Architecture and society--History--20th century. 2. Architecture and society--History--21st century. 3. Architecture--Psychological aspects. 4. Modern movement (Architecture) I. Title II. Series 720.1'03-dc23 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Richards, Simon, 1973Architect knows best : environmental determinism in architecture culture from 1956 to the present / by Simon Richards. pages cm -- (Ashgate studies in architecture) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-4094-3922-6 (hardback) 1. Architecture and society. 2. Architecture--Political aspects. I. Title. NA2543.S6.R53 2012 724'.6--dc23 2011049376
ISBN: 9781409439226 (hbk)
List of Figures Acknowledgements
The More Things Change
Communitites of Sadness and Self-Reliance
Communities of Contentment
Genius Loci and Embodiment
Language and Dislocation
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List of Figures
Attenborough Tower (Arup Associates, 1970) and Charles Wilson Building (Denys Lasdun, 1963), Leicester
2.1 Publicity material for Levittown Pennsylvania, 1957, showing the various house models available for purchase 2.2 Gardens in Portmeirion (Clough Williams-Ellis, mid-1920s onwards) 3.1 Transect and countryside panorama, intended to illustrate different levels of urban density and social integration (Andrés Duany, 2002) 3.2 Paths in Seaside (Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., 1981 onwards) 3.3 Sainsbury Wing, London (Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Associates, 1991) 4.1 Umeda Sky Building, Osaka (Hiroshi Hara, 1993) 4.2 Gothick Villa, London (Quinlan Terry and Francis Terry, 1991) 4.3 Village Hall, Windsor (Léon Krier, 1999) 5.1 Curve (Rafael Viñoly, 2008), Alexandra House (Edward Burgess, 1898) and Odeon (Robert Bullivant, 1938), Leicester 5.2 Engineering Building, Leicester (James Stirling and James Gowan, 1963) 5.3 San Cataldo Cemetery, Modena (Aldo Rossi and Gianni Braghieri, mid-1970s onwards)
47 50 55 69 71 73
84 89 96
6.1 Children’s Museum, Himeji (Tadao Ando, 1989) 6.2 Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion, London (Peter Zumthor, 2011)
7.1 No. 1 Poultry, London (Michael Wilford and James Stirling, 1996) 7.2 Space Syntax analysis of street patterns in London (Space Syntax Limited) 7.3 Design for Parc de la Villette, Paris (Bernard Tschumi Architects)
132 138 144
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Many people have helped me with this work. Whether sharing ideas, granting interviews or offering criticism, this has always been generous and always valuable. Sadly, some have passed away, but all deserve my sincere thanks: Dana Arnold, George Baird, Andrew Ballantyne, Paul Barker, Jamie Beynon, Iain Boyd White, Peter Carl, Alan Colquhoun, Ian Craib, Mark Crinson, Simon Critchley, Elizabeth Darling, Andrés Duany, Peter Eisenman, Anthony Elliott, Clive Fenton, Kenneth Frampton, Mario Gandelsonas, K. Michael Hays, Bill Hillier, Maggie Iversen, Jane Jacobs, Charles Jencks, Yvonne Jewkes, Paul Knipe, Léon Krier, John McKean, Robert Maxwell, William Mitchell, Harvey Molotch, Caspar Pearson, Mark Pennington, Andries Piersma, Michael Podro, Demetri Porphyrios, Alan Powers, Donna Roberts, Charlie Robinson, Joel Robinson, Julie Schlarman, Denise Scott Brown, Richard Sennett, Ronald Smith, Jeremy Spencer, Alexandra Stara, Maxwell Stevenson, Christopher Townson, Robert Venturi, Dalibor Vesely, Anthony Vidler, Lisa Wade, Richard Williams, Tom Woolley. Special thanks are due to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for their sponsorship, to Valerie Rose and Gillian Steadman for their editorial work, and to Jules Lubbock for being my mentor and toughest critic throughout. Simon Richards
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This book is about some of the things that changed in architecture and planning in the second half of the twentieth century. More centrally, though, it is about one thing that has not changed: the idea that the right kind of building can transform us into happier, healthier, better people. Maybe we associate this with a time long past, for example when people were decanted from the crowded city centres and into high-rise tenement blocks. Far from going away, however, this idea has become more deeply entrenched and has diversified in complex ways. High-rise tenements are no longer seen as the answer, at least not by many. But while the architectural forms and solutions may have changed, the commitment to use them to reform behaviour and society has not. Strangely, there are not many historians and even fewer architect-planners who acknowledge this. Maybe they do not think it is an issue. I think it is the issue. The main purpose of this book is to explore some of the more striking manifestations of this phenomenon over the last half century and assess its ongoing role within the discourse. This book has two objectives. Firstly, we shall trace the history of what has changed in architecture and planning over this time by looking at some of the most important designers and writers, buildings and movements. Secondly, and more importantly, we shall reflect upon the one crucial aspect that has remained the same: the belief that architecture and planning are capable of transforming the world and everyone in it for the better. Architect-planners are still telling people how they should be living, and this is tied to a multitude of ideas about human nature and about the self, about community, spirituality, bodily growth, the mind and memory, and many other things besides. In essence, we shall be exploring ideas about the intersection between architecture and life. These ideas are among the most fascinating but also troubling features of the discourse of architecture and planning. They are fascinating because they sometimes involve a genuine philosophical view about the nature of humanity, about what people are and what they need. In these cases they show that
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architects care and think deeply about improving the conditions of life. But they can be troubling as well as they often involve passing judgment on the lives and behaviour of ordinary people, as well as a desire to reform them through the influence of the built environment. The chapters that follow focus on theories and debates where these issues were discussed with the greatest intensity and ambition, and where the results of these discussions had some impact on the built environment. The areas to be covered are:
1. the role of architecture in reinvigorating community, civic responsibility and the public realm; 2. the role of architecture in reconnecting people with the past, both as public history and private memory; 3. the special and almost spiritual qualities of place and landscape, as well as the importance of respecting the human body, senses and emotions; 4. the role of architecture as a language that can uphold and project meaning, and teach us to think and communicate more satisfactorily; 5. the relationship between architecture and the unsettling experience of contemporary, media-saturated lifestyles. The examples will be taken from Britain, Europe and the United States, as these are the geographical areas that have dominated the discourse. In the Account of Architects and Architecture (1664), John Evelyn said that our buildings and cities are shaped by four different kinds of architect, working in tandem but more often in conflict: the builder, the designer, the patron and the writer. With that in mind we will be looking not only at influential architects and planners, but also journalists, sociologists and philosophers. But before we can get into this topic and the reasons for its neglect it is important to get a better sense of the history of architecture and planning over recent decades.
1 The More Things Change
HEROES AND VILLAINS You do not have to be an architecture historian to sense that there were major changes in architecture and planning in the second half of the twentieth century. When prospective students arrive to check out my department on the seventeenth floor of the Attenborough Tower, which was built by Arup Associates in 1970, they are often disparaging of its rough-textured pre-cast concrete surfaces and the saw-tooth profile created by the window casements. Sometimes they remark that the building well deserves its nickname of ‘The Cheese Grater’, given to it by the people of Leicester without even a trace of ironic affection. The students’ parents will reminisce occasionally about a time when buildings like this seemed the norm, and although the Attenborough Tower is an office block, will associate it resentfully with a time when people were moved from their family homes and made to live in tenement blocks, ostensibly for their own wellbeing and happiness. I like the Attenborough, even when the paternoster lift breaks and it rains inside, but my visiting guests have often told me they are glad that buildings like this do not get built so often nowadays. The Brutalist heap of Denys Lasdun’s Charles Wilson building nearby does not improve the overall impression. The reason that buildings like this were so commonplace in the 1960s and ‘70s was because of an unprecedented consensus that swept the architectural establishment earlier in the century. Established in 1928 in Switzerland by the aristocratic art-patron Hélène de Mandrot, the architect-planner Le Corbusier and the architecture historian Sigfried Giedion, CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) became the official body of modern architecture and planning, aggressive in its disdain for architectural tradition. Members would gather together for conferences every three or four years in various cities throughout Europe in order to thrash out what amounted effectively to design policy. But CIAM was truly a global organization, with delegates attending from the Americas, North Africa, India and the Far East. After each conference, delegates would return
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1.1 Attenborough Tower (Arup Associates, 1970) and Charles Wilson Building (Denys Lasdun, 1963), Leicester Source: The Author
to their countries in order to lobby for the implementation of the ideals of CIAM, both in the building and land-use legislation of their respective governments and also in the educational curricula of their schools of architecture and planning. This is the reason that one subsequently found CIAM principles emerging in built form the world over, such as in the practice of separating cities into discrete zones determined by use: industry set apart from housing set apart from schools, from shops, from hospitals and so on. One also found the proliferation of multi-level highway developments and high-rise buildings for residential and commercial purposes. This was tied to the widespread adoption of inner city slum-clearance programmes, usually deemed unsanitary, as well as of historic city centres, in the belief that demolition and renewal was better than the rehabilitation of these areas. Much of this work was done in a stripped down aesthetic inspired by geometric forms and technology and used building materials such as reinforced concrete, glass and steel. The architect-planner who orchestrated all this activity was usually presented as an expert, whose views were grounded on the most reliable science and whose judgment and right to legislate on the built environment, including the relocation of industries, waterways and populations, should run unopposed. In the most influential CIAM document, The Athens Charter of 1943, the ancient conundrum of the city was boiled down into a neat puzzle with just ‘four functions’ to be slotted together: dwelling, working, circulation and recreation. These were the elements and strategies thought best to improve lives and make everyone happier, healthier and better behaved. And although only some of them ever came to pass, it was believed that human physiology, psychology, society and even spirituality could be laid bare by science and optimized through the efforts of
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architect-planners for satisfaction guaranteed. Predictably, the enterprise carried a strong whiff of messianic utopianism.1 It must be stressed that there was not a perfect global consensus of design ideology within CIAM, let alone of political ideology, as communists and liberal capitalists vied to dominate the agenda. Nonetheless there was consensus to a very marked degree, which established some sense of shared purpose among personalities as diverse and strong-willed as Karel Teige, Cornelis van Eesteren, Josep Lluís Sert, Mies van der Rohe, Jacqueline Tyrwhitt and Hannes Meyer (Mumford 2000).2 In the 1950s that consensus was fractured. This is not to say that CIAM was sunk immediately: its principles remained influential in government policy and in the architecture schools and they continued to have an impact on the built environment for a long time to come (Crinson and Lubbock 1994; Mumford 2000: 267-74). Even so, the hegemony of CIAM was undermined. Many alternative ways of thinking about architecture and planning emerged at this time, not only from architect-planners but also from sociologists, economists and philosophers, and these were formulated in large part as an antidote to the things that CIAM was felt to have gotten wrong, important qualities that it neglected. Critics pointed also to a series of high-profile building failures in Britain and the United States as symbolic of the final discrediting of modern architecture, both structurally and in terms of its social-reformist ambitions. Popular sentiment was galvanized by the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis in 1972, for example, after an expensive campaign to remedy its social problems had failed. A similar milestone was Ronan Point in London, a high-rise tower that partially collapsed in 1968 as a result of a gas explosion, causing the loss of four lives.3 The perception that things must have changed radically around this time is underlined by the new buildings and town plans that received attention subsequently, and a quick cross-section gives an insight into some of the values that we seem now to seek from the built environment. One of the most common assumptions about architecture over the last few decades, quite simply, is that it should be exciting and stimulating. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum (1997), an origami battleship of metallic folds and ribbons, was a spectacular success for the city of Bilbao, likewise the interlocking shells or billowing sails of the Sydney Opera House (1973) by Jørn Utzon. On a more playful level there is Will Alsop’s Peckham Library in south London (1999), a candy box perched on stilts, or the inside-out tangle of the Pompidou Centre in Paris (1977) by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. Striking a different emotional register is Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin (1999), with its awkward labyrinthine axes and angular zinc-clad exterior slashed with cuts. And approaching the bizarre is Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette in the suburbs of Paris (1991), a phalanx of scarlet follies plonked down in a grid pattern that is wilfully useless and inconvenient and all the more intriguing for it. When discussed in the press, on television, and in academic writing, buildings like these tend to be described as bold, exuberant, provocative, enjoyably confusing, unsettling perhaps and even traumatic. Architecture is expected sometimes to be less challenging and more respectful of the context into which it is placed. Tadao Ando is famous for situating his buildings sensitively within the landscape, for opening views onto water and sky and trees,
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even though the buildings themselves are made of the most unnatural and hardedged materials. The Water Temple in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan (1991), which is entered by stepping down into it through a circular lily pond on the roof, seems almost to dissolve within the landscape. But the context may be about history rather than nature, with the architect striving to preserve the memory of the past by using traditional materials, motifs and styles. The Sainsbury Wing extension to the National Gallery in London (1991) was designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown to reflect the main museum with its neo-classical proportions and detailing. The architects did this rather playfully, however, as the pilasters on the new façade are squashed together and overlap like the bellows of an accordion. Also in London, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron acknowledged a different kind of heritage when they transformed the Bankside Power Station into the Tate Modern (1999). Apart from adding some pastel light-boxes, their most celebrated feat was to open up the cavernous Turbine Hall and let the industrial grandeur speak for itself. And offering a simple yet sensitive solution is Rafael Moneo’s National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, Spain (1985), which is suspended above an archaeological site of the old Roman town and clad in bricks that feel as if they might have been lifted from the ruins below. Prestigious buildings of this kind tend to be valued for being exhilarating or for being respectful, qualities that are not necessarily compatible. But they are celebrated for another reason too, one that they hold in common: their role as a catalyst for public pride and urban regeneration. These buildings can give a new sense of identity to a locality, in particular urban areas that might once have been dangerous, run-down, or just a little neglected. They turn dead zones into public places that local residents can be proud of, they give cities a brand image to appeal to tourists, and the resulting combination of people who care and people with cash often helps contribute to social and economic regeneration. Regeneration is a concept that seems to have become synonymous with town planning as well. The last thirty years have seen pressure mounting against the building of new inner city tower blocks and new housing estates in the suburbs, and in favour of redeveloping so-called ‘brown-field’ sites and abandoned buildings in the inner cities. This might involve turning old commercial warehouses and factories into flats, for example, which is a common site around Britain’s coastal areas and waterways. But it might also involve trying to empower local people to take a more active role in the future development of their neighbourhoods, over issues such as the provision of schools and hospitals for example. This is an older idea that originated in the late 1950s but has gained acceptance only slowly. A good example of both of these ideas is Coin Street Community Builders, which was established in the 1980s by residents seeking to protect their inner London homes from plans to replace them with high-rise office blocks. After putting the developers to rout they invested in local businesses and opened a series of community-minded housing projects, such as the Iroko Housing Cooperative of 2001. This provides affordable rented homes for a diverse mix of people working in essential jobs, like bus drivers and teachers and cleaners, who ordinarily would be priced out of the city-centre market.
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The building of new homes outside the city remains essential of course, but an interesting thing has happened here also. No longer is it enough for suburban streets and cul-de-sacs to be thrown down. The expectation is that they too should be built in such a way as to encourage a vibrant community to develop. Streets should be attractive and pathways plentiful and meandering, buildings should reflect the local vernacular both in materials and style, and the distance from the edge of any development to the commercial and civic centre should be a mere ten minute walk. Houses and flats should be jumbled together, as well as being designed with different specifications and prices in order to appeal to different groups of people, including single professionals, young couples, families, retirees, and so on. These ideas are typical of the New Urbanist movement, which has gained in popularity since the early 1990s on the back of planning experiments such as the clapboard and shingles holiday village of Seaside in Florida (1981-present), or the clotted cream and chimney-pots version known as Poundbury in the English county of Dorset (1993-present). Finally, we should mention the role and power of the architect-planner. Current expectations seem to dictate that all new building work should be done sensitively, in painstaking consultation with the client, the local community, and countless other interest groups with agendas of their own. As a consequence the influence of the architect-planner is to some degree held in check, and the impact upon the built environment has tended to be increasingly modest and measured. To describe the examples in this – admittedly partial – introductory sketch, I used words like challenging, exciting, stimulating, place, identity, memory, history, tradition, vernacular, context, public, regeneration, consultation, empowerment and community. These are not the words that one would have found voiced too often by the architect-planners associated with CIAM, nor by commentators describing their work and ideas. There is no doubt that something has changed in the practise and values of architecture and planning, but the precise question of how, why and when these changes happened, and indeed the extent of these changes, is open to debate. A lot of research into the history of twentieth century architecture is fixated on this. Those who were involved in articulating new approaches in the 1950s and ‘60s, people like the urban economist Jane Jacobs, architects Robert Venturi and Aldo Rossi, and critics like Charles Jencks, often presented the personalities and agenda of CIAM in a simple, unified way that amounted to caricature – not too dissimilar to the account that I offered just now. It was useful to do this. The image of a unified enemy of malicious intent made it easier to present one’s own work and ideas as fresh and redemptive departures. These arguments from mid-century all piled up into a kind of composite history that revolved around the idea of a radical turning point. The architecture of austerity, intellectualism and purity gave way to one of exuberance, complexity and fun. The mania for aggressive modernization was discredited by a fresh appreciation of traditional styles and townscapes. The single-use zones were mixed together into a vibrant mess. The arrogant expert was recast as the appreciative listener and collaborator. And the unaccompanied drive along superhighway to high-rise became the gossipy stroll around the urban
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village. This change of attitude took time. It was written into theory, sketched on paper and debated in conferences before it began to make an impact upon the built environment towards the end of the 1970s. Even so, a critical mass of opinion was achieved and it swung CIAM slowly into the air, exposing its devotees as unreal dreamers and despots. The battle finally was won. Many recent scholars take issue with the neatness of this story, stressing that this shift in architectural thinking was much more complex than previously thought, even to the extent that there might not have been much of a shift at all. Some argue that many of the concerns that ‘emerged’ in the 1950s had been upheld throughout the twentieth century by architects on the fringes of CIAM who were either suspicious or outrightly hostile towards it. When the soon-to-be masters of CIAM were developing their crystalline aesthetic in the early 1920s, for example, Erich Mendelsohn was completing the sensuous, organic curves of his Einstein Tower near Potsdam (1921). Frank Lloyd Wright did all he could to halt the spread of CIAM in the United States and scheduled lecture tours to clash with those of Le Corbusier and siphon away his audiences. Arguably his most famous anti-CIAM manifesto is the Fallingwater residence at Bear Run, Pennsylvania (1937), which is cantilevered out over a river and waterfall, the windows mimicking the sliding screens and ‘borrowed landscape’ techniques of traditional Japanese architecture. Although they never sought to organize themselves into a coherent body like CIAM, this alternative tradition of architects, which included Hugo Häring, Hans Scharoun, Gunnar Asplund, Alvar Aalto, Hassan Fathy and Luis Barragán, had many things in common: an approach to building that respected, complemented and drew out the best features of the natural environment; a commitment to experiment with the vernacular styles and building materials of a region; a belief in the expressive and communicative potential of architectural form and symbolism; a pragmatic approach that treated each job as unique, rather than as a stepping-stone towards world domination (Blundell Jones 1995, 1999). These architects tended to write little, preferring to let their ideas come through in their buildings, but still they amounted to ‘a marginal but persistent counter-tendency – a resistance movement opposed to modernism’s reduction to a formulaic schema, unresponsive to the vagaries of human life’ (Woodman 2007: 8).4 Further confusing the picture is when occasionally we find similar tendencies amongst the high priests of CIAM itself: Le Corbusier’s chapel at Ronchamp (1954), for example, was re-built to incorporate the rubble salvaged from a church destroyed in the war, and combines this extremely loaded vernacular-historicist accent with such exuberant movement, colour and symbolism that it is hard to imagine it having been built by one of the signatories of The Athens Charter. This leads to another argument in the revisionist histories: the ideas that came to the fore from the 1950s onwards had been pioneered from within CIAM itself, not by those outside or those who came later. The Spanish architect-planner Josep Lluís Sert, for example, who was president of CIAM from 1947 to 1956, sometimes talked about building communities, respecting the local vernacular and transforming urban design into a more democratic process by recasting the designer as collaborator with various interest groups and professions, rather than being overall
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leader. His plans for Motor City in Brazil (1947) and Chimbote in Peru (1948) have been described as exemplars of ‘communitarian focus and vernacular expression’, a sensitive modernist updating of ‘Latin American town squares (praças) and promenades (passeios)’. This is questionable. When contrasted with Le Corbusier’s 1945 plan for Saint-Dié in France, which is considered less satisfactory in terms of community planning, one finds in Sert’s schemes the same sterile open plazas, manicured gardens and high-rise buildings on stilts, and any references to a Latin American vernacular are lost (Bacon 2008: 91, 94). His commitment to democracy in the design process was short lived as well. Sert convened a conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1968 and the keynote speaker, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, voiced the CIAM principles of top-down planning that Sert ultimately shared: the architect is society’s ‘arbiter of taste…beauty, no more than measles or syphilis, is to be entrusted to the uninstructed intellect’ (Galbraith in Mumford 2008: 159; Marshall 2008: 131-32). The urban historian Lewis Mumford dismissed Sert’s references to democratic planning, community and civic life as lip service at best and probably insincere. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the elements of an alternative approach were present in the thinking of Sert during these years. Other examples offer a stronger case. In the 1940s the British journal Architectural Review, which was largely pro-CIAM in its editorial policy, began to publish on the need for a ‘regional architecture in which form and materials would answer to local circumstances and conditions, and not just the abstract requirements of some international style’. This was in part a response to the so-called ‘New Empiricism’ of the Scandinavian modernists, who tended to produce work that was more detailed, curvaceous and humane in scale than their peers in other countries: ‘It was difficult to settle down in the new houses’, said the Swedish architect Sven Backström, ‘because the “new” human beings were not so different from the older ones’ (Backström in Bullock 2002: 46). Other issues championed by the Architectural Review included the demand for a ‘new monumentality’, which suggested an architecture that expressed ordinary human aspirations and even memories. The architecture historian Sigfried Giedion, a co-founder of CIAM who on this occasion seemed to depart from some its principles, wrote as follows: The people want buildings representing the social, ceremonial and community life. They want their buildings to be more than a functional fulfilment. They seek the expression of their aspirations for joy, for luxury and for excitement… Every period has the impulse to create symbols in the form of monuments, which according to the Latin meaning, is ‘something that reminds’, something to be transmitted to later generations…They are intended to outlive the period which originated them, and constitute a heritage for future generations (Giedion in Bullock 2002: 50-51).
And this concern for nurturing community found its way also into the ‘County of London Plan’ of 1943 by J. H. Forshaw and Patrick Abercombrie, which looked to the mixed-uses approach being pioneered in some European communal housing and also in the ‘neighbourhood unit’ concept from America. These ideas were
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very much in the air, then, but unexpected things happened when they were implemented in design and practise. Looking to university towns and the canal network as indicative of British regional architectural values, the Architectural Review opened a competition to design that quintessential piece of Britishness, a pub: ‘With modern lamp fittings and hexagonal patterning’, however, ‘the winning design look[ed] more like an exhibition of international contemporary furnishings than a design for a uniquely English form of interior’ (Bullock 2002: 43, 45). Also, modernist architects struggled to conceive of community in any way other than as ‘cluster blocks’, where the amenities of an imaginary neighbourhood were squashed into high-rise towers, or ‘streets-in-the-air’, another name for very wide balconies that were meant to recreate the bustle of real streets.5 These examples suggest that, although many in this earlier period used words like ‘community’, ‘place’ and ‘vernacular’, their understanding of these words and implementation of them in practise were not entirely consistent with contemporary expectations. But again, despite these reservations, it remains valid to cite them as precedents. The more general strand that unites these revisionist arguments is that history does not divide neatly into chapters, with heroes and villains and dramatic reversals of fortune: ‘We live in an age that is suspicious of synthetic historical analyses and unifying frameworks meant to illuminate the past’ (Goldhagen 2000: 301). This kind of ‘synthetic’ writing neglects the fact that modernist architect-planners did not have as much influence as one might think. Some architecture schools, such as the Bartlett in London, continued to teach traditional styles of architecture like Arts and Crafts and Neo-Georgian until well after World War II. Also, the ideas of the most prominent modernists amounted to little until they were taken up through a bewildering web of building companies, public authorities, land-use legislators, structural engineers, popular media, pressure groups, politicians and so on, by which time they were so altered and embellished that it was difficult to say who was responsible for what, let alone the alleged miseries of high-rise living.6 The heroes and villains approach is history as propaganda, stripped of its ‘complexity and ambiguity’ in order to serve the agendas of different factions. Historians like Nikolaus Pevsner and Giedion (presented this time wearing his CIAM hat again) were responsible for ‘lionising the pioneers’ and helped modernists define their territory against the moribund ‘academies’, while those sympathetic to postmodernism in its various manifestations – from pop to communitarian to traditionalist – simplified the events around mid-century to create a ‘stable adversary’ for the new generation to attack (Gold 1997: 7-8; 2007: 13-14). And this simplification continued well into the ‘bun-fights’ of the 1980s and ‘90s, for example in the case where Colin St-John Wilson tried to associate his designs for the new British Library in St. Pancras with the more humane, pragmatic traditions of modernism, as defence against those, like the Prince of Wales, who ‘all too quickly caricatured [modernism] as a monolithic phenomenon, uniformly ahistorical in mindset and avowedly committed to values of wholesale reinvention and brute standardisation’ (Woodman 2007: 9). Even though the revisionist histories are written sometimes by scholars working for architecture schools and journals and who nurture a professional interest in advocating these ‘alternative’ traditions, their writings are important for drawing
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attention to the complexities of the situation. Both historical approaches are valid, however. The existence of CIAM as a high-profile organization with a clear lifespan of 1928 to 1959 resulted in a much more cohesive body of opinion than could be found among the more fractious avant-garde movements in painting and literature. CIAM gave its critics a clear target and they struck it repeatedly, whether or not the ideas of these critics were brand-new, derived partly from sub-currents within CIAM itself, or taken from architects and others working on the fringes. It is not too far-fetched to see a reversal of attitudes here. Certainly, the prospective students who visit the Attenborough Tower feel they can read this with perfect clarity in the buildings that surround them. The idea that all ‘grand narratives’ must be false has become unfortunately a grand narrative in itself.7 We can point to the significant – almost symbolic – year of 1956, the year Sert gave up his presidency of CIAM and Le Corbusier wrote an open letter to the tenth conference of CIAM, held in Dubrovnik in the former Yugoslavia, which he did not attend. The letter was read aloud on his behalf and stated that only those born after the First World War were ‘capable of feeling actual problems, personally, profoundly, the goals to follow, the means to reach them, the pathetic urgency of the present situation. They are in the know. Their predecessors no longer are, they are out, they are no longer subject to the direct impact of the situation’ (Le Corbusier in Frampton 1980: 271-72). Le Corbusier was born in 1887. The Dubrovnik conference was co-organized by Team 10, a dissident faction within CIAM that included figures such as Alison and Peter Smithson, Giancarlo De Carlo, Aldo Van Eyck, John Voelcker, Jacob Bakema, Shadrach Woods and others. They hijacked the conference as a platform to broadcast their dissent from party line. Members of the group posed for a photograph for CIAM 11 in Otterlo in 1959, grinning like naughty schoolchildren as they held up ‘a sign with CIAM initials and a grave marker and memorial wreath’ (Mumford 2000: 263; Van den Heuvel and Risselada 2005). Team 10 were by no means originators of the approaches to architecture and planning that they rehearsed during these years, which covered the need to build community, to respect place and the human body and emotions, and to develop the communicative potential of architecture, all of which we shall encounter later. Their main significance is for showing how these alternatives infiltrated even CIAM and, most crucially for the purposes of this book, for demonstrating that beneath these alternatives nothing changed whatsoever. The Team 10 vision was put forward with the same agenda as CIAM. They continued to believe that only their approach to building and planning could restore people to healthy, happy and meaningful lives. Aldo Van Eyck put the matter in the most grandiose way: Architecture implies a constant rediscovery of constant human qualities translated into space. Man is always and everywhere essentially the same… Although architecture (planning in general) answers very tangible functions, ultimately its object differs in no way fundamentally from that of any other creative activity; i.e. to express through men and for men (through ‘us’ and for us) the real essence of existence (Van Eyck in Smithson 1962: 560, 565, 591, 600).
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An advocate of the ‘alternative’ tradition of Häring, Scharoun, Aalto and the others, commended them recently for steering architecture away from the ethos of CIAM towards a renewed ‘accommodation of the most basic human needs’ (Woodman 2007: 9). It is puzzling that this can be presented as evidence of an alternative to CIAM and mainstream modernists, many of whom held this as their goal as well. They simply had different views of what ‘the real essence of existence’ and ‘basic human needs’ consisted of. At this level, the silent discourse that ran parallel with CIAM was not an outright alternative, nor was the more overt challenge that emerged later. Certainly they offered different architectural techniques, materials, forms and symbols, as well as different theories, but these represented only different ways to tackle the same problem: how to use built form to address human welfare, according to their personal views of what that welfare should consist. They upheld the same ultimate ambition as CIAM, then: to heal broken minds, unhappy lives and dysfunctional societies, and to reform human behaviour along the way. Although the urban and architectural proposals may have differed, the underlying intentions did not. The new generation were unwilling, or simply unable, to shake off the more messianic tendencies of the old guard. And they never have.
‘YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE’ AND OTHER SERMONS We can get a vivid sense of this through the discussions that always emerge in architecture conferences. The conference convened in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at the University of Columbia in New York in March 2003, brought together a star cast of influential commentators and architects to reflect on ‘The State of Architecture’ on the eve of Bernard Tschumi stepping down as Dean. Hardly a lecture passed without questions like the following emerging: ‘What is the nature of the human subject?’; ‘How preserve human life?’; ‘What is the good city? What is the good life?’; how might we ‘allow for new forms and practices of life to emerge?’; how best might we harness architecture as ‘a way of constructing subjectivity’ and keep it ‘constructive to the civilization of human life?’8 The conference theme was to consider ‘the key questions that will shape architectural theory and practice in the decades to come’. Precisely the same questions as in the decades that preceded, it would seem. The only thing that differed were the diagnoses about human life and frailties, with most speakers being concerned for the welfare of the new kind of unstable, traumatized ‘post-humanist subject’ that they felt had been brought about by the intensely mediated, networked, consumer-driven experience of contemporary life. Given the reputation of these cherry-picked speakers for theoretical sophistication, it was alarming how few reflected on the ongoing status of the social engineering strand within the discourse, even while they were perpetuating it. In fact there was only one. The feminist scholar Elizabeth Grosz asked, ‘Does architecture complete the beings which inhabit it?’, perhaps even ‘allowing the “becoming other” of the subject?’ Or is architecture merely the passive ‘shelter for an already complete
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subject?’ Put in ordinary language: did architects really have the reformist power they continued to claim for themselves, or did people shape their own lives, behaviours and identities? The delegates sidestepped this challenge by busying themselves for the remainder of the conference with trying to define an aesthetic of ‘The Cool’. The speakers at the ‘Social City’ conference, convened in Venice in 2006 by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), were also fully assured of the ease with which architecture could reform society, behaviour and the mind. The following is a small selection: architecture can prevent ‘poor mental health’ as it addresses ‘the subject of happiness and…well-being’; ‘architecture is a democratic force…[it] contributes to the public realm’; ‘the challenge to architects is to design for more integration…without damaging individuals’. But the conference was keen also on global warming, and while the ethical architect should pledge to reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings and decline outright to build airports, the most revealing thing is how this was twisted into a commitment to reform the deplorable behaviour of the global populace, with ‘lifestyle change as…the only way to limit climate change’. In his summing-up to the conference the then-incoming head of the RIBA, Sunand Prasad, offered his colleagues a somewhat belated caution to ‘be ethical without being preachy’ (RIBA various 2006). On 12th May 2009 the Prince of Wales gave a lecture to the RIBA, twenty five years after the controversy of his first speech to the RIBA. A group of architects sent an open letter to The Guardian calling for the speech to be boycotted as the Prince was abusing his powers and undermining the ‘democratic procedures’ of the architectural profession (Ahrends et al. 2009). Addressing a packed house the Prince reiterated his earlier claims about professional arrogance before arguing that architecture needed to be handled in an environmentally sustainable and stylistically traditional manner. ‘Architecture defines the public realm’, he said, ‘and it should help to define us as human beings, and to symbolize the way we look at the world; it affects our psychological well-being, and it can either enhance or detract from a sense of community’. Moreover it could combat ‘stress, ill-health and social tensions’, whereas the emphasis on formal experimentation, so typical of the signatories to the boycott letter, was ‘deliberately counter-intuitive to the human spirit’. Along the way, the Prince claimed that only his approach was truly democratic and pointed to the division ‘between “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to architecture’ (Prince of Wales 2009). A report in The Times criticized the Prince for failing to spot the real problem: ‘a decent, democratic planning system’ (Dyckhoff 2009). It is interesting how the same preachy concerns crop up time and again, even amongst those who are meant to be enemies: architecture as guarantor of mental health, happiness, social cohesion, democracy and so on. More recently, in 2011, the RIBA Public Affairs team responded to the Localism Bill and National Planning Framework that was being consulted upon by the Conservative-Liberal Coalition. Theoretically this would see many decision-making and developmental powers decentralized to local authorities and community groups. The RIBA responded by arguing that the new proposals must not diminish
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their own influence and voice, on the grounds that they understood better than anyone the relationship between buildings and human lives: ‘[let us influence] decision-makers in Westminster and Whitehall and…help them realise that architecture and good design touch on everybody’s lives at all sorts of everyday levels’ (RIBA Public Affairs 2011). It seems that architects and those who write about them simply cannot help slipping into this groove. In June 2009, as a final example, the technology magazine Fast Company published its list of the ‘100 Most Creative People in Business’. The highest placed architect was Thom Mayne at number fifteen and there were not many more below him. Taking the top spot was the industrial designer Jonathan Ive of Apple Inc., whose design credits include the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. Building Design magazine grudgingly granted him as deserving of his first place, but could not resist having a little dig to register its hurt: ‘a well-designed roof over your head is slightly more important to your quality of life than a screen that can be “pinched”’ (Cadman 2009). Thrown out nonchalantly, carelessly, or with studied conviction and understanding, statements of this kind deserve serious attention. Sometimes I feel they represent the most sincere and well-considered professional care; an architect-planner’s dedication to using built form in the most meaningful way to improve overall quality of life. At other times they come across as outrageously condescending judgments on the lifestyles, behaviours and even consumer choices which do not meet with the individual architect-planner’s approval. Given the changes that have happened in architecture and planning since CIAM began to be discredited, given the clean out of all that was considered suspect or undesirable, it seems curious that such a contentious aspect should have survived. Where does it come from? What purpose does it serve? What different forms does it take? And what do scholars have to say about it? The architecture historian and aesthete Geoffrey Scott was the first to draw attention to this in his book The Architecture of Humanism of 1914. Scott was interested in the way that nineteenth century moralists and designers like John Ruskin and A.W.N. Pugin had associated classical architecture with the heathenism of ancient Rome and the extravagances of Catholicism. Gothic architecture, on the other hand, not only symbolized but also might help inspire a truly pious Christian lifestyle. It is debatable whether the neo-gothic decor that Pugin applied to the new Houses of Parliament in the 1840s has had an improving effect upon its tenants. Nonetheless, Scott concluded that architecture and its theory often ‘indicated’ or ‘promoted’ a certain ‘kind of human character’, and he called this the ‘ethical fallacy’. He observed also that very few architects were aware that they were doing this because it had become almost unconscious: ‘It no longer forms part of a conscious system of thought, but of a general atmosphere of prejudice… automatically stated and automatically received’. Arguably this never did form part of a conscious system of thought, but I would agree with Scott that our continuing lack of awareness of it contributes to what he called the ‘unanalysed confusion’ of architecture (Scott 1929: 123).
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David Watkin argued similarly in Morality and Architecture (1977) that modernist architects and historians, in particular Nikolaus Pevsner with his Pioneers of the Modern Movement of 1936 (re-issued as Pioneers of Modern Design in 1949), extended the ethical arguments of Pugin to cover their own architectural preferences. Whether neo-gothic or modernist, it was presented ‘not just [as] a style but a rational way of building evolved inevitably in response to the needs of what society really is or ought to be, and to question its forms [was deemed] anti-social and probably immoral’. ‘The so-called “human needs”’, he went on, ‘are defined arbitrarily, arrogantly, and with a complete disregard for the importance of tradition as a guide to the architect’. Leslie Martin’s 1965 scheme for a new ‘Government Centre’ at Whitehall, for example, would have demolished many buildings of historic interest on the basis of such arguments. The reason for this situation, according to Watkin, was that architectural discourse had become infected during the nineteenth century with Germanic ideas, such as Hegelian notions of art as representative of the ‘Zeitgeist’ or ‘spirit of the age’, as well as Marxist commitments to a collectivist social utopia. This led to the ‘belief that architecture as an art involving taste, imagination, and scholarship should finally be abolished and replaced by a scientifically plotted Utopia in which tamed collectivist man with all his wants defined by technology and gratified by computerized planning would contentedly take his apportioned place as in some gigantic rationalistically constructed beehive’. Prior to the Germanic infection there was good architectural ‘tradition’, so entrenched and well understood that it had little real need of any supporting theory, as well as individual artistic creativity within that tradition. Watkin demanded a return to tradition along with the purging of all sociobehavioural reformist ambitions – described as a ‘quasi-religious commitment’ – from the discourse (Watkin 1977: 1, 11-12). What Watkin did not appear to realize, however, was that this tendency did not end with modernism, nor was it all tied to the collectivist social ideals that he feared.9 It is much more prevalent and various than that, as we shall see. Moreover the traditional architects that Watkin championed subsequently, for example Quinlan Terry and Léon Krier, were tied to a moralistic, deterministic viewpoint every bit as doctrinaire as the ones that came earlier. More recently, John Archer has argued that architecture historians are too preoccupied with how buildings come about and what they look like, and insufficiently aware of the complex interrelations between space and behaviour. They should do more to incorporate the theories of sociologists and philosophers with an interest in the topic, for example: Émile Durkheim on space as productive of behaviour, consciousness and identity; Michel Foucault on space as the articulation of power, able to orchestrate social relations if not control them directly; Pierre Bourdieu on how individual and group identities are sustained through intellectual structures and values that are anchored to but not exactly the same as built space; Maurice Merleau-Ponty on how the body, emotions and senses construct space – or at least an imaginative understanding of space – as much as they are constructed by it (Archer 2005). I agree that architecture historians may not be too aware of this, as Archer says, but architect-planners clearly are up to their necks
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in it. Consequently there is no real need for historians to gorge themselves on Durkheim, Bourdieu and the rest. All that is required is to pay careful attention to what architect-planners say and do. But the simplest and best statement on this phenomenon was a short article called ‘Planners’ People’, published in 1966 by a team of American planners (Brower, Latimer and Wood Jr. 1966). They wanted to find out why the official drawings for new development schemes always seemed to be populated with the same cast of six characters: ‘gentleman with briefcase’, ‘fashionable lady’, ‘mother and child’, ‘young lovers’, ‘voyeur’ and ‘flâneur’. Where were the tramps, beggars, prostitutes and pickpockets? Where were the ethnic minorities, gay couples and the disabled? Why was nobody walking on the grass? And where were the police? Although it was presented as a provocative joke, the authors were making an important point: representations of the city often contain assumptions about the ‘good life’. In this case, the good life was white, prosperous, law-abiding, domesticated, cultured, able-bodied and heterosexual. Maybe this reflected the planners themselves, or maybe it reflected the way they wanted things to be? Maybe it reflected those with the money and the power who were in line to purchase or rubber-stamp the plans? In any case, it suggested a refusal to take account of the messy reality of life, as the architect-planner Denise Scott Brown has remarked: ‘Urban designers have tended to place themselves above the morass, planning for a subjectively defined “good of the people”’ (Scott Brown 1990a: 23).10 All of this tends to be overlooked in most histories of architecture, which either ignore the coercive tendencies inherent to the discourse in its recent years, or argue that they gradually died off with the last of the modernists. And if they survived it was only as science-fiction pastiche, when groups such as Archigram in England and the Metabolists in Japan had fun with the utopianism of the older generation with designs for marvellous cities that walked over the land or squatted beneath the ocean. After this, some argue, the overall concern came to lie with architectural style rather than social, psychological and behavioural reform: ‘[debates] were joined exclusively on the level of style, and in some cases the explicit rejection of any social concerns…[which allowed] architects to turn their backs on real world problems and find refuge in exotic formal exercises’ (Ghirardo 1996: 28, 34). Finally, architecture and planning escaped the dour legacy of modernism: ‘Poetry has supplanted technological utopianism…Rather than identify architecture with life, postmodernism establishes anew the aesthetic distance from life’ (Klotz 1988: 421). This is wrong. Although postmodernists got rid of the overt utopianism of the older generation, the reformist intentions have continued to flourish, albeit in forms so subtle and varied that they have flown under the critical radar (Frampton 1980: 247-97; Tafuri and Dal Co 1986: 357-92; Colquhoun 2002: 183-254). But there is another reason for the neglect of this issue: a lot of the research into architecture and planning is done by scholars who are affiliated with architecture schools, often as teachers and as practising architects. Many of them were involved in orchestrating the shift into a post-CIAM era during the 1960s and ‘70s, sometimes as the key theorists and architects and sometimes as their friends, colleagues or students. The histories that emerge, then, often turn into manifestoes in favour of
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certain ways of building with which the authors are personally or professionally associated. Panayotis Tournikiotis begins his book on The Historiography of Modern Architecture with the statement that ‘histories of modern architecture are based on a position about the being of architecture, on a theory that takes the more or less clear form of what-ought-to-be and usually projects what-ought-to-be-done’. ‘Their impact’, he goes on, ‘is comparable to that of architectural manifestoes’, one of the ‘common denominators’ of which is a conviction to a particular kind of ‘social vision’ (Tournikiotis 1999: 2-3). Tournikiotis is right, and I would argue that this is something that affects the writing not only of histories of modernism but histories of postmodernism too. Predictably, there is a reluctance to acknowledge let alone investigate those potentially more problematic aspects that have continued to affect architectural discourse in its entirety throughout this period. In the next two chapters we shall look in detail at how this phenomenon was operative in some of the arguments about using architecture and planning to reinvigorate community, from the 1950s onwards.
Jules Lubbock traces the conditions leading up to the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act in Britain in 1947, which removed the rights of land-development from the landowner and awarded it to local authorities acting on behalf of central government. This act, which remains in force, emerged from a cross-party consensus that was founded on the belief that planning could help provide for standard human needs. This was informed by the ‘Science and World Order’ conference that was held in the Royal Institution in London in 1941, and which was attended and endorsed by leading intellectuals and political leaders from around the world (Lubbock 2007; Boyd Whyte 2007).
Giorgio Ciucci (1981) has highlighted political rivalries within CIAM to argue that modernists were so divided amongst themselves that it is impossible to speak of a movement. This is questionable. Internal politics led to few disagreements in terms of architectural style and planning proposals. Any disagreements had more to do with the question of how to implement the same schemes and how to run them afterwards.
For an account of the erosion of public confidence in modernist-inspired residential architecture in Britain in the early 1970s, as stories emerged about corrupt dealings between architects and local authorities, vandalism and crime, structural failings such as dampness and ruptured asbestos panels, all against the backdrop of rising unemployment and inflation, see Gold 2007: 280-89; Bullock 2010: 336-40.
These arguments are occasionally skewed, however. Sarah Williams Goldhagen argues that the interest in ‘community and place’ was not a new departure but was contained already in the work of Alvar Aalto, Eileen Gray, Gerrit Rietveld, Hans Scharoun and Bruno Taut. The trouble is, their work was ‘stylistically proximate’ to that of the ‘machineoriented architects’: ‘both strains relied upon such tropes as the open plan, abstract forms, transparency and spatial flow’. Goldhagen dismisses genuine anti-modernist sentiment as a kind of lunatic fringe motivated by ‘xenophobic nationalism’, and neglects entirely to mention later figures who posited influential alternatives from an aggressively anti-modernist standpoint, such as Jane Jacobs, Robert Venturi and Léon Krier, all of whom we shall encounter (Goldhagen 2000: 307-308).
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Examples of the two types include Denys Lasdun’s Keeling House (1959) and Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens (1972), both in London (Gold 2007: 208-215).
Bullock 2002: 40-42. Bullock makes an interesting case for resituating the ‘introverted world of the avant-garde’ (xii) within the neglected but more active currents of mainstream architectural practise and local authority initiatives.
Revisionist historians who seek to undermine the notion of an abrupt change from a unified modernist to a postmodernist ‘canon’ often end up reinforcing the former or arguing against their own evidence. Adrian Forty maintains that ‘the modernist way of thinking and talking architecture’ has not yet been ‘overpowered and subjugated by a new discourse’, despite identifying many radical and abrupt changes in the meanings of architectural ‘keywords’ (Forty 2004: 20). While being committed to highlighting the differences within modernism, Gold concedes that a broad consensus effectively pasted over these cracks: ‘it is important not to overstate matters by denying the extent of shared thinking. There were many elements that gave the Modern Movement a genuine sense of collective identity to set alongside the fissiparous tendencies…By virtue of being a loose constellation of elements rather than a programmatic blueprint, the broad vision of the future allowed individuals to adhere to an ideologically significant consensus based on general principles without opening up underlying divergences of opinion and belief’ (Gold 1997: 9, 13). UK-based modernists might have begun to question themselves a little by the mid-1950s, says Gold, but ‘their belief in the basic premises endured’, and this in no way ‘foreshadowed the strands of denigration that arose 15-20 years later’ (Gold 2007: 10). Goldhagen criticizes the way that modernism has been characterized around three unifying principles: (1) ‘the rejection of historical precedent’; (2) ‘the use of new technologies and new materials’; (3) ‘progressive political ideals’. She offers a more accurate conceptual ‘framework’ which includes: (1) ‘tradition bears no authority’; (2) ‘industrial technology was central to modern life’; (3) ‘obligation to employ the tools of their discipline politically to facilitate social betterment and progress’ (Goldhagen 2000: 301, 303-305, 308-309, 319). Bizarrely, this ‘alternative’ is a re-statement of the canon.
The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the Twenty First Century, conference held at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, University of Columbia, New York, 28-29 March 2003. The quotations came – respectively – from Reinhold Martin and Anthony Vidler, Gregg Pasquarelli, Robert Stern, Stan Allen and James Corner, Michael Bell, Toshiko Mori.
For an account of a modernist with a decidedly non-collectivist agenda, see Richards 2003.
10 Another important example is Cuff and Ellis (1989), which explores how different ideas about people, society and behaviour have affected architecture and planning throughout history, from the palaces of Renaissance Italy through to hotels for itinerant workers in Depression-era America.
2 Communitites of Sadness and Self-Reliance
‘Community’ is a straightforward idea that everyone can have an opinion about, but perhaps for this reason it is difficult to pin down. When planners and architects discuss community it is taken for granted as a simple good that people need desperately and that certain arrangements of buildings can provide for them. People will be joined together to become better neighbours, mindful of their civic duties, and ultimately more fulfilled as individuals. But although it is discussed in a way that suggests its meaning is simple and consistent, we can identify three broad areas of opinion, each of which is founded upon the same diagnosis: suburbia and suburban lifestyles are bad for people. This chapter covers two of these areas. First, in the immediate post-war years but especially in the 1950s, there was concern about the upsurge in suburban development in America, which was built largely to house returning war veterans. Increasingly, architect-planners and sociologists used the word ‘community’ pejoratively, to pour scorn on commercial suburban developments and the suburban realtor’s marketing campaign. Community, they said, was packaged as a value-added extra along with a double garage or bigger lawn. It meant that neighbours would pester newcomers to participate in a regimen of fun activities and facile issues, from fish breeding clubs to anti-litter campaigns. Shallow and obtrusive, this kind of community was considered a faithful reflection of the aspirations of the travelling salesman and his domestic goddess wife. These criticisms were provoked by vast housing developments such as Levittown on Long Island, which was built at breakneck speed from 1948 onwards. There was massive suburban development in Britain as well, although it happened earlier than in the United States and it never ‘sprawled’. And by 1947 the Town and Country Planning Act was passed, a highly effective piece of legislation that ensured development from that point onwards was concentrated on small pockets of land. Despite this containment, however, the interwar British suburbs gave rise to the same concerns that emerged later in the United States.
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The attack on suburbia changed in the 1960s and ‘70s to reflect the antiauthoritarian climate of those decades. If the first stage was mostly critical, the second offered a pro-active alternative. Real communities could be found only in the inner cities, it was argued. They grew spontaneously from collective action by the people, such as working together to rid a neighbourhood of crime, organizing loans to help residents pay for home improvements, or simply keeping an eye on a neighbour’s kids. These precious urban ecosystems must be protected against the planning authorities that sought to declare them slums and replace them with high-rise residential schemes, or indeed to shift the residents out to the suburbs. The catalyst for this way of thinking was The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published by the journalist Jane Jacobs in 1961, and its chief characteristic was distrust of planning experts. Keen to the changing climate, some planners evolved into a new breed of ‘advocacy planners’ who would work closely with neighbourhoods in order to try to understand their needs.
THE RIGHT AND WRONG KIND OF SUBURB In the 1920s the architect-planners who would become the backbone of CIAM were beginning to prepare their perfect cities, and small fragments of these cities were realized in multi-storey residential developments of superb quality, such as Berthold Lubetkin’s elegant High Point flats in London (1935, 1938) and Le Corbusier’s brutally imposing Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles (1953). Over time, newly qualified architect-planners carried the principles of CIAM into public planning departments and high-rise tenements were built the world over, often as part of slum clearance projects, and often with the goal of creating community. John Gold has argued, however, that architects’ understanding of their social goals was flimsy: ‘Although readily receptive to the works of writers and theorists who offered ideas that looked promising, they seldom had more than the haziest notion about how the process of social transformation would take place aside from properties somehow inherent in the new architecture’. In any case, ‘Information about the public’s wishes with regard to rehousing, especially in flats, was thin and ambiguous – largely because the users were rarely asked’. This allowed modernist architects to press on with designs for ‘cluster blocks’ and ‘streets-in-the-air’ on the basis of two questionable assumptions: ‘First, it assumed that the incoming residents of these estates, especially those being housed after slum clearance schemes, would find those environments to be places where they could readily establish community. Second, it was assumed those being rehoused through comprehensive redevelopment had lost little of importance when clearance took place since, by implication, the physically blighted slum was also socially blighted’ (Gold 2007: 205, 207, 273). Demands for a properly community-minded approach to the built environment began to gather momentum around the middle of the century. Increasingly, it was thought important to involve residents in the regeneration of their neighbourhoods and to create buildings and street patterns that inspired and sustained this involvement. And the extensive demolition and
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relocations that were typical of high-rise projects were considered to be unhelpful. A good marker of this clash of attitudes was when the Brazilian architect-planner Josep Lluís Sert, who was destined to become the future president of CIAM, asked the American urban historian and philosopher Lewis Mumford to write the introduction to his new book, Can Our Cities Survive? (1942). Mumford declined because Sert’s book focussed on the ‘four functions’ of dwelling, work, recreation and transportation but neglected community and civic involvement (Marshall 2008: 132-34, 142). But alongside this, commercial developers who had no interest in CIAM had for decades been getting on with the business of residential development in the simplest way possible, responding to market forces to provide homes with gardens in the suburbs. And the concern about the loss of community was felt just as urgently here. Suburban development hit a peak in Britain in the interwar period, especially between 1920 and 1940. Some four and a half million homes were built during this time, which increased the total housing stock in the UK by around fifty percent. The average household was four or five persons, which means that perhaps as many as 22,500,000 were re-housed. Given a total population that has been estimated at somewhere between forty five and fifty million, then nearly half the total population of the country moved to suburban homes with very affordable mortgages during these years (Allen and Hicks 1999; Lubbock 2007: 9). The private sector was responsible for building most of these homes, perhaps as much as two thirds of the total amount, and local authorities made up the rest. Interestingly, the private developments were better provisioned with local amenities like shops, meeting halls and churches than were the public ones. Regardless of who built them, however, they tended to be made up of semi-detached homes with gardens out front and back, and often had generous bay windows across both floors. Suburban development was an important way in which the British economy managed to flourish despite the effects of the global economic Depression that hit in the late 1920s, but it was effectively over after the Second World War. The Town and Country Planning Act was passed in 1947 and it was enormously effective in limiting all future development in Britain to small pockets of land, often enclosed by greenbelts. Aimless sprawl was brought to a halt before it even started. The state planner resumed control over the upstart speculative builder. In the United States the pattern was different. The Resettlement Administration, established in the early 1930s as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, made provisions for suburban housing in order to channel the migration of unemployed laborers during the Depression. This was extended in 1934 through the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which offered easy terms for house purchases in order to counter the glut of mortgage foreclosures and repossessions, and in 1944 the GI Bill and Veterans’ Administration made home purchasing even easier for the returning war veterans, requiring no down payment at all.1 But it was not until the end of the Second World War that suburban development got into full swing. The classic example of this was the first Levittown, which was built on Long Island from 1948 by William Levitt and Sons. Others were built later in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, and also one just outside Paris, France. Levittown Long
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Island became the paradigmatic example of the generic approach to housing and cavalier approach to sprawl, with 82,000 inhabitants quickly housed in 17,000 ‘prefabs’, manufactured and assembled on-site. Levitt was uninterested in community and evaded questions about it (Moe and Wilkie 1997: 55-56; Kunstler 1993: 96-100, 104-105). Another important figure was the urban planner Robert Moses, who worked out of New York from 1924 to 1968 and had the support of many city officials and US presidents. Moses was the most powerful administrator driving on the whole project of slum clearance and the building of highways, not only in the Greater New York area but also throughout the state and country. Among the many schemes advanced or endorsed by him perhaps the most dramatic was the Federal Aid Highways Act of 1956, under which ‘90 percent of the funding for the interstate system came from a highway trust fund fuelled by a federal tax on gasoline. Unwilling to build new highways before, state and city officials clamoured for the easy money, regardless of their traffic needs’. And whilst all this was going on, according to some critics, ‘no one was minding the business of preserving America’s public realm’ (Moe and Wilkie 1997: 56, 62). These initiatives were considered to be catastrophic, at least by those whose opinions would dominate architecture and planning in the latter half of the twentieth century – the metropolitan intelligentsia. England was caricatured as a land of neat semi-detached houses with privet hedges, striped lawns and ornamental gnomes. America was caricatured as an automotive nowhere of malls, automats, drive-thrus and drive-ins. The great variety of architectural types, economic levels, and social groupings within suburbs did not feature in these criticisms. They were aimed not at the well-established and impeccably landscaped nineteenth century suburbs of the wealthy, for example Riverside just outside Chicago, Llewellyn Park in New Jersey, Brooklyn Heights in New York and those spreading even further out over 2.1 Publicity material for Levittown Pennsylvania, 1957, showing the various house models available for purchase Source: Richard Wagner, www. LevittownMuseum. com
One of four system of the Jubillee
one of four different styeles of the Levitiowner
Levittown IN 1957
One of the different styles of the Pennsylyenium
One of four different of the Country Clubber
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Long Island, nor at examples like Letchworth (established 1903) and Welwyn (established 1920) in England, which were designed to combine the best amenities of city and country in accordance with Ebenezer Howard’s turn-of-the-century ‘Garden City’ concept (Howard 1965). The criticisms were aimed at a specific type of new suburban housing and transportation infrastructure that were intended to be affordable for those lower down the financial ladder. Lewis Mumford might have criticized CIAM’s ostensible disregard for community and civic life, but he did not see the solution here. His scorn neatly summarizes a much larger body of opinion: In the mass movement into suburban areas a new kind of community was produced, [a] multitude of uniform, unidentifiable houses, lined up inflexibly, at uniform distances, on uniform roads, in a treeless communal waste, inhabited by people of the same class, the same age group, witnessing the same television programmes, eating the same tasteless prefabricated foods, from the same freezers, conforming in every outward and inward respect to a common mould (Mumford in Clapson 2003: 5).
On one level this concern was perhaps understandable, as the suburbs had grown as a result of commercial opportunism and demographic pressure rather than as an exercise in social reform and integration. In America, for example, the Federal Housing Administration had eight criteria according to which they judged an area suitable for mortgage insurance, chief among which was economic stability while down at the bottom was the adequacy of civic and community centres. Likewise, the FHA discouraged affluent middle-class homeowners from subdividing their homes into apartments and taking in tenants, which might have provided for a more vibrant mix of income groups. The FHA also issued ‘covenants’ to protect the racial purity of FHA-financed neighbourhoods, while inner city neighbourhoods already dominated by racial minorities were ‘red-lined’ by the banks. This meant that they were banned from receiving mortgage investment or home improvement loans. The decline of those inner city neighbourhoods not considered worthy of investment was therefore guaranteed. It became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, precipitating a programme of slum clearance or ‘urban renewal’ as it came to be called, despite the exorbitant costs involved. Zoning had gathered momentum in the nineteenth century as a way of separating dangerous elements, such as heavy industry and sewage plants, from residential districts, hospitals and suchlike. Under the FHA, however, zoning was used to separate different income-groups and even racial-groups. Developments were carefully stage-managed in order to appeal to a particular demographic, and this was intended to protect the investment of the FHA who underwrote the mortgages. The FHA published a pamphlet in 1938 on ‘Planning Profitable Neighbourhoods’, leading some commentators to conclude that the FHA was more interested in money than community (Moe and Wilkie 1997: 39-42, 47-58; Kunstler 1993: 51-52, 101-104, 117-18, 129). Despite some of the forces that led to the growth of these suburbs, Mumford’s assessment of the lifestyle there was unfair and inaccurate.2 Nonetheless, the idea that mass-produced suburbs destroy something important in life is an immensely popular one that has dominated architecture and planning for decades, perhaps
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because it has been presented so evocatively. As might be expected, the power of this idea seldom rests upon a critique of the architectural qualities of suburbia, but rather upon claims to the proper understanding of humanity’s needs. Mumford’s hatred of suburbia, for example, is founded on a personal philosophy that takes in human nature and evolution. He begins his book The Condition of Man (1944) with the question ‘What is Man?’, and claims that he is set apart from other animals by his desire to postpone death. This desire led to the emergence of work, through which humanity first banded together to master its environment and form primitive communities based on need. This allowed the human psyche to become differentiated into ‘superego’ and ‘idolum’. The superego represents the original pragmatic element that compels ‘Man’ to contribute to society and makes him dependent upon the labor of others. The idolum represents a creative element that evolves out of the superego. This higher portion of the psyche appropriates elements from culture in order that the individual may use them to differentiate himself from others, and become a unique personality. Basically it’s a simple game of compare and contrast: people identify themselves in accordance with what they identify with and identify against, whether those things are objects, other people or experiences. Obviously, there is greater possibility for differentiation in societies that are diverse and cultures that are rich. The benefits then feed back into society. Mumford called this a state of ‘dynamic equilibrium’, the precondition not only of psychological ‘sanity and health’, but also of the ongoing evolution of the human species. Mumford believed, however, that this equilibrium had broken down: the ‘Megalopolis’, driven by industrial production, centralized government and bureaucracy, and typified of course by suburban sprawl, left little room for idolum. His solution was that the city must re-assume its role as a stage for social drama: the architect-planner must control its physical fabric like the dramatist or playwright, to provide venues for maximizing social contact and participation. The dangers of failing to do this are nothing less than the possible eradication of the human species as it degenerates back to the lower animals: As with other organisms man is subject to arrest, fixation, lapses into inertness. In his desire to avoid physical danger, he may imitate the errors of the armoured reptiles; in trying to achieve a stable social order, he may be tempted to imitate the ants, which have achieved complete social harmony at the price of going no farther in their development; in his desire for an easy physical life, he may resort to parasitism…All these temptations are vices because they are denials of the essential nature of the living organism.
Man must transform his life into ‘life-play’. He must plunge himself into personal and social challenges without end, seeking out ‘variation’, open to ‘experimentation’, primed for ‘insurgence’, and aiming ultimately to achieve mastery of himself and his environment. This is ‘a matter of life and death’. Happily there is a situation where these things can be found, and its name is ‘community’: The more fully he organizes his environment, the more skilfully he associates in groups, the more constantly he draws on his social heritage, the more does the
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person emerge from society as its fulfilment and perfection. But that process is never finished…It is through the community that the person finds himself enlarged, energized – completed…[Through community] each citizen has an opportunity to plumb all his potentialities: the specialized fragments are reunited in the whole man (Mumford 1963: 3, 6-8, 14).
It might seem strange to find ideas like this underlying some snobbish remarks about what suburbanites like to eat and watch on television. But stranger still is the fact that it is commonplace and that it can form an integral part of a practical planning ethos. Mumford, for example, believed that humanity could be saved only if one began to pursue a fully integrated planning model that covered not only local neighbourhoods but also the larger economic region, and he forwarded this under the aegis of the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA) that he co-founded in 1923. Other members of the RPAA were the architects Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, who between 1924 and 1928 built the neighbourhood of Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, New York, along Garden City principles. A mixture of private and rented houses and apartments were arranged in rectangular blocks with paths and sight-lines focussing inward towards the generous communal gardens at the centre – the place where communal, civic life might flourish. And indeed, what with Mumford giving it his seal of approval by living there for ten years from the mid-1920s, perhaps helping prevent the human species from devolving into lizards or worse. The most influential commentators have always framed their dislike of suburbia in the same way, linking it to a philosophical viewpoint that usually takes in mental health and the welfare of humankind. Contemporary architectural thinking about community harks back to just such a body of opinion, formulated by a tiny group of like-minded Americans over fifty years ago, including David Riesman, Vance Packard, William H. Whyte and others (Nicolaides 2006). David Riesman was a sociologist at the University of Chicago when he published his most famous work, The Lonely Crowd (1950), which identified a new type of character and behaviour in the suburbs of America. People were becoming ‘otherdirected’, he argued, and simply could not stop fussing their neighbours, or fussing about what their neighbours thought about them. This was caused in part by the social life of the new suburbs: attendance at coffee mornings, the pressures of maintaining a neatly trimmed lawn, keeping up-to-date with the latest musthave kitchen appliances, involvement in local issues like the frequency of garbage collection and school crossing patrols. Riesman feared for the erosion of personal autonomy and assertiveness. Social entanglements in the suburbs led to a taste for trivia, conformity and wrong thinking (Riesman, Denney and Glazer 1950: 9-36, 239-75, 295-97, 304-307). When he interviewed a group of university students for his 1958 essay ‘The Suburban Sadness’, Riesman dismissed their testimonies (they aspired to return to the suburbs and marry ‘station-wagon types’) as evidence that they were sick. Contact with suburbia had rendered them effeminate and un-American; better they should be kicking the lowlifes and ‘colonials’ out of the cities and reclaiming it for themselves. The Lonely Crowd became the bestselling sociological book of
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all time yet Riesman’s conspiracy-laden ideas did not have a shred of empirical evidence to back them up. Indeed, he began ‘The Suburban Sadness’ with the line: ‘I speak in this paper from the perspective of one who loves city and country, but not the suburbs’. This was a ‘value-filled’ rather than a ‘fact-filled’ project (Riesman 1958: 375, 380). Riesman was a Cold War paranoiac: the other-directed, enfeebled suburbanite was fertile ground for Communist propaganda Closely related to Riesman’s work was that of Vance Packard, who worked as a newspaper and magazine journalist before making his name with a series of ‘pop’ sociology books, beginning with The Hidden Persuaders of 1957. This book was about the influence of ‘Motivational Research’, a branch of psychology developed with commercial firms and advertising agencies that sought to manipulate consumer need by appealing to subconscious desire. The new suburbs were embroiled in this, as marketing campaigns tried to associate the houses with wholesome community values and happiness, which Packard of course believed you could never find in a suburb (Packard 1957: 27-37, 45-53, 190-96, 207-216). William H. Whyte took a similar line. A journalist on Fortune magazine in the mid-1940s and subsequently its editor, one of his assignments was to interview the chief executives of American corporations like General Electric and Ford. This research became part of The Organization Man, which was published in 1956 and also became a best seller. This book repeated many of Riesman’s ideas on the erosion of individuality, as the new ‘social ethic’ demanded that Americans become more mindful of the thoughts and feelings of others. New suburban communities might appear vibrant, Whyte stated, but this was only a feverish response to the pressures of ‘belongingness’; and also, given the possibility of having to relocate in search of jobs, they represented an attempt to find any kind of social rootedness, however transient and shallow that may be (Whyte 1956: 6-15, 16-66, 295-329). In his later career Whyte became more empirical in his approach. After joining the New York City Planning Commission in 1969 he secured a research grant to record pedestrian movements in Manhattan to find out what made for successful streets and squares. The ‘Street Life Project’ was conducted throughout the 1970s and ‘80s and built into an archive of film footage, time-lapse photography and stills, hand-drawn graphs and charts. The research was published in 1980 as The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and in 1988 as City: Rediscovering the Center, and inspired one of Whyte’s research assistants, Fred Kent, to set up the Project for Public Spaces, an organization that is still going strong today. The book that made Whyte’s name, however, the one that helped congeal the viewpoint that affordable suburbs were harmful, was that classic piece of 1950s sci-fi sociology delivered from on high. These best sellers give an insight into some attitudes towards community in mid-century America, particularly in relation to suburban development and its effect on the individual psyche. The arguments wind their different ways to the same two conclusions: first, the suburbs erode our capacity for free thought and free action; second, the suburbs enslave us to trivial community issues.3 Not many commentators were willing to speak up in defence of the low-income suburb, but in America the most prominent was the sociologist Herbert Gans. Unlike his peers, Gans took the unusual step of doing surveys and field research
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among the people that he was writing about, and throughout his career remained sceptical of planning as a vehicle of social reform, and sceptical of sociologists when they concocted big theories. He and his wife moved into Levittown New Jersey when the first homes became available in 1958 and lived there for two years doing research, the results being published as The Levittowners in 1967. Gans observed that people enjoyed the amenities as well as the social life of Levittown, and he supported their rights to live in low density, single-income, single-race suburbs if that was where they felt happiest. Gans argued that the judgments habitually made by planners and sociologists about the death of community fail to recognize that social relations are often flourishing, and moreover that they are felt by the inhabitants to be genuine and meaningful and not some kind of weak substitute. Consequently they should be respected, not laughed at or – what was worse – diagnosed as sickness or mass-delusion (Gans 1982). The architecture journalist J. M. Richards spoke out on the other side of the Atlantic some twenty years earlier. The British mass-produced suburbs flourished during the interwar period and the chief critics of it – insofar as ‘it’ corrupted the beauty and health-giving qualities of the countryside, its gentle folk and agrarian traditions, and opportunities for blasting pheasants and partridges and enjoying the spectacle of fox hunting – were not hard-nosed sociologists but a cross-section of the nation’s elite, including peers and politicians like David Lloyd George, the scoutmaster Robert Baden-Powell, novelist E. M. Forster, economist J. M. Keynes, the planner Patrick Abercrombie, and many others (Williams-Ellis 1937). The rhetoric had a more ringing tone than would appear later in America. They railed against ‘this indiscriminate spewing of houses over the countryside’, this influx of townsmen with their ‘noxious habits and no manners whatsoever’, the ‘newer “concrete mendacities”, or villa-nous excrescences, or bungaloid growths’ that they fled to from their cramped urban terraces, ignorant of how they had merely confused ‘one type of barbarism and another’ (Street 1937: 126-27; Beach Thomas 1937: 211; Sharp 1937: 145). The arguments were occasionally the same as in America, though. In his Town and Countryside from 1932, for example, the planner Thomas Sharp presented a bizarrely sexualized image of suburbia: ‘Two diametrically opposed, dramatically contrasting, inevitable types of beauty are being displaced by one drab revolting neutrality…The strong, masculine virility of the town; the softer beauty, the richness, the fruitfulness of that mother of men, the countryside, will be debased into one sterile, hermaphroditic beastliness’ (Sharp in Bruegmann 2005: 118). It is a short step from this to Riesman’s concern that prolonged contact with suburban living will make men effeminate and weak. The key concern among the British critics, however, appears to have been about class and economics rather than sex and psychology. Suburbia made a mess of the venerable divide of town and country, the former being the domain of the enterprising merchant and industrialist, the latter being the birthright of the landed aristocracy. Suburbia was a place where ordinary folk could purchase a little piece of the countryside for themselves, and indeed the percentage of homes that were owner-occupied increased from ten to seventy percent in this period. Clearly, the wrong kinds of people were starting to own property. The architect-planner
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Clough Williams-Ellis held nothing back in his England and the Octopus of 1928: the upstart ‘Joneses’ were the ‘infecting’ the countryside, taking full advantage of ‘a game of beggar-my-neighbour between a host of greedy little sneak-builders and speculators – supplying the demand for homes meanly and usuriously’ (Williams-Ellis in Bruegmann 2005: 117). Much more appropriate was the toy-town of Portmeirion that Williams-Ellis constructed on the Llŷn peninsula in north Wales over a period of fifty years from the mid-1920s. A confection of styles, scales and skewed perspectives, containing building fragments imported from around the Mediterranean, it made the perfect setting for the deliriously paranoiac 1960s TV show The Prisoner. Richards was the architectural critic of The Times and alternated as editor and coeditor of The Architectural Review from 1935 to 1971, which was largely pro-CIAM in outlook (Higgott 2007: 34-56). Richards’ main contribution to the suburbia debate, however, was The Castles on the Ground of 1946, which was clearly at odds with this. The book was written during the war whilst Richards was working for the British Ministry of Information in Cairo, and it is perhaps this distance from home that led him to reflect on British suburbia with such fondness. Richards came out against metropolitan sophisticates and modernist designers who cast the suburbs as ‘the villain of the piece…the very citadel of debased and vulgar taste. Is it not, exclaim its critics, at the same time the prime example of the debasement of modern taste, and the spiritual home of the sentiments – or sentimentalities – on which this taste is nourished?’ (Richards 1946: 11, 13).4 But the pride and effort that suburban people 2.2 Gardens in Portmeirion (Clough WilliamsEllis, mid-1920s onwards) Source: Donna Roberts
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spent in decorating their homes and gardens suggested two types of natural human instinct to Richards. First, the ‘conservative instinct’ to create a secure world in uncertain times, which Whyte discussed similarly as the impulse of ‘organization man’ to seek any kind of rootedness. ‘It makes for an instinctive preference for architectural styles which themselves help to create an atmosphere of permanence and security’, said Richards: ‘[The suburbanite] can feel responsible for his environment and thus get a sense of controlling his destiny’. The suburban home and shops offered an image of stability that might be ‘fantasy and make-believe’, but people had a right to their fantasies. The second instinct noted by Richards was creativity. Home decoration ‘remains one of the few outlets available to that portion of society which, in the modern world, finds itself generally deprived of outlets for its creative instinct’. The suburban home was the perfect canvas for this kind of expression and therefore was enjoyed by all, ‘except the cosmopolitan rich, a minority of freaks and intellectuals’. The attractions of suburbia must not be explained as ‘some strange instance of mass aberration’, he said, foretelling what Riesman was shortly to declare about American students. On the contrary, the speculative builders and municipal councillors who provided these homes in such numbers should be applauded for helping people satisfy their instincts so effectively (Richards 1946: 11, 13, 28-29, 35, 49). Richards’ book emerged at a time of uncertainty for architecture and planning in Britain. It was published in December 1946, just one month before the second reading of the Town and Country Planning Act, which was passed into law in 1947, gave comprehensive powers for land development to a centralized bureaucracy, and did indeed help curtail and control suburban development. Clearly the book was intended to make his peers think about whether the design of certain aspects of the built environment should be left in the hands of ordinary people; an argument Richards was to present to the CIAM 6 meeting in Bridgewater that year. Like Gans he provided a counterweight to the dominant opinions, and although the suburbs he was most familiar with were the well-to-do ones of his boyhood in Epsom, Richards’ views are only superficially similar to those of his fellow contributor and co-editor of the Architectural Review, the poet John Betjeman. For Betjeman, who echoed the distinctions made in the United States by Mumford, there were the handsome late-Victorian and Edwardian suburbs typical of his boyhood in Highgate and neighbouring Hampstead, the kind of suburb worthy of fond reminiscence in bittersweet poetry. And then there were the less affluent suburbs like Slough and Maidenhead, contained in famous volumes such as Continual Dew: A Little Book of Bourgeois Verse (1937). These suburbs were characterized as disfiguring their inhabitants, fit only for bombing, with only sandwich suppers and television and hopefully sex in tastelessly decorated ‘Jacobethan’ bedrooms to look forward to on Fridays (Betjeman 1971: 204-205, 1977: 4-5, 38).
POWER TO THE PEOPLE Some felt that the problems with certain types of suburb – that they were designed and decorated in poor taste and had communities that shamed and degraded
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humanity – could be remedied by making a better quality of suburb; reminiscent, for some, of the landscapes of their contented youths. Others argued, however, that attention should be focused on building communities in the inner cities, in the belief that it was only here that they could flourish. These ideas emerged most forcefully in the 1960s and, taking their cue from the anti-authoritarian climate of the decade, community was re-imagined as pro-active and aggressive. It was about people joining together to protect their neighbourhoods, sometimes from street hoodlums and sometimes from the planners themselves – those who would banish them all to the living death of suburbia. The 1960s community was imagined as a radical force of workers, students, bohemians and intellectuals. The figurehead of the 1960s approach to community was the urban economist Jane Jacobs. Jacobs had worked on a number of newspapers and journals, not least as associate editor of Architectural Forum in the 1950s, which led to her contributing also to Fortune magazine for Whyte. She acquired a reputation as a specialist on the brutal urban renewal programmes underway since the American Housing Act of 1949, on the back of which she was offered a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to work on the book that brought her to prominence, The Death and Life of Great American Cities of 1961 (Laurence 2007). Jacobs presented her ideas as the antidote to thinkers like Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier. According to Jacobs these people made their plans from above: they glanced at existing cities, sniffed at what they saw, and sought to reform them wholesale according to various untested social and economic ideals. Her own ideas, however, were derived from the empirical observation of successful city neighbourhoods and represented many years of mingling and gossiping in the streets (Jacobs 1994: 13-35). Jacobs believed inner city life to be a fragile ecosystem that could survive only the gentlest interventions, and she proposed four ‘generators of diversity’ that would foment an interesting, safe and trusting street culture. These were: mixed uses, such as apartments above shops next to a factory across from a school, which would encourage a reassuring buzz of activity at all times of day and night; short blocks, which would encourage people to walk along different routes and as a result to bump into each other unpredictably and more often; buildings of various ages, which would encourage purchases and investment at different economic levels and therefore ensure a mixed-income neighbourhood; and finally a dense concentration of people. This last might be described more accurately as a consequence of the other three generators rather than a generator in itself (Jacobs 1994: 155-251). These generators helped to knit people and the streets together into successful neighbourhoods. But what did Jacobs mean by ‘successful’? ‘A successful city neighbourhood is a place that keeps sufficiently abreast of its problems so it is not destroyed by them. An unsuccessful neighbourhood is a place that is overwhelmed by its defects and problems and is progressively more helpless before them’. The community life that emerged would create informal but effective political communities capable of defending their interests not only against ordinary street criminals but also against the city authorities, who Jacobs presents as cigarchomping villains, mired in corruption and committed to bulldozing every decent
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neighbourhood. Jacobs was instrumental in leading protests again Robert Moses’ plan to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a ten lane highway which would have run the breadth of Manhattan and branched down to dissect it north-south as well, joining up the bridges crossing the Hudson River and East River. The plan required extensive demolition work on some of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in the city, including Greenwich Village, SoHo and Little Italy, but was thrown out in 1962. To function well and answer challenges like this the urban neighbourhood must be ‘networked’ to sub-city districts and eventually to the city as a whole, and Jacobs stressed the importance of overcoming the obstructions caused by physical boundaries such as railway tracks. Cities may have ‘difficulties in abundance’, but they also ‘have marvellous innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving, and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties’. The properly functioning city is nothing less than a machine for resolving its own crises (Jacobs 1994: 122, 461). The second marker of a successful neighbourhood is less obvious and comes down to Jacobs’ personal preference for city living and what she believes to be its beneficial effect upon people. Basically, people need strife and struggle in order to flourish. It is this that gives meaning to life. One gets a sense of this idea immediately upon reading the long opening quotation in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It is by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr., a lawyer and legal academic who was best known for being the ‘Great Dissenter’ on the United States Supreme Court from 1902-32: When it is said that we are too much occupied with the means of living to live, I answer that the chief worth of civilization is just that it makes the means of living more complex; that it calls for great and combined intellectual effort, instead of simple, uncoordinated ones, in order that the crowd may be fed and clothed and housed and moved from place to place. Because more complex and intense intellectual efforts mean a fuller and richer life. They mean more life. Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.5
Jacobs argues that it is only through highly engaged community relationships that people exist at all. ‘Impersonal city streets make anonymous people’, she says, whereas a street rich in ‘tangible enterprises’ gives them ‘identity’. Also, ‘real people’ are not the ‘statistical people’ of the planning authorities: ‘Real people are unique, they invest years of their lives in significant relationships with other unique people, and are not interchangeable in the least. Severed from their relationships, they are destroyed as effective social beings’. In other words, people cannot sustain their identities unless they are engaged in a dense web of responsible social activity. After observing a group of unruly kids in a public housing project, Jacobs remarked that ‘these were anonymous children, and the identities behind them were an unknown…Impersonal city streets make anonymous people’ (Jacobs 1994: 67, 146-47). This idea recurs in Jacobs’ remarks on rural and suburban living: rural life no longer really exists, she says, and suburban life is a perversion of real life and nature.
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The city and its inhabitants, however, are the last remnants of wild nature, even though cities are popularly demonized as unnatural whilst nature has become sentimentalized. Suburbia represents this sentimentalized vision of nature, Jacobs continues, a vision that destroys the very nature it seeks at the same time that suburbanites destroy their own – human – nature by living there. Jacobs concludes that the suburban impetus turns both city and country – and presumably people as well – into ‘bland shadows’. It is notable that in her loving vignette of the ‘ballet’ of life on Hudson Street, the only disturbance comes in the form of a womanizing drunkard raging in the early hours of the morning: ‘Drunk…Crazy…A wild kid from the suburbs’ (Jacobs 1994: 461, 463). These were personal beliefs that stemmed from Jacobs’ early fascination with the bustle of city living as opposed to the suburbs of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where she grew up: ‘As a child’, she said in an interview towards the end of her life, ‘I even liked to go to the dentist because I could go downtown’. Jacobs reflected that her career had largely been a retrospective attempt to intellectualize this early, visceral passion for the city and city living. And when questioned on whether she thought human beings were indeed social animals, and whether a lack of community somehow injured them, she responded as follows: ‘Yes, I think that’s very fundamental about human beings. I don’t know what basic human nature is, except I do think that is basic. I think that people need other people, not only to give their lives meaning…but also, I don’t think they can run successful economies unless they do that’.6 Life, for Jacobs, is made meaningful in this collective, citybased struggle for survival, and the more intense the struggle, the more living the life. As she said: ‘Being human is itself difficult’ (Jacobs 1994: 461). In the 1940s Jacobs had worked for the State Department’s Magazine Branch, producing articles and pamphlets on various aspects of American history, culture and science, a lot of which was published in the Russian-language magazine Amerika Illustrated with the intention of smoothing Cold War tensions. In 1952, however, she fell foul of McCarthyist paranoia and was interviewed by the Loyalty Security Board on suspicion of being a communist sympathizer. In her affidavit, Jacobs wrote, ‘I abhor the Soviet system of government, for I fear and despise the whole concept of a government which takes as its mission the molding of people into a specific “kind of man”, i.e. “Soviet Man”’ (Jacobs in Laurence 2007: 8, 10). Although this may be the case, it is clear that Jacobs’ urban proposals were themselves based on a preference for a specific kind of person, and sought indeed to bring that person into being. Jacob’s ideas were given an anarchistic spin by the urban sociologist Richard Sennett, whose book The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City Life (1970) discussed urban social community much more explicitly in relation to a theory of how the healthy human psyche should work. Sennett argued that all suburbs prolonged the worst elements of adolescence. Problems arise during adolescence when the individual starts making important life choices, such as which topics to study in school and which career to aim for, but usually has insufficient experience and emotional confidence to make informed ones. Feeling pressurized the individual will make snap decisions then withdraw behind a mental barrier and
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refuse to listen to alternative viewpoints; largely because he or she has invested their personality and sense of identity in these decisions. The adolescent becomes rigid and intolerant: ‘the threat of being overwhelmed by difficult social situations is dealt with by fixing a self-image in advance, by making oneself a fixed object rather than an open person liable to be touched by a social situation…[and] when the dangers of surprise are avoided, there can be no exploration, and so no inner growth’. People in this situation become ‘little gods’, albeit gods susceptible to mental illness (Sennett 1996a: 5-6, 15). The rigorously planned modernist city, the affluent gated community, likewise the suburb with its homogeneous population and income groups, all serve to uphold this adolescent mindset. What we need, Sennett maintains, is an approach to planning that fractures our adolescent mindset and forces us to grow into psychological adulthood. We need situations that frighten and challenge, requiring us to band together across social, ethnic and income divides (Sennett 1996a: 27-103). The first step would be to eradicate single-use zones to maximize opportunities for human contact. Services such as transport, education and the judiciary, as well as emergency services like police and hospitals, should also be reduced to a minimum. This would force people to get together and deal with their problems themselves. Although the resulting anarchy would be violent, Sennett maintains that it would be less dangerous than the bigoted mindset of suburban adolescence. People would be compelled to thrash out a tolerant working balance simply in order to avoid killing each other. This is the ‘survival community’, and in responding to its challenges the individual would mature psychologically (Sennett 1996a: 10798). In later books Sennett added new facets to his survival community theme. To fracture our expectations cities must be more than just socially challenging. They must also challenge us visually and physically, confusing our eyes and minds, and crushing our bodies together until they hurt and we are forced to sniff the odours of the ‘other’ whom we fear and resent (Sennett 1996b: 375; Sennett 1991). Interviewed in his secure apartment high above London, Sennett explained that his belief in plunging people down into traumatic environments is indebted to ‘that whole Simmelian dialectic of stimulation and defence…where people become Simmelian creatures’.7 Sennett was referring to the concept of self-identity developed by the early twentieth century German sociologist Georg Simmel, who argued that our potential as individuals could be realized only when drawn out by the challenges of everything around us.8 Simmel was interested in the challenges of ‘culture’, which he defined both as a process of personal development as well as the objects and experiences that people engage with in order to become cultured, such as art, literature, religion and science (Simmel 1908a: 227-34). But Simmel was more interested in the challenges of social interaction. Individuality develops, he believed, as a result of involvement in ever-larger groups, which helps people to discover the personal qualities that distinguish them from others. Thus, as our social ‘circle enlarges…as its cultural offerings increase…so too do the chances of developing the distinctiveness, the uniqueness, the sufficiency of existence of our inner lives’. The individual is called upon to refresh his identity time and again as the boundaries of his group are pushed back and he enters more challenging social
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milieu (Simmel 1908b: 261, 273-74). This process of ‘transcendence’, Simmel argued, is the core essence and meaning of life (Simmel 1918a, 1918b). The implications are clear: since we develop as individuals the more that we engage with other people the best setting for personal development is a large and socially intricate city. This was not easy, however. In his famous essay of 1903, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, Simmel noted that people tend to erect mental barriers – ‘a protective organ’ – to shut out the dissonance and uncertainties of city life. The most obvious symptom of this is the ‘blasé’ attitude, which becomes unhealthy if it is maintained for too long (Simmel 1903: 70). Healthy development was symbolized, for Simmel, by the door. By closing a door we have a moment of peace and self-reflection, but it must always be opened again for ‘the possibility of a permanent interchange’ (Simmel 1909: 68). Sennett believes the city should help create this sense of self-identity that never comes to rest: ‘Society is constantly intruding, deforming, ripping away that constant’. This involves not only the social challenges mentioned earlier but architectural challenges too. Indeterminacy in self and society must be reflected, perhaps sustained, by indeterminacy in the built environment. And if subjectivity and buildings are to be changeable then one of the factors is time: Buildings are problematics of time because buildings degrade, because they allow people to deform them – literally. Whenever we add to a great building… [we must ask] what is our violation, how do we deform it? Those are issues of our own subjectivity in relation to these objects…and they are huge problems.
Predictably, Sennett is critical of conservationist groups like English Heritage who argue that new additions to old buildings should be respectful of tradition and context, ‘which is a way of saying that the subject has no rights against the past, and can only pay allegiance to it’. The ‘subject’ must be liberated into a flexible, unfinished environment that is responsive to his or her actions: ‘indeterminate or incomplete forms both permit, and indeed demand, more engagement with the subject than forms which are finished’, whereas ‘the complete object, static object, invites aggression’. The worst thing that can happen is for buildings and cities to be planned comprehensively by a central authority.9 Jacobs and Sennett were not architect-planners but their works encapsulate quite well some of the main ideas for community planning that gained a foothold in these years: first, create a challenging mess of streets and activities to ensure lots of different people are mixed together; second, eliminate centralized planning with its mania for strict order and good taste; third, respect existing communities and try to help them fulfil their potential; fourth, create unfinished buildings that allow people to interact and express themselves creatively. Underlying these proposals, once again, is the belief that they are consistent with our human nature, that they will nourish our identities and heal our psychological disorders. A few examples taken directly from architecture and planning will give a better sense of how these ideas are meant to work in practise. An important advocate of the idea of letting people create their own environments is the Dutch architect N. John Habraken. Habraken has had
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considerable influence in the fields of theory, education and government policy, not least as head of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1975 to 1981, but also through the ‘Open Building’ movement in the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, Japan and elsewhere. Habraken came to prominence in 1961 with his book Supports: an alternative to mass housing, which had the aim of trying to get people involved in home building through direct, hands-on action. There had been flexible building before, of course, for example in the open plan and free façade techniques of modernist architects, but there the expectation tended to remain that it was the architect who should make the adjustments (Schneider and Till 2005). Habraken’s proposal was based on quite a complex view of the nature of civilization, property and human psychology. Civilization, he states, should not be confused with finished artefacts like great buildings or cities. Civilization is a process of human interaction and creativity and it is tied to ‘one of the strongest urges of mankind: the desire for possession’. We do not achieve true ‘ownership’ of property when we are passive, Habraken thinks, for example when something is given to us without our doing anything to earn it. Rather, it is ‘inextricably connected with action. To possess something we have to take possession’. Therefore we ‘touch’, ‘test’, ‘stamp’, ‘name’, ‘defile’, and all ‘because it shows traces of our existence’ (Habraken 1972: 11-12). Habraken believed that council estates and high-rise blocks thwarted these ‘essential human activities’. They are provided by public authorities as a ‘completed product’ that is meant to satisfy all the requirements of the inhabitants. Indeed, seeing as they are public property the inhabitants are sometimes forbidden from making minor alterations, such as repairs or redecoration. If people complained about this the typical response from the authorities was to say that the inhabitants were at fault and not the buildings: ‘To identify with such an environment they will have to change…the inhabitants “are not yet ready for what is offered them”… “they” have to grow into it’. Habraken saw a conspiracy at work in this provision of housing that ‘purposely frustrated’ people, and he pointed to graffiti and vandalism as the consequences. Ignoring the possible social and economic factors, Habraken attributes this to the frustration of our natural psychological urge to interact with and possess our surroundings. People had no choice but to ‘wear out’ their environment: ‘A child will destroy a toy with which he can do nothing, and content himself with playing with the pieces’ (Habraken 1972: 8-10, 13-15). But how does one resolve these ‘impulses of a biological nature’ with the need to house people? Habraken suggests that architects should provide the ‘rules for a game’ rather than finished buildings. What he had in mind was to provide a framework of stacked plots that incorporated all the essential service mains like water pipes and electric wiring but was otherwise unfinished. This was the ‘support structure’, ‘which allows the provision of dwellings which can be built, altered and taken down, independently of the others’. It would be left to the residents of this piece of scaffolding to finish off their homes for themselves so they would be provided with a kit of modular parts to snap together in imaginative ways, and over time ‘the many variations and trifling changes offered by support structures, should cause clearly discernible differences in atmosphere and character from one part of town
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to another’ (Habraken 1972: 5, 43, 59-60, 74). The essence of Habraken’s vision, as well as the enduring paternalism, is encapsulated in the remark that a ‘good educator…does not tell a child not to touch anything, but teaches it activities such as constructing, building, or maintenance and care. He gives a box of building blocks rather than a finished doll’s house’.10 The question of how to apply this theory in practise was difficult and the most memorable examples are perhaps the ones that could never be built. The artist Constant Nieuwenhuys made an imaginative set of proposals in parallel with those of his fellow countryman, never drawing directly on Habraken’s theories but starting from a similar principle: ‘every human being feels the latent need to manifest his creativity…To succeed in life is to create and re-create it incessantly. Man can only have a life worthy of himself if he himself creates’. Nieuwenhuys was a founding member of the Situationist International, a Marxist group that challenged authoritarian modes of thought in politics and culture from the mid-1950s through to the mid-1970s. His ‘New Babylon’ was developed during these years as a critique of modernist urbanism, and the completed project of plans, models, drawings and paintings was exhibited in the autumn of 1974 in the Haags Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. Based on a new concept of man – no longer wise Homo Sapiens but creative Homo Ludens – New Babylon was envisaged as a global environmental playground (De Zegher and Wigley 2001). Automated factories and power stations would manufacture the essentials which would be taken wherever needed by automated transport and distribution networks. This was the ‘macro-structure’. Nieuwenhuys was more interested in the ‘micro-structure’, however, a network of ‘sectors’ lifted into the air on stilts and spreading across national boundaries to encrust the entire surface of the planet. Each sector would be a toy box of building elements that the newly liberated peoples of the earth would use to express their creativity. There would be no creator and no audience but instead an endless round of building and rebuilding as people responded to the creative efforts of everyone else to attain their ‘highest existential level’. Nieuwenhuys believed that ‘freedom’ was incompatible with ‘structures’ – or routines – of any kind, and this included not only buildings and cities but also families, lifestyles, timetables and the seasons. The sectors of New Babylon would have machines for manipulating the internal climate as well as the ambience of light and sound, giving freedom at last from the ‘monotonous alteration of day and night, which humanity has sought since the dawn of time’. Multi-level transport would be provided, including trains underground and heliports on the roofs, but not to get people to work as there would be no such thing, and not for tourism as one’s destination would surely be rebuilt before one got there. Transport would become just another toy to play with. Families would wither away to be replaced by a ‘fluctuating society [of ] fortuitous contacts and encounters…without a fixed base, [which] can only be maintained by intensive telecommunications [and a] renewed, reinvented audiovisual media’. But stripped now of any practical utility telecommunications would also become a source of ‘ludic’ activity. People could abandon the limitations of a ‘particular way of life’ and wander ‘a world that is changing so rapidly that it seems forever other’ (Nieuwenhuys 1974).
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But there are plenty of more practical examples of the self-build ethos, for example the government-sponsored Metastadt project of 1974 in Wulfen, Germany, which was demolished due to structural failings less than ten years after ‘completion’. The Next 21 project in Osaka (1994) by the Osaka Gas Corporation is a visually striking and appropriately playful example of what can be achieved with support and modular infill, although the differing characters of each apartment – at least for the first phase of occupancy – is due to their kit-parts having been snapped together by more than a dozen professional designers. The inhabitants have shown little interest – or perhaps do not have the time or energy at the end of the working day – to re-make their apartments for themselves on the fly. Finally, St. James Urban Village (2005) near Northampton by PRP architects marries the original self-build ethos with the sustainable materials and agenda of today (Schneider and Till n.d. and 2005). It might seem strange to mention examples like these in terms of community, yet they gained new currency as part of that shift in the early 1960s towards getting people to engage with their environments more creatively. Another, perhaps more obvious, consequence of this shift came from the grassroots. This was less about architectural design and more about rethinking the role and status of the architect-planner, usually in accordance with socialist views. A key representative of this approach is the English architect Tom Woolley. Woolley won the Royal Architects of Scotland student prize whilst studying in Edinburgh in the 1960s and used the prize money to do research into local community housing groups. Habraken was interested in physical frameworks but Woolley and others were more interested in organizational frameworks, such as how to conduct public consultations in an even-handed manner. ‘Advocacy planning’ gathered pace in the 1970s, backed up in Britain by the Town and Country Planning Act of 1968 which amended the ’47 version with new provisions for involving communities (Bullock 2010: 338). For Woolley, this meant spending less time at the drawing board in order to ‘spend hours…in smoke filled rooms’ with tenants, traders and squatters. The difficulty for Woolley and others was in striking the correct balance between providing a structure that led consultation towards an achievable goal, which required leadership from the architect-planner, while also providing an outlet for creative freedoms that reflected local sentiment accurately and made a discernible contribution to the final physical design, bearing in mind that the community did not necessarily have the design ‘literacy’ to translate social needs and preferences into physical form: ‘people somehow want a balance between the opportunity for creativity and to exercise choice but they also [want] some kind of structure to it as well…It should be a structure of consent, as opposed to a structure that is imposed’. Given the hands-on methodology it is understandable that this resulted in a pragmatic sense of ‘community’: As soon as you work with that sort of group in reality, as opposed to having myths about them, you know that there are a lot of different interest groups… whose interests may be in conflict. The idea that there’s some sort of cosy concept of the community is completely mistaken. [It’s about] trying to find a way of working with people [that] gives them some ability to influence some
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control over the environment. You had to have a robust design-participation methodology or technique in order to ensure that what you were doing was a direct representation of what people wanted.
It was not until the 1980s that these experiments gained widespread acceptance, although some felt that the original grassroots approach had been betrayed. Community building lost its rather combative, anti-authoritarian edge. In the words of Woolley, it was given an ‘intellectual gloss’ and rendered into a ‘sanitized version’, becoming a ruse of consultation rather than the real thing.11 Whether ruse or not, with it came another notion of community and how to create it that was an awkward amalgamation of the conflicting viewpoints discussed in this chapter: first, that while the mass-produced suburb was dehumanizing dross, proper architect-designed suburbs provided an excellent quality of life and real community; second, that real communities were self-generating and required strife, creative effort and discord, but certainly not professional design. We find this in ‘New Urbanism’, the subject of the next chapter.
Under the Federal Housing Administration the required down payment fell from 50% of the total value of the house to as little as 10%, while the repayment period was extended from as little as five years to as much as thirty years, and on interest rates lower than previously at 5.5% (Moe and Wilkie 1997: 48).
See Chapter 3.
For a more detailed account of Riesman, Packard and Whyte see Richards 2007.
Richards may have been responding to one of the few contributors to Williams-Ellis’ Britain and the Beast who was not completely hostile to suburbia. John Gloag frothed about ‘those repellent, jerry-built, sham-Tudor houses that disfigure England’, but conceded that ‘the reason why people are happy in them, why they can take pride in them, is worth studying’. This was partly a matter of expediency, as ‘you cannot…order the English about, and insist that life has got to be lived in such and such a way’ (Gloag 1937: 199).
Jacobs 1994: unpaginated. Jacobs does not provide the source but it is from a ‘Speech at a Dinner Given to Chief Justice Holmes by the Bar Association of Boston on March 7, 1900’ (Willard Hurst 1950: 341-42).
Jane Jacobs, interview with author, Toronto, 7 April 2003.
Richard Sennett, interview with author, London, 20 December 2002.
Simmel believed that self-identity had changed throughout history: the Renaissance valued the self-aggrandizement and uniqueness of the individual while the Enlightenment sought to strip away social inequality in order to find the values held in common by all. The form presently at hand, Simmel argued, is a kind of mediation between these two extremes. The various types of identity, therefore, ‘are not the last words of individualism...rather, the unforeseeable work of mankind will produce ever more numerous and varied forms with which the human personality will affirm itself and prove the worth of its existence’ (Simmel 1957: 226).
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Richard Sennett, interview with author, London, 20 December 2002. Sennett believes that vandalism in urban riots tends to be directed at buildings and shops that have a ‘finished quality to them. Mom and Pop shops…are left alone as staples of the community, whereas the ones with lots of plate glass, where the building looks like this immeasurable intrusion, finished from the outside, those are the shops that tend to get broken’.
10 Habraken occasionally presented his ideas in phenomenological terms, and we shall return to this in Chapter 6. Public housing is too ‘machine’-like, for example, and we need to ‘consider housing as a task people will have to perform during their stay in the world’ so that they might truly ‘dwell’ once more: ‘dwelling is building…the outcome of human nature’ (Habraken 1972: 9, 13, 18). 11 Tom Woolley, interview with author, Belfast, 6 December 2002. Johann Albrecht has also discussed the difficulties of establishing the right organizational framework for advocacy planning to be meaningful and likewise questions the sincerity and motives of some later manifestations of this approach. Albrecht’s proposed solution is a pragmatic one reminiscent of Habraken, with architect-planners designing important focal points in the physical layout and the community filling in the gaps over time, albeit under partial control of a central guiding design idea agreed by consent (Albrecht 1988). See also the collection of theories and case-studies in Blundell Jones, Petrescu and Till 2005.
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3 Communities of Contentment
THIRD WAY Through the 1980s community planning became respectable. Less was it seen as a way of empowering ordinary folk to challenge official ways of planning and government. It began to infiltrate the professional establishment, taken up in the teaching of new architect-planners and the rhetoric of old ones. An example will give a sense of this shift. In the 1970s and ‘80s Richard Rogers made buildings in a mannerist ‘Hi-Tech’ style that looked like science-fiction movie sets, such as Lloyds of London (1986). He wanted to put some on the South Bank of the Thames by demolishing the Oxo Tower Wharf building and a tangle of well-loved streets – mixed use and residential – that disgusted him utterly as a throwback to medieval times. The scheme was routed by a community activist group, the Coin Street Community Builders. By 1996 Rogers was Lord Rogers of Riverside, soon to be given responsibility by the Labour government to chair the Urban Task Force and devise ways to build ‘sustainable communities’, one proposal of which was to make mixed use, tangled streets (Urban Task Force 1999). Rogers went from punk to peer, which is a shift in perceptions and aspirations that can be applied to community planning as a whole. Community is no longer linked with browbeaten people on low incomes, seeking to defend their territory against architect-planners and public authorities. Community has been re-imagined as cosy and cooperative, something to be provided by architect-planners through good old professional expertise. The militants were sceptical of the shift: this was corporate community, lip-service community. It was just another buzzword in the sales-pitch. Jane Jacobs believed that recent advocates had little understanding or interest in how ‘real’ communities worked, preferring instead to imagine some cosy ideal of community living and associate it with the houses they were selling in the suburbs and along the coast: ‘They’re talking to themselves instead of looking, I fear’.1 The concept of community certainly underwent a change as it shifted into the mainstream of architectural thinking but this did not mean that it was used cynically in all cases, as its critics alleged.
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Prior to the 1980s the Royal Institute of British Architects had been largely contemptuous of community architecture because it was a threat to the architect’s control. In 1986, however, the community architecture specialist Rod Hackney was elected President of the RIBA. This is not to say that all architects began to endorse community architecture but the climate was changing. An important marker of this, and to some degree perhaps a catalyst, was the speech made by the Prince of Wales in May 1984 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the RIBA. As well as making a headline-grabbing attack on the proposed extension to the National Gallery that we shall return to later, the larger part of the speech was dedicated to a calm and measured account of the benefits of community architecture: ‘Now…we are seeing the gradual expansion of housing cooperatives, particularly in the inner city areas of Liverpool, where the tenants are able to work with an architect of their own who listens to their comments and their ideas and tries to design the kind of environment they want, rather than the kind which tends to be imposed upon them without any degree of choice’ (Prince of Wales 1984). The Prince was referring to the Weller Streets Housing Cooperative, which was formed in Liverpool in 1977 by a group of sixty one working-class families whose two-up two-down terraced houses had been earmarked for demolition for a quarter of a century. During this time they lived with the stressful uncertainty of where or indeed when they might be re-housed. Fed up at last, they formed their cooperative with the ambition of building a new estate for themselves. Over the next five years they raised funds, bought land off the council, secured an architect and co-designed their own houses. In 1982 they moved in and the cooperative took on management of the estate. It was not paradise, of course. The management committee complained that not enough people got involved with the running and maintenance of the estate, for example when communal gardens became overgrown and vandalized. Meanwhile, inhabitants complained that the management, which was dominated by the same strong-willed characters that pushed the scheme through in the first place, became rather Stalinist in character. One man’s proposal to set up a gardening club, which had a lot of support from residents, was derailed when the management decreed, ‘You can’t be autonomous’. But despite the difficulties in shifting ‘from the “military” administration to the civil one’, Weller Streets became the prime example of a successful new-build housing cooperative and an inspiration to those that came later (MacDonald 1986: 202203). The Prince visited the Weller Streets Cooperative in the December after his RIBA speech and made observations that seemed to echo Jacobs and Habraken: first, you need compact multi-use space ‘on a suitably intimate scale to engender that community feeling, encompassing all age groups’; second, ‘if people have played a part in creating something they might conceivably treat it as their own possession and look after it’ (Prince of Wales in MacDonald 1986: 11). But despite the success of the Weller Streets example and its apparent debt to these early radicals, the grassroots approach was no longer the only thing that sprang to mind when community planning was mentioned. Afforded recognition by the establishment, in the form of royalty in 1984 and the RIBA in 1986, community was adopted as
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the rightful domain of professional planners and developers, and the principles, approach and rhetoric changed accordingly. In 1989 two of the Prince’s advisers, Nick Wates and Charles Knevitt, published an account of the community planning movement that provides a valuable insight into this shift. Their ‘core principle’ was simplicity itself: ‘the environment works better if the people who live, work and play in it are actively involved in its creation and management’. The definition of ‘community architecture’ became suddenly unproblematic: ‘“architecture” (the “art or science of building”) which creates or reinforces “community” (“identity of character; fellowship”)’. Claims continued to be made that community participation answered to a suppressed human yearning: this was not ‘a new discovery – rather a rediscovery of essential truths… they derive from human nature’. These truths lay neglected in the ‘subconscious’ of the human species even though they emerged ‘instinctively’ in the building practises of the Third World. Planners and government would come now to the rescue as ‘facilitators’ and ‘enablers’, unlocking this potential by turning building into an interactive ‘process’ rather than a designer-led ‘end-product’. Only in this way would people be restored to ‘strength’, ‘vitality’ and ‘health’: ‘The ghost of the degenerate inheritors of the Modern Movement in architecture and planning – whose paternalistic, technocratic and dehumanising influence for the last fifty years has made it the single most disastrous episode in the whole history of the built environment – can finally be laid to rest’. Although the book recounts a number of grassroots initiatives there is a distinct shift in tone, which is linked to a shift in assumptions about who creates community. The architect-planner is eased back into his traditional role, afforded fresh purpose through the very schemes that sought to usurp him. The condemnation of modernist ‘paternalism’, for example, is undermined when Wates and Knevitt sound an echo to the ‘Philosopher Guardians’ from Plato’s Republic, dedicating the enterprise to the visionary influence of their own ‘Philosopher Prince’: ‘there is clearly a link between his support for community architecture and his searching for the meaning of life’ (Knevitt and Wates 1989: 18, 23, 113, 157). Also in 1989, an organization called Business in the Community (BITC) established the ‘Urban Villages Group’ under advice from its president: the Prince of Wales. From 1981 BITC had been encouraging business leaders to take an interest in local community issues as a matter of good business practise, and the Urban Villages Group – which soon became the ‘Urban Village Company’ – was an attempt to extend this into the enormously profitable area of real estate development. The Group was dominated by high-ranking executives from banks, building societies and the home construction industry, as well as a few architect-planners. Their manifesto of 1992 demonstrates perfectly how community architecture had shifted from a people- to a profit-led enterprise. The following passages are taken from a chapter entitled ‘Public Involvement’: If the development is to foster a real sense of belonging it is essential for the community to be invited to participate at the earliest possible moment. The nature of land acquisition and the commercial negotiations leading to it may make it impossible to do this at the very outset; but as soon as this obstacle
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is removed, the promoter of any urban village is well advised to engage in the widest possible dialogue with the public, and the community interests in particular…This does not mean asking the public to ‘design’ the village; that ultimately is the responsibility of the promoter and his professional advisers. But they can provide the opportunities and channels for members of the public and interested groups to find out what is envisaged, offer information and comment, feel they are helping to shape the development, and may have opportunities for a stake or direct role in the process. The promoter benefits because they provide him with much valuable local information and advice.
As public consultation often throws up more obstacles than opportunities it is suggested that it might be advisable to put greater emphasis on market research. But despite its problems, public involvement has one great boon: ‘Above all, people consulted are people valued, and people valued are more likely to look positively on what is proposed’ (Urban Villages Group and Aldous 1992: 38, 40-41). When ‘community’ is cited by the Urban Villages Group we find an uneasy combination of meanings and motives. First, it refers to a way of making people feel involved and sympathetic to the housing products shortly to be put on sale to them. Second, it is a genuine social quality that is meant to be kindled in those people who attend the public meetings, providing they have not been replaced by market research questionnaires. And third, the completed village will help to reinforce community through its layout and also its architectural style: it will look like a community of a rather safe and even nostalgic kind. The first photograph in the Urban Villages manifesto shows the Pantiles area of Royal Tunbridge Wells, an elegant promenade of boutiques and restaurants once favoured by the gentry during ‘the season’ and now a popular tourist destination. The caption describes it as a ‘benign environment…no hassle’ (Urban Villages Group and Aldous 1992: 2). It would be hard to imagine a more complete turnaround from the harried community environments of the 1960s and ‘70s, all of them alive – allegedly – with life-affirming deprivation and conflict. The best example of a new urban village is Poundbury in Dorset. The designs were begun in the late 1980s under instructions from the 24th Duke of Cornwall, also known as the Prince of Wales. Poundbury is being built on a small section of the Prince’s private estate, the Duchy of Cornwall. The first phase was completed in 2002 with final completion scheduled for 2025. The master-planner of Poundbury is the Luxembourg-born architect Léon Krier, who is famous for his commitment to traditionalist design principles.2 The village abuts onto the existing town of Dorchester and gives the impression that is has been there for generations, notwithstanding the bollards preventing through-traffic from the older neighbourhoods. Poundbury is a dense knot of residential streets built of local brick, stone and slate. The five minute walk from the edge to the centre reveals a collection of shops selling souvenirs and local produce – often organic and from the Prince’s own Duchy Home Farm. There is also a pub and a village hall with a pitched roof and a chubby colonnade. Here and there windows have been bricked up, giving a sense that they have fallen foul of the Window Tax that caused many householders to forgo their windows in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
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Further adding to the illusion of age is the way cars wind their way cautiously around the blind corners of an awkward street plan that seems to pre-date their invention. The few pavements are narrow and covered in shingles that crunch underfoot delightfully. Phase two is being handled by Robert Adam Architects and although larger in scale and primarily residential it continues the lessons laid down in phase one. When complete, Poundbury will have increased the population of Dorchester by around five thousand people in a combination of owner-occupied, privately rented and social housing, mixed up with all the shops and amenities one would expect of a small town, as well as clean industries like computing, tourism and the House of Dorchester chocolate factory. Community has been re-imagined by some as benign, sometimes affluent, and content to be controlled by the planner. This formulation has been taken up enthusiastically in the United States, especially by the ‘Congress of the New Urbanism’ that was instituted in 1993. Their most important document is the Charter of the New Urbanism of 2000, which was an attempt to stake out the territory formerly occupied by CIAM and its Athens Charter of 1943 (Leccese and McCormick 2000).3 New Urbanists present their argument with an urgency reminiscent of the anti-suburban manifestoes of the 1950s. The architecture historian Vincent Scully, an advocate of New Urbanism as well as teacher of some of its practitioners, proclaims the erosion of community to be cataclysmic: ‘It is within that model that human beings live; they need it badly, and if it breaks down they may well become insane’. The suburbs are ‘spawning-grounds’ for ‘neuroses’ whereas New Urbanist communities provide ‘psychic protection’ (Scully 1994: 221). William Fulton and Peter Calthorpe, the latter a co-founder of the Congress, discuss community in relation to the devastating earthquake in the Osaka-Kobe region of Japan in 1995. The mixed and ramshackle Mano district had a high proportion of survivors because neighbours knew each other well and could reckon who was missing and locate them quite easily. High-rise districts, however, had a much higher casualty rate as nobody knew anybody else and it was impossible to say who or how many were buried under the rubble. But this is not just about emergencies, Fulton and Calthorpe argue: communities ‘are essential to our well-being – not just in times of crisis, but also in our everyday lives’. To heal the damage planners need to provide the ‘social capital [that] broaden people’s sense of self from “I” to “we” and encourages them to work on community problems’. The ‘everywhere community’ of internet chat-rooms and mail-order is also a threat, they conclude, for it makes people believe that meaningful relationships can be sustained in ways divorced from physical place (Calthorpe and Fulton 2001: 31, 33). The Charter of the New Urbanism contains countless more statements of this kind, with Mumford appearing frequently in chapter dedications that give a good indication of the movement’s priorities: cities must be ‘designed to make man at home with his deeper self and his larger world’, ideally through an architectural ‘dialectic of classical and vernacular [that] taps into deep cultural and perhaps physiological roots’ (Mumford in Leccese and McCormick 2000: 16, 164). There is a sizeable literature in support of these views, usually offering diagnoses on the current state of the American psyche similar to what we saw before, and
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tracing it back to bad habits of land-use. Suburban sprawl was the outcome of the gold-rush mentality and the gold-rush continues, thanks to an evil cabal of car and tyre manufacturers, oil producers, highway construction companies, the developers of housing ‘subdivisions’ and ‘big-box’ stores, and state governments keen to increase their employment figures and tax-base regardless of their longterm environmental, social and psychological consequences (Moe and Wilkie 1997: x, 62, 255-58; Kunstler 1993: 85-112, 217-28). In the 1600s the Puritans valued concentrated development and self-sufficient townships, but over time land became less of a social and spiritual resource and more an economic resource, especially with the need to expedite settlement after the Revolutionary War of 1775-83. It was made available cheaply, from $2.00 an acre in 1796 to $1.25 in 1820, and on reasonable terms of credit. This price and the parcelling out of land had a harmful effect on the way it was viewed: A system was needed to divide it up for sale. The answer was the national grid… The federal survey platted the raw land of the Middle West into square township units measuring six miles on each side. These were divided into thirty-six square-mile ‘sections’ of 640 acres each. At first, only full sections were sold, but eventually the quarter section (160 acres) became the standard, since it was considered the ideal size for a family farm.
When the American landscape was divided up it became a scientific and commercial resource – ‘a commodity for capital gain’ – rather than the ‘social resource’ that it should have been, which set in train the disastrous process of suburbanization (Moe and Wilkie 1997: 26, 29-30). But hope remains. People visiting Disneyland are strangely attracted to ‘Main St., USA’, a reconstruction of a small town street from the early 1900s complete with candy store, rotating barber pole, horse-drawn streetcars, a Cigar Store Indian and parades. There is a ‘collective memory’ here that resonates with something profoundly human within every decent American citizen: ‘an individual belongs to something larger than the self’ (Moe and Wilkie 1997: 260).4 Grown-ups do not go to Disneyland to enjoy the rides but to linger in Main St. and experience again this lost sense of civic pride and participation (never mind the Indian), even as their kids try to hurry them on to the more daredevil attractions deeper in the park. This love of Main St. cannot be simple nostalgia as most of the visitors have no living memory of such places. Instead it must be a natural and genuinely human response. Although we know this is part of a commercial venture our reaction is an indication of real wants, answering ‘our deepest psychological yearnings’. It is the same desperate ‘hunger for public life’ that causes people to haunt shopping malls. This weird behaviour reveals ‘the profoundest aspects of our existence’ (Kunstler 1993: 75, 119, 217, 247). New Urbanists are scathing about the perceived social and psychological effects of suburbia but consider the solution to be a simple matter of spatial engineering and architectural detailing. An example of this is a planning concept by one of the founders of New Urbanism, Andrés Duany, which was derived from work of the Scottish biologist, botanist and town-planner Patrick Geddes. In his book Cities in Evolution of 1909, Geddes had thought it useful to model human settlements
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in terms of what he called the ‘Valley Section’. This was a hypothetical crosssection of settlements and employments that could be found under the differing environmental conditions of a typical valley, starting at the highest altitudes with miners in the mountains and woodcutters and hunters in the forests, and stepping down gradually through shepherds on the hills, peasant farmers in the fields and floodplains and finally fisher folk by the coast. The lives and activities of the people were determined by their position in the valley and each element was dependent on the others for resources and trade, which made it impossible to consider them in isolation. Duany took this as inspiration for the ‘Transect’, which went beyond the analytical remit of Geddes’ model to become a practical tool for achieving greater social integration across the entire environment, spanning from ‘rural preserve’, ‘rural reserve’ and ‘suburban’, through ‘general urban’, ‘urban center’, ‘urban core’, and finally into the ‘special district’ with its grand civic and cultural institutions, parks and suchlike (Duany 2002). This dovetails with the New Urbanist concern for regional planning, under which the neighbourhood would become ‘less like a self-contained cell with its own isolated nucleus and more like a network of overlapping places and shared uses’. These would combine into villages, towns, cities, thence into regions, becoming finally a well-integrated cluster of activities and enterprises at various scales. ‘The alternative to sprawl’, then, ‘is not a forced march back to the city but a hierarchy of places – each walkable and diverse – of various densities and in various locations’ (Calthorpe and Fulton 2001: 33, 274). In planning terms, then, the solution is about developing an incremental scale of overlapping settlements, a dynamic that is echoed at the much smaller scale
3.1 Transect and countryside panorama, intended to illustrate different levels of urban density and social integration (Andrés Duany, 2002) Source: Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co.
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of architectural detailing as well. Verandahs and porches along the façades of buildings, bay windows pushing the shop display out into the street, porticoes surrounding entrances, double doors and reception halls, exterior balconies, steps marking the transition down onto a pavement or up into the courthouse, are some of the ways in which different grains of social space – private, family, semipublic, public, commercial, formal-ceremonial and so on – might be articulated architecturally. Physical architectural detailing which pushed and pulled into the environment is intended literally to provide a psycho-social cue to push and pull people’s awareness and even bodies into different types of space and, with it, into the different types of social encounters contained within those spaces. The decorative ‘doodads’ and signage of much suburban housing and retail parks, likewise the sheet glass curtain-walling of much corporate and civic architecture, are too flattened out to have the subliminally coercive socializing effect of their more articulated architectural equivalents (Kunstler 1993: 113-14, 118, 121, 128, 130, 148, 152, 166-68). Combined with the regional planning or Transect ethos, what is proposed here is a spatial structure made up of discrete domains separated by clear but easily negotiable boundaries. Each domain would have its own architectural and planning characteristics. Each domain also would have its own scale, enterprises and economy, and the different gradients would in theory allow them all to flourish, from the smallest market trader through to the largest global corporation. Also important is that each domain has distinct social characteristics as well: people could expect different social encounters, experiences and opportunities within each one. Moreover, the individual’s negotiation of these boundaries and domains is considered essential not only for the development of a vibrant public realm but also for self-development.5 The New Urbanist social model is implied rather than stated outright, although it appears to be reminiscent of Simmel. But unlike the radicalized interpretations of Simmel that we encountered in the last chapter the social dynamic here appears to be more accommodating and even genteel. New Urbanists took this formulation from various sources, such as Lewis Mumford’s The Culture of Cities of 1938, which stressed the importance of architect-planners in setting the stage for the social drama that leads to personal enrichment (Mumford 1997: 454-84). A more important influence came from the revitalized ‘Communitarian’ movement of the 1980s and the formation of the ‘Communitarian Network’ in 1993, the same year as New Urbanism. Communitarianism takes in a wide ranging group of academics, politicians and activists who seek to devise ways of reinvigorating a sense of social duty in people while preserving their individual liberties. Predictably, a renewed approach to community is considered fundamental. Only community can bridge the middle way – or ‘Third Way’ – between rampant individualism and outright state control. A key figure in this movement is the sociologist Amitai Etzioni, who argues that ‘communities are best viewed as if they were Chinese nested boxes, in which less encompassing communities (families, neighbourhoods) are nestled within more encompassing ones (local villages and towns), which in turn are situated within
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still more encompassing communities, the national and cross-national ones’. This structure can be understood and become workable, he argues, only if we are careful to delineate the ‘boundaries’ between the various groups. By transgressing these boundaries and experiencing different groups the American mindset will be transformed from a state of ‘Me-ness’ to ‘We-ness’ and social morality will be saved (Etzioni 1995: 32). In his influential analysis of the worrying trend for people to play ten-pin Bowling Alone (2000), the political theorist Robert Putnam argues for an environment that can sustain two types of ‘social capital’: ‘bonding (or exclusive)’ and ‘bridging (or inclusive)’. By ‘bonding’ he means networks that are ‘inward looking and tend to reinforce exclusive identities and homogenous groups’, and by ‘bridging’ he means networks that are ‘outward looking and encompass people across diverse social cleavages’. But it is essential to have both types of network: the first to provide ‘social and psychological support’, the second to provide for selfdevelopment and growth. ‘Bridging social capital can generate broader identities’, he says, ‘whereas bonding social capital bolsters our narrower selves’ (Putnam 2000: 22-23). These two types of social capital should operate in tandem throughout the entire spectrum of social groupings, from the smallest to the largest. Etzioni and Putnam are contemporaneous with New Urbanism and it is easy to see how their social model is paralleled by the overlapping group spaces of the planning model. It is easy also to see that it remains Simmel’s model of psycho-social development, albeit dressed in contemporary clothes.6 The New Urbanist design principles intended to bring these theories to life can be summarized quite simply: they advocate compact, walk-able neighbourhoods and efficient public transport in order to minimize dependency on the car; the dense integration of many uses and activities, such as housing, commerce, light industry, and civic institutions like schools and hospitals; an emphasis on modest enterprises that plough funds and resources back into the local economy, rather than multinational corporations that divert them elsewhere; finally, design codes that reflect the local vernacular and use local materials and methods of construction, although important public buildings should be done in a neo-classical style. Although dozens of New Urbanist developments are underway or already complete, the first and still the most famous example is the holiday village of Seaside on the Florida Panhandle. The initiative came in the late 1970s from the Miami-based property developer Robert Davis, who wanted to do something with an eighty acre site that had been passed down from his grandfather. Davis had fond memories of childhood holidays in the seaside towns along the Gulf of Mexico, and Seaside was envisaged as a recreation of those places and times. Building work began in 1981, before the principles – and indeed the name – of New Urbanism were established. In charge of the design were two of the movement’s founders, Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. However Duany conceded in interview that when they began designing Seaside the issue of community could not have been further from their minds. Instead they had simply copied the most attractive features that they found in the seaside towns along the north Florida coast and embedded them in design codes that every new build in Seaside would have to follow, regardless of who designed it.7 The result is a charming paradox, at once uniform and higgledy-piggledy,
3.2 Paths in Seaside (Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., 1981 onwards) Source: The Author
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of brightly coloured clapboard houses with deep porches, tin roofs, balconies and rooftop gazebos, all individually named: ‘Cookies ‘n’ Cream’, ‘After All’, ‘Moon Doggie’, ‘Apple Pie’, ‘As Good As It Gets’ and ‘Memories Made Here’. Winding around and behind the houses are whitewashed picket fences, which the design code makes mandatory, and a labyrinth of walkways. A colonnaded crescent of shops, bars and restaurants surrounds three sides of the central green, which is fronted by a tiny neo-classical Post Office. Crossing the coastal road one enters a market area of beach huts and pavilions selling ice cream, crab and other seaside essentials. The sandy beach is blistering white and powder fine, and plenty of this sand has blown into Seaside to cover the walkways. But it has also been brought in purposefully to delineate the town limits with razor-like precision. Stepping out of Seaside along the main coastal road the attendant observer will notice that the sand underfoot becomes all of a sudden coarse and grimy. It was only when the scheme was well advanced that Duany and Plater-Zyberk watched in amazement as unexpected types of social activity began to coalesce spontaneously in the intimate streets and squares of Seaside, with people strolling and gossiping at all hours. The possibility of using this kind of design to create community was, Duany suggests, an unexpected revelation. Having turned originally to an exploration of style and aesthetics as a ‘post-modern’ reaction against the ‘sociological failure’ of modernism, once their eyes had been opened they realized that the architect had a duty not only towards ‘physical form’ but also towards the ‘life that form would generate’.8 Subsequently their designs became focussed on satisfying ‘the human need for communication and personalization’, although they stop short of claiming that they can affect a lasting and profound change over human nature: there is ‘no need to answer’ the question of ‘whether the design of the built environment exerts any influence on human nature itself…
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[because] human nature is not at issue here, but simply whether people behave differently in different physical surroundings’ (Duany and Plater-Zyberk 2001: 209210, 237-38). House prices in Seaside are in the millions of dollars and many are bought for the purpose of holiday rentals, meaning that they tend to lie empty during the off-season. It is a strange advertisement for the mixed use, mixed income community ideal that features so heavily in New Urbanist theory. But if one heads out of town eastwards along the coast one arrives at what Seasiders call the ‘Redneck Riviera’, and on balmy evenings pick-up trucks laden with beer and holidaymakers roar westwards into Seaside to party on the green. Despite this golden opportunity I did not see much evidence of group interaction when I visited, as the Seasiders retreated indoors once their guests arrived and emerged again only in the morning after the empties had been swept away. Other New Urbanist developments are more exclusive still. The village of Windsor, also in Florida but on the Atlantic coast, has its own polo fields and an eighteen-hole golf course as well as a private beach and equestrian centre. The main mode of transport is golf buggy and many houses are designed around the courtyard model. Facing inwards, they present blank walls and high windows to the monotonous tracks that surround them, which are empty and silent except for the mosquito whine of the electric vehicles. Spontaneous community is replaced by the Windsor Club, membership of which is compulsory for all residents. But while the new build communities tend to be high-end and socio-economically homogenous several of the New Urbanist ‘retrofit’ or regeneration projects, such as Lake West in downtown Dallas, are more faithful to the 1960s ideal of community. Although New Urbanists complain that every scheme is a fresh battle their proposals are becoming increasingly popular and they have helped formulate new planning codes in a number of American states and cities, not least along the Gulf Coast in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. One recent commentator, who promised to play devil’s advocate and point out the failings of New Urbanism, pursued his critique as follows: ‘I find little in the charter with which anyone could disagree…Every one of your broad aims is dead-on…You are practically the establishment now’. Indeed, his only criticism was that New Urbanism had been, up until that time, too limited in its ambitions (Krieger 2002: 51). Community was reinvented in the 1980s, then. It became something to be built by planning experts and sold by commercial developers, not something to be preserved in defiance of them. The notion of residents participating actively in the design process, which was a cornerstone of earlier stages of community planning, was scaled back and set within clear limits. The notion of residents deriving their life’s meaning through the struggle for survival was forgotten entirely, likewise the idea of getting people to build and rebuild their own homes in an endless cycle of creativity. But even so, the practical planning proposals of the earlier period were kept intact: density, mixed uses, multiple pathways for pedestrians, support for local businesses, buildings of differing styles and seemingly of different ages. These were the elements that must be included in any development as evidence of community, and they tended to be dressed up in traditional styles of architecture. Community architecture had a new goal: not to save existing communities, but to
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create community – or at least an attractive and marketable image of it – where none had existed before. And the planner was no longer the villain, but the hero.
IS/OUGHT Others explored the relationship between architecture, planning and community, but in a way that would come to represent a challenge to the engaged politicking of the advocacy planners as well as the more traditional stewardship of the Urban Villagers and New Urbanists. These were related closely to the positions of Richards and Gans introduced earlier, which is to say they believed that people and communities might be at their most content when architect-planners stopped interfering. Representing essentially a hands-off agenda with no apparent ambition to reform human behaviour we need touch upon these commentators only briefly. One of the most memorable arguments of this kind was made in the pages of New Society by the architecture and planning historians Reyner Banham and Peter Hall, journalist Paul Barker and the architect Cedric Price. Their article ‘Non-Plan: An Experiment in Freedom’ (1969) called for the experimental suspension of planning controls to see what might happen. The built environment should be made subject to the whims of the free-market and consumer fashion. The Non-Planners tried also to puncture the professional image of the architect as the supreme arbiter of good taste and exemplary living. Planning was based on little more than snobbery and hypocrisy, they said, and it failed to take account of the increasing affluence of ordinary people and their desire to follow fashion and purchase their way to happiness: [Planning involves] the imposition of certain physical arrangements, based on value judgments and prejudices…To impose rigid controls, in order to frustrate people in achieving the space standards they require, represents simply the received personal or class judgments of the people who are making the decision. Worst of all: they are judgments about how they think other people – not of their acquaintance or class – should live. A remarkable number of the architects and planners who advocate togetherness, themselves live among open space and green fields.
Planners were not only hypocritical but inflexible as well, as they tended to regard ‘a plan as being fulfilled when it is merely completed’. No matter how comprehensive a plan might be it is often made obsolete when circumstances changes. The spaces left open for growing food in the Garden Cities of Welwyn and Letchworth, for example, became redundant with the increasing availability of tinned foods and affordable refrigerators for the home; likewise the generous provision of public transport when car ownership became widespread. The question of whether or not a planner should advocate the growing of one’s own vegetables or the use of public transport is something that the Non-Planners refused to get involved in. If people preferred not to do these things then that was their business. The key principles that the Non-Planners sought to introduce were change and choice:
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‘physical planning’, they said, ‘should consist at most of setting up frameworks for decision’ (Banham et al. 1969: 13, 20-21). As an example of their intentions the authors advocated lifting planning restrictions around Bishop’s Stortford to facilitate the construction of a new airport, which eventually became Stansted. They saw this as a way of undermining opposition from local protestors too. Allegedly the protesters were worried about the environmental impact of the airport as well as the extra burden on the transport infrastructure, but the Non-Planners saw different motivations at work: Taking the planning lid off would produce a situation traumatic enough among the amenity lobbies to make their real motivations visible; to show how much is genuine concern for environmental and cultural values, how much merely class panic…[It is] the perfect ecology for retired officers and gentlemen who are now Something in the City…If this were freed of direct or implicit planning prohibitions, what semi-submerged tensions (which underlie the present malaise of insecurity here) could come to the surface and be studied? (Banham et al. 1969: 16).
The Non-Planners were sceptical not only of professional planners but of local community groups as well, especially those affluent and articulate property owners who always tend to get their voices heard during consultations. The ideas advocated by the Non-Planners were similar to some of those encountered earlier, except personal and social empowerment was now about purchasing power, and creative choice was about consumer choice. The popular new urban aesthetic would be one of petrol stations, out-of-town shopping parks and motorways, mostly low-rise but announced by ‘a compensatory efflorescence of large and conspicuous advertising signs’. ‘Stay in Moscow’, they say, ‘and you end up yearning to see an Esso sign’. The Non-Plan group had other cities in mind: ‘Fremont Street in Las Vegas or Sunset Strip in Beverley Hills represent the living architecture of our age’. Moreover, their proposals would help accelerate this trend for a population of ‘auto-nomads’ always on the move: ‘Much of this would serve the needs of a mobile society: eating places, drinking places, petrol stations, supermarkets. It would not look like a planner’s dream, but it would work’. As for community: people have cars and telephones so they can take care of that for themselves if they want it (Banham et al. 1969: 15-16, 19, 21). There were echoes here of the urban theorist Melvin Webber, who with his famous ‘Nonplace’ essay of 1964 had argued that the preoccupation with ‘locationalphysical place’ as the only foundation for ‘the “good life” in the “good society”’ was rendered largely obsolete with increased opportunities for contact by telephone, telex, cars, cheap international travel and the future potential of the incipient computer networks then being pioneered by the United States military. People were more and more likely to use these and other as yet unimagined technologies (such as Twitter and Facebook today) to develop ‘interest-communities’ that were no less valuable and nourishing than the old-fashioned communities that depended on place and physical closeness (Webber 1964: 84-85, 108). Webber’s ideas played their part in discussions for the grid-plan, car-dependent layout of the new town of Milton Keynes that was built in the English South Midlands in the late 1960s.
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They contributed also to the establishment of its distance learning university, the Open University, which recalled in turn Cedric Price’s ‘Potteries Think Belt’ project of 1964, a proposal for a new university dispersed widely and networked across the un-used buildings and railway tracks of the declining potteries industry in Staffordshire. And they echoed also with the ideas of the Team 10 group, whose notion of community was also one of sectors networked together by modern transport and telecommunications and ‘streets-in-the-air’. The Smithsons built a fragment of this vision as Robin Hood Gardens, a pair of cliff-like residential slabs completed in London in 1972. But perhaps the purest expression of these ideas was their competition entry to redevelop the Haupstadt region of Berlin (1958). Here, a multi-level pedestrian web stretches out across the city to link residences, shops, transport hubs and so on, almost like the synapses that link nerve cells together (Smithson 1962: 574, 576, 583-84, 588-90, 592, 596-97). But these ideas were put with the greatest force and ingenuity by the Philadelphiabased husband and wife team of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. They came to prominence in the 1960s and it is tempting to characterize them as lifelong ‘pop’ architects engaged in a celebration of advertising and consumerism. Their Trenton Fire Headquarters of 2002, for example, is fronted by a huge silhouette of a fireman’s helmet, while the façade of their unrealized scheme for the Philadephia Orchestra Hall (1996) would have had giant notes running along a musical stave. Often condemned as kitsch and irresponsible by the more highbrow sectors of the architectural establishment, Scott Brown dismisses her critics as ‘armchair revolutionaries, long on the production of moralistic, irrelevant norms and short on ideas for the messy business of improving the here and now’ (Scott Brown 1975: 319).9 Venturi and Scott Brown believe their approach is connected more sensitively with the issues of the day than any social reformist aspirations could ever be. This position was laid out in a book they co-authored with their practise partner Steve Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas (1972). This book is an extended version of an article published in the Architectural Forum in 1968, which was based on a research studio and field visit that they conducted out of Yale University in the same year (Scott Brown and Venturi 1996). The main argument was that the casinos, motels, strip-joints and eateries of the Las Vegas Strip indicated the realities of popular consumerism, leisure and transportation. Buildings had to adapt in order to function here. They needed to advertise themselves quickly and clearly to the motorists that drove by. The new paradigm for architecture, then, was the building as ‘decorated shed’: sign up front, function out back. Learning from Las Vegas was a masterstroke in manifesto writing. To take a city once notorious for its vice, excess and organized crime and present it as an exemplar was the most provocative way of suggesting that architects should not pass judgment on an individual’s lifestyle and tastes. ‘The morality of commercial advertising, gambling interests, and the competitive instinct’, they argue, ‘is not at issue here’. And the same attitude should be adopted for Levittown and other commercial suburban developments, they said. Architects should respect the personal choices that people make as they represent real lifestyles and social forces: ‘In dismissing Levittown, Modern architects, who have characteristically promoted the role of the social sciences in architecture, reject
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whole sets of dominant social patterns because they do not like the architectural consequences of these patterns’. Instead of preaching about the ‘correct life-style’ architects should acknowledge the ‘popular life-style’. They should work for the client instead of trying to ‘elevate [the] client’s value system and/or budget by reference to Art and Metaphysics’. Let us serve ‘markets’, they conclude, rather than presuming to serve ‘Man’ (Izenour, Scott Brown and Venturi 1997: 6, 102, 118, 154). An example of this approach can be found in a rather unexpected place: the Sainsbury Wing extension to the National Gallery in London (1991). The original
3.3 Sainsbury Wing, London (Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Associates, 1991) Source: The Author
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competition-winning design by Ahrends, Burton and Koralek was a confection of smoked glass, pylons and black steel reminiscent of the Constructivist architecture that became fashionable for a short while in Russia after the Revolution of 1917. This design was abandoned after public outcry and the intervention of the Prince of Wales, who described it as ‘a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend’ (Prince of Wales 1984). The new scheme by Scott Brown and Venturi faithfully copied the proportions and details of the nineteenth century façade by William Wilkins, and in particular its pilasters. Venturi and Scott Brown could not resist making a gentle joke by piling the pilasters on top of each other at the edge where their façade approaches the original building, almost like a deck of cards or the bellows of a concertina. The building seems to be saying: since you like this kind of thing, here’s lots of it. And behind the ‘decoration’ is a ‘shed’ that exhibits pictures well enough. Neo-classical pilasters function as a popular sign for museum in Trafalgar Square, no less than rotating yellow rainbows on the side of the highway denote McDonalds. Both fit their milieu. Although this might appear to be architecture more concerned with style than with social issues, Scott Brown denies the association: it is not necessarily the case that ‘persons concerned with the analysis of form were ipso facto irresponsible towards the other aspects of architecture and particularly towards the social duties of architecture’. Scott Brown believes that form is social. People identify themselves and derive meaning from particular forms: In Levittown, at the suggestion of Herbert Gans, we paid particular attention to alterations made by people to their houses once they had moved in, as a way of meeting the criticism that many were forced by economic necessity into taking developer housing that they in fact hated. As far as we could see, most do-it-yourself alterations were symbolic, and the chosen symbols tended to intensify the given developer imagery; for example, a Cape Cod house would be made to look more colonial by the addition of shutters, coach lamps and picket fencing… [it seems that] many people care enough to invest their house with an appearance that is more or less in line with their images of themselves than it was when they first moved in, and that these images appear to be class, income and ethnic group related…and are, for most groups, far removed from what is considered good imagery by architects (Scott Brown 1975: 320-21, 326).10
But architectural form not only helps people articulate their day-to-day identities. It also helps shape the fantasy identities that they like to escape into, as Richards had noted in relation to English suburbia. Las Vegas should be valued, then, because of ‘the ability to engulf the visitor in a new role: for three days one may imagine oneself a centurion at Caesar’s Palace, a ranger at the Frontier, or a jetsetter at the Riviera rather than a salesperson from Des Moines, Iowa, or an architect from Haddonfield, New Jersey’ (Izenour, Scott Brown and Venturi 1997: 53). In interview, Scott Brown attributed the initial development of her ideas to her childhood in South Africa in the 1930s and ‘40s. Her schoolteachers had tried to instil in her a love for the English landscape that she had never seen, and to disregard the African landscape that surrounded her:
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I had English schoolteachers and [they taught] that what you ought to see as beautiful is picture postcards of Surrey. [But] why should it be that the beauty of an English landscape is the only kind of beauty? And why is it that the ‘is’ of our environment is so different from the ‘ought’ we are being taught?11
Venturi and Scott Brown were not proposing that architect-planners completely abandon their own social ideals and aesthetic preferences. Rather, they ‘should be aware of their own value systems and of those of others’. Their ultimate goal, then, is to persuade architects to step outside the ‘socially coercive stance’ and become ‘more receptive than they have been to the needs of people different from themselves whose lives they affect’. And of course, Venturi and Scott Brown are particularly sceptical when architects drop the word ‘community’: The architect who brings a social rhetoric to a citizens’ meeting brings coals to Newcastle. Community groups know it all and can do it better. But she or he who brings a usable skill in the relating of need to form, is a valued contributor (Scott Brown 1975: 321, 327, 330).
Scott Brown offered another provocation in 1990, albeit not as well-known as Las Vegas, when she was asked to look back over the previous decades of community planning. Three regrettable things tend to occur whenever ‘community’ is invoked, she said: simplification, confusion and exploitation. It is never clear what is meant by ‘community’, particularly in terms of the relationship between public and private space, and public and private interests. Moreover there are differences between ‘civic’ and ‘public’ which further cloud the issue: civic might involve ceremonial and institutional places like concert halls, museums and council offices, whereas public might involve those places where private pursuits happen in the view of others, such as shopping malls and beaches. But when something is said to be in the public interest or for the benefit of the community, Scott Brown notes, it is ‘usually promoted by powerful private groups to serve their own economic interests’. This exploitation of the ‘public-private balance’ is especially evident in those ‘business groups that sponsor downtown arts districts to provide a public anchorage for private development’. To give an example: the refurbishments Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones made to the Royal Opera House (1999) in London were paid for in large part by public money on the understanding that some public amenity be provided. There is indeed a roof terrace that offers a wonderful view over Covent Garden but it is not advertised and it takes a tenacious soul to get there. The route goes directly through the main seating area of the Amphitheatre Restaurant and one is made to feel uncomfortable by the buttoned-up waiters that lock-on like missiles and try to deflect one to a table. And if finally you emerge onto the roof terrace you will find it has been designated the al fresco dining area. It is similar to the British Museum courtyard that received public money to be re-clad and glassedin by Norman Foster as the ‘Great Court’ (2000), an ostensibly ‘public’ square that requires visitors to purchase food and drink from the designated museum outlets, with wardens coming down hard on any rogue picnickers. But it is not only business interests that benefit from notions of public service and community-mindedness.
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When planning authorities set up meetings that are meant to gather the opinions and air the concerns of the community, they tend mostly to attract – in the words of Scott Brown – the usual crowd of ‘crazies’ and agenda-driven ‘shock-troops’: ‘the direct democracy of public meetings is biased through self-selection’. Meanwhile, architect-planners try to steer their way through the mess by re-claiming the notion of community and stripping it of all its complexity: ‘Urban designers have tended to place themselves above the morass, planning for a subjectively defined “good of the people”. The “good” may be architectural qualities such as “urbanity”, “identity”, or the “human scale”’. But of course, the ‘good’ is more usually presented as ‘community’, and the simple association of the two makes the architectural scheme on offer appear all the more compelling and desirable (Scott Brown 1990a: 21-23; 1990b: 47; 1990c: 31-32).
COMMUNITY: SUMMARY THOUGHTS Community has been figured in various ways over the last fifty or sixty years: as a mockery in the mass-produced suburbs; as an inner city militia kicking back against authority; as a peaceable citizenry, thankful to be shepherded by planners once more. We saw arguments also about how people did not need community foisted upon them. They seemed content enough already and this did not mean that they were mad. Each of these stages had different theories of community, involving its relationship and value to the individual, the way it is manifest in the planning process, and the built form it assumes. Nonetheless, these concepts were united by the fact that ‘real’ community is presented always as a panacea for some crisis, be it psychological, social, economic or environmental – be it real, imminent, or imagined. Underlying them all is the belief that community is something that human beings need desperately if they are to be saved from their own worst instincts; instincts that flourished and were symbolized by particular types of developer-initiated, affordable suburb. Suburbia is wheeled out time and again as the bane of community. It is here that we become most avaricious yet most tasteless, likely to clutter our homes and gardens with kitsch. It is here that we fret over trivial issues like garbage collection, communal flowerbeds and school crossing patrols rather than grappling with world affairs or the manful politics of the city. It is here that we grow effeminate and insufficiently virile (if we are men) or become subjugated into domestic slavery (if we are women). It is here that we can best keep to our own class, race and religion, avoiding others in order to flatter ourselves in our own views and prejudices. It is here that our psychological development becomes arrested in adolescence, claiming petulantly to know all when in fact knowing little. And so the diagnoses run on. Admittedly there were some who argued that suburbia did not have a harmful effect on individual people and their communities. On the contrary, it gave them the freedom to pursue their interests, indulge their fantasies and choose their friends in a secure residential setting. Indeed it might have helped some women especially
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to develop careers and financial independence when previously these had been denied to them.12 Recent research suggests that community-mindedness, mental health, domestic relations, architectural variety, racial integration and popular tastes were indeed no better or worse in suburbia than anywhere else. In the 1930s Dr. Stephen Taylor, a mental-health practitioner working in South London, diagnosed a condition that he called ‘suburban neuroses’ which manifested itself in weight loss, respiratory problems and insomnia. This was caused by various things: isolation from family; having too much free time as a result of laboursaving domestic appliances; becoming infected with the ‘false values’ of product commercials. Subsequent studies, however, and especially those conducted by women, concluded that there was no such thing as suburban neuroses. Suzanne Beauchamp, who was in charge of social policy for the new town of Milton Keynes, argued that adjustment problems were quite common to anybody who moved anywhere new, whether to the suburbs or the city, and they usually faded after a while. And a survey of the literature by E. H. Hare in 1966 concluded that there was ‘no significant difference in the prevalence of neurotic ill-health under widely differing conditions of urban life’. By the mid-1960s Dr. Taylor had abandoned his ideas, concluding that you can find neuroses anywhere if you look hard enough: ‘It is easy enough for enterprising enquirers to find such people…But a similar group of similar size can be found in any community, new or old, if it is sought’ (Clapson 2003: 125-41; Hare in Clapson 2003: 128; Taylor in Clapson 2003: 129).13 Research of this kind does not appear to carry much weight for many of the planners and commentators that we looked at. Their unshakable conviction is that suburbia leads to a sick life and only a good dose of community can remedy it. But the meaning of ‘community’ is vague and this happens to be rather useful: ‘it is perhaps the lack of conceptual clarity around community that has made it such an attractive tool for politicians, theorists and policy makers’.14 We saw it take a variety of different and often conflicting forms, which led naturally to different architectural solutions as well. Some saw community in terms of the labyrinths of the inner cities, some in picturesque villages built in local vernacular styles (that looked rather like suburbs), others in self-build scaffolds. Also diverging widely were the ideas about how people must engage with each other in order to become a community. For some it involved spontaneous agitation and lobbying, or the building of one’s own home, or perhaps anarchic violence. For others it involved exchanging pleasantries during a gentle stroll, the members-only club, public meetings and the invite-only ‘charrette’, and even market research questionnaires. In short, some believed that community was won only with great effort while others believed it could be purchased. Despite the differences, however, all of these approaches involved a basic assumption about what people need in order to live lives that are truly meaningful and fulfilled. This assumption always manages to come through. When asked to clarify what he and his colleagues meant when they talked about the benefits of New Urbanist communities over suburban ones, Andrés Duany said that their approach was purely practical. Community was about pedestrians, mixed uses and vernacular styles: ‘We seldom question at the level you do “what is community?” You know,
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we’re American pragmatists. If it works, fine. We’re not going to agonise over the ideology of community’. The New Urbanist community is just a planning tool after all, and does not involve judgments about lifestyle and human character. But when discussing what his teacher Vincent Scully thought about suburbia driving people insane, Duany said the following: Scully’s completely right. They’re going completely nuts. Don’t imagine that they’re sort of wild eyed. They’re just sort of fat, ugly, unhappy, and not operating in their best interests. Yes, I think they’re going crazy, in a very American way. I actually hate going to these places. I have to be paid a lot because they’re so unpleasant.15
It is difficult to assess where these claims are coming from. Is there a genuine commitment to a particular vision of human nature? Are they a spice sprinkled on to the sales-pitch when an architect addresses his client? Are they something that a writer invents to support her preference for downtown bohemian living? Are they simple snobbery? The messy answer, I suspect, is all of these things in different measures. But whatever the status of the claims – sincerity, fraud or snobbery – we should be wary of them, especially when they are used to justify planning initiatives that seek to reform people out of their allegedly inferior and destructive lifestyles. In the next two chapters we shall be looking at arguments about the importance of history for the health and identity of cities. Some believe that there is a link between this and the role played by memory in the mind of a person.
Jacobs conceded that some might have good intentions, but these were hampered by building codes that continued to favour cars and sprawl rather than pedestrians and density (Jane Jacobs, interview with author, Toronto, 7 April 2003). Woolley is unambiguously scathing about developments in the UK: while ‘propagating this myth of the community’, architects merely played at the grassroots game. Hull University was reputed as being one of the flag-bearers of community architecture in the 1980s, but Woolley – who worked there – recollects otherwise: ‘It was total lip-service community architecture. They used to have these visiting lecturers, and…they talked in the most contemptuous way about their clients. That seemed to get the biggest laughs. I used to sit through these things. It seemed such a part of the culture. When they found out the Prince of Wales was coming to visit the school of architecture [they] had to run around and find some community groups [that they] could go out and visit, because the school of architecture wasn’t involved with them at all’ (Tom Woolley, interview with author, Belfast, 6 December 2002).
Léon Krier’s ideas about traditional architecture will be covered in the next chapter.
Although not published until 2000 the Charter was ratified by its members in 1996.
The notion of ‘collective memory’ will be discussed in Chapter 5.
For more on the importance of local economies and local government see Moe and Wilkie 1997: 142-77, 239-61; Kunstler 1993: 120, 175-87, 242-43.
This model is fundamental also to the political theorist Anthony Giddens, an influential
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advocate of the ‘Third Way’ in New Labour politics in Britain in the 1990s and later (Giddens 1991: 198, 215; Elliott 2001: 36-45). 7
The architectural code for Seaside is reprinted in Easterling and Mohney 1991: 260-63.
‘When we did our first projects, traditional neighbourhoods like Seaside, we were working aesthetically. [We] would just show up [and] go to a community street and say “Isn’t this a beautiful street! Don’t we like it!” And then we’d measure it up – physically – so we could replicate it. And then we’d say, “Oh, isn’t this a great square!” And then we’d measure it up and replicate it. But it wasn’t that we were going to affect behaviour. We just liked it. It was aesthetic. [This] is actually where modernism had retreated to after the sociological failure. It was the autonomous architecture. It was post-modernism. It was aesthetic: self-referential to its own history. So we were behaving aesthetically. And it was only to our delighted surprise that we observed people were behaving differently’ (Andrés Duany, interview with author, 1 August 2003).
For an account of how Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and the Non-Planners fit into discussions about ‘pop’ architecture, see Richards 2010.
10 See also Izenour, Scott Brown and Venturi 1997: 153-54: ‘the symbolic meanings of the forms in builder’s vernacular also serve to identify and support the individualism of the owner…for the middle-class suburbanite living, not in an antebellum mansion, but in a smaller version lost in a large space, identity must come through symbolic treatment of the form of the house, either through styling provided by the developer (for instance, split-level Colonial) or through a variety of symbolic ornaments applied thereafter by the owner (the Rococo lamp in the picture window or the wagon wheel out front)’. 11 Denise Scott Brown, interview with author, Philadelphia, 21 March 2003. 12 Gisele Mettele has discussed the new self-employment opportunities that opened up for suburban women in the 1950s for example, through selling Avon cosmetics door-todoor or organizing Tupperware sales ‘parties’ (Mettele 2009). 13 For in-depth accounts and repudiations of anti-suburban attitudes and stereotypes, which can be found in pop music, novels, film and TV programmes, videogames, broadsheet media as well as in architecture theory and government legislation, see: Clapson 2003, Kruse and Sugrue 2006, Donaldson 1969, Bentley, Davis and Oliver 1981, Bruegmann 2005: 117-36. Many of these anti-suburban prejudices are astonishingly offensive and they are still going strong. Claire Pajaczkowska, for example, asks: ‘What is it about the experience of suburban living that makes people want to cast it into oblivion?’ The answer: ‘the ideology of compulsive cleaning that haunts suburban culture’ reminds us of the ethnic cleansing of the Nazi extermination camps (Pajaczkowska 2005: 39, 42). 14 Adrian Little argues that the great ‘variety of forms of association, membership and inclusion’ means that ‘community’ can never be defined absolutely. But, nonetheless, it remains a ‘key ingredient in the complex matrix of social organisation and individual self-identity’ and therefore we should try to be less cavalier when using the term (Little 2002: 1-3, 6-7). We have looked at theories of community in a limited field over a brief timescale. Little provides a broader picture, including: the Greek ‘public realm’; Aristotle’s philosophy of a ‘polis’ committed to disinterested moral virtue rather than personal gain; Thomas Paine on the necessity of broadening the sphere of ‘civic society’ as separate from the state; Émile Durkheim on how the division of labor produced ‘organic solidarity’ among workers; Ferdinand Tönnies on how small-scale, face-to-face communities were superseded by a rule-bound and inflexible society as a result of the Industrial Revolution. 15 Andrés Duany, interview with author, 1 August 2003.
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4 Natural History
In this chapter and the next we shall look at the ways that architect-planners sought to make buildings that reflected the past by using traditional styles of decoration and traditional building techniques. This was tied, for some, to a complex knot of ideas about how human beings learn, remember and alter their memories. It was thought important to maintain a living relationship with the past, which was seen as a vital source of human freedom and of our power to influence the course of events in history. The main architects associated with this approach wanted to make buildings and cities that reflected these temporal qualities in their physical fabric. But more than this, they hoped that these buildings would help somehow to draw out and reinforce these qualities in the people who encountered them. This was a much subtler – and less judgmental – approach to ‘influencing’ people than we saw in the community chapters. We shall be concentrating on a close analysis of a small number of architect-planners and the thinkers that inspired them. Important centres of opinion included the Architectural Institute at the University of Venice in the 1960s and ‘70s. Although several figures were based in Rome and Milan they were known collectively as the ‘School of Venice’ or La Tendenza. Associated with this group were people such as Vittorio Gregotti, Giorgio Grassi, Massimo Scolari and Manfredo Tafuri, but from our point of view the most interesting member was Aldo Rossi. Also influential was the work of Colin Rowe and his students at Cornell University, again in the late 1960s and ‘70s. However there are several other important figures that cannot easily be aligned with either group, such as Alan Colquhoun, Rafael Moneo, Demetri Porphyrios and the Krier brothers, Rob and Léon. This ‘movement’ can be understood by asking three question of it. First, why should the architect-planner seek to connect with the past? Second, how is this achieved in design: do we simply smother buildings with old-fashioned styles and decorative motifs, or is there a subtler way? Third, what is the nature of humankind’s relationship with the past? This last question and its consequences go well beyond design.
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The first question is easy to answer. There was a feeling that architecture needed to reconnect with the past in order to put right the wrongs of the pioneering modernists associated with CIAM. There was a belief that CIAM wanted to smash history and create everything anew. This included their approach to design, in which they abandoned past styles in favour of a stripped-down, abstract style that took some of its inspiration from modern machinery. It also included their approach to society and the people within it: outmoded arrangements like democracy and liberal capitalism were out, and people ought to stop doing the things that they were accustomed to and start behaving properly.1 A couple of examples will give a clearer idea of what the critics of modernism were worried about. First Le Corbusier, an architect so extreme in outlook and manners that he was almost a caricature of the modernist position. In 1925 he unveiled his Plan Voisin for Paris in which he proposed to demolish a medieval knot of streets just north of the river Seine and replace it with skyscrapers in parkland (Le Corbusier 1987: 256-57, 277-89). Moreover, he proposed to save only certain outstanding historical artefacts from demolition, which were to be sprinkled about the vast parks. Le Corbusier made a similarly half-hearted concession to historical artefacts a few years later in his plans for Moscow. It was, he said, ‘impossible to dream of harmonizing the city of the past with the present and future’ (Le Corbusier in Cohen 1992: 146-50). And he rejoiced at the demolition of cities during World War II: Berlin was ‘the finest problem I have ever envisaged since it has to do with making the plan of a city completely destroyed and destined to be rebuilt all at one time!’ (Le Corbusier 1982: 79). This attitude towards wartime destruction, which may now seem callous, was fairly typical of modernist architects. Many British planners and commentators, such as the conflicted J. M. Richards, applauded the Luftwaffe in the pages of the Architectural Review, and were quite beside themselves at the prospect of getting to work on flattened towns like Coventry and Liverpool (Lubbock 1995: 335-36; Williams 2005: 131-32). The most obvious point of concern for the critics, then, was the physical destruction of the historical fabric of the city.2 But there is another reason why they objected to this disregard for the past, and this brings the issue closer to the central concern of this book. An illustrative example is Johannes Itten who taught at the Bauhaus, the groundbreaking design academy headed by modernist icons such as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. In the 1920s, Itten devised a course for all first year design students in which they were made to forget everything they had learned about past styles and design techniques. Once they had purged themselves the students were allowed to begin experimenting with elementary shapes and primary colours, much like nursery children nowadays. This was intended to be an aid to creativity but it was also a quasi-mystical purification rite, and Itten played the role of cult leader with his shaven head and gaudy robes (Crinson and Lubbock 1994: 92-94). A similar thing was happening in the diatribes of Le Corbusier and the Viennese architect Adolf Loos against the ‘lies’ contained in museums, which must be swept clean as an aid to the cleansing of the mind (Richards 2003: 14-19). These examples are quite specific, referring only to a technique for teaching design and some thoughts about museums, but they pointed at something more
troubling: the eradication of the experiences and knowledge that have accumulated within the human memory. The critics of modernism combined this imaginatively with the other concern about demolition and came up with a question: what if the erasure of the historical fabric of the city also caused people to lose their memories? Although it sounds melodramatic this is fairly commonsensical. Everyone has a strong memory that they associate with something they experienced in a particular place. A special ice cream at a seaside stall or a first kiss on the swings maybe, or perhaps some dreadful news in a hospital corridor. You might have photographs, documents or other mementos that remind you of these moments, but what if someone gets rid of the places where they happened? Maybe this will undermine your memories in some small but significant way, because with the place now gone you have lost the trigger that fires your recollections anew whenever you walk by. Perhaps this makes the act of remembering more difficult, causing the memory to lose its richness and wither over time. And if it is the case, as many have argued, that our self-identity is sustained through our memories, then the loss of memory represents the loss of ourselves. Needless to say, places and artefacts can sustain collective memory as well, whether of the family, an ethnic group, or even the nation as a whole, so who knows what might be lost with the loss of a building?3 This begins to answer the question of why some architect-planners advocate designs that connect with history: the remembrance of things past represents a key part of our individual and collective identities. But the two other questions remain: how do we retrieve history through design? And ultimately, what is the nature of our relationship with history: are we conditioned by the past utterly or do we have some free will and control over our destinies? The concept of ‘typology’ offers a useful way into these questions. It has a number of different interpretations predicated upon different notions of the past and its values. At its most obvious, typology begins with the simple observation that architecture is made up of different building types, such as houses, hospitals, schools, shops, prisons, factories, castles and museums. These types come into being and survive for generations for the good reason that they perform their functions well. This being so, some argued that the architect may as well work with them rather than against them. Instead of starting every design from scratch, like one of Itten’s students, it would be more practical for the architect to take his cue from what is already there. If asked to build a church, for example, he could begin by noting that churches tend to be cruciform in plan and have functional elements like the nave, aisles, transept, chapels, and so on. Alternatively the designer might take a more stylistic or abstract approach, such as by referencing the details or mathematical proportions of a traditional church façade. This version of typology compels the designer to be respectful of architectural history but it does not demand exact imitation. The type is conceived as rather general in character, which means there is room available for adjustments to be made and creativity to flourish. But some typologists adopted a more judgmental stance towards the past, particularly in view of the institutions and practises that they believed were encapsulated in building types. A church is not a spontaneous act of design, for example. It embodies and helps to enact in society a complex set of values derived
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from the Christian religion. Some of these values might be worth preserving but others might need to be challenged. In this interpretation typology was susceptible to becoming politicized radically. There were two goals. First, by doing research into how architectural types evolved and fell into disuse one could get a better understanding of ‘urban morphology’: that is, of the economic, social and political pressures that cause cities to change over time. The type is a trace of these pressures. The emergence of the railway station in the nineteenth century, for example, marks a powerful new industrial technology as well as a changing population of suburbanites, commuters and leisure seekers.4 But this approach had interesting consequences for practical design as well. By combining types in unusual ways or with unexpected functions it was believed that one could subvert the ideological connotations associated with them. So there is a conflict between two ways of conceiving typology. Both seek to learn from the past but one in order to preserve and perhaps modify it respectfully, the other in order to challenge it radically (Aymonino 1985: 49-51). The latter tells us more about the leftist politics of a small group of architecture theorists than it does our topic (Bandini 1984). In order to understand how the recovery of architectural traditions was related to personal development and memory, the moderate approach to typology is the more interesting. The field subdivides further into three branches, each involving a different idea about human beings and how they relate to their past. The first one is about stylistic change and this was related to animal evolution and, more recently, human genetics. The second one is about keeping architectural types relatively stable in the belief that they are a reflection of eternal human values. The last one tries to balance elements of both, change and continuity. With each we find architecture and the city imagined as a built analogy for the proper development of a healthy person and indeed other forms of life.
ANIMALS Starting with typology and the history of style, some argued that types emerged originally as a result of functional or social requirements but afterwards floated free and took on a life of their own. The stylistic history of architecture is largely independent from other concerns, and indeed it is this independence that makes it an art form in its own right rather than something that merely serves us. The architect Gianugo Polesello, who was associated with the School of Venice, tried to explain this by arguing that types are ‘architectural figures which have been reduced to their elementary geometrical nature’. Although ‘as a rule [they] have their origins in history’ they have over time been distilled into a stylistic language. Polesello describes this as ‘a closed system…of “signs” whose meaning is defined by their reciprocal (or internal) relationships’. Thus we get the ‘composition of buildings by means of buildings’. Polesello used this way of thinking to justify designs of an abstract kind that do not appear to have much to do with architectural tradition (Polesello 1985: 40, 44). Certainly this was not a conventional view of the past as
something that one looks to and learns from. It did not involve trying to replicate the proportions of architrave, frieze and cornice from an ancient Greek temple, for example. Instead it was the past conceived as a process, internalized in the development of living organisms. This curious idea was inherited from a nineteenth century concept of type that reflected new developments in the natural sciences. First and most important was Baron Georges Cuvier’s research into the taxonomy of animal species, such as the Leçons d‘anatomie comparée of 1800. Working at the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, Cuvier argued for a new classification of animal species according to the ‘type’ of their anatomical structure. This focus on the underlying bone structures replaced earlier taxonomies based on the outward appearance or ‘physiognomies’ of animals. Second, there was the application of geometry to the study of the strangely organic process of crystal formation (Vidler 1977: 450, 459 nn. 21-23).5 The architect J. N. L. Durand had these influences in mind when he compiled a comparative taxonomy of architectural types, from the most primitive through to the most refined, in his Recueil et parallèle des édifices en tout genre of 1801. Slightly later, Durand argued that new types might be created by focussing on the most basic structural elements, such as walls, columns and openings, and by recombining them ‘according to the deduced rules for each type’. This led to the creation of architectural pattern-books and design manuals throughout the nineteenth century. Although Durand did not disregard the social or functional role of architecture his concept of typology was concerned more with ‘inner structure’ and geometrical rules of ‘combination’, and this ‘permitted architecture for the first time to think of its autonomous, technical existence in the full consciousness of the absolute relativity of that existence to social development’ (Vidler 1977: 452). The influence of Cuvier could be felt also on the German architect Gottfried Semper, who developed his theory of architectural typology as imitation of the processes of nature towards the middle of the nineteenth century. Typological variations on basic or ‘prototypical forms’ were explained as ‘the potentiality of four main processes involved in building: terracing (masonry), roofing (carpentry), the hearth (ceramics), and walling (textiles)’. This four-part division mimicked Cuvier’s classification of four types within the animal kingdom.6 The belief that architectural types should evolve over time in the same way as the skeletons of animals contributed to the idea of turning back to architectural tradition in the 1950s and ‘60s. But it was complemented also by other naturalistic metaphors that led to architectural works that were anything but traditional in appearance. One of these was the metaphor of inner metabolic processes. The principles of ‘Metabolism’ were established in the late 1950s under the leadership of Kenzo Tange in the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Tokyo. Tange was in charge of the design studio known as the Tange Laboratory as well as being principal of the architecture firm URTEC, and many of the key figures in the Metabolist movement studied and worked with him.7 Among them were Fumihiko Maki and Masato Otaka, who published Investigations in Collective Form in 1964. They argued that buildings and cities must now ‘respond to the dictates of time’ to become ‘flexible’ but not ‘temporary’. This required a change of mindset.
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Instead of trying to create immaculate buildings and town plans that answered the design brief definitively, one should think in terms of ‘megastructure’ and ‘groupform’. The megastructure was rather like the ‘macros’ and ‘supports’ of the Dutch self-build theorists covered in chapter two: it would channel the essentials of life such as electricity, gas, water and sewerage, telecommunications, as well as the transport infrastructure. The megastructure was less a building and more ‘a manmade feature of the landscape…like the great hill on which Italian towns are built’. Slotting into this framework was the more dynamic element of group-form, a ‘series of buildings…without apparent beginning or end’. This included the living quarters, shops, bazaars, eateries and so on, all constructed simply and cheaply from basic materials. These were unplanned and would grow ‘organically’ upon the megastructure, which was a way of saying that ordinary people would build them for themselves. The Metabolist metaphor was transparent: the megastructure comprised the skeleton, nervous and circulatory systems, and the group-form comprised the interstitial organs and tissues that generate and repair themselves (Maki and Otaka 1964: 4, 8, 16). The Metabolists did not explain how the soft parts would self-generate because their main interest lay in devising ever more delirious megastructures (Lin 2010: 74-79). Kiyonori Kikutake’s ‘Marine City’ of 1958, for example, was a proposal to tackle Japan’s land shortage by housing people in vast multi-storey drums beneath the surface of the ocean, and a prototype was built for the International Expo held in Okinawa in 1975. Aquapolis was nearly half a kilometre off the shoreline and looked like an oil rig to the untrained eye, but it contained living capsules, a conference centre, sea water conversion and sewage processing plants, and could be submerged fifteen metres below sea level when the weather got rough. Even more ambitious was Kenzo Tange’s ‘Tokyo Plan’ of 1960. The central spine would have stretched from the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo out across the bay, finally coming to rest in the suburbs of Chiba Prefecture. Twenty million people would have been housed in this city on the sea. But arguably the most imposing megastructure to be built was the Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Centre in the city of Kofu, again by Tange. ‘Completed’ in 1964, the cylindrical service towers and inter-floor gaps of this building hinted at a future urban condition that could adapt and spread out in any direction over the old town that cowered below, and it was indeed built upon through the 1970s although not to the extent Tange had wished for (Lin 2010: 179-88; Franklin 1978: 23, 190-91). Ultimately there was little real flexibility or creative potential in any megastructure that came to be built, and by the time the later descendants of the Metabolist idea were plying their trade any sense of the imagery of flexible natural systems came a distant second to the imagery of megastructural scale and power.8 Not all megastructures were quite so brutal, though. Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakajin Capsule Tower was completed in the exclusive Ginza region of central Tokyo in 1972. The one hundred and forty capsule apartments were produced on the same assembly line as the freight containers used by Japan National Railways, and were then hoisted up and bolted to one of the two service towers. The capsules clustered around the towers give a powerful visual impression of organic life, the portholes
turning into the nuclei of cells observed under a microscope, or the tadpole embryos of frogspawn stuck to pondweed (Franklin 1978: 36-37, 71-81). More recently, some architects have extended the skeletal and metabolic metaphors to ask whether buildings carry their characteristics forward through time at a ‘genetic’ level, and whether this might be used as a creative tool. What if one could take the D.N.A. of a design idea and use it to grow a variety of solutions that are each subtly different, in the same way that children born of the same parents share some characteristics and differ in others? Although it sounds bizarre this refers to the practise of inputting a set of design parameters into a computer as a starting point and using it to generate a family of different shapes. And as modern design software is able to generate complex curves one can get an ‘organic’ result with ease. The American architect Greg Lynn is famous for this. His designs for Embryological Houses and his Alessi Tea and Coffee Towers look as though they have sprouted like amoebae and flowers, and seem to defy any notion of usefulness. A similar effect is created by the Grazer Kunsthaus in Austria, completed in 2003 by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier. An art museum masquerading as a sea urchin with iridescent electric skin, it defies the red-tiled roofs that surround it and oozes over the façade of a listed building nearby. It is difficult to know how to take these allusions to organic growth. Perhaps they are intended merely to give an intellectual gloss to current fashions in computeraided design and manufacture.9 But regardless of motivation, the advocates of these and the earlier skeletal and metabolic concepts of typology try to incorporate the past as a living process. They believe that the growth of animals, plants, crystals and buildings have something in common, and the architect who notes this will make buildings that are somehow more ‘alive’. And on a more expansive scale, they
4.1 Umeda Sky Building, Osaka (Hiroshi Hara, 1993) Source: The Author
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believe that all of these things have fundamentally similar ways of transmitting and transforming their characteristics over the longest spans of history, whether as families, species or architectural types. There is however no getting around the fact that the buildings that emerge from it appear to owe nothing to tradition or their surroundings.
ARCHETYPES The next branch of typology takes a more direct route to the past, and rather than offering fairly benign visual and structural analogies of ‘good’ growth makes a much more overt behavioural demand. In short: the past is our lord and master, and buildings should be reminders – not to say enforcers – of its most grave and profound lessons. This is sometimes associated with great nations or religions, the values of which need to be re-established in the present exactly as they once were. A particular architectural style consequently becomes the symbol of these values (Colquhoun 1983: 208). We find an absurdly literal example of this with the English architect Quinlan Terry, who believes the classical style to be the true Christian style: God Himself specified it in his commission for the Temple of Solomon. The six villas completed in Regents Park from the late 1980s through to 2004 for the Crown Estate Commissioners, who manage the English monarch’s property portfolio, offer a smorgasbord of classicisms inspired by Andrea Palladio, John Nash, Inigo Jones, John Soane, Karl Friedrich Schinkel and others, as well as some ‘gothick’ stylings, all of them intended through some mysterious channel to inspire us to live a truly Christian lifestyle of charitableness and humility (Terry 1992). A more self-reflexive approach is found in the work of Léon Krier. Mentioned in the previous chapter as one of the instigators of New Urbanism, Krier’s philosophy is much more personal and polemical than that: ‘My style’, he concedes, ‘is often a slightly hysterical one’.10 An important influence on Krier’s planning ethos of intimate scales and distances is his native Luxembourg City. The city’s unique topography, split up by the precipitous valleys of the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers, forced it to develop as four quarters linked by bridges. This put natural limits on the size of development and allowed each quarter to acquire and preserve its own characteristics (Krier 1979). Bur Krier’s approach is more about the past than about community, being underpinned by a belief in the importance of history and memory not only to democratic civilization but to individual human beings as well. Krier outlined his position most forcefully in the 1970s and ‘80s, when he lamented what he saw as the brutalization of workers under industrial capitalism, the kitsch consumerism that afforded them scant recompense for their misery, and the mania for social mobility that prevented them from settling down. In their stead he advocated a society inspired by the late nineteenth century English socialist and designer William Morris. This would be a society of artisans where traditional work, handed down through ‘collective memory’, would reunite artistry with handicraft and help the worker feel more fulfilled: ‘William Morris is fantastically interesting, because he was the only socialist who actually thought about the individual and
his relationship to the means of production…rather than going for the industrial politics without looking at the damage’.11 A precondition of this would be the rebuilding of the city: ‘everything has to be relearned: by means of historiography the capitalist order has even consumed our memory…We must begin by relearning the forgotten language of the city that achieved its formal perfection in the eighteenth century’. Basically this involves using the traditional urban elements of quarter, street and square to create a city that ‘permits precisely by virtue of its familiar character the mobilization of the population towards tangible goals’. In looking to tradition the city becomes familiar once again, as well as something to care for, so people feel interested and at ease and therefore more willing to engage with each other. It is here that the historical approach to planning overlaps with the communitarian one, but deep down Krier appears to be more interested in humankind as it once was and should again become: ‘basic models which take man as their model must be studied as a first priority – man as he is normally constructed, not man stricken with elephantiasis as he wanders through the projects of Speer, or that deaf and dumb man who surveys from his automobile the empty and discontinuous spaces
4.2 Gothick Villa, London (Quinlan Terry and Francis Terry, 1991) Source: The Author
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of modern urbanism’. And this is not just a matter of stylistic preference, he argues, for the elements of the traditional town are embedded deep in the collective memory of ‘Homo Europaeus’: ‘As opposed to television and the automobile, which have already succeeded in changing the physical qualities of American man, the terrorism of modern architecture has fortunately not yet succeeded in changing the character of European man…We must forcefully reject the American city and become savagely European’ (Culot and Krier 1978: 352-54). When asked what the ‘normal construction’ of this man would be Krier stressed he was experimenting with an ‘ideal abstract man, who doesn’t grow up, doesn’t grow old, doesn’t have children’.12 This is not to be taken literally, then. Krier is not seeking to build for a planet of virtuous drones. But he does believe in certain existential constants – things that characterize and give meaning to the lives of every human being – and these must be reflected in design. Important among these are personal memory and the experiences that nourish them. In Krier’s words: All pleasant living rests on memory, every intelligent activity is a perpetual recovery of past experience. Memory is the very base of intelligence; habits rest on it, so do feeling, reason, and intuition. It is the basis for all human life and culture. In addition, one can only return to what one already understands, that is to say, to experience, to things and feelings already lived. One cannot return to what one has not lived. Oblivion has no memory.
The traditional urban types of quarter, square and street, as well as the traditional styles of architecture that clothe these elements, are said by Krier to respect these ‘universal human principles’ (Krier 1981: 410). They are the embodiment not of personal memories, however, but of collective memories, and Krier believes that we feel a nostalgia for them that is not simply our preference for quaint old things. Rather it is symptomatic of a genuine sense of loss. We have become disconnected from all that is humane and civilizing, hence the cynical belief amongst certain architect-planners that there is something to be learned from Las Vegas or Los Angeles. Krier has a memorable way of characterizing such attitudes, which suggests strongly that his approach to architecture is primarily about human welfare: They say that even the worst developments of human activity are aesthetic, and we must celebrate them, and not just celebrate them, we must agree with them and do the same. When you explode an atom bomb, it’s a very beautiful phenomenon too. Unfortunately the outcome is one thousand people being destroyed. The aesthetics of that phenomenon is somewhat…compromised.13
Krier is the greatest architectural polemicist since Le Corbusier so his scorn of the modern must not be taken at face value.14 But although his stance is in part a provocation it is based nonetheless on a genuine concern that people are impoverished when they lose a sense of the past. Therefore the crucial question becomes, ‘what is the best technique to transmit past experience?’15
Krier’s Village Hall in Windsor, Florida, which was completed in 1999, is a good demonstration of his philosophy. It is a simple and austere building, a rectangle of square columns beneath a precipitous pitched roof. An entrance porch prepares one for the dark interior with its exposed wooden roof beams, and light streams in through the lunette windows cut deeply into the rear gable and in triple rows down each flank. Seven doors run down each flank as well, one between each of the main columns, meaning that this most substantial-looking building can be opened up to become entirely porous. The roof is light grey, the doors aquamarine, and the lunettes appear pitch black, and these are the few accents of colour to complement the brilliant white that otherwise dominates the exterior. Under the strong Florida sun it does indeed appear powerful and timeless, and strangely at odds with the electric golf buggies trundling by. The Windsor Village Hall is a civic building and not a religious one and yet it gives off a peculiarly sacred aura. The Greek architect Demetri Porphyrios, one of the most respected of traditional architect-planners, has a theory about what might be happening here. Porphyrios believes that vernacular and traditional buildings do more than allude to the local history of a specific time and place. When done properly, they encapsulate the conditions of humankind’s original encounter with the earth. Porphyrios explains this by arguing that there are certain ‘phenomenological constants’ of human behaviour, such as the desire to feel safe through physical enclosure and the desire for our lives to continue over time.16 Beyond the construction of basic shelter, then, architecture must provide a symbolic embellishment of the ideas of shelter, permanence, and the passage of time, which gives the building its ‘mythopeioc power’: ‘it establishes a distance from reality which allows us to contemplate our universal human predicament’. And this might also help restore the world to a proper balance: Mythical thinking…is not necessarily primitive or prelogical as common opinion might maintain today. It is true thinking for it reduces the world to order. Its truth is no less than that experimentally verified by science. Today, if it appears that the
4.3 Village Hall, Windsor (Léon Krier, 1999) Source: Jules Lubbock
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mythopoeic mind cannot achieve objectivity (and should therefore be doomed as an irrationality that can never attain consensus) this is not because it is incapable of dealing with the world, but rather because contemporary industrial life is dominated by vulgar positivism (Porphyrios 1989: 95; 1983: 181).
But how do buildings become ‘mythologized’? To take an example from classical architecture: the base and capital of a column draw our attention to its verticality and its role in supporting the entablature, pediment and ultimately the roof. The slight swelling of the column corrects the optical illusion that otherwise would make it appear concave, but also helps draw attention to the weight bearing down upon it – it appears compressed yet resistant, almost elastic. In this way the building projects a sense of its own ‘robustness’ and satisfies our need to feel secure and enclosed. Subliminally we begin to feel that this building will endure over time, despite buffetings from the weather, ordinary wear and tear, and any alterations that future users might make. Indeed, it reassures us that it will be able to retain the traces of its own ageing, which Porphyrios considers crucial: ‘I do believe that buildings should have a diachronic life. They should have a life over ages, years, many years, many centuries, many generations’. But despite the grandiose claims of healing the world Porphyrios is ambivalent over the question of whether architecture has any real effect upon the behaviour of the ‘general populace’. Nonetheless he cannot resist speculating that architecture with the qualities of ‘robustness’ and ‘diachronicity’ might ‘restore the robustness of life, and the continuity of [life]…It is traditional architecture that restores real life’.17 And in his more strident moments Porphyrios asserts outright that the correct approach to architecture can restore humanity to full health: Architecture has to do with decisions that concern the good, the decent, the proper. Decisions about what Aristotle called the EY ZEIN, the good and proper life. Surely, what constitutes proper life varies from one historical period to another. But it is our responsibility to define it anew all the time (Porphyrios 1989: 96).18
Porphyrios turns this solemn theory into practise through the perfectly straightforward use of traditional elements. In the 1990s, for example, he designed an extension to the town of Pitiousa on the Greek island of Spetses, and the result is a Mediterranean picture postcard of pastel-wash houses with terracotta tile roofs and shady pergolas. Work was proceeding at the same time on the new Grove Quadrangle at Magdalen College, Oxford, which includes a law library, auditorium, art gallery and dormitory, and complements the rich architectural history of the college in a dutiful flurry of buttresses, ornamental battlements, Tudor arches and classical pediments. A less successful marriage of elements can be found in the Athens headquarters of the Interamerican Insurance Building (2002). References to the classic American skyscraper tradition, most notably the footprint, tripartite structure and overhanging eaves of Daniel Burnham’s Flatiron Building of 1902, are picked out in blue steel and glass. But pasted onto the front, rear and around the lower fringes are masonry arches and pediments, with a cartoon cut-out of a
classical façade pointing off in the direction of the Acropolis. The effect is far from ‘robust’ but at least it underlines a commitment to different kinds of architectural tradition, something which Porphyrios is repeating in relation to the industrial buildings caught up in his master-plan for Kings Cross in London. Terry, Porphyrios and Krier advocate the use of traditional architecture to reestablish a relationship with the past as the source of superior truth and value.19 For Terry it was about rediscovering Christian virtues. For Krier it was about rediscovering the wholesome qualities of a pre-industrial past, which perhaps never existed except in the imagination of William Morris. For Porphyrios it was about rediscovering something of humanity’s primal encounter with the world. Underlying this approach is a criticism of contemporary lifestyles and the building practises that go with them, all of which are judged to be consumerist, disposable and shallow. Just like the anatomical concept of typology that we discussed earlier, this one gained currency in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Once again it represented an attempt to redress contemporary ills through a return to natural or spiritual origins. Architects like Jacques François Blondel used the term typology in a way that associated it with the ‘symbolic acts and emblems of Christianity’: ‘Thus, “type” had the connotations of law (the signs disclosed to Moses and Solomon) and prophecy (the Ark of Noah, type of the deluge)’. This was combined, in the intellectual imagination, with the Platonic connotation of God-given ‘archetypes’. In sum, ‘the sense of origin was closely joined to universal law or principle’. This represented a search for an architectural language of ‘received’ spiritual meanings in which, for example, the base of a column symbolized an altar while the three sides of a pediment symbolized the Trinity (Vidler 1977: 439, 443-47). Advocates of anatomical and, more recently, genetic typology sought to make buildings that mimicked the ways that living beings transmit and transform their characteristics through successive generations. Being concerned with the thematics of time and processes rather than with history, this did not result in traditional-looking architecture. Advocates of the more orthodox typology sought inspiration from history directly, believing that traditional architecture represented truths that could be used to restore us to more stable and virtuous lifestyles. But some of the most interesting theories about architecture and the past seek to find a balance between change and continuity. Also, they explore further the intriguing notion that the proper development of the city over time is analogous to the proper development of the healthy human being.
CHANGE AND CONTINUITY Quatremère de Quincy, an advocate of typology in the French Revolutionary period, parodied the archetypical approach: ‘No longer do they see in a pediment the representation of a roof, but because of the fortuitous relation of the form of necessity with a geometrical figure, the roof is to their eyes only a mysterious triangle, emblem of the divinity’ (De Quincy in Vidler 1977: 447-48). De Quincy
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believed that this uncritical respect for the past ended up ‘fettering the art and constraining it in the shackles of an imitative servility’. It stifled creativity. Disgruntled with this approach the architect might take the opposite route and resort to ‘caprice and chance’, indulging his stylistic fantasies (De Quincy 1825). De Quincy favoured a balance between the two. This was taken up in an essay ‘On the Typology of Architecture’ (1962) by the art historian Giulio Carlo Argan, which became influential in England and America after a translation was published in Architectural Design in 1963. Argan took his ideas from the definition of type that de Quincy provided for the Encyclopédie Méthodique of 1825, which makes an important distinction between ‘type’ and ‘model’. In de Quincy’s words, the ‘model is an object that should be repeated as it is; the type…is an object after which each can conceive works of art that may have no resemblance. All is precise and given in the model; all is more or less vague in the type’. The type furnishes yet frees the imagination of the architect, while the model constrains it (De Quincy 1825; Argan 1962; Forty 2004: 305-306). Argan agrees that the architect should not copy celebrated buildings in the belief that they are ‘models’ of formal perfection. This would suggest that one could attain absolute beauty or the ‘archetype’ in a Platonic sense, which he deems ‘absurd’. Instead, one should maintain a more flexible connection with the past through the use of general types that represent a kind of historical consensus or average: It is never formulated a priori but always deduced from a series of instances. So the ‘type’ of a circular temple is never identifiable with this or that circular temple (even if one definite building, in this case the Pantheon, may have had and continues to have a particular importance) but is always the result of the confrontation and fusion of all circular temples…In the process of comparing and superimposing individual forms so as to determine the ‘type’, particular characteristics of each individual building are eliminated and only those remain which are common to every unit of the series.
Argan seems to have a similar agenda to the ‘urban morphologists’ mentioned earlier when he observes that the type represents ‘a complex of ideological, religious, or practical demands which arise in a given historical condition’. But although he too was Marxist in his politics he was not interested in analyzing types to see what they could tell us about class relations in history. He wanted to use them for art. The formulation of a type was a way of ‘reducing’ a cherished historical artefact to a ‘common root form’, stripping it of its ‘rigidity or inertia’ and making it available to the ‘artist’s creative process’. In this way ‘the artist frees himself from being conditioned by a definite historical form, and neutralizes the past’. But as well as being a way of preserving the artistic freedom of the architect it also channelled that freedom and made it meaningful. A type that is employed for a new design always holds some relation to the past, however vestigial that might be, for ‘the possibility of infinite formal variation’ rests inevitably upon ‘structural modification of the “type” itself’. Argan’s concept of typology was about looking to architectural tradition in a way that was flexible enough to allow for it to be updated when circumstances dictated. But in order not to break with tradition completely, changes to the inherited stock of types, and consequently to the fabric of the city, must be fairly gradual and respectful (Argan 1962: 242-45).
The architect and theorist Alan Colquhoun explored this approach to typology exhaustively, in essays spanning from the early 1960s through to the late ‘80s. Colquhoun’s theory starts with the standard critique of modernism that we saw earlier but develops it in an interesting way. In their attempt to create an architectural language that referred primarily to function and geometry, modernist architects thought that they were working in accordance with the ‘universal psychological laws’ or ‘psychological constants’ of all people. Their architecture corresponded with the way the healthy human mind perceived the world and would prefer it to be ordered (Colquhoun 1972a: 135-36). And this involved making buildings that appeared to turn their backs on the things that ‘surrounded’ them, either metaphorically in terms of the history of architectural styles, or literally in terms of older buildings in the immediate vicinity. Colquhoun argued, however, that architecture could not fail to refer to wider culture. A modernist building might appear to be all about function and structure in order to underscore its break with tradition, but all that happens is that a romanticized view of technology becomes a part of its meaning, which is hardly a new phenomenon (Colquhoun 1967: 47-48). And there is always a lot of room for other, more traditional references to creep in as well. Under painstaking analysis the façade of a 1920s modernist home might reveal the same proportions and ratios as Andrea Palladio’s Villa Foscari from the middle of the fifteenth century. Colquhoun concludes that ‘the new can only be fully understood with reference to the old – in absentia’ (Colquhoun 1972b: 51). Thus the modernist ‘pilotis’ that are used to lift buildings off the ground refer to classical columns at the same time as they modify their use. Indeed, they may have been derived from the prehistoric stiltdwellings discovered by archaeologists in the mud of Lake Geneva.20 Historical meanings accrue to buildings whether architects want it to happen or not, and Colquhoun believes that this tells us something about what it is to be human: we are ceaselessly aware and conditioned by the past. And if this is true for us it is true also for the things that we create, especially architecture. Unlike spoken or written language, which is fairly open to the invention of new meanings, architectural language is more restrictive. It makes sense only in relation to a past that is ‘normative’ and imposes the ‘attitudes, values, and ideology of a particular society’ upon the present. But Colquhoun believes that the architect is not obliged to reproduce passively the values that he inherits: ‘Precisely because he has at his disposal a type of language which represents values, he is able to revise these values’ (Colquhoun 1972a: 132, 137).21 There is a curious overlapping of elements here: apparently people, the creative processes of architects, and by extension their buildings, all hold the same relationship to the past. This involves preserving and transforming cultural values. To lose sight of this is to lose a ‘very active sector of our imagination and of our power to communicate with others’. It is therefore something which binds us to the world and history and at the same time it is our ‘condition of freedom’ (Colquhoun 1967: 48-49; 1981a: 158). This theory of architecture is based on a theory of how human beings operate in history, which Colquhoun traces to the new ways of writing history that emerged in the early nineteenth century. Rather than looking to classical antiquity or other periods as sources of authority there emerged a more relativistic and dynamic view of the past. One of the instigators of this was the German historian Leopold von
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Ranke, who pioneered the use of contemporary eyewitness documents to focus on particular cultures and periods in isolation, while also trying to understand the greater logic of historical change and the influence of human agency and free will (Marwick 1989: 39-47). For Colquhoun, this led to the important realization that societies and individuals develop over time in similar ways, as ongoing processes negotiating internal and external pressures: In this view, society and its institutions were analogous to the individual. The individual can be defined only in terms unique to himself. Though he may be motivated by what he and his society see as objective norms of belief and conduct, his own essence cannot be reduced to these norms; it is constituted by the contingent factors of his birth and is subject to a unique development. The value of his life cannot be separated from his individuality. It is the same with societies, cultures, and states: they develop according to organic laws which they have internalised in their structures (Colquhoun 1983: 203-204, 206).
It was a short step for Colquhoun to extend the analogy and include buildings and cities as well. Just like Argan, Colquhoun was trying to find a way of reintegrating a sense of the past into architectural discourse that was more nourishing intellectually and creatively than copying traditional styles. Argan’s more pragmatic notion of typology was here given theoretical sophistication through the trick of anthropomorphism: buildings are analogous to people and should adopt the same kind of relationship to their past. Both absorb influences, habits and ideas from their ‘context’, but they are free also to depart from and innovate upon these things to some degree. Indeed, this is crucial if they are to be properly alive. Architectural history and personal memory are collapsed together; both should be respected. But so too should the right for artistic innovation in the architect, and self-determination in the person. Compared to the overt deterministic ambitions of some of the community theorists, and indeed some of the more orthodox traditionalist architects in this chapter, this approach seems rather benign. It is less about dictating what humans should become and seeking to build environments to bring about changes in them, and more about creating environments that are reflection of what humans are reckoned to be: in this case, creatures bound by experience and memory, adapting and growing over time. This view of human nature and its readiness to be used as a metaphor for social processes and even cities draws upon a respected source which is never acknowledged in the architecture theory itself. The seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke was the first to give memory centre stage in an account of the development of individual identity. This was published in 1690 as An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. But Locke was a political philosopher as well, and when we compare this book with his Two Treatises of Government (1689-90) we discover an analogy between the ebb-and-flow of identity in human beings and the dynamics of statecraft.22 Locke can best be introduced by noting how his thought differs from one of his adversaries, the French philosopher René Descartes.
Taking the Discourse on Method of 1637, Descartes’ thought can be characterized as involving three key ideas: first, a rejection of the information arriving through the senses; second, an attempt to define human being in terms of cognitive activity rather than sensual embodiment; third, a belief that all selves were uniform, or at least that they should be (Descartes 1968: 25-91). Locke offered three alternatives: first, everything we know comes originally through the senses; second, this is tied to our embodied experience of the world; third, people use memory to articulate their experiences into an infinite variety of different identities. Personal development is a simple matter of memory working on the stuff of experience; in short, ‘all that are born into the world [are] surrounded with bodies that perpetually and diversely affect them’ (Locke 1964: 45-46). To understand how Locke developed his analogy between people and societies we need to look in slightly more depth at his theory of the workings of memory in identity-formation. A person is made up of a ‘substance’ which he characterized both as ‘soul’ and also as a set of cognitive processes: the ‘thinking thing’. Then comes ‘man’, by which Locke means the union of this substance with a physical body. Obviously the body changes and the mind can change as well, so where does our sense of self reside? This happens only at the level of ‘personal identity’, where ‘consciousness’ and ‘memory’ weave an autobiographical narrative from the pool of past experiences. This narrative persists over time despite even the most radical changes such as the growth, decay and dismemberment of the body: ‘as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then… and by this every one is to himself that which he calls self’ (Locke 1964: 188). It is obvious, however, that we forget things, that we are not always reflecting on our past experiences, and also that we are asleep a lot of the time. Locke argues that memory is naturally discontinuous and this need not compromise our self-identity. But if memory loss is total and irretrievable, perhaps as a result of brain damage, then this represents the end of the individual’s self-identity and possibly his or her humanity (Locke 1964: 45-47, 51-52, 182-200). These ideas are reproduced in Locke’s political theory. Just like personal identity in humans, government could take on a wide variety of identities: it may be a democracy, oligarchy, hereditary monarchy or something else entirely. And these different identities were likewise the product of its ‘experiences’, for example: the condition of the land in terms of fertility or mineral resources, its diplomatic relationships with neighbouring countries, and the changing fortunes and preferences of its people. Government also evolved over time and like memory it was discontinuous. People had the right to makes changes and if they felt their government had become incurably incompetent or corrupt they could overthrow it entirely. This would not mean demolishing the entire structure of civilization, however: as government rested upon society, a new government with a new identity would be built upon these foundations. This mirrors exactly Locke’s theory of the person, where even in the event of traumatic memory loss it might be possible to craft a new identity over time on the bedrock of the ‘person’ that lies below (Locke 1994: 267-68, 354-66, 374-80, 384-428).
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Locke’s influence over later philosophies of personal identity and government was considerable.23 And even though he believed the term ‘Citty’ failed to encapsulate the complexity of the ‘Common-wealth’ that he sought to describe, I believe that he set up the conceptual framework for the analogies between human memory and urban memory that so seduced architects in our period (Locke 1994: 355). The analogy between people and cities was an ancient one, at least as old as Plato, but it seems that it was only after Locke that it became a way of thinking about how people and cities developed their identities over time. In terms of architecture and planning these manifested as two key ideas: first, that the city develops its identity naturally, just like a person; second, that the fragments of memory collected within the city might have an improving effect upon its inhabitants.
For the standard argument about how modernists rejected history see Moneo 1978. They were fascinated with abstract ‘space’, industrial ‘production’ and ‘functionalism’, he says, and ‘all three had in common the rejection of the past as a form of knowledge in architecture’ (35).
Volker Welter has tackled the conundrum that many planners and theorists who were committed to building the perfect modernist city, in particular Arthur Korn, Ludwig Hilberseimer and (more problematically) Lewis Mumford, wrote books that often detailed the complex ‘genealogies’ of the historical city over a wide range of cultures. ‘Why survey urban history in the first instance’, Welter asks, ‘if subsequent planning proposals sweep aside all history in order to make for radical city plans?’ Welter concludes that these accounts were intended merely to infer the existence of a ‘teleology’ that drives the development of the historical city but ends with its obsolescence: the ‘aims were not really to appreciate historical cities, but rather to seize on them in order to advance the quest for a tabula rasa as the most appropriate space for the activities of the modern city planner and architect’ (2007: 60-61).
Robert Gildea’s account (Gildea 1994) of how various political communities in France aligned their ideologies around key monuments and places, by turns appropriating, reinterpreting and destroying them, gives a fascinating insight into this phenomenon.
Forty attributes the emergence of this approach to Saverio Muratori of the University of Venice. His Studi per una Operante Storia Urbana di Venezia of 1960 ‘enabled one to demonstrate in concrete terms all those aspects of the process of the city – growth, milieu, class – which historical geographers had previously treated only as abstractions’ (Forty 2004: 308).
In the words of Patrick Geddes, classification was ‘no longer a matter of superficial description and nomenclature but a complete expression of structural resemblances and differences’ (Geddes in Vidler 1977: 450).
Forty makes the clarification that architects in the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries tended to use the words ‘genres’ and ‘characters’ rather than ‘types’ (Forty 2004: 304-306).
The core members of the group were the architects Kisho Kurakawa, Fumihiko Maki, Masato Otaka and Kiyonori Kikutake, and the journalist Noboru Kawazoe. URTEC was an anagram of ‘Urbanist Architect’.
Gold discusses the ambivalent motivations of Metabolism, which walked the line between the serious use of technology to improve society and the gleefully silly marriage of late-modernist ambition with popular science fiction, the latter best exemplified by the ‘prankster mentality’ of the Archigram group in Britain with their ‘Walking City’ and ‘Plug-In City’ schemes (Gold 2007: 261).
For a sense of how these ideas appear in the architecture programme at Columbia University, New York, see Berman and Tschumi 2003, especially entries like ‘biology’ and ‘organic/organicism’. A good account of the conflicted motives can be had from Hugh Aldersey-Williams’ book on ‘zoomorphic’ architecture. On the one hand it represents a genuine shift in western cultural ideals, ‘from the mechanistic towards the biological in aesthetics and cultural rhetoric’. On the other hand it is wordplay invented to legitimize computer-aided design in the absence of the old architectural metaphors: ‘Computers have allowed designers to create more fluid shapes…The old dogmas of both the Modernists and their repudiators have collapsed’. And the most popular metaphors nowadays refer to ‘“evolutionary” algorithms and quasi-genetic coding schemes’ (Aldersey-Williams 2003: 10-11, 19).
10 Léon Krier, interview with author, 6 March 2003, Claviers. 11 Léon Krier, interview with author, 6 March 2003, Claviers. See William Morris (1887) for his views on the importance of integrating art and manufacture in handicraft. 12 Léon Krier, interview with author, 6 March 2003, Claviers. Krier clarifies that he uses the word ‘human’ polemically, as real people and their needs inevitably differ: ‘human is everything: from the nicest to the worst, from the good to the bad. And yet, by “human”, we mean the nice sides of mankind and human beings’. 13 Léon Krier, interview with author, 6 March 2003, Claviers. On the same theme: ‘There is nothing to be “learned from Las Vegas”, except that it constitutes a widespread operation of trivialization...a desperate attempt to give the profession of architecture a final justification of its bad conscience…Opposing any direct communication between individuals and unquestionably accepting the principles of feverish and obligatory mechanical mobility, they reject the very basis of urban culture’ (Culot and Krier 1978: 353). Krier asserts that people in Las Vegas and Los Angeles ‘hate their work, they hate their family, they hate their church, they hate everything. And they are only at rest in their car, which is moving between these places of alienation’ (Léon Krier, interview with author, 6 March 2003, Claviers). 14 Krier concedes that ‘in the contemporary suburban mess, or metropolitan mess, you find a lot of happiness. A lot of people actually find their ground of developing there, and their talents, establishing their business, leading their lives and having families, but these happen individually’. In other words it is accidental and unplanned. The planner’s job is to make it happen by design (Léon Krier, interview with author, 6 March 2003, Claviers). 15 Léon Krier, interview with author, 6 March 2003, Claviers. 16 Phenomenology will be covered in greater detail in Chapter 6. 17 Demetri Porphyrios, interview with author, 26 February 2003, London. Porphyrios’ advocacy of ‘robustness’ is linked to his critique of the construction industry. He believes that it is geared deliberately towards marketing materials, and consequently buildings, that become obsolete within thirty years or so. 18 A yet more extreme view along these lines can be had from the Italian architect and School of Venice stalwart Augusto Romano Burelli (1985). 19 For a critique of the claims that classical architecture in particular encapsulates
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eternal truths, couched in allusions that it is too amenable to being co-opted by exploitative and dangerous politics, see Martin 2010. Krier has defended classicism from its association with totalitarianism, which have been repeated since the Nazi state architecture of Albert Speer, as unfair and inaccurate. The classical was not the only style favoured by the Nazis: they favoured classical for public buildings, vernacular for housing, and modernist for industrial buildings (Krier 1981). Indeed, modernist architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Phillip Johnson, who are celebrated by the faction that Martin is sympathetic towards (see the ‘Grammatical fiction’ section of Chapter 7), had links with Nazism both professionally and ideologically (Lubbock 2003: 16-17; Applebaum 2005). 20 Typologists like to argue that historical motifs, structures and proportions reappeared constantly in modernist designs, although often they were so distorted as to become almost unrecognizable. These arguments stretch credibility sometimes (Colquhoun 1962a; Colquhoun 1962b; Colquhoun 1967: 45-47; Rossi 1985; Rowe 1947; von Moos 1979: 69-142; Vogt 1998). 21 See also Colquhoun 1981a, Colquhoun 1981b. Moneo characterizes typology in a similar way: it is ‘the frame within which change operates, a necessary term to the continuing dialectic required by history’ (Moneo 1978: 23-24, 27). 22 ‘[T]he perceptual liberty [that An Essay Concerning Human Understanding] granted to the individual was consistent with the political freedoms Locke claimed for the citizen in his other writings’ (Forty 2004: 208). 23 Shaun Gallagher and Jonathan Shear argue that Locke gave rise to ‘the specifically modern philosophical problem (or group of problems) pertaining to the nature of self-identity’ and that he ‘continues to define much of the contemporary discussion’ (Gallagher and Shear 1999: ix).
5 Misremembered Cities
‘Contextualism’ has become one of the many buzzwords in the contemporary architect’s rhetorical armoury. It is now a notion so vague that it can be used to justify buildings that stick out from their surroundings in the most provocative ways imaginable. A sense of this vagueness can be had from Zaha Hadid, who is famous for bold formal experimentation. The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati (2003), for example, involves an ‘urban carpet’ that sucks people off the street and up through the dizzying internal volumes in a single uninterrupted swoop, while the Vitra Fire Station (Weil Am Rhein, Germany, 1994) looks like an explosion in a knife factory. Hadid defines context as follows: I think context affects the design…as clues come from the surroundings. I’ll work with context on a more esoteric level. Our work isn’t meant to fit-in in the conventional way, but to key in and accentuate the energy of what’s around it (Hadid in Coates 2004).
This is reminiscent of an entry in the ‘encyclopaedia’ of one of the most voguish contemporary architecture schools: to respect context is to focus on the ‘logics of flow and vectors’ in the city and beyond (Allen 2003: 26). Basically this means that, as we live on a globe that is increasingly ‘global’, anything can be cited as contextual. Here are some recent examples from the UK which show how this kind of contextualism works in practice. During the public presentation of shortlisted designs for a new art gallery in Colchester, several members of the audience voiced their concerns as to whether the schemes would respect the town’s architecture. A spokesperson for one of the firms, Future Systems, reassured the audience that their pink crescent was intensely respectful of context: the Day-Glo wraparound skin ‘quoted’ the red brick Georgian terraces that defined the town.1 The advocate of the scheme by Rafael Viñoly, which went on to win the competition, stated that contextualism was a cornerstone of their practise as well, before explaining that the principal had come up with the design by taking a segment from the logo of the airline, Pan-Am.2 Perhaps predictably, Viñoly’s golden crescent flies above an open
5.1 Curve (Rafael Viñoly, 2008), Alexandra House (Edward Burgess, 1898) and Odeon (Robert Bullivant, 1938), Leicester Source: The Author
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field as far away from the town’s buildings as the site will permit. Viñoly played a different game with context for the Curve Theatre in Leicester (2008), which refers proudly to the history of textile manufacture in the city by having an interior stuffed with colourful curtains that can be moved about between performances. Outside, in Orton Square and neighbouring streets, a rich collection of buildings can be found, taking in Victorian eclecticism with gothic, classical and even Hindu and Moorish influences, for example in Edward Burgess’ Alexandra House (1898), and offering also the exuberant Art Deco stylings of Robert Bullivant’s Odeon cinema (1938). Towards these, Viñoly’s building presents only a paranoid layering of sharpened blades that curve around to protect it from all angles. The textile theme was popular in Leicester that year. The John Lewis department store (2008) by Foreign Office Architects sports a dual-layer glass skin covered with a distinctive branching pattern that was a well-known Leicester trademark back in the heyday of the industry. It was meant to allude also to the ornate, translucent saris manufactured locally for the city’s Indian population. ‘Context’, then, can be used to refer to anything, whether now or in the past, visible or invisible, whether a building, an idea, a pattern or an esoteric flow of energy. It has become a vague word that architects use to get things built. Sometimes this use is disingenuous and openly at odds with the architecture that is being proposed. But neither the architect, client nor the public seem to mind: as long as the word ‘context’ is mentioned, everyone feels reassured.
COLLAGE AS DEMOCRACY The theory of contextualism was worked out more scrupulously, however, and it was never about making all architecture look traditional to ‘fit-in in the conventional way’. Robert Venturi claims that he was the first to make a systematic study of the importance of context as early as 1950 but this was in his Master of Fine Arts thesis for Princeton University, which remained unpublished until 1996 (Venturi 1998: 33374).3 Knowingly or not, others stole his thunder. The original term ‘contexturalism’, a combination of ‘context’ and ‘texture’, was invented by students of Colin Rowe at Cornell University in order to describe the kind of studio work he was driving them towards in the 1960s and ‘70s (Ellis 1979: 228, 251 n. 5; Schumacher 1971: 306 n. 1). In short, it was a middle ground of innovation and tradition that sought to relate ‘to the human being’ (Schumacker 1971: 297). Aided by ex-student Fred Koetter, Rowe published this theory as Collage City in 1978. Rowe and Koetter began Collage City by observing that ideal cities always presuppose the ideal ‘subject’ – the person – that is meant for them. They identified two trends. The first was represented by Plato and Christ, where rationalism or spirituality were meant to lead to eternal truths about the cosmos and God. This would establish a harmonious balance within society. Second were those Enlightenment ideas that state and the individual are improved over time through countless adjustments made according to the demands of the present (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 11-31). These extremes, of idealism and empiricism, should work together in the healthy city, civilization and psyche. Things had gone wrong, however: the two had unravelled and were spiralling apart dangerously. Predictably, Rowe and Koetter saw this reflected in architecture and urban planning. On the one hand you had modernism and its progeny, who proposed comprehensive overhaul leading to an ideal future. On the other hand you had the advocates of traditional townscapes, Pop architecture and Non-Plan. Despite important differences in emphasis and style, these latter were all about nonintervention: leave the world alone and enjoy its diversity. But neither of these extremes acknowledged an important ‘aspect of the human mind’: ‘the processes of anticipation and retrospection’. The analogy between city and psyche emerges strongly in Collage City, especially in relation to politics. The idealist approach to architecture is like totalitarianism. The empirical approach is like free market economics or even anarchy. Both extremes prevent the emergence of a properly democratic city, so Rowe and Koetter argue ‘the need for a two-way argument between these polar extremes’. Besides, the democratic city is etched deep into the human mind: The mass of mankind is likely to be, at any one time, both conservative and radical, to be preoccupied with the familiar and diverted by the unexpected; and, if we all of us both live in the past and hope for the future…it would seem reasonable that we should accept this condition.
The job of the architect, they say, is ‘that of making safe the city (and hence democracy) by large infusions of metaphor, analogical thinking, ambiguity’;
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in other words, by making cities that mimic the complexity of human thought (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 49, 117).4 Before we look at how this strange idea was to be achieved in architecture it is helpful to look briefly at the sources, Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin, who were among the twentieth century’s foremost philosophers on liberal democracy, the dynamics of history and the nature of self. Although Berlin and Popper were both fascinated by the way history unfolded they disagreed over how it happened. In The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953) Berlin used Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace (186369) to explore two views about history. On the one hand were Tolstoy’s generals, who believed they could understand and choreograph the war according to plan, and on the other were the soldiers, who responded to the randomness of the battlefield. Berlin characterized these as ‘hedgehogs’ who had grand theories and sought out universal values, and ‘foxes’ who were willing to change their outlook in accordance with different circumstances. Plato was a hedgehog general, Aristotle was a fox soldier (Berlin 1953: 1-31). But both sides were wrong, for Berlin. The forces of history were deterministic. Nobody had control, neither the general nor the soldier: ‘there is a natural law whereby the lives of human beings no less than those of nature are determined; but…men, unable to face this inexorable process, seek to represent it as a succession of free choices, to fix responsibility for what occurs upon persons endowed by them with heroic virtues or heroic vices, and called by them “great men”’. Free will is a delusion that survives only because we are insufficiently aware of the countless subtle causes that determine our every thought and action. And the more we learn of these causes, the more it becomes difficult to sustain our delusion: ‘“Power” and “accident” are but names for ignorance of the causal chains, but the chains exist whether we feel them or not’ (Berlin 1953: 27, 30). The only thing to do is accept the situation. Wisdom is resignation (Berlin 1953: 65-80).5 Rowe and Koetter used Berlin to diagnose the conflicting trends of architecture and planning mentioned earlier (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 88-92). But the two personality types of hedgehog and fox must now be brought together as ‘necessarily co-existent and complementary conditions of the mind’ (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 104). Moreover this would guarantee democracy, freedom and historical progress, which is where Karl Popper came into their thinking. Popper rejected Berlin’s determinism to argue that people could influence history. For something to be able to determine our thoughts and actions utterly, he said, it must be powerful or reliable, and maybe both. There could be no flaws or irregularities through which human agency could exert itself. Determinism, then, assumed that the natural universe was an irresistible law-bound force, likewise the social and historical ‘universes’ of our everyday experience. But this was a fallacy. Systems were never flawless. ‘Looseness’, ‘imperfection’, ‘chance’, ‘randomness’ and ‘disorder’ all played their part, and it was here that free will emerged.6 Popper integrated his manifesto of freedom into a philosophical whole that incorporated the built environment and a specific notion of historical time, both of which fed into Collage City. Human evolution depended on the interaction of human subjectivity with the real world of objects and experiences (Popper 1967; 1977a). Popper described the process of child development in a way reminiscent of Locke:
‘The self, the personality, emerges in interaction with the other selves and with the artefacts and other objects of his environment…Becoming a fully human being depends on [this] maturation process’ (Popper 1977a: 267). He underlined his point with rats: Scientists at Berkeley operated with two groups of rats, one living in an enriched environment and one living in an impoverished environment. The first were kept in a large cage, in social groups of twelve, with an assortment of playthings that were changed daily. The others were living alone in standard laboratory cages. The main result was that the animals living in the enriched environment had a heavier cerebral cortex than the impoverished ones. It appears that the brain grows through activity, through having to solve problems actively (Popper 1977b: 280-81).
To become a fully rounded person one’s environment should be richly provisioned with challenge and opportunities for action. And this is where Popper brought time into the equation. Our actions, if they are responsible, are plagued by the interplay of hope and doubt: ‘Intelligent actions are actions adapted to foreseeable events. They are based upon foresight, upon expectation…and upon the comparison of the expected results of several possible moves and countermoves’ (Popper 1977a: 272). Consequently our actions should be tentative and partial, which has an effect on the texture of history itself (Popper 1936). Popper called this ‘piecemeal social engineering’, where improvements are made ‘by small adjustments and re-adjustments which can be continually improved upon’ (Popper 1944: 309). It corresponded with human nature and the self as ‘an active, problem solving agent’ (Popper 1977b: 284-85). This was Popper’s rebuff to the ‘utopianist’, who in providing the perfect society needed to ‘mould’ people into its programme, and confused his failure to respond to their real needs by complaining ‘that they are not yet fit to live in it; that their “human impulses” need further “organizing”’ (Popper 1944: 311). This brings Le Corbusier to mind, who condemned the factory workers who redecorated the homes that he built for them at Pessac in the 1920s as uneducated, un-modern and vulgar (Richards 2003: 215 n. 61), as well as Ernö Goldfinger’s characterization of the first inhabitants of his Trellick Tower in London (1972). It was this kind of casual architectural tyranny that led the authors of Collage City to engage with Popper. Ultimately he left them with two intriguing propositions: first, people needed to be assisted in developing ‘a sense of time, with oneself extending into the past (at least into “yesterday”) and into the future (at least into “tomorrow”)’. Second, this process did not happen automatically. Our environment must provide it for us, Popper said, by giving a sense of ‘localization’ in time and space: ‘We cannot act coherently without it. It is part of our self-identity that we try to know where we are, in space and time: that we relate ourselves to our past and the immediate future, with its aims and purposes; and that we try to orient ourselves in space’ (Popper 1977b: 285). The architecture and planning of Collage City were imagined as just that: collage. After all the philosophizing this turns out to be simplicity itself. Alternative
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architectural ‘viewpoints’ and ‘statements’, some of them forward looking and others more conservative, would be allowed to co-exist in dialogue. But just like collage, the different elements would not be blended together to create a uniform impression. Instead there would be a clash of architectural imagery and values, with little fragments of upstart avant-gardism, even utopianism, rubbing up against more established styles from the past (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 125). No one element would be allowed to dominate, and although the ‘ideal’ elements would challenge the pre-existing ‘texture’, they would not mimic the brutal challenge represented by massive slum clearance and redevelopment programmes. Rather, they would be small-scale and fragmentary – or ‘piecemeal’ – and they would be absorbed in their turn to become background texture to be challenged anew. This would have the effect of altering our relationship with our surroundings, as our awareness ‘continuously fluctuates between an interpretation of the building as object and its reinterpretation as texture’. The urban fabric would become an endless push-pull debate between the ‘ideal’ and the ‘empirical’, ‘figure’ and ‘ground’, ‘scaffold’ and ‘exhibit’, but a ‘debate in which victory consists of each component emerging undefeated, the imagined condition [being] a type of solidvoid dialectic which might allow for the joint existence of the overly planned and the genuinely unplanned, of the set-piece and the accident’ (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 77, 83). This was taken, perhaps a little over-literally, as a visual manifestation of democracy: ‘if democracy…is, inherently, a collision of points of view and acceptable as such, then why not allow a theory of contending powers (all of them visible) as likely to establish a more ideally comprehensive city of the mind than any which has, as yet, been invented’ (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 106). And these qualities must be cultivated within the architect and town planner as well. He must be the fountainhead with the big design idea and also the ‘bricoleur’ responding to the site and making do with whatever forms, techniques and materials that may be to hand. In other words, he must be general and soldier. Collage becomes the architect’s ‘technique’, ‘conscience’ and also his ‘state of mind’ (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 72-77, 102-105, 139). Rowe had little experience as a practising architect and it is questionable whether he achieved the desired effect in his unbuilt town plans either.7 Nonetheless his influence as a teacher was considerable, not least over James Stirling, whom he taught at Liverpool University shortly after the Second World War.8 We can see this in the plans Stirling did for Derby town centre (1970, unbuilt) with assistance from Léon Krier. A semi-circular shopping arcade clad in inclined glass surrounds an open piazza in which the eighteenth century façade of the Derby Assembly Rooms, which were burnt out in the early 1960s, was to have been preserved, albeit at an angle of 45 degrees as the covering for a stage. Clashing with this surreal historic centrepiece, the outer edge of the piazza would feature a cluster of public telephones on a plinth as a monument to modern telecommunications. The famous engineering building that Stirling completed with James Gowan for Leicester University in 1963 gives an earlier indication of this love of strangely clashing and even comical elements, for example with the crystal formations of its workshop roofs facing off against the glass-clad spiral stair into the rear of the
5.2 Engineering Building, Leicester (James Stirling and James Gowan, 1963) Source: The Author
lecture hall (for students who have overslept and want to sneak in unseen), and the ship’s foghorn or funnel simultaneously broadcasting and ventilating the toilets. Stirling’s controversial extension to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, completed with Michael Wilford in 1983, seems to play a similar game. The new galleries follow the U-shaped plan of the nineteenth century neo-classical original that sits beside it. In the middle, however, is an open-roofed rotunda, the centrepiece of a playground of ramps, terraces, framed views and entrances in chunky striped stonework reminiscent of children’s building blocks. The main lines are highlighted with fat pipes painted red and blue that look like handrails for the giant children who one imagines might have stacked it all together. Neo-Constructivist canopies with
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black and red I-beams are dotted here and there, while the rotunda features a stepdown entrance through a squat and almost abstract set of pillars and entablature. One of the main criticisms of the building was the lack of a coherent façade. Stirling responded: ‘The ambivalence of the front corresponds to the ambiguity of the boulevard (Konrad Adenauer Strasse is more an autobahn than a street). Instead of a façade the front recedes, presenting a series of incidents adjacent to the walking movement, into, through, and across the building’. In any case, Stirling continued, ‘it’s no longer enough to do classicism straight, in this building the central pantheon, instead of being the culmination, is but a void – a room like non space instead of a dome – open to the sky…In addition to Representation and Abstract; this large building complex…supports the Monumental and Informal; also the Traditional and High Tech’ (Stirling 1984: 258-60). Earlier we encountered two variants of the term ‘contextualism’, one derogatory, the other vague. First it was implied that contextualism involved a philistine desire to preserve traditional architecture at any cost: the nonsense, for Hadid, that buildings must ‘fit-in in the conventional way’. Second, contextualism was defined loosely as the swirling energies that stretch to the farthest reaches of the universe and the deepest trenches of the oceans, as well as taking in the cultural context of a locality. Even though it might have made possible the current free-for-all, which allows architects to describe as contextual buildings that look like spacecraft, sea urchins and saris, the original theory of contextualism was more scrupulous and interesting. It involved an intricate analogy between the state, human nature, and the design of the city, as they evolve over time and influence one another. The deterministic element is present but quite vague, with Rowe and Koetter alluding to the ways that an urban collage encourages people to ‘assemble themselves according to their own interpretations of absolute reference and traditional value…Could not the model city which we carry in our minds allow for our known psychological constitution?’ (Koetter and Rowe 1995: 49, 145). Perhaps, Rowe and Koetter seem to ask, the psyche might be enriched or even healed if only we build the city that it requires, the plans for which reside already deep within it. This echoes the Team 10 approach to the past, which was not about conserving monuments and traditional styles. It was about trying to understand the pressures and processes of urban change and maintaining a balance of old and new, of ‘fixed’ elements like law courts and government buildings, and ‘transient’ elements like shops, housing and signage, all operating on different cycles of change. But perhaps most intriguing is the assertion that the correct balance of fixed and transient elements was analogous to the healthy functioning of the mind and memory: ‘Just as our mental process needs [these elements to] remain clear and sane’, so too they provide ‘security’, ‘stability’ and ‘sanity’ for the city as well (A. Smithson and P. Smithson in Smithson 1962: 584-85, 594).
CITY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY Italian architects earlier in the twentieth century had not rejected history with the vehemence of some of their French and German counterparts, so it is perhaps
natural that one of the most influential theories came from Aldo Rossi in his books The Architecture of the City (1966) and A Scientific Autobiography (1980) (Forty 2004: 199-203). Rossi discussed architecture and the self in ways that were indistinguishable, and just like Rowe he was not interested in historical pastiche but in incorporating the deeper processes of historical change. Despite his links with the School of Venice, however, Rossi did not have much to say about the city as the trace of political and economic power, or indeed about history. Instead he focussed on the role of memory in the life of the individual and the city, as if the city were some kind of living being constructing its own biography. Rossi’s general position was that cities and people are subject to a unique set of events or ‘experiences’. These leave traces in the ‘memory’, which ties them all together to create an individual ‘identity’ and ‘consciousness’. A city remembers through its architecture. The preservation of old architecture in the city is analogous to the preservation of old memories in the mind, and both suffer from the same dangers (Richards 2004). This led Rossi to distinguish between what he called ‘permanences’, which can be ‘pathological’ or ‘propelling’. Important buildings and memories must be permament, but in a way that allows change and re-appropriation. A building that is over-burdened by the weight of its heritage, likewise a building that is too massive, can dominate the urban fabric and impair future development. This is similar to the way a traumatic memory of a past experience can mess up a person’s mental health. To underscore the link between city and self, Rossi used the terms ‘historical obstacles’ and ‘psychological symptoms’ interchangeably (Rossi 1992: 8). Rossi applied this to architectural design by arguing that the building ‘type’, of hospital, church, factory and so on, must be preserved in its basic form yet be made amenable to new uses. As an examples of this Rossi pointed to the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre at Lucca turned to residential and commercial use. So far this is standard typological fare (Rossi 1997: 22-23, 57-61, 86, 111, 116, 150-52). But Rossi came at it from an unusual angle, which was related to how he thought memory worked. We get a clue when he remarks on how the sensitive use of types will help a city develop a ‘biographical’ identity: ‘With time, the city grows upon itself; it acquires a consciousness and memory. In the course of its construction, its original themes persist, but at the same time it modifies and renders these themes of its own development more specific…exactly like the laws that regulate the life and destinies of individual men’. The key word is ‘modification’: memories, and the identities we craft from them, need not be accurate or truthful. They can be fabricated, even fictional. This was something that Rossi applied to his own autobiography and also, it seems, his destiny, a ‘project’ that could never be understood completely as the memories that contributed to it were always being revised: ‘Other memories, other motives have come into view, modifying the original project which is still very dear to me’ (Rossi 1997: 18, 21; 1992: 84). This explains Rossi’s fascination with architectural fragments and evocative ruins, as the maturation of city and self was a messy business that required remembering, forgetting and even the misrepresentation of memories: ‘I am thinking of a unity, or a system’, he said, ‘made solely of reassembled fragments’. And on a more macabre note, it throws light on his interest in broken bones and bodies undergoing surgery,
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not least his own after a car crash. It was remarkable how the tissues could be spliced back together, he thought, sometimes with assistance from medical professionals, sometimes on their own. And although the results were never as good as new, with scars and misalignments giving evidence of the trauma and repairs, this did not mean they were weaker or that the procedure had failed. On the contrary, it suggested a kind of strength through disorder: ‘I felt that the disorder of things, if limited and somehow honest, might best correspond to our state of mind’ (Rossi 1992: frontispiece [unpaginated], 8, 23, 54, 83).9 Memories, architectural forms and even human bodies could be misremembered and combined in strange ways. If the word ‘theory’ implies even a trace of methodical argument then Rossi’s theory is not one.10 It is a freewheeling meditation on the relationship between the past, the built environment and our lives. But when put in order the key points seem to be as follows: first, cities are living beings, analogous to humans, with memories of their own; second, the ‘analogous city’ is the stage for our memories, both individual and collective, and helps nourish our identities; third, a more evocative approach to architectural design will intensify memory, both for the living city itself and for the people within it; fourth, memories need not be whole and exact but can be fragmentary and fictional. We find these ideas in some of Rossi’s architecture, such as the IBA Social Housing Block in Berlin from the early 1990s. A housing block with a gigantic column stuck at the corner, this combination of elements was redolent with memory, for Rossi at least. It echoed a photograph of ‘Filarete’s column’ in The Architecture of the City, showing a tenement block in Venice that was built up around the column of a palace that was never completed. The memory of a past architectural intention is lodged as a kind of foreign body that supports rather than hinders the growth of new tissue around it. And as it has not been absorbed fully, the column preserves some of its own identity. Impressed by this suggestive clash of elements Rossi transplanted it to Berlin. Keeping faithful to his ideas the column appears as a misremembered fragment blown out of all proportion and more impressive in its recollected form in Berlin than in its reality in Venice, as memories often are. Rossi’s notion of memory as a kind of forgetting sounds like a ruse to get away with designing whatever he pleased while claiming it was respectful of the past. But Rossi did not pluck these ideas out of thin air. One of his influences was The Concept of Mind (1949) by the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle, whose reflections on the nature of identity had a lot to say about the workings of memory. Ryle began by saying that it was a mistake to think we can look into and understand our own mental states and motivations. The ‘ghost in the machine’, to use Ryle’s famous phrase, was inaccessible, and perhaps illusory (Ryle 1949: 11-23, 154-67). So how do we truly know ourselves? According to Ryle we never do, at least not fully. Among his many arguments two are relevant to Rossi. First, we learn how to observe and talk about others before we can apply this to ourselves. As a result we begin to recognize and expect behavioural patterns in others and ourselves, which are reinforced by the laws and traditions of society and also by the various tasks, at home and at work, which we need to complete to get through the day. Therefore the foundations of self-knowledge are familiarity and habit: in order to develop the
mental tools for assessing ourselves we have to be immersed in an environment that follows habitual patterns, that has a familiar language, traditions and social institutions. We grow aware of these things not by thinking about them but simply through being immersed in them (Ryle 1949: 167-85, 198). Ryle’s second argument is that everything we know about ourselves comes through memory, because we are incapable of reflecting upon our own mental or physical activities at the precise moment they are happening. This is especially the case for violent or traumatic experiences, or any other highly charged mental states, which for Ryle seem to short-circuit the mind temporarily: States of mind such as these more or less violent agitations can be examined only in retrospect. Yet nothing disastrous follows from this retrospection. We are not shorter of information about panic or amusement than about other states of mind. If retrospection can give us the data we need for our knowledge of some states of mind, then there is no reason why it should not do so for all… Retrospection, prompt or delayed, is a genuine process (Ryle 1949: 166-67).
Our lives and thoughts exist in a state of permanent retrospection, then, for even when someone concentrates hard on ‘the Problem of the Self, he has failed and knows that he has failed to catch more than the flying coat-tails of that which he was pursuing. His quarry was the hunter’. Ryle characterizes this unstoppable flight into the past as ‘The Systematic Elusiveness of “I”’. Our self-awareness is little more than an endless layering of commentaries and opinions about our past states (Ryle 1949: 198). And as well as being after the event these assessments will probably be as flawed and biased as the things we might say about other people. The unreliable nature of self-assessment is crucial, and it is reinforced by Ryle’s distinction between two common usages of the verb ‘to remember’. The most important is represented by the skill that Ryle calls ‘not-forgetting’ or ‘bearingin-mind’. This applies to the things that we have learned through repetition and habit and which do not require much effort to remember, such as the alphabet, basic numeracy, a routine for personal hygiene, how to cross the road safely, as well as mental sketches of our friends. Second is the skill that Ryle calls ‘actual reminiscence’ or ‘recall’. This involves making a conscious effort at a particular time to remember specific information, sometimes accurately but more often not. Ryle illustrates the two types of remembering as follows: ‘The barrister presses the witness to recall things, where the teacher trains his pupils not to forget things’. Through the interplay of the two we develop what Ryle calls the ‘narrative skill’. ‘The objects of my retrospection are items in my autobiography’, he says, but this autobiography is unreliable and ‘subject to evaporations and dilutions’. Knowledge of self therefore is not knowledge in a ‘cognitive’ sense. It is not ‘research’, merely ‘representation’. ‘An anecdotalist is not a sort of detective’, but the stories told are ‘ordinarily reliable enough’ (Ryle 1949: 166-67, 172, 273, 275-76, 279). Ryle outlined a concept of identity that involved weaving stories about oneself from memory. But when we dredge up our memories and turn them over in our minds we do so in accordance with our present circumstances. Rather than being enslaved to representing the past accurately, we change it. Our capacities of recall
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are not binding. They are vague, sometimes flawed and even biased, but this is a source of our freedom. Errors in remembering allow us to be creative. Ryle provides some suggestive inroads into Rossi’s thought. Here was an intention to create cities that were familiar, following habitual patterns over time. But the elements of memory in these cities would not be exact copies from the past: they would be flexible, open to reappropriation and indeed creative error. In Rossi’s terms they would be ‘propelling’ rather than ‘pathological’. The memory of those experiences that contributed to identity were said by Ryle to be vague, unreliable, almost dreamlike, and it is perhaps this aspect of the past that Rossi tried to capture not only in his architecture but also in his design drawings. The greatest influence on Rossi’s ideas about memory, however, was the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, whose book The Collective Memory was published posthumously in 1950, and one can find echoes of his personal and impressionistic writing style in Rossi’s own. Halbwachs crops up all the time in the fields of architecture and planning, as well as in urban history, as he discussed memory explicitly in connection with the built environment. He had some practical experience as well, being associated with the French Garden City Movement that built several suburbs around Paris in the inter-war period. These would help redress the feelings of misery and alienation brought about in workers, so he believed, by industrialized working practises (Forty 2004: 217). Halbwachs began his book with the standard idea that places nourish memory, but his take on memory was unusual as he was not too concerned about it being our own. When someone tells us about their past we are not merely learning about their personal experiences. We incorporate them as part of our own memory: ‘In reality’, he said, ‘we are never alone. Other men need not be physically present, since we always carry with us and in us a number of distinct persons’. A person’s identity was sustained by two types of memory: first, memories of our own experiences that are refreshed when we visit the places where they happened; second, the experiences that we absorb from other people, either directly through conversation or indirectly from books, films and paintings. The ‘collective’ of Halbwachs’ title does not refer only to family and friends, but can be any group whatsoever: living or dead, real or imaginary, they all contribute to our memories. And we get so adulterated by the surrogate and even fictional memories of others that it is difficult to say which, if any, really belong to us. Halbwachs illustrated this with his own first impressions of London, which are worth reading in full: I arrive for the first time in London and take walks with different companions. An architect directs my attention to the character and arrangement of city buildings. A historian tells me why a certain street, house, or other spot is historically noteworthy. A painter alerts me to the colors in the parks, the lines of the palaces and churches, and the play of light and shadow on the walls and façades of Westminster and on the Thames. A businessman takes me into the public thoroughfares, to the shops, bookstores, and department stores. Even if I were unaccompanied, I need only have read their varying descriptions of the city, been given advice on what aspects to see, or merely studied a map. Now suppose I went walking alone. Could it be said that I preserve of that tour only individual remembrances, belonging solely to me? Only in appearance did I
take a walk alone. Passing before Westminster, I thought about my historian friend’s comments (or, what amounts to the same thing, what I have read in history books). Crossing a bridge, I noticed the effects of perspective that were pointed out by my painter friend (or struck me in a picture or engraving)… Many impressions during my first visit to London – St. Paul’s, Mansion House, the Strand, the Inns of Court – reminded me of Dickens’s novels read in childhood, so I took my walk with Dickens. In each of these moments, I cannot say that I was alone, that I reflected alone, because I had put myself in thought into this or that group (Halbwachs 1980: 22-25).
The person is conceived as a jumble of real, borrowed and imaginary memories, which is a stimulating yet unstable thing to be. Halbwachs’remedy was that buildings and street layouts should be respected and if possible preserved as they ‘give us a feeling of order and tranquility, like a silent and immobile society unconcerned with our own restlessness and changes of mood’. The inner life of thought and emotion are simply too capricious, so people ‘must guarantee its equilibrium’ by cherishing places that are special to them, working to ‘engrave the soil’ and create ‘a fixed framework within which to enclose and retrieve remembrances’. When we lose contact with our surroundings it is ‘as if we had left behind our whole personality’. And this is why people object, Halbwachs maintained, to the demolition of their neighbourhoods, even when they are offered something newer and more sanitary: Any inhabitant for whom these old walls, rundown homes, and obscure passageways create a little universe, who has many remembrances fastened to these images now obliterated forever, feels a large part of himself dying with these things and regrets they could not last at least for his lifetime…When we reach that period when we are unable to represent places to ourselves, even in a confused manner, we have arrived at the regions of our past inaccessible to memory…it is the spatial image alone that, by reason of its stability, gives us an illusion of not having changed through time and of retrieving the past in the present. But that’s how memory is defined (Halbwachs 1980: 128-29, 134, 153, 156-57).
Two key ideas fed into Rossi’s thinking. The first was that an individual’s identity is indivisible from memory, and memory is indivisible from the places that they cherish. Essentially, the person becomes the place. Mimicking Halbwach’s account of London, Rossi wrote of his meanderings around the ‘confusion of courtyards, suburban houses, roofs [and] gas storage drums’ of Milan, all the while ‘discovering my own architecture’, by which he meant his design ethos in a practical sense and the internal architecture of his personality: ‘These thoughts led me to the concept of identity. And the loss of it’. The close relationship between place and identity raised the obvious question of environmental determinism but Rossi skirted around this topic vaguely, only going so far as to imagine the city to be a kind of theatre where the actors are compelled to follow their allotted roles, but are free also to improvise a little. Only within strict rules can there be transgressions, the chance for ‘contretemps, variations, joys, disappointments’ (Rossi 1992: 16, 24, 48, 50-51, 55, 61, 65).11 The second idea that Rossi absorbed from Halbwachs was about creativity, which again was bound up with memory. Memories need not be
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uniquely our own but are likely to become mixed up with memories from other sources, as Halbwachs noted in the way friends and family altered his memories of his deceased father. Creativity exists at the intersection of all these voices as well, which come to the individual as fragments to be stitched back together. It was this creative flexibility of memory that Halbwachs and Rossi found so attractive, history being more rigid from their point of view (Halbwachs 1980: 28-68, 72-73, 76, 78-87; Rossi 1997: 18, 22, 29-31, 107; Rossi 1976).12 Given ideas as wide-ranging and allusive as these, it is fairly easy to point to what may be examples of them in Rossi’s built work. One of the most famous is the extension that he and Gianni Braghieri designed for the San Cataldo Cemetery at Modena, construction of which began in the mid-1970s although it remains incomplete. The car crash mentioned earlier occurred just prior to the design competition in 1971 and Rossi’s broken bones became the inspiration of the columbaria, which diminish like an inverted human ribcage either side of the central axis (Sveiven 2010). At the head would be an open-roofed conical structure, the common grave, which recalls the visionary cenotaphs designed by the eighteenth century neo-classical architect Étienne-Louis Boullée, as well as indicating the smokestacks of the industrial landscape beyond and with them the continuity of daily life. Perhaps the most striking structure, however, and one that is complete, is the ossuary, a multi-storey red ochre cube perforated with square openings, the metal staircases and balconies inside giving the impression of a city tenement walk-up crossed with a prison, and again completely open to the sky because the dead, as Rossi reasoned, should not need roofs over their heads. I like to think that this unsentimental design, with its allusions to the domestic, the carceral and the monumental, and which has aged unattractively, might be understood through 5.3 San Cataldo Cemetery, Modena (Aldo Rossi and Gianni Braghieri, mid1970s onwards) Source: Joel Robinson
Joel Robinson’s analysis of the funerary architecture of Alvar Aalto, Carlo Scarpa and Enric Miralles. Robinson argues that they represent an ‘organicist’ tendency in the architectural commemoration of death. Rather than providing images of order, permanence and timelessness, suggestive perhaps of the glories of the afterlife, their designs are suggestive more of the inevitability – indeed the mundanity – of the cycles of life and death. This tendency manifested in the creation of new buildings that: Are not ruins in the proper sense, but only take on a ruinous aspect: broken or unfinished structure, submerged masses overrun by vegetation; discoloured or corroded walls. It is as if decay and corruption were cultivated there, or designed into these works from the start, regardless of how much time has elapsed… As such, they not only point to death but also to life; they point to the new life that buildings assume when left to the devices or designs of nature, and to the continuity of their life in memory, even after disintegration (Robinson 2008: 12, 143).
This continuity was exemplified perhaps when Rossi built the Hotel Il Palazzo in Fukuoka in 1987, taking his San Cataldo ossuary and closing it out with windows and a blind façade with green I-Beams and pillars, and marrying neo-classicism with the stacked layers of Buddhist pagodas. A flat roof keeps the living dry in this case. And Rossi adopted a similarly reductive approach with Il Teatro del Mundo, a theatre set on a barge on the Grand Canal for the Venice Biennale of 1979, recalling the floating theatres that were popular in the city in the eighteenth century. The simple wood and steel design involved an octagonal core flanked by rectangular boxes and topped off with a conical roof, which recalls the general roofline of Venice while referring to nothing directly. Rossi’s architecture was a combination of traditional forms abstracted from their sources, as well as a scattershot approach to memory that involved combining deliriously de-contextualized architectural fragments, such as Filarete’s column transplanted to Berlin, with half-concealed allusions to his own past work and life history, such as the ossuary hotel in Fukuoka or the ribcage of San Cataldo. Obviously this is not traditional architecture in any straightforward sense. Rossi’s ideas are difficult to grasp fully; his books follow a circular course, revisiting and revising impressions of buildings until the reader is left with little to go on. They seem closer in feel to art or literature than architecture theory, as might be inferred perhaps from Rossi’s design drawings, which resemble the eerie townscapes painted by Giorgio de Chirico and Mario Sironi. Typically they include skewed perspectives of colonnades and blind buildings, deserted squares, long shadows almost overlapping from physically impossible light sources, and all calculated it would seem to induce confusion and a delirium of longing for something in the past which remains inscrutable. Rossi’s work also has much in common with some of the most celebrated explorations of memory and the city in recent years, such as W. G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz (2001) and Terence Davies’ film Of Time and The City (2008). Sebald’s novel is about a lonely man, Jacques Austerlitz, who begins to look into his early childhood as he approaches retirement, his conscious memory
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commencing only when, approaching his fifth year, he was fostered by a dour Welsh preacher and his wife. Austerlitz becomes an architecture historian, and his interest in railways stations, hotels and fortresses turns out to have been more than professional, resonating with suppressed memories and uneasy portents. The novel becomes a deeply unsettling exploration of his past as he traces these architectural clues back to his earliest years as a Jew in occupied Czechoslovakia. Throughout, Sebald contrasts the power of memory and place with the weakness of official histories, represented brilliantly by Austerlitz’s failed attempts to use the archives of the new Bibliothèque Nationale to learn of his father’s fate, who had escaped to Paris ahead of the German occupation of Prague. With its L-shaped corner towers protecting a ziggurat of wooden steps that force a march up and back down again before reaching the entrance, it is a building dedicated to causing discomfort and unease in the visitor. And given the proximity of its elephantine footprint to the warehouse complex where collaborators sorted the belongings of Parisian Jews, the building, which ‘seeks to exclude the reader as a potential enemy, might be described…as the official manifestation of the increasingly importunate urge to break with everything which still has some living connection to the past’ (Sebald 2001: 398). A different kind of example is Terence Davies’ waspish ‘chanson d’amour’ to his native city of Liverpool, which won a competition to celebrate and raise the profile of Liverpool as European Capital of Culture for 2008. Produced by a partnership of public-spirited bodies, the film is a montage of archival footage of Liverpool, focussing largely on the working class neighbourhoods of terrace housing of Davies’ youth in the 1940s and ‘50s, as well as on the slum clearance and high-rise tenements of the 1960s and ‘70s. Against these images Davies reminisces and recites poetry in an accent purged of any Liverpudlian lilt. He belittles the beauty pageants, fairground rides and dance halls at the seaside resort of New Brighton, a place of affordable pleasure, even romance, for a post-war populace still undergoing strict rationing; sniffs at the Royal Wedding or ‘The Betty Windsor Show’ of 1947, where footage shows street parties full of smiling children waving flags and trumpeting their blowouts at the proud old folk dressed smartly and enjoying tea; dismisses The Beatles as ‘not so much a musical phenomenon, more like a firm of provincial solicitors’, before giving a list of his favourite classical composers; and so on. ‘We had hoped for paradise’, Davies remarks: ‘We got the anus mundi’ (Of Time and The City, dir. T. Davies, 2008). What these examples suggest, to me at least, is how intensely personal the relationship between memory and place can be. And their relevance to Rossi is that they demonstrate how the temptation to range freely into one’s past through the medium of buildings and towns often leads to melancholy, eccentricity and self-indulgence, even when one has the noble intention of re-igniting collective memories that are meant to communicate to everyone.13 It is fascinating to observe this slippery process in film and literature; but does Rossi manage to use the very public art of architecture to render memory more concrete for anyone other than himself? It is revealing that people dying in the catchment area of San Cataldo have been known to threaten their family with a haunting if their remains end up there. The question of memory in architecture is contentious, then, and
Adrian Forty is sceptical of the attempt to read too much of one into the other. First, he says, memories tend not to reside reliably in buildings, nor even in monuments dedicated specifically to commemoration. The memories associated with them often fade away. Second, even if a memory was associated with a particular building there is no guarantee that it would trigger any memories at all in the person who encountered it. Third, memories are unstable and elusive and therefore utterly unlike the physicality of buildings, so the combination is inappropriate, even if only by analogy. Fourth, memories are often personal, so how can you turn them into a practical approach to design that is applicable widely? Fifth, architects tend to overlook the fact that respected theorists of memory often stress the importance of forgetting rather than remembering: ‘Not for nothing did the ancient Greeks place the springs of Lethe (Forgetfulness) and Mnemosyne (Memory) close by, and insist that those who wished to consult the oracle at Trophonios drink from first one, then the other’ (Forty 2004: 218; Forty and Küchler 1999). These are valid points but Rossi, drawing on Ryle and Halbwachs, appeared to be aware of them. Indeed it was precisely the unreliable, aleatory nature of memory and its discontinuous relationship with buildings that fascinated him most. Moreover this was tied to his idea of what people and places were: unstable entities that constructed their identities through ‘limitless affinities or analogies’ with other people and places (Rossi 1992: 40-41, 66; 1997: 34-35, 53-56). Both Rossi and Halbwachs set themselves against the philosophical proposition of Descartes, in decline since Locke’s momentous intervention in the late-seventeenth century, that ‘each of us is first and foremost sealed within himself’ (Halbwachs 1980: 59). It is little wonder, then, that Rossi alluded favourably to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Man of the Crowd (1840), a short story about a sinister man who could not bear to leave the crush of the crowded squares and alleyways of London, who drew ‘oxygen’ from the crowd and became anxious when it thinned out, and always plunged himself anew into the densest throng of people. In Rossi’s words, this represented the wish to ‘become identified in the city through the city itself’ (Rossi 1997: 120; Poe 1987).
HISTORY AND MEMORY: SUMMARY THOUGHTS Many architect-planners have tried to overturn the legacy of modernism by bringing a sense of the past back into buildings and cities. Some do it literally, but at its most interesting this is not necessarily the same thing as creating buildings and plans that copy past traditions note for note on the basis that they are pleasing stylistically. The turn towards the past was made for the more profound reason, or at least the belief, that human beings were severely disadvantaged by the lack of it. This idea was taken in two directions: political and psychological. First, there were those who argued that traditional architectures were the literal embodiment of the finest socio-political and even religious values from past civilizations. Others argued that the negotiation of past values, present circumstances and future aspirations was the precondition of liberal democracy. This more gradual process of change and adjustment was characteristic of
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other things too, such as the way that knowledge should be attained piecemeal through the empirical testing of hypotheses. Most fundamentally, though, it was characteristic of the proper functioning of the civilized mind. Second, we examined the argument that human beings were able to develop a sense of identity only in retrospect, through the activity of memory. These memories were transformed endlessly, biased to the needs of the present, and influenced by the reminiscences of other people as well as by the impressions we absorbed from fictional sources. But most important was the way these memories were anchored to buildings and cities, the physicality of which imparted a feeling of wellbeing to people as it made them feel their memories were tangible and long-lasting too. But as should be clear from having looked at the philosophy of John Locke, who set the ball rolling on these ideas, they are merely two sides of the same coin. According to Locke, history was as important to society as memory was important to the individual, and they must be retrieved in a way that allows one to balance change with continuity. Predictably, architect-planners stressed the importance of the built environment in this process, which was sometimes inferred through a loose analogy between the developmental processes of self, city and society. And it seems that these three elements were meant to have a circular influence over one another: the healthy mind is anchored to the healthy city, which is produced by the healthy society, which is made up of healthy minds, and so on. Rossi and Rowe dominated theory in this area but it was fairly commonplace, and not everyone explained it in such intricate, allusive ways. Rob Krier’s Urban Space of 1975, for example, is a series of diagrams of urban types with straightforward suggestions for how to slot them together. Krier tells the story of how his sevenyear-old daughter wanted to help him prepare his sketches and offered some of her own, albeit with a crucial addition: ‘She has included people in her drawings, as if to remind her father that the whole abstract game-playing has no meaning without people. She is right, and I’m ashamed at so much “useless messing around”!’ Krier’s book was packed full of remarks about how people needed traditional towns to reinforce their civic pride and inspire them to get involved with one another. Architecture that failed to provide this was in danger of ‘overstepping [the] limits which man, as a fixed point of reference, can tolerate, both physically and psychologically…Man’s demands on his environment remain constant…I find [him] too valuable to be used as a guinea-pig’ (Krier 1991: 61, 84, 169-70).14
The town has Roman, mediaeval, Georgian and Victorian elements, as well as a masterpiece of modernist Brutalism with the 1960s university.
Public presentation of shortlisted entries for Firstsite, held at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester, 11 November 2003.
Forty credits Ernesto Rogers with the idea when he started using the words ‘continuità’ and ‘ambiente’ in the magazine Casabella Continuità in the mid-1950s. These implied that respect was due not only to the buildings in a locality but more importantly to the general and stylistic history of the city (Forty 2004: 132-34, 199-201).
Forty claims that Rowe was interested primarily in the formal play of figure and ground. This viewpoint ignores the political and psychological content of Collage City (Forty 2004: 134-35).
Although these were Berlin’s views he was not entirely comfortable with them. In ‘From Hope and Fear Set Free’ (1964) he tied himself in conceptual knots trying to escape from his ‘nightmare’ of determinism, as Karl Popper called it (Berlin 1964).
The physicist and philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce ventured the theory of ‘physical indeterminism’ in the late 19th century, arguing that ‘experience’ showed there to be nothing ‘even faintly approaching that absolute perfection’ which physical determinism assumed. Popper used this argument to reclaim ‘the idea of creativity’ and the potential ‘to create something new’ from the likes of the Enlightenment philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie, who presented man as a machine, and from A. M. Turing, who updated this for the emerging computer generation (Popper 1965: 250-55).
William Ellis has surveyed Rowe’s plans for urban regeneration from the 1960s and ‘70s and concludes that he was not fully successful: either his interventions fitted in too smoothly with the existing context or else they sought to overhaul it entirely. Besides, Rowe favoured a top-down, two-dimensional approach for his plans rather than a scenographic approach, and therefore the philosophical complexity of his intentions would likely have been invisible to the spectator moving within the city at street level (Ellis 1979; Schumacher 1971: 301-307). Stuart Cohen has pointed to limitations in Rowe’s theory as well, arguing that it focussed too much on ‘physical context’, that is on the ‘objects’ of town planning, rather than on ‘cultural context’, by which he means the ‘imagery’, ‘vocabulary’ and ‘style’ of individual buildings (1974).
Robert Maxwell has remarked that Rowe’s influence over James Stirling was ‘so great, it virtually supplied him with a theory’ (Maxwell 2009).
On car crashes, broken bones and surgery, see Rossi 1992: 2, 11, 20, 82.
10 Forty argues that Rossi transformed Ernesto Rogers’ nebulous concepts of ‘continuità’ and ‘ambiente’ into a rigorous theory, but later says that his idealism, inconsistencies and uncritical appropriation of source material resulted in work that is ‘more poetic than theoretically rigorous’ (Forty 2004: 199-203, 218). 11 Halbwachs was more candid on the subject of environmental determinism, remarking that the architecture, furniture and sacred objects of Christian churches inspire ‘a certain uniform bent of thought and sensibility’. The thoughts of the congregants ‘are profoundly shaped by these physical objects’. The priest, meanwhile, is ‘knowledged’ in how to exact the maximum behavioural effect through this ‘interior arrangement’ (Halbwachs 1980: 152-53). 12 Christine Boyer argues that Rossi sought an architecture ‘of universal distinctive features and logical codes of structure…a rational science freed from subjective motivations and stylistic intentions’ (Boyer 1994: 179). I doubt this. But if true, he failed miserably. 13 Geoffrey Cubitt (2007) has analyzed the slipperiness and blurred boundaries of different approaches to memory: as individual, collective, informal or institutionalized, as commemoration and so on. He is interested particularly in their impact upon the more academically-established modes of history writing. 14 The themes we have separated out for the convenience of study are often reintegrated, and this is especially the case in relation to community and the past. Some of the people encountered in this section were interested in the past as a way of reinvigorating democracy and civic responsibility. Likewise, the people encountered in Chapters 2 and 3 sometimes looked to the past for architectural forms that might
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encourage people to care about a place and become community-minded: ‘The built environment is our collective memory…Places orient our lives in ways that other things do not…To gain respect for history is to recognize the finite span of a single human life, that an individual belongs to something larger than the self…Like individuals, a community can fall victim to amnesia, can lose the memory of what it was, and thereby lose touch with what it is and what it was meant to be…gaps interrupt our understanding of who we are’ (Moe and Wilkie 1997: 260-61). See also 75-99, 123, 239 and 241, where Moe and Wilkie discuss the importance of historic preservation for helping integrate communities and providing ‘human health and happiness’ (241).
6 Genius Loci and Embodiment
The Magnum Opus Building was a slender, prismatic, twelve-sided shaft, faced on all twelve sides with blue-green glass that shaded to rose at the base. The twelve sides were said by the architect to represent the twelve great religions of the world. So far, no one had asked the architect to name them. That was lucky, because he couldn’t have done it. Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan (1959)
In the final chapters we shall be focussing on the attempts that were made to enrich architecture by combining it with two bodies of contemporary thought: phenomenology and linguistics. Even though this material has little obvious relationship to the built environment it represents an important part of architectural thinking in the post-war period, at least in the handful of schools that have dominated the discourse. Most important for our interests, however, is that regardless of how abstract and rarefied these arguments may become, they continue to be made vehemently on the basis of what is best for human beings. Phenomenology is a branch of philosophy that attempts to understand the world in a way that prioritizes direct experience rather than using science. Fields such as mathematics, chemistry, physics and even philosophical logic, are believed to be one-sided if not defective. Typically, these sciences might involve the formulation of hypotheses, theories and operational procedures; they might involve empirical techniques such as observing, weighing, measuring and timing; they might involve the tabling and cross-examination of data and statistics. But whatever is involved, both the process of investigation and the end results are geared always towards the attainment of clarity, utility and order. These approaches emerged, the argument continues, out of mankind’s desire to exploit the world more efficiently, and they influenced all areas of human endeavour. They even infected painting in the early Renaissance in the form of geometrical perspective. All of this represents a desire to reduce the richness of the world to an easily managed and profitable
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order. In terms of human beings, this is a way of viewing the world that privileges the eye and the mind – sight and cognition – to the detriment of everything else. It negates the whole human being. So if ‘knowledge’ has not been discovered but instead constructed for some utilitarian purpose, then what are things really like? How can we come to know the world and ourselves without the cumbersome apparatus of science and reasoning? Happily, there are ways around this. Some philosophers, like Martin Heidegger, looked to etymology and the ancient meanings of words for evidence of humankind’s primal, pre-logical encounter with the world. Others, like Gaston Bachelard, studied poetry to try to unearth the deeper resonance of ordinary objects and places, like wardrobes, cellars and attics, hoping to explain our strange attraction towards such things. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, meanwhile, argued that painting should not be wasted on trying to capture scenes objectively, but instead should convey the sensation of sight itself, reminding us how it feels to negotiate our bodies through a world of familiar sensations, lights and objects (MerleauPonty 1964). Although not in principle opposed to logic and reason, profit-and-loss, phenomenology is committed to regaining an understanding of the world before these things came along and took possession of us. It is all about trying to recapture a sense of the world when it was still packed with the unknown, with mystery and magic and the sacred, and when humankind engaged with it not only through the eye and mind from a scholarly distance, but directly through all of the senses and faculties. It is, in a word, holistic: without everything, life is nothing. The phenomenological approach to architecture adopts this idea in order, once again, to undo the wrongs of modernism, and sometimes to argue that modernists were closet phenomenologists. So what are the modernists guilty of this time? They looked to science and technology as inspiration for their buildings and plans, which suggests that they prioritized science and technology in their world-view. With their rigid street-lines, polygonal aesthetics, automated services, Taylorized factories, and cavalier attitude to redevelopment, the modernist city might be fine for the intellectual or the businessman but it was no good for the whole person. With priorities like these it should come as no surprise that the phenomenological approach to architecture shades into New Age mysticism at one end and into straightforward environmentalism at the other. But architectural phenomenology as it is practiced by the hardcore is perhaps a more faithful response to the philosophical challenges. What were they?
THINKING THINGS Arguably the most important challenge came from the essay ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ (1954a) by Heidegger, which was presented originally to a conference in Darmstadt in 1951, the same year that Heidegger was permitted to resume his professorship at the University of Freiburg after being banned from teaching in 1945 as punishment for advocating Nazism. The Darmstadt conference, which included a
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photographic exhibition of twentieth century modernist architecture, was convened to explore the ongoing problems of post-war reconstruction, but given the title of ‘Man and Space’ it attracted a wide academic audience as well as professional architects and planners. Heidegger’s paper went far beyond the practical issue of how to deal with the housing shortage, causing some architects in the audience to complain that philosophers should not have been invited (McCleary 2004: 218). Heidegger began with a rhetorical question: ‘residential buildings do indeed provide shelter; today’s houses may even be well planned, easy to keep, attractively cheap, open to air, light and sun, but – do the houses in themselves hold any guarantee that dwelling occurs in them?’ Habitually we tend to view building and dwelling as ‘two separate activities’, in terms of ‘end and means’, where the activity of building provides us with dwellings and therefore allows us to dwell. Likewise, we tend to think that we dwell in one place and conduct other activities – such as working, shopping and travelling – elsewhere. But according to Heidegger assumptions like this are a product of those causal and utilitarian modes of thought that we need to get rid of. Heidegger continues with a rather cryptic statement: ‘building is not merely a means and a way toward dwelling – to build in itself is already to dwell’ (Heidegger 1954a: 100). Obviously, he was talking about a more profound sense of ‘dwelling’ than the meaning that is conventionally used. To explain this, Heidegger traces the etymological origin of the word ‘building’ through Old English and High German, and argues that it is inextricably bound together not only with the concept of ‘dwelling’ but also with the concept of ‘being’, as well as with various other meanings that enrich it immeasurably: The way in which you are and I am, the manner in which we humans are on earth, is Buan, dwelling. To be a human being means to be on the earth as a mortal. It means to dwell. The old word bauen says that man is insofar as he dwells, this word bauen however also means at the same time to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for, specifically to till the soil, to cultivate the vine.
Bauen therefore is an ontological concept. It is also the bedrock out of which emerges our everyday ideas of cultivation and construction: ‘Both modes of building – building as cultivating, Latin colere, cultura, and building as the raising up of edifices, aedificare – are comprised within genuine building, that is, dwelling’. Nowadays, however, the ‘primal’ meaning of building and dwelling has fallen ‘into oblivion in favour of foreground meanings’. We think of them ‘merely’ in terms of construction and comfort: materials, foundations, drainage, service mains, cost, domestic appliances, furnishings, and so on. Building and dwelling are no longer ‘experienced’ or ‘thought of’ as they should be; that is, ‘as the basic character of human being’. Somehow they play the main role in allowing human beings to exist – to be – but they do much more than that. Incredibly, they allow all the other phenomena of the physical universe to exist as well: ‘To dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace within the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its nature’ (Heidegger 1954a: 101-102). How is it possible that building and dwelling are not only the same thing but also that they allow everything else to exist? In order to answer this, we need to
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consider what Heidegger has to say about the nature of existence. Heidegger clarifies this with his famous idea of the ‘fourfold’. Existence is the harmonious balance of natural and spiritual elements, including mortals, the earth, the sky and the gods. It involves letting these elements exist in their essential natures and in relation to each other. The following passage gives a powerful sense of the aspirations and biblical aura of what has since been adopted by architects as a fundamental approach: Human being consists in dwelling and, indeed, dwelling in the sense of the stay of mortals on the earth. But ‘on the earth’ already means ‘under the sky’. Both of these also mean ‘remaining before the divinities’ and include a ‘belonging to men’s being with one another’. By a primal oneness the four – earth and sky, divinities and mortals, belong together in one. Earth is the serving bearer, blossoming and fruiting, spreading out in rock and water, rising up in plant and animal. When we say earth, we are already thinking of the other three along with it, but we give no thought to the simple oneness of the four. The sky is the vaulting path of the sun, the course of the changing moon, the wandering glitter of the stars, the year’s seasons and their changes, the light and dusk of day, the gloom and glow of night, the clemency and inclemency of the weather, the drifting clouds and the blue depth of the ether. When we say sky, we are already thinking of the other three along with it, but we give no thought to the simple oneness of the four. The divinities are the beckoning messengers of the godhead. Out of the holy sway of the godhead, the god appears in his presence or withdraws into his concealment. When we speak of the divinities, we are already thinking of the other three along with them, but we give no thought to the simple oneness of the four. The mortals are the human beings. They are called mortals because they can die. To die means to be capable of death as death. Only man dies, and indeed continually, as long as he remains on earth, under the sky, before the divinities. When we speak of mortals, we are already thinking of the other three along with them, but we give no thought to the simple oneness of the four. This simple oneness of the four we call the fourfold. Mortals are in the fourfold by dwelling.
The fourfold appears to encompass the basic conditions of humanity’s encounter with itself and with the planet, and it is clear that Heidegger is speaking about humanity as a whole and at a pre-social level as he omits references to particular cultural practises, religions or landscapes. There is no Christianity or Islam or Hinduism here but only ‘the divinities’, no woodland or deserts or mountains but ‘the earth’. But what does this have to do with architecture? In order to secure the fourfold and make it apparent you need ‘things’, and these things are often physical: ‘Dwelling preserves the fourfold by bringing the presencing of the fourfold into things’. This is done when ‘mortals nurse and nurture the things that grow, and specially construct things that do not grow’ (Heidegger 1954a: 102-103). This brings us back to the ‘narrower sense’ of building as we popularly understand it. But
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now, thanks to Heidegger, we realize that the main purpose of building is to gather the fourfold together and thereby allow them to exist. Without this gathering, the separate elements might be said to exist merely, but not really. Heidegger’s most accessible example of what this might mean for an actual building is his description of a ‘typical’ peasant farmhouse in the Black Forest, such as his own indeed, which he used as a writing and drinking retreat from the early 1920s onwards (Sharr 2006). The massive sloped roof gathers the weather of the sky while its low eaves and proximity to the spring waters offers obeisance to the earth. The house contains an altar to honour the divinities, as well as ‘the hallowed places of childbed and the “tree of the dead” – for that is what they call a coffin there’. Thus human mortality is brought into the building to complete the fourfold. These elements can be said to exist, and dwelling is accomplished, insofar as the building gathers them together and provides a ‘space’ for them (Heidegger 1954a: 108-109).1 Predictably, Heidegger cautions against the more ‘analytic-algebraic’ sense of space, which focuses on the ‘intervals’ between things or their ‘extension’ in three dimensions. Even though things can be measured and magnitudes computed, he says, ‘the fact that they are universally applicable to everything that has extension can in no case make numerical magnitudes the ground of the nature of spaces and locations that are measurable with the aid of mathematics’. Instead, Heidegger favours a more qualitative sense of space as ‘something that has been made room for, something which is cleared and free, namely within a boundary…A boundary is not that at which something stops but, as the Greeks recognized, the boundary is that from which something begins its presencing’ (Heidegger 1954a: 105-106). In a related analysis of the word ‘space’ Heidegger argues that it implies a ‘clearing-away’, and ‘clearing-away brings forth locality preparing for dwelling…Clearing-away is release of places’. It is as a result of this clearing away that the fourfold might be gathered and a ‘place’ instituted (Heidegger 1969: 122-23). In a related essay from 1954, ‘…Poetically Man Dwells…’, Heidegger equated building with poetry, and equated poetry with ‘a high and special kind of measuring’. Given our previous analysis we can understand these statements to be really quite simple: building is not about the calculations required to make a building stand up or the ratios required to make its proportions attractive. Instead, it is about measuring our relationship to the whole of nature, both physically and spiritually. And Heidegger concludes that the current state of building, ‘our unpoetic dwelling, its incapacity to take the measure, derives from a curious excess of frantic measuring and calculating’ (Heidegger 1954b: 114, 118). Appropriately, perhaps, this idea and its relationship to architecture was put most memorably by a real as opposed to a mere poet, R. S. Thomas, who recounts an argument on the creative process: ‘You speak as though No sunlight ever surprised the mind Groping on its cloudy path.’ ‘Sunlight’s a thing that needs a window Before it enter a dark room. Windows don’t happen.’ (Thomas 1958: 53)
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At the end of ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ Heidegger returns to the issue of the post-war housing shortage, and concludes with a challenge that many architects have found irresistible: However hard and bitter, however hampering and threatening the lack of houses remains, the real plight of dwelling does not lie merely in a lack of houses. The real plight of dwelling is indeed older than the world wars and their destruction, older also than the increase of the earth’s population and the condition of the industrial workers. The real plight of dwelling lies in this, that mortals must ever search anew for the nature of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell (Heidegger 1954a: 109).
In other words: the Black Forest farmhouse might have been appropriate once, but how do you build for dwelling and human being in the modern world? The challenge was put less directly by Gaston Bachelard, a philosopher of science who turned his attention increasingly towards poetry. His most famous book is The Poetics of Space of 1958, which is a compendium and analysis of verse about ‘intimate’ places and domestic objects, with chapters dedicated to cellars, corners and wardrobes, as well as animal habitats like shells and nests. Bachelard focused on poetic images that he found moving, such as travellers glimpsing lamplight in a distant cottage, paths winding over hills, a house creaking and swaying in a storm, musty catacombs, airy garrets and so on. But he was not interested in conventional notions of poetic value, such as metre or rhyme patterns, and he dismissed the habit of interpreting poems in light of the poet’s life: ‘right away, the psychoanalyst will abandon…the image, to dig into the past of man. He sees and points out the poet’s secret sufferings. He explains the flower by the fertilizer’. Bachelard sought to experience the poetic image directly, for it ‘has no need of scholarship’.2 The key terms for Bachelard were ‘resonance’ and ‘reverberation’: ‘In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations we speak it, it is our own. The reverberations bring about a change of being…This new being is happy man…[Ready to] start a new life’ (Bachelard 1994: xix, xxii, xxix-xxx, 33). Bachelard believed that if we connect with the poetic image so intensely that we feel we created it ourselves, and if it sets us daydreaming about real or imaginary places of our own, then we have proof that the image points to a profound truth. It suggests an affinity for spatial experiences which – generalizing much like Heidegger – he said are shared by the entire species, such as venturing with delighted trepidation underground, or curling up snug in a darkened den. This raises the theme of memory again, and Bachelard’s ideas on this were superficially similar to those encountered earlier. He argued that memories were flimsy when they existed only in the mind and that they needed to be anchored to buildings. Also, he said that our identities are defined by spaces, as containers of moments in time, rather than by time in a more literal, linear sense. This is reminiscent of Halbwachs and the rest but Bachelard’s notion of memory went deeper. First, he said, our earliest house became ‘engraved’ in our bodies as we snuggled into the contours of a cot and began to totter about: ‘the house we were born in is physically inscribed in us. It is a group of organic habits…[although] habit is too
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worn a word to express this passionate liaison of our bodies, which do not forget, with an unforgettable house’. Second, our strongest memories were somehow ‘pre-human’, ‘prehistorical’, ‘immemorial’, even ‘legendary’. These primal memories emerged from an ‘unimaginable depth’ rather than from any personal history, even though our personal histories coloured them until they seemed almost our own. When a place, whether real or poetic, connected with us, we were receiving a psychological echo of how our ancestors dealt with a hostile world by gathering their homes around themselves. These memories were not simply remembered but had to be glimpsed in a state of near reverie, perhaps whilst daydreaming in one’s favourite bolthole after reading the spatial poetry that Bachelard admired. This would allow us to feel ‘as though something fluid had collected our memories and we ourselves were dissolved in this fluid of the past’ (Bachelard 1994: 6, 8-9, 14-15, 57). Heidegger left the possibility open that architects might be able to realize his ideals in building. Bachelard, however, was more ambiguous, implying that architects had no hope. Is it not strange, he asked, how people describe their ‘dream house’? Usually it involves ‘a dream of ownership, the embodiment of everything that is considered convenient, comfortable, healthy, sound, desirable, by other people’. But these are not real dreams. These are practical considerations, likely to satisfy the ‘mind’ rather than the ‘soul’. The real dreams – and indeed daydreams – of inhabitation reflect the myriad ways the human species has organized its environment to fit itself, and as these echoes emerge from our subconscious our dreams of habitation change unpredictably: ‘When we live in a manor house we dream of a cottage, and when we live in a cottage we dream of a palace’. And next perhaps it will be a hut, or a cave, or a cot, or a shell. The dream house therefore ‘must possess every virtue. However spacious, it must also be a cottage, a dovecote, a nest, a chrysalis’. While achievable in dreams, how could the ‘actual house’ reflect all and more of these facets at once? Inevitably it must focus on a more limited range of images of habitation, and inevitably it must frustrate our changing moods. And so it is ‘better’, says Bachelard, ‘to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality’. To build the dream house was to fail to recognize that it must be ‘lived’ as much ‘in its virtuality’ as in reality, for ‘house images…are in us as much as we are in them’ (Bachelard 1994: xxxvii, 5, 61-63, 65). But as well as the dream home, the real home is a problem too. Our feelings for the home we love are so personal that they cannot be communicated to anyone else by talking about objective criteria like floor plans, the placement of furniture or views from the window. This ‘imaginative’ space, says Bachelard, is not the ‘indifferent space subject to the measures and estimates of the surveyor’. How, then, could an architect hope to build a house with the intention of reproducing such intimate experiences for a single client, let alone a wider public? Indeed, when Bachelard discusses homes that he considers deficient, such as boxy inner city apartments, his proposals for putting them right involve imagination rather than rebuilding. Just imagine the rumble of traffic at night is the storm-tossed sea and you will confer ‘cosmicity’ on your apartment. And failing that, try a little phenomenological housework: some dusting and polishing, if done with the
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proper care, will awaken the wonder of one’s intimate surroundings (Bachelard 1994: xxxvi, 13, 25-29, 67-71). Nonetheless Bachelard was ambivalent about this, and in a book that delights in being playful he sometimes argued against himself: A house is first and foremost a geometrical object, one which we are tempted to analyze rationally. Its prime reality is visible and tangible, made of well hewn solids and well fitted framework. It is dominated by straight lines, the plumb-line having marked it with its discipline and balance. A geometrical object of this kind ought to resist metaphors that welcome the human body and the human soul.
The ‘ought’ is crucial. For Bachelard, buildings are able to evoke with such effectiveness the mental states he cherishes precisely because they are so utterly unlike dreams. The most important geometry of houses was the strange geometry of shadows, draughts, sounds, smells and daydreams, but these rest within the geometry of the architect and mark the point where that ‘geometry is transcended’ (Bachelard 1994: 47-48, 51). While The Poetics of Space sets major conceptual obstacles for the architect, that is perhaps part of its attraction. Another important figure was Hans-Georg Gadamer, a former student of Heidegger. The concept of ‘representation’ that he presented in Truth and Method (1960) made things much easier for the architect. Art can refer to things through signs and symbols, he said. The essence of the sign is that it draws attention to itself only to direct attention elsewhere: the word ‘crucifix’, for example, is not in itself an object of veneration. The essence of the symbol is that it is a substitute for something that is not present, such as a crucifix on an altar, which is afforded the same veneration as the original. The meanings of both signs and symbols are agreed by social convention: ‘it is not its own ontological content which gives it its significance, but an institution, a constitution, a consecration that gives significance to what is, in itself, without significance’. But Gadamer was interested in a more profound type of representation. He thought that art had the potential to reveal the ‘truth’ and ‘essence’ of the thing represented, such as the character of the sitter in a successful portrait painting: ‘What comes into being in it is not already contained in what his acquaintances see in the sitter…what it shows is an idealization…the essential quality of his true appearance’. Gadamer states, moreover, that ‘Every picture is an increase of being’, which suggests that art not only displays the essence and truth of phenomena but somehow amplifies them. Art is more real than real life: ‘the “original” is more fully there, more properly just as it truly is’ (Gadamer 1960: 128-29, 132-33). Architecture, Gadamer argued, is the ‘greatest and most distinguished’ of the arts in this regard. It articulates a world of space and our lives within this space, and ‘through this dual ordering the building presents a true increase of being’. So architecture reveals the truth about our existential condition in the world as well as amplifying what it means to be human. Gadamer does not fully make clear how architecture does this, although he suggests it has something to do with decoration, which affords people a sense of the ‘living unity’ in which they are enmeshed, ‘by providing ornament, a background of mood, or a framework’. Ornament, whether
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it is a tattoo on a person’s skin or a motif on a building’s façade, ‘is not primarily something by itself that is then applied to something else but belongs to the selfpresentation of its wearer’. Ornament represents the essence and truth, ‘the coming into representation of being’. It is ‘appropriate’ to describe the truths obtained in this way, Gadamer maintains, as belonging to ‘the sphere of the holy’ (Gadamer 1960: 130, 134-36). Science no longer leads to truth as it is more concerned with devising ‘methods’ for making money and exerting control. Architecture, however, has a sacred role to fulfil in revealing to us the truth of our being. Finally, the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre argued that different societies produced different ways of understanding and organizing space in order to underwrite whatever economic goals and social relations were in the interests of the ruling classes at that time. His Marxist agenda, however, did not prevent him ending up in a similar place conceptually to the others we have discussed. Lefebvre presented the situation not only in relation to architecture but also in relation to the psyche of the architect. The ‘spatial practice of modern society’, which is basically about optimizing technologically the exploitation of resources for commercial ends, has become embedded not only within architectural practice but also, he says, within architects’ minds: their ‘subjective space is freighted with all-too-objective meanings’. This manifests in the habit of making plans, elevations and perspectives, which suggests the architect ‘suffers from the delusion that “objective” knowledge of “reality” can be attained by means of graphic representations’. This does not correspond with the way that real people experience real space: ‘The user’s space is lived – not represented (or conceived). When compared with the abstract space of the experts (architects, urbanists, planners), the space of the everyday activities of users is a concrete one, which is to say, subjective’. Lefebvre argued that one of the ways of achieving this total, lived space would be to adopt a ‘monumental’ approach to building rather than thinking about ‘mere’ buildings. ‘Monuments’ helped foment a social space in which ‘everyone partook, and partook fully’. ‘Buildings’, however, contributed to ‘the stagnation of crude interactions’. Lefebvre’s characterization of the monumental space of the cathedral is highly evocative: The use of the cathedral’s monumental space necessarily entails its supplying answers to all the questions that assail anyone who crosses the threshold. For visitors are bound to be aware of their own footsteps, and listen to the noises, the singing; they must breathe the incense-laden air, and plunge into a particular world, that of sin and redemption; they will partake of an ideology; they will contemplate and decipher the symbols around them; and they will thus, on the basis of their bodies, experience a total being in a total space.
The reference to ‘ideology’ shows some traces of apprehension that a Marxist might be expected to feel about the religious power-relations in a cathedral space, but the passage is suggestive also of admiration for the effectiveness of this space. Lefebvre is not advocating cathedrals, of course. Instead, he makes some tentative architectural suggestions that the social and existential result he endorses might be achieved through the ‘diversification of spaces…Appropriated places would be fixed, semi-fixed, movable or vacant’. Lefebvre was a member of the
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Situationist International and would have been familiar with the New Babylon of Nieuwenhuys, which might here be reinterpreted in a phenomenological vein. In any case, ‘the resulting space…[which] might legitimately be deemed “situational” or “relational”…would be inhabited by subjects’, which is Lefebvre’s term for the newly-minted human beings that he approved of (Lefebvre 1976: 139, 141, 14445). Ultimately, though, and just like the other philosophers, Lefevbre was less interested in how this might be achieved architecturally and more interested in the end result. This material sets architects a momentous challenge: to reverse hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years of wrong thinking, manifested in the emphasis society has placed on rationality and mathematical order. This might be put right by shepherding people into a more direct experience of others, of their own bodies and emotions, and of the world beyond with its transcendental mysteries and rhythms. In short, it is a challenge to return the world and everyone within it to a more profound sense of their ‘being’. The fact that this challenge was presented often in a declamatory, evangelical style is appropriate: had the prophets been more analytical they would have been guilty of precisely the kind of thinking they sought to escape. When architects and architectural educators take up phenomenology we find a remarkable consensus, more so perhaps than in any other area of architectural discourse: concerns for order and efficiency have robbed buildings of their true potential to restore people to a more meaningful sense of the world, and architects have the pre-eminent role in putting this right.3 But how were these philosophical generalizations to be put into practise in the ‘real’ world of designing buildings?
BUILDING THINGS The Norwegian architect and theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz was one of the first to respond, saying that what was needed was a shift in architectural thinking. Rather than thinking of architectural jobs as exercises in structural engineering, planning legislation and cost-efficiency, as applied to an abstract spatial problem, the architect should think in terms of ‘settlements’ and ‘landscapes’ to try to ‘fully grasp the genius loci; the “spirit of place”’. Architecture should draw attention to the special characteristics of each landscape, building and room. Architects should build ‘adjectives’: Different actions demand places with a different character. A dwelling has to be ‘protective’, an office ‘practical’, a ball-room ‘festive’, and a church ‘solemn’.… Landscapes also possess character, some of which is of a particular ‘natural’ kind. Thus we talk about ‘barren’ and ‘fertile’, ‘smiling’ and ‘threatening’ landscapes (Norberg-Schulz 1976: 418-20).
Norberg-Schulz combined this with a literal Heideggerian approach to argue that architecture should reconnect people with the ‘fourfold’ through the techniques of ‘visualization’, ‘symbolization’ and ‘gathering’. He seems to have been suggesting
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that the building must first draw attention to the landscape through its composition of space, such as by echoing horizontal elements (pertinent to earth and water) and vertical elements (sky and the gods), or by using glass or other apertures in the building’s fabric to make a visual connection with the landscape beyond. This must then be reinforced through the decorative scheme of the building – as NorbergSchulz picks up Gadamer – which should refer to the landscape in a more literal and perhaps pictorial way, with images of the constellations and watercourses, the animals and plants indigenous to the locale, and so on. Using these two techniques – of abstract and figurative space – the work will ‘gather’ the landscape and be at one with it. ‘The existential purpose of building (architecture)’, he says, ‘is therefore to make a site become a place, that is, to uncover the meanings potentially present in the given environment’. But of course it is not only the building that will be made ‘at one’ in this way: To gain an existential foothold man has to be able to orientate himself; he has to know where he is. But he also has to identify himself with the environment, that is, he has to know how he is in a certain place…Human identity presupposes the identity of place.
When buildings no longer perform this function we are left with the same ‘human alienation and environmental disruption’ that Adam and Eve felt when God banished them from Paradise (Norberg-Schulz 1976: 421-26). The Paradise reference is interesting, because although Norberg-Schulz claimed to be speaking about how to treat all kinds of architecture, the rather wistful and bucolic overtones make it difficult to imagine it working in a dense city or industrial zone. I used the word ‘reconnect’ to describe what Norberg-Schulz had in mind for people, but this is a trivialization of his view of the role of architecture. Architecture, he says, does not emerge from man and society to ‘represent’ their real condition back to them. On the contrary, it is only architecture that allows man and society to be present in the first place. Everything is ‘presenced’ and finds its ‘being’ only in relation to every other thing, a situation that he describes as ‘mirror-play’: ‘The mirror-play may be understood as an open “between”, wherein things appear as what they are’. This concept of ‘in-between’ is presented first in relation to language: ‘Man dwells in language, that is: when he listens to and responds to language the world which he is, is opened up, and an authentic existence becomes possible’. But while ‘the word [language] opens up the world, the work [architecture] gives the world presence’ (Norberg-Schulz 1983: 432-34). Thus our ‘authentic existence’, our existence in the world and as the world, is made available ultimately through the power of architecture. Norberg-Schulz’s writing typifies the way architects try to incorporate phenomenology: on the one hand, there are the grandiloquent promises of salvation; on the other, some simple practical advice for getting there (Gregotti 1985). In Norberg-Schulz’s case, architecture should respect the character of the local environment and connect with it spatially, by opening vistas and echoing natural shapes, as well as by connecting with it symbolically, through decorative schemes that pay homage to local flora, fauna and suchlike.
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Kenneth Frampton is another theorist and educator who has explored the problem of what happens when architects forget about making ‘place’ and focus instead on how to get the job done cheaply. He also gives us a sense of how this elaborate strand of architecture theory is tied into the more commonsensical ones discussed in the previous chapters: Design goals…may only be legitimized through the activation of the public sphere – a political realm that, in its turn, is reciprocally dependent on the representation and physical embodiment of the collective. Place, at this juncture, irrespective of its scale, takes on its archetypal aspect, its ancient attribute which is as much political as it is ontological…The receptivity and sensitive resonance of a place – to wit its sensate validity qua place – depends first on its stability in the everyday sense and second, on the appropriateness and richness of the sociocultural experience that it offers.
As we struggle to make meaningful places that reinforce the strength of the public realm, Frampton argues, we rationalize and celebrate ironically the ‘nonplaces’ of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, sprawl and suburbia. It is easy to understand Frampton’s point that if a place endures it might allow people to become attached to it, especially if there are interesting things to do there. It is also easy to understand how this might lead to the creation of a vibrant public realm. But it is not easy to understand how this might allow us to ‘be’ as persons, although Frampton specifies this effect in no uncertain terms: real architecture is about ‘the concrete realization of man in the world…it ministers to the self-realization of man in nature and mediates as an essential catalyst between the three states of his existence: first, his status as an organism of primal need; second, his status as a sensate, hedonistic being; and finally, his status as a cognitive, self-affirmative consciousness’ (Frampton 1974: 445-46). When asked whether such things were possible through architecture alone, Frampton confirmed that it might be achieved through the most the ordinary spaces of social interaction, like cafés and restaurants. Designed well, they not only sustained but also nourished our identities into something richer. But to do this they needed to reveal somehow their ‘whole potential…as a place of human discourse’, rather than just being venues to eat, drink and chat: The human beings entering that volume recognize that who they are – their own identity – is partly granted by their occupying that space. However momentarily there is a kind of collective identity there which is also, by association, the formation of the individual identity – by virtue of the collective that’s implicit in the space belonging to this institution at this moment in time. In that sense, I think, there is a certain self-realization.4
Frampton offered no concrete advice on the practical features required to turn these eateries into ontological eateries, and again the step-down from the existential promises to the architectural reality feels a little jarring. A refreshingly straightforward way of realizing some of these promises architecturally was explained in the theory of ‘critical regionalism’, and here at last
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we can point to some plausible examples. Critical regionalism emerged in the 1980s and, like architectural phenomenology, sought to counter the ‘universalizing’ tendencies of an architecture based on uniform industrial and aesthetic standards. It was also, however, an intelligent way of tempering the zeal of phenomenologists, as it was not quite so critical of the legitimacy or benefits of the global economy, culture and technology. The core argument was that these needed to be balanced against ‘regional’ building traditions, techniques and styles, as well as against the local landscape and qualities of light. This was not a demand for a retreat into nostalgia or for shutting borders, but a proposal for a dialogue between the global and the regional to reassess over time those elements that were better or worse, which ones to preserve, develop or reject. The Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, who we encountered in chapter three, was a pioneer of this idea: ‘I cannot accept the concept of total regionalism…tradition can be developed through challenging its own shortcomings’ (Tange in Lefaivre and Tzonis 1990: 488). Typically, the architects celebrated as key critical regionalists are those who referred to modernism for the basic forms and materials of their buildings but combined them with regional details (Frampton 1983). The Cuadra San Cristóbal (1968) by the Mexican architect Luis Barragán, for example, is an equestrian centre and residence in Mexico City that recalls traditional peasant farms with its rough rendered walls painted pink, orange, purple and yellow, which complement the red earth and tiles underfoot. The visual effect might have been cacophonous but for a large pool, used for washing and watering the horses, that calms and blends the colours subtly, as well as by the overall layout. Resembling almost a park of abstract sculpture, it provides the same kind of promenade through forms in space that Mies van der Rohe brought to his Barcelona Pavilion (1929), but the regional accents of colour are enough to distinguish it – for the sympathetic critic at least.5 The Japanese architect Tadao Ando provides another example. Although he taught himself with the eight volumes of Le Corbusier’s complete works, Ando is famous for his more sophisticated understanding of how to site buildings within the contours of a landscape, as well as for using reinforced concrete with a crisp sculptural delicacy that his master seldom attained; the Children’s Museum at Himeji (1989), for example, seems almost to dematerialize itself with dramatic views onto wooded hillsides and sky opening through the building from one side to the other, and with its moat-like water courses seeming also to defer to the river in the valley below. The Manabe Residence in Osaka (1977) has a reinforced concrete post and lintel structure that blurs the distinctions between outside and inside, which on one level recalls the terraces that step into the rear façade and up through the roof line of Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein at Garches (1927). The cutaways at Garches dramatize the structural possibilities of the time and provide an elevation that is monumental, reposeful, clearly meant to be admired. But the intimate scale of Ando’s building and the subtle density of the layering, particularly as one looks from the living room down to the outhouse containing the master bedroom, suggest he has re-imagined Le Corbusier’s residential vocabulary of the 1920s in terms of the moveable woodframed paper screens – or shoji – of the traditional Japanese home. The materials
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6.1 Children’s Museum, Himeji (Tadao Ando, 1989) Source: The Author
in the Osaka residence are every bit as solid and motionless as at Garches but they seem capable of movement; indeed, they imply a moment of movement arrested in time. The light, easy movement of the shoji with which every Japanese person is familiar is transformed here into its opposite, a concrete sculpture, and strangely it seems to gain in significance. Perhaps it might cause a Japanese person to reflect upon the shoji anew? If we buy into interpretations like this, Ando and Barragan can be said to demonstrate the critical regionalist notion that the building elements that help define a region – or place – can become more distinctive when they are used in ways that are not overly literal or indeed respectful. Norberg-Schulz and Frampton provide us with some fairly straightforward advice for how a phenomenological architecture might look and how potentially it might improve and even save us. There are another group of architectural thinkers, however, who have taken this to extraordinary depths: the so-called ‘Essex School of Phenomenology’ and its progeny, which emerged as a loose group around Joseph Rykwert at the University of Essex in the late 1960s and through the ‘70s, before decamping to the Cambridge School of Architecture. The Czech-born architecture teacher Dalibor Vesely is pre-eminent here and has formulated the most dense theoretical model, largely by adapting Gadamer to argue for architecture’s return to a mode of ‘symbolic’ rather than ‘instrumental’ representation. ‘Instrumental’ representation is representation through signs, which involves a sequential link between the sign and the thing to which it refers. Basically, these are the ordinary languages that we use to read and speak, buy and sell things, and otherwise negotiate our world. ‘Symbolic’ representation is
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representation through symbols and it ‘does not simply point toward a meaning, but rather allows that meaning to present itself…whatever is represented is itself present in the only way available to it’. This kind of representation does not refer to the world and the objects and people within it, but actually affords them their existence. When applied to architecture, this means that architecture gives us our existence (Vesely 1987: 24-25). Vesely finds evidence of this in accordance to phenomenological tradition by tracing the etymology of the word ‘character’. Before it became trivialized during the Enlightenment by coming to refer to the decorated surface of a building and the rapid turnover of styles, character was closer in meaning to ‘classical decorum’, which included the meanings ‘convenance’ (‘suitability’, ‘fitness’ and ‘appropriateness’) as well as ‘bienséance’ (‘propriety’). The recovery of these meanings allows us once more ‘to move into the depth of architectural reality, towards an order still understood in terms of ethos’. Vesely traces this, in turn, to Cicero’s definition of decorum: ‘it is inseparable from moral goodness, for what is proper is morally right, and what is morally right is proper…wherever propriety may be, it is manifested only when there is pre-existing moral rectitude’. By referring also to Aristotle’s Poetics, Vesely argues that true representation or ‘mimesis’ is all about representing ‘praxis’ (actions) that involve ways of ‘living and acting in accordance with ethical principles…[thus it] includes things which contribute to the fulfilment of human life’. This revelation of morality through art is inseparable from the revelation of ‘authenticity and truth’, the whole endeavour being understood by the phrase ‘poetic mythos’ (Vesely 1987: 28-29, 31-32).6 Vesely maintains that the metaphysical truths and moral lessons that are upheld in poetic mythos are upheld also in the ‘spatial situations’ of good architecture. Through the arrangement of space architecture can highlight our experience of time, of ‘temporality’ versus ‘durability’, and otherwise give presence to the underlying order of our world and our most fundamental experiences which are ‘pre-reflective and synaesthetic…visual, auditive and tactile’. These temporal and spatial experiences are common to us all and reside as ‘archetypes’ or ‘deep structures’ within the psyche, ultimately forming the basis of cultural myth: ‘In its essense, myth is an interpretation of primary symbols which are spontaneously formed and which preserve the memory of our first encounter with the cosmic condition of our existence’ (Vesely 1987: 32).7 Language, metaphor and space were once entwined in this mimesis of cosmic and existential order, at least until Plato came along and spoilt everything by encouraging people to use language in a more analytical way. Vesely argues for the recovery of this ‘metaphorical structure of space’ in which poetry is no longer subordinated to science (Vesely 1987: 33). Various techniques would be used to achieve this architecturally, fragments in particular, which for Vesely are meant to precipitate a ‘crisis’ of the object by destroying their wholeness. This would work as a metaphor for the destruction of the aura of completion and authenticity that a perfect object might hold, signalling thereby the destruction of a world rendered complete and authentic by ‘instrumental reason’. But as well as taking this aggressive role architecture would also do something positive. Metaphors and analogies would be used not simply to
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represent something that is absent, but in such a way that they revealed the deeper order of reality that is latently always present and experienced by us all. They would become ‘a germ of a new universal restorative power’ (Vesely 2004: 340). The thing to be restored would be the body’s experience of space, which is primordial, rooted within us, unalterable and universal across the entire species. This is important, Vesely argues, because when normal spatial relations are disrupted, such as in zero gravity, the human being loses orientation and awareness of the body and of the world.8 The kind of ‘representations’ Vesely had in mind included architecture that emphasized horizontal elements, for example, which would help recall the horizon and invoke metaphors of centrality, periphery, boundaries that limit experience or invite transgression, as well as connotations that are more specifically cultural rather than spatial, such as ‘wide horizons’, ‘narrow horizons’, ‘on the horizon’, and so on. An emphasis on vertical elements would invoke metaphors of aspiration, divinity, support, earth, gravity, rise and fall. In this way the elements of vertical and horizontal would be rescued from their current association with rational perspective and restored as metaphors of human spatial experience, thus contributing to our ‘situational identity’. The body is indivisible from its primordial experience of space in Vesely’s ‘situational’ universe. Indeed the body is the environment (Vesely 2004: 58-59, 381). Architecture must help us understand this about our bodies, and it must also help create social situations for us to engage in. These connections or ‘reciprocities’ not only contribute to our greater sense of self but may indeed be indistinguishable from them: The self is something which I see always as an intersection of many, many different lines, like an imaginary point…like beams of light intersecting somewhere, but the sources of light [are] all the time changing…[and therefore] the identity is also changing. Sometimes it’s very marginal, sometimes it’s much more powerful and strong…But once you switch off the light, the identity would probably be difficult to identify.
When one talks of a change of identity in relation to a person, what one is really talking about – Vesely maintains – is a change in the person’s spatial context and, by extension, social context: no matter ‘how far you push it, it still remains actually part of a context, and what is really changing…[is] the context, in which the notion or sense or sometimes the illusion of identity is established, constituted [and] created’.9 Phenomenologists argue not only for the need to situate people spatially but temporally as well. The concept of time, however, is often more grandiose than the memory theories discussed earlier. Vesely’s colleague at Cambridge, Peter Carl, has provided the most comprehensive account of an architecture of ‘kosmic’ time. According to Carl, our existence is comprised of three ‘temporal horizons’: ‘the temporality of origins, time oriented as regeneration (the permanence of temporal succession as renewal), and the dramatic time of human events in history (conceived as re-enactment)’ (Carl 1992: 49). Carl argues that his three temporal horizons make up an intrinsic part of the architecture, decoration, sculpture and art in all places throughout all time. They are abundantly evident in the Sumerian
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Ram discovered in the Royal Graves at Ur around 2500 BC. They are there again in the wall frescos of the Palace of Tikulti-Ninurta I around 1200 BC, as well as in the tripartite division of the classical Orders into base, shaft and capital. And so on, right up through Botticelli’s Primavera in the 15th century, 16th century ceilings in the Mannerist ‘grotesque’ style, Romantic landscapes and Cubist collage. They are even to be found in Le Corbusier’s 1950s pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp. Carl’s careful re-drawing of the chapel’s ground plan clearly delineates ‘three squares giving the triple six of the Beast of Revelations’, among other bewildering arcana (Carl 1992: 55; Carl 1991: 51-54). If architecture is to re-ground us, then, its inner structures and decorative schema must have an abundance of threes. In practise this seems to involve weaving as many significances and allusions into a building as it can sustain, and then heaping on some more until it buckles, which works well in some major public projects. A practitioner of this is the American architect Daniel Libeskind, who took his Masters degree from source at Essex. For the Imperial War Museum of the North in Trafford, Manchester (2002), Libeskind conceived the different areas as ‘shards’ of a globe shattered by war (the idea inspired in part by a broken tea pot), which are themed ‘Air’, ‘Earth’ and ‘Water’. The floor of the Earth shard, which is the main exhibition area, describes a concave curve in simulation of the surface of the globe, and the visitor is always subliminally conscious of carrying the weight of his or her body either with or against gravity. The Earth is plunged into darkness periodically as the cacophonous sounds of warfare, reportage and reminiscences are echoed in layers around the space, while harrowing images and reels are flashed over the walls at disorienting scales. The exhibition ‘silos’ that punctuate the space become during these moments areas where one might seek refuge from the simulated experience of war ‘outside’. Less explosive but no less allusive is Libeskind’s most famous work, the Jewish Museum in Berlin (1999), a difficult angular building that is organized around a central but inaccessible ‘Void’ that runs the length of the museum, and which visitors must cross repeatedly and reflect upon via the sixty ‘Memory Bridges’ that link the exhibition spaces. Underground access routes lead off to the dead-end of the ‘Holocaust Tower’ and the ‘Garden of Exile and Emigration’, its ground sloped again to make walking feel as significant and difficult as it must have for those who experienced it. Libeskind’s occasionally mawkish theatricality when describing his buildings and pitching new schemes ensures that these resonances are never missed. They have made his the go-to practise for clients seeking an architecture of loss and trauma. Metaphor is one way of responding to the phenomenological challenge. Materiality is another. The quieter approach is represented by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, whose reputation is built largely on his exacting handling of materials, which was instilled in him through an apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker during his teenage years. The Therme Vals hotel and spa resort (1996) in Vals, Switzerland, for example, is dominated by the interplay of the local water with the whites and greys of locally-quarried quartzite slabs worked and polished in myriad ways, the individual bath areas opening out to views of the mountains that crush in claustrophobically around and above. Sunk into its site it gives the contrary impression of something ancient that has been excavated out of it. Zumthor’s
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writings are evocative of Bachelard with their passages of quoted poetry and microscopic descriptions of building details from childhood, such as his memories of his aunt’s house: Sometimes I can almost feel a particular door handle in my hand, a piece of metal shaped like the back of a spoon…I remember the sound of gravel under my feet, the soft gleam of the waxed oak staircase, I can hear the heavy front door closing behind me…[T]he small hexagonal tiles of the floor, dark red and fitted so tightly together that the cracks between them were almost imperceptible, were hard and unyielding under my feet, a smell of oil paint issued from the kitchen cupboard.
The pleasure that Zumthor gets from these memories explains why he seeks to awaken the ‘tangibility, smell, and acoustic qualities’ of materials and draw out ‘meanings that can only be perceived in just this way in this one building’. He brought this particularity to his temporary pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in London (2011), which took the theme of the ‘hortus conclusus’ or walled garden, sequestered away from the larger park and city. Beyond the blind exterior walls its roof angles inclined everything inwards to the central planted strip, while the deep shadows of their undersides accentuated further the natural light falling only on the centre even on the dreariest London day, all of it serving to create a space of intense focus and intimacy and fragrance so intoxicating one might imagine oneself trapped in a perfume bottle. Zumthor’s craftsman-like attention to the uniqueness of each building and each person’s response to its details and materials opens out, however, when he acknowledges the importance of Heidegger. He interprets Heidegger’s concept of ‘dwelling’ to mean that ideas become resonant only when given the material form of buildings. Attention to ‘the reality of building materials [such as] stone, cloth, steel [and] leather’, is how the architect brings ‘meaning and sensuousness to bear so that the spark of the successful building may be kindled, a building that can serve as a home for man’. ‘Man’ has become singular again. The uniqueness of place likewise opens out under pressure from Heidegger: ‘When I come across a building that has developed a special presence in connection with the place it stands in, I sometimes feel that it is imbued with an inner tension that refers to something over and above the place itself. It seems to be part of the essence of its place, and at the same time it speaks of the world as a whole’ (Zumthor 2010: 7, 10, 37, 42). A similar sensitivity towards materials combined with spiritualistic metaphor can be found in the work and writings of the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, who was commissioned to build the village of New Gourna in the mid-1940s for a community of nine thousand people, who over the previous half-century had settled around the ancient tombs of the Valley of the Nobles near Luxor. Their economy was sustained by providing unskilled labour to archaeological digs during the day and, more lucratively, by robbing these same tombs by night. The houses were built with the mud-brick techniques that he rediscovered among the craftsmen in the southern region of Nubia, and each had their own internal courtyard opening out into a larger one that was shared between them, and which acted often as a thoroughfare linking with the streets beyond. This provided for a careful gradation,
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‘more peaceful and more soothing than an abrupt plunge’, of private into public space, and indeed ritualized the passage from one to the other. Fathy described this arrangement as quintessentially Arabic, seen in Morocco through Syria, Iraq, Persia and further afield. It was the architecture of desert peoples. Many cultures use courtyard dwellings for privacy, but only the Arab combined this with a theology and cosmogony. A blind wall shuts out the desert beyond – ‘a cruel enemy, burning, glaring and barren’ – with its storms, demons and djinns, while the courtyard remained open to the heavens, the domain of the stars, winds and rain, and God. The sky was the only truly pure ‘land’-scape available, which was ‘pulled down’ into and ‘replenished’ the home. The phenomenological richness and combination of domesticity with holiness was enhanced further by Fathy’s etymological detective work, reminiscent of Heidegger, which traced sakan (house), via sakina (peaceful and holy), to harim (woman) and finally Haram (sacred). The New Gourna house must hold in place this ‘magic’, protect and preserve this ‘trembling liquid feminity’ (Fathy 1973: 55-58).10 The architectural adoption of phenomenology emerges from the belief that an overly rational view of the world – a view that celebrates technology and utility – diminishes human experience. It seeks to put this right through various means. First, by providing architecture that prioritizes ‘pre-cognitive’ human experience, perhaps by heightening our experience of our own bodies as we move though different kinds of space. Second, by providing architecture that emphasizes the specialness – the ‘genius loci’ – of the landscape in which it rests, such as by opening vistas through the building, echoing natural forms in its structure or decoration, or
6.2 Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion, London (Peter Zumthor, 2011) Source: The Author
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using local materials and techniques. Third, through the use of weird shapes and spaces, illogical geometries and fragments that challenge our usual assumption that the building will have been designed logically as a coherent whole, or with ease of use or function in mind.11 Fourth, through decorative schemes that echo the temporal rhythms of the cosmos. Fifth, by studio techniques that encourage the trainee architect to break away from the stranglehold of technical drawing boards and computer-aided design, and to think of the design act as a richer and more metaphorical process. The foggy drawings produced by students of Vesely’s Cambridge design studio often resembled Romantic paintings in their attempt to infer the sensual and associational experience of space rather than its dimensions and layout. These techniques are meant to catapult the user back into a universe thick with metaphor, myth and spirituality. Although the goal sometimes is modestly to achieve a greater awareness of the beauty and sensuality of materials and intimate spaces, at others it is nothing less than the redemption of the human species from several thousand years of alienation and misery caused by too much straightforward thinking. Aldo Van Eyck caught this wave early with some fairly whimsical explorations of ‘place’ in the Team 10 Primer (Smithson 1962: 572, 592-93, 597-601). Subsequently, the phenomenological approach to architecture attained a grandiosity of ambition that outstrips everything else in this book, even the most messianic social-engineers of CIAM. Advocated by many of the leading architectural educators of recent decades, the approach can be summarized quite simply. Other architect-planners might present the conditions they think are necessary to make life better. Here we are presented with the conditions necessary to make life. To criticize this approach to architecture as irrational or over-ambitious is to perpetuate the violence of ‘logos’ against ‘mythic poeisis’. In other words, by seeking to discredit rational and discursive modes of analysis, phenomenology makes itself unassailable. It is non-falsifiable – a closed system. One can do little more than note the extraordinary conviction that this will save humanity, so we shall conclude with a reminder. The Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa goes further than most to declare that architecture should not concern itself with satisfying the pragmatic needs of ‘real people’ but should seek to raise the world of the spirits: Part of [the] intense experience of place is always an impression of something sacred: this place is for higher beings. A house may seem built for a practical purpose, but in fact it is a metaphysical instrument, a mythical tool with which we try to introduce a reflection of eternity into our momentary existence… Architecture exists in another reality from our everyday life and pursuits… Architecture is always inhabited by spirits. People known to us may well live in the building, but they are only understudy actors in a waking dream. In reality architecture is always the home of the spirits, the dwelling place of metaphysical beings.
And as architecture has this metaphysical purpose, it is understandable that the architect carries the weightiest responsibility of all: ‘As architects we do not
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primarily design buildings as physical objects, but the images and feelings of the people who live in them’ (Pallasmaa 1986: 450, 452).
The most elaborately worked example of architectural ‘gathering’ is Heidegger’s characterization of the Greek temple in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ (Heidegger 1950).
Bachelard was drawing here on criticisms that the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung had levelled against his former mentor, Sigmund Freud (Jung 2001: 155-76).
See, for example: Norberg-Schulz 1976: 414-19; Norberg-Schulz 1983: 435-38; Frampton 1979: 28, 31; Vesely 2004: 5-8, 18-20, 110, 176, 230-40; Pallasmaa 1986: 448-49; PérezGoméz 1983: 1-14, 323, 325, 328 n. 11.
Kenneth Frampton, interview with author, New York, 24 March 2003.
For the unsympathetic critic, who argues a compelling case that Luis Barragán was a sop to modernist tastes whose fame obscured a much more vibrant and literal modern tradition of regional Mexican architectures, see Eggener 2002.
Vesely seems confused here, as Aristotle’s ‘mythos’ meant simply ‘plot’ and a plot need not carry any moralizing connotations or indeed be truthful. Indeed, Aristotle said that poets should make up stories to entertain all kinds of people, even the most immoral and vulgar (Aristotle 1976: 93-94, 96, 100-101, 122, 137). It is also difficult to think of Aristotle as belonging to a pre-Platonic tradition, as Vesely does.
Presumably Vesely is using his own notion of ‘archetype’ and ‘deep structure’ here (likewise in 2004: 49, 54). The ‘archetypes’ that Carl Gustav Jung claimed to reside within the psyche do indeed have a mythical content and are meant to give evidence of our common humanity. But the ‘deep structures’ that Noam Chomsky claimed to reside within the brain are a thoroughly non-mystical set of equations that allow for complex sentences to be generated out of a few basic syntactical rules (see Chapter 7).
Dalibor Vesely, interview with author, London, 23 January 2003. Vesely has detailed some fascinating examples and experiments concerning the body’s knowledge of space and its inbuilt resistance to having this disrupted (Vesely 2004: 48-56).
Dalibor Vesely, interview with author, London, 23 January 2003.
10 Phenomenology edges sometimes into New Ageism, for an example of which see the Austrian architect Christopher Alexander. All of us need to ‘let go’ and return to the ‘way’: ‘Yet each of us faces the fear of letting go. The fear of being just exactly what one is, of letting the forces flow freely; of letting the configuration of one’s person adjust truly to these forces’. The only way around this is to use Alexander’s ‘pattern language’. This is a collection of hundreds of DIY patterns detailing where to put doors and windows as well as schemes for decoration, and by designing with them it is possible to revive the forces that surround and reside within us: ‘The fact is that each one creates the other…Places which have this quality, invite this quality to come to life in us. And when we have this quality in us, we tend to make it come to life in towns and buildings which we help to build. It is the quality of life. And we must seek it, for our own sakes, in our surroundings, simply in order that we can ourselves become alive’ (Alexander 1979: 9, 15, 48-49, 53-54, 531). 11 As we shall see in the next chapter, the same qualities of fragmentation and fractured geometries work equally well within ‘Deconstructivist’ buildings while having a completely different intellectual underpinning.
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7 Language and Dislocation
In Chapters 5 and 6 we saw a preoccupation with particular types of architectural meaning. This chapter covers the more general question of how meaning is created, transmitted and received in culture, and it overlaps with an interest in the cognitive faculties of the human mind. The architects and theorists to be discussed believed that all architecture is expressive, even the ostensibly ‘a-stylar’ style of modernism: ‘like bobbed hair, the bowler hat, traditional jazz, the cocktail and the Charleston, it now presents some highly potent symbols of 1920s attitudes’ (Broadbent 1980a: 119-23). If architectural ‘meaning [is] inevitable yet denied’ then you might as well try to find out how it works (Jencks 1969: 11). The ideas for this were drawn initially from the field of linguistics and the main concern was to see if architecture behaved like written and spoken language. Important influences included Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure, who developed their theories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Italian architects first began exploring the possibilities of applying linguistics to architecture in the 1930s, but it was not until the 1960s and early 1970s that this approach became widespread. Possibly this has something to do with the fact that Saussure’s lectures, which were delivered in the University of Geneva from 190611, were not published in English until 1959 as the Course on General Linguistics. Saussure’s little book, with its straightforward account of the social conventions that arbitrate the relationship between ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’, was more digestible than Peirce’s highly technical volumes. Both were suggestive to architects at this time, however, and the endeavour to apply this to architecture became known as the ‘linguistic analogy’ (Broadbent 1977). The most important text was Meaning in Architecture, edited by Charles Jencks and George Baird and published in 1969. Predictably, there were a variety of different viewpoints surrounding the proposition that architecture might be like language. These viewpoints tended to emerge from the question of how to apply the complex terminology imported from linguistics: ‘icon’, ‘index’, ‘sign’, ‘symbol’, ‘referent’, ‘syntagmata’, ‘denotation’, ‘connotation’, ‘morpheme’, ‘phoneme’, and so on. At its worst, each term meant different things
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to different architects, who amused themselves and confused everyone else by playing fast-and-loose trying to find their architectural equivalents. Sifting the various viewpoints with the agenda of this book, however, we find that each of them harbours assumptions about the way the human mind works, in particular the way it processes information to craft its own identity. There are three basic assumptions: 1. That human identity is as rich and open-ended as language. 2. That human beings are all essentially the same and predictable as a result of a common core of cognitive or linguistic processes. 3. That human identity is inherently unstable, and perhaps even traumatized, as a result of the instability of the language through which it is articulated. Beyond each of these assumptions, once again, is an approach to architecture that corresponds to it, as well as a fundamental question that concerns them all: if people are rooted in language, and if language to some degree determines their thought and actions, then can we – indeed, should we – use the language of architecture to influence them?
DISTRIBUTED BRAIN For some in the 1960s, the attempt to understand how architecture projected meaning was tied to the idea that architectural meaning was good. In fact, the more meaning you could cram into your building the better it was for everyone. By the late 1980s this had led to architecture that contained playful, gaudy, even absurd decoration. Serious-minded commentators sniffed at this kind of popular ‘post-modern’ or ‘PoMo’ architecture, for two reasons: it appealed to the ‘vulgar’ tastes of the masses who seemed to enjoy it but were untrained in matters of style; second, it was contaminated somehow though being favoured by large corporations for HQs and business hotels. What led to the emergence of PoMo? Why did some architects believe it necessary to have buildings dripping with symbols and ornament? Why was architectural meaning a ‘good’ thing in itself? One of the pioneers of this approach is the landscape architect and theorist Charles Jencks, who argued that we are surrounded with signs and symbols that we have no choice but to acknowledge, and that these contribute to the learning processes and identity-formation of everybody. A key influence on this idea was the French writer Roland Barthes, who argued that authors – and by implication, architects – are incapable of creating anything original and merely recombine the words and conventions of a pre-existing language. Related to this was his idea of how people constructed their identities. There was no originality here either: we are ‘subjects’, which means our identities are subject to language. Barthes denies the possibility that humans have a unique essence or subjective depth. Our sense of identity is pre-dated by language, and as it is language through which we articulate our identities it is impossible to know
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whether any part of ourselves, the ideas and emotions that we seek to express, actually belong to us at all: ‘Did he wish to express himself, he ought at least to know that the inner “thing” he thinks to “translate” is itself only a ready-formed dictionary, its words only explainable through other words, and so on indefinitely’. For Barthes, then, ‘all recourse to the writer’s interiority seemed…pure superstition’. But even so, it is possible for humans to construct all kinds of identities for themselves by engaging with language creatively. Indeed, if the individual failed to do this, he or she would remain a ‘passably empty subject’ (Barthes 1968: 144, 146, 148; 1971: 159). In ‘Semiology and the Urban’ (1967) Barthes argued that the same process works in the city as well. He believed it would be pointless to try to catalogue all the signs and symbols of the city to establish ‘full’, ‘final’ and ‘definitive’ understanding. Cities were too complex and their meanings too slippery. But most interesting was his account of how people interact with the city: The city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language: the city speaks to its inhabitants, we speak our city, the city where we are, simply by living in it, by wandering through it, by looking at it…He who moves about the city…is a kind of reader who, following his obligations and his movements, appropriates fragments of the utterance in order to actualise them in secret (Barthes 1967: 168, 170).
On one level Barthes was expressing the obvious: the things we encounter in the city or indeed anywhere, whether sights or sounds or events or experiences, tend to become a part of us at some level. When we recall his ideas about identity, however, we realize that a larger claim is being made: human beings use their impressions of bits and pieces of the city to help construct their identities in exactly the same way as they use spoken language. Jencks took this to argue for a complex ‘double coded’ architecture that paralleled the unreliable and self-doubting narratives of writers like Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and made similar challenges upon the ‘reader’: Double coding…is a strategy of affirming and denying the existing power structures at the same time, inscribing and challenging different tastes and opposite forms of discourse…the post-modern is a complexification, hybridisation and sublation of the modern – not its antithesis (Jencks 1992: 13, 33).
Jencks combined this with a ‘spiritual’ belief that, despite cosmic cataclysms, mass extinctions and the cruelties of natural selection, the universe pursues its own evolution. This is ‘cosmogenesis’. The universe is a living, intelligent, self-organizing entity that develops increasingly complex levels of order over time, but it is only at the very latest stages that animal life emerged, and later still that the highest animals developed the ability to think. At this point, as humans gather into societies and refine their arts and languages, evolution is no longer driven by the need for bare survival but by the impetus for ever greater complexity and sophistication: ‘As the brain to body size ratio increases the cultural drive takes over from external pressures, and evolution speeds up’. Jencks calls this ‘the cosmic drive to learning’
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and believes it is the challenging and ironic culture of ‘double coding’ that currently is driving our minds to evolve (Jencks 1996: 73). Cosmic evolution requires showy buildings. But they cannot be too outrageous. In ‘Semiology and Architecture’ (1969) Jencks referred to Ernst Gombrich’s Art and Illusion (1960) to argue that our knowledge of the world and of ourselves was mediated through a matrix of ever-changing interpretative ‘schemata’. These are embedded in the nervous system in a rudimentary form and they become refined through environmental stimuli, gaining in sophistication the more we test them against the world and try to understand things (Jencks 1969; 1980: 80-83). Architecture must work within existing schemata in order to be comprehensible, but if it is ‘great’ it must also challenge these schemata to create new meanings, to confuse and inspire people and drive human evolution. Consequently, great architecture ‘always hovers on the edge of total incomprehensibility’ (Jencks 1969: 21-22). It achieves this by playing with the pressures of context, sometimes reinforcing and sometimes challenging it, by making metaphorical associations with other areas of high and popular culture, and also by referring to architectural tradition and collective memories: ‘For the only way we can create a new matrix is by active use of those past codes, schemata, conventions, habits, skills, traditions, associations, clichés, and stock responses (even rules) in the memory. To jettison any one of these decreases creation and freedom’. Moreover, because people develop different schemata as a result of different life experiences and stimuli, architecture must be ‘multivalent’ in its references if it hopes to communicate with everyone (Jencks 1969: 11-13, 24-25; 1980: 73-80, 99, 107).1 An example of this, for Jencks, is Art Tower Mito (1990) in Mito City by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. This cultural complex takes a theatre, concert hall and museum in a combination of mock neo-Classical, ancient Egyptian and Art Deco styles and arranges them along two edges of a plaza. But arising out of a triangular base, which is plonked off-kilter in the plaza to destroy its Baroque symmetry, is a precipitous tower of stacked tetrahedrons clad in titanium that appears from every viewpoint as if it is about to collapse. The tower exists for the sole purpose of going up and coming down, for the tiny porthole windows are placed so illogically that they prevent visitors from enjoying the view outside, unless one is prepared to lay down on the gangways or climb the interior structural supports. So this HiTech viewing tower, with its inevitable associations of modernist efficiency and function, seems to contradict itself as well. The range and clash of references in this complex is richly disorienting, with the tower alone drawing further associations with the seriousness of the DNA double-helix and, for me at least, the playfulness of the Rubik’s Snake puzzle. Jencks does not advocate such eclecticism for its own sake, then, but because it represents ‘the ability of the aesthetic text to articulate radically different experiences, emotions and values’. Eclecticism makes for a ‘psychologically nourishing’ environment: ‘Thus the implication of multivalent architecture is its creative effect on its inhabitants and viewers; it, along with other signs, shapes people in a multitude of different ways, articulating their full spectrum of moods, thoughts and behaviours’. In other words, the kitsch and perplexing ornament of
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Po-Mo architecture helps people become people. Modernist architecture, however, being stripped of obvious symbol and metaphor, arrests our development (Jencks 1980: 94-95, 107). Ultimately Jencks has to ground these claims on a theory of how the brain functions and grows. It is not uniform across the species but highly variable, he says, ‘a multi-levelled contradictorily-functioning thing that builds up new software and hardware as it grows to incorporate new theories of the self’. And one of the main factors in producing this variability is of course the built environment: Sensory deprivation does stunt the growth of the brain, the mind. The theory of the messy room is that the brain is distributed around the room. But the reverse of that is a very clean room – the clean, well lighted space – the antiseptic space of John Pawson who notoriously brought up his children in an absolutely white environment without [them] even being allowed to leave toys out on the table. The threat of things, the assault by things! The environment is partly a distributed brain and sensory stimuli open your mind continually to alternatives and make a difference. I’m in favour of sensory plurality and stimuli. I’ve always responded more favourably to Gaudi over high-minded, spiritual or maybe just Armani-type reductivist work.
Architectural environments rich in stimuli can inspire the development of different personal identities. And more than this, they might inspire completely different brain structures. Jencks characterizes this process as a kind of personal storytelling: There are many things that construct the self but narrative and narrativizing are how we confirm our own identities, so there is a little homunculus in all of us always turning over ‘who am I’, ‘what am I’, ‘where am I’, ‘why am I going there’? It’s writing bad autobiographies – highly selective – and really driven to the future rather than the past. These narratives of course are constructed from the very largest cosmogenic narrative right down to the individual. The narrative precedes the identity and precedes the brain.
This process begins in infancy, when babies try to come to terms with their ‘existential situation’ by weaving rudimentary stories around themselves and the blankets, dolls, toys and mobiles that surround them in the cot: ‘And as that child narrates this it literally grows a brain and grows its personality’. The adult also needs to be surrounded by lots of toys and it is the architect who must provide them. Yet Jencks remains cautious about the strength of influence of our built environment. Reflecting on the semiological turn of the 1960s he remarked, ‘we did not say style drove architecture [and] society, but we did say it had a positive feedback effect on them and in conjunction with the rest of things it does make a difference, especially symbolically’. Therefore ‘the environment does play a role, but it does not play the preponderant role…You are really talking about a mild but important influence’. Jencks also described the influence of architecture as akin to a kind of ‘seasoning’, maybe like salt or even garlic: they are not enough to make a meal in themselves, but they can enhance a meal.2
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One of the more revealing of Jencks’ influences is the educational psychologist Jerome Bruner, whose classes Jencks attended at Harvard as an undergraduate. In his Acts of Meaning (1990) Bruner discussed the importance of personal narrative for the formation not only of self-identity but also of brain tissue. He criticized the tendency to consider the mind as a kind of generic computer that processes and stores information. Bruner preferred the idea of the mind, and indeed person, as a creative ‘agent’ that constructs meaning. Moreover he argued that human beings vary widely not only in terms of cultural differences, but also in terms of their psychological and perhaps even biological make-up (Bruner 1990: 2-10, 15-20). It was time to redress the Old-fashioned fallacy that the human sciences inherited from the nineteenth century, a view about the relation between biology and culture. In that version, culture was conceived as an ‘overlay’ on biologically determined human nature. The causes of human behavior were assumed to lie in that biological substrate. What I want to argue instead is that culture and the quest for meaning within culture are the proper causes of human action. The biological substrate, the so-called universals of human nature, is not a cause of action but, at most, a constraint upon it or a condition for it.
But the ‘constraint’ imposed by our biology is weak, Bruner argues. Culture has the ‘power to loosen that constraint’ and consequently ‘to nurture and guide a new and ever-changing species’. The ‘tool-kit’ of culture, including the arts, automobiles, telephones and computers, act as ‘prosthetic devices by which human beings can exceed or even redefine the “natural limits” of human functioning’. Culture becomes the dominant force in human evolution, not the bare need for the survival of the species (Bruner 1990: 13, 20-21, 23). And at the personal level this process takes the form of ‘narrative’. Borrowing from the genres, plot structures and stylistic tropes that we find in literature, film and history, we make ‘spontaneous autobiographies’ to try to reconcile our inner lives creatively with all the things happening around us in the world (Bruner 1990: 35-59, 63, 67-68).3 Consequently the best possible start for the child is to be placed in an environment stuffed with stimulating objects, images and opportunities for storytelling. Over time the child’s identity will become ‘distributed’ within this world, as changeable and ‘open to revision’ as the world itself (Bruner 1990: 99101, 105-10, 114, 116-17, 120-21). Equally influential upon Jencks is the work of Bruner’s former student Howard Gardner. Starting with a critique of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) testing, which focuses on logical problem-solving yet claims to provide a score of a person’s general intelligence, Gardner argues that the mind contains several different ‘intelligences’, among them the ‘linguistic’, ‘logical-mathematical’, ‘musical’, ‘spatial’, and ‘bodilykinesthetic’. These intelligences need to be nourished by an environment rich with opportunity and challenge, stimulating one’s eyes, ears, body, emotions, and also of course one’s logical and linguistic abilities. Different environments will stimulate different intelligences at different points in time, and this leads to an ever-shifting constellation of intelligences within the mind of the individual. And
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as this constellation changes, so too does the sense of self-identity. Identity, then, may be nothing more than the fortuitous combination of differently stimulated intelligences. ‘One’s intelligence inheres’, Gardner argues, ‘as much in the artefacts and individuals that surround one as in one’s own skull. My intelligence does not stop at my skin; rather, it encompasses my tools (paper, pencil, computer), my notational memory (contained in files, notebooks, journals), and my network of associates (office mates, professional colleagues, others whom I can phone or to whom I can dispatch electronic messages)’. And once again, Gardner stresses that our intelligences suffer if our built environment is dull. Citing numerous laboratory studies, Gardner concludes that an enriched environment improves the size, quality and number of the neurons within the brain as well as the synaptic connections between them (Gardner 1993: xvii-xxix, 3-66).4 The implications for Jencks’ concept of architecture are obvious: if we cram architecture with all kinds of visual cues, symbols and stories, then we arm human beings with the symbolic material they need to articulate their own identities in a wide variety of ways. This suggests that mind and selfhood are not universal or standard, and cannot be explained by the ‘computational metaphor’ of the brain as a generic machine that processes data from the environment in a uniform manner. Rather, mind and selfhood are open and responsive, and change with great fluidity in accordance with the stimuli of their environment and their desire to create ‘narratives’ or ‘autobiographies’ of personal meaning. Indeed, the physical structure of the brain may change from person to person. But people do not merely borrow material from their environment and incorporate them in their self-images; they locate aspects of their identity within the environment as well, in significant places or objects. The self is ‘distributed’. This means that if we get rid of rich, playful, ‘multivalent’ symbolism and favour instead an environment of pristine lines and forms, then perhaps we diminish people. George Baird remarked that ‘one of the most dangerous and problematic legacies of first generation modernism was the idea that architecture had the capacity to positively structure human behaviour in a more-or-less direct cause-and-effect way’. The semiotic alternative, on the other hand, was meant to reflect the ideals of ‘humanist pluralism’: people could build themselves.5 The key difference might be summarized as a matter of activity: ‘architecture is a verb, not a noun. “To architect” is to construct your personality, as well as the building’.6 It is valid to ask whether the PoMo architecture that characterized much of the 1980s and ‘90s was based consciously on ideas of this kind. Famous examples include Terry Farrell’s Vauxhall Cross in London (1993), a Lego ziggurat for the spies of MI6; Phillip Johnson’s Sony Building – formerly the AT&T Headquarters – in New York (1984), a skyscraper with an open-topped classical pediment; Arata Isozaki’s Team Disney Headquarters in Orlando (1991), a deviously satirical mash-up in pink, yellow and blue of Rossi’s ossuary at Modena, an industrial cooling tower alluding to Le Corbusier’s Palace of Assembly in Chandigarh (1963), and Mickey Mouse’s ears; Michael Graves’ Humana Building in Louisville (1985), which breaks the monotony of corporate high-rise slabs with decorative porches and parapets suspended way above the street, the step-back a third of the way up turning it into a camp Art Deco
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7.1 No. 1 Poultry, London (Michael Wilford and James Stirling, 1996) Source: The Author
throne in opulent pink granite, marble and gold leaf; and No. 1 Poultry by Michael Wilford and James Stirling (1996), a stripy pink and yellow submarine surfacing in the heart of London’s financial district. All are incongruous and suggestive enough to fit into Jencks’ theory. But designers often favour a particular style for different reasons entirely. Baird has argued that architects like Robert Stern, Michael Graves and Charles Moore ignored the ‘pluralism’ implicit to the original vision and allied it with a more ‘reactionary’ politics in order to make it amenable to big corporations.7 Whatever their motives, architects associated with this approach offered arguments similar to those of Jencks, albeit not quite so exhaustively detailed.8 Certainly Jencks helped to popularize a general assumption that an environment enriched with different visual cues and symbols can contribute to human identities that are as rich and open-ended as spoken language.9
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PREDICTABLE BEHAVIOUR A different approach to the linguistic analogy focuses on those structures and processes within the mind that are – ostensibly – uniform across the entire species. For some this led to strict ‘scientific’ techniques of architectural composition that were meant to complement the cognitive and linguistic processes of the human brain. Although it does not refer to linguistics directly, one of the founding books in the field is The Image of the City (1960) by the American planner Kevin Lynch. Lynch argued that cities like Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles left people feeling dislocated and disorientated, a criticism that was aimed at the seldom built city plans of the modernists as well. But the confusion that we may feel in big cities was not a matter of mere inconvenience; the situation was more serious than getting lost and missing an appointment. Instead, Lynch maintained, human beings need to feel located securely in ‘place’ or they will suffer real existential trauma (Lynch 1968: 3-5, 12-13, 124-27). Lynch arrived at his planning solutions through exhaustive empirical research, interviewing no less than sixty people from ‘the professional and managerial classes’ to arrive at a theoretical model of universal validity. He concluded that all cities need a strong ‘image’, but he was not talking about the stylistic architectural qualities that distinguish Venice from Paris from New York. He was talking about a more abstract grammar of planning, incorporating the ‘path’, ‘landmark’, ‘edge’, ‘node’, and ‘district’ (Lynch 1968: 8-9, 15, 46-90, 95-108). A city designed with a strong grammar of this kind becomes an anchor, Lynch argued, around which people of different outlook, class and ethnicity can attach their personal interpretations. But the promise that people should be free to interpret the urban image in any way they liked was undermined by the powerful strain of environmental determinism that runs throughout the book. The planner ‘plays a major role’, Lynch said, by providing ‘identity’ and ‘structure’ in the search for ‘areas of agreement which might be expected to appear in the interaction of a single physical reality [the city], a common culture, and a basic physiological nature’ (Lynch 1968: 2-11, 110-15, 118-19, 131). Our nature, it would seem, demands that we agree about how to interpret and negotiate the urban image. This agreement would be strengthened by ‘training’ people to perceive it properly; literally by taking them into the streets and holding classes in which they would learn to admire and understand the planner’s work as intended. Another questionable aspect of Lynch’s thesis is his assertion that people live in terror of getting lost, as his interviewees were quite relaxed about it. Certainly they felt nothing of the anxiety of the aeroplane pilot who loses his sense of the vertical axis or the tribesman who stumbles into enemy territory, which are the examples Lynch favours (Lynch 1968: 11, 32, 91, 96, 114-17, 120, 125).10 Nonetheless The Image of the City helped set the agenda for those who believed that the relationship between people and their environment could be understood and manipulated ‘scientifically’. The principles were simple: first, the mind is the same across the human species and it prefers to perceive and negotiate space in a certain way; second, architect-planners should organize space to respect this preference, but also to influence behaviour if
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necessary. It is, of course, a contradiction, claiming both to respect the pre-existing conditions within the mind, and aspiring to alter them Arguments of this kind took an unpleasant turn with the work of Oscar Newman, a professor of planning in Columbia University and elsewhere, as well as an adviser to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and darling of U.S. law enforcement agencies. In his book Defensible Space from 1972, which was funded by the United States National Science Foundation, Newman argued that society was in meltdown and the only alternative to the ‘total lockup’ of a police state with curfews was a new approach to building. Cities should be re-designed into fortress-like enclaves segregated by income, class and ethnicity, for although ‘heterogeneity may be intellectually desirable…there are few instances of shared beliefs or values among physical neighbours’. Architecture should demarcate ‘real and symbolic barriers’, distinguishing the turf and pathways belonging to different tribes, elevating the entrances to apartment blocks and locating them back from the street to provide vantage points for surveillance and intimidation. These and other techniques would allow inhabitants to ‘adopt proprietary attitudes’ and assert ‘unquestionable control’ over their domain. Like Jacobs and Sennett, Newman wanted people to pursue their ‘natural impulses’ by taking control of their neighbourhoods rather than delegating responsibility to police or security guards. Unlike Jacobs and Sennett there were to be no mixed-uses and socio-economic integration here, which Newman dismissed as ‘idealistic’ and ‘utopian’: ‘an inadvertent result of a socially mobile and open society is its required segregation into physically separate subclusters which are inviolable and uniform, both socially and economically’. Newman’s proposals were not, he said, an attempt to control behaviour outright, simply because the data was not ‘sufficiently sensitive’ to ‘predict and control’ people with the accuracy he would like. Rather it was about trying ‘to release potential behavioural attitudes’ that people would exhibit naturally if given the chance. In the early 1990s Newman was invited to apply these principles to the crime ridden community of Five Oaks in Dayton, Ohio, which he segregated into ten self-policing cul-de-sacs, as uniform as possible in terms of demographic and each with a single gated entrance. Newman’s vision is eerily reminiscent of that of Leon Battista Alberti, who in the fifteenth century advised tyrants on how to fortify their citadels and set them up with listening tubes, spy holes and escape routes. Newman however claimed his defensible space represented the ‘values’, ‘aspirations’ and ‘dreams’ of the white middle-class, which were desired by everyone regardless of class or race because they were part of human nature (Newman 1972: 1-4, 9, 11-15, 19-20, 201-203, 206-207). The more orthodox linguistics-inspired theories were not nearly as doctrinaire as this, although even here the undertow of environmental determinism was teased further into the open in the 1970s. Key contributors included the Italian architecture historian Gillo Dorfles, who argued that architectural language was too inflexible to reflect the fluid changes of meaning that characterize everyday speech. Architects needed simply to accept their professional fate, of using an ‘institutionalised ensemble of signs’ to reinforce general attitudes in society (Dorfles 1969: 39-40). This idea was explored in depth by the English theorist Geoffrey
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Broadbent, who believed that architecture needed to enforce the dominant ideals and customs of a society, its ‘pervading philosophy’, and it could do this because people responded to their environment in fairly standard ways, which suggested ‘some things are inherent’ (Broadbent 1969: 56, 73). Broadbent looked for theories that would help expose and exploit this spatial hardwiring within the brain. First he adapted Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures (1957), where it was argued that language was generated through a small number of ‘deep structures’ that were innate within everybody. These were transformed into an infinite number of ‘surface structures’, or grammatically correct sentences, through logical ‘rules’ or ‘algorithms’. Broadbent sought to find the spatial and architectural equivalent of Chomsky’s syntactical model. Chomsky’s ‘deep structures’ were not merely a linguistic operation, he said, as they were ‘concerned…with man’s fundamental relationship with the world outside himself’. Broadbent used this as a starting point to tabulate a set of ‘primary impulses’ and ‘ego-tendencies’ that reside within the human psyche and call out for a spatial equivalent in architecture, which the architect of course must provide.11 Next, Broadbent took Charles Osgood’s ‘A Behaviouristic Analysis of Perception and Language as Cognitive Phenonema’ (1957) and Jean Piaget’s Psychology and Epistemology (1972) and stirred them together to explore the psychology of behaviourism more explicitly (Broadbent 1980a: 124-27, 131-33; 1980b). His basic assumption was that ‘certain stimulus events will have “wired-in” associations with certain response events’. The baby’s craving for milk, for example, leads to an association with the bottle as an object, which leads finally to the word ‘bottle’. The sign is rooted to our experience of the thing. Learning therefore ‘moves along a continuum from direct, physiological response (de facto – unconditioned reflex) to the learning of relationships between signifier and signified as agreed by social contract (de jure)’. Although words may be assigned arbitrarily, Broadbent believed that the initial stages of human development should be more orderly. It does not matter what we call things as long as we agree on the values and qualities of the things themselves. Environmental stimuli must be categorized so that people got the correct impressions from a young age. And of course, Broadbent included buildings and cities in his ‘environmental stimuli’. ‘The process of categorization’, he says, ‘consists in recognizing that certain objects possess certain similarities – they share the same attributes’. If one wants an object ultimately to be described and understood as a house or a church or a prison, ‘one identifies the attributes that must be present’. Broadbent concluded that a standardized approach to building would provide the foundations for uniformity in learning (Broadbent 1980b: 31620, 327). Broadbent’s attempts to transform first one and then another theory of linguistics into a theory of architecture are inconsistent and riddled with jargon. But his writings are simply the most technical examples of a broader approach to architecture, the goal of which is simplicity itself: to work out how the built environment can be used to regulate and even reform human beings. By 1980 Broadbent was calling this approach ‘anthropological’. It was about applying ‘specific theoretical concepts to “meditational” processes which give structure to the relationships between human behaviour and the built environment’, based on
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the assumption of an ‘unchanging relationship between the subject and the object of knowledge’. It was about imposing order upon the messy ‘disjunction’ between buildings and human behaviour (Broadbent, Bunt and Llorens 1980: ix-xii). The English planner Bill Hillier found some practical issue for ideas of this kind through the concept of ‘Space Syntax’ that he pioneered in the Bartlett School of Architecture in London in the 1970s, even though originally he had ‘never given much thought to the human subject and its point of view on space’. Hillier started out as an ‘objectivist’ trying to understand the physical properties of space, which formed the basis of The Social Logic of Space (1984), co-authored with Julienne Hanson. Hillier and Hanson analyzed different arrangements of space to ascertain how often and where certain set-patterns of lines and angles appear in city plans, and also to map out the most popular patterns of pedestrian movement. Hillier states, however, that ‘maybe what we find out by studying cities is a clue to something that is going on in here [the brain]’.12 But how do we get from one to the other? When we look at the houses in a French hamlet, to take one example, our initial impression might be that they have been placed randomly. Under closer scrutiny, however, this randomness resolves into a coherent pattern that is common to all French hamlets: the ‘beady ring’ structure ‘is everywhere defined by an inner clump of buildings, and a set of outer clumps, the beady ring being defined between the two’. The rules that generate this settlement pattern can be defined quite simply: ‘Let there be two kinds of objects, closed cells with an entrance…and open cells. Join the two together by a full facewise join on the entrance to form a doublet. Allow these doublets to aggregate randomly requiring only that each new object added to the surface joins its open cell full facewise onto at least one other open cell’. And so Hillier and Hanson proceed to work out in an increasingly precise manner the ‘syntax’ of this type of settlement. This model is then used to analyze other, more complex settlements as well as building interiors, which leads to the development of ever more subtle ‘syntactical’ models. But as well as being a way of analysing spatial arrangements that exist already, they conceive these spatial grammars as a way of building and planning. They become ‘syntactic generators’ (Hanson and Hillier 1984: xii, 58-60). Beyond this, however, these patterns are meant to correspond with the ways people instinctively order their environments. Under Space Syntax analysis, London is transformed into a multicoloured labyrinth of lines that represent the most well-trodden pathways. Regardless of the directional signs, maps and markers that may be found at street level, these analyses seem to show that people find certain spatial arrangements more intelligible and easier to negotiate than others. They vote with their feet. Hillier argues that the same patterns of movement can be found in all cities. But how is it possible that cities in different parts of the world, built and altered over hundreds – perhaps thousands – of years by countless hands, seem to order space according to the same basic principles and end up with a spatial image that all people can understand and navigate? This is because people order the spaces around them in compliance with a set of cognitive processes that reside within the human brain, and that are uniform and unchanging across the entire species and throughout history. Thus, ‘the human city is at a deeper level’
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than the ‘social’ city which overlays it and only appears different from region to region. In other words, if we scrape away the different architectural styles and social mores that distinguish an Arabic city from a European city, we end up with a spatial pattern that follows the same logic as determined and required by our eyes and brains, regardless of our nationality or time.13 The semiotics build up on the surface, the syntax lies beneath. Although Hillier denies that his theory is meant to determine human behaviour he believes there is a ‘mathematical probability’ that this might happen, and plays with nuance to state that he is wary of ‘overdetermining’ and seeks merely to ‘model’ behaviour and ‘generate’ social relations: ‘a pattern of people emerges from a pattern of space’.14 Hillier peers beneath ‘social logic’, then into the ‘cognitive logic’ of space. But this begs the question: if humans have always built cities according to these dictates of the mind, then why do we need Bill Hillier to rebuild our cities for us? Have we not always and automatically done a proper job of it? Hillier’s response is that Space Syntax is a way of giving a ‘language’ to our ‘intuitive knowledge’ of space and our preference for certain spatial arrangements; that is, it helps ‘externalize what we know already’. And once this language is re-established it can be used to counteract those planning bureaucracies and schools that are still committed to the false spatial principles of modernism. For Hillier these represent a ‘layer of formal intervention’ that has gotten in the way of the more natural channels of spatial expression that should cascade unobstructed from inside our minds, as they did in the past. Inappropriate buildings and cities must be destroyed, ‘because certain kinds of space are not viable for people’.15 Space Syntax Ltd. was established in London 1996 and now has offices in Boston, Sydney, Tokyo and elsewhere, producing masterplans and consultations for cities large and small, from Hong Kong to Doha to Colchester, often in collaboration with architecture superstars like Rafael Viñoly and Norman Foster. They advised for example on the placing of Foster’s Millennium Bridge (2000), which links St. Paul’s Cathedral with the Tate Modern over the Thames, but were critical of the decision to stop the bridge at the exterior gallery wall and double-back down onto the riverside walk. ‘Logic’ would have punched the bridge through the building and out the other side towards the neighbourhoods further south. It is humbling to view this global success in light of the little things, though, in particular Hillier’s fascination with the experiments of John O’Keefe and Neil Burgess, both of whom run laboratories at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London where Space Syntax was established. O’Keefe and Burgess have investigated the role of the hippocampus in the spatial cognition of rats in mazes, and they speculate upon whether the hippocampus is the seat of human spatial cognition as well. Lynch liked the idea of laboratory mazes too, and wrote admiringly of an experiment in which people were blindfolded and set down in a foot maze. Initially the subjects were bewildered, he said, until they learned to differentiate the clues made available to aid their orientation, such as different textures on the floor, or sound and heat triggers (Lynch 1968: 11, 125, 131). The urban image and Space Syntax are concerned with controlling the flow of us equally bewildered yet biddable rats in the mazes of our cities.
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7.2 Space Syntax analysis of street patterns in London (Space Syntax Limited) Source: Space Syntax Limited
GRAMMATICAL FICTION A number of architect-theorists argued that the messages communicated by architecture are communicated for the good of the moneyed and the powerful. A portico on a bank, for example, projects an aura of respectability and prosperity as a result of the strange associated notion that these qualities were widespread in classical antiquity. This is intended to make those who have money invested there to feel reassured, and those who do not to feel inadequate. Architecture should not reinforce such messages uncritically, the argument continues, but should question and disrupt them with a view to engendering alternative values and lifestyles. But architects should also question an assumption from within the discourse of architecture itself, which has dominated since the writings of the Roman military engineer Vitruvius in the first century BC, that buildings should be well made, useful and delightful in appearance. The results of this nihilistic approach are often simple: buildings that look like assemblages of broken pottery and shredded metal in a state of near collapse. These ideas came about by following a different line through the linguistic analogy, one that asked whether human identity and values might be unstable – and should actively be de-stabilized – as a result of the instability of the languages through which they are articulated. There are several influences behind this approach which, although not always acknowledged explicitly, contributed to the general intellectual climate from which it emerged. Not least was the philosopher Louis Althusser and his famous
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essay of 1969, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. Althusser argued that our identities were not our own but were given to us by the state. This began with the ‘ideological ritual’ of birth, our naming and christening perhaps, and continued with other ‘pathological’ rites-of-passage over the course of our lives until we were completely brainwashed. The language that we use in the delusional belief that we are expressing ourselves had in fact ‘recruited’ us to the capitalist cause. Althusser’s paranoid-Marxist approach to self-identity led to the sociological theory of ‘governmentalism’, which has tried to work out the processes through which state ideology is drummed into us, focussing in particular on the way that clinical and popular psychology disseminate a set of behavioural codes for us to adhere to (Althusser 1969; Rose 1999). But it is not obvious what this has got to do with architecture until we introduce another French philosopher, Michel Foucault. In The Order of Things (1966) and An Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) Foucault argued that knowledge was less about attaining an objective understanding of the world, its people and processes, and more about controlling these things. Knowledge was tied to the exercise of power and it changed over time to serve different kinds of power. The notion of ‘structure’ and ‘structuring’ was implicit to this idea so we can infer a link with architecture. But Foucault referred to architecture directly as well and nowhere more suggestively than in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975). Foucault traced the ‘birth’ of the prison to the measures that were taken in seventeenth century towns to combat plague. Once plague had broken out the town would be locked down into separate districts and the residents would be prevented from straying out on penalty of death. The only people allowed unrestricted passage through the town would be the officials making their daily audit of the living and the dead. The dead would be deposited in front of the house for easy collection on carts. The living would be required to appear at windows and doorways for easy counting, and their name, sex and profession, as well as any alterations in health and anomalies of behaviour, would be noted down and put on file in ‘an uninterrupted work of writing’. Foucault believed that these plague measures never went away. Indeed, there was nothing unusual about them at all: they were just a remarkably overt example – ‘a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism’ – that was being refined all the time. The most powerful symbol of this, for Foucault, was the ‘Panopticon’. Developed in the late eighteenth century by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the Panopticon was a design for a building that could be applied to a variety of penal reform, educational and even industrial roles. The basic form of the building was that of a central surveillance tower surrounded by rooms or cells. The tower would contain, in the case of a prison, the warden, while the prisoners would be held in the cells around the perimeter. The beauty of this arrangement was that the warden would have a 360° view into all of the cells and could despatch his gaolers to sort out anyone who was getting up to no good. Moreover, as the windows in the tower would be darkened or covered by blinds, the prisoners would never know if or when someone was looking out at them. This was calculated to induce a state of paranoia in the prisoners so that they would behave correctly as a matter of routine. And ideally this paranoia would get such a hold of the prisoners that the
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warden would not need to be looking out from the tower at all times: the building would perform the functions of surveillance and reform almost automatically. This means that ‘any individual, taken almost at random, can operate the machine’, because ‘power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes’. And of course, if you wanted a school, asylum or factory, it was a simple matter to replace the warden with a schoolmaster, nurse or foreman, and the prisoners with pupils, the mentally ill or machinists. The ‘panoptic schema’ worked on two simple principles: sight and space. People were located where they could be seen. Moreover, this control represented a kind of knowledge, with people being located, observed, categorized and assembled into ordered systems, as one might test chemicals in a laboratory or arrange artefacts in a museum. As with the plague city, Foucault considered the Panopticon to be emblematic of a wider shift in society towards increasingly diverse and subtle methods for spying on and manipulating peoples’ behaviour (Foucault 1975: 358, 362, 365). Althusser, Foucault and others were not exactly pioneers of the idea that human identity was structured coercively by society, but in the 1960s and ‘70s they helped make an academic vogue of it.16 And when it was argued that identity was structured not only by the conventions of language, etiquette, gender, class and so on, but also by the built environment, then it is understandable why it began to resonate with architects sympathetic to the politics. But architecture is obviously an enterprise about the structuring of spaces, buildings and functions, and also – by implication if not always stated intent – of lifestyles as well. If people need to be liberated from these structures, how might the architect make a building that has no structuring intent, or perhaps even a destructive intent? How do you do this bearing in mind that architecture is expensive and it is often the rich and powerful who pay for it out of corporate, institutional or government funds? The Dadaist can subvert poetic form and the reader’s expectations by taking pencil and paper and scratching out some nonsense verse, but his materials are cheap and no one has commissioned him. And the same holds true for the philosopher. The attempts to solve this problem usually played around with linguistic jargon for a while before fizzling out without any practical resolution.17 Some commentators concluded that it could not be done: architecture was socially coercive by nature and architects were deluding themselves by thinking otherwise.18 And despite his role in formulating this subversive agenda, the architect Mario Gandelsonas considered it nonsensical to be asked how you might actualize it: I’ve always been quite consistent about separating my theoretical work from my practical work, and not really trying to create these instant correlations and correspondences, which I think really are very simplistic and in general pathetic. Embarrassingly simplistic…When you write you’re in one position, and when you look back at what you wrote you’re in a different position. It’s simple. I think what’s really bad is the idea that you can go in a continuous flow way from one to the other one, because that’s ridiculous. I think that the best thing about architecture is that you actually cannot do that.19
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The most damning criticism of architecture-as-subversion was by the Italian semiologist Umberto Eco, who argued that architecture is primarily about function and the communication of function, and ‘the fact that someone uses [a building in the way intended] becomes, in the eyes of the society that observes it, the communication of a conformity by him to certain usages’. Architecture communicates other meanings such as ‘family’ or ‘authority’, but for Eco these were functional as well: ‘with respect to life in society the “symbolic” capacities of these objects is no less “useful” than their “functional” capacities’. Indeed the symbolic might be the most functional aspect of an object: the monarch’s throne may be uncomfortable to sit in yet it connotes ‘dignity’ and ‘regality’ and therefore functions perfectly. Likewise ‘dysfunctional’ evening wear, such as tails for men and backless gowns for women, which is ‘functional because…it permits certain social relations, confirms them, shows their acceptance on the part of those who are communicating [and] their decision to abide by certain rules’. Architectural meaning changes only slowly, then, trapped within its ‘limited repertoires…[to] connote ideologies of habitation (common room, dining room, parlour)’, among many other things that are useful to a society. This means that architecture enjoys nothing of the freedom of spoken language. It has a ‘manipulative’, ‘coercive’ and ‘psychologically persuasive’ role in society, and its ‘messages can never be interpreted in an aberrant way…without the “addressee” being aware of thereby perverting them’. Eco concluded that architects are destined to reinforce the ‘social exigencies’ and ‘existential desiderata’ that happen to prevail in a society whether they like it or not (Eco 1986: 182-88, 192-97, 201 n. 10). Nonetheless the idea that architecture could play a subversive or at least a destabilizing role in society found its way into the defining avant-garde of the 1980s, which ironically went on to become a kind of orthodoxy. ‘Deconstructivist Architecture’, the name of an exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1988, was in part a punning reversal of the name and political affiliations of the early Soviet avant-garde, ‘Constructivism’. But the name was also in part derived from Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of ‘Deconstruction’, which was much in vogue at the time. Indeed, the architect Bernard Tschumi had invited Derrida and Peter Eisenman to collaborate with him in the design for the Parc de La Villette, which was built on the site of the old city abattoirs in the suburbs of Paris in the early 1980s. Tschumi had won the competition and was the lead architect, and the others were put in charge of a garden within the park. The players involved no longer thought it feasible to consider architecture and philosophy as separate disciplines: both were about trying to understand the ideologies that underlie existing structures, whether in buildings, figures of speech or patterns of thought (Derrida 1988: 338, 341; Patin 1993: 97). And both disciplines were interested in tearing down the worst of these structures not to establish new foundations for rebuilding better ones, but to prove that instability and change were the inescapable conditions of life. Eisenman had been thinking in these terms before the collaboration at La Villette. Formerly a student of Colin Rowe at Cornell, Eisenman sought to shake off that sense of responsibility towards people and the past that his teacher espoused. He founded the ‘Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies’ in New York in 1967
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as well as its mouthpiece, the influential journal Oppositions, and at this time he was interested in using Chomskian syntax to explore a design idea with strong consequences for the idea of human agency, as well as the architect’s supposed creativity and social duties. As noted earlier, Chomsky published his Syntactic Structures in 1957 to argue that the human brain contains a small number of simple, syntactical rules. We are born with these rules and they form the foundation of our capacity to transform a ‘kernel’ of basic sentences into an infinite variety of complex sentences: ‘a grammar mirrors the behavior of the speaker who, on the basis of a finite and accidental experience with language, can produce or understand an indefinite number of new sentences’. This means that there are ‘deep structural reasons’ for our ability to generate and understand proper grammatical sentences. And indeed, when someone speaks to us, we anticipate and judge the structure of the sentence even though we may never have heard that particular sentence uttered before. Although Chomsky focussed on the English language he believed that this process held true for the grammars of all languages, which follows logically as long as you believe that this process is rooted in the human brain. Chomsky said it was helpful to think of the speaker’s brain as a machine capable of pursuing a sequence of steps from an ‘initial state’ of elementary grammar to the ‘final state’ of a coherent sentence (Chomsky 1964: 11, 14-16, 18-20, 49). Eisenman applied these ideas to architecture from the late 1960s through to the mid-1970s, especially in his series of ‘House’ designs. Taking the elements of point, line, plane and solid as the basic ‘grammar’ of architectural form, Eisenman would arrange them in an axonometric projection and run them through a series of rule-bound formal transformations. Proceeding step-by-step, the starting arrangement would become more complex as elements were repositioned, rotated, cropped, combined and so on. Finally the process would be stopped, at a stage determined in advance. The end-result was pure, ‘autonomous’ architecture. It passed from the simple to the complex, basic grammar to finished sentence, without the intervention of any concern external to the process itself, such as the architect’s stylistic preferences, the client’s brief, or the ostensible meaning or function of the building. This is an interesting approach to design, for two reasons. First, it disregards the meaning, history and function of the building, and disregards therefore the possible expectations and experiences of the people who might eventually use it. Eisenman’s House VI was completed in accordance with these principles in Cornwall, Connecticut in 1975, and after the formal manipulations were over, functional elements such as the kitchen and master bedroom had to be slotted into whatever spaces could be found for them, regardless of how badly they were suited to the task. The clash of form and function led to genuine discomfort and inconvenience and eventually the clients had to build an outhouse to hold essential household items and appliances that could not be fitted into the ‘house’ (Frank 1994). Second, it is a way of designing that undermines the creativity of the architect, sidelining him or her almost to the status of observer to a prearranged process of formal transformation. But if the earlier Eisenman experimented with a philosophical disregard for people and the expectations they might have of a building, the later Eisenman
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sought actively to disrupt them. In an editorial piece for Oppositions in 1976, Eisenman argued that modernist architecture had overlooked the essential tenets of modernism, as upheld in other art forms: The modernist sensibility has to do with a changed mental attitude toward the artifacts of the physical world…It is displayed in the non-objective abstract painting of Malevich and Mondrian; in the non-native, atemporal writing of Joyce and Apollinaire; the atonal and polytonal compositions of Schönberg and Webern; in the non-narrative films of Richter and Eggeling.
But these were only the ‘stylistic manifestations’ and ‘symptoms’ of modernism and not its ‘essential nature’, which was found in the Displacement of man away from the center of his world. He is no longer viewed as an originating agent…man is a discursive function among complex and alreadyformed systems of language, which he witnesses but does not constitute…It is this condition of displacement which gives rise to design in which authorship can no longer either account for a linear development which has a ‘beginning’ and an ‘end’ – hence the rise of the atemporal – or account for the invention of form – hence the abstract as a mediation between pre-existent sign-systems (Eisenman 1976: 82).
Eisenman was playing with these ideas before the 1980s, then, as were others who had read their Barthes, Foucault and Althusser. But they were given a fresh impetus with the Parc de La Villette collaboration with Tschumi and Derrida. The term ‘collaboration’ is problematic as they were keen to avoid portraying themselves as partners on a project with distinct roles to fulfil and goals to achieve. Instead, their various activities – whether writing, drawing or actual building – were all meant to be symptomatic of the way that meaning was produced in culture. It was all a matter of writing without origin, end or purpose. And this applied even to the most monumental features of the park, Tschumi’s Neo-Constructivist scarlet ‘follies’, which were set down in a grid pattern across the park. Moreover, Derrida’s writings were considered no less constitutive of what made the park than the buildings and landscaping of the park itself. Derrida’s ‘Point de folie – Maintenant l’architecture’ of 1985 is a set of reflections that are meant to reflect a stroll through the follies of Tschumi. It is problematic to try to summarize this text as Derrida was at this time writing in a performative style intended ‘to outsmart the ruses of totalising reason’ (Derrida 1988: 343). Derrida believed that Tschumi’s follies undermined certain ideals that architecture traditionally had sought to uphold. In mockery of the tendency of architects to write ‘charters’, Derrida presented these ideals in ‘the slightly artificial charter of four traits’. But although there are four ‘they translate one and the same postulation: architecture must have a meaning, it must present it and, through it, signify…It must direct it from outside, according to a principle (arché), a fundamental or foundation, a transcendence or finality (telos) whose locations are not themselves architectural’. What are these meanings that architecture must reject? First, the notion of ‘dwelling’ and the specialness of place, which Derrida singled out for ridicule in order to
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7.3 Design for Parc de la Villette, Paris (Bernard Tschumi Architects) Source: Bernard Tschumi Architects
distance himself from his former teacher Heidegger; second, the notion of an ‘origin’ that partakes of the ‘sacred’, the ‘juridico-political foundation, the institution which commemorates the myths of the city, heroes or founding gods’; third, the notion of ‘ends’, of ‘utility’, ‘purpose’ and even ‘religious duty’, of architecture being ‘in service, and at service’; finally, the purely aesthetic ‘value of beauty, harmony, and totality’ (Derrida 1985: 570-71). How exactly were Tschumi’s follies meant to undermine all this? First, considered individually, they look to be of indeterminate purpose and perhaps entirely useless. Second, considered together, although they are aligned on a regular grid this is curiously illogical because the grid does not allow them always to mesh sensibly with the other features of the park. Ostensibly at least, Tschumi has dropped his follies in the park regardless of purpose and position. For Derrida, this was evidence of a desire to question the structures and values upheld in traditional architecture, with their commitment to monumentalism, beauty, usefulness, and respect for the past. And implicit to this was a desire to question the values that are upheld also in the habitual structures of our thought and speech. They were meant to provoke us into analyzing our situation and our thoughts, but not to offer an alternative and better state of affairs. And this would happen as we wandered
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through, rather like Barthes’ wanderer in the city, where our route becomes a ‘strategy’ of reading and writing and the built environment becomes a ‘palimpsest’ for endless re-interpretation, never to be settled definitively. The main ‘structures’ in need of Deconstruction are those assumptions that let us consider ourselves to be unique persons, with identities, characters and creativity. We need to get rid of the baleful thing that is the source of all the other structures: the self. In answering the ‘promise’ of this ‘performative writing’ by wandering through the park, the self finally will be undone: ‘This Other will be anyone, not yet [point encore] a subject, ego or conscience and not a man [point l’homme]’. It facilitates ‘the decentering of the subject: post-humanism’ (Derrida 1985: 570-71, 574-77, 580-81). This is Derrida’s reading of La Villette but it holds true to Tschumi’s stated intentions. In ‘The Architectural Paradox’ (1975) he argued that architects must reject the habit of making buildings that are always fit for purpose. Buildings should be conceived as ‘event’ spaces in which people are provoked to act in ways that confound typical expectations: ‘architecture seems to survive only when it saves its nature by negating the form that society expects of it. I would therefore suggest that there has never been any reason to doubt the necessity of architecture, for the necessity of architecture is its non-necessity. It is useless, but radically so’ (Tschumi 1975: 225-26). This sounds juvenile but was intended to ask a serious question: has architecture set itself artificial limits, both conceptually and in terms of the opportunities it offers people? Tschumi clarified this in a later series of articles, ‘Architecture and Limits, I-III’ (1980), in which he questioned the architectural principles proposed by Vitruvius in the first century BC and reiterated ever since: One of the most enduring equations is the Vitruvian trilogy – venustas, firmitas, utilitas – ‘attractive appearance’, ‘structural stability’, ‘appropriate spatial accommodation’. It is obsessively repeated throughout centuries of architectural precepts, though not necessarily in that order. Are these possible architectural constants, the inherent limits without which architecture does not exist? Or is their permanence a bad mental habit, an intellectual laziness observed throughout history? Does persistence grant validity?
Tschumi believed that architecture should question these expectations in various ways. Visually, for example, it should not look attractive or structurally sound. Neither should the building appear to answer any obvious use. The sloping and twisted floors of his Glass Video Gallery in Groningen (1990) are a good example of this. Most importantly, though, people faced with architecture that refused to pander to the obvious might themselves be inspired to act transgressively within them: ‘Movements – of dance, sport, war – are the intrusion of events into architectural spaces’. Tschumi is explicit about the debt owed to phenomenology, citing ‘the body, your body, my body’ as ‘the starting point and arrival of architecture’ (Tschumi 1980: 108-111). The phenomenological approach, however, was all about grounding people in universal values, with a stable sense of place and a comforting sense of their own bodies. Tschumi was arguing for the opposite: provide disorienting spatial experiences in order to inspire correspondingly perverse responses from the ‘user’. Tschumi presented the ‘embodiment’ argument
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in language steeped in eroticism, referring in particular to the sado-masochistic pleasures of bondage and masks (Tschumi 1977). Taking us back to the final remark from Derrida, Tschumi claimed that this ‘alters the subject of architecture, you and I’ (Tschumi 1975: 226). And this echoes a point that Derrida made about Eisenman as well, who likewise sought to overcome ‘anthropocentrism’ and ‘the measure of man, that which proportions everything to a human, all too human, scale’ (Derrida 1988: 337). In ‘The End of the Classical: The End of the Beginning, the End of the End’ (1984), Eisenman argued that architecture prior to his was seduced by three ‘fictions’: that good buildings and cities could help create a better world; that there was a reliable set of values unfolding through history; that architecture must project those values in its built form and decoration. Eisenman argued that architects must throw all this overboard and aspire towards ‘the intersection of the meaning-free, the arbitrary, and the timeless in the artificial’ (Eisenman 1984: 219). What this amounted to was an approach to architecture that holds people in contempt. Buildings must shake people out of the belief that they themselves, their world and its values are worth something. But how might architecture ‘effectuate such a displacement of the subject’? One method that Eisenman proposes is to have ‘folded space [of ] variable curvature [which] articulates a new relationship between vertical and horizontal, figure and ground, inside and out – all structures articulated by traditional vision’ (Eisenman 1992: 558-59). A related method is the use of broken geometries and fragments which frustrate the viewer’s desire to see a logical visual whole. An example of this would be Eisenman’s Wexner Center for the Visual Arts in Columbus, Ohio (1989), which abuses the architectural canon by splitting apart what appears to be a castle turret, as well as offering the fragment of an arch – traditional motif of ‘entrance’ – but burying it deep into the ground. Eisenman alleged that the sloped walls and floors of his Columbus Convention Centre (1992) provoked conference delegates to become disoriented, stumble around and vomit, as if they were in an evil corporate version of a fairground fun-house.20 Sewing confusion is the key. But devotees of Deconstruction do not appreciate the question of how to enact these ideas in architecture, as one might have guessed from Gandelsonas’ remarks earlier. There is more at stake, one of the co-curators of the Deconstructivist show at MOMA said, than just finding a simpleminded ‘literal application, a transliteration’ between philosophy and architecture. Rather, architecture is philosophy, and philosophy is impossible without the ‘foundational metaphor’ that it borrows from architecture. Traditionally, both have been about tearing down badly built structures, clearing new foundations, and building anew. The great breakthrough when Deconstruction and architecture came together, however, was a mutually illuminating awareness that there never was any ‘unflawed bedrock’ beneath the thought structures, value systems and architectural canons that have persisted over generations. All that lay beneath was an ‘abyss’ and the cracks ran right up to cause ‘the internal fracturing of the edifice’, even though no-one had noticed before. The new metaphor, then, would have to be the Tower of Babel, abandoned incomplete, with its builders speaking in tongues. No value, no knowledge, no finality, no beauty, no understanding, no identity. Nothing (Wigley 1988: 660, 667, 670-71).
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Commentators often champion this approach to architecture precisely on the grounds it has laid out for itself; that is, for addressing ‘the problem of distancing oneself from oneself, the issue of ecstasis’, and for answering the ‘need for the dislocation of the traditional self’. Previously, ‘powerful buildings’ were used to consolidate power: ‘it is easy to imagine the native Indian transfigured into a member of the British Empire, or the private bourgeois into the patriot/citizen, or the indifferent believer into the awestruck theist and so forth, each transfiguration respectively initiated by the self’s presence to a meaningful structure’. But now we should get used to having our once stable and comforting identities plunged into endless ‘slippage’, which is either liberating or terrifying, depending on one’s pointof-view. There is no doubt, however, that our protagonists consider it healthful. And as it reflects what it means to emerge into a truly urban-contemporary understanding of the forces structuring experience, it is honest and redemptive as well; which reveals the puritanicalism still grinding away in the depths beneath Babel. In the words of another sympathetic voice, Jeffrey Kipnis: ‘Architecture in the service of institution is architecture in the service of man as he wants to see himself and continue seeing himself. As such, it is a denial of architecture as a, perhaps the, vehicle of becoming’ (Goldblatt 1991: 340, 342-43; Kipnis in Goldblatt 1991: 338). This is too important to forget: the vehicle of becoming. But despite the well-rehearsed obfuscations of the writings, architecture conceived in sympathy with this discourse has resulted in something quite simple: buildings that look un-built, structures that look unstructured, from the Gasometer B apartments in Vienna by Coop Himmelb(l)au (2001), to Frank Gehry’s Stata Centre for MIT in Boston (2004), to Daniel Libeskind’s unbuilt ‘Spiral’ extension to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Moreover, for all the talk of abandoning the age-old habits of architecture, there remains an interest in the behavioural effects of buildings, although Eisenman – at least initially – appears conflicted. On the one hand, he says, ‘it is only necessary to perceive the fact that this other order exists; this perception alone dislocates the knowing subject’ (Eisenman 1992: 560). The person who sees the building frozen forever in an apparent state of near collapse will feel, presumably, his own identity collapsing along with it. In interview, however, Eisenman was more guarded: [Walter] Benjamin said, ‘people look at architecture in a state of distraction’. They’re not sitting reading a book, listening to music in a darkened theatre. Architecture has that problematic. What I’m trying to do is to create those affects which someone will experience not instinctually – we’re not talking about instinct like shouting ‘Boo!’ and you react – but something more subtle like the taste of wine as opposed to Coca-Cola. What I’m saying is, if someone feels that something’s off, they may not know why. And if they’re curious, the possibility to understand will be there, [and also perhaps] the possibility to have that affect…Is that to say that one is successful? I doubt it.
But despite his caution over whether architecture has the capacity to influence behaviour, Eisenman’s view of the values, lifestyles and persons that are implicit to the New Urbanist vision reveals a deep conviction that architects must try to bring
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about the unstable ‘subjects’ of Deconstruction: ‘They’re corrupt. They deny the heterogenous, non-hierarchical nature of culture, the new gender conditions, the new social and sexual and psychological human beings’.21 This suggests a level of commitment towards crafting the right kind – or kinds – of person that is matched only by Duany’s own.22 Even the most valueless architectural philosophy cannot shake the ethical fallacy.
PLACE AND MEANING: SUMMARY THOUGHTS The last two chapters have covered the more esoteric areas of recent architectural theory and practice. But regardless of how wilfully obscure the ideas became, time and again we saw them grounded upon a sense of what it means to be a human being, what it means to live and to think well. And the architecture proposed was intended to help create, or restore, or control, or disrupt this human being. The cosmic touchy-feely approach of the phenomenologists went in two directions, possibly contradictory. First, by demanding buildings and decoration that showed a renewed respect for the intensely personal bodily and emotional experiences of the individual. Second, by demanding buildings and decoration that reflected the spatial and spiritual requirements of the human species as a whole. Inspired by the conviction that modernists had arrogantly disregarded important aspects of human experience in their drive to improve society through new technologies, they proposed an alternative based on their understanding of human nature ranging from the most intimate feeling and bodily movement through to spiritual transcendence. The linguistic analogy had three manifestations. We began with the semantic idea that identity is as rich and variable as language, and that people are held back unless they are gorged with signs and stimuli. We explored the syntactical idea that identity is universal and regular as a machine, and that people are unruly unless they are set to order. And we finished with the Deconstructionist idea that identity is a fiction supported by coercive patterns of speech and thought, and that people are harmful unless they are shaken out of these ancient habits. Although drawing upon then-recent fashions in continental philosophy, the unacknowledged pioneer of Deconstruction was the Scottish empiricist philosopher David Hume, whose A Treatise of Human Nature (1740) was written over a quarter of a millennia ago and remains the most gloriously nihilistic account of the self as ‘grammatical fiction’ – ‘a perfect non-entity’ (Hume 1975: 252, 254, 262).
An architectural vocabulary stripped back to hygiene and technology ‘reinforced the behaviour that was wanted in a controlled society…the reductivist environment [and] aesthetic was used to discipline the people within it…[These] aesthetics were aesthetics of control and they were understood to be that immediately…by the controllers and the controlled’ (Charles Jencks, interview with author, London, 5 February 2003).
LANGUAGE AND DISLOCATION
Charles Jencks, interview with author, London, 5 February 2003.
On narrative as an instinctively human way of dealing with the world see Bruner (1990: 45, 67-68). Bruner talks also about the workings of memory in ways that recall Ryle and Halbwachs. Memory, he says, is ‘framed’ to re-interpret our experiences in terms of the ideals and institutions of social life, which has the effect of distorting them. But memory is governed by ‘affect regulation’ as well, which means that the memory of an experience is coloured by the attitude or emotion that accompanied it, or that it provoked subsequently. This makes our ‘autobiographies’ unreliable.
Gardner concedes that an abundance of high quality brain tissue may be present in all humans regardless of environmental stimuli. If this is true then the differences we find among adults would be due to different rates of cell death, which occurs in all brains. Gardner suggests, however, that brain decay is slower in those cases where environmental stimuli is richest.
George Baird, interview with author, Boston, 9 April 2003.
Jencks, interview with author, London, 5 February 2003.
Baird, interview with author, Boston, 9 April 2003. For a fuller account of the critical position represented by Baird, as well as a discussion of PoMo in relation to Pop, see Richards 2010.
‘[“Character” is] what finally gives us our sense of identity within a place, a building, or a room…Character and characteristics of buildings are part story-telling, part memory, part nostalgia, part symbol’ (Graves in Nesbitt 1996: 84). For classic examples of this argument see Stern on how decoration ‘responds to an innate human need’ (1977: 104), and Graves (1982: 86) on how modernist architects were preoccupied with an ‘internal language’ of ‘pragmatic, construction and technical requirements’ and neglected an ‘external language’ that reinforced the ‘myths and rituals…the figurative, associative, and anthropomorphic attitudes of [our] culture’.
The philosopher Galen Strawson has discussed the fashionableness of the ‘self-asnarrative’ idea in a variety of academic and professional fields, while also making a robust criticism of it (2004).
10 Most of Appendix A (‘Some References to Orientation’) is about survival and navigation techniques in tribal societies (Lynch 1968: 123-39). 11 See Broadbent (1980a): 135 ff. for an utterly perplexing account of how these ‘provisions’ can be transformed into buildings via the processes of ‘agglutination’, ‘folk etymology’, ‘analogical design’, and so on. 12 Bill Hillier, interview with author, 13 February 2003, London. Hillier acknowledges that his earlier ‘allo-centric’ approach to space (the study of the things that are real and ‘out there’) has been complemented by a new ‘ego-centric’ approach (the study of the way the mind perceives and understands space). 13 Hillier, interview with author, 13 February 2003, London. See also Hillier 1996: 33568 on ‘The Fundamental City’, in which Hillier discusses the general spatial logic that underlies all cities, regardless of local variations caused by culture and topography: ‘At the deepest level of what all cultures share – that is of what is common spatially to humankind – is the geometric language that we all speak’ (368). 14 Hillier, interview with author, 13 February 2003, London. Hillier describes space syntax as ‘a two-way thing’: on the one hand, it represents human behaviour in terms of its preferences for certain spatial arrangements; on the other, there is a ‘certain sense in which [space] has an effect back…has an effect on movement [that is] entirely about
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mediating our relations with others’. For more on this idea of space as representing and determining human nature and behaviour, see Hanson and Hillier 1984: ix, 9, 1825, where they discuss how they prefer to ‘model’ rather than ‘over-determine’ social relations, and explore the different levels of ‘determinism’ required for interior and exterior spaces. 15 Hillier, interview with author, London, 13 February 2003. 16 A selection of other writers in this tradition are collected and discussed in Evans, Du Gay and Redman 2000: 9-117. 17 George Baird said that architecture should become langue instead of parole, mixing ‘rhetoric’, ‘ambiguity’ and ‘irony’ – the uncertainties of ordinary speech – rather than looking to make definitive statements. But quite how one gets from this to his claim that it facilitates the subjective freedom of human beings is unclear. Moreover, Baird came to a contradictory conclusion by stating that the architect must continue to offer ‘“ideal” images of human existence, “ideal” frames for human action’ (Baird 1969: 97-98). Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas argued that architecture is an ‘an obstacle to real knowledge’ as it projects only ‘certain knowledge, which is limited and distorted… serving and preserving the overall structure of Western society’. But what is the alternative and how is it actually built? The commentary retreats behind obscurities at this point (Agrest and Gandelsonas 1973: 112-14; Agrest 1976). 18 Jorge Silvetti argued that ideology could be subverted through the irreverent use of architectural conventions: make a bank look cheap, flimsy and insecure, for example. But this is possible only under certain conditions, such as when there are ‘well-established codes’ that can be given a ‘subversive meaning’, which means the occurrence is ‘rather discreet and sporadic’. And it may also require that the commissioners of the building allow this to happen, which is unlikely. Moreover, only those who are fluent in the language of architecture can read this subversion. This means that the architectural subversion of power can happen only when the powerful permit it, and the architectural subversion of elitism can be read only by the architectural elite (Silvetti 1977: 379, 382). Manfredo Tafuri, although sympathetic in political terms, argued that architecture was a ‘magic circle’ and that the application of linguistics only further isolated it from real life and the class struggle. Arguing over the way to apply linguistics missed the point entirely: ‘it will be quite ridiculous to ask in which way a linguistic choice or an element of structural organization will express or anticipate “more free” ways of life’ (Tafuri 1974: 311). 19 Mario Gandelsonas, interview with author, New York, 25 March 2003. 20 In a lecture that explored the attempts by architects to pose as political radicals with powers to change society, Andrew Ballantyne (2004) argued that Eisenman concocted this story in order to impress his colleagues and students and not to be seen as a ‘sell-out’: ‘He made it up’. In attendance was Jeffrey Kipnis, who rushed furiously to Eisenman’s defence and insisted that a mere ‘anecdote’ – which in this case represented the truth – did not undermine the ‘philosophical intention’. Kipnis did not defend the veracity of Eisenman’s story. 21 Peter Eisenman, interview with author, New York, 31 March 2003. 22 See Chapter 3, ‘Community: Summary Thoughts’.
It has been suggested that after Geoffrey Scott finished The Architecture of Humanism, where he criticized the ethical fallacy underlying 19th century architecture, he got writer’s block and had a nervous breakdown. This was brought on by the attempt to write a new book outlining the architectural tastes and values of which he approved. The Architecture of Humanism and its personal side-effects ‘offers an unwitting – which is to say, an unconscious – reminder of the ambivalence inherent to inhabiting space. [T]he aesthetic spectator it envisaged, like its author, remained resigned to his or her paralysis at the center of space’ (Campbell 2004: 73). I can sympathize. Fortunately, unlike Scott and most others in this book, I do not consider myself qualified to start preaching on how things should be. Although we have touched upon only a handful of the more outspoken representatives from some of the main architecture and planning trends in recent years, still we have encountered dozens of arguments claiming to detail precisely what we need from the built environment in order to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. The idea that any one of them – or some alternative not yet imagined – might now be presented as the ‘correct’ one to follow, is as fatiguing to me as it must be to any reader who made it this far. I do not believe that there is any one correct way or magical answer. However I do believe that the way these alternatives are batted around within the discourse might benefit from some more thought. During the early stages of this research, one architecture theorist told me that by its conclusion ‘all you will have done is documented officially what everybody regards as a weakness’.1 To end, this is a good place to start. First, not ‘everybody regards’ this phenomenon. Many people do it, but not everyone regards it. Having spoken to some of the key figures to try to get a better understanding of how these assertions feature in their writings and manifestoes and indeed practise, I was struck by how often they seemed unaware of them; and also by how difficult it was to initiate a conversation around them. Scott may have been right when he said it was an unconscious part of the discourse, ‘automatically stated and automatically
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received’ (Scott 1929: 123). The possibility that it is unconscious might seem to back up the idea that it is somehow a ‘weakness’, particularly if we come over all Freudian and start diagnosing something that has become repressed because shameful but which nonetheless returns to distort things on the surface. There is definitely a ‘return’ in the Deconstructivist discourse, for example, where they attempted to eradicate notions of social or indeed functional duty in order to discover the essence of architecture as an autonomous art form, as distinct in its way as abstract painting, atonal music and non-narrative cinema. One did not demand of these other art forms that they provide convenience, shelter and warmth, that they have efficient plumbing and are CO2 neutral in their emissions, so why should similar constraints hamper the art of architecture? But the difficult, fractured forms that soon issued from this approach came to be justified as essential to ‘effectuate’ an urgently-needed shift in the way human beings perceive themselves, to make them better than they were. Clearly this return can weaken and distort the intellectual integrity of a theoretical position when it goes unacknowledged. Denise Scott Brown talked about the way architecture students often copy the style of the fashionable ‘masters’ of the moment, and then ‘find themselves the prisoners of irrelevant formal handme-downs whose tyranny is the more severe for being unadmitted’ (Scott Brown 1975: 319-20, 323-24). The intellectual hand-me-down of socio-behavioural reformism exercises a similar tyranny. But this does not prove that it represents any fundamental ‘weakness’ in the discourse. One might be sceptical of claims that the way to re-awaken people to the fullest sense of their own bodies, emotions and the spiritual beyond is to make buildings that luxuriate in their own materiality, have sloping floors and cosmic-themed decoration. The snobbery against suburban lifestyles and the falsified tales about their dangers and frustrations might leave one to question the motives of those proposing the wholesome community alternative. The idea that everything was decent, simple and devout ‘in’ classical antiquity and that porticos and entablatures could restore the values of this age for the present, might strike one as sword-and-sandal historical fantasy of a particularly naïve kind. One might struggle to see the existential benefit of endlessly ruminating upon and re-digesting the more recent past, and fail entirely to connect with any of the references in an architecture of memory so overwrought and personal as to be almost solipsistic. And throughout it all, the indiscriminating mash-up of incompatible theories from one source and another might irritate those of a more pedantic, academic cast of mind. But for all that it does not prove weakness. It proves an extraordinary variety of views. Indeed it might be considered a defining part of the discourse, as the Deconstructivists could never acknowledge even though their escape attempt saw them running smack back into it from the other side. It might be considered a potential strength. A greater acknowledgment and awareness of the sociobehavioural strains within the discourse, as well as a commitment to express them more plainly, seems to me a way in which architecture and planning might connect with its audiences more vitally.2 If I can be permitted one ‘ought’ in this conclusion, this ought to be done as these aspects of the discourse speak directly about people,
their wants and needs and behaviours, often from highly judgmental standpoints. And moreover, unlike other art forms that might touch upon the same, architectplanners are in a stronger position to do something about it. In this I agree with Aldo van Eyck: architecture and planning are of greater immediate consequence, ‘since what is done is done and cannot be torn down again (nobody is forced to look at a bad painting, read a bad poem or listen to bad music)’ (Van Eyck in Smithson 1962: 601). To have these potentially highly consequential opinions swirling around and shaping parts of the discourse, yet going strangely unacknowledged or indeed half-submerged under tortuously dense theory, seems to me unethical. They are unethical ethical fallacies, so to speak. There are two other questions that need to be thought about, if not answered. First, what is the motivation for these reformist claims? They may reflect a sincere commitment to understand and improve people’s lives, and this may be based upon an architect-planner’s interest in certain philosophical, psychological or sociological ideas. They may form part of the marketing techniques needed to lend weight to the style or approach that an architect-planner has an investment in; the promise not just of a building but a building with life-enhancing features providing extra leverage to the sales-pitch, perhaps, or working as a public-relations tool to deflect criticism from lobbyists. Or they may indeed just be part of the hand-medown tradition, absorbed by design students from their teachers, their reading and the architecture superstars of the day, as ‘the thing to do’. The motivations are confused, as inevitably they must be when you combine intellectual rigour and sincere altruism, with unscrutinized tradition, with smart business sense. Although one can speculate on the range of possible motivations it would be impossible – short of clairvoyancy – to determine which one is operative in any given case, and it is not that important to do so, I feel. Tom Woolley disagrees: ‘A lot of the time people are just on the make. Architects really get swept away, are really just providing lifestyle imagery, and they will say anything that will get them the job’.3 This is possibly too harsh. Although some architects clearly reside in one mode much more than another, it is perfectly natural and professionally expedient for them to jump around as circumstances demand. Charles Jencks has a nicely considered view on this: Any architect worth his or her salt has a view of society and the individual and that is a positive motive for what they are doing. It can be opportunistic and often is because they operate in a political sphere and need to get work. So they oscillate between believing their rhetoric and exploiting it. [Sometimes it is] presented in a hysterical or terroristic way: ‘You’ve got to do something about this or you’ll be dead tomorrow!’ But it is an eternal part of the architectural message and a motivator. You expect it of a politician, and you expect it of an architect.4
The other question is the extent to which buildings are capable of producing the socio-behavioural effects that were promised. In other words: does it work? Again this is impossible to answer neatly. Of the architects and theorists who would be drawn on my ‘vulgar positivist’ question of whether they thought buildings – perhaps their own buildings – had the effects that they wrote about with such
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assertive confidence, several were keen to downplay the link. The effect was now claimed to be a weak one at best, something that had to happen in tandem with other social, economic or cultural factors. Some dismissed the question entirely. It was deemed stupid to ask for a causal link between the theory, the building and the person, even though they claimed precisely this in their written work. However some held to the unshakeable conviction that their approach had clear and demonstrable life-enhancing effects: Every once in a while we still get calls from people [who] say: ‘Well, we all know that design doesn’t affect behaviour. What are you claiming here?’ And all I have to do is look out the window and see the bands of children walking to the movies. All I have to do is walk out in the middle of the night and see three or four neighbours in the middle of the street chatting with each other (Andrés Duany, interview with author, 1 August 2003).
There are two broad types of deterministic attitude at work across the theories that we encountered. There is a ‘weak’ type that advocates architecture and planning designed in accordance with how people are reckoned to be, not so much intended to determine behaviour actively but more a gentle reflection or reminder of important elements in human nature. Some of the memory theories would be an example here. And there was a ‘strong’ type that advocated architecture and planning in accordance with how people ought to become, which was indeed intended to influence behaviour directly and eradicate the worst of it. This might happen either by channelling a person’s movement physically through space into different kinds of encounter (as we saw in some of the community theories), or by adding formal, symbolic or kinaesthetic clues to the environment that they might absorb and experience (as we saw with some of the historical, linguistic and phenomenological approaches). Again, both of these modes can be found operating together – and often confused together – in the same piece of theory, or movement, or indeed across the career of an individual architect-planner. But it is difficult if not impossible to determine whether any of this works or not, simply because there is no way to disprove that these buildings might have precisely the effects that are claimed of them, at least on some people. A resident of Poundbury may feel more neighbourly and civic-minded. A bather at Therme Vals may feel a more profound, sensual connection with the vastness of nature and the cold beauty of stone. A visitor at the Wexner Centre may feel disoriented and pleasantly liberated from his old certainties. A mourner at La Modena may take comfort from its unsentimental presentation of the almost domestic ordinariness of death. Scholars coming more directly from the social science and environmental psychology side of the fence tend to be more doctrinaire about this. In her assessment of New Urbanism, Emily Talen conceded that it was possible to infer a link between their projects and increased levels of interpersonal interaction, but that it was impossible to say whether this might not be down other factors such as socio-economic homogeneity (people choosing to interact with people like themselves) or self-selection (people who are already pre-disposed towards neighbourliness being attracted to moving into New Urbanist housing). Also, there
was no evidence that these interactions led to a psychologically nourishing sense of community. Nor was there any evidence about the quality, motives or longevity of these interactions. In short, Talen said, interaction was not community. Given this lack of proof, ‘The danger…is that the philosophy of New Urbanism could be reduced to little more than a marketing strategy. Designing for sense of community could become a hollow promise under the promulgation that “community sells”’ (Talen 1999: 1375). The solution proposed by Talen was that New Urbanists needed to get serious, backing up their claims empirically and developing a more systematic understanding of community. A proper engagement with the social sciences and environmental psychology would help architect-planners get it right. Jon Lang and Walter Moleski have argued similarly: Many of their findings are important to architects but have not been accessible to them. An organized theory of the functioning of the built environment will help to reduce the gap between research findings and the creation of design principles of utility to architects. It will enable architects to explore their options with greater clarity and to argue for their designs based on knowledge not simply unsubstantiated beliefs and hopes…[Environmental psychologists] provide a learning model in which conceptual formulations are confronted and compared to real experience: hypotheses are tested rather than just generated and believed. In this way the environmental design profession will take on more of the quality of the professions that have incorporated science/research as the basis for professional practice (Lang and Moleski 2010: 29; Lang 1987: 246).
The air of superiority in these opinions seems to me a little unwarranted. The sociologists and psychologists that we covered in this book held views that were no less impressionistic, biased and selective with their evidence than anyone else that we read. Nor was the internal logic of their arguments any more compelling. Recent published research into environmental psychology and its relationship to design is no different. The thing that distinguishes them is that they make their behaviourist claims on a much smaller scale and present them in data-graphs and tables, which makes them seem more plausible ‘scientifically’ than the bold claims of many architect-planners. There are discussions about how to build for the different personality types of ‘Introvert, Extrovert, Sensory, Intuitive, Thinker, Feeler, Judger, Perceiver’, which suggests there are only eight types of person in the world; less than is covered by the zodiac. There are tables detailing the behavioural effects produced by different neurotransmitters and hormones, intended to work out how best to orchestrate them (Kopec 2006: 41, 46). But often it comes back to causalities, hoped-for and inferred, but stated as scientific fact. And these causalities tend to be of a mundane kind that have nothing of the imaginative richness of their architectural counterparts. Notice the prevalence of words like ‘is’, ‘are’ and ‘will feel’ in the following selection, which suggest commands rather than observations: This view is restorative. The water, open space, and bordering trees capture our attention, and we can effortlessly review the information presented to us – which is mentally refreshing.
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The rhythm in the arches at this airport is calming, and the sunshine that pours through the windows reduces stress. The most prized spaces in restaurants are booths or chairs against walls that shield patrons’ backs. Diners will feel comfortable in these booths because nothing can sneak up behind them and turn them into lunch (Augustin 2009: 31, 60, 72).
And my personal favourite, on the need to provide spaces on the street for men to be seen washing their cars: OBS [observation]: Men wash their cars on the streets as often as once a week. For men, the car is important as a means of expressing their identity. REQ [requirement]: Visibility for areas related to automobiles (Brolin and Zeisel in Lang 1987: 117).
It would be too easy to adduce examples from one’s own personal experience and preferences that contradict statements of this kind. There are many much bolder claims in this literature as well, and these underline how little it differs from what we have looked at already: [H]uman behavior is goal oriented. A need, a mental force, motivates people out of unsatisfying situations. Buildings function to reduce such situations but also to lift one’s spirits…Self-actualized people are those who are at peace with themselves. They are motivated to seek self-fulfilment and realize their full potential.
The built environment ‘functions well’ if it ‘provides for’ these facts (Lang and Moleski 2010: 63, 67). But references to ‘mental forces’ and ‘lifting spirits’, of ‘selfactualization’ and being ‘at peace’, resonate with the terms and sentiments that we have found already in architecture and planning; and which were offered with no less scientific backing than here. Some say that social scientists and environmental psychologists offer a body of proven, internally rigorous scientific fact that architect-planners should consult in order to learn how to implement their reformist schemes effectively. This research might be valuable on the micro-scale, to find out for example what kinds of chairs, colour schemes and desk furniture, what levels of light and ambient noise are best to reduce stress and irritability and avoid the dangers of ‘overstimulation’ and ‘arousal’ in office work environments (Sundstrom and Sundstrom 1986); although the offices of a fashion magazine or videogame developer might flourish with different qualities. On the whole, though, I feel that these researchers offer merely a less imaginative version of the same phenomenon. They do not substitute fiction with scientific fact. They offer pseudo-scientific certainties in graphs and flowcharts in exchange for creativity and nuance. In any case, until someone does the impossible and determines the nature of human nature, individually and as part of a ‘community’, arriving definitively at an understanding of what we mean by ‘identity’, ‘character’, ‘subject’, ‘personality’, ‘self’ and so on, then there is no reason at
all why any intelligent person should not have an opinion of their own about these things (Porter 1997; Gallagher and Shear 1999; Evans, du Gay and Redman 2000; Elliott 2001; Little 2002). Even Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, who refuse to prescribe any ideal person or lifestyle, are willing to concede that there is some value in thinking about them: Scott Brown: Louis Kahn used to talk about ‘man’, and I once said to him (this was a long time ago – pre-feminism – I’ve been a feminist since my childhood), in America you should talk about men, meaning pluralism, not ‘man’. And he thought a moment, and he said: ‘If you do that you’re right, but if you do that you will also lose something’. And he was saying there is innately in us all something that connects with everyone else. And that’s a very beautiful thought and you don’t want to lose that, indefinable though it is. Venturi:
You want man and individuality. ‘Man’ and man.5
This may be an essential and inescapable trope of architecture and planning. Clearly it survived intact the demolition job that Team 10 tried half-heartedly to work on CIAM and has flourished since that time. And while the arguments are sometimes skew-whiff, the claims often outrageous, and the motives usually muddy, there is little doubt that they enrich the discourse of architecture and planning. Still, they should be handled more responsibly, with a greater awareness of the prejudices and value-judgments that often they represent, especially as no other profession seems quite so eager to proclaim itself ready, willing and able to save the world and everyone in it. Nor would it harm if this discussion were held more openly, providing less of a hurdle for the non-specialist who does not have the time or luxury to disinter these ideas – often very simple ideas – from beneath the awful glutinous theory. I hope that by excavating some of the most representative parts of this discourse it may be understood a little better, not only by the people on whose behalf and in whose best interests it has appointed itself to speak, but also by those professional architects, planners and theorists who keep it alive with such assertive confidence while never seeming fully aware that they are doing so.
Peter Carl, interview with author, Cambridge, 12 February 2003. For Carl’s own susceptibility to this ostensible ‘weakness’, see Chapter 6.
Recent histories of the architectural profession – covering both academic and practising architects – seem uninterested in this. Instead they focus on the history and potential future improvements to the educational curricula, the management of practise, and communications between architect and client – not between architect and wider public. Summarizing the history of the profession, Spiro Kostof remarks: ‘What they do is to design, that is, supply concrete images for a new structure so that it can be put up. The primary task of the architect, then as now, is to communicate what proposed buildings should be and look like’ (Kostof 2000: xvii; Cuff 1996). Andrew Saint takes a similarly pragmatic line, arguing that ‘individuality’, ‘imagination’ and ‘art’ should
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be jettisoned from the professional self-image, and the ideology of ‘sound building’ and effective inter-professional collaboration should take its place. For Saint, anything that is not about the practicalities of ‘sound building’ is regrettable ‘fantasy’ (Saint 1983: 165). 3
Tom Woolley, interview with author, Belfast, 6 December 2002.
Charles Jencks, interview with author, London, 5 February 2003.
Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, interview with author, Philadelphia, 21 March 2003.
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Mumford, L. 1963. The Condition of Man. London: Mercury Books. Mumford, L. 1997. The Culture of Cities London: Routledge and Thoemmes Press. Nesbitt, K. 1996. Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory, 1965-1995. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. Newman, O. 1972. Defensible Space: People and Design in the Violent City. London: Architectural Press. Nicolaides, B. 2006. How Hell Moved from the City to the Suburbs: Urban Scholars and Changing Perceptions of Authentic Community, in The New Suburban History, edited by K. M. Kruse and T. J. Sugrue. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 80-98. Nieuwenhuys, C. 1974. New Babylon: Outline of a Culture, translated by P. Hammond, in Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire, M. Wigley. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 160-65. Norberg-Schulz, C. 1976. The Phenomenon of Place, in Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory, 1965-1995, edited by K. Nesbitt. 1996. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 414-28. Norberg-Schulz, C. 1983. Heidegger’s Thinking on Architecture, in Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory, 1965-1995, edited by K. Nesbitt. 1996. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 430-39. Packard, V. 1957. The Hidden Persuaders. London: Penguin. Pajaczkowska, C. 2005. Urban memory/suburban oblivion, in Urban Memory: History and Amnesia in the Modern City, edited by M. Crinson. London and New York: Routledge, 23-49. Pallassmaa, J. 1986. The Geometry of Feeling: A Look at the Phenomenology of Architecture, in Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory, 19651995, edited by K. Nesbitt. 1996. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 448-53. Patin, T. 1993. From Deep Structure to an Architecture in Suspense: Peter Eisenman, Structuralism, and Deconstruction. Journal of Architectural Education, 47(2), 88-100. Pérez-Goméz, A. 1983. Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science. Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press. Poe, E. A. 1987. The Man of the Crowd, in Tales of Mystery and Imagination, E. A. Poe. London: Guild Publishing, 141-48. Polesello, G. 1985. Typology and Composition in Architecture, in The School of Venice, edited by L. Semerani. Architectural Design, Profile 59, 55(5-6), 40-44. Popper, K. 1936. Historicism, in A Pocket Popper, edited by D. Miller. 1983. Oxford: Oxford University Press and Fontana Paperbacks, 289-303. Popper, K. 1944. Piecemeal Social Engineering, in A Pocket Popper, edited by D. Miller. 1983. Oxford: Oxford University Press and Fontana Paperbacks, 304-318. Popper, K. 1965. Indeterminism and Human Freedom, in A Pocket Popper, edited by D. Miller. 1983. Oxford: Oxford University Press and Fontana Paperbacks, 247-64. Popper, K. 1967. Knowledge: Subjective versus Objective, in A Pocket Popper, edited by D. Miller. 1983. Oxford: Oxford University Press and Fontana Paperbacks, 58-77. Popper, K. 1977a. The Mind-Body Problem, in A Pocket Popper, edited by D. Miller. 1983. Oxford: Oxford University Press and Fontana Paperbacks, 265-75.
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Advocacy planning 7–9, 13, 20, 37–38, 42 Alberti, Leon Battista 134 Alsop, Will 5 Althusser, Louis 138–40, 143 American Housing Act (1949) 30 Ando, Tadao 5–6, 115–16 Archer, John 15–16 Architectural Review (The) 9–10, 28–29 Argan, Giulio Carlo 76 Arup Associates 3 Athens Charter (The) 4, 8, 45 Bachelard, Gaston 104, 108–10, 120 Baird, George 125, 131–32 Banham, Reyner 52 Barker, Paul 52 Barragán, Luis 8, 115–16 Barthes, Roland 126–27, 143, 145 Bauhaus (The) 64 Beauchamp, Suzanne 59 Bentham, Jeremy (see Panopticon) Berlin, Isaiah 86 Betjeman, John 29 Blondel, Jacques François 75 Braghieri, Gianni 96–97 Broadbent, Geoffrey 134–36 Bruner, Jerome 130 Calthorpe, Peter 45 Carl, Peter 118–19 Chomsky, Noam 135, 142 CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) 3, 7–8, 10–11, 14–16, 20–21, 28, 64, 122, 157 Coin Street Community Builders 6, 41 Colquhoun, Alan 63 Communitarianism 48–49
Community (see also Neighbourhoods) architect-designed 7, 19, 38, 41–45, 49–52, 59 free-form 33, 36, 52–54, 59 general 2, 6–11, 13, 19–60, 71, 154–55 networked technologically 53–54 self-generating 6, 20, 29–34, 38, 44, 50, 59 Context respect for — natural landscape 2, 5–6, 8, 105–108, 112–16, 119–21 — traditional/vernacular styles and plans 5–10, 13, 15, 34, 44–45, 49, 59, 63–100, 114–16, 119–22, 128, 143–44 the need to challenge 34, 83–84, 87–88, 114–16, 128, 138–48 Cook, Peter 69 Coop Himmelb(l)au 147 Cuvier, Georges 66 Davis, Robert 49 Davies, Terence 97–98 Deconstruction/Deconstructivism 141–48, 152 Defensible Space (see Newman, Oscar) De Meuron, Pierre 6 De Quincy, Quatremère 75–76 Derrida, Jacques 141, 143–46 Descartes, René 78–79, 99 Disneyland 46 Dixon, Jeremy 57 Dorfles, Gillo 134 Duany, Andrés 46–47, 49–51, 59–60, 148 Durand, Jean-Nicolas-Louis 66
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Eco, Umberto 141 Eisenman, Peter 141–43, 146–48 Etzioni, Amitai 48–49 Evolution (see Nature) Farrell, Terry 131 Fathy, Hassan 8, 120–21 Federal Aid Highways Act (1956) 22 FHA (Federal Housing Administration) 21, 23 Foreign Office Architects 84 Forty, Adrian 98–99 Foster, Norman 57, 137 Foucault, Michel 15, 138–40, 143 Fournier, Colin 69 Frampton, Kenneth 114, 116 Fulton, William 45 Future Systems 83 Gadamer, Hans-Georg 110–11, 113, 116 Gandelsonas, Mario 140, 146 Gans, Herbert 26–27, 29, 52, 56 Garden City movement 23, 25, 52, 94 Gardner, Howard 130–31 Geddes, Patrick 46–47 Gender (confusion) 25–27, 58–59 Gehry, Frank 5, 147 Giedion, Sigfried 3, 9–10 Gombrich, Ernst 128 Governmentalism 138–40 Gowan, James 88–89 Graves, Michael 131–32 Habraken, N. John 34–36, 42 Hackney, Rod 42 Hadid, Zaha 83, 90 Halbwachs, Maurice 94–96, 99 Hall, Peter 52 Hanson, Julienne 136 Heidegger, Martin 104–108, 112, 121, 143–44 Herzog, Jacques 6 Hillier, Bill 136–37 Histories of modern architecture revisionist 8–11 standard 10, 15, 17 Holmes Jnr., Oliver Wendell 31 Howard, Ebenezer 23, 30 Human nature (see Psychology) Hume, David 148
Identity (formation) destabilizing and subverting 33–34, 126, 138–48 through history and memory 2, 6, 9, 46, 60, 63–100, 108–109, 114, 117–19, 128 through language — semantic (open-ended) 126–32, 148 — syntactic (fixed) 126, 131, 133–37, 148 through place and sensual embodiment 6, 15, 103–23, 143–44, 148 through self-build, decoration and fantasy 28–29, 34–37, 56 through social participation 24–25, 31–34, 47–49, 114, 118 Isozaki, Arata 128, 131 Itten, Johannes 64 Jacobs, Jane 7, 20, 30–32, 34, 41–42, 134 Jencks, Charles 7, 125–32, 153 Johnson, Phillip 131 Jones, Edward 57 Kikutake, Kiyonori 68–69 Kipnis, Jeffrey 147 Knevitt, Charles 43 Koetter, Fred 85–90 Krier, Léon 15, 44, 63, 70–73, 75, 88 Krier, Rob 63, 100 Kurokawa, Kisho 68 Le Corbusier 3, 8, 11, 30, 64, 115–16, 131 Lefebvre, Henri 111–12 Levitt, William 21–22 Libeskind, Daniel 5, 119, 147 Linguistic analogy 2, 8–9, 11, 66, 71, 75, 77, 125–48 Locke, John 78–80, 99–100 Loos, Adolf 64 Lynch, Kevin 133–34, 137 Lynn, Greg 69 Maki, Fumihiko 67–68 Marx, Karl (and Marxism) 15, 36, 111–12, 138–39 McCarthyism/Cold War paranoia 26, 32 Memory (see Identity) Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 15, 104 Metabolism 16, 67–70
Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig 115 Mixed uses 7, 9, 30, 33, 41, 44–45, 49, 51, 59, 134 Modernism, orthodox (see CIAM) Modernism, alternative 8–12, 96–97 Moneo, Rafael 6, 63 Morris, William 70–71, 75 Moses, Robert 22, 31 Mumford, Lewis 9, 21, 23–25, 29, 45, 48 Nature evolution 24–25, 127–28, 130 classificatory systems 66–67 corrupted/perverted 28, 31 metaphors of growth, decay, metabolism and genetics 16, 30, 63–80, 96–97 Neighbourhoods (see also Community) mixed income, age-group and race 6–7, 16, 30, 33, 42, 45, 50, 134 single income, age-group and race 23, 27, 33, 58, 134 Newman, Oscar 134 New Urbanism 7, 38, 45–52, 59–60, 147–48, 154–55 Nieuwenhuys, Constant 36 Non-Plan 52–54, 85 Norberg-Schulz, Christian 112–13, 116 Otaka, Masato 67–68 Packard, Vance 26 Pallasmaa, Juhani 122–23 Panopticon 139–40 Pevsner, Nikolaus 15 Phenomenology 2, 5–6, 11, 15, 73–74, 79, 103–123, 145–46, 148 Piano, Renzo 5 Plater-Zyberk, Elizabeth 49–51 Poe, Edgar Allen 99 Polesello, Gianugo 66–67 Pop (and PoMo) 10, 54, 85, 126, 128, 131–32 Popper, Karl 86–87 Porphyrios, Demetri 63, 73–75 Posthumanism 145–48 Previous research in the subject area 14–17 Price, Cedric 52, 54 Prince of Wales 10, 42–44, 56 Psychology (and human nature) according to environmental psychologists 154–57
remarks on mental health and aptitude 11–13, 43, 45, 58–60, 71–72, 90–92, 99–100, 152–57 theories 24–29, 31–36, 43, 46, 48–51, 77–80, 85–87, 90–100, 105–114, 117–18, 126–37, 142, 145, 147–48, 152–57 Regeneration 6, 20, 51 Regionalism for architectural detailing/style 8–10, 114–16 planning and economic models 25, 47–48 RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) 13–14, 42 Richards, J. M. 27–29, 52, 64 Riesman, David 25–26 Robinson, Joel 96–97 Rogers, Richard 5, 41 Rossi, Aldo 7, 63, 90–99, 131 Rowe, Colin 63, 85–90, 141 RPAA (Regional Planning Association of America) 25 Ryle, Gilbert 92–94, 99 Saussure, Ferdinand (de) 125 School of Venice 63, 91 Scientific planning/technocracy 4–5, 15, 17, 43, 103–104 Scott, Geoffrey 14, 151–52 Scott Brown, Denise 6, 16, 54–58, 152, 157 Scully, Vincent 45, 60 Sebald, W. G. 97–98 Security (personal) 28–29, 53, 73–74, 95, 133–34 Semper, Gottfried 66 Sennett, Richard 32–34, 134 Sert, Josep Lluís 5, 8–9, 11, 21 Simmel, Georg 33–34, 48–49 Smithson, Alison and Peter 11, 54 Slum clearance/urban renewal 4, 7, 20, 22–23, 30–31, 95, 98 Space Syntax (see Hillier, Bill and Hanson, Julienne) Spirituality 4, 103–104, 105–107, 110–13, 117–22, 127–29, 144, 148 Stirling, James 88–90, 132 Suburbia development pattern in Britain and United States 21–22, 46
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negative attitudes towards 19–20, 22–33, 38, 46, 48, 58–60, 71–72, 114 positive attitudes towards — affluent suburbs 22–23, 25, 29 — mass-produced suburbs 26–29, 52–55, 58–59 Tange, Kenzo 67–68, 115 Taylor, Stephen 59 Team Ten (10) 11, 90, 157 Terry, Quinlan 15, 70, 75 Thomas, R. S. 107 Town and Country Planning Act (1947) 17, 19, 21, 29 (1968) 37 Tradition (see Context) Tschumi, Bernard 5, 11, 141, 143–46 Typology 63–80, 91, 97 Urban Task Force 41 Urban Villages Group/Urban Village Company 43–44, 52 Utopianism 5, 15–16, 87–88, 122
Utzon, Jørn 5 Van Eyck, Aldo 11, 122, 153 Venturi, Robert 6–7, 54–57, 85, 157 Vernacular (see Context) Vesely, Dalibor 116–18 Viñoly, Rafael 83–84, 137 Vitruvius 138, 145 Von Ranke, Leopold 77–78 Wates, Nick 43 Watkin, David 15 Webber, Melvin 53 Weller Streets Housing Cooperative 42 Whyte, William. H. 26 Wigley, Mark 146 Wilford, Michael 89–90, 132 Williams-Ellis, Clough 27–28 Woolley, Tom 37–38, 153 Zoning 4, 7, 23 Zumthor, Peter 119–20