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A Contemporary City

A Contemporary City

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Published by: noemy_roswitha on Mar 21, 2010
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11/20/2012

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1929 |
Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret)
A Contemporary Cityextrase din
The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning
[
Urbanisme
, fr.][in
The City Reader 
, Richard LeGates, Frederic Stout ed., Routledge,1996]
Editors' introduction
Le Corbusier (1887-1965) was one of the founding fathers of the Modernistmovement and of what has come to be known as the International Style inarchitecture. Painter, architect, city planner, philosopher, author of revolutionarycultural manifestos - Le Corbusier exemplified the energy and efficiency of theMachine Age. His was the bold, nearly mystical rationality of a generation that waseager to accept the scientific spirit of the twentieth century on its own terms and tothrow off all pre-existing ties political, cultural, conceptual with what itconsidered an exhausted, outmoded past.Born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, Le Corbusier grew up in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, noted for its watch-making industry. He took his famouspseudonym after he moved to Paris to pursue a career in art and architecture. Fromthe first, his designs for modern houses - he called them 'machines for living' - werestrikingly original, and many people were shocked by the spare cubist minimalism of his designs. The real shock, however, came in 1922 when Le Corbusier presentedthe public with his plan for "A Contemporary City of Three Million People." Laid out ina rigidly symmetrical grid pattern, the city consisted of neatly spaced rows of identical, strictly geometrical skyscrapers. This was not the city of the future, LeCorbusier insisted, but the city of today. It was to be built on the Right Bank, afterdemolishing several hundred acres of the existing urban fabric of Paris!The "Contemporary City" proposal certainly caught the attention of the public,but it did not win Le Corbusier many actual urban planning commissions. Throughoutthe 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, he sought out potential patrons wherever he couldfind them - the industrial capitalists of the Voisin automobile company, thecommunist rulers of the Soviet Union, and the fascist Vichy government of occupiedFrance - mostly without success. Le Corbusier's real impact came not from cities hedesigned and built himself but from cities that were built by others incorporating theplanning principles that he pioneered. Most notable among these was the notion of "the skyscraper in the park," an idea that is today ubiquitous. Whether in relativelycomplete examples like Brasilia and Chandigarh, India (where new cities were builtfrom scratch), or in partial examples such as the skyscraper parks and the high-risehousing blocks that have been built in cities worldwide, the Le Corbusier vision hastruly transformed the global urban environment.Le Corbusier's "Contemporary City" plan has often been contrasted to FrankLloyd Wright's "Broadacre", and the comparison of a thoroughly centralized versus athoroughly decentralized plan is indeed striking. Le Corbusier's boldness invitescomparison with the original optimism of the post-World War II reconstruction andredevelopment efforts and even with the work of such visionary megastructuralistsas Paolo Soleri. Jane Jacobs may be counted as one of the severest critics andgrassroots opponents of Corbusian city planning principles, and Allan Jacobs andDonald Appleyard's "Urban Design Manifesto" deliberately takes the form of a LeCorbusier pronouncement but rejects his program, opting instean for lively streets,
 
participatory planning, and the integration of old buildings into the new urban fabric.Beneath all the sparkling clarity of Le Corbusier's urban designs are questions thatmust forever remain conjectural: how would democratic politics be practiced in aCorbusian city? What would social relationships be like amid the gleaming towers?
The existing congestion in the centre must be eliminated.
The use of technical analysis and architectural synthesis enabled me to draw up myscheme for a contemporary city of three million inhabitants. The result of my workwas shown in November 1922 at the Salon d' Automne in Paris. It was greeted witha sort of stupor; the shock of surprise caused rage in some quarters and enthusiasmin others. The solution I put forward was a rough one and completelyuncompromising. There were no notes to accompany the plans, and, alas! noteverybody can read a plan. I should have had to be constantly on the spot in orderto reply to the fundamental questions which spring from the very depths of humanfeelings. Such questions are of profound interest and cannot remain unanswered.When at a later date it became necessary that this book should be written, a book inwhich I could formulate the new principles of Town Planning, I resolutely decided
first of all 
to find answers to these fundamental questions. I have used two kinds of argument: first, those essentially human ones which start from the mind or the heartor the physiology of our sensations as a basis; secondly, historical and statisticalarguments. Thus I could keep in touch with what is fundamental and at the sametime be master of the environment in which all this takes place.In this way I hope I shall have been able to help my reader to take a numberof steps by means of which he can reach a sure and certain position. So that when Iunroll my plans I can have the happy assurance that his astonishment will no longerbe stupefaction nor his fears mere panic.[ ... ]
A
 
CONTEMPORARY CITY OF THREE MILLION INHABITANTS
Proceeding in the manner of the investigator in his laboratory, I have avoided allspecial cases, and all that may be accidental, and I have assumed an ideal site to
 
begin with. My object was not to overcome the existing state of things, but
by constructing a theoretically water-tight formula to arrive at the fundamental  principles of modern town planning.
Such fundamental principles, if they aregenuine, can serve as the skeleton of any system of modern town planning; being asit were the rules according to which development will take place. We shall then be ina position to take a special case, no matter what: whether it be Paris, London,Berlin, New York or some small town. Then, as a result of what we have learnt, wecan take control and decide in what direction the forthcoming battle is to be waged.For the desire to rebuild any great city in a modern way is to engage in a formidablebattle. Can you imagine people engaging in a battle without knowing theirobjectives? Yet that is exactly what is happening. The authorities are compelled todo something, so they give the police white sleeves or set them on horseback, theyinvent sound signals and light signals, they propose to put bridges over streets ormoving pavements under the streets; more garden cities are suggested, or it isdecided to suppress the tramways, and so on. And these decisions are reached in asort of frantic haste in order, as it were, to hold a wild beast at bay. That beast is thegreat city. It is infinitely more powerful than all these devices. And it is justbeginning to wake. What will to-morrow bring forth to cope with it?We must have some rule of conduct.We must have fundamental principles for modern town planning.
Site
A level site is the ideal site [for the contemporary city]. In all those places wheretraffic becomes over-intensified the level site gives a chance of a normal solution tothe problem. Where there is less traffic, differences in level matter less.The river flows far away from the city. The river is a kind of liquid railway, agoods station and a sorting house. In a decent house the servants' stairs do not gothrough the drawing room - even if the maid is charming (or if the little boats delightthe loiterer leaning on a bridge).
Population
This consists of the citizens proper; of suburban dwellers; and of those of a mixedkind.(a) Citizens are of the city: chose who work and live in it.(b) Suburban dwellers are those who work in the outer industrial zone and who donot come into the city: they live in garden cities.

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