Striving for Modernity

In class on October 8 we created mind maps of words that came up during our examinations of the various architectural ideas. I found it interesting that modernity was a theme that seemed to pop up in every example we’ve looked at. As the 19th century rolled over to the 20th, it seemed like everyone was racing to come up with a city that encompassed this new era and solved all the urban design issues of the time. And yet, no one has truly succeeded yet; each attempt succeeding and failing in aspects unique to that city.

The Ringstrasse saw modernity as being open for transportation, accounting for the influx of people in the 1860s. Modernity meant establishing the bourgeoisie as the ruling class through opulent architecture that harkened back to ancient, greater eras. But it ended up as a city that was a miasma of architecture with one foot in the present and one in the past. The quick moving flow of the city trapped people, and stopped them from building a sense of community. The efforts of the architects to create images of the past ended up creating empty disconnected spaces. Too modern, and not modern enough.

Haussmann wanted modernity to mean continuity; huge ongoing roads, repeating facades, a cleaner, more efficient city. Unlike the Ringstrasse, Haussmann had to actually work with the city to achieve his goals. Instead, Haussmann seemed to interpret modernity as something that occurred in spite of, not with, the poor people of Paris. It’s difficult to exemplify Paris as the style of the future when it came at the expense of so many people’s homes and by extension lives. There is a Social Darwinism to Haussmann’s ideas that mark it as very much a product of an empire and not the Republic France had strove to become.

The Garden City failed not in idea but in execution, a giant leap for modernity throttled by the small steps of capitalism. It’s hard to convince people to think only of the greater good when they are confronted with the timeless (fair) problem of their bottom line. It’s a shame that the idea of the Garden City layout would struggle with the lack of open land now; can you imagine it on Kickstarter? I think the real issue with Howard’s idea was that it was genuinely too modern for the time it was created in. The combination of socialism and capitalism is what a lot of developed countries are striving for now.

In just these few examples, it’s easy to see how modernity inspired them, and why it would. Art is constantly striving forward, trying to create the best and biggest thing before someone else does. You can’t go back in art; the Ringstrasse proves that. I think the lack of guiding style for contemporary architecture as well as the environmental push will create what can only be termed modern architecture over the next few years. It’s unfortunate the trend seems to be aesthetics optional.


1 thought on “Striving for Modernity

  1. Do you think that any type of city planning can ever answer the questions and problems created by modernity? Perhaps they are, as you have implied, only increasingly greater approximations of a solution.

    I wonder sometimes if city planning is an attempt to control and contain the greater sense of dismemberment that seems to arise in urban living.

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