Visual Planning and Exterior Furnishing: A Critical History of the Early Townscape Movement, 1930 to 1949.

Mathew Aitchison (2008). Visual Planning and Exterior Furnishing: A Critical History of the Early Townscape Movement, 1930 to 1949. PhD Thesis, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, The University of Queensland.

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Author Mathew Aitchison
Thesis Title Visual Planning and Exterior Furnishing: A Critical History of the Early Townscape Movement, 1930 to 1949.
School, Centre or Institute School of Geography, Planning and Architecture
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2008-06
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr John Macarthur
Dr Andrew Leach
Total pages 418
Total colour pages 20
Total black and white pages 398
Subjects 310000 Architecture, Urban Environment and Building
Abstract/Summary Among the many and varied episodes in the history of twentieth century architecture and urban planning, the British Townscape movement is usually associated with the rear guards of these fields; both conservative and nostalgic. If mentioned at all, historical accounts generally portray Townscape as a brief and sometimes necessary interlude to subsequent movements of greater consequence. This reception is due, in part, to contemporary movements such as the so-called ‘New Urbanism’, through which the more culturally conservative aspects of Townscape’s doctrine continue to persist, arguably masking and debasing an earlier and largely forgotten Townscape, originally intended to be modernist, visually striking and to challenge notions of tradition and taste in architectural and urban discourses. The following thesis proposes that Townscape’s contributions to the discourses and practices of the twentieth century are far more considerable than has been held to date. In its early phase, Townscape introduced several important conceptual innovations whose influence can still be felt within contemporary discourses, such as: ‘contextual’ or site specific design practice; comprehensive urban design, regardless of scale or disciplinarian frameworks; the insistence on the inclusion of historic buildings and urban fabric; and its promotion of a more scenographic, synthetic, compromised and pluralist approach, which resulted in informal, irregular and asymmetrical design solutions in architecture and urban planning. From today’s standpoint Townscape has historical interest, standing at the junction of some of the greater developments in architecture and urban planning, such as the transition from architectural modernism to post-modernism, and the rise of ‘urbanism’ and its positioning as the supreme question of architecture in the post-war period by architectural movements such as contextualism, neo-rationalism and post-modernism more generally. This thesis proposes that Townscape’s influence on these movements and their authors was far more substantial than is generally acknowledged. In architecture, personalities such as Colin Rowe, Leon and Rob Krier, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and Alison and Peter Smithson can be counted among those reacting to and to some degree influenced by the movement. In urban planning discourses, prominent reformists such as Jane Jacobs, Kevin Lynch and Christopher Tunnard also appear to have drawn on Townscape’s lessons in their criticism. In revisiting Townscape it is hoped that not only can a fairer and fuller picture of the movement emerge, but the scale and duration of the movement and the roles of its initiators and various supporters be duly appreciated. A thorough survey of the Architectural Review from 1930 to the 1980s shows some 1,400 articles relating to Townscape’s campaign, most of which have hitherto gone unnoticed in the scholarship on the period. These were contributed by around 200 authors, many of whom are rarely associated with the movement. This survey also reveals that most of the concepts and the rhetoric of Townscape was set much earlier than is usually thought, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, that its intended scope was much more extensive than commonly held, and that it was planned, initiated and directed by Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) and Hubert de Cronin Hastings (1902-1986). Both Pevsner and Hastings were occupied with Townscape throughout the 1940s and variously referred to the movement as ‘Visual Planning’ and ‘Exterior Furnishing’, which was more widely understood to relate to the picturesque revival carried out largely under Pevsner’s name in the Architectural Review. Throughout the 1940s Pevsner published extensively on the subject, while Hastings anonymously and pseudononymously directed discussion on the movement as executive editor of the Architectural Review, as well as from the less prominent position as proprietor of the influential Architectural Press. It is this body of work, its authors and its associated discourses that are the focus of the present enquiry. An analysis of these publications and their authors promises new insights into the early phase of the Townscape movement: its sources, originality, theory, objectives, and its influence and legacy in the practice and discourses of today. As an early reform movement of modernism, the view of Townscape put forward in this thesis challenges current historiographies, which tend to marginalize the movement’s position in the period. In its early phase Townscape was starkly modernist, but it contained much of the critique later taken up within the architectural urbanism of the 1960s and 1970s and can be seen as an important percussor to post-modernism. Additionally, Townscape’s particular approach to architecture and urban design reveals a greater value in contemporary discourses; one founded in its stylistic pluralism, its undogmatic interpretation of modernism, its insistence on historical and cultural continuity, its attention to the visual aspects and heterogeneity of the built environment, along with an aesthetic based on compromise, synthesis and inclusion.
Keyword architecture
urban design
Additional Notes 121, 122, 135, 136, 147, 148, 163, 164, 183, 184, 189, 190, 205, 206, 223, 224, 227, 228, 231, 232

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Created: Fri, 03 Jul 2009, 11:44:29 EST by Mr Mathew Aitchison on behalf of Library - Information Access Service