Facebook brings some deep thoughts about space, the built environment and the reduction of conflict today:
Over a light arch–
a brow of stone
on a wall’s
in the windows joyous and open
with faces instead of geraniums
where there are perfect squares
next to a dreaming perspective
where an ornament wakes a stream
in a tranquil field of level surfaces
motion with stillness a line with a cry
resembling uncertainty simply clarity
there you are
art of fancy and stone
there you dwell beauty
over an arch light
as a sigh
on a wall
pale with its height
in a window
with tears of glass
I the exile of self-evident forms
proclaim your motionless dance
Richard Morris packed Time’s Anvil full of so much fascinating things, that I wanted a second post to collect them all up (first post is here). First, this hilarious quote from Nikolaus Pevsner on England:
This is a very modest country, satisfied with very little. All morning one can see one’s breath indoors… To look at it positively, I suppose people are closer to nature… (1)
This reminds me of evenings spent huddled next to relative’s radiators exuding a very faint warmth.
I did love the aside on seed saving and diversity, a key battle now in view of corporations like Monsanto and a reminder how this has long formed part of our culture. One late Saxon charm for the improvement of land directs that
seed from elsewhere be taken from beggars in exchange for twice as much…
A good strategy of improved stock and distribution, and incorporates the most poor into key agricultural systems in a way that could be respectful, though it hardly mitigates the suffering of such a life.
There is another fascinating quotes from John Letts, ‘Living Under a Medieval Field’ on old planting systems:
every plant in a land race is slightly different from its neighbour, and medieval cereals were consequently very uneven in straw height, ripening time, grain yield and other agronomic traits. This diversity ensured that a portion of the crop almost always set seed irrespective of the many environmental stresses that can destroy a crop such as drought, waterlogging, frost or crop disease.
Such diversity is a key component of permaculture and organic farming systems, and another part of our past that farmers are trying to relearn and bring into practice.
The early role of the church in shaping the physical and mental maps of the land is also so interesting. There is some discussion of the changing nature of the church, the tendency of early Anglo-Saxon bishops to be treated as saints, and therefore this:
A map of their resting places is a diagram of power. (261)
There are proofs of how this became part of everyday life in places like Wells cathedral — one of my very favourite cathedrals, so I was surprised to learn that long ago the skulls of its Anglo-Saxon bishops sat on display there as relics. Some of them show patches of high polish caused by the touch of multiple hands, others have had perfect circles bored out from their backs, probably for amulets or shrines.
It never occurred to me that people might describe the incorporation of older buildings into newer as a sign of laziness or lack of vision or skill, but apparently so it has been said. Morris here reclaims the idea that incorporating older churches into the design of expanded churches incorporated their holiness and power. Interesting that my own reactions to much of the book underline Morris’s argument that much of what we understand of the past is conditioned by our present. Seems that two hundred years of archeological history are quite an indictment of power structures in society, though there is very little unpacking of how age, gender, race, national origin, class and etc impact our readings of things.
I quite love thinking more about this, though:
In traditional religion, community embraced the living and the dead, each supporting the other in a fellowship that extended across history. When Reform snuffed out that coloured world of saints, lights, signs, gestures and seasons it shrank the boundaries of community, dimmed collective memory and diminished time. (267)
The ties between fascism and planning & conservation
I learned a little more about the Third Reich here as well — apparently Heinrich Himmler
held sway over functions that included the SS, the police, the consolidation of German national identity, and settlement of the East.
The settlement of the East alongside consolidation of identity? That combination at first seemed so odd to me, and then I thought about it and it made a perfect chilling sense. There has always been a terrible dark side to our connection to land and how we live upon it. Himmler and his friend (he had friends…) Hanns Johst toured upper Silesia in 1940, Morris writes:
The two men reflected on how the German settlers would soon change the appearance of the land. Trees and hedges would be planted. Shrubs would grow…All of this was a great work of culture undertaken in awe of nature. They speculated on how these changes would ‘create protection from the wind, increase dew, and stimulate formation of clouds, force rain and thus push a more economically viable climate further toward the East. (329)
It heads to megalomania there, which is unsurprising, but also it appears they imagined a fairly comprehensive plan for living well upon the earth. Crikes.
I discovered Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter, also had claims to fame as a Nazi sympathizer. So on the one hand you have the left Atlee government establishing parks and protecting buildings and wildlife for the working classes due, but also alongside concerns about ‘spoiling’ of the countryside and development. Morris quotes Engels’ descriptions of Manchester (which I too have quoted extensively) and poverty, writes:
It was partly in reaction to such squalor and moral degradation that conservation in Britain originated. That is not only why conservatism had its heart in the countryside — where despite a century of urbanism the heart of England’s identity still lay — but why historically it was anti-urban. the National Trust was founded to protect land ‘against development and industrialization.’ (331)
Their efforts allied in this with people of the far right, who saw nature as separate from human beings, and in need of protection from the masses.
Too often quite fascist protection. There are still clear affinities in some of the rhetoric today, and more than ever this is something we have to understand and root out.
I wish there was a little symbol I could use so that when I make a pun I could laugh to myself self-deprecatingly.
On the beauty of labour
Part of the lure of the past and the wilderness can also be seen in the writings of William Morris and Ruskin —
buildings and monuments of earlier ages evoke melancholy, an emotion then held to be purer and deeper than joy and to be a stimulant to imaginative consciousness.
A gothic emotion — I liked the evocation of the gothic and the uncanny. I found it interesting he doesn’t go into, or even mention, William Morris’ deeper beliefs and Socialist foundations, I think this love of medieval building is more about craftmanship and the beauty of certain kinds of labour, but there you are. There is, however, a quoted fragment from D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Things Men Have Made’:
Things we have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still, with the glowing life of forgotten men who made them. (47)
It seems to encapsulate the worth and beauty of things granted them by the labour involved in making them. Morris derides the idea of industrial production as revolution or as something that just broke out, which is an interesting idea to follow:
…another result of the lumpish way in which we cut up time — a tendency which previous chapters have shown can encourage fixation with difference at the expense of affinity, put change before flow and predispose us to simple determinism. (345)
if the industrial revolution had a defining moment it was the point at which large sections of the workforce switched from selling things they made in to selling their labour. (348)
There was another section on Birmingham, and just how much was manufactured there through industrialistion based upon this selling of labour. Johanna Schopenhauer writes in 1803:
that there is not a village in civilized Europe, perhaps not a house, where there cannot be found some industrial product made in that city, if only a button, a needle, or a pencil. (344)
By 1875, workers made over ten thousand billion nails a year.
I can’t quite get my head around the scale of that, but like how again it speaks to widespread connections through materials and labour, though I have read plenty of the desperate poverty and horrible working conditions underlying it.
A few last things, happier things, like the Lunar Society! The Lunatics met in each other’s homes the Monday evening closest to the full moon: Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestly, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood. I also wanted to remember to find George Peele’s ‘The Voice From the Well’ and read it, and set a reminder to self to walk the Icknield way… The name so old that not even the Anglo-Saxons remembered where it came from.
America is rich, America is right. Rich is right. Architects have always worked for the rich. We are now also working for the right. And that hasn’t always been the case during the last hundred years. We had better find out who we are working for and what we are trying to say.
The second speech/essay from Bertrand Goldberg to be found in Dans La Ville, and more provocative I think, than even the ‘Critical Mass of Urbanism‘ because it really digs down into the whole point of architecture.
Because it names the reality that for millenia ‘architecture’ — not the everyday homes and settlements and lovely little towns and villages and farms that have grown up over those same millenia, but ‘architecture’ — has been for the rich.
The traditions and history of architecture have been bound together with the ruling societies of their time. Whether the Mayans or the Shakers, architects designed the buildings that spoke for decision-makers. From one period to another, the architect looked not to his colleagues for his kudos , but rather to his clients. For a new plan, a new technology, for a different and sometimes new society, the architect wanted approval from the priest, the banker, or the corporation.
Because it names the hope of architects and planners who are not radical, that the rich will seek what is right through architecture. What is just, what is fair, what will create a better world. We may not share that belief exactly, but I do think that architecture can help to do that.
I like thinking about this potential connection between people and buildings, though it is more dialectical I am sure:
Even in the most usual buildings, architecture is the public
art that shows people what they’ve been thinking. And when architecture creates an unusual building with new technology, it even can nudge social change forward.
But what are we doing instead? I gather Goldberg doesn’t really like post-modernist architecture too much:
Today we find our post-modern buildings are silly and confused. More than a symptom, they are an infection of our times, our people, our economy – a witless, de-humanizing caprice purveyed in the name of historical conscience and stylistic freedom.
There is no question that such trendy garbage relates to the strange, disastrous goings-on in our daily life. Post-modern buildings for the rich who can afford them have the same nonsense quality, the same immaturity, that we presently find in our governments, our economy, and our behavior. Architects are no more confused by this new style than by the many art and architecture critics it inspires; but buildings have more social influence than the critics they give voice
to. In some strange way buildings even reinforce moral majorities and goofy governments. (199)
So what should we be building instead? He looks at how much memory has been lost of what came before Bauhaus, and he pulls out some visionary things that are truly awesome:
But that connection between wealth and architecture sent developments in different directions.
This is how Goldberg explains the rise of postmodern architecture, the social currents it is channeling, its connection to new technologies and means of production:
The artist – the architect – designed for the newly developed rich and shared their change of values. The abstraction of management in governments and business was matched by the abstraction in the arts and architecture. The building artisan was replaced by the factory. The artistic pictorial was replaced by the pattern. Light and shade were replaced by the plane and the line. At the beginning of the 20th century Taut, Loos, Oud, and Gropius shared in the belief of Le Corbusier that “the right angle is the most perfect of all forms because with it we can measure all things.” By the end of World War I, the box was recognized as the perfect shape to package a right-angled society. The design of the perfect box kept pace with mechanization of all types of production : with factory-made clothes, with steel rolling mills, with automobiles, radios, and packaged food…. What started as democracy in government, industrialization in our economy, structuralization in our aesthetics – as three startling promises for individual freedom in the early 19th century – by the first half of the 20th century had produced a controlled, managed, measured, and confused mass society packed in boxes. (202-204)
So arguably they got some things right, started to some extent in the right direction, but:
They forgot that all men are created equal and different.
And what precisely was the need such architecture came to fulfill? Money.
The multinational corporation, like the late 19th century scientists had been seeking a formula for a universal face – a faceless face that would say money, but not whose, without identity as to how it was made, without accountability as to how it was spent. For them, the universality of the International Style served very well.
The governments of the world have been managing people quite the same way that corporations have been managing money. Governments strengthened by social revolution have developed an unconcern with persons, with individuals, and their problems. Our governments, however idealistic in purpose, are organized to orchestrate masses of the electorate. For this kind of government, the design of the buildings according to the International Style has been perfect. These could be designed like business buildings ; official buildings only had to add a facade of columns. (205)
It is a damning indictment of corporations, government AND architecture, and this juncture in which the failings of all three can be seen built into permanent and concrete form.
Where does he see hope lying?
In the past five years we have seen these changes focus as three events: We have changed our expectations about government ; We have said it should become minimal. Give us room. Go away. Leave me be. Second, we have rejected the mechanization which we imposed upon ourselves in our development of industrial society. Architectural verities associated with the box and the right angle are being expunged as part of this larger wave of rejection. Third, we have revived individual ethics, as represented by the Moral Majority. (206)
Minimal government, it sheds a bit more light on the privatised nature of Marina City, and its methods of self-taxation he talks about a little in ‘The Critical Mass of Urbanism’ — a key question for the buildings and community that architecture facilitates.
To return to the built form, though, in a way this is a critique of Bauhaus as a kind of forerunner to postmodernism, despite his categorical refutation of Tom Wolfe’s rather different critique of Bauhaus:
As a Bauhaus student in 1932 and 1933, I can state that almost nothing he described about the Bauhaus is true.
For Goldberg it is this — the failure of living up to the hopes and ideals they themselves professed:
What the idealistic governments of the 19th century became for people, the Bauhaus became for architecture. Abstract, mechanized, industrialized, without concern for humanism, nevertheless they both had a concern for society. Both in a sense have failed to change our values. The serious consequence of that failure we haven ‘t yet recognized: the original targets, the original idealistic goals, the original concerns of the early 19th century remain an incomplete process with an urgent need for development. We have not fulfilled our promise to ourselves for democracy, for humanism, for using mechanization to give us a better life. These main changes in the human condition are still in progress. (207)
Bertrand Goldberg isn’t one in these essays to criticise capitalism, to face squarely the rise of real estate capital, the pressures and drivers of segregation and suburbanisation. I wish he had been younger when Harvey wrote Limits of Capital, or had felt able to identify and call out these larger forces. I always get a sense of subdued desperation from such figures as Goldberg, visionary and imaginative and able to see more than most about how form and function and community come together, while also genuine in their desire to improve the world. Yet not quite able to see what is distorting every vision — or perhaps feeling unable to express it out loud. Perhaps there was nothing else he could write or say having come through McCarthyism and the continuing red baiting of American society.
Goldberg here seems to me to be writing in desperate hope, as though by writing this he could make it true that rich is right. As though by selling a vision, building a single complex, he could show the way and change everything.
I just wish more people built such fabulous buildings, put such time put into making them perfectly suited to the uses for which they were meant:
When Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical on Human Work, says that the dignity of work “practically does away with the very basis of its ancient differentiation of people into classes according to the kind of work done,” he is continuing the 19th century battle for a classless society. When in the same document he says, “The right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone,” he is continuing the 19th century battle for redefinition of capitalism. Pope John Paul reminds us that the struggle for change Americans launched politically in 1776 is still alive.
The art of architecture is part of that change. Architecture needs a face that can be recognized as committed to that change – a face to show that architecture is a social art in an industrial age, but above all concerned with the individual. Architecture is not frozen music, as Goethe suggested; it is the body of humanism. Let us protect it.
There was no visit to Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City for me this Christmas… Chicago was amazing in terms of spending time with family and getting acquainted with my baby nephew Eli for the first time. He is pretty awesome. Plans to get on a train and into the city went nowhere though, between holidays and stomach flu — so I read and read some more.
Rare time with family more than made up for missing the splendid corn cobs. Still, I have a bit more to say about Bertrand Goldberg, looking at his own words and reflections on what his architecture meant and hoped to achieve. There were two provocative essays of his in Dans la Ville, and I rather thought I would do a post on each.
In ‘The Critical Mass of Urbanism’, a speech first given before the Union Internationale des Architects in April of 1983, Goldberg reflects on Marina City, which he began building in 1959 for Chicago’s Janitorial union as an affordable housing complex:
Twenty-five years ago I designed Marina City in Chicago. At 588 feet (65 stories),these apartment towers were the highest concrete buildings in the world and also the highest apartment buildings. At $10 per square foot, they were the most economical in the United States. They were the first American mixed-use urban complex to include housing and possibly the first in the western world since the 14th century. They were a technological advance that was designed for a world which believed its urban problems could be solved with technology and facts.
It is interesting that he zeroes in here on the fundamental shift in power at different scales and the amount of power accruing to city governments in the U.S., so discussed in urban planning and geography. By the 1980s this was a hot topic, though I don’t think it was quite the same when Marina City was built:
The struggle between fact and faith in architecture has been most important in the world cities of the 20th century. Major cities have become city states, much as they were in the 14th century before the development of nation-states. Cities throughout the world again have assumed every power of government except the right to coin money and declare war, and the control of urban power has been under the political groups: bureaucracies and the rich who form the decision-making groups.
I quite love this analysis of all that has gone wrong with this — the distance between cities as they are lived, and professional knowledge and the demands of capitalism.
While government programs for urban development are quantitative and “factual, ” they are not facts as our cities know them through daily living. The conflict between the political rhetoric of government and the capitalistic realism of the private sector has been illustrated in the failures of architectural planning during the past 100 years of effort to “save the city.” (192)
This has meant the city has not been saved. It has meant the hollowing out of the urban core. Goldberg sets out most liberally to try and reverse this trend, to understand how cities are lived, how they improve lives, what practically can be done. This is the best that could have been done, perhaps, without a deeper challenge to capitalism and racism as they are made concrete in the city’s form.
We now must ask a question of our architects: can our almost deliberate urban deterioration be turned? Is there a realistic way toward urban rejuvenation which can shape us, our governments, and our human condition? Amidst the failure of our planners, does the architect know how to make a plan for the possible city, to give us a community we can pay for? A plan which can house both our density and humanism at the same time? I believe yes.
We also must ask a question of our governments about the spiritual destiny of cities: can we, through government action, stop the decay of humanistic values in our cities? Can we self-consciously restore the city as a center of community and the mystery of human warmth and spirit? I believe yes, but not yet. There will be a long delay. These values can be restored only when governments believe in humanism and believe that the city can be its shelter. Perhaps the architects first must believe, as Vitruvius warned, that they must know more about government than the king. Perhaps then the architects can teach the king. (193)
This puts Goldberg squarely into that group of architects and writers who see immense value in the city, who see it as ‘a center of community’ and a holder and catalyst for ‘human spirit and warmth’. So it fascinates me that he is building along the lines of the monumental and the towering and the concrete and Le Corbusier but leaning towards the equally monumental socialist vision of Krutikov, rather than the more patchworked, crooked, intimate and small-scale interventions described by say Alexander or Gordon Cullen.
What Were Our Cities For?
Our cities, especially our failed cities, were planned in the early 19th century, and urban housing was shaped by the Industrial Revolution. These physical plans, now more than 100 years old, were conceived for a society different from the social change we are promising for the year 2000. Early American cities and their housing were not intended for attractive living, but rather for storing people on their upward trip to riches. In Europe, cities served to trap and store a service population for the elite. Today, within our inheritance of this deteriorated housing, we continue to hope to deliver our social promise for the 21st century. But deliverance is more likely to come from a totally new environment structured for a new society, and it is the shape of a new urban environment that we must now examine. (193)
So what is this new environment, what should it look like? With Marina City, Goldberg sought to create ‘A new form for Urban regeneration’, to imagine and build way of stopping white flight to the suburbs and preserving the necessary density in the city for a feeling of community. In this period when all the literature was promoting the suburban ideal and dispersal of families and homes and zoning to separate residential from commercial, Goldberg was instead promoting their concentration in the name of humanism. He lists the issues created by suburbanisation and lack of density — separating housing from work from culture from activities and entertainment, problems of sprawl and high transport costs.
It is clear that our concept of necessary population density must change to match our needs. But what do we need ? What must our city provide? Briefly, three urgently needed changes must be provided: (1) restore the city ‘s middle income population; (2) reduce the cost of housing in urban centers; (3) provide housing and living environment for new family types. These combined points must be enhanced with the magic element of concern for life that we call humanism.
On the relationship between architecture and density and community, he writes:
More recently we have come to understand density in the same way as the physicist understands the quantities of elements which create fission or fusion in molecular structure. Density is that number of people which creates the human fission or fusion we call communication, which in turn establishes community.
When the sociologist talks about community, does he also include the concept of humanism. Perhaps even faith? Faith in human spirit seldom comes without being reflected from another person. Community gives us that reflection of ourselves which we seem to need for survival. The poetry of our life is in community, and the city in its best form has sheltered and celebrated community.
Can the architect who designs for the facts or urbanism also design for the making of community? I do not believe these questions can be answered by architecture alone. Not until the people and governments training our architects believe in the need for community – believe that urban community is as important as urban economics – can architects once again design cities as the centers of our civilization. When the design of a community is as important as the design of a column, the architect will be able to form these new communities.
‘The poetry of our life is in community, and the city in its best form has sheltered and celebrated community.’ How beautiful that is.
I don’t think it is community exactly that is designed, but rather spaces that foster community. Marina City was Bertrand Goldberg’s attempt to build community through design, and built to cluster housing, employment, culture and entertainment all together:
Marina City was the first modern complex in which the combined tenants provided 24-hour use of the facilities, seven days a week, on an urban site. It was the first to reduce the cost of modern living by providing broader use of its services throughout both commercial and domestic living patterns. Marina City also exercised an internal taxation system, and for the first time in America it privately absorbed the cost of supplying some of the social amenities normally provided by the municipal government. Recreation, health care, low cost housing, and access to jobs were supplied within the rent for apartments. (194)
It is also clearly a response to the lure of the suburbs with their lower taxes, their homeowner associations and increasingly privatised nature allowing middle-class people more amenities and better control over them. Goldberg is right that there is much more to this than any architect can control, and could any one person do better to build a utopian project in partnership with a union? What is more depressing, is how this perhaps fed into the increasingly privatised nature of development, the rise of gated communities, the increasing levels of segregation by class and race. As interesting is the question of how the residents interact with and feel part of the city around them if everything they need can be found without ever going outside, catching a train, interacting with many people who are not their neighbours.
But despite the quote from Churchill, I agree with this analysis of city and architect, making it all the more important to juxtapose the ideal with the reality created in terms of community.
The nature of the city is to be densely populated – it is the work of the architect to make it beautiful by making it possible to create community. Churchill said it best : ” We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us.” (197)
There is not really much in the way of a regular biography here, but a look at Krutikov’s early architectural imaginings. It is also an introduction, more a hint of the amazing story of the Vkhutemas (acronym for the Higher Artistic and Technical Studios — architectural studios), two competing schools of the 1920s avant-garde. Aleksandr Vesnin led the Constructivist school, and Nikolai Lavovskii led the Rationalist. Krutikov was one of Lavovskii’s students, and his diploma project that of designing ‘The New Cities’.
The magic of challenging students to imagine the new cities coming to life under socialism…we saw some of Krutikov’s extraordinary images at the Cosmonaut’s exhibition at the Science Museum on the Soviet space program, shown as part of the inspiration for humanity’s leaving the earth for the stars. How could I not investigate further?
in the course if its evolution, humanity has increased the speed at which it is able to move, and that these different forms of transportation have influenced architecture, particularly housing. Krutikov argued that the most recent forms of transport should be regarded as mobile architecture and, as such, they suggested a different way of approaching the problem of the relationship between architecture and the environment. They raised the question: would it ever become possible to detach housing and other buildings from the land? Would it be possible to free the large amount of land on which buildings now stood? For Krutikov, land was vital to human beings, above all, because it enabled them to create favourable conditions for people on Earth. Was it absolutely necessary, therefore, to cover it with buildings? The dispersal of human settlements throughout the world limited man’s potential to use the land effectively in the interests of society as a whole. (12)
Born in Voronezh to a family of teachers, his main interests from a very early age were painting and space travel. The intensity of intellectual endeavour seems particularly Russian to me, I don’t know anywhere else the following sentence could be possible:
Judging from his drawings for The World, in 1912, the twelve-year-old was not familiar with ‘avant-guard’ painting. (17)
By 15, however, he was attracted by it. Also fascinated by aeronautics and airships. And fascinated by certain types of housing — he published ‘Circular or Semi-Circular Housing’ as a student at the architectural faculty in 1927, and designed this student housing:
One of the buildings he looks at is the first circular house in Germany by Bruno Taut — designer of the glass house dreamed of by Paul Scheerbart, and it seems to me both must have been influences. Another is the Villa Tournasol (Sunflower House), a rotating house that turns to catch the sun, designed by Lecuyer and Jubault.
I love these years in European architecture, when everything seems possible.
For Krutikov’s final project, his flying city, he submitted a series of 16 boards as the analytical component. They are awesome and reproduced in full in the book. The titles alone are incredibly evocative:
No. 1 – The Visual Distortion of Moving Forms
No. 2 – The Composition of Moving Structures
No. 3 – The Formation of the Dynamic Element
No. 4 – The Evolution of the Forms of Cars and Railway Trains
No. 5 – The Evolution of the Forms of Ships, Airships, and Aeroplanes
No. 6 – Modes of Transportation for Sea, Earth and AirNo. 7 – Rudimentary Mobile Residences (Mobile Country Homes of the West)
No. 8 – Living Conditions in Contemporary Mobile Structures
No. 9 – Portability of Mobile Structures (The Lightness of Material and Construction)
No. 10 – The Evolution of Energetics
No. 11 – Physical Culture and the Future Man (This includes men playing tennis on the wings of an aeroplane)
No. 12 – The Evolution of Buildings (from Wooden Huts to Skyscrapers)
No. 13 – Man’s aspirations to Extend his Horizons
No. 14 – The Conquest of New Spaces and New Horizons
No. 15 – The Conquest of New Spaces and New Horizons (2)
What a time that was! The Russian avant-garde in architecture is heart-stopping in its awesomeness, there is so much more to investigate. Like a casual reference to Anton Lavinskii’s City on Springs.
Here, the flying city (these pictures with the spirals and someone else’s hands, they’re from this site about the book):
More the floating city than the flying city, rings of residential and entertainment complexes hovering immobile above an industrial base. Communication between the two is through ‘the universal travel capsule’, imagined as able to move through air and water, with a flexible outer structure able to shift with its occupant, to accommodate their standing or lying down:
Each of the rings a residential and entertainment complex, designed for ultimate flexibility and movement between privacy and communal living:
For visitors, another type of static residence in the form of a hotel:
From his theses:
The fight for the architecture of the future is the fight of today.
I. THE SOCIAL ASPECTS
The international nature of the mobile capsule. Expanding horizons. The disappearance of the state. Community society.
A higher level of spatial organisation, corresponding to a higher level of social organisation.
Instead of linear chaos on the chaotic surface of the Earth there is a graceful organisation in the freedom of three-dimensional space. Linear chaos and the perfection of the circle as spatial contrasts, corresponding respectively to: firstly — the anarchistic and individualistic world of capitalism and secondly to socialism. (85)
The principle of flexible planning (planning that can adjust to changes in the way that the living social organism inhabits the city).
The expansion of the architect’s outlook beyond the limits of a narrow class context. The broad connection between architectural questions and all problems stimulating scientific thought. (87)
II. THE ARCHITECTURAL ASPECTS
The introduction of the dynamic element into architecture, the fourth coordinate of space (time). The particular perception of moving form. The architecture of mobile structures. The architectural expression of moving form. (87)
There follows more of his work — his ideas on the importance of flexible planning, our inability to predict people’s needs and to continually adjust. His designs for temporary exhibits, monuments and focus on theaters and how architecture can respond to and facilitate new kinds of theatre. His designs for a new Town-Commune of Avtostroi to house factory workers, which outwardly share much in common with Le Corbusier (there are no servants quarters, though, let’s not forget Le Corbusier couldn’t even fucking imagine a future without the tiresome shenanigans of servants) — large buildings, great open spaces between them.
This is so much more exciting in the air than on the ground. I like that the main components, however, focus on space for ‘individual relaxation and group (team) interaction…extensive collective social contact…a springboard for mass events’ (100). Also interesting is how he separates sleeping residences from communal residences — reminds me a bit of Alexander’s A Pattern Language with spaces for privacy and sleep but much more focus on collective living and shared spaces for most of our daily activities. He also pays a lot of attention in the designs to the raising of children, how much is done collectively, how integrated it is into the full life of everyone (but not completely). It shows a rare attention, I think, to issues of the family. But this could be more due to the still revolutionary socialist context, where women fought hard, and somewhat successfully, in these early years to raise such issues to greater attention.
And then it is done. There is the onset of the Stalinist Empire style, an initially slightly playful (and probably disdainful) incorporation and reworking of classical architecture as demanded by the party, but that soon ends and the grim period begins…
Fucking Stalin, ruining everything.
For more on architecture and utopia…
Impossible to summarise Paul Scheerbart, I cannot help but wonder what he was like in person. If he went on and on about glass architecture, perpetual motion. If he only spoke in phrases of satiric certainty. As a tone, it works brilliantly in Glass Architecture, where outrageous claims become more than possible.
The key idea is this one, nice of him to put it out in front. But as I read this amazing Christmas present sitting on my brother’s couch in Chicago in lieu of braving the weather and my stomach flu to see any real glass architecture, I forgot it just a few theses in and only now am I giving it the proper consideration it deserves:
Environment and its influence on the development of culture
We live for the most part in closed rooms. These form the environment from which our culture grows. Our culture is to a certain extent the product of our architecture. If we want our culture to rise to a higher level, we are obliged, for better or for worse, to change our architecture. And this only becomes possible if we take away the closed character from the rooms in which we live. We can only do that by introducing glass architecture, which lets in the lights of the sun, the moon, and the stars, nor merely through a few windows, but through every possible wall, which will be made entirely of glass–of coloured glass. The new environment, which we thus create, must bring us a new culture. (26)
Many have argued similar things — that we are products of our architecture, or at least our environment. It is a fairly mad brilliant step to seek to open up our closed rooms, to open everything up to the light (even if not quite to full visibility — I love the use of nacre to shield our most private moments, how beautiful that is).
The beauty of the Earth, when glass architecture is everywhere
The face of the earth would be much altered if brick architecture were ousted everywhere by glass architecture. It would be as if the earth were adorned with sparkling jewels and enamels. Such glory is unimaginable. All over the world it would be as splendid as in the gardens of the Arabian Nights. We should then have a paradise on earth, and no need to watch in longing expectation for the paradise in heaven. (38)
Almost I am convinced. I forget when we stopped desiring to establish a paradise on this earth.
Glass architecture is unthinkable without Gothic. (38)
I love the gothic, the dream of soaring spaces full of light. Perhaps Scheerbart is right, and if they could have constructed in glass rather than being technologically limited to stone, perhaps they would have done so.
I am finding in myself as much nostalgia for this time of infinite architectural possibility as for the revolutionaries of the 1960s who believed the world was theirs to change…I am sad I will never be able to believe in a revolution around the corner, a technology so new, a progress assured and manageable. Not that Scheerbart believes it entirely. But I think he wants to believe, is perhaps challenging himself to believe — and a part of him does believe in a way impossible now, however tongue and cheek his work is.
Cities in their present form are not yet fifty years old. They can vanish as quickly as they came. Even the permanent way of the steam railway is not immortal. (43)
I liked this:
I am convinced that every constructive idea will appear in many heads at the same time and quite irrationally; one should therefore not speak carelessly about the seemingly confused and crazy; it generally contains the germ of reason. (48)
And this also:
The vacuum-cleaner will naturally be needed as an insect-exterminator. It is absolutely horrifying that today it is still not used for this purpose. That the vacuum-cleaner has already been employed for getting rid of street dust, I take to be a known fact. (50)
This betrays the downside of a city of glass — no dirt. No nature. No insects. Not even dust on city streets. A curious, fastidious kind of utopia and I shudder at the cleaning of it. But I adore this passage on vacuum-cleaners.
I also love his fascination, any fascination, with aeronautics.
Direction-finding for aeronautics
Aeronautics will undoubtedly be determined to conquer the night. All towers must therefore become towers of light. (52)
It is generally known that the aeronauts would like to take over the night. that they have not so far done so is easily explained: on the earth the night is not yet light enough. But when, thanks to glass architecture, it has become light down below, it will also be light up in the air…The crucial factor in this is undoubtedly reinforced concrete. (65)
This is not short on technical details as you can see, even though I am leaving them out of this blog. Today some of this insistence on height and light seems almost old-fashioned given the towering skyscrapers that fill London, Chicago, Dubai — but he is prescient really in discussions of building vertically, using iron and metal frames upon which glass is hung, he inserts long discussions of concrete, stone and mosaics, enamels.
Number 58 needs no words, it is pure happiness:
We can talk in all seriousness of floating architecture…The buildings can obviously be juxtaposed or moved apart in ever changing patterns, so that every floating town could look different each day. The floating town could swim around in regions of large lakes–perhaps in the sea too. It sounds most fantastic and utopian, but it is far from being so, if reinforced concrete, shaped to the form of an indestructible vessel, carries the architecture. (64)
And to conclude we come back to how glass architecture will change us, improve us, help us move into our better future.
…our hope is that glass architecture will also improve mankind in ethical respects. It seems to me that this is a principle merit of lustrous, colourful, mystical and noble glass walls. this quality appears to me not just an illusion, but something very real; the man who sees the splendours of glass every day cannot have ignoble hands. (71)
And not just any light, but
We must not strive to increase the intensity of light–today it is already too strong and no longer endurable. But a gentler light is worth striving for. Not more light!–‘more coloured light!’ must be the watchword. (88)
Some of his ideas were put into actual form — by architect Bruno Taut with his Glass House created for the Cologne Werkbund Exhibition in 1914. Here Scheerbart stands inside of it (far left):
Around the house can be read Scheerbart’s words (from a collection of adorably bad aphorisms on glass and life written for this purpose):
Coloured glass destroys all hatred at last.
From Bruno Taut:
The Glass House has no purpose other than to be beautiful. It is intended purely as a structure for exhibition and should be a beautiful source of ideas for “lasting” architecture but is not itself intended as such. According to the poet Paul Scheerbart, to whom it is dedicated, the Glass House should inspire the dissolution of current architecture’s far-too-restricted understanding of space and should introduce the effects and possibilities of glass into the world of architecture. May it, in its own way, help to foster a transformation of building toward the light and grace that it currently sorely lacks. (101)
Bruno Taut also designed a set of glass building blocks, useful for imagining the future.
I want them.
Scheerbart wrote fiction as well, some of which I have to hunt down in Mark’s boxes, but in this volume he writes a glass adventure or two for the Baron Munchausen to relate, though even the Baron himself lacks words to describe the wonder of the Chinese exhibition of glass he visits over a period of days.
Next I saw the Tiffany glass hall.
I looked back out.
And the stars are mirrored in the mirrors.
One almost begins to understand infinity. (202)
I think my favourite piece in this book was Perpetual Motion: The Story of Invention (1910). A journal of invention, continual exaggerated hopes for the world’s transformation and a just as continual failure in making this contraption of wheels obtain perpetual motion through gravity.
The exaggerations come in imagining to what uses such energy generated could be put to…
13 January 1908
Building canals in the Sahara could make the whole desert futile.
And in general, if one could instruct all the rivers on Earth to adopt advantageous new courses, a tremendous increase in terrestrial fecundity could be achieved.
In other words: Desert culture on a grand scale.
Compared to this, the Panama Canal is a bagatelle.
There’s something dilettantish about always needing to see everything brought to fruition in reality.
14 January 1908
Once–in former days–people used to move house.
Now–people can move mountains.
There is no limits to what the Perpets can do. The Martians clearly have them, as evidenced by the canals visible on their planet. Perpets can light up the earth for aeronauts (a foreshadowing of the dreams of glass houses). They can build the architecture park necessary for imagining the future using the Harz mountain range in its entirety. People will be able to go traveling carrying their gardens and livestock with them, and thus:
In the early phases, accordingly, we’ll have to reckon with the dissolution of our various fatherlands.
Things will also take a curious turn where languages are concerned. But I certainly hope that the culturally most significant languages can be preserved.
The German language must be saved in any case, otherwise my books will become utterly incomprehensible. And that would drive me stark raving mad. (215)
Then Scheerbart goes on to wonder if given a life of complete ease and plenty, people will become imbeciles…he hopes instead they will turn to astronomy, and plans observatories the size of cathedrals. There are pages of worry over the inevitable negative impacts on literature and theatre when suffering is erased.
After all, the Age of Satire has not yet come to an end. (217)
He is obsessed with motion:
11 February 1908
A garden with rearrangeable parts.
The economy will crash as labour becomes unnecessary and money becomes worthless.
Financial institutions are institutions with which, strictly speaking, I am utterly unfamiliar. If, however, my wheel works, I shall make their acquaintance. But–this acquaintance will not not be a pleasant one. (235)
Pride in work will have to disappear with work itself, and so will the Social Democrats. Belief in God will also disappear, to be replaced with religious awe. The earth itself might seek to follow its heart’s desire, escape its orbit and go off into the universe (the subject of one of the short stories).
But wait, I think perhaps what I actually loved most of all was the ‘Gallery of the Beyond.’
As is generally known, it is only in the twentieth century, according to our accounting of time, that microscopic study of the photographic plates provided by the great astronomical observatories has begun to yield some results…This much is already certain: the plates taken in the region of the heavens near Neptune, an area characterized by a remarkable brightness, present new views of our world that are nothing less than exhilarating–that these are cosmic images can no longer be doubted. (283)
These views show amazing component creatures, with their cometlike limbs. I think this particular creature was my favourite, I am jealous of someone able to hang it on their wall.
No, I cannot choose a favourite. I can’t at all.
I quite love Scheerbart. I didn’t get as much from the many essays of scholars and artists sprinkled liberally throughout this volume, but Scheerbart is enough, is he not?
Tucson’s everyday architecture sprawls across the desert in dusty houses and apartments, it feels utterly different from anything on East Coast or Midwest U.S.A. As much as it feels utterly different from anything in Europe.
When I go home now, I am ever more struck by just how sprawling it is, how much space lies between homes, how many empty lots there are, how much unused land. How small and boxy the houses are, yet how I like those better than newer developments — they are not pictured here because we only drove past them, tracts and tracts and tracts of them where houses never where before. Huge boxy houses that fill as much of the lot as they can manage.
I am struck by how in older neighbourhoods, so many of the newer houses look more like bunkers than anything. How much colour improves things, but can’t improve everything. How much I hate the fake look of expensive corrugated iron and false painted gaps in the plaster showing false adobe bricks. People trying desperately hard to make their boxes interesting, but doing it in a way that shares a terribly kitsch vision of the Southwest and a terrible sameness. Like the vigas that emerge from both sides of the house so you know half at least are false beams and carry no weight.
Everything false in its conformity to some southwestern idiom, a moving target from howling coyotes with neckerchiefs to kokopellis to the next culturally appropriated fashion that lies in wait. I don’t know what that means for us.
Strange too, just how many mobile homes will never again be mobile, despite the themes of wolves running wild, freedom. How lots with 5 to 20 of them have become housing integrated with all the other kinds of housing, a regular patchwork. I never much questioned mobile home parks further out in the desert where I used to live, or those lonely settlers perched in areas without services. But here in mid-city, how exactly did it happen here?
It struck me how streets look so much the same, one after the other. They are charmless really, and this is how we have chosen to build them. Charmless as a whole, but at the same time in my mother’s neighbourhood between Pima and Speedway, Swan and Columbus, there are some wonderful old houses you know people constructed themselves when this land was first subdivided, their uniqueness invisible unless you look hard. There are even a few lots here and there filled with almost natural desert where the old house is hidden somewhere back there behind it all. If you want the real, it is old faded wood with paint peeling, tiny houses with their big porches often screened in, dusty collections of assorted junk in the yard. Probably they were here before anyone else, definitely here before air conditioning. Back when porches were essential things. These lots stand as they were, refusing to believe the city has grown around them.
I love that kind of stubbornness.
I didn’t take pictures of all or even most of it, I didn’t quite know how. And some of these are from up along the Rillito where Columbus dead ends into it…the rich people’s homes conquering the hills, but an awesome old round stone house sits up there too. It’s not as fun taking pictures of what is resolutely non-picturesque, but I am going to try it more often, try harder. How else to capture the meaning of a place, this everyday dust and space that sits alongside all those beautiful things that people are proud of here, the gracious and historic buildings, the places we go to wonder or to relax. The desert. Yet none of this compares to the desert, and I am sad to think that this sprawl of wood and brick and purple-painted bunkers is what destroyed so much of it.
Ebenezer Howard’s vision of garden cities has had an enormous impact upon urban planning and the development of cities around the world. Arguably, a rather disastrous one being used as a validation of endless expansion into suburbs of cul-de-sacs and meanders and the resulting sprawl. Rarely is Howard’s actual vision for garden cities remembered:
The whole of the experiment which this book describes…represents pioneer work, which will be carried out by those who have not a merely pious opinion, but an effective belief in the economic, sanitary, and social advantages of common ownership of land, and who, therefore, are not satisfied merely to advocate that those advantages should be secured on the largest scale at the national expense, but are impelled to give their views shape and form as soon as they can see their way to join with a sufficient number of kindred spirits. (58)
This is a reaction to the terrible conditions of the city, and the crisis there provoked by people streaming in from the countryside:
There is, however, a question in regard to which one can scarcely find any difference of opinion. It is wellnigh universally agreed by men of all parties, not only in England, but all over Europe and America and our colonies, that it is deeply to be deplored that the people should continue to stream into the already over-crowded cities, and should thus further deplete the country districts.
The results of this are in fact widely agreed — Howard quotes Lord Roseberry as chairman of the London County Council (ah, the old LCC):
‘There is no thought of pride associated in my mind with the idea of London. I am always haunted by the awfulness of London: by the great appalling fact of these millions cast down, as it would appear by hazard, on the banks of this noble stream, working each in their own groove and their own cell, without regard or knowledge of each other, without heeding each other, without having the slightest idea how the other lives–the heedless casualty of unnumbered thousands of men.’
Dean Farrar says:
‘We are becoming a land of great cities. Villages are stationary or receding; cities are enormously increasing. And if it be true that great cities tend more and more to become the graves of the physique of our race, can we wonder at it when we see the houses so foul, so squalid, so ill-drained, so vitiated by neglect and dirt?’
He quotes labour leaders Ben Tillet and Tom Mann as well, which is nice to see.
Howard argues that to keep people from moving to the city, country towns have to provide three things — wages that allow people a certain standard of comfort, equal possibilities of social intercourse, and opportunities for advancement…and I love this diagram and it’s central question ‘THE PEOPLE: where will they go?’:
If we no longer wish for THE PEOPLE to come to London, what is to be done? The building of garden cities, capturing the best of all possible worlds:
a third alternative…the magnet which will produce the effect for which we are all striving–the spontaneous movement of the people from our crowded cities to the bosom of our kindly mother earth, at once the source of life, of happiness, of wealth, and of power.
But neither the Town magnet nor the Country magnet represents the full plan and purpose of nature. Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together. The two magnets must be made one. As man and woman by their varied gifts and faculties supplement each other, so should town and country. The town is symbol of society–of mutual help and friendly ‘co-operation, of fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood, sisterhood, of wide relations between man and man–of broad, expanding sympathies–of science, art, culture, religion. And the country! The country is the symbol of God’s love and care for man.
Thus the Garden City must be brought to birth. He has worked out just what it should look like:
My favourite part of this plan, I think, is this:
Running all round the Central Park (except where it is intersected by the boulevards) is a wide glass arcade called the ‘Crystal Palace’, opening on to the park. This building is in wet weather one of the favourite resorts of the people, whilst the knowledge that its bright shelter is ever close at hand tempts people into Central Park, even in the most doubtful of weathers. (4)
It does sound rather nice, I love arcades though I don’t much care for shopping. What a beautiful structure that could be though. I also love the elements of sustainability built in, as this was written in a time of nowhere near so much plenty as today — a time to which we are soon returning:
the smoke fiend is kept well within bounds in Garden City; for all machinery is driven by electric energy, with the result that the cost of electricity for lighting and other purposes is greatly reduced.
The refuse of the town is utilized on the agricultural portions of the estate, which are held by various individuals in large farms, small holdings, allotments, cow pastures, etc…. (6)
So the question arises, how are the garden cities to be built, how financed? He embarks on rents, working hard to show that building this city is a viable investment — from a Marxist perspective it is interesting that he notes:
Perhaps no difference between town and country is more noticeable than the difference in the rent charged for the use of the soil. (9)
He mentions that this is often called the ‘unearned increment’ (which it is), as that is the rent increase due to the existence of more people and more amenity in its surroundings rather than anything to do with the actual land itself or what is built upon it. Howard prefers to call it the ‘collectively earned increment’ which I quite love and think might be a useful concept to bring back again. It reflects the fact that higher city rents are due to all of us. This collectively generated income on land is what is captured and used to the benefit of all who move to garden cities as a way to finance them.
So who shall live there? He quotes Professor Marshall’s study on the “Housing of the London Poor’ from Contemporary Review, 1884:
Whatever reforms be introduced into the dwellings of the London poor, it will still remain true that the whole are of London is insufficient to supply its population with fresh air and the free space that is wanted for whole some recreation. A remedy for the overcrowding of London will still be wanted….There are large classes of the population of London whose removal into the country would be in the long run economically advantageous; it would benefit alike those who moved and those who remained behind…Of the 150,000 or more hired workers in the clothes-making trades, by far the greater part are very poorly paid, and do work which it is against all economic reason to have done where ground-rent is high.’ (17)
Howard follows up this insight — if these workers ought not to be in London at all given the low value of their labour on very high-rent land, then of course these factories should move and the workers paying exorbitant rents for slum houses should move with them, along with all those who exist to support their existence such a s shopkeepers, schools and etc. But key to this move to the new garden cities is that:
it is essential, as we have said, that there should be unity of design and purpose–that the town should be planned as a whole, and not left to grow up in a chaotic manner as has been the case with all English towns, and more or less so with the towns of all countries. A town, like a flower, or a tree, or an animal, should, at each stage of its growth, possess unity, symmetry, completeness, and the effect of growth should never be to destroy that unity, but to give it greater purpose, nor to mar that symmetry , but to make it more symmetrical; while the completeness of the early structure should be merged in the yet greater completeness of the later development (27)
Howard was not alone in believing all of this possible. Another quote heading chapter six is of Albert Shaw, from Municipal Government in Great Britain, 1895:
The present evils of city life are temporary and remediable. The abolition of the slums, and the destruction of their virus, are as feasible as the drainage of a swamp, and the total dissipation of its miasmas. The conditions and circumstances that surround the lives of the masses of the people in modern cities can be so adjusted to their needs as to result in the highest development of the race, in body, in mind and in moral character. The so-called problems of the modern city are but the various phases of the one main question: How can the environment be most perfectly adapted to the welfare of urban populations? And science can meet and answer every one of these problems. The science of the modern city–of the ordering and the common concerns in dense population groups–draws upon many branches of theoretical and practical knowledge… (42)
So this is the vision — I almost have nostalgia for such ability to believe in such grand sweeping solutions.
Howard didn’t just think of new plan for garden cities, however, he worked very hard to show exactly how they could be paid for. ‘To make this chapter interesting to the general reader would be difficult, perhaps impossible,’ he writes, and he is not wrong. It is a worthy effort though. And there is so much I like in the idea.
Most of all that the garden cities should be as cooperative as possible — the more the citizens wish to participate the less the municipality will do and vice versa. I also quite love that he sees this on a continuum that is flexible depending on people’s wants and needs.
It is distressing, though, that this is such an early model for how the language of business can shape social ideals. This is a very early model for the privatisation of the municipality, the strange mishmash of public and private we are coming to know so well to our cost:
The constitution is modeled upon that of a large and well-appointed business, which is divided into various departments, each department being expected to justify its own continued existence–its officers being selected, not so much for their knowledge of the business generally as for their special fitness for the work of their department. (45)
and then, there is this structure that he calls ‘semi-municipal’:
But Garden City is in a greatly superior position, for by stepping as a quasi public body into the rights of a private landlord, it becomes at once clothed with far larger powers for carrying out the will of the people than are possessed by other local bodies, and thus solves to a large extent the problem of local self-government. (46)
His three main departments of such a constitution? Public Control (assessment, law, inspection), Engineering (roads and etc), and Social Purposes (education, baths and wash-houses, music, libraries, recreation).
Other benefits will come:
Here in Garden City, however, there will be a splendid opportunity for the public conscience to express itself in this regard, and no shopkeeper will, I hope, venture to sell ‘sweated goods’. (55)
It is a revealing comment on what Howard believes is at the base of sweating, his belief that consumer demands will be enough to end it. He writes:
If labour leaders spent half the energy in co-operative organization that they now waste in co-operative disorganization, the end of our present unjust system would be at hand. In Garden City such leaders will have a fair field for the exercise of pro-municipal functions… (60-61)
He quotes Tolstoy and a number of others about the need to honestly proclaim and live your own beliefs, to be the change you want to see — a well-known adage. He is building on thinkers I have not yet heard of (except Herbert Spencer, but I know him not):
Shortly stated, my scheme is a combination of three distinct projects which have, I think, never been united before. There are: (1) The proposals for an organized migratory movement of population of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and of Professor Alfred Marshall; (2) the system of land tenure first proposed by Thos. Spence and afterwards (though with an important modification) by Mr. Herbert Spencer; and (3) the model city of James Silk Buckingham. (72)
Wakefield wrote the Art of Colonization, so I expect I’d have a lot to say about that and a lot of fury to expend. But it also shows the currents into which the garden city idea was tied into – a small group of intellectuals and professionals able to design utopia, able to orchestrate for the masses — whether the working and criminal classes or the natives — a system and a space that will civilize and tame. In the very beginning there is the oddest reference to Opium as he discusses issues of the day over which there is wide disagreement — liquor and prohibition is one and the other?
Discuss the opium traffic and, on the one hand, you will hear that opium is rapidly destroying the morale of the people of China, and, on the other, that this is quite a delusion, and that the Chinese are capable, thanks to opium, of doing work which to a European is quite impossible, and that on food at which the least squeamish of English people would turn up their noses in disgust.
The acceptance that this should even be argument offers a glimpse into a mind that still ranks and categorises people by race, class and gender. My insides revolt at such a casual description of the horror of the opium trade and the criminal nature of Britain’s opium wars fought to open Chinese markets to the drug as they tried to seal it off. A man of his times in this way, it just shows how structured the times were by racism and imperialism.
And at the same time, there is this:
Surely a project, which thus brings what Mr Herbert Spencer still terms ‘the dictum of absolute ethics’–that all men are equally entitled to the use of the earth–into the field of practical life, and makes it a thing immediately realizable by those who believe in it, must be one of greatest public importance. (77)
Can’t argue with that, though per the above, I have my suspicions about what he means by ‘all men’ and there’s a lot of women about as well.
Interesting that he recognizes on our current lands ‘men have laid an immoral foundation for us in the past’ but on ‘territory not yet individually portioned out’ a new equality can be brought into being. This is the dream of colonization, no? A dream that never seems to recognise it has laid a new immoral foundation that will in turn destroy what comes after. But it is also the dream of garden cities here in Britain, where new towns can be founded on empty lands.
Howard argues for one example, well founded, well built and functioning, to show what is possible. Only after this achievement is well established and growing will it be time to think of a national movement. It is social change accomplished through the force of example.
And notice how such a successful experiment as Garden City may easily become will drive into the very bed-rock of vested interests a great wedge, which will split them asunder with irresistible force, and permit the current of legislation to set strongly in a new direction. (100)
The patronising side of me thinks this is very sweet.
After the success of one, clusters of garden cities would grow up. As the first founded reached its optimal size, another would be founded. Each would contain housing, gardens, factories and shopping. Each would sit within a green belt so all its citizens might have access to countryside, linked to each other by a fast railway system allowing freedom of movement.
These crowded cities have done their work; they were the best which a society largely based on selfishness and rapacity could construct, but they are in the nature of things entirely unadapted for a society in which the social side of our nature is demanding a larger share of recognition — a society where even the very love of self leads us to insist upon a greater regard for the well-being of our fellows. (98)
Out of this he hopes for a change, a new kind of society giving birth to a new city (or is it the city giving birth to a new society? Or both coming together?). Stripped of its critique and utopian elements of collective ownership of land, single elements of Howard’s dream were reworked to become part of what lies in the rush to the suburbs, and a widespread use of sentences such as this:
in proving this it will open wide the doors of migration from the old crowded cities with their inflated and artificial rents, back to the land which can now be secured so cheaply. (100)
Only elements of garden cities were ever built, only elements of it incorporated into suburbs in a way to eradicate their radical content. Yet even taken as an utopian vision which in part I agree with, I am so wary of so much of this, hate top-down planning though I know I have all the benefit of hind-sight. I can see how Le Corbusier emerges as naturally from this line of thought as Bertrand Goldberg or even perhaps a planner working along permaculture principles. But I will end on the sentence I most loved:
…homes are being erected for those who have long lived in slums; work is found for the workless, land for the landless, and opportunities for the expenditure of long pent-up energy are presenting themselves at every turn. A new sense of freedom and joy is pervading the hearts of the people as their individual faculties are awakened, and they discover, in a social life which permits alike of the completest concerted action and of the fullest individual liberty, the long-sought-for means of reconciliation between order and freedom–between the wellbeing of the individual and of society. (104)
For more on planning and utopia…
Form and Philosophy — some amazing drawings from Bertrand Goldberg on the geometries of space, how architecture creates or blocks movement and how it can be structured to facilitate human work and communication.
These are all from Goldberg: Dans la Ville of course, as I continue working my way through it.