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Title: Books

Pages: 72 - 73

      

Author: Editorial

Text: Books
The Pedestrian in the City: Architects' Year Book Xl
Edited by David Lewis, Elek Books, 66s
Previous versions of the Architects' Year Book have consisted of collections of illustrated articles on a wide variety of topics. Year Book Xl is under new management, that of David Lewis, who recently went to the United States to become professor of architecture and urban design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh. The new policy, which is to be welcomed, is for each year book to relate to a single theme.
The book is divided into three major sections. The first part consists of five major articles on different cities Philadelphia, Sheffield, Liverpool, Cumbernauld and Chandigarh. The second section consists of articles aiming to deal with various theoretical aspects of the central problem; and the third section deals with underdeveloped countries and primitive communities in the light of the common theme of the pedestrian in the city.
Even if a book like this has a theme, it cannot easily avoid variability in quality amongst its several dozen contributors. The five articles on cities are by far the best part of the book, forming a useful collection of material which has hitherto been scattered. The most thorough of these is Jack Lynn's article on Sheffield, which really gets inside this hilly Northern city, showing its pattern of growth and development and relating Park Hill, Hyde Park, Sheaf Valley and the Sheffield Markets schemes with the theme of the book without being too obvious about it. Also, Geoffrey Copcutt's article on Cumbernauld draws together a lot of material on the important lessons of this first attempt at a new town for the pedestrian and the motor vehicle to live in peaceful coexistence. The article on Liverpool has been overtaken by events, and can therefore only be said to be a useful hors d'oevre which hardly does justice to this city's planning (it has now shot forward to become the major big city' example in Britain).
There is other good material in the book on such subjects as The Linear City, Squatters in Peru, A Mexican Village (traced back to the Aztecs) and an article by Bhanu Mathur on the realisation of Chandigarh, the city on a virgin site in the Punjab based on a final plan
(caption)
Model of the proposed Liverpool civic centre. St George's Hall in the foreground, and beyond a large pedestrian
plaza. All illustrations on this spread are taken from The Pedestrian in the City.
Pittsburgh Northside - the problem of the pedestrian in the city in the raw.
by Le Corbusier.
Unfortunately, the book stiflers from being particularly weak in its theoretical articles. Some of them are very
generalised, others are poorly written, and almost all are disjointed, particularly in relating text and profuse
illustrations. The difficulty for the reader is to separate the apparently profound from the really bunk. If only some of
the contributors had sought more directly to discuss the theme of the book, one would at least have had a choice of
viewpoints. It seems to me quite ridiculous that a book published in London, in the English language, on the theme
of The Pedestrian in the City, should turn its back on the Buchanan report, Traffic in Towns, which will revolutionise
our thinking and two hope) actions on the book's theme. There have been a number of excellent articles, some of
them critical, which discuss the Buchanan concepts: but they are not, unfortunately, to
be found in this volume. They would certainly have seemed more appropriate to me than the rehash of some of the more generalised superficialities of the latest self-appointed in-groups' whose fashionable avant-gardisme seems so dated when dished up cold on Monday.
Jane Jacobs, who only gets a page and a half in this 300 page compendium, seems to say more than most of the others put together. Allowing for the journalistic exaggeration which one should expect from her in-fighting phraseology, I am with her all the way in stressing the need to emphasise city functions and the complexity of life in our cities. It is these factors which, as she points out, largely escape those whose motivation seems to be to reach the higher flights of planning and architectural gimmickry and gadgetry. Miss Jacobs really sums up the weaknesses in the theoretical content of the book in a single sentence when she refers to many ambitious pedestrian and towncentre schemes which "inform us so insistently about themselves and their own novelty and cleverness.... There is a great hollowness where there should be a rich store of understanding about the complex functioning of cities and their streets".
Once again, it comes back to the profundity of the observations of Christopher Alexander in A City is not a Tree (DESIGN 206/46-55). Superficial stabs at complex planning problems are not going to take us much further in the conditions of the latter part of this century when we are going to be expected to produce plans to be carried out. Serious planning and urban design must take the place of dilettantish doodling, and this means getting to grips with the complexity and the 'overlap' within functioning society. Anthony Goss
(caption)
Old methods help to build a new life - men and women carry cement, sand and water during construction of Chandigarh's capitol and university buildings.
A new Erith ? A scheme on decks, with all roads and garaging underneath, as proposed by the former LCC.
Design sources and resources
Louise Bowen Baldnger and Thomas F. Vroman, Reinhold (distributed by Studio Vista), 1 1s The publisher's blurb says the purpose of this book is "to stimulate the imaginations of students and teachers of art and professional designers in all fields". But does it - and if it does, might not this stimulation be carried out better by other means ? It is simply a collection of handsome photographs of natural objects and of all kinds of industrial products. Art students are better employed in looking at actual natural objects, and many of the man-made examples should be sought out by the student in museums.
The photographs are extremely good and lucid, and this would be a useful and exciting book for the fifth or sixth former. The book could lead on to a greater interest in visual appreciation, but it will depend much on how it is followed up. Again and again the value of 'picture books' of this type comes back to the quality of the teacher. Is he or she prepared or able to give sources of material ? How valid is something like this as a visual aid ? - labour saving it is true, but how much more valuable if each student collected his own material for a lasting book of reference. Sydney Foott

 

 

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