The IFHTP Congresses between the Wars: A Source for Studies on Modern Town Planning

Article excerpt

The IFHTP congresses held between the wars were one of the most important arenas of debate on the construction of the modern city. It was perhaps the first time in history that such a large number of representatives of various cultural spheres had come together from different countries to find concrete solutions to the problems that characterise the city and territory, to present the results of experiences in their different contexts and to define common strategies. This multidisciplinary and international arena is a precious source for studies of modern town planning.

Keywords: International Federation for Housing and Town Planning (IFHTP), town planning between the wars, modern town-planning culture, modern town-planning sources, modern urban design

Studies of the renewal of the architectural and town planning culture of the twentieth century predominantly concentrate on the contribution of the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) held from 1928 to 1959, while it is only recently that they have turned their attention to the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning congresses.1 The International Federation for Housing and Town Planning (IFHTP) was the heir to the International Garden Cities and Town Planning Association - established in 1913 and headed by Ebenezer Howard - and provided a very important focus of debate for the formation of international modern architecture and town planning culture in a period, between the wars, characterised by extensive urban and regional transformation and difficult social, economic and political tensions. In fact the debates at the IFHTP congresses included a number of features - multidisciplinary approach, international character, debate on key themes and issues of modern urban design - that make research within this framework particularly interesting. This paper focuses on these features, underlining the need for a historiographical study of urban design culture in depth: the aim is to explain the IFHTP contribution to modern town planning culture and its impact on urban and regional transformation in the late twentieth century.

Multidisciplinary approach

At the congress held in Vienna in September 1926, the International Federation for Town and Country Planning and Garden Cities (IFTCPGC) agreed to rename itself the IFHTP (IFHTP, 1926). Its existing name, mostly due to the reference to the Garden City, was deemed too restrictive. It identified a particular way of tackling urban and regional design that was inadequate to represent some of the principal players in modern town building. 'The Federation', as its rules approved in 1926 stated, 'is an International Society to promote and coordinate throughout the world the study and practice of housing and of regional, town and country planning and development with a view to securing higher standards of housing, the improvement of towns and cities and a better distribution of the population' (IFHTP, 1926, 184). The Federation initially included 'technical, educational, scientific or propagandist bodies' and 'public bodies and public institutions or International associations' (IFHTP, 1926, 184-85). Though 'individuals elected by the Council' were admitted, the IFHTP did not represent a mere association of experts in architecture and engineering interested in problems and issues related to urban and regional planning. Many figures from outside these fields also played a major role and sometimes even came to define certain proposals which influenced the culture of modern urban design. Public administrators, politicians, civil servants, leaders of associations and cooperatives, economists, jurists and learned men and women with strong backgrounds in institutional education did not merely sit quietly on the benches of the IFHTP alongside those who were traditionally engaged in the design of the city and territory. They enlarged its perspectives, simultaneously enriching and borrowing from the pool of skills, while helping to bring focus to the spectrum of problems, solutions and possible ways in which the urban and rural landscape could be planned. …