European Infrastructure: Beauty vs. Efficiency

In the class discussion on September 24th, 2015, we examined and compared the attitude and emotions that arose with the emergence of high modernism; among these were the ideals of social and economic efficiency for modern cities and communities in the twenty-first century. At the same time we discussed the differences between the newly emerging utopian city designs during the mid/late 1800’s. I could not help but notice how this reminded me of the buildings and streets I’d seen and marveled during my trip this summer to Europe. What really set the city’s in Europe apart from each other was that a number of the these were designed to represent the national culture and style of the nation and its past monarchies; this was evident in the structure of Charles Castle and Charles Bridge (Karlov Most) in the heart of Prague. While the beauty and emotional mood of the city was breath taking, it was evident that the medieval designs did not take into account the long term efficiency for expanding markets or trade with the international community – save for tourism and historical research. In addition, a number of smaller villages and communities throughout central Europe, such as the small a town of Spreewald (between Dresden and Berlin) still rely  on small motor boats and light barges for transportation and resupply throughout the vast system of canals and island homes/businesses. However, upon further recollection of my travels through central Europe, the cities and businesses that emerged during the Reformation period were based on the concept of combining modernist design and efficiency with national artistic style and form. From the large cobble stone streets to the large open city central courts and parks, these cities were clearly designed to provide easy access to local/traveling market merchants and business dealers. I myself found these roadways and courts to be quite open and efficient for tourists and local shops in spite of the medieval designs and styles of the buildings and bridges/roadways.

5 thoughts on “European Infrastructure: Beauty vs. Efficiency

  1. Does the use of small motor boats and light barges make transportation inefficient?

    Or is it just a departure from the ways people conceptualize of transportation?

    If infrastructure in a particular location has been employed for generations and seems to work for the people in that location, what would be the benefit of making it “efficient?” Whose convenience does it serve?

    • When I was in Spreewald I saw that they had developed a system of having multiple barges for guests and visitors every hour or so, so these barges aren’t so much as inefficient as they are different from what we Canadians use. Basically it’s a departure from the ways Canadian citizens conceptualize of transportation. However, the citizens of Spreewald use both motorized and self-propelled water craft such as canoes and stick-driven barges; the houses are also close together and are large enough to have their own gardens, farms for cattle and chickens, as well as personally owned restaurants and cafes along the water banks – exactly what they need to be mostly self-sufficient.

  2. It was rather interesting to hear your input into the efficiency of these “modern” cities in Europe. I agree with you when you mention if the facades take away from the long term efficiency. My question to you is that when you traveled these cities, and when you learned about various civil design, did you happen to pick up on any architectural archetypes? Or do you think there is a vast distinction between cities?

    • During my travels I did try to spot any archetypes that were similar to the designs used in Canada; while there were some modern features such as highways and centralized businesses, I saw a distinct difference in the older areas of European cities that had remained relatively unscathed during the Second World War. As such, there was in fact a distinctive difference from the medieval/reformation and even some of the modern sectors of European cities from those of Canadian cities.

  3. I think that this is a huge problem that is not only for European cities. I think that Beauty Vs Efficiency is something that almost everything is a struggle with. Facades are beautiful but have no function. But does everything have to have a function?

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