Town and townscape
Acaba de publicarse una página monográfica sobre la figura de Thomas Sharp, uno de los urbanistas británicos más influyentes del siglo pasado conocido por sus ensayos urbanísticos, pero también por redactar varios ‘reconstruction plans’ y por su contribución a la primera de las new towns inglesas de postguerra (Crawley): “Thomas Sharp was a key figure in town planning in the mid-twentieth century. The concepts he developed in his writings and plans have been of enduring significance and influence on thinking about planning and design for both practitioners and academics in the UK and beyond. He was a key figure in defining thinking about the forms that town and countryside should take; in reconciling existing and valued character with modernity, and; in making these arguments accessible through a series of polemical books. The plans he produced in the 1940s, primarily for historic cities such as Oxford, Exeter and Durham, were also hugely influential and were a major contribution to the development of ideas of townscape.”
Urbanista de una generacion posterior a Abercrombie, escribió varios libros sobre la teoría y la práctica del urbanismo, siendo el publicado en 1940, titulado Town Planning (y traducido al español en 1947 en Argentina por la Editorial Lautaro como “Urbanismo”) uno de los mejores y más vendidos tratados sobre la disciplina, tal y como reconoció en 1974 Gordon Cherry
Adjunto dos referencias, una está en inglés, y es el resumen que, a dicho libro, ha elaborado el respnsable del proyecto de investigación sobre Sharp que se difunde en esa web, el profesor John Pendlebury. En segundo lugar, un fragmento traducido de su opera magna. El post se ilustra con un modelo de ciudad, diseñado por el propio Sharp, del que parecen haberse inspirado los esquemas del new urbanism que aparecen en los libros de Calthope, Duany, Plater-Zyberk u otros
Town Planning de Thomas Sharp. Reseña de John Pendlebury
Town Planning has been claimed to be the best-selling text ever on the subject (Cherry, 1974). This partly rests upon Sharp’s assertions, made to Cherry and set out in Chronicles of Failure, where he claimed sales through various editions of around one quarter of a million copies. The book certainly went through numerous editions and was translated into German and Spanish. The first edition emerged as part of a Pelican series that included, for example, the closely contemporaneous An Introduction to Modern Architecture by J.M. Richards. Sharp’s biographical note for the text must have been self-penned as it included the ascerbic note that, referring to his planning work, he had ‘seen most of them shelved, as plans generally are in England’.
The preface tried to look beyond the war; indeed it was argued that there needed to be thought about what would happen after the war. The main text started with an argument about the awfulness of the contemporary town � an argument which would already have been familiar to Sharp’s readership. However, he sought to distinguish between himself and other commentators, such as D.H. Lawrence, by establishing that this was not an intrinsically English failing and indeed that there was a distinguished pre-Victorian history of town building. This history was related to practical democratic utility rather than authoritarian show, as exemplified by London squares. Similarly, English (and some Scottish) provincial towns were compared favourably to other European countries, as pleasant towns for citizens, though as Sharp made clear, not all citizens benefited. This English Renaissance tradition was, however, short-lived and ‘knocked to smithereens by two wretched missiles: one the smothering dough-lump of the Romantic Revival; the other the iron-hard money-bag of the Industrial Revolution’ (p.23). Likewise, the English Enlightenment countryside was ‘one of the supreme achievements of civilisation’ (p.27). This though was not intended to be a preservationist manifesto. On the contrary, the inspiration of the Eighteenth Century was the confidence to effect beneficial change.
Chapter 2 continued with a very familiar assault on garden cities (now labelled ‘Neither-Town-Nor-Country’) and suburbanisation. The first task for town planners was to rehabilitate the idea of the town. Much of the rest of the chapter was concerned with the form the future town might take and various theorists were discussed. Sharp started with the linear city as proposed by Arturo Sona y Mata in Spain and Soviet variants. Sharp dismissed this concept on a variety of grounds, not least its inefficiency in its stated stimulus; in claiming to be ‘Planning for a Transport Age’. He then considered ideas put forward to reformulate the big city. Though not named as such, he clearly had the MARS plan for London in mind (and indeed an image from this graced the first edition book cover!) with an old centre retained but the rest of the city rebuilt in a modified linear way, with substantial wedges of country between the urban blocks.
Ultimately, Sharp was dismissive about the desirability of having such big cities and the massive extent of such a renewed London; so this was ‘not only a wild dream but rather a bad one’ (p.64). He turned to urban hierarchies with a central city and satellite towns, a model he found more appealing and in principle more practical. This acknowledged that whilst big cities were problematic they had social attractions and might form part of a wider hierarchy in what Sharp sought to define as ‘subcentralisation’ (vs. decentralisation). In the final part of the chapter he discussed what the ideal size of a town might be, guessing that it might generally be around 100,000 with the occasional larger city.
Chapter 3 further explored the idea of what might constitute a ‘good’ town. Much of the early part of the chapter was an assault on what he regarded as fallacious standards of property density and distance between properties (with the then prevalent norms of twelve houses per acre and seventy foot between fronts and backs of parallel houses). Sharp again restricted himself from making conclusive statements about population density, but suggested that in the order of 150/200 people per acre might be appropriate versus the less than 50 in garden cities and the 400 suggested by Le Corbusier in Ville Radieuse. (Though he had some sympathy for Corbusian ideas he considered them impractical – he was not adverse to high rise flats at this stage and concluded that the appropriate residential mix would be a combination of flats and houses.) There were further attacks on arbitrary standards for urban open space. He was critical of the social segregation of the contemporary city and the attendant class snobbery, the more so as he saw planning reinforcing the separation of the social classes.
In considering what architectural form the future city should take, he reinforced his assault on that quintessential suburban form, the semi-detached house. Later in the chapter he attacked ‘paper planning’; grand symmetries of suburban layout only discernable in abstract form on paper or from the air. After analysing why the later nineteenth-century street was a debased architectural form, he argued that the terraced street remained the best form of urban design, providing the best picturesque (not quaint) architectural composition. As he had in Town and Countryside earlier, Sharp cited Trystan Edward’s ‘Good and Bad Manners in Architecture’ as a key influence on his ideas on these issues; at the level of the individual house, stress was placed upon emphasising doorways. Sharp outlined compositional principles for terraces which might avoid the monotony of the nineteenth-century street. Each individual street should be regarded as an architectural composition and a town should be a continuous series of contrasting compositions. With an urban hierarchy some principal streets might be quite long and given modest monumentality but most would be short and might be in cul-de-sacs. Above all, the key was variety. Ending the chapter with a call to arms, Sharp asserted that ugliness could easily be abolished from towns and, at a minimum, be replaced with order and seemliness, and that achieving this was vital to ordered civil society.
Chapter 4 was concerned with the countryside; with Sharp once again celebrating the English countryside whilst declaring himself anti-preservationist and against romanticism and sentimentality. Much of this chapter now seems unusually dated and, for the pragmatic Sharp, bizarrely impractical. For example, as part of a discussion on leisure, and the potential of a mechanised society for more leisure, there was a discussion about changing the length of the week and of different settlements having differently phased time off from work. Leisure use of the countryside was seen as a ‘hale and hearty’ activity resonant of such movements of the time as the Youth Hostelling Association. He argued for National Parks, as the pinnacle of a hierarchy of provision, which would also encompass Regional Parks. Following arguments set out in English Panorama, new villages along modern lines would be needed and country houses might, in some places, be replaced by blocks of flats (though note the changes in the 2nd edition of English Panorama). Finally, Sharp saw no present need for motorways bypassing the existing road system, preferring the idea of upgraded existing roads.
The final section of the book, Plan We Must, was concerned with implementation and governance. English planning was seen as a disgrace, particularly in its lack of support for distressed areas. International comparisons were made. After acknowledging the successes of contemporary dictatorships in some planning issues, Sharp produced examples from democratic countries of at least equivalent achievement to demonstrate that successful planning in a democracy was possible. His vision of how this might be achieved was, not surprisingly, technocratic. At the heart of the process would be a National Plan prepared by a Central Planning Commission of experts. This would provide a framework for Regional Commissions and so on down to the level of local authorities.
Fragmento traducido de Urbanismo de Thomas Sharp
“El problema que plantea la vida colectiva y la individual, la relación de las
personas entre sí y con las instituciones sociales a que pertenecen, encierra
excesiva complejidad para su examen en una obra de esta índole. A nosotros no
nos incumbe de manera directa la consideración de las ideas y los hechos de la
vida colectiva, sino más bien la provisión de un medio o instrumento apropiado
para realizar esa vida. Nos interesa la forma física y la disposición de ese medio
mas bien que las acciones y relaciones recíprocas de carácter social, político y
económico existentes dentro del propio organismo.
En consecuencia, para construir en el futuro buenas ciudades, ¿qué aspectos
relacionados con la disposición física debemos considerar?
Lo examinaremos de inmediato. Para llevar una existencia agradable el individuo
que habita una ciudad necesita que dentro de su hogar y en torno a él,
prevalezcan condiciones de vida sana y placentera. .. También requiere
facilidades fuera del hogar para su educación, entretenimiento, goce y relación
social; a fin de poder utilizarlas plenamente, han de hallarse relacionadas en tal
forma con el lugar de su residencia que pueda hacer uso de ellas sin verse
obligado a realizar un gasto desmedido de energía, tiempo y dinero. Así mismo,
su morada debe hallarse ubicada suficientemente cerca del lugar de su trabajo,
para que el viaje entre los dos sitios en que transcurre la mayor parte de su vida
no le signifique una pérdida ni un esfuerzo excesivos.
Estas son, en resumen, algunas de las necesidades individuales del ciudadano.
En cuanto a las de carácter colectivo, es decir, las de la comunidad en general,
equivalen a las mismas consideradas colectivamente y algunas otras…”
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