Competitions And Exhibitions In Urban Planning Research Paper

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Competitions and exhibitions are means of stimulating the production and exchange of ideas and techniques in urban planning. Competitions aim to elicit ideas from various people on a defined topic, exhibitions permit the comparison of projects and realizations from several locations. Both are aimed at enhancing good design and prompting public discussion and awareness, possibly consensus.

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1. Competitions

Competition is one of several options available for the choice of an urban plan and a planner. Others include: direct commissioning, holding of workshops or planning seminars, the appointment of an accompanying committee or a consultant. Competitions are good ways to find solutions, if the program and the constraints are clearly defined, so that the participants can make meaningful statements within a limited period of time. Competitions allow a selection from a variety of proposals, even if no project is realized as such, and may help to stimulate further insights into the planning problem and ideas for realization.

Competitions can take several forms. They can be open to the general public or to members of the relevant professional institute, or they can be restricted to a limited number of participants, appointed by the organizer or chosen after an application process. These procedures may also follow upon each other. Restricted competitions, which include a payment for all participants, have been criticized for being limited to famous names or big companies. Anonymous, open competitions allow unknown and young planners to participate and present their ideas, and may result in new concepts. This can, however, bring about large numbers of participants, or lead to the choice of an author who lacks the means and experience to realize the proposal. As only prizewinners are paid, much unpaid work is done, particularly in the case of complex urban competitions, which therefore are sometimes considered to be unproductive. However, even unbuilt contributions are part of the architectural culture and history of a city and a period. In some cases unrealized competition projects have had a stronger impact on planning history and theory than built ones.

Competitions are often seen as particularly democratic, and are used in democratic societies where the governments have to justify their expenses and choices and where they try to include citizens in the decision-making process. The democratic character of a competition depends primarily on whether its preparation and the ensuing realization are part of a public and open discussion. Competitions can also be used in a dictatorial situation. Thus, the outcome of a competition depends on the participants and is strongly influenced by the aims and quality of the competition brief and the organizers. Their character—public institutions, private sponsors, professional organizations, architectural schools or magazines—and concrete power over the competition site determine whether the competition leads to realization or is limited to creating ideas, whether it is supposed to adapt to the existing context or provide a long-term vision for the future.

1.1 History Of Major Large-Scale Competitions

Architectural competitions have been held for many centuries, particularly for the design of religious and public buildings. City planning competitions are more recent. Early examples are the international idea competitions for urban embellishment opened by the Russian empress Catherine II for the city of Saint Petersburg (1763) or the contests for the Place Louis XV (today’s Place de la Concorde) in Paris (1748). Urban planning was usually seen as a part of architecture, and the competitions held by professional and educational architectural institutes included urban design projects, such as for a ‘Seaside resort for a sovereign on the Mediterranean coast’ a topic at the Paris Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1872. Competitions were used at educational institutes for grading and awards such as the ‘Rome prize’ which included travel and a several year stay in Rome. These projects were not made for realization, but nevertheless reflected the design spirit of their time. The ‘Rome prize’ winners were assured an honored part in public building projects on their return.

The history of urban competitions reflects the development of the planning profession: Following industrialization and rapid city growth, early competitions tackled large areas on the outskirts or even the whole city. With the growing scale and complexity of cities, their compounds became the main topic of later competitions. A comprehensive and international analysis of urban planning competitions is still lacking and the number of competitions is too large to be analyzed here: analysis of the late 1920s, for example, shows between 15 and 30 urban planning competitions annually in Germany alone (Becker 1992). Only some major examples can be presented here. In spite of the large number of competitions held over the last century, major transformations and extensions of cities, including the work of Eugene Haussmann in Paris (1850s–70s) or the extension of Berlin under James Hobrecht (1862), were and are based on direct commissions or procedures other than competitions.

One of the most interesting examples of nineteenth-century urban planning, the transformation of the Vienna fortification zone, did result from an international urban competition in 1857 1858 (Albers 1997, Hall 1997); it requested ideas for traffic planning, plot division and urban beauty for a zone both sides of which were already built. None of the prize-winning or recommended designs was realized, but they were taken as references for a basic urban plan—a procedure often used in urban competitions which is not faithful to the original ideas. In 1892, Vienna was once again the site for a major urban competition that, like the competition for Munich in the same year, was aimed at obtaining ideas for a master plan of the whole city. As such, they can be seen as a milestone in urban planning. What is more, both competitions showed the impact of major urban planning theoreticians of that time, such as Reinhard Baumeister, Camillo Sitte, and Josef Stubben.

Another landmark in urban planning history was the Berlin competition of 1908 1910. Initiated by architects’ associations and organized by several independent municipalities, it concerned a large urbanized area of more than 5 million inhabitants. Although this competition was not followed by immediate realization, it helped clarify major problems and led to several competitions for city parts. Its results were used for promoting general awareness of urban problems and educating the public through a large urban planning exhibition which also featured foreign examples. Through exhibitions, publications in magazines and private brochures the competition formula and its results were disseminated and became major references, stimulating other large-scale competitions in major and minor European cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century including Goteborg, Strasbourg, Paris, Barcelona, and Zagreb (Albers 1997).

The early European competitions concentrated on remodeling and extending existing cities. Meanwhile, new nations around the world had a strong desire for cultural representation. This led to the planning and construction of new capital cities. Competitions held for Canberra in 1911/1912 or for Brasilia in 1956/1957 were means to obtain a state-of-the-art urban plan ready to impress the nation and foreign countries. The competitions gave the authorities the opportunity to consult with leading planners and, as in the case of Canberra, eventually appoint a foreigner for the realization of the plan, albeit over a long period. For the evaluation of competitions it is particularly interesting to analyze the process from the competition design to the actual city.

In Europe, competitions for a completely new city are rare, although some proposals have been put for-ward following private initiatives. The few exceptions were characterized by a utopian touch from the very beginning. The search for a capital of Europe, in particular, led to several city competitions and projects for new cities. Due to the lack of large tracts of land, and the dominance of nationalist thought, most proposals were located close to existing cities. Thus, they could profit from existing infrastructures, but were not free to develop an independent identity. These competitions were, generally, flawed by the lack of political and financial power, as well as by the unclear future of the new European communities. What is more, the largely academic design concepts reflect the lack of conviction of the organizers, they include few innovative solutions (Hein 1996).

Reconstruction after World War II stimulated urban competitions of various scales in several countries, particularly Germany, leading to intense and often controversial discussions. The most political of the large-scale competitions was probably the international urban idea competition ‘capital Berlin’ of 1957/58 (Hein 1991). Organized by the governments of West Germany and West Berlin it covered an area which was largely under East German administration. A preparatory committee including practitioners from major Western cities outlined a plan for inner-city development that guided urban development for the Western part for many years and served as the basis for the competition. The competition itself was a political statement to the world that West Germany had developed into a democratic and modest nation, and also that the West German government was not abandoning West Berlin. The East German government reacted to this provocation with a competition of its own for the city center, another extension of the Cold War into planning.

1.2 Competitions For Limited Areas And Special Functions

Projecting an entire city area brings with it numerous difficulties and demands extensive knowledge that cannot be expected from competition participants. The twentieth century therefore concentrated on public and private competitions for limited areas and clearly defined tasks such as campuses, government centers, commercial or recreational centers or urban parks. Examples can be found worldwide and include the privately sponsored competition for the University of California (1897/1899), the city-held competitions for educational districts in Tokyo (1940s), the design competitions for civic centers in the USA, or the urban design competition for the government districts in the Spreebogen and Spreeinsel areas in Berlin (1993/94), as well as the competitions for the Volkspark in Hamburg (1906) or the Peace Park in Hiroshima (1949) (Zwuch 1993, 1994). Recent attempts at recreating a multifunctional city have led to competitions combining office, commercial and housing functions as in the case of the Potsdamer Platz or Alexanderplatz competitions in Berlin (1991/1993).

The largest number of competitions, however, has probably been organized for residential layouts. Examples can be found in various countries; examples from Germany are given here for illustration. The country has been a major organizer of competitions over the last century and their topics and results reflect the main concerns of housing over this period. Thus, early competitions focused on small-city and company housing such as for the Krupp colony Altenhof in Essen (1892). Metropolitan housing, economic land use and the creation of a rational block structure became central topics in the competitions of 1911 for Tempelhofer Feld and Schoneberg South which followed on the Greater Berlin competition of 1910. Convinced that competitions led to the best solutions for metropolitan housing, the city of Hamburg promoted several competitions for social housing areas through the 1920s. The search for an economical solution for residential areas found its climax in the competitions for the experimental district BerlinHaselhorst (1928) and the Dammerstock-Siedlung in Karlsruhe (1929), both of which featured strict parallel housing blocks. Competitions for new towns dominated the 1950s and 1960s, while the return of housing functions to the city centers has become a major topic since the 1980s.

2. Exhibitions

Exhibitions are an important means to present urban planning theories and concepts to the specialists and the general public. They can follow on competitions or accompany conferences but can also be events on their own. In the early years of the profession, topics of urban planning were addressed by various specialists, ranging from the hygienists, to architects and the garden city organizations. These issues were also featured in exhibitions accompanying major conferences. Two forms of exhibitions can be distinguished: the exhibition of projects and plans, or the realization of an urban district.

Major exhibitions on urban planning have been held since the turn of the century, reflecting the ongoing debate. In 1903, Dresden was the site of the first German Municipal Exhibition, presenting the achievements in engineering and urban planning of several German cities. In 1911, an exhibition on hygiene was held in the same city, which included a large display of urban planning. Other exhibitions were held in parallel with congresses of the International Garden City and Town Planning Association or with international architectural congresses, such as that of London in 1906 which displayed works of major planners including Raymond Unwin, Josef Stubben, Charles Buls, and Eugene Henard.

Key events in urban planning history were the exhibitions held in Berlin and London in 1910, which featured projects from numerous countries. They aimed to transmit political, cultural and esthetic statements. The London exhibition was held in parallel with an international conference on town planning which had an impact as far away as Japan. This effect was further promoted by major publications by Werner Hegemann based on the exhibitions of Berlin (1910), Dusseldorf (1912), and Goteborg (1923) (Hegemann 1913, 1925). The interest in urban planning at that time is revealed by the fact that three major urban planning exhibitions were held in 1913 alone: in Nancy, Ghent and New York. Others followed, often inspired by local planning problems as was the case for the ‘Coventry of Tomorrow’ exhibition in 1939 or the reconstruction exhibitions ‘Berlin Morgen’ of 1946.

Planning exhibitions today fall into two major categories. They can have practical tasks, such as the public presentation of concrete proposals. As such, they are part of the planning process of many countries which aim at promoting democratic participation. They can also be primarily cultural events, displaying the history, present or future of planning. These exhibitions have increased over the last decades together with the proliferation of unbuildable projects and the creation of architectural archives and museums. These institutions’ exhibitions present historic, present and future planning, and are instruments for the promotion of particular concepts or styles. They may even intervene in planning as was the case with the ‘Berlin Morgen’ exhibition in Frankfurt am Main in 1991 where proposals were presented that later reappeared as competition entries (Lampugnani and Monninger 1991).

Exhibitions can also take built form, provisional or permanent. Built exhibitions are a means to try out visions and promote urban concepts. Thus, the American world fairs in Chicago (1893) or in St. Louis (1904) were manifestations of City Beautiful concepts and helped to promote the new style. Several international building exhibitions were held, the most famous of them in Germany, where each epoch was represented through its own exhibition on the function and form of residential design. They include such diverse examples as the artists’ colony at Mathildenhohe near Darmstadt (1901), modernist projects such as the Dammerstock mentioned above or ‘traditionalist’ examples illustrated by the Stuttgart-Kochenhof Siedlung (1933). Building exhibitions with an urban concept can be found also after World War II. Well-known examples are the reconstruction of an inner-city district as a high-rise housing area, the Hansaviertel of the Interbau (1957), the International Building Exhibition (IBA) in Berlin of the 1980s, which aimed at a critical reconstruction of the city (Faskel and Barth 1988), or the International Building Exhibition Emscher-Park in the Ruhr region (1990s).

3. A Cultural Phenomenon

Competitions and exhibitions have furthered the development of modern planning through the promotion of exchange, particularly between European countries and North America at a time when there were no examples to follow. They were helpful tools in the search for the best functional and esthetic solution. There are, however, cultural differences in the use of these instruments. Germany, for example, has a long tradition of competitions and exhibitions, while other countries with different planning traditions and aims, Japan, for example, has realized only a limited number of competitions with limited impact. The country favors instead the invitation of foreign experts, study trips, the presentation of foreign projects in magazines or book translations for the introduction of foreign ideas.


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