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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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The hectic social transformations and the rapid in-
crease in urban population in modern times led to a
heightened awareness of the social and economic


problems of the city. There also emerged moral atti-
tudes towards the urban settlement; it was criticized as
a place of vice or hailed as the promise of a radiant
future. Such thoughts and attitudes were expressed, and
modified, in actual town planning.

The Enlightenment conceived of the city as a place
of virtue. Voltaire considered London, the typical
modern city of his time, as the fostering mother of
social freedom and mobility as against the fixed hierar-
chy in rural society. He noticed that even the aristoc-
racy, traditionally connected with land, moved into the
cities, bringing culture to the hitherto uncouth towns-
men. Adam Smith, whose attitude to the city was more
ambivalent than Voltaire's, also defended the city in
relationship to the country. But he did see some of
the moral deficiencies of town life, particularly its
“unnaturalness and dependence.” The nostalgia for
rural life that was to characterize significant parts of
English social thought of the nineteenth century is
already expressed by Adam Smith. In Germany, where
no large cities existed, the radical humanists exalted
the communitarian ideal of the Greek city-state; but
also the medieval town appeared to the early romantics
as a culture-forming agent, and as the seat of virtues
like loyalty, honor, and simplicity. German thinkers
of the early nineteenth century (Schiller, Fichte,
Hölderlin) fused the characteristics of the Greek polis
and the medieval town into the image of a burgher-city
as a model of an ethical community.

In the town planning of the period the ideal of the
“planned” city clearly prevailed, although in actual
fact most cities were not built, or expanded, according
to an overall plan. The emerging science of city plan-
ning was challenged to provide rationally for the
necessities of a progressively more industrialized and
mechanized society. This led to the conception that
the city as a whole is “architecture.” Its spatial rela-
tionships, its organization, and the forms and levels of
activity in it require that a city be “built.”

At a very early stage of the modern period the
visionary architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806)
drew an elaborate plan for a “built” city. A project,
begun in 1773 when he was asked to propose some
improvements in the residential quarters of a small,
salt-producing town, continued all his life and resulted
in the publication of L'Architecture considérée sous le
rapport de l'art, des moeurs, et de la législation
Ledoux planned five volumes, but completed only one.
Filled with enthusiasm for J. J. Rousseau and the hope
for an improved social order, Ledoux envisioned his
ideal city and drew plans for it, thereby boldly com-
bining traditional patterns with original motifs. The
shape of his ideal town is a semicircle, with the factory
at its center and the important buildings on the rings.
He thus anticipated both Ebenezer Howard's “garden
city” and Le Corbusier's cité radieuse. Ledoux's poetic
gifts become particularly evident in his plans for indi-
vidual buildings which, although designed in the form
of simple geometric shapes, are permeated by a per-
sonal, subjective symbolism.

Ledoux's starting point was comparatively modern
(the salt-producing plant of Chaux) but the solutions
he proposed place him within the tradition of utopian
town planning. Like Campanella and other authors of
utopias he emphasized the principle of the “planned
city” and like them he preferred the round form.

The vision of an ideal city continued to exercise its
fascination in the later nineteenth century, but more
attention had now to be paid to problems arising from
economic and technical conditions. One specific type
of “built” city was proposed by Ebenezer Howard
(1850-1928), a London architect who was deeply in-
fluenced by an extended visit to the United States. In
order to counteract the industrial congestion of modern
cities (mainly in England), Howard evolved the con-
cept of the garden city. He published his proposals
in his work Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Reform
(1892), reprinted as Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902).

Howard envisaged a self-contained town of strictly
predetermined size (approximately 35,000 inhabitants)
and plan. A well-balanced proportion between the
urban area and agricultural land is essential. Any in-
crease in population would be met by the creation of
satellites, none nearer than four miles to the original
city. The town plan of the garden city owes much to
Ledoux, and through him to the utopian tradition.
Howard's imagined city is round; factories and houses
are placed on belts of open land to combine town and
country advantages. (In this particular feature Howard
is perhaps preceded by some English and American
industrialists who moved their factories into the coun-
try and established villages around them.) Of particular
interest in Howard's plan is the fact that he paid atten-
tion to, and made provisions for, the specific joys of
urban life. Thus, in a wide glass arcade (significantly
called “Crystal Palace”) near a large park, that kind
of shopping is done “which requires the joy of deliber-
ation and selection.” Howard's garden city allows large
space for nature (not more than one sixth of the general
area should be covered by buildings), but it is a “built”
town, with rigidly prescribed boulevards, distribution
of buildings, etc. Even nature is planned, being funda-
mentally recreation ground. Howard's close relation
to what is known as the “English garden” is obvious.

Town planning in the twentieth century, although
it largely remains on paper, shows the profound
changes in urbanistic thought. Most of the problems
of contemporary town planning were anticipated by


Tony Garnier (1869-1914) in his first project for an
industrial town, designed in 1901-04. In his further
projects and commissions, and in his book Une cité
(1917) he discusses his plans in great detail.
Clearly distinguishing between the different functions
of the city (living, work, leisure, education, traffic),
Garnier undertakes to design a town which will fully
serve the needs of man in an industrial age. A bold
innovator in the use of materials and in the shape of
individual buildings (preferring an ascetic geometry),
he is also highly original in the disposition of the town
as a whole: he separates vehicular and pedestrian
traffic, designs a residential district without enclosed
courtyards but featuring continuous green areas, and
plans a community center that anticipates contem-
porary social centers.

Another architect and town planner who anticipated
the problems and shapes of the modern city, Antonio
Sant' Elia (1880-1916), was sometimes associated with
the Futurists. Sant' Elia was greatly attracted by some
features of North American civilization, particularly
by the romantic aspects of its technical development
and by the progressive expansion of an industrial me-
tropolis. His grandiose project for a Città Nuova was
shown in Milan in 1914. In the catalogue to the exhibi-
tion Sant' Elia published a manifesto on the need of
breaking with the past. The “New City” should corre-
spond to the mentality of men freed from the bonds
of tradition and conventions. In his many drawings a
major theme is the architecture of a metropolis which
is the result of a technological and industrialized soci-
ety. In designing towering buildings with exterior ele-
vators, multi-level road bridges, and imaginary fac-
tories (“monuments of the city of the future”), Sant'
Elia raised these modern forms to the level of symbols.

Garnier and Sant' Elia influenced Le Corbusier. Le
Corbusier's work in urbanism consists of a large
number of articles and books, and an impressive num-
ber of projects for town planning. Only a small part
of these projects has materialized (of particular
importance is the so-called Marseille Block of 1952).
Le Corbusier took a decisive step beyond Garnier and
Sant' Elia. While Garnier still thought of small towns,
limited to 35,000 inhabitants who are all engaged in
industry, and Sant' Elia's visions remained in bare
outline, Le Corbusier planned in detail for a city of
3,000,000 inhabitants. From the outset he steered to-
wards the problems of the “change-over town” (as he
later called it), a metropolis with diverse functions
which must be disentangled.

A significant part of Le Corbusier's theoretical
inquiry into the urban problem is a critical apprecia-
tion of cities of the past, particularly of the recent past,
and of the solutions that have been proposed to this
problem. Without ever allowing himself to be moved
by “local color” or aestheticism, he denounced the
blemishes of modern cities, that is, those aspects of the
city not well enough adapted to their various functions.
He also rejected the utopian ideas of limiting the size
of cities, and contrary to Frank Lloyd Wright, who
advocated the diffusion of urban communities, was
opposed to horizontal spreading of the urban complex.

Le Corbusier's work in urbanism bears the mark of
both rationalism and a philosophical image of man.
His rationalism leads to an analysis of the city's differ-
ent functions, and to an allocation of distinct spaces
to each function. The establishing of an orderly rela-
tionship between traffic lanes, on the one hand, and
living and working zones, on the other, is of primary
importance in this context. A famous result of this
approach is Le Corbusier's famous hierarchy of roads
(the 7 V system), starting with 1 V, an artery carrying
international and inter-urban traffic, and ending with
7 V, a fine capillary system in the zone reserved for
children and schools. The analytical character is
expressed even in small details. “So great is Le Cor-
busier's need for logical organization that, having to
lay out the vast capital of Candigarh, he divides the
vegetation to be used into six categories, each of which
receives a precise function” (F. Choay, p. 16).

Le Corbusier combines the analysis of the city's
functions with a philosophical image of man, for whom
the city is built. Although he emphasizes the specific-
ally modern conditions of urban life (millions of inhab-
itants in one metropolis, the decisive role of traffic)
and proposes specifically modern solutions (the
“Cartesian skyscraper,” the zoning of traffic), he is
deeply indebted to the humanistic tradition. The
thought of the utopians (especially of Charles Fourier)
was of particularly great importance for his work.
This is reflected even in his language: terms such as
“radiant city,” “architecture of happiness” are both
frequent in his writings and characteristic of his ideas
and attitudes.

In his work, both in individual buildings and in town
planning, he tries to achieve an “adaptation to the
human scale”: in individual buildings by applying the
“Modulor” (his own invention of a scale of architec-
tural proportions related to the proportions of the
human body), in the designing of the city as a whole
by assuming an hour of walking as the basic unit of
town planning. In his town planning he emphasizes
the city's center: on a small scale it is a community
center (as in St. Dié, 1945-46), on a monumental scale
it is a capitol (as in Candigarh, the metropolis of
Punjab, begun in 1950). Under Le Corbusier's influence
the “Athens Charter” was published by the interna-
tional architectural organization (CIAM) in 1933, set-


ting out data and requirements connected with the
planning of modern cities under five headings (Dwell-
ings, Recreation, Work, Transportation, Historic

Le Corbusier's work makes it evident that in the
twentieth century, as in former periods, town planning
is not only a highly complex technical task but involves
philosophical ideas and the creation, or application,
of traditional, symbolic forms.