William Mann Tim Stonor Rashid bin Shabib Otto Saumarez Smith Lisa Woo Prof John Macarthur Hendrik Heyns Helen Logan Graham Morrison Emily Mann Eelco Hooftman Divya Subramanian Dirk van den Heuvel Cany Ash Bob Allies Antje Saunders Alfredo Caraballo
pragmatics of the picturesque strategies for the contemporary city
pragmatics of the picturesque strategies for the contemporary city
Some may think that the picturesque is antiquated and irrelevant, a purely theoretical construct or visual indulgence. But might the strategies it pioneered – of legibility, particularity and intrigue – have value in the shaping of the contemporary city? Perhaps the picturesque still holds some clues as to how to reconcile the ever-increasing technical, economic and environmental imperatives with the need to design places for people?
DEFINING A PICTURESQUE
dialogue The picturesque in theory and practice perspectives Picturesque architecture and urbanism Careful irregularity
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defining a picturesque
TACTICS FOR TODAY’S CITIES?
dialogue As found, as needed, as experienced perspectives Fifty shades of picturesque The potential of the pre-existing Beauty on the fringe Uses of irregularity and informality Linescape urbanism: the city as an object of nature Phrases that make a sentence
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TACTICS FOR TODAY’S CITies?
ABOUT CITYMAKERS Each year, the Citymakers series brings together developers, planners, academics, journalists and collaborators to look beyond the boundaries between practitioners and the public; between a site and the city; between spaces and society. Antje Saunders and Emad Sleiby, Citymakers this year explored, over three sessions, different aspects of picturesque theories and principles. We invited a wide range of experts, collaborators and fellow architects to discuss the role of the picturesque in theory, in practice and across different historical periods. Organised by Allies and Morrison’s Masterplanning Group, led by
citymakers team Antje Saunders
Daniel Elsea Emad Sleiby
THE PICTURESQUE AND ITS DISCONTENTS
editor Daniel Elsea
dialogue Observations on the picturesque perspectives The colonial picturesque Brutalist trauma, picturesque repair Picturesque and the postwar everyday Provincialising the picturesque
copywriters Christina Maurice Miranda Westwood
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event COORDINATOR Christina Maurice
the picturesque AND ITS DISCONTENTS
observations Nature as client Towards a new picturesque A rich and varied thing
graphic design Romy Berlin
EVENT support Anthony Silverstone
reflection Leaving behind the baggage
Gareth Verbiest Laura Brimson Will Clayton
digital support LondonFilmed
EELCO HOOFTMAN Together with Bridget Baines, Eelco is co-founder of GROSS. MAX. Landscape Architects. Eelco integrates theory and practice of landscape architecture in an extensive output in international projects and award winning competition designs. His practice was awarded the European Landscape Award for their individual design concepts and their major influence in shaping the style of landscape architecture in the early 21st century. Projects in London include the landscape masterplan for Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, the Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre and the waterfront at Greenwich Peninsula in addition to many high-profile projects abroad. Eelco has an international reputation as an academic including visiting professor at GSD Harvard, ETH Zurich and external examiner at the AA London. commerce, and the representation of architecture in image and word. At the same time as investigating historical processes and production, she is concerned with postcolonial/ decolonial approaches and attitudes to empire’s material legacy. DR EMILY MANN Emily is currently a Lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, having previously worked in journalism (principally for The New Statesman and The Guardian newspaper). Her research and teaching centres on the relationship between visual and material culture and European expansionism in the world through the growth of trading networks and territorial settlements, c.1550 to c.1800. Her work considers Journal, a CABE Design Review Panellist and a Royal Fine Art Commissioner. He has chaired Design Review Panels in Southwark and the South Downs National Park, and has been awarded an OBE for services to architecture. in particular the significance of mapping and building in making claims over land and in urban design. Graham lectures both internationally and across the UK and has been an elected National Member to the RIBA Council, the chair of its Exhibition Committee and a director of the RIBA
HELEN LOGAN A Partner at Allies and Morrison, Helen directed the implementation of several of the practice’s projects within Phases 1 and 2 of Msheireb Downtown Doha, including several public buildings at a range of scales, housing and commercial buildings. She currently leads Allies and Morrison’s Submissions architect, she specialises in the delivery of large, complex projects, especially internationally. She was also responsible for the practice’s work at King’s Cross St Pancras Underground Station, and has more recently been involved in urban redevelopment projects in Toronto. Originally from South Africa, Hendrik studied architecture at the University of the Free State and worked in Johannesburg before joining the practice in 1999. Team, helping to secure the practice’s new work. As an concentrated on our housing and regeneration work. He is a key member of our Housing Group, developing design guidance and standards for the practice’s large portfolio of residential projects. Hendrik led the award-winning St Andrew’s project, producing the initial masterplan for the redevelopment of a former hospital in east London into a high-density neighbourhood and subsequently working on the delivery of buildings within the masterplan. GRAHAM MORRISON Graham founded Allies and Morrison with Bob Allies in 1984. He works across the breadth of our projects and his concerns range from the scale of the smallest detail and how buildings are made to the scale of significant masterplans such as Msheireb and King’s Cross, now considered global exemplars Disgust and Other Irregularities , was published by Routledge in 2007. John has edited a further six books and published over 140 papers including contributions to the journals Assemblage, Transition, Architecture Research Quarterly, Oase and the Journal of Architecture. His current project is a sole authored book on architecture and aesthetics, which is part of a wider Australian Research Council funded project on this topic. HENDRIK HEYNS As a Partner at Allies and Morrison, Hendrik has
PROF TIM STONOR Tim Stonor is an architect and urban planner who has devoted his career to the analysis and design of human behaviour patterns: the ways in which people move, interact and transact in buildings and urban places. He is an internationally recognised expert in the design of spatial layouts and, in particular, the role of space in the generation of social, economic and environmental value. Tim was appointed Managing Director of Space Syntax in 1995. He has led the company from its origins at University College London to its position today as a practice operating globally. He is a Director of The Academy of Urbanism, a Visiting Professor at The Bartlett School of Architecture, a Harvard Loeb Fellow and Deputy Chair of the UK Design Council. of the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize for their work stabilising and inhabiting the ruins of Astley Castle. As well as transforming historic buildings and awkward remains (including the recently reopened Courtauld Institute of Art), the studio works at the scale of the city, as with their landscape strategy for a 20 km swathe of East London’s Upper Lea Valley. William has written for various magazines on an eclectic range of subjects: London’s edge landscapes, social engineering, self-build, buildings’ nicknames, the hybrid urbanism of Flanders and modernism under Franco. RASHID BIN SHABIB Based in Dubai, Rashid is an urbanist and researcher of cities across the Middle East and North Africa. Together with his brother, Ahmed, he founded Brownbook , a magazine that focuses on cities across the region. The pair have curated several exhibitions and collaborations including the Domaine de Boisbuchet: (2022), National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2021), AA Gallery (2018) Vitra Design Museum (2017) and Serpentine Gallery. They were recipients of the 2021 Golden Lion (Architecture) for National Pavilion, UAE, and have been nominated for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (2010, 2019). Rashid holds a degree in Sustainable Urban Development from the University of Oxford. WILLIAM MANN William is a director of Witherford Watson Mann Architects, winner
PROF JOHN MACARTHUR John Macarthur is Professor of Architecture at the University of Queensland where he conducts research and teaches in the history and theory of architecture, and in architectural design. John graduated from the University of Queensland with Bachelor (Hons 1st) and Master of Design Studies degrees (1984) before taking a doctorate at the University of Cambridge (1989). He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and a Fellow of the Queensland Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research in the intellectual history of architecture has focused on the conceptual framework of the interrelation of architecture, aesthetics and the arts. His book The Picturesque: Architecture, Downtown Doha. She is a member of the New London Architecture Expert Panel on Wellbeing. LISA WOO Lisa heads up masterplanning for one of the largest regeneration schemes in London that is creating 10,000 new homes and 6000 jobs over the next 20 years. Meridian Water, the flagship £7bn development led by Enfield Council in North London, intends to create an exemplar of public sector-led sustainable city development, combining health, wellbeing and being carbon neutral by 2030. She has a professional and academic background in architecture and urban design. Notably, Lisa has worked on international masterplanning projects including with the Vietnam government to transform Hanoi and Msheireb DR OTTO SAUMAREZ SMITH Otto is an architectural and urban historian, and an Assistant Professor in Art History at the University of Warwick. Driven by the belief that focusing on cities and buildings is a brilliant way to understand abstract historical processes and political ideologies; from concepts including the welfare state, social polarisation, affluence, gentrification, deindustrialisation, to the narratives of crisis and changing patterns of mobility. His book, Boom Cities , is the first published history of the profound transformations of British city centres in the 1960s. It details the rise and fall of modernist urban planning, revealing its origins and the dissolution of the cross-party consensus and reveals the role of architect-planners in these transformations.
ALFREDO CARABALLO Alfredo is a Partner at Allies and Morrison, joining the practice in 2004. A design leader, Alfredo works across our range of projects, from conceptual stages through to completion. He lectures internationally on architecture and the urban public realm and has led many of the practice’s international masterplans, in the Middle East, North America and continental Europe. Since 2017, he has represented Allies and Morrison on the International Council of the Van Alen Institute in New York, and since June 2018 assumed the role of Council co-chair. He studied architecture at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas and London Metropolitan University, receiving commendations for his studies at both. ANTJE SAUNDERS A key contributor to the practice’s work in urbanism, Antje has played an important role in large mixed use and housing led masterplans including the Olympic Legacy and Lampton Road as well as several estate regeneration projects. She co-leads the Masterplanning Group and provides ongoing client support for the King’s Cross Masterplan. From Germany, she completed her masters in Housing and Urbanism at the Architecture Association and studied at the University of Stuttgart and Berlin University of the Arts. She has been an external critic at Cardiff University, the Architectural Association and the University of Central Lancashire. BOB ALLIES Bob Allies founded the practice with Graham Morrison in 1984. In the years since, he has established a design approach that finds enjoyment in simplicity, technical rigour and longevity. An architect, urbanist and teacher, he is a widely published author and editor, and frequently lectures on architecture and the city. Bob has shaped many of our significant masterplans, from King’s Cross to London’s Olympic Legacy, from Greenwich Peninsula to Brent Cross Cricklewood. Bob trained at the University of Edinburgh, and in 1981, was awarded the Rome Scholarship for Architecture. In 2016, he was awarded an OBE for services to architecture.
DR DIRK VAN DEN HEUVEL Dirk van den Heuvel is an Associate Professor and leads the chair of Architecture & Dwelling. He is also the co-founder and head of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre, the special research collaboration between TU Delft and Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, which holds the national collection of Dutch architecture and urbanism. His expertise is in postwar modern architecture and planning, and its related fields of architecture theory and history, cultural studies and discourse analysis. Recent book publications include Habitat: Ecology Thinking in Architecture (2020), and Jaap Bakema and the Clarence S Stein Institute for Urban and Landscape Studies and the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art. Her writing has appeared online in The New Republic, The Nation, Dissent, and The New York Review of Books, and she is currently working on a global history of the townscape movement. Open Society (Archis, 2018). For the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Van den Heuvel curated the show Art on Display 1949-69, together with Penelope Curtis, which looked into the exhibition designs of Lina Bo Bardi, Carlo Scarpa, Franco Albina and Franca Helg, Alison and Peter Smithson, and Aldo van Eyck. The show was also restaged for Het Nieuwe Instituut in 2020. CANY ASH Before setting up Ash Sakula in 1994, Cany Ash worked for the GLC Architect’s Department and Burrell Foley Fischer, as well as in New York and Berlin. She has taught at a number of architectural schools as a critic and studio tutor and is an external examiner at Cambridge University. She is an experienced co-designer, leading design workshops with young people and many community groups. She has served on the RIBA Awards Group, as a CABE Enabler, a Client Design Advisor and a Civic Trust Awards Assessor. She is a member of the South East Design Review Panel. DR DIVYA SUBRAMANIAN Divya is a historian and writer based in New York, where she is Lecturer in Discipline at Columbia University. Her research spans the urban history of Britain and South Asia, with a particular interest in postcolonial urbanism and architecture of development, and has been supported by the
introduction PRAGMATICS OF THE PICTURESQUE BOB ALLIES
‘Rugged terrain, water courses and existing roads should not be ruthlessly obliterated for the sake of a stupid rectangularity. On the contrary, they should present welcome opportunities for deviating street lines and other informalities. Irregularities of this kind, so often removed at tremendous expense in these days, are absolute necessities. Without them a certain rigidity and cold affectation descends upon even the finest works. Moreover, it is precisely these irregularities that provide easy orientation within the street network’. 1 Thirdly, and again like Sitte - as is clear from his final sentence - we are interested in orientation, and particularly how movement and sequence can be employed within a masterplan both to define how spaces are configured and to elicit specific responses from the architecture. We are interested in other words in how form shapes experience, but in dynamic rather than static terms. Of course, there is no denying that the picturesque comes with considerable baggage. Apparently outdated and irrelevant, it is tempting to dismiss it as a purely visual discipline. However, inasmuch as it accords a special status to the viewer, to the experience of being in a specific place, of following a specific route – it places people back at the heart of the masterplanning process. At a time when the technical determinants of masterplans are so onerous, this may be seen as a not insignificant corrective. So in our 2021 Citymakers conference we wanted to talk about the picturesque, and to do it in the company of a wide range of experts, including collaborators from other disciplines, fellow architects with their own responses to the subject, and academics who have considered the role of the picturesque across different historical periods, from its earliest manifestations to its unexpected adoption by architects in the middle of the twentieth century.
In our work as urbanists, responsible for the repair, reshaping and extension of our cities and towns, we have long been aware of a correspondence between the sorts of tactics we deploy - and the sorts of sensibilities we promote - in these projects, and the principles and the theories of the picturesque. Firstly, when considering sites, we have always placed importance on the pre-existing, recognising the value, and the significance, even the simple utility, of what is already there, and we have then sought to incorporate as much as possible of the ‘as found’ within our proposals. We have, in other words, consistently found the tabula inscripta more compelling than the tabula rasa. Secondly, we have always questioned the nature of the order created within a masterplan, and how that order should be derived. If it is externally imposed, it will almost inevitably default to the generic. If, on the other hand, it is internally generated, if it can respond to the serendipitous, if it can draw on the unplanned as well as the planned, it has the potential to create something unique. In this regard, like Camillo Sitte, we recognise the virtue of the irregular and the potential of the circumstantial:
1. Sitte, C. Translation by Steward, CT. The Art of Building Cities, New York: Reinhold, 1945, p87.
DEFINING A picturesque
The word ‘picturesque’ may come loaded with baggage. Yet the crises of today’s world necessitate a reconsideration. The climate emergency demands compact modes of urbanisation, with more humility and less grandeur, with walkability and a retrofit of the pre-existing urban grain. The oft-generic character of swathes of new development has led to a longing for the imperfect urban, of its idiosyncrasies, of character, of geographic specificity. Even the pandemic’s temporary drain on the city shows signs of fraying. There is a reclaiming of urban life underway. As contemporary urbanists, we have discovered the picturesque as something more useful, flexible, multicultural. Something surprisingly logical. The ideas and strategies of a movement with roots going back several centuries has new relevance today.
dialogue THE PICTURESQUE: IN THEORY AND PRACTICE 7 OCT 2021
The first Citymakers session provided an introduction to the picturesque in both theory and practice. Consisting of two talks, the first interrogated the broad arc of its history and, the second, how certain picturesque principles surface more consciously than others in our work. Professor John Macarthur from the University of Queensland and the author of The Picturesque: Architecture, Disgust and Other Irregularities joined us virtually to open the conference. He took the (virtual and in person) audiences on what he described as ‘more a history of ideas than of buildings’, showing the origins and early development of the concept, outlining two opposing takes on the picturesque: the rational, championed by Nikolaus Pevsner’s empiricism, and a more romantic version influenced by surrealism. Professor Macarthur touched on the picturesque’s ambiguity, its ties to complex and problematical political positions, its use in propaganda in the Second World War and during the Cold War. It was used as both a tool to promote a British ‘native genius,’ but also as a representation of freedom and resistance from dictatorship. He follows this arc to the present day, drawing parallels with the contemporary study of
Englishness and current politics, as well as providing reminders of the oft-forgotten modernist links to the picturesque. “It’s amoderately brave thing for Allies and Morrison to take on as a topic. Onewould think of the picturesque and have awhiff of potpourri. But the picturesque is busier; it’s the architectural promenade, it’s the concept withwhichwe are all trained to understand architectural formas sequential visual experience.” John Macarthur The second talk by Alfredo Caraballo looked at how the picturesque has shaped Allies and Morrison’s design approach. He started with the origins of the practice, to the Edinburgh Mound project by Bob Allies and Graham Morrison, illustrating a common thread that continues today. Introducing a range of examples of shaping and crafting the city, Alfredo explained how they incorporate picturesque principles while remaining inherently pragmatic. From the fascination of geometry to designing through experience; crafting movement networks and the legibility of urban spaces, Alfredo reflected on the irregularities of sites and contexts and how these have influenced the design of masterplans like King’s Cross.
“The notion of walking through the city and perceiving it in an almost cinematographicway, these different spaces that the metropolis has brought into place. For us it’s away of thinking and away of designing.” Alfredo Caraballo A seeming contradiction of ‘a fine mess’, the careful balance between formality and informality, is one that has been much enjoyed by the practice. Sharing a continued fascination with how these components come together, and the layering and accumulation of architecture in the evolution of cities, he concluded with the question – can cities really be planned? “These are not ideas that we kind of came armed with. They’re things that we gradually talked about and learnt about and it has beenmore a process of discovery about their usefulness rather than a set of principles.” bob allies
twee incremental aesthetic natural provincial dynamic sentimental experimental reactionary adaptive irrelevant functional dated pragmatic historical sequential retrograde flexible 11 10
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THE PICTURESQUE ARCHITECTURE AND URBANISM JOHN MACARTHUR
often described as being like English parks, where it seemed as if the land was already prepared like a picturesque landscape. Now, the British believed that the Aborigines had no settled law or ownership of land. The lands of Australia were terraneous and owned and appropriable. There were thousands of years of fire-farming in the production of pasture that gave parts of South Australia, at least, its ‘English’ picturesque appearance. So, in Australia at least, there are reasons to be suspicious of using the word picturesque. The picturesque also had a role in allegorising the political settlement in the United Kingdom, particularly the Grand Compromise of 1688 when William and Mary became sovereign, but parliament made the law, establishing the constitutional monarchy under which we still live. The picturesque was seen as explicating this relationship. The geometric rigour of André Le Nôtre’s Versailles, stood for absolutism. In contrast, William Kent’s mixing of naturalist and formal elements was held to represent constitutional monarchy. These ideas became very important during World War II and later during the Cold War, and the native genius of the British. This was found in the work of liberal radicals like FA Hayek and Karl Hopper and in the propaganda of the time, where the attachment to landscape was analogised as an attachment to freedom in opposition to the utopian dictatorship (and representation) of the USSR. This ideology of the picturesque landscape as political
already quite complicated history with some theory, the philosopher John Ruskin thought through the idea of two picturesques in relation to his interest in the painter JMW Turner. Turner was capable of painting great narrative history paintings, but also topographical ones which were seen as unsentimental, even rough. So, Ruskin surmises there is a low and a higher noble picturesque. A pair of windmills painted by Clarkston Stanfield and Turner exemplify this. Stanfield’s mill is overly fascinated with visual texture. His painting picks up on all these immediate and sensorial detail of the mill. Turner is doing much the same thing, but according to Ruskin he speaks of the greater level of truth in his portrayal. He sees its truth, its function, how it works, what it means for the community that relies on it. This idea of a higher and a lower picturesque is picked up by the art historian Heinrich Wolfflin at the end of the 19th century. Wolfflin was originally trying to uncover what separated the baroque from the renaissance from which he derived the concept of painterliness. He describes an early self-portrait of Rembrandt where he is utterly fascinated with the shimmer of the beer and the glass and the feather in his hat and so on. In a way, it was like baroque architecture that had a similarly shiny, imagistic quality. In a later self-portrait, as an older man, Rembrandt has matured to an extent where he is actually seen through the attraction of visual appearance to reveal greater truths. Wolfflin rightly says this is the greater painting. They are not just different levels of
visual acuity or a greater complexity of understanding, but also more maturity in the second, in the life of the artist and in the culture itself. Rembrandt had seen through the fascination of visual appearance to see something of the truth of the subject that interests us. Picturesque politics There is a political history too – a chequered one. The enclosure of countryside in the 1700s in the United Kingdom, and the injustices brought on by the capitalisation of agriculture, paid for the landscape parks that we think of today as picturesque. Many scholars have argued the picturesque is something of an ideology of false representation, of false reconciliation of class interests during this period. There are strong connections between the picturesque as an aesthetic idea and the socio economic forces that allow people to practice a form of land management that we think of as picturesque. Another aspect is colonialism. In the 18th century, the picturesque was largely about the British landscape, partly the ‘primitive’ landscapes of Wales and Scotland, that wilder country but also the closer at hand agricultural landscapes of England. But by the 19th century, it was increasingly joined with concepts of exoticism of the peoples and landscapes of India or Africa and the pristine wildernesses from North America to New Zealand. In Australia, there was a particular recursion where colonists found scenes of pastoral landscape, though
Picturesque ambiguities The picturesque is a moderately brave thing for Allies and Morrison to take on as a topic. One would think of the picturesque and have a whiff of potpourri, but the picturesque is busier. It is the architectural promenade, the concept with which we are all trained to understand architectural form as sequential visual experience. From Le Corbusier to Choisy to Nash to Venturi and Scott Brown to the Acropolis, it is this higher architectural picturesque that is our concern. Nevertheless, both sides exist – it is intellectual and populist. It is about sophisticated tastes and simplistic ones. We need to understand this contradiction. And partly the fault of this contradiction lies with us, because in the 18th century, the picturesque was a very radical idea. Understanding a bit more about its history, three things about the picturesque today become apparent: it is part of an ongoing history of route-based planning, it is a continuing popular nostalgia for the rural past, and it looks to find the edges of the concept of architecture by challenging taste and looking to the popular built environment. My and Allies and Morrison’s interest in the picturesque is not common because the term has become degraded and hard to use, but it is not without precedence either. Abolos and Koolhaas have both had a go at being provocative by describing their interest in the picturesque. In recent art history, the picturesque has been used to theorise the work of post-minimalist artists such as Richard Serra. And to complicate an
blenheim palace set within its capability brown-designed grounds.
John Glover, A Corroboree of Natives near Mills’ Plains, 1832.
William Gilpin, Three Essays On Picturesque Beauty; On Picturesque Travel, and On Sketching Landscape, 1792.
by Malton were filled with designs that mimic the additive unclosed forms and the mixed materials of vernacular buildings. In a sense, this betrayed the profession by making buildings look as if they had not been planned, which had been built in additive stages as if each was a particular moment in architectural history. There was a recognition of the vernacular and an edge found to what architecture might be. Moving forward to the mid-20th century, enter Hubert de Cronin Hastings, then the owner and editor of the AR, which he inherited from his father in 1928 and was editor until 1976. Hastings was a campaigning modernist and turned the AR in that direction, and he also had a particular idea to reconsider the picturesque as an architectural concept. He was also fascinated by the same political theories as those espoused by thinkers like Hyek and Popper and also earlier Edwardian political figures like Sir Edmund Barker and the long history of British liberalism. He was fascinated by this connection between aesthetic and political theory, questioning utopian thinking and praising aesthetic independence. So, he was opposed both to the projects of the likes of the MARS Group and Le Corbusier, but also to the Garden City where suburbia was cast as a kind of kitsch morality. For him, there was a need to develop a third modernism that was neither of these things. Hastings employed Pevsner who had just been released from internment and already had these interests in the history of the picturesque, which came together in an unpublished book called The Visual Plane of the Picturesque. This picturesque revival had a few false starts in different kind of names. Sharragwaggi was one of them. After some time, Hastings settled on the term ‘townscape’ – and that was a revival of the picturesque.
independence and freedom crosses over to architecture quite directly in the work of Nikolaus Pevsner. Not that Pevsner himself was particularly politically engaged but he trained in Germany and some of his earliest work there was about a picture of English art. As an immigrant to Britain, he quickly became a proprietor of this idea of a native English aesthetic, made famous in his Reith Lectures of 1954, The Englishness of English Art, where one of the most significant chapters is on picturesque architecture. And today, this continues to evoke issues of national identity and culture. From picturesque to townscape There is a connection from mid century modernism that is now the base language of much architectural practice back to the historical picturesque. This is not a matter of history determining the present, but it finds its origins in a self conscious picturesque revival by The Architectural Review (AR) from the 1940s to the 1970s. In the 18th century, the picturesque was rooted in recurring genres in painting. Aristocrats like Henry Hall and his architect Henry Flinch modelled their estates and buildings on their fashionable paintings such as those of Claude Lorrain. There were great paintings that told grand stories. But then influential figures such as the French art critic and diplomat Roger de Piles began to appreciate and collect Low Countries landscapes, because they had no known stories to recognise. It was their painterly values were brought to the fore. The picturesque as we know it was effectively invented by the English clergyman and schoolmaster William Gilpin who read de Piles, plagiarised him and collected prints. Gilpin, and the landscape designer Uvedale Price, were interested in an aesthetic
contrast. For him, the picturesque was the Alton Estate at Roehampton. It was the London City Council architects and their application of modernist forms on a free landscape that allowed modernism to practice a landscape sensibility. There is this tension between that rationalist imperialist version of the picturesque and the more romantic, surrealist attempts at shock and virality that Hastings was pushing. An epiphany of this modern picturesque would be William Halford’s scheme for the
Townscape appears for the first time in 1949 in an AR article written by Hastings under the pseudonym Ivor de Wolfe and illustrated by Gordon Cullen with a graphic style reproducing a kind of festive Britain. There was a whole cast of characters involved at the AR in this period, including Hugh Casson and Pevsner. Through imaginary illustrations of reconstructing postwar Britain, they portrayed the idea that modern buildings should happen on the historical urban lot and within the street pattern system, and there should be a strong contrast with historic buildings. The resultant urban patterns give them a ‘townscape’-like character. This spirit is exemplified by Cullen in his illustration to Casson’s ‘The Obliging Sharawag’ in the journal Content. It is a scenario of a baroque church rebuilt in an exaggeratedly modernistic way, mixed in with nondescript pictorial (vernacular) buildings and simple modernist buildings and, in the background, the beginnings of a perimeter block. The elements are unified pictorially to include old structures of value like the facade of the church, but the older buildings are negligible architecture, and some new buildings are relatively modest while others are relatively complex and advanced, and they mix in an urban montage. Wiring in 1944, Hastings wrote that urbanism should be considered something like furnishings in a room. So, this level of aesthetic variety and tolerance was something that Hastings was pushing quite hard. The 1949 townscape article ended with a case book prepared by Cullen that combined many of these ideas with a strong interest in the ‘as found’ detritus of urban life – gas holders, for example. These objects in the city seem surrealistically out of place in an almost kind of fantastical disjunction. Pevsner was less interested in this kind of surreal
Gordon Cullen drawing of ‘Bankside’ from 1st edition of Townscape, 1961
that would include the everyday, the agricultural landscape, and the buildings and lives of the poor. Price’s father had been a patron of painter Thomas Gainsborough and the family collected Low Countries’ and British landscape paintings of the period. The picturesque these artists were crafting was anti-ideal and pro empirical, standing neither for the nobility of beauty with its classical model of the human figure, nor the sublime aesthetic, fearful and absolute of nature’s untamed indifference to humanity. Gainsborough had become tremendously popular by drawing on influences from Dutch and Flemish landscapes of the life of the poor, but he expressed these with a twist, posing these figures, giving them some sort of subjectivity as if they were like the aristocrats in a French Rococo scene by Claude Lorrain. Gainsborough called these fancy paintings, but at the time, they were taken as a rather political critique of the material circumstances of the poor. Price wrote a series of essays on the picturesque, one of which was on architecture and building, following painting theory which he saw above
it in a theoretical hierarchy. He saw in the architecture of Nicholas Hawksmoor and John Vanbrugh, who designed Blenheim Palace, a picturesque mixed with grandeur. But to appreciate and understand the imagistic quality of architecture, one really needs to study vernacular buildings that were not grand or important. They had no rhetoric. They were purely picturesque. So, as was happening in fashionable painting of the time, the buildings of more material interest were those occupied by the poor. So, architects following this fashion and Price’s advice, directly began to study vernacular buildings. Price knew that there would be a role for architects to improve in learning directly from vernacular buildings. As an example, the architect James Malton published the influential book in 1798, British Cottage Architecture . This is a period when architects lacked patrons and there were the first attempts to professionalise the profession. They advertised for themselves to gain patronage by publishing books of design, seeking clients – much the way it is done today. Books such as those
Rembrandt, self portrait, 1659-60
The Prodigal Son in the Tavern, a self-portrait of Rembrandt van Rijn with Saskia, c. 1635
Condor’s designs for the Arts Faculty in Cambridge which has these qualities that Pevsner was promoting. This approach is developed a little bit further, and I think more successfully, by Martin and Wilson’s Harvey Court for Gonville and Caius. Radical perhaps, the version of the same idea can be seen in the Smithsons’ entry for the 1952 Golden Lane competition, in which we see both these picturesques. There is the rational perimeter block, which in this case is vastly twisted to span right across the site, and in it crunches up against the existing urban fabric – embodying something more of those surrealistic qualities of a clash of styles and forms. The January 1944 cover of the AR depicts a ruin of a church framing a modernist hospital. It was steeped in this idea of the soon to be post war recovery, of the ruin of the old juxtaposed with the promise of the new, and this accommodation of the two being a sign of hope. We see it in the 1950’s model of the Barbican where a historical remnant like the Church of St Giles Cripplegate occupies pride of place within an ensemble of new brutalist blocks. These historical structures are used as points of friction, of forcing a modernist compromise with romanticism with results occupying the ground of surrealism. This surrealism emerges from the shock of destruction that wrought London and other British cities and sets up postwar architecture to work with an aesthetic of destruction, of entropy, of time of life, of buildings of war. Artists such as Paul Nash and John Piper explore this picturesque in their work at the time; seen in Nash’s concern for the ‘as found’ and Piper’s turning away from abstraction after the war. There is an analogy between what Piper would do to a landscape and what the American artist Robert The romantic picturesque: from surrealism to aesthetic brutalism
Smithson was doing when he took up the picturesque in the 1960s on the basis of minimalist art, which brings us back to the earlier point that it is in the vernacular landscape where we can find an edge in architectural culture. So, if we maintain this idea between a sort of high picturesque and a low one, a second one, how can we think about that today? We could think about artists like Dan Graham and his book Homes for America, an exploration of the vernacular in housing; or Venturi and Scott Brown’s celebration of the everydayness of the road in Learning from Las Vegas, or Rem Koolhaas in the book Junkspace. We could cut this contrast down to two houses by the Smithsons. These two houses are less than five years apart: Sugden House and the Upper Lawn Pavilion. We can see in these two something of this contrast between a sort of extremely blunt kind of ordinariness, and a more articulated, complex picturesque and that goes back through their work. There is a dichotomy between the ordered and the disordered, and it is that contrast in which we find a picturesque brutalism, something for today, for the everyday. This text is an edited summary of a talk given by Professor Macarthur on 7 October 2021.
are designed together in a form of visual interconnection. For instance, Repton was keen that people should walk directly out from a room into the landscape, so this obliged Nash to build all the kitchens and servants’ quarters not below ground but at ground, to produce a kind of irregular pattern. There is a nice letter from Repton explaining to his clients how the planning of the house would not be less convenient, being asymmetrical. So, in this moment, both Nash and Repton realised that irregular building plan forms would enable a building to be at once more functional in its rearrangement and also more specifically related to its site. Now, Pevsner is arguing this in the 1940s and he is arguing these are the aspects of picturesque architecture. What then of a picturesque urbanism? It had not yet understood this, so that the same revolution in functionality and site specificity had to be brought into the urban realm. It had happened in spurts. Through a pictorial shaping of urban form seen in the collegiate planning (both medieval and later forms) that Pevsner observed in Oxford, Cambridge and the Inner Courts in London. They constituted a particular kind of English tradition that was novel and different to European concepts of the baroque in making towns. He called this collegiate planning with its idea of an abstract rational urban type of the perimeter courtyard, perimeter block and the courtyard building, a typology that could then be adjusted and fitted to a site. His fascination with them is evident in his book Visual Planning of the Picturesque. With enthusiasm, he describes himself walking in Oxford and the relationship in the visual unfolding of courts, one historic, one modernist, and the contrast of styles between a sort of classicism and an English baroque. An exemplar of this is Casson and
SUGDEN HOUSE, designed by alison and peter smithson, 1955.
with Pevsner, and also related to the British tradition of collegiate planning – quadrangles and the like. To contrast that was the more romantic, surrealist ideas of Hastings and others. So, for Pevsner, a modern urbanism was problematic. He argued that modernist concepts of the urban were basically still baroque. They were axial, driven by overall patterns and had yet to learn from both functionalism and site specificity. He argued that architecture had learnt this early on, but perhaps planning had not. A fitting example of this was Luscombe Castle, a summer villa and gardens for the Hoare family designed by John Nash and Humphry Repton. Built in 1799, they were doing something quite revolutionary. All the rooms of the house are all arranged to relate to particular views of the designed landscape beyond them. The house and the landscape
it has required quite hard work to rediscover that connection. Now, part of this reason is a kind of act in publishing history. Looking at the original book Townscape, which was published in 1961, it contains all of Cullen’s drawings for the modernist schemes that featured in the AR, such as those for Bankside as well as Cullen’s drawings of townscapes. But when Cullen came to publish the concise version of Townscape – The Concise Townscape, the book most of us are familiar with today – he dropped out all the modernist forms of the earlier hardback coloured version. The result is that everyone tends to think of a townscape as just the monochrome historically developed illustrations in that book. Some more detail on some of the design strategies employed by this picturesque dichotomy: There was space for an empirical rational point of view in planning, especially
rebuilding of Paternoster Square around St Paul’s Cathedral with its rational perimeter blocks framing a new square, yet set within the medieval fabric. This picturesque was also high modernism. An aside – during the war and immediately afterwards, both Hastings and Pevsner were often hiding the sources of these ideas. They were not new. In fact, they are very closely related to German thinking, and particularly, works in literature that dwelled on impure urban forms. This was a source that neither Pevsner or Hastings wanted to acknowledge in the propagation of the Englishness of the picturesque during the war and during the Cold War. If today we think about townscape, we are more likely to think about something more vernacular. The modernist aspects of the picturesque tend to have been forgotten and
Upper Lawn Pavilion, Wiltshire, England, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, 1959-62.
CAREFUL IRREGULARITY: FIVE THOUGHTS ON THE PICTURESQUE ALFREDO CARABALLO
In 1983, two young British architects undertook a competition that started what this practice is about. It was for a small pavilion in The Mound in Edinburgh, next to the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery. It was a very small intervention in a hinge between historic buildings and historic landscape. The scheme overlaid layers of topography, garden enclosures and diminutive buildings, mixing a degree of formality appropriate for the civic setting, with an informality and playfulness more akin to parks and gardens. Beyond its modest scale, the proposal set up a series of themes that have been running in this practice ever since in how we deal with urbanity, with architecture, with landscape. Now we find ourselves working at much larger scales defining large portions of the city, and different places, from London, to Toronto, to Oman. Can the themes explored more than thirty years ago in a very settled context of an European city still be relevant for work of increasing complexity and scale? Much of what we encounter is this notion of understanding the city as a formal diagram, which comes from a very long tradition in architecture. In the Western canon, this starts with the Greeks who invented key tools of city making we have been playing with ever since: from the very idea of the polis to the public sphere (albeit excluding women and slaves) and the use of geometry to order it all. Hippodamus of Miletus’ gridded plan for Pireaus cemented the idea that a town plan can be formally ordered,
and at the same time embody and clarify a rational social order.
urban models and a myriad of proposals since. The appeal of this idea can be traced to our more contemporary fascination with the programme as a trigger for city plans and urban regeneration – an approach exemplified by OMA’s illustration for the Yokohama Masterplan. Whilst geometry and function are obviously at the core of what we do, our practice of citymaking is drawn to a different path, a different tradition. It unfolds in five different and complementary ways.
to our hearts. In our urban projects we tend to compose sequences of the spaces in which there is not just one element but multiple ones, which are shaped by the relative position of buildings to one another. Rather than a geometrical diagram or a functional one, the focus is on how the experience of moving through spaces is framed by the buildings that shape it, providing a sense of legibility to the simple act of walking by. This approach privileges the experience of moving through, in which the buildings act as a background to urban life.
experience rather than the clarity of a diagram.
The Passeggiata (on designing the route) During the 19th century European cities witnessed an unprecedented and rapid expansion. At the dawn of the industrial revolution, thousands of people flocked to the cities, where new opportunities and jobs were abundant. This not only changed the urban landscape, but almost as importantly, gave birth to a new sensitivity. The culture of congestion, of movement, of densification is captured in all its exhilarating glory and intense miseries in the literature and visual arts of the time, from the dramatic tales of Dickens’ novels to the urban painting of Gustave Caillebotte or the nascent development of photography. Perhaps nowhere is this new sensitivity better exemplified than in the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and in particular in the figure of the flaneur, elevating the simple act of walking through the city and perceiving it in an almost cinematic way. This way of seeing urban phenomena permeates not only art, but also ways in which architectural discourse evolved during the 20th century. The townscape movement, as promoted from the pages of The Architectural Review and the writings and drawings of Gordon Cullen during the 1940’s and 1950’s understood the city as a place that people move through, composed of different spaces. The legibility and purpose of those urban spaces come into place through human experience. Rather than the city as a diagram, it is the city as experience.
The Romans took this to the next stage and scale. The gridded plans of military camps were not only a tool for conquest, but in many cases became the seed for completely new cities in the conquered territories. The success of the grid as an ordering device can be followed throughout history, from the basis of the Law of the Indies that framed the whole set of cities that the Spanish Empire set up in Latin America to the relentless efficiency of Manhattan’s plan or Cerdà’s expansion of Barcelona. orthogonal grids, as can be seen in Sir Christopher Wren’s Baroque proposal for the City of London’s reconstruction after the Great Fire of 1666, the exuberant plans of Andre Le Nôtre for the gardens of Versailles or even the plan for Chicago by Daniel Burnham. But architects and urbanists have not limited themselves to geometry when trying to tackle the challenge of city making. Function and programmatic clarity have also been a common tool, aimed at trying to make something very complex (like a city) into something simple, clear and intelligible. Perhaps this is not more clearly and succinctly put forward than in Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City diagrams. The clear separation of uses has been a powerful idea that has informed not only the Garden City movement, but functionalism, the CIAM movement, Corbusian However the fascination with geometry is not limited to
Obviously, geometry is fundamental to this, but is not the end itself. At Greenwich Peninsula, we started to look at the relative relationship between blocks, their sizes and morphology so they can accommodate sensibly sized residential buildings within. But at the same time, we focused on how these blocks and buildings define key routes through a sequence of compressions and decompressions. Also, we studied how landscape design supports and intensified this spatial experience. And only then, buildings come into the picture, some are lower, others are taller, to impart a sense of variety and irregularity. This comes through also in the finishes of the facades, allowing for difference and variety, because we are concerned with how a person moves through these spaces. They should have different things to look at, a place with opportunities to explore.
PLAN FOR REBUILDING THE CITY OF LONDON AFTER THE GREAT FIRE of 1666, Christopher wren, 1766
Paris Street; Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte, 1877
This strategy implies that different buildings have different roles in the general urban composition of our masterplans. Some buildings act as focal points, whereas others are framing devices and others might be urban hinges. But most importantly, this cannot be comprehended by looking at a plan. Hence the key design tool to develop these projects has been to devise a series of ‘walks’, that follow the pedestrian movement that will eventually be built. These virtual passegiatte become both a design tool and a mode of representation of a place yet to be, but one that puts the focus on the
Chicago City Plan, Burnham and Bennett, 1909
Greenwich Peninsula: a meandering route through a new neighbourhood
Yokohama masterplan, OMA, 1991
This is an approach that is very close
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