In the years after creating Broadacre City, Frank Lloyd Wright had a handful of chances to plan real urban environments. Few of these projects were ever built. Two of the biggest, though, provide a window into the changing urban ideas of one of the most influential modern architects. Read more
In the aftermath of personal scandals and the 1929 market crash, legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright saw a sharp decline in paying clients. With a creative lull, he took the opportunity to begin something new: Broadacre City, a plan he hoped would change the shape of not just architecture, but land use and society across the United States.
Wright outlined the proposal in the 1932 book The Disappearing City and followed it in 1935 with a 12-foot by 12-foot model exhibited at the Rockefeller Center. The core concept is simple, if radical: completely disperse the modern city and give each family at least an acre of land. The details and the defining ideals behind them are considerably more complicated.
About 110 km north of Phoenix, Arizona, in the middle of a semi-arid desert, you’ll find an odd sight: a community of rough concrete buildings sitting on a mesa. Inside, brass and ceramic wind-bells are cast and sold, construction on the development continues, and, in theory, all the needs of a modern city are met with minimal environmental impact. This is Arcosanti, the brainchild of Paolo Soleri, built to prove his vision of architecture and ecology working hand in hand. Read more
Detroit has a long history of agriculture, from the French farmers who colonized the area and set up ribbon farms along the river to the Panic of 1893, which prompted Mayor Hazen S. Pingree to open empty lots for farming. With the growth of the auto industry, the city’s agriculture faded into the past. Now, as the city plans for shrinkage, a resurgence in agriculture is making its way through cracks in the urban fabric. Read more
In the early 1900s, not long after Ebenezer Howard realized his first Garden Cities, another designer put forward his own solution to the woes of urban life. French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, saw the machine age as a chance to remake society and improve the lives of all. Corbu’s ideas, which reached their ultimate form with the Radiant City, proposed nothing less than the complete destruction and replacement of cities with his concept of perfect, ordered environments.
Ask anyone who’s studied urban planning to explain the field’s history and one of the first names you’ll hear is Ebenezer Howard.
Howard was an English shorthand typist in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. While working in Chicago, he saw the troubles of modern cities, such as rampant growth and housing shortages. He witnessed the struggle to resolve these issues in England after returning to London as a parliamentary reporter.
In his 1898 book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (reprinted in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow), Howard laid out his solution: the garden city. Just five years after the book’s release, the first of these communities was founded: Letchworth Garden City, in Hertfordshire County, north of London.
While waiting for the full launch of Urban Utopias, I thought I would summarize what this blog will look like. Broadly speaking, my goal is to discuss “Cities of the Future.” People have been designing cities since before the ancient Greeks, but the idea of solving urban problems through design is more recent. I aim to flesh out this idea, one visionary city at a time, looking at where some went right, others went wrong, and most fell somewhere in the middle. Expect a broad range of topics, including physical design, socioeconomic ideas, and historic context.
New full posts come out on the first of each month, with occasional smaller pieces–usually related to that month’s city–on the fifteenth.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to let me know!