THE CIAM DISCOURSES ON THE CITY CENTER AND THE AMERICAN NEIGHBORHOOD UNIT THEORY.
A TRANSATLANTIC DIALOGUE, 1937–1951
Coincident with its third post-war conference at Hoddesdon, near London, in 1951, the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) published a book whose point of address and program are summarized in its title: The Heart of the City: Towards the Humanisation of Urban Life. The publication documents the alignment of the Congress’s debates to the social and cultural dimension of the city, and elevates the city center to the most important object of its consideration. The didactic text contributions of the book are devoted to the use of public city spaces, and provide substantial arguments for a re-centralization of urban areas. Although the current discussion of planning theory ascribes great significance to these tendencies within the CIAM, little has been known about their origins until now. The present study of ideas and history of relationships reveals that the concept of the integrative city that was presented by the Congress at the start of the 1950s was not a product of the post-war era. Its origins lay much more in a theoretical development that lasted one-and-a-half decades. This development was motivated more by a constant transatlantic exchange of ideas than by the periodic meetings of the organization that were held in Europe. That the American neighborhood theory served as model for the CIAM’s intention to understand urban planning in the future as planning for the urban community, as „community planning“, and to divide the city hierarchically by a network of main and subsidiary centers, forms the central working hypothesis of this study.
As sources for the purpose of analyzing the influence of the neighborhood idea on the urban theory of CIAM, less use is made of the conference reports, press releases, and publications on behalf of the organization that were already the subject of various studies. Instead, the research concentrates on the evidence that came into existence privately, was therefore not conceived as Congress documentation for posterity, and is mostly not readily classifiable. Here, for the first time, the correspondence of the CIAM protagonists is at the center of the research. Particular emphasis is placed on the general exchange of opinions between representatives of the organization that also took place outside their work for the Congress. This demonstrates that the decisive conceptional approaches for the thought that was being given to the city center were developed in the years between CIAM 5 (1937) and CIAM 6 (1947), and in consequence served as the determining theme in the urban architectural debate of the post-war CIAM until the start of the 1950s. Of particular interest against this background is whether the urban premises of the CIAM of the late 1920s and early 1930s remained recognizable within the work of the individual protagonists during the war, or whether their view of the city significantly changed through their study of the American models.
The work is divided into three steps: First, there is a reconstruction of how the far-reaching considerations of community planning found their way into the work of the individual CIAM representatives. What circumstances enabled the transatlantic dialog, who led it? Second, there is a discussion of whether the models were taken over unchanged, or interpreted according to certain points of view and developed further. Finally, in what form the American models could be included in the joint work of the Congress, and made useful as a planning instrument for the city of the postwar era, is investigated. The three main chapters of the work reconstruct the historical developments only partially chronologically. The strands of activity, which between 1937 and the middle of the 1940s are interpreted in the first chapter as taking place in the American environment, are taken up again and continued for the period up to 1951 in the third chapter, whose centers of activity are predominantly located in Europe. Enclosed within this frame is the second chapter, which for the entire time period of the study considers more deeply the urban architectural deliberations of individual protagonists in Great Britain and overseas and, with its inside perspective, creates an important adjunct to the official activities of the Congress.
Duration: 2004–2008 (finished)