While we struggle to inject life into cities, Corb preferred his silent
Our overview of current attitudes to the city (p24-37) argues that even the most radical 'statement' buildings accept the basic mantra that architecture should respond to and contribute to the city. And, despite the cacophony of maverick voices, there is universal consensus as to the type of urban realm we should be aiming for: a vibrant, thriving community where ample public spaces are peopled by happy social citizens. Will Alsop's blobby paradises seek to inject existing cities with renewed civic pride through busy bars, restaurants, cultural venues and shops. The size and enthusiasm of the crowds which gathered at the opening of the Graz Kunsthaus is deemed a self-explanatory measure of the building's success. Even arch-radical Rem Koolhaas buys into the fundamental premise that dead city centres are to be avoided at all costs when he cites pedestrian-free streets as one of the more ominous characteristics of his abhorred 'generic cities'.
As is so often the case, it falls to Le Corbusier to challenge perceived wisdom, at least according to the particular interpretation outlined by Simon Richards in Le Corbusier and the Concept of Self, reviewed on p45. According to Richards, Le Corbusier saw urban design as a means of creating an environment that would encourage solitude - a prerequisite both for relaxation and for intellectual, creative or spiritual contemplation. Nightclubs, cafes, restaurants and theatres were condemned as germ-ridden and stressful. Freeways, on the other hand, were lauded for prioritising the calming, safe isolation of the motor car over the stressful chaos of the conventional street.
This reading of Corb's views serves as a reminder that the prevalent attitude to urbanism is as much to do with zeitgeist as with common sense. While it appears utterly instinctive to worry whether Zaha Hadid's plans for a community of towers in Beijing will overcome the problem of 'void space' evident in Corb's Ville Contemporaine, it is an entirely contemporary response. The deserted streets of Chandigarh cast one of the darkest shadows over Le Corbusier's reputation. Yet, by his own reckoning, they could be his most unequivocal success.