Tag Archives: Outlaw Urbanist

FROM THE VAULT | The Ideal Communist City

ideal-communist-city-v2“The physical planning of the new city reflects the harmony and integrated nature of its social structure. A unified planning approach assigns to each element a role in the formation of human environments.”
– The Ideal Communist City

FROM THE VAULT
The Ideal Communist City by Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, and S. Sadovskij (Moscow University), Translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Preface by Giancarlo de Carlo

First written during the 1950s and translated from Italian to English in 1968, The Ideal Communist City (1968) is very much a product of its time. This does not only mean the ideological struggles of the Cold War (Capitalism vs. Communism… SPOILER ALERT! Capitalism won). It also means the symbolic height of propagating and implementing the principles of Modernist architecture and planning around the world. The principles discussed in The Ideal Communist City are merely a reformulation, repackaging and, yes, redistribution of these same ideas found in the new towns model (referred to here as the “New Unit of Settlement or NUS”) of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of To-morrow, housing models of Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM), and Harris and Ullman’s multi-nuclei theory in collusion with Euclidean zoning/modern transportation planning, which conveniently tells us almost any urban function can be randomly inserted almost anywhere in the city as long as ‘incompatible’ land uses are segregated.

New Unit of Settlement (NUS) diagram from The Ideal Communist City
New Unit of Settlement (NUS) diagram from The Ideal Communist City

Of course, the key difference is the authors’ explicitly state the failure of these ideas to “reach their full potential” in Western societies is due to the corrupting influence of capitalism as a political and economic system. This is a conceit that has been badly exposed with time. If anything, capitalism more ruthlessly exploited the economic potentials of Modern ideas by taking them to their logical and, ultimately, extreme conclusion; probably more so than even most devoted CIAM architect ever imagined. The real danger about The Ideal Communist City is that younger readers (Millennials and generations thereafter) without any first-hand experience of the Cold War might make the mistake of thinking they are reading something original and entirely different because it’s wearing Soviet-era clothing. However, it is the same, tired planning paradigm we have been hearing about and (unfortunately) living with over the last 80+ years. To be fair, another key difference in this book is the desire of Soviet-era planners to adopt a model that segregates land uses from one another while still actively promoting manufacturing, mass production, and industrialization. Younger readers might also think this represents a somewhat unique perspective from the point of view of architecture and planning. However, it is really only evidence of Soviet preoccupation – even obsession – with Western societies’ manufacturing prowess at the time. In this sense, Soviet failure to compete with the success of Western capitalistic societies contradicted the ‘means of production’ arguments underpinning Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s The Communist Manifesto and Marx’s Das Capital; that is, direct evidence that communism was a flawed political and economic system based on totalitarianism masquerading as a false ideology

Having said all that, The Ideal Communist City is an important historical document that anyone interested in town planning should probably be exposed at some point, as long as the book is placed within its proper context for readers, especially post-Cold War ones. There are, in fact, relatively few flights of fancy in this book; the most amusing one being the common idea in science fiction that cities will eventually be covered by climate-controlled plastic domes (see Featured Image of this post at the top). The authors’ statistical projections of urban populations are way off, hilariously so. Early in the book, the authors project that 75% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by the year 2000 when it fact we only passed the 50% threshold in the last decade (due to the corrupting influence of capitalism, no doubt). The model of the NUS stretches believability despite the authors’ best – though somewhat halfhearted – efforts to address accommodating population growth during the transition period between one NUS being occupied and the next one being constructed. This is because these Soviet-era planners ultimately have a static view of the city. In hindsight, one might fairly argue the communist NUS model has already been better implemented and realized in cities such as Milton Keynes in England, the Pilot Plan of Brasilia in Brazil, or perhaps even some areas of America Suburbia, despite the problematic nature of such places as extensively discussed elsewhere in the literature. In the end, the Ideal Communist City is perhaps best at asking some interesting questions about cities but the answers provided are all too familiar and depressing to seriously contemplate. As Christopher Alexander famously said, “a city is not a tree.” It seems the same is as true for communist cities as it ever was for capitalistic ones. In the end, human nature is always more pervasive than any political ideology.

ideal-communist-cityThe Ideal Communist City by Alexei Gutnov, A. Baburov, G. Djumenton, S. Kharitonova, I. Lezava, and S. Sadovskij (Moscow University), Translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Preface by Giancarlo de Carlo
Hardback, 166 pages
1968, Boston: George Braziller, Inc.

You can download a PDF of the full book for free here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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Planning Naked | April 2016

Planning-2016-04-image33Planning Naked | April 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

1. What is this? An actual plan on the cover of Planning Magazine! Well, that is promising. However, it would be wise to not hold our breath. Some things in this issue should illicit anger.

2. The first 12 pages are advertisements. I guess it could be worse, see Cosmopolitan or GQ Magazine.

3. “Granny Flats Gaining Ground” by Brian Barth (pp. 16-17) is an important article. You can tell because the editors of Planning Magazine barely contain their disgust by using lukewarm, halting language, especially in comparison to the urgent, positive word choices in the “U.S. Broadband Lags Behind” article on pp. 17. The title of this article should probably be “Granny Flats Recover Stolen Ground.”

4. “‘CEQA in Reverse’ Curtailed” by Ron Bass in the Legal Lessons section (pp. 19) tries to downplay what could prove to be a truly monumental court ruling for future land development in California.

5. “Welcome to Black Rock City” by Dr. Thomas Sullivan (pp. 20-27) tries to conflate the annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada into something it is not by tying the festival layout to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow plan model (see images below). It doesn’t have anything to do with Howard’s Utopian ideals. The festival layout is based on an Ancient Greek amphitheater, which crystallizes what the Burning Man festival is really all about: theater. It doesn’t undercut what is interesting about people participating in the festival, how they conduct themselves or they are managed (they are, it’s buried in Sullivan’s text and reeks of the kind of authoritarianism associated with the political left, see political correctness, safe space, muting opposition, etc.). However, the reality of layout does ably illustrate the fallacy of Sullivan’s argument. Get real, man.

Planning-2016-04-image32

Planning-2016-04-image27

6. “Future Plans” by William Atkinson (pp. 28-31) is a disturbing. There is nothing wrong with the aspirations of the content, e.g. involving young people in the planning process. It is the utter condescension on display in the article. There is not one high school student quoted in the article. As far as I can tell, there is not one Millennial quoted in the article. This is Baby Boomers/GenXers talking about how they are involving youth in the planning process. How magnanimous of you! However, the article does not allow any young person to be heard. Any young person who happens to read the article should be angry. It made me angry. The message could not be clearer: young people are to be involved (check that off the list) but not actually listened to or allowed to be heard.

7. “Flipping the Strip” by Randall Arendt for the Planning Practice section (pp. 32-35) is, by far, the most important article in this month’s issue. Naturally, it is an editorial/layout nightmare as the editors of Planning Magazine almost seem to be going out of their way to undercut the content, which transforms a relatively straightforward, clear, and concise argument into a confusing presentation for the readers to follow. Mr. Arendt should be upset about how his content was butchered by the editors.

8. 2016 National Planning Awards section (pp. 37-48)… Well, let’s see: an award for a comprehensive plan, which is not shown; the most interesting thing shown about Resilient New Orleans is on the cover; photo for Grand Rapids Downtown Market appears to be architecture, not planning; an urban design award for a Landscape Urbanism project in Chicago; and a JAPA award for a climate change article. This entire section only raises a lot of questions about what is the American Planning Association really hiding from us? Then, depression set in…

9. “Use Story Mapping for Better Reports” by Emily Pasi in The Commissioner section (pp. 49-50) was published 20 years too late. “Infrastructure Planning” in Carolyn Thomas in the same section (pp. 51-52) was published 60 years too late.

10. “The ‘Gayborhood’ Solution?” by Cade Hobbick in the Viewpoint section (pp.  60) is a perfect example about how identity politics almost inevitably leads to the wrong conclusion, especially in urban planning. Read the article once as is, then read the article again but generalize the identity politics terminology (so “LGBTQ community” becomes ‘community’, “gayborhood” becomes ‘neighborhood’, “homeless LGBTQ youth” becomes ‘homeless youth’, etc.). This is pretty easy to do for the entire article except for the 7th paragraph, which is specifically about the AIDS crisis during the 1980s/1990s. When you do this, you’ll see Hobbick’s proposed solution (we need to build more community centers, i.e. a public, architectural solution) is not only wrong but he discounts the actual solution. If you generalize the language, then it comes down to this: we do need to build better neighborhoods; identity politics is irrelevant because common problems demand common solutions for everyone (see “Universal Design” in last month’s issue of Planning Magazine).

Note: this month’s cover photo honors the title of this running series, i.e. Planning Naked.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Life, Liberty, Happiness: the need for heroic planning | Blab

CURJCoWWIAAi_Lo.jpg_largeThe Outlaw Urbanist, Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, will participate in online broadcast with Don Kostelec of Kostelec Planning this Monday, November 23, 2015 at 8:00 pm EST titled, “Life, Liberty, Happiness: the need for heroic planning,” hosted by Andy Boreau of Urbanism Speakeasy.

The content is pretty wide open though it will tend to focus on what is wrong with our current development practices. We will be able to answer your questions and, hopefully, have a pretty good debate.

You can subscribe to the broadcast on Blab here.

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FROM THE VAULT | The New Architecture and the Bauhaus

new_architecture_bauhausFROM THE VAULT
The New Architecture and the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius
By Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

The first 97 pages of The New Architecture and the Bauhaus (MIT Press with Foreword by Frank Pick) by Walter Gropius (published in 1965 but mostly written by Gropius earlier in 1923) is a virtuoso essay on the education of the architect in the modern era, which is must-read material for anyone interested about the educating of architects, urban designers and planners in today’s world. As is often the case with Modern architects, Gropius’ arguments begins to fall apart in a rather obvious way, in hindsight, over the last 12 pages when he attempts to extend his theories to the urban level. The less said about these last 12 pages, the better. Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities has already – and better ably – tested the urban ideas of the International Style to destruction.

However, unlike many advocates of the International Style such as Le Corbusier, the writing of Gropius is clear, concise and easily understood in even layman terms; likely this is due to his German upbringing. In this book, Gropius spells out his ideas about architectural education within the context of the International Style’s preoccupation with industrialization and means of mass production. Nominally, these ideas are in reaction against the Beaux Arts academy model of architectural education during the 19th century. However, while spelling out his differences with the Beaux Arts in the promotion of the Bauhaus model, Gropius is also very careful to place the Bauhaus within the same, larger tradition of architectural education. This makes The New Architecture and the Bauhaus a very important book for the contemporary student/educator to better understand how our model of architectural education today also fits and complements the same tradition. This makes The New Architecture and the Bauhaus a richly rewarding read that is also easy to digest. The entire book can be read in one or two sittings.

440px-WalterGropius-1919About Walter Gropius
Walter Gropius, in full Walter Adolph Gropius  (born May 18, 1883, Berlin, Germany and died July 5, 1969, Boston, Massachusetts, USA), was German American architect and educator who, particularly as director of the Bauhaus (1919–28), exerted a major influence on the development of modern architecture. His works, many executed in collaboration with other architects, included the school building and faculty housing at the Bauhaus (1925–26), the Harvard University Graduate Center, and the United State Embassy in Athens, Greece.

new_architecture_bauhausThe New Architecture and the Bauhaus
by Walter Gropius with Foreword by Frank Pick
MIT Press Paperback, 112 pages
March 15, 1965
ISBN-10: 0262570068
ISBN-13: 978-0262570060

You can purchase The New Architecture and the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius from Amazon here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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Dispatches from Dawn in the USA | via the Original Green

Dispatches from Dawn in the USA | via the Original Green
by Steve Mouzon, AIA, December 8, 2014

Steve Mouzon, AIA discusses the influence of Benjamin Franklin within the context of the release of Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners by Mark David Major.

Excerpt:

“Ben Franklin was a Twitter master a quarter-millennium before the medium, as I wrote in the Foreword to Mark Major’s excellent new book Poor Richard, ANOTHER Almanac for Architects and Planners, but Franklin was also more skilled at describing true Original Green sustainability than anyone alive today. What follows are some of my favorite nuggets of Poor Richard wisdom.”

Read the full article here: Dispatches from Dawn in the USA | the Original Green | Steve Mouzon

Download the full article here: Dispatches from Dawn in the USA | the Original Green | Steve Mouzon

PoorRichardv2_FrCoverPoor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 2)
by Mark David Major, Foreword by Steve Mouzon
140 pages with black and white illustrations.

Available in print from Amazon, CreateSpace, and other online retailers.

Available on iBooks from the Apple iTunes Store.

Available on Kindle in the Kindle Store.

For the best digital eBook experience, the author recommends purchasing the iBook version of the book.

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