4.241J | Spring 2013 | Graduate

Theory of City Form

Lecture Notes

Lec 14: 20th Century Realizations: Russian and Great Britain

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Lecture Summary

Two national urban programs of the twentieth century are examined in the light of many of the nineteenth-century ideas and practices of the last seven classes. The British new towns policy set in motion by a newly-elected Labor party in 1946 was implemented for 25 years and then abandoned. In Russia a period of bold proposals for cities after the Revolution lasted for 15 years with relatively few realizations, to be replaced by the orthodoxy of Stalinism and subsequent Soviet practice.

It is arguable that the trajectory from the Garden cities of Howard in the first two decades of the twentieth century to the new towns policy of the forties was a continuum, disrupted only by many wars and an international economic depression. The goals of the government-sponsored new town building program were urban containment, protection of the countryside, the building of strong service centers of high environmental quality, balanced and self-contained. These towns have been allocated into three categories. The first, much like the Howard towns, were for 30,000 people (an ideal figure that goes back to the Greeks), were circular in form with a modest city center and clear zoning of parts around, and followed the architectural paradigm of the 1951 Festival of Britain (Stevenage, Harlow). The second, responding to criticisms of the dullness of the first towns, doubled the town size, increased density, accentuated the form of the center, experimented with linearity and social engineering, and followed the more outspoken imagery of British architectural “brutalism” (Hook, Cumbernauld). The third category of towns continued the trend to increased size, now 100 to 250,000 people, and, responding to a loosening up of town planning regulations and consumer affluence, produced gridded towns, the exact form of which would be achieved over time with the participation of the new residents (Milton Keynes, Washington). It has been suggested that the next generation of towns, like the proposed new town for mid-Wales would have abandoned a form generated by simple geometries. By 1971, 28 new towns had been built and one out of sixty people in England and Scotland lived in them. There have been several criticisms of the new town program, among which their failure to recruit socially balanced populations, but it still represents a unique experiment in twentieth-century city form.

Following the success of the October 1917 revolution, Russian architects and planners, and the many visitors such as Ernst May, saw great hope for a transformed urbanism in the new technological possibilities, the state control of the economy and land, and the emergence of a new class of clients, workers who were not bound by tradition and conservatism. However Russia was suffering from wars with Germany and a civil war, and with 80% of the population rural, famine accelerated rapid immigration to cities. But this did not deter the proliferation of competitions and idealized projects, often opportunities to demonstrate the polemics of the new urban institutes that claimed unique understanding of the new Soviet city. The ASNOVA group, for instance, proclaimed an aesthetic formula that would resolve the conflict between the old aesthetic symbolism and Marxism. In contrast, the OSA group of functionalists believed in a scientific socialism but was split about whether to concentrate or deconcentrate the city. And yet another institute, WOPRA, denounced both. But the boldness of the projects and theories about the modern city remain unrivalled: the many plans for Moscow, for instance, including the Mossovet disurbanist plan of 1919 and the Shirov animated greenbelt plan of 1929. Equally radical are the plans of the three finalists in the Ville Vert competition, particularly that of Melnikov whose town would have included wild animals. One of the ways to keep the visiting workers in close touch with nature, a laboratory of sleep, and a central institute for changing the form of man.


Handout for Lecture 14 (PDF)

  • Page 1: Mossovet and Sakulin plans for Moscow

Referenced Texts

Hamilton, Alan, and Sophie Kirkham. “Too Ugly to Live: The Award-winning Town Begging to be put out of its Misery on TV,” The Times of London, February 21, 2005.

Examples, Precedents, and Works

Plan for London, England (Patrick Abercrombie); Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage, Runcorn, Milton Keynes (England); Cumbernauld (Scotland); capitalist city (Milyutin); plan for Moscow, and Centrosoyuz Building (Le Corbusier); plan for Moscow (Ernst May); La Ville Vert, and linear city (Nikolai Ladovsky); La Ville Vert, and Narkomfin (Moisei Ginzburg); La Ville Vert, and Soviet Pavilion in 1924 (Konstantin Melnikov); Magnitogorsk (Ivan Leonidov); Stalingrad, and Rusakov Workers Club (Russia); Zuyev Club (Ilya Golosov); Leningradskaia Pravada competition

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