Thursday, June 11, 2009

☞ THINK: End of Superblocks

Most designers know Le Corbusier for his iconic mid-century modern chairs, but few realize that the Swiss-Frenchman has had a wider impact on the design of New York City itself. What was a conceptual ideal that theoretically seemed innovative on paper soon was absorbed en masse by less creative government officials. From the Time 100 website, educator and architect Witold Rybczynski provides the modern insight on the outcome of this once hopeful plan:

"He called it La Ville Radieuse, the Radiant City. Despite the poetic title, his urban vision was authoritarian, inflexible and simplistic. Wherever it was tried — in Chandigarh by Le Corbusier himself or in Brasilia by his followers — it failed. Standardization proved inhuman and disorienting. The open spaces were inhospitable; the bureaucratically imposed plan, socially destructive. In the U.S., the Radiant City took the form of vast urban-renewal schemes and regimented public housing projects that damaged the urban fabric beyond repair. Today these megaprojects are being dismantled, as superblocks give way to rows of houses fronting streets and sidewalks. Downtowns have discovered that combining, not separating, different activities is the key to success. So is the presence of lively residential neighborhoods, old as well as new. Cities have learned that preserving history makes a lot more sense than starting from zero. It has been an expensive lesson, and not one that Le Corbusier intended, but it too is part of his legacy."

This does not mean that affordable housing is not relevant. The challenge today is how to reinvent the idea and come up with a plan that repairs the damage of the superblocks, which have destroyed many vibrant neighborhoods. Read more on the Time 100 website: LINK

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