Exhibitions and the Development of Modern Planning Culture

By Silva, Carlos Nunes | The Town Planning Review, March 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Exhibitions and the Development of Modern Planning Culture


Silva, Carlos Nunes, The Town Planning Review


Exhibitions and the Development of Modern Planning Culture, Robert Freestone and Marco Amati (eds), Farnham, Ashgate, 2014, 303 pp., £65.00, ISBN 978-1-4094-5459-5

The book edited by Robert Freestone and Marco Amati comprises a coherent collection of seventeen essays on planning exhibitions that have taken place since the mid-nineteenth century, and a useful introductory chapter, making it a fairly complete volume dedicated exclusively to planning exhibitions. This genre of public and highly visual events played a major role in the dissemination of planning ideas, concepts, methods and practical examples. As the nineteen authors that contribute to this valuable book explain, planning exhibitions provided the opportunity to show the development of modern urban planning and design and through that played a major role in the transnational flow of planning ideas. The list of planning exhibitions examined in the book includes a wide variety of initiatives, from international exhibitions, touring and permanent examples, and multi-year, thematic and place-specific events.

The book is organised in a more or less chronological sequence and chapters are structured in four main groups. The first group includes four chapters that deal with the initial exhibitions, from the mid-nineteenth century up to the 1910s. Helen Meller addresses the initial period of modern planning, from the mid-nineteenth century, when the first international 'planning' exhibition took place in London in 1951, up to the start of the First World War. She shows the importance visual representations had on the formation and codification of planning ideas, in particular the town planning exhibitions held between 1909 and 1913. This is followed by Joseph Heathcott's analysis of the role these exhibitions played in the promotion of an immediately more utilitarian perspective of planning, as with the case of the 'model street' in the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis. This first section includes two more chapters, one by Christiane Crasemann Collins dealing with the repercussions in Latin America of the 1910 Berlin's Universal City Planning Exhibition, in particular in Chile and in Argentina; and the second by Caroline Miller focuses on the first New Zealand town planning exhibition, held in 1919, highlighting the importance of local constraints in the diffusion and adoption of planning ideas forged elsewhere, notably in Europe.

The second group has three chapters and deals with the 1930s and 1940s, the period in which modern urbanism made its way, later becoming the main planning paradigm worldwide. John Gold examines a series of exhibitions created by British designers which was influenced by the CIAM (Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne) discourse on urbanism, in particular its urban manifesto, the 1933 Charter of Athens. This influence was also felt in colonised territories, as Alan Mabin and Mark Orange examine through the case of the 1938 Town Planning Exhibition held in Johannesburg. In this particular case however, radical urban changes were not possible to implement due to the particular political circumstances, namely those associated with the racial segregation policy adopted by the South African political regime. Scott Colman's chapter ends this section and is focused on the work of Ludwig Hilberseimer, presented in an exhibition in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944.

In the third group of chapters, focusing on post-Second World War reconstruction in the 1940s and 1950s, six chapters deal mainly with the British experience. Peter Larkham examines two exhibitions held in London (1943) and in Coventry (1940) which, due to war time circumstances, did not have much impact. …

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