History of Urbanism
Daryl Mulvihill has started lecturing and coordinating the history of urbanism module at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture. This lecture series is for first years Masters students of urbanism, architecture and landscape architecture. The course entitled “The City Observed” combines the history and theory of urban development since 1750 with the works of documentary photographers, film-makers and artists. Interweaving histories of cities with documented narratives alongside guest speakers who will bring expert knowledge of Dutch approaches and context.
The opening lecture looks at the Open City defined by Albert Pope in his seminal book Ladders in 1995 as “The open city appeared for a brief moment in the history of urban development when, in the 19th century the qualities and characteristics of open grid organization dominated the formation of western cities.” the city type that was built before the arrival of the car. Characterised by an open connected street pattern with a high frequency of intersection created by short high density mixed use blocks. This urban form and the urbanity it generates has come to define what we consider urban, as Pope goes on to describe “… all expectations of the city – the ways in which the city is “thought” – are tied to a single rudimentary form. Idealised or circumstantial …. the grid literally is the city.” Or the open form afforded by the grid combined with high density blocks generates the city as we know it.
Modernity emerged out of this urbanity. A modernity intimately connected with the street, and the urban experience of the street, its chaos as spectacle. Baudelaire began to describe the flaneur with a camera as “we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life”. It took almost 50 years for this description to become manifest and this was made possible with the emergence of film. The city symphonies were able to capture the urban chaos of modernity, the kaleidoscopic fragments expertly montaged in Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin, Symphony of a City (1927) and this approach culminating with Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929)