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