Saturday, 14 May 2016

Book Notes: "The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning" by Le Corbusier

The City of Tomorrow and Its PlanningThe City of Tomorrow and Its Planning by Le Corbusier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Le Corbusier presents what he calls a technical solution to existing problems. In the 1920s, these problems were predominantly related to the advent of the motor car, and the need to replace what he calls the "pack-donkey's way" with straighter, faster motorways. We see the same problem today with a rail network designed for the limitations of steam trains which now hinder the use of very long, modern freight trains. In many ways, Le Corbusier provides an historical institutionalist account of the problems of town planning. He admits that the great cities of the world are so located because this is where they should be. Rather than proposing new cities be built elsewhere, he suggests that the centre of the great city needs to be pulled down and rebuilt. History will be preserved in large gardens, like a peaceful cemetery or an art gallery, but otherwise, the value of such history is over-stated when one considers the appalling conditions, the tuberculosis, and so on, that inhabit the relics of the past. Critics of Le Corbusier point to the relative failures of his building projects, and typically his criticisms of disorderly cities such as New York did not win him any friends. Yet, if taken in an appropriate context, The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning reads like Machiavelli's The Art of War, where the diagrams of troop displacements are replaced by conceptual plans for future great cities. In The Art of War, the diagrams are regarded as historical relics that do not take away from the serious ideas that Machiavelli presents on modern warfare. Similarly, if one can look beyond Le Corbusier's diagrams of grand schemes, there is a kernel of truth that continues to haunt us to this day: Can our great cities be sustained? When taken in this context, Le Corbusier's work is brilliant. Indeed, there are so many contemporary solutions to congestion and living conditions focused on "working cities" and "sleeping cities" that simply echo what Le Corbusier was claiming almost 100 years ago. One cannot deny that history has "forgotten" many of the solutions Le Corbusier once raised to the extent that technical solutions to our town planning problems today seem somehow new - even innovative. Clearly, these are not new, only forgotten.



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