4.241J | Spring 2013 | Graduate

Theory of City Form

Lecture Notes

Lec 20: Form Models II: Open-endedness and Prophecy

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Lecture Summary

The theoretical positions about the form of the modern city were formulated and publicized largely by the international, although mainly European, group of architects known as CIAM. By the time of their tenth and last congress in 1959, the thirty-year-old movement had been challenged by a younger group, known as Team X, on the basic sterility of the CIAM doctrine about the modern city. For Team X the city should not be rigidly sub-divided; what mattered were interaction, flow, movement and connection. The certainties about the future, set forth in the rigid plans of modernism, were false: what had to be embraced was an acceptance of uncertainty and theories and practices which were built on open-endedness and accommodation of change. There could be no universality of city form and the city had to be based on the dynamics of a particular place and the social relations of its people. These dynamics—the word “socioplastics” was invented to explain them—were essential to the life of good cities and involved necessary urban experiences such as simultaneity, multiplicity, and inclusion. Many of these ingredients were attempted in projects projected or built by these architects. The formal elements of these included fully-serviced multiple grids which would allow unpredicted change; connecting elements such as the rue interieure and the “web;” deliberately non-centric layouts; interchangeable modules; and places not given meaning by professionals but by users themselves. So, in the Free University of Berlin building, a micro-city in conception, the architect Woods gives the university community an open grid plan “to make the identifiable features, not the architect… I did not want to create any symbols to begin with… to let people make their own centers as they use the plan.” The trajectory of forms of the new European universities is instructive. The first new universities (Sussex 1961) are traditional campus-like layouts, followed by aggregations of disciplines in the form of building clusters (Essex 1961), linear structures which can expand (Dublin 1963), open grids (Berlin 1963), fully serviced interchangeable modules (Loughborough 1965) and the use of an existing network of places and services rather than new buildings (Potteries Thinkbelt 1966).

The idea that the city is a conjunction of items of different degrees of permanence suggests two related case studies of major ephemeral events in the history of cities. The first are the six international expositions held in Paris from 1855 to 1937, all progressively experimental and built on the same two or three sites in the center of the city, adding over time to the city’s gardens, squares, bridges and boulevards, and leaving it with memorials like the city’s most permanent tower, paradoxically approved by many in the belief that it was to be temporary. The juxtaposition of the temporary and the permanent is celebrated by Giradoux: “Delighted by reaching this cardboard-and-plaster city through the permanent stone-site of Paris… the temporary union of an ephemeral with a millenary one… the most eccentric with the most real.” The 1900 exposition hosted the second of the modern Olympic Games and as the idea of the international exposition has waned, so the temporary visit of the Games every four years has grown in significance. It now serves its host cities as a source of publicity and tourism but it allows the city to make changes which in normal circumstances it would not: new housing types (Seoul 1988), transportation improvements (Tokyo 1980), and adjustments to the Ensanche (Barcelona 1994). Underlying these cases is the idea that not only the space but the time of the city may be adjusted by design.

Referenced Texts

Zafeiriadou, Maria. “In the Quest of an Adaptable Built Form: Studying Transformations in the MIT Campus.” MIT Thesis, 2006.

Perez de Arce, Rodrigo. “Urban Transformations.” Architectural Design 78, no. 4 (1980).

Examples, Precedents, and Works

Torre Velasca (BBPR); Golden Land Competition (Smithson); Park Hill Sheffield; University of Toulouse II – Le Mirail, Champs de Mars, and Champs-Élysées, and Eiffel Tower (France); Chandigarh (Le Corbusier); National Parliament House in Dhaka (Louis Kahn); University of Bochum; University of Zurich Competition; University of Pavia (Giancarlo de Carlo); University of Loughborough; Olympic Games in Athens (1896), Paris (1900); St. Louis (1904), Los Angeles (1932), Berlin (1936), Seoul (1988), Los Angeles (1984); Nuremberg Stadium (Albert Speer); Cape Town (South Africa)

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Spring 2013
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