Term Paper: Art in Town Planning

Pages: 8 (2141 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Architecture  ·  Buy This Paper

Art

Living the Good Life:

Art and Aesthetics in Town Planning

Suburban sprawl. Urban blight. The Failure of Modern Architecture. Each one of these phrases could easily head an article on the modern-day city. Wherever one looks, one seems to be confronted with the failure of some "modern" idea or plan. Government officials, architects, and academicians shake their collective head, and fret that modern man simply does not seem to understand the aesthetics of every day life. Is it corporate greed? Government beaurocracy? Is it the fault or failure of modern art? Perhaps, too many of us rush to judgment. The artistic movements of the past century and a half have struggled with problems the like of which never before existed.

Industrialization has created cities of enormous size. Modern technologies have allowed today's urban dwellers to live further than ever from their places of work. Even the necessities of every day life - food, clothing, household goods and furnishings - are frequently to be found at considerable distances from home. Housing estates and commercial developments spread out along multi-lane motorways - arteries of travel and commerce that themselves interfere with pedestrian pathways. The frenetic pace of contemporary life is devouring our time, and our good taste. There exists, all around us, a stultifying sameness that threatens to turn individual human beings into packs of identical robots, living in identical houses, working in identical offices, and shopping at identical stores. What happened to the green spaces of the Eighteenth Century? The carefully planned workers' communities of the Nineteenth? Are we that much in thrall to mega-corporations that we no longer have time to look at how we live our lives, and in what sort of physical circumstances? Modern art and architecture have much to offer - if we can see beyond the pounds and pence.

First off, one must consider the question: what is a town? A town, or city, or village, is a community. A community is a place where men, women, and children live, work, shop, and play. In order for a community to adequately answer to the needs of all its citizens, it must be able to grow and develop.

A simple definition of a community that strives for sustainable development is one which, over time, becomes "more environmentally sound, economically viable, socially just, and democratic." These terms may appear to be straight-forward, but understanding their complexities and making decisions with these results in mind is extremely challenging.

(Kline, 2001, p. 288)

In the past communities tended to follow specific patterns of development. These varied somewhat from place to place, satisfying a wide range of social and cultural needs. Think of the traditional English village - perfectly adapted to the needs of an agrarian people in its particular climate. Yet, the traditional village did not place any noticeable emphasis on art or architecture. Rather, vernacular architecture evolved in harmony with the environment. The simple cottage, the village store and church, and even the bright, outdoor spaces of the village green appeared to us beautiful in that they satisfied our desires - all were as natural as the hills and the fields.

The city, however, was different. It never seemed "natural" like the country village. People were crowded together in what was essentially a commercial use of space. As industry and technology increased, so too did overcrowding. Millions of ill-paid workers were crammed into hastily-constructed, sub-standard housing. Shops, factories, and schools sprouted all over like ugly mushrooms.

A combination of rapid population growth, dramatic urban migration, and inadequate facilities to provide housing, sanitation, safe water, health care, education, and training leads to a lack of human capital, which leads to low labor productivity. This leads to massive urban poverty.

(Weaver, Rock & Kusterer, 1997, p. 151)

Huge numbers of economically-disadvantaged families can overwhelm any community. The problem is made worse by the lack of any coherent plan; any attempt to use the gift of modern technology to alleviate these deplorable conditions. We tend to believe that urban blight is inevitable - the price we pay for living in such a high-tech, fast-paced society. Yet we need not be slaves of our technology. Technology can help us to beautify our environment, help us to create livable urban spaces that we can all enjoy.

In the United States, enlightened planners have endorsed a plan called New Urbanism.

Imagine a place where people walk to shops and services, take the transit or bike to work and regional entertainment, and play in large open parks with water courses, wetlands, and lakes. The people in this world live in "compact" residential settings in single family homes with as little as 30 feet of street frontage, in townhouses, rowhouses, condominiums, and in garden apartments all designed with carefully controlled architectural standards.

(Shibley, 1998)

The New Urbanism emphasizes the "human scale" of all its undertakings. (Shibley, 1998)

People must not feel "squeezed out" by overly-large buildings. More importantly, a community must address the diversity of real-life human beings. (Shibley, 1998)

Each individual is just that - an individual. In the same way buildings should be individuals too. and, just men and women take pains to make themselves as beautiful as possible... why not buildings?

Architecture is "a public and useful art... that must convince a client, mobilize the complex enterprise of building, inspire the public (and not offend it), and work with the culture, visual skills, and symbolic vocabulary not of the client but of its time." (Guillen, 1997) building's architecture is an announcement of that structure's purpose and place in the larger community. A factory might be a place where automobiles are manufactured, and as such it might do its job admirably well, no matter its appearance. Nevertheless, for those who own that factory - or who work there - the factory is more than simply a house for machinery. It is a location wherein people interact. It is a repository of their aspirations, and a symbol of their ambitions. Just as a cold and forbidding installation would show little concern for the humans who use it, so too would a well-designed and appealing edifice reveal the caring nature of its builder - "we are concerned about our workers and our community."

Cities may be commercial centers, but like villages, they are also places where people live. and, given the fact that, today, more people live in cities than anywhere else, it is surprising that so little has been done to humanize the residential aspect of urban life.

In fact,

Cities that have used culture, whether architecture, design (including public art/realm schemes), event/animation or cultural production-based, are celebrated and looked to as successful proponents not only of culture-led regeneration, but also of urban regeneration generally.

(Evans, 2001, p. 213)

Art plays a very real and central role in making the city a livable, and a likeable, place. As noted, art is culture, and every urban environment should be constructed around the idea that it, the city, is a center of culture and the arts; a stage where all kinds of people can interact, and ideas be exchanged. It is this interaction of diverse elements that is considered to be one of the true glories of the modern city.

Rather than seek a false coherence and unity in today's city we are bid to read it, and that implies that we can read it in different ways. In part, we are dealing with a paradigm shift... The city was once the privileged territory where white Western male sociologists and urban planners inscribed their pet theories and models, but that it has now become 'the happy-hunting ground of film theorists, poets, art historians, writers, television producers, literary critics, and postmodern connoisseurs of all kinds' (Munck, 2002, p. 13)

Rather than play host to "de-humanizing" visions of a future of sterile apartment blocks, and gleaming office towers, more and more lovers of the city are beginning to realize that it is the presence of so many different classes and cultural groups that breeds the vitality of the urban environment. The artist or filmmaker who fixes up the rundown loft, or the abandoned commercial block, is contributing to the "work in progress" that is the city itself. Inherent in these projects is an individuality and an energy that can not be found in expensive bureaucratic schemes.

The modernist revolution in architecture had been needed because of innovations in technology... In the same way cities changed because of new forms of transportation and the potential of a good life for almost everyone.

But the great pioneers of modern architecture, like Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, assumed that cities could be perfected in a new image; for them the past had only sentimental value. They also assumed that the collective life of society was far more important than the interests of individuals. They have been proved wrong... cities reflect the aspirations of many different interests, and are perceived through a series of individual recollections in which the experience of other cities,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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