23 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

As it's Christmas it seems only fitting that I share a few shots of Manchester transformed by snow, as seen from my own perch in New Islington. The first, taken at night on December 15th, shows snow falling, with the faint silhouette of the city centre traceable against the night's sky, the red light of the Arndale sign is one of the few truly recognisable 'landmarks' just left of centre. In the foreground the new snow is falling on the frozen canals and waterways, with the corten lights of Old Mill Street bathing the street in an eerie yellow wash.

Night time snow fall

The second, taken on the morning of December 20th, is over a collection of geese (one short of a gaggle) as they make a rare journey from the canal edge and onto the empty car park adjacent to Chips. There is something rather odd about seeing the local (natural) wildlife wandering amongst the snow streaks of car tyres, a strange mix of the urban and 'natural' environments.


17 December 2010

The Yellow Platform and The Orange Man

The yellow platform and the orange man

Two days ago I looked out of the large floor to ceiling window that takes up roughly half of my living room-cum-office-cum-kitchen's external wall and was shocked to see a cherry picker platform being manoeuvred up the side of one of the burnt out 1960's residential towers that occupy 'New East Manchester.' The tower in question, a 14-storey concrete frame, brick-clad specimen, has had broken windows, fire damaged walls and boarded up lower floors for the duration of the 18 months I have spent living in 'New Islington' and I suspect it has been in this sorry state for a lot longer. (This particular tower marks the end of the Ancoats/New Islington project and the start of Miles Platting). The site of a lone workman, dressed in orange fluorescent clothing - obviously to draw attention to the fact that something is being done - only exasperates the desolate nature of this abandoned object as it looms over the very much inhabited two-storey semi-detached properties below.

Tower blocks of East Manchester

Panning back you begin to see more blocks rising out of "New East" Manchester, many of which are in an equally sorry state of repair. To the extreme left you can just make out the refurbished "Three Towers" (Christabel in this case - interestingly they were all renamed for Pankhursts of suffragette fame), a "Hi-Style" development in the Irk Valley by Urban Splash where the external walkways and balconies have all been enclosed in timber panels. At the extreme right, just out of shot from my window, lies Sport City where the majority of the 2002 Commonwealth Games took place, it is currently awaiting an injection of investment from Abu Dhabi. In between lie areas like Miles Platting and Beswick, where the peripheries appear populated but the inner zones  seem devoid at times of anything except 'green space' and boarded up council houses. The 60's tower blocks rise out from a sea of semis and scattered islands of trees (the view is made 'greener' by the substantial green corridor that is the Irk Valley that extends from the city centre to the city outskirts) that, with the Victorian Mills of even grander scale, form a city silhouette that has changed little in 40 years. It will take a lot more than one orange man and his yellow platform for that to change.

13 December 2010

Piraensi as "Pre-Postmodernist"

Dr Teresa Stoppani, author of Paradigm Islands: Manhattan and Venice, Discourses on the City, gave a series of talks at the University of Manchester and Manchester School of Architecture recently. I was fortunate enough to attend her presentation entitled "Piranesi's Rome: Vague and Viral (And Parasitic)" and have been musing on a number of comments she made during it - that I thought were worth sharing.

Veduta Del Tempio Di Ercole Nella Citta' Di Cora, 1769

In a wide ranging presentation that outlined the life and work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) in two (it should have been three but sadly time was against us) parts - Questions of Architecture and Viral Culture - Dr Stoppani made the observation that, in his drawings, Piranesi was a "Pre-Postmodernist." By this she meant that as an artist his etchings examined existing conditions ("from within") and didn't look to create any form of utopia on a tabula rasa - as a 'Modernist' of the early 20th century would - as opposed to any other postmodern references of wit or ornament. Also evident in Piraensi's work are everyday people and objects, these aren't drawings glorifying architectural objects, instead they examine their implications on contemporary conditions (of the 18th century) - quite a contrast to the 'baby photographs' of buildings published in architectural journals across the globe, devoid of living characters. The affects of time are clearly displayed and exemplified in Piraensi's etchings.

 Urban Chiaroscuro 2: London (after Piranesi) 2007, Emily Allchurch

On a slight aside Dr Stoppani (talking about viral culture and the terrain vague) introduced the audience to the work of Emily Allchurch, an artist who has created a series of digital collages "exploring the social restriction in the modern European city" that mirror the Carceri d'Invenzione (Prisons) of Piranesi - the Urban Chiaroscuro (2007). This fascinating series re-frame these impossible spaces and fill them with contemporary objects from the 21st century - security cameras, traffic signs and bottles of Peroni.

8 December 2010

Review: Soft City

“In those dazed moments at stop lights , its possible to be a stranger to yourself, to be so doubtful as to who you are that you have to check on things like the placards round the news-vendors’ kiosks or the uniforms of the traffic policemen. You’re a balloonist adrift, and you need anchors to tether you down. At moments like this, the city goes soft; it awaits the imprint of an identity.”

Part novel, party social commentary, Jonathan Raban’s 'Soft City', first published in 1974, has become a classic literary account of city life and experience that still resonates 37 years later. Raban describes how, despite living in bustling environments filled with life, people feel alone and disorientated. To Raban the 'Soft City' represents something malleable, an urban landscape that each person shapes into their own personal environment and can then reshape, reform and reinvent as many times as they see fit.

One of the most important observations he makes is about the is a fear of strangers in the urban landscape, not because of factors such as crime rates but the fact that you don’t know who could attack you – in contrast to rural communities were most victims know their assailants. Whilst a city is large enough that you can shrink away on occasions, he argues that the modern day reappropriation of older architectural forms forces us to come into contact with people. For example, in London Georgian townhouses are carved up into flats arranged around stairwells. These stairwells were originally a building’s “lungs” and brought light down in the building, whereas now they “bring strangers into eerie juxtaposition with each other” and “transmit unasked-for intimacies, private sights, private sounds, which fuel suspicion and embarrassment and resentment.” In these situations our mind takes hold and invents stories, putting sounds to faces, and creating fictitious characters based on what little fragmented evidence is available to us.

Despite being written over 30 years ago Soft City still resonates today, perhaps even more so, as over half of the world’s population is now living in cities. The only way that (the majority of) people can survive in this environment is to form connections, no matter how small, and to work with the “unique plasticity, privacy and freedom” that the city affords he argues. A rural environment may transmit an air of safety and intimacy in knowing everyone but it does not afford the mind the luxuries of reinventing ourselves, dropping out of social groups and reappearing as a new person. It is individuality that is offered in cities above all, or at least a perceived ability to rise above the crowd and be something different, but “we need to comprehend the nature of citizenship, to make a serious imaginative assessment of that special relationship between the self and the city; its unique plasticity, its privacy and freedom.”


Raban, J. (1974), Soft City, 1st Edition, London: Picador Publishers

2 December 2010

Review: Invented Edens

Invented Edens (Techno-cities of the Twentieth Century) by Robert H. Kargon and Arthur P. Molella explores the relationship between technological innovation and urban planning in the Twentieth Century. What they describe is not a movement in the traditional sense of architectural or planning terminology but a "phenomenon" that transcended ideological, sociological and geographical boundaries with a number of recurring characters through whom the notions of the 'Techno-city' are learned or transferred. Kargon and Molella define Techno-cities as cities planned and developed in conjunction with large technological or industrial projects, with future aspirations firmly rooted in historical context.. "The Techno-city phenomenon responded to many of the same utopian imperatives as modernism and shared much of the same social agenda but blended modernist elements with what could be interpreted as anti-modernist elements."

Invented Edens (MIT Press, 2008) 

The book explores the Techno-city by plotting it's history through a number of case studies that explore in some depth the implications of various built or partially-realised visions. Ebenezer Howard's (in particular his book Garden Cities of To-morrow), Patrick Geddes and Lewis Mumford are frequently referred to as key proponents of a set of ideals on city organisation that are the underlying themes of Techno-cities. The book starts by examining in depth their various contributions in the field of urban planning. In the following chapters the reader is taken to Communist Russia, New Deal America, Fascist Italy and Germany, with the key underlying issue being the presence of autarchic leadership. In the chapters exploring the later half of the century, post-World War Two, attention returns to Italy, America (where the examination of models of dispersal as a means of defending against nuclear attack is particularly interesting) and newly Venezuela. The final destination, Disney's "Celebration" in Florida, briefly touches upon contemporary issues of imagined versus real experiences before quickly declaring that Techno-city age died in the year 2000 (a slightly disappointing observation that it is surely to early to make). In each of these chapters a series of side-steps are taken exploring places where similar initiatives were taken.

At times the number of places covered and such a diverse range of actors mentioned can become overwhelming (Herbert Rimpl, Vladimir Sermionov, Franco Marinotti, Andrea Olivetti, Oskar Stonorov, James Marshall, Lloyd Rodwin, and Jean-Paul Lacaze - to name but a few) and it can become difficult to follow the individual stories. However, this minor inconvenience does not take away from what is the book's major attraction, the depth of analysis that allows readers to feel like they have fully understood the situation at hand (the book is also well referenced with a substantial notes section to supplement the case studies). In summary, Invented Edens provides a fascinating introduction to the issues of "integrating modern technology into the world of real life" and its consequences on the built form of the cities we inhabit today.


Kargon, R. H. and Molella A. P. (2008), Invented Edens: Techno-Cities of the Twentieth Century, 1st Edition, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press

30 November 2010

Suggestive Proposal: Public Nookie

The nook is not just a waste of space, argue Daisy Froud and Geoff Shearcroft (of AOC) in their 2005 essay 'Suggestive Proposal: Public Nookie'. Taking their research on the nook in domestic architecture as “clearly defined recesses of no prescribed purpose, rather than left-over or in-between space” they say observe that nooks“contrast with and heighten the qualities of adjacent areas.” They put forth an argument for the transplantation of the domestic nook into the public realm so that people can retreat to a more familiarly scaled space. Central to this argument is the belief that “people take pleasure in temporary territorialisation of shared space, from the arrangement of their bodies, to the placement of possessions” - nooks, potentially, would allow this. In these spaces people can gather their thoughts before emerging back into society, the crowd, and reengage with it afresh.

Intimacy is something the crowd offers to society but it is more than often unwanted (as described by Jonathan Raban in Soft City) what the nook offers is a self-intimacy achieved through changes in scale and difference. These spaces are not wide and expansive but small, subjective and open to interpretation, where people can “slot into.” What a nook has the chance of offering is a sense of the familiar in an increasingly disorientating world.

Public space today seems to be preoccupied with controlling the masses, moving them through it and keeping them safe, it no longer gives its' users a reason to stop and look, to think and observe the goings on around them. The spectacle of the city, once championed by movements such as the situationists, is lost. Perhaps a recess in space is what is now needed to reinvigorate the public realm, adding a new layer to it. Of course the chances of this happening in the UK appear slim, any such space would most likely be deemed inappropriate under some guidance such as Secure by Design - large open spaces, with CCTV cameras, are deemed far easily to control.


Froud, D. & Shearcroft, G. (2005), A Suggestive Proposal: Public Nookie, Made, wsa Journal, pp40-1, Issue 2

26 November 2010

Fragment: Notes on Metamodernism

I recently stumbled upon an essay entitled Notes on Metamodernism by two academics from the Netherlands - Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker. The essay proposes a new condition that is neither modern nor postmodern - metamodernism. The essay is part of a wider research project "documenting current developments in politics and aesthetics that can no longer be explained in terms of the postmodern" that grew out of an international conference 'Nu-Romaticisim' at the University of Reading. I am currently interested in theories of post-postmodernism ("What next?") having grown increasingly frustrated (and equally inspired) by a range of texts on the modern vs postmodern city and cultural experience and their relevance to today. I  am currently digesting the entire essay and will be following up a more in-depth analysis in the coming weeks, but in the mean time I thought I would share one particular paragraph that resonated with me.

"CEOs and politicans, architects, and artists alike are formulating anew a narrative of longing structured by and conditioned on a belief ("yes we can", "change we can believe in") that was long repressed, for a possibility (a "better" future) that was long forgotten. Indeed, if simplistically put, the modern outlook vis-a-vis idealism and ideals could be characterized as fanatic and/or naive, and the postmodern mindset as apathetic and/or skeptic, the current generation's attitude - for it is, and very much so, an attitude tied to a generation - can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism."

The idea of pragmatic idealism is one which I think you can see increasingly in projects by Architects globally but increasingly those whose influence/education lies in the so called 'Super Dutch'. I am reminded of The Why Factory's Visionary Cities with it's very 'modern' "Calling all visionaries!" - seeking utopian ideals that are visionary but remain weighted in the issues of the everyday.

Yes Is More. An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution by BIG (Taschen 2009)
In Yes Is More, Danish practice Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) set out a manifesto that shares many similarities with the description Vermeulen and van den Akker use for the current metamodern climate.

"Historically the field of architecture has been dominated by two opposing extremes. One one side an avant-garde of wild ideas, often so detached from reality that they fail to become something other than eccentric curiosities. On the other side there are well organized consultants that build predictable and boring boxes of high standard. Architecture seems entrenched between two equally unfertile fronts: either naively utopian or petrifyingly pragmatic. Rather than choosing one over the other, BIG operates in the fertile overlap between the two opposites. A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective."

The emergent of pragmatic utopian/ideal approaches in Architecture has the potential to reinvigorate a profession and perhaps provide the toolkit for a healing process. Where this sits in the wider framework of a globalised consumer-as-producer society though seems to need more questioning.


Vermeulen, T. and van den Akker, R. (2010), Notes on Metamodernism, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Vol. 2
Maas, W., Sverdlov A. and Waugh, E. (Editors) (2009), Visionary Cities (The Why Factory), 1st Edition, Amsterdam: NAi Publishers
Ingels, B. (2009), Yes Is More. An Archicomic on Architecture Evolution (Bjarke Ingels Group), 1st Edition, Koln: Evergreen

19 November 2010

Modern Terrace Housing (1946 Research Proposal)

In 1946 a paper examining ‘Modern Terrace Houses’ was released - complied as research by Arthur Trystan Edwards on behalf of the Chadwick Trust, its purpose was “to investigate the question of the maximum ‘density’ per acre for small houses with gardens suitable especially for the intermediate and outer zones of large towns, having regard to the amenities essential to a comprehensive town planning arrangement.” (Edwards 1946) In the paper Edwards puts forth a series of possible terrace housing types and master plans for built-up areas in large towns, rather than large blocks of tenements – as was being proposed at the time and championed by the Modern movement.

Perspective of Terraces facing onto Public Space.

Edwards (1884-1973) was a Welsh Architect and Town Planner who's interest in architecture and civic design, following a 12-year interlude in the Navy, work for the Ministry of Health in the 1920s - the departments responsibilities included at this time, housing - where he became associated with Sir Raymond Unwin. His 1924 book, Good and Bad Manners in Architecture, urged architects to respect the context in which they were designing. His 1946 research into the density of houses in large towns was met with wide spread criticism upon its publication, commentators of the time arguing that the densities he proposed we too high.

Proposed master plan of 200 people per acre.

The terrace house had become associated with slums (most notoriously the ‘back-to-back’ houses) but Edwards pointed out that it was “unfortunate that the protagonists of ‘open development’ had consistently ignored the earlier and more reputable examples of the terrace house.” (Edwards 1946) He draws his inspiration from the larger terraces of the Georgian-period and focuses the arrangements around large public spaces. His proposal for a permeable street network was just the sort that would be championed two decades later by Jane Jacobs in Death and Life of Great American Cities, whilst the arrangement of housings around public squares echoes that of the modern day new urbanists. Furthermore, Edwards argues for a mixture of one, two and three storey developments and of no greater in height, so as to not detract from the importance of local civic buildings which surely has it's origins in the Garden City movement of Ebenezer Howard.

Proposed section through Terraces, with second storey balconies.

The Terrace House as a typological solution to creating urban living at higher densities has, over the past two-five years, received generous press coverage and has to been seen to be undergoing somewhat of a 'renaissance.' Studies like those of Edwards reaffirm that these are not new ideas and how cyclical the 'fashion' tastes of architects, planners and urban designers are.


Modern Terrace Houses: Researches on High Density Development, A. Trystan Edwards, 1946

10 November 2010

Beyond Beyond Building, Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

At this years Venice Architecture Biennale a series of talks called Architecture Saturdays have been held where directors of past Biennale have been invited back to hold "conversations" in front of a live audience. On Saturday 31st October Aaron Betsky, curator of the 2008 Biennale 'Out There: Beyond Building' took part in a panel discussion with Wolf Prix (Coop Himmelb(l)au), Winny Maas (MVRDV) and Hani Rashid (Asymptote Architecture) entitled 'Beyond Beyond Building.'

Left to Right: Winny Maas, Aaron Betsky, Hani Rashid, Wolf Prix

In his opening address Betsky, speaking to the large audience in the Teatro alle Tese, summed up the 2008 Biennale (which I must admit I did not attend) as a response to how "... buildings were no longer adequate to achieve the effects, the realisation, the ways in which we could critically experience our world of which they, if they have ever been capable of, were no longer today." During this prologue to proceedings he also attacked the 2010 Biennale, questing why Kazuyo Sejima (SANAA) had been selected to direct the Biennale (thoughts echoed in a recent Review in Icon Magazine). The tone set was one of questioning the relevance of the material exhibited this year and how exactly it demonstrated the title 'People Meet in Architecture.'

Following the introduction, each of the three contributors were invited to give a brief presentation on what they had been working on the in the two years since Beyond Building (hence the title Beyond Beyond). As is often the case when Architects are given a captive audience to speak to the presentations were not brief but this does not mean that they were anything less than lively, interesting and highly informative.

Rashid gave a whistle stop tour of the practice's work starting with the installations designed for the 2008 Biennale and ending on the Yas Marina Hotel, scene to the closing race of the 2010 Formula One World Championship. The work shown reflected the practice's rapid evolution from the experimental to large-scale built projects, all of which employ the technique of 'digital sketching.'

Yas Marina Hotel, Asymptote Architecture

Maas gave a self assured presentation in which he focused on his new venture - The Why Factory. Racing through two projects to have been published by the Think Tank that has grown out of the prolific practice MVRDV and a collaboration with Delft University of Technology - Visionary Cities and Green Dream. Maas called for an end to the suffix 'Re' to words so that "instead of (re)generation there is only generation ... no more (re)thinking, simply thinking."

Visionary Cities by The Why Factory
Prix touched lightly upon several projects during his segment, lingering longest on the Mini Opera Pavilion recently built in Munich, however it was his analysis of what exactly Beyond Beyond Building meant that was most memorable. He began by saying how he found the term very negative until he thought how a "minus and minus gives plus so that means its positive." Prix felt we should "think that beyond beyond is not the end of architecture, maybe its the start of a new one" and explained how he doesn't "look for the next because looking for next and next and next reminds [him] of a wheel which is spinning so fast that it looks [like] its still standing. We should be aware that still stand is death. Only going forward means life."

The panel discussion that followed was really a series of questions posed to each individual architect by Betsky as a response to the earlier presentations. There was however one lively debate where Betsky attempted to define each of the Architects in a 'modernist' box placing them in either Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe camps which sparked off discussions as to whether or not these two alone summed up architectural styles of the past century. Ultimately it was hard to find a common thread running throughout the event that constituted something that was Beyond Beyond Building.

If the 2008 Biennale had been a reflection of the excesses of the past decade, with the growth in iconic buildings and the fantasising of a future based on far different economic circumstances that we find ourselves today, then the 2010 Biennale reflects the present or the very near past - neither of which are Beyond Beyond. For something to be 'Beyond Beyond Building' today needs to reflect the current conditions (socially, economically, etc) that the present world inhabits, perhaps a middle ground between the two Biennale's would represent the ideal - visionary and progressive but rooted in the 'real' and achievable.

30 October 2010

Review: Garden Cities of To-morrow

Perhaps one of the most influential books in the field of urban planning in the past 150 years, Garden Cities of To-morrow was the second edition title (1902) of Ebenezer Howard’s book To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Reform (1898). Within its pages Howard put forth designs for a “social city” that attempted to bridge between the individualist (capitalist) system of the time and the ideals of socialism that were gaining political impetus, with Trade Unions, Co-operatives and ideas of communal land protection (central to Howard’s argument).

Dreamt up during a time when countries were beginning to urbanize (15% of the world’s population were urban, a rapidly growing figure), there were squalid living and working environments and the working class were unable to afford a decent home. Howard’s response was just one of numerous utopian visions that spoke of a better future, with the key difference being that he aimed to produce a scheme that was both realistic and achievable.

1902 Cover

The model of a “Garden City” set out in the first chapter of the book is ultimately the greatest legacy of the book, rightly or wrongly, with the subsequent formation of the Garden City Association in 1899 (that 42 years later would become the Town and Country Planning Association) leading to the “Garden City Movement.” The construction of two garden cities – at Letchworth (1903) and Welwyn (1919) – would act as further catalysts for change, that culminated, but was not way limited to, the post-Second World War New Towns Act.

Ebenezer Howard

Born the son of a shopkeeper in the City of London, on the 29th of January 1850, Howard, after schooling, took on a number of clerical posts. In 1871, aged 21, he emigrated to the ‘frontier country’ of America to become a farmer. This would prove unsuccessful and he subsequently spent four years living in Chicago, witnessing its’ rebuilding following the great fire. It was during this time he began to contemplate ways to improve cities. He eventually returned to London, in 1876, to a job producing the official verbatim record of Parliament. This would become the primary occupation for the rest of his life and meant he was constantly exposed to the political elite of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Howard began to move in certain social circles, originally through various religious groups, that saw him become involved in late-19th century English social reformism, without ever entering into the socialist mainstream. His political ideologies were more closely aligned to that of the co-operative movement, as opposed to trade union movement.

In addition to these socialist ideologies Howard was heavily influenced by the utopian visions of Edward Bellamy and his publication Looking Backway (1888). According to the ‘great admirer’ of Howard, Frederick J. Osborn, “under the impact of the book the conception of an ideal town came to him as essentially a socialist community.” Howard, in the book itself, highlights three major influences: the proposals for an organized migratory movement of population by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Professor Alfred Marshall; the system of land tenure proposed by Thos. Spence; and the model city of James Buckingham. The ideas put forth in To-morrow were a synthesis of his personal experiences and the works of others.

The Evil of the City

“We are becoming a land of great cities. Villages are stationary or receding; cities are enormously increasing. And if it be true that the great cities tend more and more to become the graves of the physique of our race, can we wonder at it when we see the houses so foul, so squalid, so ill-drained, so vitiated by neglect and dirt?”
Dean Fararr

It is important to understand the context to which Howard’s work was a reaction. London (and other cities) in the 19th century were in the throws of industrialization, and the cities were exerting massive forces on the labour markets of the time. Massive immigration from the countryside to the cities was taking place with London compared to “a tumour, an elephantiasis sucking into a gorged system[s] half the life and blood and the bone of the rural districts” (Lord Rosebery). This situation was unsustainable and political commentators of all parties sought “how best to provide the proper antidote against the greatest danger of modern existence” (St. Jame’s Gazette, 1892) – the importance of the Boer Wall call up and the realization that the health of the English fighting man had greatly deteriorated can not be forgotten either.

The Three Magnets

Three Magnets Diagram

To Howard the cure was simple – to reintegrate people with the countryside. In trying to understand and represent the attraction of the city he compared each city to a magnet, with individuals represented as needles drawn to the city. He set about comparing the ‘town and country magnets’ but decided that neither were suitable attractors for his utopian vision. Instead he believed that “Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together” – his solution “the two magnets must be made one.”

The Town-Country Magnet

Building on the principles of the Three Magnets, Howard begins to establish a hypothetical scenario for the testing of his proposals for social reform. To do this the reader is asked to imagine a 6,000-acre estate, purchased for £240,000 and vested in trust to four honourable gentlemen. The Garden City itself was to cover 1,000 acres and be home to 30,000 people. Taking a circular form the city would be divided into six equal Wards, by six main Boulevards (named for pioneers of Human thought) that radiated from a central garden. Around the centre garden would be placed the civic institutions (Town Hall, Library, etc) and then a ‘Central Park,’ which in turn is enclosed by a ‘Crystal Palace’ – an arcade of indoor shops and winter garden. A series of concentric ringed tree-lined Avenues provide the major streets for houses, with a ‘Grand Avenue’ 420-feet wide that is both a 3-mile continuous public park and home to schools and churches. At the edge of the city Howard placed the ‘heavy’ industry of factories and warehouses, with direct access to a Municipal railway that aimed to alleviate pressure on the cities street network and connect the Garden City to the rest of the nation. Surrounding the city the remaining 5,000 acres are a designated Agricultural Belt, home to 2,000 people, with cow pastures, farmland and welfare services including an asylum.

Garden City and Rural Belt

Despite being incredibly descriptive in his proposal Howard repeats on a number of occasions that the design and ideas on planning he puts forth should not be taken verbatim, instead any design should be entirely dependent on the context. The principles, which Howard wanted to emphasise, were not morphological – with the exception of an agricultural belt to limit city growth and concentrate social life within the city (Robert Fishman) – but sociological.

Revenue and Expenditure

Central to Howard’s argument was that the Garden City could operate economically and allow the community to have ownership of the land. He goes to great lengths to demonstrate how the revenue derived simply from rents could be used to:
- Pay the interest with which the estate was purchased (providing a 4% return for the initial investors
- Provide a sinking fund for the purpose of paying off the principal
- Construct and maintain all the works typically undertaken by municipalities (including a detailed breakdown of associated costs)
- Provide a large surplus for other purposes including old age pensions, medical services and insurance

Economic Breakdown of Howard's Proposal


In dealing with the administration of the Garden City the first question to be dealt with is the extent to which municipal enterprise is carried out and to what extent it should supersede private enterprise. Howard does not advocate the complete municipalisation of industry or the elimination of private enterprise, instead he proposes a cautious and limited municipality that doesn’t attempt “too much.” The activities are to be closely related to the rate-rent of the tenants and would “grow in proportion as municipal work is done efficiently and honestly.”

With this in mind the structure of the municipality and its administration is proposed with a Board of Management composed of The Central Council and The Departments (Public Control, Engineering, Social and Education).

A Welfare Municipality

The Garden City proposal could be read as being in a state of tension between individual and social ideals. This is particularly evident in the explanation of how to create local choice, in terms of goods and services available to citizens, is made by heavily regulated private enterprise. Instead of “an absurd multiplication of shops” providing the same service – a single shop is allowed with the threat of competition (if the community feels the shop keeper is keeping prices to high, paying insufficient wages to his employees, etc) designed to keep prices low and service high. These local tradesmen are in essence municipal servants in all but title; not being bound in what Howard calls the “red tape of officialism.”

Howard hopes that, as opposed to other socialist (including communist) reform experiments of the day, that his proposal would appeal to not only individuals but to co-operators, manufacturers, philanthropic societies, and others experienced in organisation.

City Growth

City Growth Model

Assuming the Garden City model was implemented and found to be successful Howard begins to describe how the City could grow and become part of an integrated network of Garden Cities. The principle of “always preserving a belt of country” around cities should always be maintained, argues Howard, so once a city has reached capacity a new one must be founded outside the agricultural belt (the influence of colonial-models prominent). The off-shoot city would grow organically, a ward at a time. Eventually a central city (of perhaps 58,000 inhabitants) would be surrounded by a number of smaller off-shoot cities, connected by railroad and canal infrastructure.

Dystopian London

Howard ultimately turns his attention back to London, as an example of the “largest and most unwieldy” of 19th century cities, predicting that Garden Cities had the potential to dramatically change London: reducing population, clearing sums and ultimately turning it into a Garden City.

“The time for the complete reconstruction of London – which will eventually take place on a far more comprehensive scale than that now exhibited in Paris, Berlin, Glasgow, Birmingham or Vienna – has however, not yet come. A simpler problem must first be solved. One small Garden City must be built as a working model…”

These predictions are the most utopian of the book and perhaps would have come to fruition if not for a number of external factors that Howard either couldn’t have foreseen or failed to realise the importance of – notably the rise of the automobile.

Legacy of Howard and the Garden City

When To-morrow was first published the world was very different to the media-rich urban environment we currently inhabit. Despite this Ebenezer Howard is still regarded as one of the most important figures in the international development of urban planning. His simple diagrams of the model city have been taken up and reinterpreted a hundred times over across the globe but Howard’s most cherished ideas of social reform had very little impact – his social reformist message was lost.

“Very quickly, the Garden City came to be understood in a more limited sense, as an urban planning model to reform the spatial arrangement of social and economic life. It is through this understanding that Howard’s legacy has largely been experienced.” (Stephen V. Ward).

He set in motion new ideas about hierarchy of services within the city, the essential components of community, being planned with clear zoning principles. Whilst the ideas about hierarchy and zoning were not original in themselves, it was the holistic approach that Howard adopted that helped lend them legitimacy. The idea of the agricultural belt, the ‘bounded’ city, is directly responsible for policies of ‘Green Belt’ in the UK (and other parts of the world) that has since evolved and changed but essentially remains about constricting and controlling urban growth.

Expanse of Green Belt and Metropolitan Areas in the North West of the UK (circa 2000)

Additionally, the debate about the future of American Cities in the 1950s, with the infamous arguments between Jacobs and Mumford, can be traced back to the Garden City Movement. It will forever be associated with the ideas of suburbia and, increasingly, new urbanism.

If there was one enduring legacy though, beyond the physical make-up of the city, it is the importance Howard gave to creating a sense of community and harbouring relationships between human beings, enhancing them through good planning and design that promoted sociability.


This review was written originally for the Manchester School of Architecture and can be found online here. Eamonn Canniffe, who leads the MA Architecture + Urbanism course at Manchester, acted as editor to the final review material.

The following sources have been used in compiling the research for the analysis set forth in this micro-site and would provide a useful resource for anyone wishing to undertake any further reading on the subjects discussed.

Howard, E. (1902), Garden Cities of To-morrow, 2nd Edition, London: S. Sonnenschein & Co. Ltd
Macfadyen, D. (1970), Sir Ebenezer Howard and The Town Planning Movement, 2nd Edition, Manchester: University of Manchester Press
Beevers, R. (1988), The Garden City Utopia A Critical Biography of Ebenezer Howard, London: The Macmillian Press Ltd
Parons, K. C. and Schuyler, D. (Editors) (2002), From Garden City to Green City to Green City: The Legacy of Ebenezer Howard, Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press
Mallgrave, F. and Contandriopulos, C. (2008), Architectural Theory Volume II An Anthology from 1871 - 2005, London: Blackwell Publishing
Hardy, D. (1999), 1889-1999 Tomorrow & Tomorrow: The TCPA's First Hundreds Years, and the next ..., London: TCPA
Internet Archive (No Date), Garden Cities of Tomorrow 1902 [Online] [first accessed 17th October 2010]
Letchworth Garden City | The world's first Garden City (No Date), Home Page [Online] [first accessed 16th October 2010]
First Garden City Heritage Museum (No Date), Home Page [Online] [first accessed 16th October 2010]
Welwyn Garden Heritage Trust (No Date), Home Page [Online] [first accessed 16th October 2010]
Town and Country Planning Association (No Date), Home Page [Online] [first accessed 16th October 2010]
Wikipedia (No Date), Garden City Movement [Online] [first accessed 16th October 2010]
Wikipedia (No Date), Ebenezer Howard [Online] [first accessed 16th October 2010]

Garden City Microsite.

29 October 2010

Post v1.03

This isn't really the first post, for the past year I have struggled with what exactly I would use a blog for and so have started numerous posts - a small number of which did make it into the "Blogosphere"   - this will probably be the third incarnation of 'A Start' to make it online. Before, without a clear direction in mind I was unsure what to write. Now though I think I have finally solved my conundrum. This blog is not for anyone specifically, it won't deal with any particular themes, issues or topics. Instead it will act as a test bed for my own writing, giving me a platform to put my ideas "out there." If no one reads it that's fine by me. If someone stumbles across it and finds it interesting then great. So before this gets to long I think it's time to start writing.