Published in DASH #06 - Living in a New Past
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There’s No Such Thing as New!

Change is what the twentieth century was all about. Never before were so many utopias designed, hardly ever were they so radical. And what is more: thanks to the availability of new, rational management techniques, new technologies and – probably more important than anything else – the emergence of political ideologies willing to use them, many of these utopias were actually realized. Ushering in a new era, the twentieth century did not continue history, it broke away from it. Architecture and urbanism, the disciplines that helped to shape the new era, were no exception – rather, the trend to eradicate the past appeared to culminate in them.

If that is so, it would be logical to assume that these disciplines had no use for history; creating tomorrow’s society, they focused on the future, not on the past. No wonder, then, that twentieth-century architecture and urbanism were dominated by modernism, the philosophy that is usually credited for its ambition to transcend tradition and convention. This article questions this standard view, arguing that until the 1940s, history was a key element in both traditionalism and modernism.1

  • This article is based on the forth-coming book on 250 years of urban planning in the Netherlands: C. Wagenaar, Town Planning in the Netherlands since 1800. Responses to Enlighten-ment Ideas and Geopolitical Realities (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2011).

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