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Frampton modifying the megalopolis with landscape

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Following the South Bank Centre's announcement that it is looking for a 'new relationship between landscape and buildings' in the redevelopment of its site, Kenneth Frampton's lecture at the RIBA, proclaiming the need for a 'catalytic landscape' to modify the already-built 'megalopolis', confirmed the official status of this trend of thought.

Not that the idea in itself is new. The particular interest of Frampton's talk was its historical perspective, presenting a wealth of examples to show how innovative concepts of the landscape-architecture relationship have been under investigation, not just since the Dutch practice West 8 was founded in 1987, but throughout the post-war period, in both Europe and the US, and with roots in the work of the great rationalist and advocate of the grid himself, Le Corbusier.

Frampton points out that Le Corbusier's thoughts on the reconstruction of Rio de Janeiro and Algiers represent a powerful, indeed megalomaniacal, concept of 'built form as new landscape', and suggests they had a clear influence on the concept of 'anthro-geography' which Gregotti later employed in projects such as his Zen housing in Palermo, and for the University of Calabria.

However, it was the grid concept which bore fruit in the majority of urban construction projects after the war, notably the UK's new towns, such as Milton Keynes, defined by Malvin Webber as 'the nonplace urban realm'. More radical projects, such as the low-rise, high-density, grass-roofed, courtyard housing schemes designed by Atelier 5 in Switzerland, were overlooked by mainstream thought - but now seem extremely contemporary.

Frampton points to a continuing tradition of this line of thought through the housing projects of Siza in Evora, and Ciriani, whose 'piece urbaine' (urban room) 'is the only coherent bit' of Marne-laVallee. But he also proposes a parallel line of fruitful development of this architecture-landscape relationship in the concept of the 'megaform'. Robson Square in Vancouver (a city recently awarded joint first place for 'quality of life'), is a megaform designed by Arthur Eriksson and landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander, completed in 1974, which Frampton describes as 'the vital spine' of the city. This might surprise opponents of a project such as the Brunswick Centre 'megastructure' in London, completed about the same time, and suggests the potential for re-evaluation.

Among more recent examples, Frampton cites Sola-Morales and Moneo's commercial block in Barcelona as a model of 'big form'which 'mediates the concentrated input of capital into the urban fabric', relates to the existing urban fabric, and provides an integrated, 'green' landscape. By contrast, he questions the value of Britain's Urban Task Force report, wondering 'how real it all is'.

The vital step forward, he suggests, is for landscape and piecemeal urban design to be given high priority in architectural education.

Ken Frampton was speaking on 'The Catalytic City: between Strategy and Intervention' at the RIBA

vital statistics

Fatal injuries among construction workers rose from 65 in the year to March 1999 to 78 last year. In the first nine months of the current year ending in March, they rose to 85. Falls from more than 2m, strikes from heavy objects and electrocutions were the most common causes of death.

The figures mean that construction is six times more dangerous than the average industry.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York were sold for US$3.25 billion (£2 billion) last month on a 99-year lease. Other skyhigh deals recently include US$725 million for the slantroofed Citigroup Center.

About 6,500 residential tower blocks were built between the early 1950s and the early 1990s. Of these, about 4,000 remain inhabited by 800,000 people.

The average cost of a fire in a building with a thatched roof is £100,000, says the Fire Protection Association.

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