Reinhard Baumeister

Stadterweiterungen in Technischer, Baupolizeilicher und Wirtschaftlicher Beziehung (Berlin: Ernest & Korn, 1876). Excerpt translated by Frank Koester in his Modern City Planning and Maintenance (New York: McBride, Nast and Company, 1914): 45-49.

In this excerpt from the writings of the first person to attempt to establish city planning as a scientific professional field, we read words that strongly influenced German urban design and planning. Baumeister (1833-1917) published his book in 1876, and it became for many the bible of the field. Although he is often thought of as the champion of orderly grid planning, he criticized this approach as a universal principle and pointed to medieval cities as having desirable picturesque features. Yet he also advocated removal of smaller structures adjacent to major buildings and thus sanctioned one of the major movements of the early period of modern German planning--the "disencumbering" of churches and other monuments from adjoining buildings. Baumeister also believed that while open squares should be provided in cities, they should be symmetrical in design. He was one of the German pioneers who advocated regulating the use of private property as an essential element of modern planning. His recommendations were treated with respect as a Professor of engineering in the Karlsruhe Polytechnic, and he was frequently called on as an expert by municipal and provincial authorities.

His book from which the brief excerpt has been taken was a comprehensive treatise, with chapters on housing, traffic, use and height regulations, water supply, squares, parks, and tree planting, public health, financing the plan, and administration of city extensions. Some of this is based on his experience in drafting principles for town expansion that in 1874 were adopted by the professional organization, Verband Deutscher Architekten-und Ingenieur-Vereine. In 1906 he revised this statement for this same body. Baumeister's first entry into urban planning was his winning entry in a competition for the expansion of Mannheim in 1872. During his subsequent career he prepared many other development plans for German cities, although concentrating his efforts mainly in the state of Baden. His conviction that good planning would not be possible without land use and buildings regulations that varied from district to district led to their use in the Frankfurt am Main building ordinance of 1891.

In the city of the future, there will be three principal divisions; a business section as a core, an industrial district, including possibly wholesaling, and a residential district. It is therefore important that all large cities of the future, from the outset, should keep these principles in view. It must be recognized that the development of a city is confined to these three divisions and that they are interdependent in their development, though for the necessities of an immediate future, piecemeal progress may be made with subordinate projects.

To each basic division belongs main streets, railroads and drainage canals, together with the grouping of industrial districts and the selection of places for public buildings and promenades. The immediate object is not to complete the planning at once, but to gain control of the ground which will be needed.

In a good street net, distinction must be made between the main streets and the auxiliary streets. There must not only be variety in the city as a whole, but also in its various districts.

Symmetry in grouping of buildings, picturesque perspective of streets and places and well-chosen points of observation, and attractive successions of buildings constitute the individual elements of a satisfactory architectural impression.

The straight stretches of the arterial highways of the city should gradually be transformed as the suburbs are reached, into forms more characteristic of rural life, with curves and deflections. While additional time will be consumed in traversing such streets, the life of the city has been left behind and the enjoyments of the country reached. The further such avenues proceed, the more rural in character should they become.

The historically trained artist turns naturally in contemplation to the past. He reconstructs in his imagination the admirable structures of antiquity, and delights in present picturesque examples of the middle ages, such as seen at Danzig, Lubeck and Nürnberg. When in a group of buildings, the lining private buildings are supported by a suitable structure of prominence as a focal objective, a pleasing street picture results. But, can the charm of these old street pictures be completely reproduced? By no means, as the mellowing effects of generations of time are altogether missing.

When, however, the monotony of the enormously long straight streets of modern cities has to be endured, with their interminable lines of similar structures, the artistic principles upon which the old cities were founded should be remembered.

Much more important is the difference in the direction and width of the streets, which existed at that time and those of to-day. There were then many narrow streets, with numerous turns and deflections, and seldom any straight building line of any considerable length, the houses or groups of houses often projecting beyond or standing back from the building line, while the width of the streets was constantly changing and their axes interrupted by monuments and fountains. To-day the width is unchanging, and there are straight building lines, hours long. In those days the principles of variety and unsymmetry produced pleasing artistic effects, but to-day the best that can be done is to produce bald effects of massive proportions.

Nevertheless, the straight street is unsuited to a rolling or hilly configuration of the land, and although a city street may be built in a more direct fashion than may a country road, it is nevertheless the part of wisdom not to attempt to overcome the too reckless works of nature.

While it can by no means be recommended that the Building departments should be so careless as to permit buildings to disregard the building line, or to adopt the principle of the bent streets in defiance of the necessities of traffic, there are still, however, many principles then followed which, in the new city planning, could be employed with great advantage in producing architectural effects.

Thus in cities in which there is already a core, as was the case in most of the old cities, the radial system of streets is to-day, as it was then, one which with advantage may be adopted. From a city, when neither natural or artificial obstacles prevent, in order to reach and develop industrial and commercial enterprises and to communicate with other places, streets and roads will of their own accord take radial form, reaching in every direction. Such radial tendencies show the natural direction of traffic between city and country and for that reason, even to the smallest footway over the fields, they must be attended, as often the by-path of to-day becomes the road of the future.

When a city has, through the provision of open spaces, performed that part of its duty in promoting the health of its public, it should still further see that such spaces are suitably provided with trees and vegetation, for the good influence thereby exerted has long been physiologically recognized. But of greater importance is the spiritual stirring produced, especially in the German peoples, the result of the communion of humanity with nature. The poetry of the forest, the enjoyment of walking and the observation of nature and the innocent play of children with animals are all evidences of this feeling.

In our modern cities, with their unbounded expansion and with the plants of industry and traffic located over a wide radius, there is a tendency for business life to concentrate in the heart of the city, and at the same time for homes to locate in the quietness of the country. It is important, therefore, in the establishment of such pleasurable places of residence, in the course of city improvement, in order that the needs of the body and the soul be met, that the housing question be carefully considered. The provision of facilities of such a character is a duty that the city owes to its public, especially the middle and poorer classes, but of importance to all.

In the city itself, and especially in the city of the future, vegetation is particularly desirable to quiet the nerves in the disturbing influence of noise and bustle, to revive the spirits after exhausting labor and to restore the temper.

Closely connected therewith, the aesthetic relation of architecture and vegetation must not be forgotten. In a great city, the surface of the earth should nowhere be left bare, but should always be treated in a naturalistic spirit. By means of trees, decorative gardens and grass plots, the effect of buildings can be greatly improved and embellished. Such elements may be employed most effectively when used to surround architectural groups with borders, backgrounds and in the spaces of vistas.

In addition to the public parks, cemeteries and woodlands requisite, are the numerous decorative parks, for which the public is largely indebted to the enterprise of earlier and ruling princes, but which, nevertheless, seem in no city to be sufficiently numerous, and it is to be urgently recommended that more should be provided, or at least the land therefor acquired before the opportunity is lost through the progress of building operations. 

Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: 
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