Tag Archives: urban planning

Friday Finds: Exeter Phoenix

Sharp, Thomas. Exeter Phoenix: A Plan for Rebuilding. London: Published for the Exeter City Council by the Architectural Press, 1946.

Sharp_ExeterPhoenixLast week I encountered Thomas Sharp through his work, Cathedral City: A Plan for Durham (1945). I discovered that Special Collections houses several more of his proposals for English cities, to include Exeter, Oxford, Salisbury, Chichester, and Taunton. As I am not a planner or historian of modern architecture, I am unfamiliar with Sharp and his legacy. K. M.  Stansfield attests to his influence:

He also produced The Anatomy of the Village (1946), which became a classic on the subject of village design, despite almost being suppressed by the ministry. In it Sharp for the first time consciously developed the concept of townscape, then almost unknown and still widely misunderstood, as a counterpart to landscape. It was a dramatic vision of the quality of urban space which he perfected, in outstanding analyses of historic towns, in his post-war plans—notably those for Durham, Oxford, Exeter, Salisbury, and Chichester, between 1943 and 1949. (Stansfield, “Sharp, Thomas Wilfred (1901–1978).”

As a medieval historian I connect with his approach to recognize the special character of each city and his desire to balance the needs of a modern city with its historic fabric, which was evident in his proposal for Exeter.  He writes in Exeter Phoenix:

The planner’s first approach to his task is to sum up the personality of the city which has been put under his care. A city has the same right as a human patient to be regarded as an individual requiring personal attention rather than abstract advice. The second is that abstract principles of town planning do not in themselves produce a good plan. The good plan is that which will fulfil the struggle of the place to be itself, which satisfies what a long time ago used to be called the Genius of the Place. (pg. 11)

Sharp was faced with the challenge of not simply modernizing the fabric of Exeter but also rebuilding parts of the city due to both “blight and blitz” (pg. 82, 87). This challenge prompted Sharp to pose the question: Restoration or renewal? (pg. 87). He argues for “sympathetic renewal” –

It is one thing to attempt to save, and adapt to modern use, buildings which have actually survived from the past: it is quite another thing deliberately to imitate those buildings in new work. Such imitation must inevitably fail. It must fail because buildings are made of the spirit of their time as well as as of brick and timber and stone: and the spirit of the past cannot be recaptured… To attempt to rebuild 20th-century Exeter with mediæval forms would be the work of a generation that is visually blind and spiritually half dead.

…All things point, then, to the necessity for observing an appropriateness of scale and pattern in the renewal of the historical city. The sympathetic treatment of the surviving old buildings requires it. Sound planning for modern conditions of living requires it. It is upon this concept of renewal, in a way that is sympathetic to but not imitative of the old city, that this present plan for the rebuilding of central Exeter is based. (pg. 87-89)

Stansfield, K. M. “Sharp, Thomas Wilfred (1901–1978),” rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed 12 June 2015. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31673.

Dublin of the Future, 1922

Patrick Abercrombie, Sydney Kelly, and Arthur Kelly. Dublin of the Future: The New Town Plan, Being the Scheme Awarded the First Prize in the International Competition.  Liverpool: The University Press, [1922].

The frontispiece for Dublin of the Future, entitled “The Last Hour of the Night” and created by Harry Clarke, drew me into the work. The image was unexpected and felt out of place in a planning report.

The Last Hour of Night

The plan itself has a complicated history. In 1914 The Civics Institute of Ireland held a competition seeking entries to redesign Dublin; however, the outbreak of World War I delayed judgment. A winner could not be selected until 1916, but then civil war further delayed the publication of the plan until 1922.  According to the authors:

The authors…were in a dilemma: whether to publish at this late hour the original scheme which gained the first premium in the Competition; or to set work to bring their plan up to date in view of every circumstance of increased knowledge and altered conditions. The last course they decided was impossible without being unfair: they could not revise and redraft their plan without having before them the work of the other competitors, many whose solutions they recognised as superior to their own. 

It was therefore decided, in the face of the drawbacks given above, to issue the Competition Scheme, supplemented with many drawings subsequently prepared to elucidate further the authors’ recommendations, reinforced by data which was in their possession at the time (but which haste had prevented them from presenting) and revised so far as was consistent  with its original framework….

…it may serve as a starting point, and possibly as a quarry of ideas, from which the final plan may be built. (pg. x)

How Should We Rebuild London?

C. B. Purdom. How Should We Rebuild London? London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1946 (rev).

C. B. Purdom considered the destruction of London during World War II as an opportunity to rebuild with intention. The book is dedicated to the citizens of London, and Purdom writes for them:

I have had in mind that while the task of planning and building is for technical men, architects, engineers, surveyors, town-planners, and builders, together with municipal authorities, the decision as to what kind of city the new London should be should not be theirs alone. (Preface to the First Edition)

Purdom addresses the rebuilding from various aspects of town planning; however, I found the chapters on housing and architecture particularly interesting. In his chapter, “London as Home”, Purdom argues that the plan must address the housing and population crisis in London. While many homes were destroyed, those that remain were either inadequate & substandard or out-dated. One of his solutions was to remove the distinction of working class housing and build rather for different stages of life. Families with children should never live in flats while those without young children or singles should. As the family unit changes, so should where they live. He writes:

The privates garden, even though small, is of more value to the family with small children than a large common garden or playground. It should be accepted as a social principle that families ought not to live in central areas, for they require space, and children require contact with Nature…

The truth is that flats make convenient homes for people without children who wish to live near the centre of the city, single persons, business and professional men and women, and others. (pg. 25)

In “Architecture and Building”, Purdom argues that the architecture of London has been a disappointment. He writes, “No one has been able to write about London’s architecture without apology.” (pg. 109) The war was thus a chance to rectify London’s deficiency regarding its architectural heritage. Purdom proposes that the city should be entrusted to a city architect in partnership with engineers, artists, and social scientists. Under the leadership of the architects, a new national style may develop. (pg. 115-116, 120) He writes:

I confess that I want to see a London that has style in every part of it. Not a single style, any more than a single architect, and not only in the show parts, but equally in houses, shops, and factories. Style will look after itself if architects work not for themselves, but for the unity of the city and for the function of which they build. (pg. 120)

First Planning Report, Glasgow

Robert Bruce. The First Planning Report to Highways and the Planning Committee of the Corporation of the City of Glasgow. 2 vols. Glasgow, 1945.

Robert Bruce in his planning report identifies the roadways as the most important issue to address in the redevelopment of Glasgow.  He establishes a 50 year plan to be achieved in three stages. At the time of the report, the Glaswegian roads functioned as all-purpose to include pedestrian, local, and through traffic; this lack of specification was the crux of the problem. According to Bruce: In such a wide range of road users it is clear that the interest of each is inimical to the interests of the others and that this conflict is at the root of the whole trouble causing injury, inconvenience, delay, nerve strain, and, to an appalling extent, death. (pg.14). Bruce argues that the inconveniences, stresses, and injuries will be mitigated through the reclassification of roads as arterial, sub-arterial, and local, through the construction of new roads, and through the alignment of all transportation services whether public or private and whether road, rail, sea, or air. He further suggests that planning needs to occur at a regional, not a local level.

Bruce faces two critical challenges in his redevelopment and reclassification of the roadways in Glasgow: financial and public opinion. He suggests that they will have to alter the belief of business owners that it is better to be on a major thoroughfare rather than a quiet, local road. He writes:

One of the greatest difficulties in connection with planning proposals will be to rid from the minds of the general public the idea that shops, theatres, picture houses, restaurants, etc., should all be facing main roads. What modern town planing sets out to do so it dissociates all such places from roads carrying through traffic and site them in quiet roads free from through traffic and which my be used in safety and in comfort by pedestrians. (pg. 23)

While Bruce’s major focus is transportation through and around Glasgow, he does address issues of housing, green spaces, and public amenities. He concludes his report with a discussion of conurbation and creation of satellite towns.

The City of Glasgow, 1960

A. G. Jury. The Survey Report of the City of Glasgow Development Plan Quinquennial Review, 1960. Glasgow: The Architectural and Planning Department, 1960.

Despite living in and numerous trips to Glasgow, I am less familiar with the city’s modern history and development. I was not sure how meaningful the planning report of 1960 would be to me; however, a cursory glance intrigued me as I spotted the names of areas and streets that were all too familiar: Govan, the Botanic Gardens, Sauchiehall Street, Argyle Street, Great Western Road, and the Gorbals.

The report assesses land use, population, industry & employment, education, housing, and traffic & communication issues, projecting them forward to 1980. It further identifies 29 areas requiring redevelopment. According to the report, the primary challenge would be to accommodate a large percentage of the population within the city itself:

From the foregoing paragraphs, the overall position is that if modern standards are adopted, even at minimum level, the demands for additional houses, schools, factories and playing fields cannot be met within the City. Redevelopment, the replacement of old buildings by new ones, so far from offering the possibility of saving land, actually generates additional demands. ( Chapter 15, page 3)

According to the report, 100,000 families would be affected by the redevelopment of the 29 areas. The overspill, consisting of approximately 60,000 families or 200,000 people, would have to be removed from the city. (Chapter 14, pg 3). At the time of the report, agreements were in place and other negotiations in progress with cities and towns across Scotland to accept the overspill Glaswegians and industries into their districts. The report also proposes the creation of four new towns. (Chapter 14)

The report has left with  me with more questions than answers. How much of the plan was implemented, and was it deemed successful? More than 50 years on, what were the lasting affects of the plan in terms of the city’s continued development? I am, however, most curious to know how it affected the people, who were displaced. Life in some of those towns would have been drastically different than what they knew in Glasgow. I want to know their narratives and how they created place in a new town.