CITY IMPROVEMENT FROM THE ARTIST STANDPOINT
John M. Carrère
Western Architect 15 (April 1910):40-41,44.John Merven Carrère (1858-1911) was born in Rio de Janeiro to an American mother and a father of French descent. At the age of fourteen young Carrère went to Switzerland to complete his schooling and then to the École des Beaux Arts at Paris which conferred its Diplôme in 1882. Coming to New York in 1883, he worked for McKim, Mead & White, later forming a partnership with his friend, Thomas Hastings, whom he had met in Paris. The new firm won several important commissions in St. Augustine, Florida, including Henry Flagler's elaborate Spanish Renaissance style Ponce de Leon Hotel in 1887. Later work elsewhere emphasized the more restrained French Renaissance.That the problem of beautifying our cities is uppermost in the minds of our people throughout the United States at the present time, is most encouraging because the interest in this phase of municipal improvement is usually the forerunner and the first step in the direction of better public art, and by the inverse process of educating the general public, has always led to a very widespread appreciation of and interest in all kinds of art
Carrère in 1901 assumed the position of chief architect and head of the board of architects responsible for designing the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo. This seems to have influenced Carrère--as it had Daniel Burnham in a similar position at the Chicago Fair of 1893--to think in terms larger than a single building. The firm won a competition for the Senate and House Office buildings in Washington, D.C., and fitting them into the Senate Park Commission plan of 1902 further challenged Carrère to think of city planning issues.
He served as a member of the city plan commissions of Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1909 and Hartford, Connecticut in 1911, as well as that of Cleveland, Ohio. This was at a time when several cities created these bodies with expert members from outside the community. Carrère also was Burnham's successor in heading the work of the American Institute of Architects concerning the Senate Park Commission plan.
The article below may be his first published work on planning, a statement that leans heavily on Paris as the source of Carrère's examples of good civic design. This essay was soon followed by a study of Grand Rapids in 1909 written with Arnold Brunner, and--published after his death-- Plan of the City of Hartford in 1912. What follows is apparently the only extant version of his essay, identified as an abstract of an address delivered before the Century Club of Hartford, Connecticut. It was printed in Western Architect through the courtesy of the Municipal Art Society of Hartford.
In the early days of our country, the planning and development of our cities was undertaken without much forethought and with no anticipation of the rapid and unprecedented development and growth of our centers of civilization No provision was made for this growth, even during later years when it was unmistakably upon us, with the possible exception of the city of Washington, so ably and wisely planned by Major L'Enfant
It is a great misfortune that the splendid precedent established by the city of Washington was not more widely followed elsewhere, but even in Washington, the very center of public influence, the plan was soon lost sight of with the rapid growth of the city, and it is only at the present time that a serious and determined effort is being made to prevent further mischief, and in a measure to correct some of the mischief already done
You cannot stop of course the legitimate and healthy growth and development of a means when it is once started, but you can and you should control it, and this we have utterly failed to do
In city building the first step toward attaining this end is by developing your entire system of parks within and without your city on intelligent and practical lines
A beautiful park awakens a desire for a lovelier home-garden, and the wish for a beautiful home grows into the wish for a beautiful street and every other development will be influenced by it and will follow in its train
In the case of Paris, the buildings are beautiful The scheme has been developed to its fullest extent Monuments have been placed everywhere--most beautiful in themselves and most effective in their influence upon the entire perspective and you will note that should you start from the forests in their primeval state you would come to the cultivated fields and rural country,--the first step of human progress, from the rural districts to the park, which we may consider as representing in a formal way the fore t brought nearer to the city, and from the park through an avenue having mainly the character of a beautiful drive, which is not strictly formal and where architecture is of secondary importance. We are still outside of the city, though the city has extended somewhat beyond its boundaries The Arc de Triomphe, the gate to the city, is a point of transition where the landscape becomes more formal--nature is gradually subsiding and architecture becoming more important--so that by degrees we reach the transition when traveling down the Champs Elysees we arrive at the Place de la Concorde, and we feel that we are in the very heart of the city.
From this point on nature becomes entirely secondary and a mere incident. The trees in the wider avenues or boulevards add beauty to their appearance and their shade adds comfort to the use of the wider streets. At intervals open squares are introduced, serving to accent certain localities, affording greater space at crossings of important streets or becoming merely an ornament to the street. Occasionally these become larger and trees or perhaps even gardens, shrubbery and fountains appear, and then as in the case of the Tuilleries and the Luxembourg Gardens, or of the larger parks, they give relief to the city and bring within the daily and hourly reach of the people all the beauties and comfort of nature of the more remote parks.
This is but one of the many examples to be found throughout Europe. I have mentioned Paris in this and other instances because it combines more important features and in principle is more applicable to what we have to do in this country than the detached examples to be found elsewhere.
This sort of art has been so far neglected in our cities that unless they are commercially or otherwise active, they have no attraction for the traveler and so little attraction for their own inhabitants that they seek amusement and recreation elsewhere--not for the sake of variety, which would be natural and wholesome, but as a matter of necessity. Surely it is within our power to make our cities so beautiful and so attractive, that we will find at home most of the pleasures which we now seek abroad, and others will come to us seeking these same pleasures.
To return from these pictures of the ideal to some strictly practical considerations, I find that the more I study the subject, the more apparent it is to me that there are a few cardinal principles which should underlie all city planning.
1st. CIRCULATION: Convenient, adequate and direct circulation, by which I mean providing amply facility for every sort of traffic, so arranged as to connect every point of the city in the most direct and adequate possible manner with any other point no matter how distant.
2d. HYGIENE: That is to say, the promotion of health by providing for every scientific means of sanitation, drainage, and especially of natural ventilation, by which I mean that a certain proportion should be established throughout every city between the voids and the solids, the areas covered by buildings and other improvements and those reserved for air and light, whether they be parks, parkways, squares, streets or other spaces.
3d. ART, by which I mean the science of solving the two first problems and all other problems dependent thereon, in the most practical and the most artistic way.
In our cities, and in fact in our whole mode of life, we separate work from pleasure, the practical from the beautiful, instead of blending them as is so skillfully done by the older nations of the world. A street is apt to be nothing but a thoroughfare, so that we must go and come and travel upon it without enjoyment, which we must seek elsewhere at given points laid aside for this particular purpose.
In the same manner we do not combine work and pleasure sufficiently, with the result that both our work and pleasures are strenuous in character and often become excesses.
But there is no reason why our streets should not be thoroughfares and breathing spaces and pleasure grounds all in one. Neither is there any reason why we should not get as much pleasure in traveling through our streets during working hours as at other times.
Take Paris and almost any large European city as an example, and you will find that their main thoroughfares are beautiful avenues, parks in themselves--cool and shady, with plenty of air and light and all manner of attraction. The beauty of a street induces beauty in buildings and adds beauty to life, whereas the confusion of streets and jumble of buildings that surround us in our American cities contribute nothing valuable to life; on the contrary, it sadly disturbs our peace of mind and destroys that repose within us which is the true basis of all contentment.
In the case of the painter who sits by his easel all day long, it was the evening hour that was dull and stupid, but in the case of most of us who are out and about much of the day, the loss is even more serious.
What should be aimed at, in the remodeling of our cities, is the creation of as many centers of interest throughout the city as possible, which you will find has been done in every beautiful city throughout the world. Certain sections of every city must of necessity be ugly and forbidding, and such centers are a refuge and a relief. We must then aim at an interesting and attractive and beautiful way of getting from any one important point in the city to the next point of interest, so that in whatever direction we may travel we may find recreation and rest. Our avenues are the most important factors in accomplishing this purpose, but we must endeavor to have as many of our secondary streets as possible, made likewise interesting.
The greatest encouragement should be offered to the people in planting trees wherever possible, especially in the wider streets. They should be instructed as to the best varieties and how to plant them, and if possible the authorities should undertake to do it for them on well established lines.
A tree once planted ought to be well cared for under the supervision of the authorities. Some degree of uniformity is absolutely necessary to obtain satisfactory and lasting results, and there are so many beautiful examples, whether abroad or in this country from which to draw inspiration that there is little or no excuse for ignorance or indifference on this point, and whether it be the horse-chestnut or the rows of clipped sycamores of the Paris Boulevards, or the elm trees of our New England villages, or as we approach the rural districts, the poplar trees of Italy, Switzerland and France, the beautiful roads with avenues of trees and well-kept sod gutters and hedges of hawthorne and other varieties of France and England and some parts of this country, or the wonderful avenues of Cryptomaria and Bamboo of Japan, or the avenues of palms of Brazil and Egypt, they are all suggestive and most of them possible of adaptation in our midst.
In Europe, in Japan and in other countries these avenues of trees extend from city to city. They are planted not only for beauty but because of the shade and the shelter from the storm which they afford the traveler, and because the moisture which they preserve on the road has proven to be good economy in the maintenance of it.
Hedges are more beautiful than fences. They need relatively little care and in a very short while become a real economy.
But planting is not the only artistic consideration in laying out an avenue--the proportions of the width of the road bed of an avenue to its sidewalks, and the treatment of the road bed and the sidewalks, the number of rows of trees, their character and height and spacing, the breaking of the avenues at stated points for cross avenues or lanes, the introduction of architectural features, statuary, vases, terraces, pergolas, occasional formal treatment of gardens, shrubbery or flowers, and where possible in the proximity of water, the harmonious treatment of the driveway and the water, so as to obtain the reflection of the landscape in the water, the introduction of bridges with proper approaches, the cutting out of vistas at special points, and the placing of important objects of interest in the line of these vistas or in the line of an avenue, are all important. It is possible with careful study and discrimination to make color even an accessory to the development of every kind of landscape, whether in the choice of different colors of foliage, which will often help to lengthen a perspective or to accent a feature or whether in the color of the buildings, approaches and accessories.
Every avenue should lead to some object of interest when possible and should be the approach to this object, be it building or monument. When crossed by another avenue, no hesitation should be felt now and then in interrupting the vista by a monument,--on the contrary, no opportunity should be lost of placing a monument at such an intersection. In the same manner every important building should center on an avenue leading from it when possible and should not be placed so that the approach to it is really not toward the building but past the building.
Nothing is more tiresome in cities like New York for instance than this very parallelism and interminable lack of interruption, and nothing is more charming than the opposite effect in Washington or in Paris. No one regrets seeing the capitol at the head of Pennsylvania Avenue or a public square with a monument interrupting almost every avenue in Washington, no more than one regrets seeing the Arc de Triomphe at the head of the Champs Elysees or the Opera at the end of its avenue. Trinity Church at the head of Wall Street is almost a solitary example of this principle in the great city of New York.
Can we find anywhere a better example, a more complete and beautiful picture, combining every sort of avenue and street, vista and grouping, square and park,--monuments, quays and water front,--bridges,--commercial, residential and public architecture, than the Place de la Concorde in Paris, so beautiful in itself as to scheme, proportions and detail, with its superb arrangement of roadways, sidewalks, balustrades, railings, fountains and statuary, with the obelisk as the center of the whole composition. Looking up the Champs Elysees, which is a real Park Avenue, and perhaps the most wonderful one to be seen anywhere in the world, in the center we have a wide pleasure drive flanked on either side in its entire length with rows upon rows of trees forming veritable parks in which are to be found all manner of places of amusement and recreation, whether for adults or children, for people of refinement and culture or for the populace, for we have here picture galleries, theatres, museums, also the circus, Punch and Judy shows, open air music, croquet grounds, bowling greens and many other varieties of innocent sport. Flowers, shrubs, fountains and statuary are introduced here and there in the greatest profusion and with the greatest art. Two secondary streets, one on each side of the avenue, out beyond the trees, serve as thoroughfares leading to the houses facing the Champs Elysees, many of them with beautiful gardens and many of them famous for the art of the buildings and their surroundings.
At the head of the avenue, which rises slightly, is the great Arc de Triomphe, which is the central feature of a large circular plaza surrounded with buildings of uniform architecture and from which radiate twelve different avenues leading for miles in every direction,--avenues which were planned many years ago and which have developed and grown gradually, some of them extending to neighboring towns, like Versailles, St. Cloud and Meudon.
If you turn in the opposite direction, the wonderful gardens of the Tuilleries, with the Tuilleries and the Louvre Palaces in the background; or if you face the river, with its beautiful quays and wonderful bridge dedicated to Concorde, you see before you on the opposite bank of the river the impressive, classical building of the House of Representatives, flanked on one side by the Foreign Office with its gardens, and on the other with the most charming Palace of the Legion of Honor with its gardens. If you face in the fourth direction, turning your back to the river, you look up the Rue Royal with its beautiful row of shops and with the Temple of Madeleine, as a background, with its superb Corinthian colonnade, sixty feet high, and its pediment with its wonderful carvings; and in the foreground on the right and left of the Rue Royal, facing the square, are the two most wonderful Renaissance buildings that France has ever produced, both alike in every particular-on the left the Garde Meuble, on the right the Ministry of Marine.
The development of this whole scheme was gradual, it is true, but it was carried out according to a general plan conceived on consistent and logical lines of practical utility according to the highest standards of art and beauty. The Place de la Concorde itself, with its two wonderful buildings and its entire setting is the masterpiece of one of the greatest of French architects, Jacques Ange Gabriel.
I venture to say that there is hardly a practical solution of a single municipal development which is presented, that cannot be made less expensive within a very few years by the development of the artistic side and possibilities of the problem, whether by creating entirely new civic centers, whether by adding to the beauty and attractiveness of these centers and thereby enhancing the value of property and increasing the tax levy, or whether only by making an improvement which is permanent and capable of indefinite development, so that the first cost is not an absolute waste of money.
The improvements undertaken under Napoleon III. in Paris, under the direction of Baron Haussmann, cost 500,000,000 francs, or $100,000,000, and statistics show, on a conservative estimate, that this is about the amount that is spent annually in the City of Paris by tourists and visitors who go there to a great extent because of these improvements.
What we need in civic improvement is real leadership. When the country years ago began to think of and to want parks Frederic[sic] Law Olmstead[sic] appeared on the scene. What we needed then was the object lesson which Olmstead[sic] gave the country, and with the completion of his first park, and under Olmstead's[sic]leadership, the whole country was soon covered with beautiful parks, most of them designed by Olmstead[sic], but many by his followers and imitators.
So it was with expositions. No one dreamed that such a conception and such a picture as the Chicago World's Fair could be produced by American artists under American conditions. The object lesson was so far-reaching that it has been felt in every hamlet in the land, and our people throughout the country have been made to realize the significance, the beauty and the nobility of a great architectural setting like the Court of Honor at Chicago; so it was throughout the ages. The great Le Notre produced Versailles and other wonderful settings in France and Hampton Court in England; Gabriel the Place de la Concorde and its monuments; Major L'Enfant, Washington and the plan of Buffalo; Olmstead[sic], our parks; Hunt, Burnham, McKim and others, the Chicago Exposition; and it is the influence of men like these and their achievements in the field of art that have fostered art throughout the ages.
Most of the important cities in this country have been thinking of the "City Beautiful" but little or nothing has been accomplished in the way of actually executed work, and what we need are leaders and object lessons. Perhaps Washington may give us this in time, perhaps the work in Cleveland may prove to be such an object lesson, but until a start is made visionary schemes will continue to be produced and little or nothing will develop on the lines of practical and permanent improvements. I may add that the work has usually been approached in the wrong way. A commission of artists without proper authority, without proper means at their disposal, with no support other than that of a few private and public spirited individuals may prepare beautiful drawings, as has been done in so many cities, notably in the city of New York, without any result; whereas a properly constituted commission, such as has been appointed for the city of Cleveland and lately for the city of Hartford, under the laws enacted by the state of Connecticut, with power, means, and official support, is bound to approach the problem with a better conception of the realities of the case and with a better chance of actually producing permanent work.
In conclusion, it would seem to me that if we were to make an introspective examination and try to discover the real inward feeling in America towards art, I think, we would find that however much we may know about art, our attitude is largely intellectual. We admire art, but we do not love art. Art with us is something ornamental--a luxury, not a necessity. It interests us; it does not thrill us; it is not a part of our life. If it were we would want it and we would have it all about us and it would be just as much a necessary part of which we attach such great importance.