Connection

From the Shelf

Conection (Visual Arts at Harvard) has come of age as a Harvard magazine. Its current issue on urban design is well-written, attractive, and consistently interesting to an architectural layman. Happily, it does not attempt to blanket the problem of urban decline and sprawl. It does offer differing points of view on specific problems.

Architects today have to design whole systems of buildings all at once, from civic centers to new cities. This calls for complex planning of functional interactions, social effects, and visual variety. Architecture schools which used to spawn endless distortions of Salisbury Cathedral and the Parthenon are now desparately seeking a more rigorous approach to urban design.

At Harvard's Graduate School of Design, the search for rigor is partly expressed by two phrases: "from follows function" and "the human scale." In this issue of Connection Benjamin Thompson, chairman of the Architecture Department, suggests a purposeful departure from "artistic" designing towards an "anonymous architecture," based principally on the uses and setting of a building. He uses the work of his own firm, The Architects' Collaborative, to illustrate the proposal. Thompson defines TAC's team style (as seen in the Geological Labs on Oxford St.) as "design for other humans than ourselves"--the opposite of "egotism and upstage-itis." His humanism has an odd ring, but the collaborative approach is one way of avoiding major blunders by individual architects.

Two articles (one by federal housing official Robert Weaver) deal with New Towns, i.e. autonomous suburban communities planned and created in one stroke. Their main point of agreement is an insistence that lower-income housing be included. Both articles point out a trend toward upper-income New Towns; but as graduate student David Dasch observes, no town can exist without garbage men. Two basic assumptions in the design of New Towns seem to be that green expanses should be maximized, and ranch houses eliminated.

But can Rome be built in a day? VAC official Eduard Sekler notes that all the existing masterpieces of urban design have evolved over a period of centuries, and before the advent of the elevator. Harvard Professor Willo von Moltke demonstrates, however, that Sekler's chief criteria--proportion, symbolic placement of essential buildings, "visual continuity," and reasonable traffic flow--can be employed in designing a new city (Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela). Both articles are effectively illustrated.

The magazine begins with a plea, from a symposium of planners, social scientists, and government officials, for the formation of a new scholarly discipline of urban studies. Russell Lynes' piece on the mobility of American families and an article called "Corridor Development" both suggest profitable lines of research, as, indeed, does the entire issue.