Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Urban Planning/utopian Dreaming: Le Corbusier's Chandigarh Today *. (Essays)

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Urban Planning/utopian Dreaming: Le Corbusier's Chandigarh Today *. (Essays)

Article excerpt

 
   On the day when contemporary society, at present so sick, has become 
   properly aware that only architecture and city planning can provide the 
   exact prescription for its ills, then the time will have come for the great 
   machine to be put in motion and begin its functions.... The house that can 
   be built for modern man (and the city too), a magnificently disciplined 
   machine, can bring back the liberty of the individual--at present crushed 
   out of existence--to each and every member of society. (Le Corbusier, The 
   Radiant City 143) 
 
   The critique of the utopian view of modernism, its imperialistic vision, 
   and the manner in which it has been implemented in our cities and 
   landscapes, has caused many to retreat from any discussion of utopianism. 
   Indeed, the critique of the modernist version of daily life is well 
   deserved as can be seen in the use of Le Corbusier's "Radiant City" as a 
   model for many public housing projects, or Howard's "Garden City" as played 
   out in the needless tracks of suburbs. There is an appropriately critical 
   perspective in the recognition that the imposition of one "man's" utopian 
   vision on a culture results in destructive imperialism. It is 
   understandable that the design fields have largely retreated from an 
   explicitly utopian project, seeking instead to "fit into" what is perceived 
   as the mainstream culture. (Schneekloth 1) 

SINCE THE EARLIEST UTOPIAS, the link between town planning--the arrangement of dwellings and work-places, malls and public spaces--and its impact on the inhabitants of utopia has been crucial; indeed the organisation of space is understood not just as a reflection or symbol of the new ideals, but as a decisive component in the production of the new man or woman, to the extent that some planners thought that planning itself could bring about larger social transformation. As Robert Fishman states in his presentation of the utopian visions of perhaps the three most important such planners--Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier:

 
   Many people dream of a better world; Howard, Wright and Le Corbusier went a 
   step further and planned one. Their social consciences took this rare and 
   remarkable step because they believed that, more than any other goal, their 
   societies needed new kinds of cities. They were deeply fearful of the 
   consequences for civilization if the old cities, with all the social 
   conflicts and miseries they embodied, were allowed to persist. They were 
   also inspired by the prospect that a radical reconstruction of the cities 
   would solve not only the urban crisis of their time, but the social crisis 
   as well. (Fishman 3-4) (1) 

Architectural and social engineering are two interrelated aspects of city planning in the 20th century sense of the term "urbanism", forms of planning which grow directly out of the urban crises of European cities in the early 19th century. (2) Responses to the crisis generated by industrialization can be seen in the critiques of the capitalist city, epitomized in Engels's Situation of the English Working Class (1845), and in the reforms of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, with their models for alternatives. The first of these urban utopias was the "Garden City" of Ebenezer Howard (1902) which revives a familiar utopian dichotomy between urban and anti-urban, between industrial progress and nostalgic visions of the past; or, remembering that Howard was reacting to Looking Backwards, between the visions of Bellamy and Morris, or between those of St. Simon and Fourier; and more generally, between pastoral and urban utopias. (3)

In terms of the technological, planned city, the most influential and visionary architect of the twentieth century was Charles Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965), better known as Le Corbusier, whose early projects played a major role in the emergence of "Modern Architecture" and the "International Style" in the 1920s and 30s. …

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