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Kultur och resor



Ideals in urban design - value of ideals

Av Leo Gullbring
In connection with the arrangement of the international urban competition for University College of Malmö on Universitetsholmen a conference was organized the 25th april 1997 by Juul & Frost, Copenhagen, in cooperation with the Organising Committee for Malmö University College and City Planning Office, Malmö. The purpose was to discuss the university as a phenomenon in relation to the city, to the landscape, in relation to the tradition of the university, and to the common cultural and social challenge. In particular the intention was to inspire to a discussion about the university of the future in an urban context. The University College of Malmö is expected to turn into an active partner in the urban discussion about the future of Malmö as well as the future expansion of the city. Seen as an urban turning point, architectonically, socially, culturally and educationally the future development will create a challenge in relation to urban design, landscape, architecture and planning.


Universitetsholmen is situated immediately adjacent to the heart of the Malmö city centre. It's partly made up by undeveloped land which formerly was a part of the harbour and shipyard district. The site constitutes an important area where Malmö can fulfil it's ambition to expand towards the sea. The development area is suitable for both national and regional functions, and the future University College is expected to boost Malmö's competitiveness in the increasingly integrated Öresund region. Ilmar Reepalu, head of the municipality of Malmö, opened up the conference by stating that Malmö hopes to acquire a new image as the City of knowledge, and it's his firm conviction that the inhabitant of Malmö already embraces this very statement. He recalled a recent trip to Manhattan, where the New York City University had struck him as a useful idea about what a university in a city could be, as opposed to University campus' detached from city life. All the dorms are located nearby, while the library of Philip Johnson and Richard Foster ads a strong architectural mark.

What will follow here is not a proper summary. Added to some sketchy recapitulations of the main lectures given by such diverse exponents as Peter Wilson and Josep Martorell, the professors Josef P Kleihues and Bernardo Secchi, the main text contains some reflections and further extensions of the debate that followed. The main questions at hand can be stated as such: how will we be able to build a university in a city and in the same time avoiding all the pitfalls of 20-century architecture? The challenge presented to the competition of the new Universitetsholmen involves discussions on three issues: architecture, town planning as well as urbanism in a general sense. Architecture involves themes as different as semiotics and xx. Town planning takes into consideration the experience of IBA as well as Berlin capital of Germany, and what is it that makes a space into a place? Lastly we have the relationship between Malmö and Universitetsholmen. Conferance chairman xx Thomas Hellqusti stated that the main issue is this integration, the linkage city centre and the university area. And this is important in a broader perspective, with the bridge-lin, just passing Malö, to make it visible, and here talking about image, which sometimes can be opposed to this today so fashionable integration. Image is what makes a space into a place...

Some reflections on the conference,

commentary by Leo Gullbring

Imagineering the city

Referring to the image of a city, Ilmar Reepalu focused on one of the fundamental questions of contemporary architecture. Space is not only transformed into place because of buildings, the role played by image is essential in this regard. Architecture responds not only to our physical needs, but also to our spiritual needs, and here it's worth considering the concept of imagineering. Usually we don't talk much about image in Sweden, possibly because we are culturally more down to earth, and furthermore because our architects still largely embraces the materialistic attitude of modern architecture. Today though, we have a tendency to subordinate the new to the old, as if wise to the fact that we lack these more holistic qualities present in the architecture of the past. The ensuing debate between professor Josef Kleihues, on one side, and professor Bernardo Secchi and Peter Wilson, on the other side, focused on the morphology of the modern city. In the evening, at the centre for Design and Form, Professor Kleihues repetitively said that what is needed in contemporary urban planning is 'modesty'. And while Peter Wilsons mentioned Rotterdam as a city in search of an image, Professor Kleihues called it an outright disaster. Here we can discern a dividing line between an architecture still hooked to the modernist search of new solutions, and on the other hand postmodern, historicist as well as the more ambitious 'critical reconstruction' by Professor Kleihues, which is ever more present in the contemporary architectural debate.

One is inclined to reflect that to be modern is only a desire, never to be fulfilled, therefore the buildings of the Modern Movement has had a hard time being accepted. There is also an philosophical division between the structuralists belief in society, as well as its build form, as a fixed pattern which man has to adjust himself to, as opposed to a more 'liberal' belief that the structures of society are shaped in interrelationships with man, ultimately the belief by Heidegger that the only home that man possesses is language. Thus the question of image is undoubtedly of fundamental importance to architecture as well as urban planning, it eventually has to do with how individuals do relate to the city. And this is of outermost concern at Universitetsholmen since academics as well as artist are supposed to be the true individualists of our time. In his lecture the Danish architect and critic Jens Kvorning hinted at some crucial questions. What is the possibility for the individual to realise his ambitions in a city? How can we improve the relationship between the city and the individual? And what does a city for the intellectual look like?

Image is clearly a pivotal issue in the creating of a total new area in the city of Malmö. And we don't have to go to such extremes as the skyscrapers of Manhattan to recognise the need of imagineering. Imagineering has connotations with semiotics in treating the city not only as an material fact, but in ascribing images as expressions of wishes, of dreams, in short, what we wish to experience and what we do perceive. It has to do with framing and how we add significance. And images can be so strong that they overturn a deeply rooted conception of a city, at best they are self fulfilling prophecy, at worst superficial postmodern or deconstructivist exclamation marks where architecture is reduced to mediation. Entering the postindustrial age Malmö strives to be something more than the third largest town of Sweden. During the last decade art has come to be an ever increasingly valued part of the city. The chairman of the conference Tomas Hellquist, from the museum of Architecture in Stockholm, pointed out that with the new bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden, Malmö requires visible architecture and other strong images to attract visitors as well as culture and commerce. It's only to regret that the big crane, which today dominates the competition site, is to be removed, although it has a double sided image, both as a landmark and as a symbol for the demise of Malmö's industrial era.

The IBA experience

The concept of image raises some fundamental questions regarding what will be the content of the University. It also questions the role of architecture itself. Here it would be important to digress on the urban renewal schemes of the last decades. We can discern different approaches to the contemporary city, ranging from extremes like Disneyland and gated communities of the US, to the Lille of Rem Koolhaas, the Docklands of London, the Fukuoka of Japan. IBA represents one of the most interesting projects, not only because of the presence of professor Kleihues, but mainly as an attempt to preserve the city character that has been influential in Sweden as well. Here we have a sort of an archaic notion of 'Raum' or place, as opposed to the free, limit-less space of the modernist tradition. This preoccupation with urban morphology, inspired by Aldo Rossi, Robert Venturi and the Krier brothers, has been adopted in some Swedish urban renewal objects which were pointed out by Olof Hultin. Södra Station and Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm, not to forget 'Potatisåkern' in Malmö which were directly inspired by Tegel in Berlin. IBA raises fundamental question on the modern city, and has caused much debate in Berlin.

In the seventies IBA, promoted and shaped by Professor Kleihues, gave an architectural answer to the demands of Berliners whom wanted their inner city rescued and rebuilt. Already at the time of the 1957 Interbau exhibition residents occupied buildings to be torn down, and rejected the Modernist's solution for housing shortage with either skyscrapers or public housing on the outskirts of the city. In Sweden the Modernist housing program were carried out nevertheless, a giant social experiment with much debated consequences, which might have turned quite different had architects and politicians read Jane Jacob's book 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities' which was published some years ahead. IBA on the other hand recognised that the principles of modern architecture had come under attack since the mid-'60s and tried to adopt a different perspective on the city. Josef P Kleihues saw, like Josep Martorell points out with regard to Barcelona, the car and the postwar growth of the cities as the main problems. With a 'critical reconstruction' it should be possible to reinterpretate the traditional typology of the street, the arcade, the perimeter block and the quarter. IBA produced some postmodern, as well a rational, as well as new-modern architecture (not to forget some deconstructivist manifestations). But one of the main drawbacks, which is to be blamed on the planning authorities, was the failure to generate mixed uses, one of the main goals of Professor Kleihues' urban strategy.

The historicist trap

But although we talk about a critical reconstruction, the risk is overwhelming, as professor Bernardo Secchi asserted during his lecture, that we might fall in the historicist trap. The problem, as Francesco Dal Co, another Venetian points out, is that our difficulty to understand our own time lead us to look for solutions in the past. But history has no fixed solutions to our time, history can only challenge and problemetise our present. Dal Cos critique can be read thus that solutions of the past are always part of a whole, and the postmodern way of choosing separated fragments out of history to answer present problems is doomed to fail, if we believe, as opposed to the postmodernists, in the need of unified solutions to present problems. And Dal Co points out how easily misunderstood history might be. Where some architects find harmony in historical places like San Marco or Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Dal Co discerns a acute conflictuality between different buildings, and it's this very conflictuality which can give such a fruitful state of tension to a place. A critical suggestion might be that it is the conception of harmony which is at stake. This would be true both of modernist as well as neoclassical utopical architecture, which both strived after a perfect order, a harmony without conflicts, a perfection where the rules of God had been substituted by the rules of man himself, but where the rules were as strict as ever.

This of course has to do with values, which in this postmodern or should we say neo-baroque age, are more dissimilar than ever. Chaos-theory at least makes amends for the belief that neither God or any deterministic order is really needed, or as the Nobel prizewinner Ilya Prigogine puts it, the maximum organisational complexity attainable in a given system is determinated by the velocity of communication. The problem, as Professor Bernardo Secchi state it, is to reconcile continuity with our present cultures' dispersion and fragmentation. Maybe our cities represents no real home to modern man, this nomad in perpetual search of his own identity. And here Professor Secchi focuses on the crisis of traditional artistic language, i e the problem of continuity, and points to the necessity of a deeper understanding of the relationship between the urban pattern and our contemporary culture. The question at large is if there is any unifying aspect of the city today, and if there is, which one? Nevertheless, maybe it's only now architecture can embrace the original definition of modernism, which was the spirit of much of the modern art movement, with important exceptions in Mondrian and others, that modernity implies the ever a changing, the perpetually reborn, the irrevocable insight that "all that is solid melt into the air". One is of course left to consider if this pluralistic society, built 'note by note' is what we want, or if we should treat our architectural heritage as 'points of resistance', or if they can be included in a new type of city, where the megastructures of the Archigram-movement has been traded for our architectural heritage as 'points of resistance' and the networks of the information society, and where all those plug-in units have been replaced by the gadgetry of our information age, where the Plug-in city has been renamed the Plug 'n Play city.

Writing the city

In a sense Professor Josef Kleihues' lecture poses anew this age old question as if we should opt for radical experimentation or a bourgeois 'modesty' and 'solidity'. Is the city block an unavoidable building stone of the city, or is the 'infrastructural' city Peter Wilson referred to, a possibility neglected by the major part of the architects themselves? After the IBA, Berlin is now becoming the capital of Germany, and the urban transformation poses different challenges. If we see to the debate on the proposals for the Potsdamer Platz, Professor Kleihues has altogether deserted his original preoccupation with the city block. And while Daniel Libeskind has been one of the most bitter critics of the development in Berlin, his Jüdisches museum stands in sharp contrast with the prevailing ideas. It's a protest against the demystified perfectionist utopia of Modernism. Libeskind does critizise the town planners of Berlin of treating tradition as had it one and only definitive meaning. He maintains that one chooses ad hoc what fits our present time's need for an Prussian order, under the pretext that this would be a traditional architecture in the spirit of Schinkel, thus neglecting the fact that traditional architecture were at least as pluralistic as contemporary architecture. Libeskind asserts that these surgical operations are reshaping whole blocks just to achieve order, to accomplish a new simplicity, a new uniformity, a mute city which levels out all differences and suppresses all individuality. Libeskind questions the relation between power and architecture, and he opts for a solution not far away from the MBA-scheme realised in Barcelona, and also in coherence with the ideas of Professor Secchi. New buildings or places are to be inserted on strategic points, thus reinforcing and reshaping the present character of the city blocks, adding new functions to old ones, and where existing town is no obstacle to development. And this is based on a belief that a city is a process, a metamorphosis without an end, where there is no 'final solution'.

A part from the discussion on European urban renewal schemes, it's necessary to note that traditional town-planning seldom succeed since parameters as unemployment, stockexchange-rates, the decisions by politicians and speculators, will irrevocably change the outcome long before the plans are eventually completed. It's questionable utopia to think that traditional static planning is possible in an ever a changing society, that an absolute control of the urban project can eliminate the unforeseen, the unpredicted. But the present insistence in every urban project, at least in Sweden and in Berlin, to plan and design every square meter is disastrous, there is no leftover space, in a sense no space for the unforeseen, for the future itself.

One is certainly attracted by the strategy used by MBA in the urban redevelopment of Barcelona, where the city has been edited like a book, enhancing, underlining certain values, where letters and words might change, but not whole chapters. On the other hand this attitude might feel like resignation, where architecture renounce all claims to vision for the future, where architecture lends itself to the same provocative style which is the distinctive mark of the information society. But confronting Libeskind with our need for stable references where to dwell, he retorts citing Paul Valéry's belief in that the greatest threat against humanity is order and chaos. Harmony is not to be aspired, cities can't be more perfect than our own lives.

Jens Kvorning talked about 'points of resistance' in abandoned industrial landscape, archeological relics of the industrialisation age, this 'terrain vague' left in our inner cities. The existing buildings can act as reference points in the metrics of transformation, and where the singular nature of these spaces, as well as the urban organisation in itself, might deserve the same kind of attention which we normally pay to the value of context. The heterogeneity and discontinuity of these places might act as important clues to the analysis of the city as a whole, rediscovering that the traditional city is in itself a result of the same kind of unilinear process where order and disorder always has coexisted, where chance never have been totally eliminated.

This leads to the relation of Universitetsholmen to Malmö, the question concerning building the a university in the city, which according to Ilmar Reepalu is the great challenge at hand. Universitetsholmen will be crucial to the urban pattern of Malmö. Historically Malmö was built in an east-western direction, but in modern time the city has evolved in a south-northern path. The new University College will further enhance this redirection of the city, and will anchor it to the sea. The site is nevertheless exposed to the the forces of nature in a susceptible way. Jens Kvorning warned from letting the University dominating the site. The experience of the University of Copenhagen city shows that students tends to use the city much more active than ordinary citizens, while too many faculties in one place might actually silence the area.

An architecture for the information age

When Professor Secchi stresses the need to 'build' the open space connecting the different parts of an urban landscape, we could go further and dwell on the possibilities of the information society, which constitutes a kind of virtual infrastructure. Our urban space is immersed in an enormous amount of energy and flow of information, and this is as important as once topography or the geometrical grid. Maybe architecture as we have known it, in its built form, is partially an anachronism. When I write this very commentary on my laptop sitting in a bar, the traditional office is not indispensable anymore. Maybe the city nomads in 'Strange Days', the sf-movie by James Cameron, are not so unrealistic. Who will need architects when you can connect to the 'world' by a 'squid' from your own quarter, a human interface which lets you experience more than reality itself ever can offer, a situation already present on account of the television and the simulated computer games. In many ways the information society radically questions and changes our use of buildings. The Japanese architect Toyo Ito asserts that one of the main challenges of contemporary architecture is the reconciling of our virtual and physical bodies, one which is dependent on and subliminally reacts to the information flow, and the other one which reacts to the forces of nature like light, water and wind. This focus on an architecture for the information age, a kind of a third reality, might be even more interesting while talking about Universitetsholmen, since the universities of today as well as tomorrow is ever more dependent on radically new kind of communications systems. Toyo Ito contends that we are related to the city and to architecture by our physical as well as virtual bodies. It's natural for the physical body to pursue physical comfort, but what kind of space is apt for our virtual body? In his project for a Médiathèque for the city of Sendai, Toyo Ito tries to find a new type of architectural and urban space which can accommodate these two bodies.

In a sense this commentary ends up with a question to what is the role of the historical city today, assuming that the city is a representation of our culture, hidden or not. Is the physical urban pattern the main problem to be solved through different kind of urban renewal schemes, or is it the city as a meeting point, where ideas are exchanged, where relations are tied, where decisions are made which is the main consideration at hand? Building a university in the city poses the fundamental questions as to what our future city looks like.


'Berlin - IBA and the new development', lecture by Professor Josef Kleihues

According to Professor Josef Kleihues the IBA-experience is a part of the living history of Berlin, but today Berlin is the capital of Germany and the solutions required are quite different. With some slides he demonstrates how modernism has simplified the city, and how modernism has used other kind of materials than the traditional ones. The conclusion is that the city has been deconstructed in a sense. His leading theme is appropriateness, and he is nonetheless convinced that experimentation is needed, but the problem with modernism is this greed for novelty, one has misunderstood the autonomy of the individual. Architecture should be a response to a self-destructive world. And Professor Kleihues shows different proposals by modernists like Le Corbusier and Peter Smithsons which glorified traffic and reduced the historical city to a machine in an ambition to open up the city. The most significant move was the destruction of the city block.

Although the fifties and the sixties brought the deconstruction of the European city, there were also critics like Aldo Rossi and the Krier brothers, which showed the need of an reconstruction of the European city. And this was the fundamental stimulus for IBA. He points out that IBA aspired to quality and simplicity in urban design, and this should also be applicable to Malmö.

Since there's is an obvious risk of a nostalgic reconstruction, Professor Josef Kleihues calls this for a critical reconstruction. The spirit of enlightenment, of humanism is important, and solidity and modesty are asked for. This was also the ideas which accompanied Schinkel, and also Behrens. This strive for modesty doesn't necessarily imply historicism, rather Kleihues opts for a 'poetic' rational architecture.

Josef P Kleihues was born 1933, Rheine, Westphalea. 1974-94 professor at the University of Dortmund, since 1994 Professor of architecture at the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf. In 1977 he wrote a series of articles together with Wolf J Siedler in the "Berliner Morgonpost" suggesting that IBA should engage Berlin's historic fabric and oscial problems through a combination of new as well as rehabilitated buildings. From 1979-1987 Kleihues served as planning commissioner of the IBA in Berlin.

'Hidden values', lecture by Professor Bernardo Secchi

In his lecture Professor Bernardo Secchi took as his starting point the growing discontent with the urban situation in all Europe. The failure to respond to this unhappiness with urban 'chaos', urban sprawl, dispersion, fragmentation, heterogeneity and lack of continuity of the urban space, shows that a more theoretical approach to the contemporary city is needed. We might to readily blame bad administration, speculators, bureaucratic planning and architects, while it's rather our inability to understand contemporary society and its 'hidden values' which is the problem. What is at stake is the readability of the urban space, and this is also the reason why planners and architects have this tendency to idealise the city of the past.

Professor Bernardo Secchi showed some slides that he and Paola Viganò prepared for the plan of Prato, an Italian town of 200 000 inhabitant. With a history as a textile town, the main spatial feature of Prato is heterogeneity; the pervasive and continuous matching, without an apparent order, of heterogeneous architectural objects, of heterogeneous 'materials'. This differentiated urban pattern was showed on a drawing where houses, factories, schools, shops, sports grounds and so on where individualised with different colours. Professor Secchi propose this mapping as a kind of a 'deconstruction' of the urban space into its element components, into its 'materials'.

Together with different kind of artists, including writers, photographers, painters, musicians the urban space has been analysed from different points of view, as an attempt to a careful 'description' of the urban space. Professor Secchi shows that the result was the discovery of three main aspects. First of all the 'corporality' of the urban space, the city as a space we cross and use by the means of our body, how we perceive it and how we move in it, or as Michel Foucault and Richard Sennet put it, the body at the centre of our thinking. Secondly (with a reference to the Pillow book, the Sei Shonagon book, as proposed in Greenways movie) that the contemporary urban space is made by small pieces, like a puzzle, a 'collage' of small sequences, each one with its own identity, matched together without a general order, but according to form, as well as to rules, which combined creates strong structures. Thirdly Professor Secchi cites Charles Rosen, a musician and a professor of music: "what disappeared between Mozart and Schoenberg was the possibility of using large blocks of prefabricated material in music. The meaning of an element of form in Mozart was given essentially by the structure of each work, but the element was sometimes a large cadential formula lasting many measures.... By the end of the nineteenth century, these blocks of prefabricated material were no longer acceptable to composers with styles as widely variant as Debussy, Schoenberg, and Skryabin. To employ these blocks of material resulted immediately in pastiche: giving them up, however, led to a kind of panic. It seemed as if music now had to be written note by note". And Professor Secchi concludes that "many contemporary cities...is written 'note by note', piece by piece, stamp by stamp, and this 'fractality' of the urban space leads to a kind of panic" "we have to recognise...that the attempts to employ again the old blocks of prefabricated materials, as in Berlin or in many urban projects in Europa, returning to the block, the boulevard, the corridor street, results immediately ... in a pastiche."

Professor Secchi's claim is that what has disappeared in the contemporary city is the possibility to use some important figures which gives order and intelligibility to the urban space. The figure of continuity dominated the urban scene from the renaissance up to the last century - during the renaissance this figure implied a 'search of infinity', during the baroque the 'sublime', then the 'regularity' during the political and industrial revolution, until it met with hierarchy and specialisation during the XIX century. These figures gave unity to the city, "linking, from a physical, functional and symbolical point of view, the working and meaning of each urban element to the working and significance of the city as a whole". Nevertheless they were weak 'structures' with ample room for a so-called free play, and this openness to interpretation was their immense value. In contrast "A city written note by note has to create a new structure... a structure able to link the different pieces of the puzzle in a significant unity", much as Schoenberg, Webern and Berg ha to do it in the twenties. Professor Secchi concludes that "in an urban space written note by note, the expressive value of each element, of each architectural object, of each material, takes an in-ordinate significance and replaces syntax." And this might be the reason why so many city planners, as well as architects, has gone back to a 'neoclassical' view. Professor Secchis hypothesis, nevertheless, is "that we can search for a new structure studying the relationships between what has to be continuous, and what can be variant."

And Professor Secchi points out that we continuously meet different languages since we live in a dispersed society, in a fragmented urban space. And that this dispersed language is an undeniable aspect of our culture, was already stressed by Joyce and Musil more than fifty years ago, and further underlined by Calvino and Pasolini. According to Professor Secchi we acknowledge the importance of 'differences' in revenues and ways of life today, we have a certain intolerance for 'repetition', furthermore ideologies and values has a decreasing importance and a less unifying power than before. The importance of 'body' and of 'difference' is according to Professor Secchi, "the latest stage of a long process of individual emancipation and progress of laicism."

Professor Secchi is convinced that it's not new buildings which are needed to give a new structure to the urban space, but mainly by the design of open spaces, and setting rules for the 'play' different form the past. In Prato the distinction is between very large surfaces, i e natural preserves, " and some point like gardens and parks in the urban texture and some lines, as 'connections', links between the surfaces and the points." These points, lines and surfaces can give a form, a figure, to an urban chaotic scene.

Professor Secchi acknowledges that "to build the city ... to modify and transform it, to adequate it to our way of life, to our technology, consuming and cultural attitudes...modifying functional and social geography of the existing city, takes a very long time." And here we have a discrepancy of two different horizons: the short time horizon of the social common values, and the long time horizon of every undertaking for the transformation of the actual urban situation. In short he points out a contradictions between the mobility, the volatility of the political and financial movements, and on the other hand the stability of the infra-structural system, the so-called 'social capital' with its technical constraints, in short a contradiction between the horizons of politics and technics.

To conclude his speech Professor Secchi stated that "Writing the city architecture, I mean designing the cities and their architectures, we have to combine these two aspects: the 'epic' character of a design in which the hidden values of the society are represented, and the polyphonic free play for the different social groups, the different minorities by which our societies are made. Obviously what I'm stressing here is the need to come back to an 'epic' writing and planning; to Joyce and Musil, not to the general, comprehensive, bureaucratic plan as we knew in the European experience of the past forty or fifty years." This requires a plan in which continuity matches dispersion and fragmentation.

Bernardo Secchi was born 1934. Formerly he was professor at the Geneva School of Architecture, today he is Professor of urbanism at the Venice School of Architecture. He has a long experience as a town planner and architect.

'Educating - The City, some waterfront and inland examples in Holland and Germany', lecture by Peter Wilson

Peter Wilson polemically states that their is no absolute concepts in architecture and therefore we cannot simplicise. The city is a complex entity and while Berlin might have a fixed image, Rotterdam might be looking for an image. Wilson showed a slide from Münster and explained that these beautiful gothic houses are actually only facades, behind them are modern buildings from the '60. Without going further into this aspect, he nevertheless underlined that architecture is not a background, but rather at catalyst. Architecture has to be active and our city is not only an object, it's also an idea. Buildings therefore play an active role in the city and with his library of Münster as an example, Peter Wilson dwelled on the choreography of the use of the building in the city.

Peter L Wilson was born 1950, Melbourne, Australia. 1978-88 he was Professor at the AA School in London. Since 1987 he lives and works in Münster, Germany.

'Some approaches to the form of the city,' lecture by Josep Martorell

According to Josep Martorell the urban character of the European cities has since the Middle Ages been determined formally by two very precise features, which are firstly the organisation of the public spaces as articulators of the city, by means of streets, squares and parks. Secondly we have the organisation of constructions which are primarily based on the traditional city block. But during the present century we have been forced to take two new facts into consideration, that the car and the pedestrian can co-exist in the street, and secondly that the growth of the city does not destroy its urban character. What is needed is a street system which is consistent and as homogeneous as possible, facilitating to the maximum communication in all directions, and which responds to the complexity of the city. Furthermore we have the unique identity of each different part of the city. And finally the monumental aspect of certain points or areas which accentuate a piece of the city as an entity and indicate its urban centrality.

Although Martorell doesn't believe in the unformal results of the urban proposals of the CIAM, a new element has nevertheless to be added to the above mentioned features. "The city now requires the presence of the building typologies derived form the Modern Movement and the great value placed on sunlight, fresh air, and green spaces." "this involves a certain contradiction: we must accept the challenge of harmonising the urbanity of the traditional form of the European city, reinforced during the last century, with the unavoidable use of modern typologies."

This contradiction between traditional form and modern typologies has been an important challenge in a series of projects regarding the form of the city which MBM has accomplished since the end of the fifties. The slides Martorell showed do underline the necessity of making the city legible and here streets and squares are important structuring elements. One of the major projects has been the Barcelona Olympic Village in the Poblenou district, which gave Barcelona back the sea front, formerly blocked by its own port, industry and railway lines. Here Cerdà's plan has been reinstated, but at the same time adapted to the new building typologies developed with the Modern Movement.

Josep Martorell was born 1925, Barcelona. Together with Oriol Bohigas and David Mackay he founded the MBM arquits. He was Head Director of Urbanism and Architecture for the Vila Olimpica in Barcelona. MBM has been largely responsible for the urban renewal of Barcelona.

'Perspectives on Urban realism', speeches by Bjørn Larsen, Olof Hultin and Jens Kvorning

Bjørn Larsen is the chief editor of Byggekunst, Olof Hultin of Arkitektur and Jens Kvorning is Ass. Professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts with a long record of published books and articles about urban planning.

Bjørn Larsen , chief editor of Norwegian 'Byggekunst', showed Akers brygge in Oslo as an interesting example of a conversion of an old industrial area to new uses. The site is some 250 sq meters and 22% is used for housing. To avoid a too unform architecture the architects has given the different buildings outspoken facades with individual marks.

Jens Kvorning showed Sweden as seen from a Danish beach facing Malmö, and the sight is null. Redirecting the view towards Copenhagen what you at nighttime experience is mainly the lights and sounds of the industrial city. Jens Kvorning stressed that one of the most interesting changes going on right now is the transformation of obsolete industrial space. Another picture shows a Rauschenberg painting, where he has been scraping and adding to a picture of a city.

In central Copenhagen large industrial areas are now being converted to new uses. But some old structures can be used as 'points of resistance' to enhance the play between permanence and dynamism. Old buildings can give identity to the site. He also stressed the fact that the industrial landscape has been able to organise the urban sprawl, that this an another kind of architecture.

Copenhagen has a long experience of a University in the city-centre. And Jens Kvorning points out that students more actively than other citizens use the city. An important blend is appreciated, but a University must not grow to big, otherwise it might cause silence to reign in the city.

Olof Hultin , chief editor of Swedish 'Arkitektur', refers to some recent projects in Sweden, like Hammarby Sjöstad and Södra Station in Stockholm, where the city-block has been reinstated. He deplored the large public housing projects of the sixties and the seventies, and pointed out that the big building sites of that time led one to believe Sweden had took part in the second world war, a comparison once made by Kenneth Frampton. After the war Universities has been located as campus outside the cities. Frescati is one example, where Ralph Erskine nonetheless has managed to convert the trite site into something much more compelling. That a University adds value to a city, outside mere education, is an undeniable fact, and this is clearly shown in the controversy raised by a competition on the new University at Södertörn.


The recent resolution of the Riksdag
(Swedish parliament) to set up a
university college in Malmö is highly
significant for what is set to become
Sweden's most dynamic region. The
College will have a unique location, in
the heart of a city centre. The
competition area Universitetsholmen
("University Island") is part of the
harbour and shipyard district of Malmö,
which constitutes an important area of
expansion for the city centre, with
major natural qualities. The facilities can
be sited on partially undeveloped land
immediately adjacent to Malmö city
centre and to an extensive
public-transport system. The site is
among Sweden's most interesting
development areas, and is particularly
suitable for both national and regional

The aim of establishing a university
college in Malmö is to boost the city's
competitiveness in an increasingly
integrated Öresund region. The
Riksdag has emphasised that the supply
of well-educated labour is crucially
important for business and industry and
for employment, but also for
community development in general.
Accordingly, the College will play a
vital part in Malmö's development, of
which two striking features are a
thriving cultural life and, of course, the
new Öresund bridge.

These questions again implicated semiotics which not only has to do with what a building tells us, but also a more intertextual approach, how buildings relate to each other and to the site itself. Modernist buildings tended to stand out as enskilda solitärer, whereas Swedish architecture of today in many cases seem to be subordinated to the older urban fabric. Peter Eisenman has in his works insisted on these relationships, xx how do we relate to the existing urban structure?Dekonstrutivsm is about adopting, but so much that loose coherence, and the result dominates instead of relating. Also semiotics, do we underordna oss, dominate like modernism, or we exclude this two extremes, how do we relate? jmf Eisenman.

Leo Gullbring

Published by the City Planning Office of Malmö


2001 Calimero