The City Within the City
by LÉON KRIER
A + U, Tokyo, Special Issue, November 1977, pages 69-152. Reprinted in: Architectural Design, volume 54 (1984), Jul/Aug pages 70-105. Also in: Léon Krier: Houses, Palaces, Cities, Demetri Porphyrios, editor, Academy Publications, London, 1984. With added sections from “The Cities Within the City II”, Architectural Design, volume 49 (1979), Jan pages 18-32; and “The Reconstruction of the European City”, Architectural Design, volume 54 (1984), Nov/Dec pages 16-22.
A city can only be reconstructed in the form of urban quarters. A large or a small city can only be reorganized as a large or a small number of urban quarters; as a federation of autonomous quarters. Each quarter must have its own center, periphery and limit. Each quarter must be A CITY WITHIN A CITY. The quarter must integrate all daily functions of urban life (dwelling, working, leisure) within a territory dimensioned on the basis of the comfort of a walking person; not exceeding 35 hectares (80 acres) in surface and 15,000 inhabitants. Tiredness sets a natural limit to what a human being is prepared to walk daily and this limit has taught mankind all through history the size of rural or urban communities.
There seems, on the contrary, to be no natural limit to the size of a functional zone; the boredom which befalls man while driving a car has made him forget any sense of physical limit.
The form of the city and of its public spaces cannot be a matter of personal experiment. The city and its public spaces can only be built in the form of streets, squares, and quarters of familiar dimensions and character, based on the local tradition. Whether of grand metropolitan or intimate local quality, the streets and squares must present a permanent and familiar character. Their dimensions and proportions must be those of the best and most beautiful pre-industrial cities, obtained from and verified by a millennia-old culture.
After the crimes committed against the cities and landscapes of Europe over the last few decades in the name of progress and efficiency, the professions of architecture and engineering deserve nothing but the contempt of the population. The function of architecture is not, and never has been, to take one’s breath away: it exists to create a built environment which is habitable, agreeable, beautiful, elegant and solid.
Simplicity must be the goal of the urban plan, however complex the urban geography and topography. The city must be articulated into public and domestic spaces, monuments and urban fabric, classical architecture and vernacular buildings, squares and streets, and in that hierarchy.
This project opposes fragmentation: confronted by the growing monolithic powers of the State and the big economic organizations, we find that society and its culture is being increasingly fragmented. The true grandeur of a city depends on the intelligence of its physical and social organization, on the familiarity of its public spaces, the beauty of its monuments and finally, on the wisdom with which one knows how to exploit the beauties and the accidents of nature to the greatest advantage of all its citizens. It depends, above all, on the identification of each citizen with the present as much as with the past.
Hypertrophy is a characteristic of the decomposition of most European cities in the industrial era. The periphery destroys the structure of the historical center. Monofunctional zoning promotes high concentrations of administrative and commercial activities in the historic center, and the periphery remains a purely residential area. The old city becomes the heart of too-large a body, and under the combined pressures of building speculation and the growing tertiary sectors, it slowly disintegrates, with the population in the center dropping.
Monofunctional zoning can be identified as the most radical instrument in the destruction of European cities. Not only does it promote land and building speculation at the large scale, but it also strengthens the centralizing tendencies of political bureaucracies and justifies the monopolization of commerce. Thus, it destroys the refined and delicate physical fabric of most cities, and it has also become the most brutal means for destroying the social fabric and the complex cultural and economic relationships within the surviving urban community.
WHAT IS AN URBAN QUARTER: FORM AND LEGISLATION.
When Florence was the cultural and financial capital of the Renaissance, it contained scarcely 70,000 inhabitants. On foot, one could traverse this glorious city in twenty minutes from one side to the other. In the fifteenth century the most populous cities of Europe — Paris, Milan and Venice — contained no more than 100,000 people and already Leonardo da Vinci was proposing to divide his city into five autonomous riones (quarters).
Before 1800, and with the exception of Cologne, each of the most powerful and prestigious of the 150 German cities had no more than 35,000 inhabitants; Nuremberg had about 20,000. If the German architect, urbanist and teacher Heinrich Tessenow affirmed that there was a strict relationship between the economic and cultural wealth of a city on the one hand, and the limitation of its population on the other, he was advancing not a hypothesis but a historical fact. By cultural and material wealth he did not mean absolute power, but the just and harmonious relationship established between the citizens of a city and its territory.
In contrast to the zones of an industrialized territory, the measurements and geometric organization of a city and of its quarters are never the result of chance or accident or simply of economic necessity. The measurements and geometric order of a city and of its quarters constitute a project which is moral and legislative, technical and aesthetic.
As the glove and the shoe are the accomplished forms used to cover hands and feet, similarly the house and the street, the palace and the square are the just types and forms to shelter and protect the social life of a people.
It is a fact that a city of more than 50,000 inhabitants will not succeed in living solely on the resources of its surrounding territory unless blessed by the most clement of climates. Beyond a certain size, the mere logistics of supply and distribution become the principal aim of civic life; thus the majority of citizens are employed in the branches of distribution, administration, and services. Instead, we should realize that the right form of the city exists only in the right scale. An object that imitates a glove but which weighs ten tons is not a glove.
In violent opposition to the designers of industrial projects, in contrast to the numerous teachings of the Bauhaus, the Deutscher Werkbund, or the Nazi Deutsche Arbeits Front (DAF), there is no reason to believe that the measurements of the city and of its parts lie in mathematical precision. We are not interested in utopias or ideal projects and we refuse to occupy ourselves with ideal and abstract measurements. Such preoccupations are characteristic of merchants and policemen; they always confuse the notions of type and standard, of normality and norm. Monsters and midgets define the limits of normality; one by excess, the other by insufficiency. In order to define a normal measure it is thus sufficient for us to indicate limits, that is to say, the maximum and the minimum.
But measure does not only concern the geometric dimension of spaces and objects of the city and its quarters, but also the size of human communities. Like a tree or a man, a human community cannot exceed a certain dimension without becoming a monster; either a giant or a dwarf. As Aristotle said: “To the size of cities there is a limit as is the case with everything, with plants, animals, tools; because none of these can retain its natural power if it is too large or too small, for it then loses its nature or it is spoilt” (Aristotle, Politics).
Similarly, Galileo maintained that a man of 100 meters in height made of flesh and bone would imprison himself and would be incapable of living on this planet. The Pythagoreans taught that evil belonged to the realm of the limitless and that good belonged to that which was limited. Aristotle made this truth the foundation of everything: philosophy, ethics, and by consequence, of politics and culture.
Just as proper measure is the condition of all life, so the vitality of a community overdevelops or atrophies according to the number of its inhabitants; a city can die by an abnormal expansion, density or dispersion. And just as a family does not grow through the swelling of the parents’ bodies but through the birth of children, so an urban civilization cannot with impunity grow beyond the exaggerated swelling of human agglomerations. “A tree grows freely –“, wrote the progressive German industrialist and anti-Nazi statesman Walther Rathenau, “– that doesn’t mean that it is going to decamp or for that matter grow up to the sky”.
The free and harmonious growth of an urban civilization cannot be accomplished except by the right and judicious geographical distribution of its cities and communities, which have to be autonomous and finite. Only then will cities know how to respond to the economic functions of a community and satisfy the highest aspirations of the spirit.
THE NATURE OF THE CITY.
Like all organisms in nature, a city must be a finite object; it has a mature, i.e., a maximum and a minimum size, both in surface and volume, in plan and silhouette, in the number of inhabitants it can house and in the number of activities it can allow and perform.
Contradicting and in contrast to the a-centrality and functional monotony of industrial zones, a city is a geographical center of limited size, integrating all periodic and aperiodic urban activities, functions and uses, whether private or public, commercial or productive, religious and political in nature.
A metropolis is formed by a smaller or greater number of independent and autonomous cities, by a federation of cities. The metropolis provides for those functions of national and international importance which overburden and overcrowd the daily lives of one single city. These activities are located in the malls and parks, along the avenues and squares which separate the different cities of a metropolitan federation, or alternatively along the parades and boulevards which form its boundaries and limits towards the countryside. The metropolis must have a center and a well-defined, readable limit.
A city is formed by a maximum of four urban quarters. It provides for periodic and aperiodic functions of regional importance which would overburden and overcrowd the daily working of one single quarter. These activities are located within the avenues and squares which separate the different quarters, or, alternatively, along the boulevards which form the boundary and limits of the city and its quarters. The city must have a center and a well-defined, readable limit.
The urban quarter is a true city within the city. As a part, it contains the features and qualities of the whole. It is a full and mature member of the family of quarters which form the city. The urban quarter provides for all periodic local (daily and weekly) urban functions (residential, educational, productive, administrative, commercial, recreational, etc.) within a limited piece of land dimensioned on the needs of a pedestrian.
The walking person should be able to reach on foot, and without the use of mechanical means of transport, all habitual daily and weekly functions within a maximum of 10 minutes walk. Such a compact area measures approximately 33 hectares (80 acres). In a metropolitan federation of independent cities the importance of mechanical means of transport, whether public or private, will be greatly reduced; they will serve principally aperiodic needs and they will become instruments of privilege and pleasure.
THE SIZE OF A CITY.
If we speak of public space, we speak of its quality, of its type, of its measurements, of its proportions. If order and measure are proper to every divine creation, it must therefore also be true for every human creation. Without measure and without form, terrestrial things cannot exist; they exist only as sickness, disorder, uproar. A body either too big or too small is a monster or a dwarf.
Similarly, formless and ill-dimensioned piazzas, streets and courtyards cannot survive. The problem of measure and form as regards the relationship between the city and countryside, between urban space and agricultural land, depends on whether measure and form become instruments of industrial or of artisanal production.
For an urban society, a small fertile island can be a paradise. For a suburban society, no land and no continent is big enough to still its greed, to soothe its misery. The city always defines its limits, it distinguishes urban space from rural land. On the contrary, suburban sprawl aggresses both city and countryside and proclaims to the world: “What is yours will be mine”.
When distinct, city and countryside form a happy marriage. They create a heritage of building, culture, language, knowledge, of instruments and goods. Instead, suburban sprawl is based on a marriage of convenience and, lacking any roots, it repudiates heritage, traditions and cultures. It conquers both city and countryside in order to destroy them. The suburb hates itself: it knows that it is neither countryside nor city and wants to conquer the world because it cannot be at peace with itself.
The city needs no suburb to live. The suburb cannot live without a city. The suburb without a city is like a cancer without a body. A suburb built 100 miles away from a city will do everything to attack its victim: it will erect vast infrastructures and mobilize colossal machines in such a manner as to realize its objectives of destruction. The suburb strangles the city by surrounding it and kills the city, tearing out its heart. A suburb can only survive, it cannot live. It can survive like a parasite, consuming both city and countryside. No city and no countryside, however rich and fertile, can survive besieged by a suburb.
The city grows like a family, multiplying itself: the suburb grows instead from its own body, by tentacular expansion. The city is always limited in size and number but the suburb knows no limits: it has no center or form, it is only a fragment. The city is the ideal state, the mean between the tyranny of the village and the tyranny of the metropolis.
Even if a city is abandoned for a certain period by its inhabitants, it still continues to survive like a body in an unconscious state; a body which will revive when the spirit regains consciousness. Venice is a city and so it will remain even if it is inhabited by cats and fish. But if it is transformed into business quarters it would then die. An abandoned city can be as beautiful as Sleeping Beauty; a city zoned for single functions can at best be as beautiful as a corpse.
TECHNIQUES FOR RECONSTRUCTING THE CITY.
Far from resolving the private and public traffic problems, the monofunctional zoning of cities only dissolves complex urban communities into cities for sleeping, cities for working, and cities for consumption. The only solution now is not better public transport, but the elimination of much of the commuting traffic by integrating again urban functions like living/working in the same urban area.
The division of the city into a limited number of quarters would reduce the urban territory by half. All future building would have to go on within these limited perimeters in order to complete the quarters. New agricultural land and forests would surround these well-defined cities and villages within the city. This would require a radical, new, and legally strict redefinition of city and countryside. It would promote the cultural and economic autonomy of these quarters, so that they function as communes with full executive powers under the direct control of their citizens.
Such a federation of cities would, however, only be realized around a centralized legal framework which would insure a harmonious development of these cities within the city. The legislation for the city would be centralized: the executive power, however, would be decentralized; each quarter would have its own political status to encourage local participation.
If we do not recognize the specific value of European (or, more generally, traditional) urban culture now, we will be increasingly subject to the imposition of urban structures which have been created only for survival and are totally conditioned by the sole contingencies of production and consumption.
We propose to slowly transform the periphery into a federation of small cities, each with its own center, size and character. Within these proposals is introduced the concept of Radical Conservation. One knows with what persistence entire urban districts have been destroyed by declaring them “without historic or artistic interest”. The arbitrariness of these “values” has become evident, when fine buildings dating from the turn of the century and of undeniable technical and aesthetic quality were sacrificed in the fever of speculation for rapid profit. One must recognize the absolute value of “Cities of Stone” — the accumulative work of the generations which have preceded us.
The sole criterion to judge the value of a building must proceed from the success with which it is inserted into the urban fabric, from the way in which it participates in the cohesion and the beauty of public spaces — not from its will to fragment its context, or its ability to stand out from it. To continue the wild destruction of the city means to subject ourselves, and the future generations, to the cycle of production and consumption of a more and more futile environment. The “will to express our age”, an almost absurd myth, must not in future be permitted to destroy existing cities; energies should be channeled to build new quarters and new cities imbued with the intelligence of the “cities of stone”.
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