Large-scale urban renewal is often associated with the radical visions of the avant-garde in the first half of the twentieth century. This association often carries a negative connotation. The wanton demolition involved in projects such as Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin and Hilbersheimer’s Hochhausstadt is a source of criticism.
These proposals were propelled by an optimistic faith in the idea that the world could be designed to order, an aversion towards the stagnating traditional city and – later – the reality of the devastation wrought by the Second World War.
After the war, a fierce debate began to emerge among the protagonists of the Modern Movement. The ideas on the renewal of the modern city advocated by CIAM were critically examined and rejected by a new generation of architects. Team 10 presented itself as the new avant-garde, with a discourse centred on the living environment (the street, the neighbourhood).
Yet the compulsion toward large-scale projects did not wane – only the strategy changed. Team 10 concentrated explicitly on large-scale (expanding) structures laid over the existing city. In these ideas the paradigm of radical renewal was just as prevalent as in Le Corbusier’s and Hilbersheimer’s revolutionary projects. The concept of the megastructure found many adherents beyond Team 10 as well, in the work of Piet Blom, for instance.
Only a handful of these plans ever made it off the drawing board. Jane Jacobs’s books in hand, opponents were soon fighting urban modernization projects tooth and nail. The modernists’ ideal of reshaping society became anathema, so much so that critics were able to dismiss the colossal concrete structures of one project that was built, the Barbican in London, as totally passé by the time it was completed.
A look at the past, however, reveals that large-scale renewal projects are not unique to the Modern Movement. The challenge has been approached in a variety of ways throughout history, including by practitioners of classical urban design. Time and time again designers have attempted to improve cities by imbedding their visions of the ideal city in the existing urban fabric. This resulted in enclaves within the city – with their own structure, arrangement and internal world – that, although they were formulated as critiques, are complements to that city.
A link to historical models of ideal cities can be traced via such precursors as the Groot Begijnhof in Leuven. These models, which now also include the modernists’ urban ideal, remain a source of inspiration for the construction of large-scale projects in the existing city to this day. Recent projects in Amsterdam – from the GWL site to Funen Park – demonstrate that this challenge is not merely very much alive, but in fact seems to be experiencing a boom.
DASH 5 is the product of an investigation into large-scale housing projects in the inner city, both historical and contemporary. Essays by Dirk van den Heuvel and Lara Schrijver examine divergent ideas related to large scales and the city, based on the work of Piet Blom and of Oswald Mathias Ungers, respectively. Elain Harwood analyses the evolution of the notorious Barbican in London, and Christopher Woodward charts the creation, in the same city 200 years previously, of the Adelphi, often cited as an inspiration for the Barbican. In an interview, architect and urban designer Rob Krier expounds on the historical models he uses for his urban renewal projects.
The planning documentation contains a selection of urban enclaves old and new, extensively analysed and documented with drawings and photographs. The focus of the analysis is the urban structure of the enclave itself and the way it connects to the surrounding city.