Jacobs and Rochefort were reacting to the large-scale erection of modernist settlements, primarily under the auspices of affordable housing programs. It is noteworthy that, by this time, CIAM the organization that produced the Athens Charter had not only reexamined the charter’s guiding concepts at its 1951 meeting but had also ceased to exist as a result of a generational con-flict. In the course of this decade, representatives of a younger generation of modernist architects reconstituted themselves as Team 10 and challenged the vision of urbanism envisioned in the Athens Charter. In terms of architectural theory, the charter no longer accurately represented the modernist under-standing of urban planning. Nonetheless, the Athens Charter had effectively entered its heyday during this decade, as states across the world embraced it and integrated it into their modernization programs.
By the 1970s, however, the Athens Charter model had come under pub-lic scrutiny and, in some cases, had become publicly reviled. In 1973, French minister of public works Olivier Guichard officially banned the continued construction of the Grands Ensembles, large-scale suburban housing developments inspired by the Athens Charter, on the grounds that they were fun- damentally unlivable places. Writing in the 1980s, architect Charles Jencks fa-mously pronounced the official death of modernism to be 15 July 1972, at 3.32 p.m. when the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis was dynamited. 7
A decade later, anthropologist James Holston undertook a postmortem of the modernist vision for urban planning with his study The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasilia, based on his research in the early 1980s. Holston echoes Jacobs’s critique of the “death of the street” and examines the negative effects of functional zoning on the everyday lives of inhabitants of Brasilia. James Scott largely bases his own critique of modernist settlements on Jacobs’s and Holston’s work. Scott does not attempt to explain why the Athens Charter fell out of favor, although the implication is that it failed so miserably to reflect the complexity of real human societies. 8
In spite of what Jacobs, Rochefort, Holston, and Scott have told us, are the settlements that were built on this model really failures? Some clearly were dysfunctional, but it remains to be proven that the built environment was the root of the problem. The housing projects that Jacobs criticized were beset by grave social problems that cannot be attributed to the buildings and spaces. Other settlements were clearly not failures, in spite of their very real flaws. In Sarcelles: une utopie reussie, Linda Bendali argues that, far from disempower-ing its inhabitants and creating a social dystopia, the Grand Ensemble model created vibrant multicultural neighborhoods. Even its shortcomings served to strengthen solidarity and encourage initiative. 9 In a number of European postsocialist states, the new settlements continue to appeal to people as good places to live. Present-day New Belgrade, the model modernist settlement dis-cussed in this study, is a popular district and boasts some of the most expen-sive real estate in the Belgrade region. 10 Ironically, Scott may have made the same mistake as the planners he was criticizing by accepting the assumption that a city can be considered a completed project once the construction crews are done. He might have reached a different conclusion had he paid attention to the slow process by which inhabitants colonize urban spaces.
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If we shift from large-scale global histories to more focused local histories, it becomes clear that there is actually a great deal of variation, raising two questions: Are these differences not at least as interesting as the commonalities? And if we do want to generalize, would it be more useful to try to group case studies into smaller, sometimes overlapping categories? While all the regimes that found modernist planning appealing shared certain commonalities for example, a desire to eliminate the problems of the traditional city, a belief that technology could be harnessed to improve society, an agenda of social and economic modernization, and usually a pressing need for housing they also differed in significant ways. For Europe’s social democracies, for example, the creation of new modernist settlements was tied to the emergence of the wel-fare state that was coming of age after the Second World War. On the Euro-pean periphery and in the postcolonial world, the central motivations were closely tied to aspirations for modernization. Authorities saw modernism as a way to address the problems posed by historic cities that were outgrowing their inherited form. In many cases, they used modernist urban planning as a kind of spectacle to demonstrate to their citizens and to the rest of the world that they too were modern and to educate their citizens in the ways of modern living. Socialist states aspired to use urban planning to transform social rela-tions and promote the acceptance of the values and culture of their brand of socialism.
Different contexts also produced different interpretations of modernism. As Thomas Misa has reminded us, we should not uncritically accept the deterministic claims of the prophets of modernism like Le Corbusier and Siegfried Giedeon that it was the objective and inevitable formal outcome of the development of new materials. 11 In actual fact, the universalistic claims of modernism masked an incredible diversity of thought and practice. In some cases, the personalities of individual planners were responsible for these vari-ations, and in other cases, the cultural context in which the plans were pro-duced had an important influence. Florian Urban has also demonstrated that the superficial similarity of modernist settlements around the world conceals a surprising diversity of practices. Reflecting this, recent scholarship has investi-gated the ways in which modernism was appropriated and deployed. 12