2012/10/27 § 4 Comments
The Merchants Club comprised a bunch of civic leaders and business folk and other grandees interested in the commercial strength of Chicago. Although this crowd is not to be trusted with the built landscape anymore, in the early twentieth century, they knew what was what. They hired Jedi Planning Master Daniel H. Burnham to develop a roadmap for the future development and re-development of Chicago. Their aim was simple: bring people to the city and encourage them to spend their money here. Burnham convinced them their best bet was to enhance the architecture, parks and roadways of Chicago: if it’s beautiful, they will come. Along the way, he snuck in all kinds of amenities for normal residents to enjoy too–an amazing streak of social justice runs straight through the gorgeously illustrated book that finally was published, hailed, and memorialized as the 1909 Plan of Chicago.
Sorting out what part of Burnham’s grand vision was implemented as a direct result of the Plan is a tough job. This website does as good a job as any in trying to parse Burnham’s ideas in relationship to the changes made to the city in the following decades. Although assessing the legacy as a whole is a hard job, its difficulty does not diminish the achievement of the plan in terms of American city planning, nor Burnham’s great contribution to the development of Chicago.
Image: view from The Plan (from this source)
2012/07/29 § 1 Comment
On this day in 1981 Robert Moses died.
When Uncle Dan Burnham said “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood,” he never dreamed of Robert Moses (b. 1888). (If he had, he might have amended that statement.) Burnham’s sweeping plan for Chicago looks like a community vegetable patch next to the overhaul that Moses gave Gotham in the several decades he was virtually in control of the planning and development of the city. During his reign, the vast, but generally shorter, city of neighborhoods clustered around the first elegant skyscrapers (here’s the skyline in ca. 1910, before his rise to power) was turned into the city of slashing highways, giant bridges, gargantuan tunnels and mile upon mile of drab apartment blocks.
Moses was not the poster child for urban renewal but, rather, its high priest. From a privileged background, he never lived in the kinds of neighborhoods that he condemned as broken–but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a few wrecking balls and a fleet of concrete mixer trucks. Neither architect nor planner, he was a policy analyst with a Ph.D. who theorized the perfect city (again, from a very elite understanding of what makes cities good–primarily ease of transport by private car and new, “modern” buildings free of patina) and creatively finagled the city’s administrative system to realize his ideas. Neighborhoods smashed, homes destroyed and lives uprooted were just so many eggs broken to make the omelet.
Although Burnham’s planning had the “magic to stir men’s blood,” Moses was more likely to make it boil when he cast his spells. After decades of control over the reshaping of the city, done without much deference to government officials and answering to no electorate, Moses finally wore out his welcome in the 1960s. Once the full price of his utopian planning was felt by the people who had to live with it, his fall from power and grace was severe and sharp . Maybe Jane Jacobs can’t be credited with his downfall, but she can certainly be said to have given voice to the popular cries against the kind of iron-fisted, car-dependent, modernist-nightmare urban schemes that he forced on the city and from which it suffers as do so many others that followed Moses’ lead to a modernist Promised Land that existed only in his head.
Image: Robert Moses (from this source)
2012/07/05 § 6 Comments
During this month in 1933 participants in the fourth CIAM conference travelled from Marseilles to Athens on the S.S. Patris.
In 1928 Le Corbusier and Sigfried Giedion combined their evil powers and attracted two dozen European modernist architects to form the Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM) with the express intent of ruining the world. Le Corb and Das Zig hypnotized and brainwashed the participants, replacing their abilities as creative individual thinkers with the mind-numbing mantra of Modernism: hygiene is beauty, space is mass, architecture can be made a ‘social art’ by ignoring ‘society,’ and the imposition of absolute formal demands frees architecture from rules it never originally had.
In 1933 they gathered their minions on a boat, making it harder for them to escape. As they floated on the Mediterranean, Corb used his powers of reason to explain his principles of urban planning: decentralization, severe social stratification, functional zoning, brutal buildings, expansive highways, forgotten gardens, demolition of functioning historic cities. His acolytes dutifully recorded his teachings in the document known as the Athens Charter, which was circulated all over the world. Spooky dark clouds followed, and then: urban ‘renewal,’ ‘slum clearance,’ highways, 20-story public housing projects, vast urban plazas, unwalkable cities.
Finally in 1959 the spell of Corb was lifted and the CIAM was disbanded. Slowly, urban planning departments worldwide are coming to their senses. The Muse advises you to take all caution in handling the copies of the Charter that remain in circulation–never enter an architecture library or theory seminar without a basilisk fang at the ready.
Image: Le Corbusier on the Patris II, CIAM IV, 1933 (from this source)
2012/06/02 § Leave a Comment
During this month June in 1853 Georges-Eugène Haussman was inaugurated as prefect for design of Paris.
Haussman (1809-91) seems an unlikely hero of nineteenth-century urban planning, having studied law and music rather than architecture or engineering. But he was well enough prepared, and connected, to become a civil servant under Napoleon III (r. 1852-70) and then appointed to lead the charge to expand, embellish and cleanse Paris (Paris agrandie, Paris embellie, Paris assainie). Before Haussman, Paris was a sprawling medieval city: rickety, dirty, with narrow winding streets–hardly the image of the ville moderne and spectaculaire that Napoleon III was sure his capital was destined to become.
Haussman invented modern Paris by blasting broad boulevards through the knotted neighborhoods, linking major monuments and building up hundreds of sharp townhouses, cafes, shops and entertainment centers. All you need to know about his new Paris is that, in this country where cathedrals, crowded by market stalls, had always marked the center of towns, now the most prominent architectural project was a gigantic new opera house surrounded by department stores.
Haussmann left his fingerprints all over Paris; most of your picture-postcard-perfect Paris trip was created by him. He set the stage for future burnishing of the city’s image with the hosting of great world’s fairs, construction of train stations and the metro, inspiring artists like Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet like few other groups of artist have ever been inspired by a new city. Although the loss of so much medieval Paris (that had survived six or more centuries) is regrettable, at least Haussman got to it first, and did things like this, rather than letting later hooligans get their mitts on it, who wanted to do things like this.
Image: Paris, near l’Opera, ca. 1870 (from this site)