27 February 2009

‘Traffic in town’

The automobile has been the major tool for our cities' shape since the beginning of the 20th century. But it’s mainly in the 50’s that cities changed to be adapted to the car and it’s infrastructures. Most of government, despite some adverts from professionals and intellectuals, encouraged the use of the car by systematically increasing the infrastructures to follow the rapidly growing fleet of cars. Los Angeles is the perfect example of a city exclusively shaped for cars with it freeways, boulevard and parking lots covering half of the land, where people have to drive a long way to go from a place to another.
In Britain during the 50’s (the second country for cars after U.S.), the transport minister undertakes a study of urban traffic problems. The report ‘Traffic in town’ published in 1963 by Colin Buchanan, a British planner, become quickly famous in the world. ‘His efforts to limit the penetration of the car into cities made him known as one of the most prominent car critics’ advise Brian Ladd (Autophobia).
But Buchanan was not against cars; he was more for reconciliation between cars and city life through careful city planning. He thought that it was necessary to hierarchies the distribution roads in the city, following the ‘Chartres d’Athenes’. He was explaining that the circulation function must be independent than the access function.
Buchanan’s ideas were following the Modernists as Le Corbusier with his research on urban dynamism linked with automobile dynamism;' the architectural shape generated by infrastructure'. In reaction to the over functionalism of the ‘Chartres d’Athenes’, The Smithson (Team X) works more on conciliation between infrastructure and neighbourhood scales. They called it ‘Cluster cities’. Their schemes on urban slab were the prototypes of the Barbican in London or La Defense in Paris.(Clic to enlarge)

A & P Smithson, Cluster City, 1957
A & P Smithson, Grid CIAM 10, 1956."Hand sketch explaining the houses repartition in a Yorkshire's village

(Clic to enlarge)

A & P Smithson, Haupstadt Berlin, 1957. "Bird eyes view" (drawing by P.Sigmond)

But quickly, those ideas were badly reused and interpreted by governments. As David Mangin says ‘ the urbanism of sectors has quickly replaced the urbanism of guidelines. The mobility as a winner on physical geography.’
The urban roads have mutated and the street has been dissolved.

(Clic to enlarge)

Argenteuil (95, France) Val d'Argent Nord , Urban slab surrounding by 8000 flats. built from 1965 to 1976. Is a the moment under a regeneration scheme.

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