Category: 2/9/2010
2.9.10 Reading Notes
| February 16, 2010 | 2:48 pm | 2/9/2010 | Comments closed

City planning has proven to be a vital part of the efficiency of urban spaces. Many individuals, including architects, professors, and historians, have explored how a city should be organized. Following the widespread acceptance of automobiles and telecommunications, influential minds, such as Lewis Mumford, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Kevin Lynch, all expressed their ideas of how the modern city should evolve. Within the selected texts, each author asserts a definition of city with a desire to guide their future shape.

In “What is a City?’ by Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), Mumford defines cities through an analogy to the performance arts: “the city is above all else a theater of social action.” He describes the need for planning to effectively account for a city’s relationship to the national environment and to the spiritual values of the communities within it, more so than the physical designs and economic functions. He spoke to the ever-changing, multi-dimensional personality of urban residents and how they have transcended “traditional” displays of societal norms. Planners need to recognize the social nucleus of cities as the inter-relationship of schools, theaters, community centers and the like, because those are what lay the outlines of an integrated city. Mumford suggested limitations on population, density and urban growth to promote efficiency; he championed Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City ideal with his work on poly-nucleated cities.

Le Corbusier, born Chales-Eduouard Jeanneret (1887-1965) in a small Swiss town known for its watch making. He became an architect and brought his revolutionary ideas to Paris, where his spare cubist minimalism and focus on efficiency shaped the modernist movement, eventually earning his own distinct architectural style, the International Style. Corbusier promoted elitist values, in favor of a rigid class structure, and even went as far to present destroying Paris to rebuild it. He describes cities as having separate regions for varying purposes, with “lungs” of open green space surrounding each. He felt that cities should grow vertically and that there should be complex roadways separated from pedestrian traffic to promote efficient transport between the regions.

In contrast to Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was the architectural embodiment of the American spirit and democracy. According to many, for more than half a century he was the only choice for the greatest American architect of all time. Wright built in a way that expressed the “nature of the materials” and was the spokesman for “organic architecture” seen in the wondrous Guggenheim Museum. His Broadacre City vision had ties to Emersonian and Jeffersonian virtues, and called for a radical transformation of America. He wished to give every US citizen at least 1 acre of land so that the family homestead would become the basis of civilization. In this way the Federal Government would be no more than an architect of land allotment and for the construction of public facilities. Wright felt this would end class struggle and would help society become more self-sufficient. He felt this was of the utmost importance as he predicted that the automobile and the telephone would soon kill the modern cities.

Kevin Lynch (1918-1994) was a professor of urban studies and design at MIT. His work The Image of the City, made use of many principles of the social sciences, such as psychology, as well as the work of his former teacher, Frank Lloyd Wright. Lynch realized that certain areas of cities were more “legible” than others and were thus more useful. He sought to understand and explain the basis of cities and what attributes to their recognition, so that he could find the best way to plan for urban inhabitants. After interviewing and studying in cities across the US, such as Boston, L.A. and Jersey City, Lynch was able to identify five elements that all cities need into order to be useful and efficient, elements that should be planned into all cities. Those elements were: paths, edges, nodes, landmarks and districts. While each of the elements can take different shapes and forms, he maintained that attractive cities were not just orderly and well-organized, they must also be vivid and varied with texture and unique visual stimuli.

What’s in a City?
| February 16, 2010 | 12:37 am | 2/9/2010 | Comments closed

“What is a city?” by Lewis Mumford, “A Contemporary City” by Le Corbusier, “Broadacre City: A New Community Plan” by Frank Lloyd Wright, and “The City Image and its Elements” by Kevin Lynch all had a futuristic feel to the writing. While the first selection strived to put a city into meaningful words, the next two readings explored what a city could or should be – presenting specific visions, and the last one offered technicalities of a city.  

Usually when one thinks of a city, a cluster of buildings comes to mind but Mumford expels this misconception and presents a unique description, “a city is a geographic plexus, an economic organization, an institutional process, a theatre of social action, and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity.” This definition covers the city on many levels such as geographic, economic, and social. Another characteristic that comes to mind when thinking of a city is overpopulation. To deal with this problem, Le Corbusier presents his seemingly contradictory but logical vision which is to augment the density of people yet have open spaces. Although I am not sure how this is possible, I did like his idea of separating traffic since “a city made for speed is made for success.” 

Author Kevin Lynch made an interesting point about making sense of a city through its landmarks. Come to think of it, so many times when we decide to meet up with a friend, we specify the location in relation to a landmark. “Let’s meet up by the clock in Union Square!” might be one of the many phrases you used or have heard of before. In general, these four readings gave a nice overview and set the tone of future material!

Test post
| February 9, 2010 | 4:32 pm | 2/9/2010 | Comments closed


another test
| February 9, 2010 | 4:20 pm | 2/9/2010 | Comments closed

another summary

| February 9, 2010 | 4:15 pm | 2/9/2010 | Comments closed

This is a test post