Henry Vaughan Lanchester

The Builder 95 (October 3, 1908):343-348.

H. V. Lanchester (1863-1953) received the Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1934 and its Distinction in Town Planning not long thereafter. These awards recognized his varied and productive career in both fields. He and two partners in 1898 won the competition for their designs of a new City Hall and Law Courts in Cardiff, part of a larger civic center project. Several other successful competition entries followed over the years as did direct commissions for such major structures as churches, university halls, hospitals, research centers, and a number of housing estates.

Lanchester's strong interest in planning led to lecturing on civic design at University College, London and as an external examiner of this subject for the University of Liverpool from 1910 to 1912 during which years he also edited The Builder. He was among the founding members of the Town Planning Institute. In 1912 he served as a consultant on the design of New Delhi, and while in India he also prepared a plan for the city of Madras. He worked in other Indian cities as well, both as a planner and as the architect of important buildings. His writings on planning include The Art of Town Planning, Talks on Town Planning, and a book on his experience in Madras and Zanzibar whose plan he also prepared, Town Planning in Madras & Zanzibar.

The title of Lanchester's article, a short portion of which is reprinted below, suggests that he was only concerned with parks. However, his proposal had implications going well beyond this, for he suggested nothing less than an ideal form for a major metropolis. His diagram shows radiating wedges of open space flanked by parallel corridors of developed land pierced through the center by rail lines. As these radial fingers of development become farther apart with distance from the commercial center and its central station, other wedges of open space are introduced. In his text, Lanchester explicitly challenges the wisdom of the greenbelt concept of an encircling belt of park and open space.

Lanchester's theory of the ideal configuration for a metropolis resembled one presented at the R.I.B.A. town planning conference in 1910 by Dr. Rudolf Eberstadt of Berlin. Eberstadt illustrated contrasting greenbelt and radial park diagrams of how a great city should be planned. These were part of the entry in the Greater Berlin Competition of 1910 by Eberstadt, Möhring and Petersen. These also appeared in Eberstadt's Handbuch des Wohnungswesens und der Wohnungsfrage published in Jena in 1910. The following year Thomas Mawson reproduced Lanchester's diagram in his sumptuously illustrated volume, Civic Art.

The suggestions that have hitherto been made in this country as regards the comprehensive arrangement of open spaces seem to indicate a prevalent view that parks and recreation- grounds should form a ring round the city; it is, however, difficult to see on what basis this view rests, as, though it is undoubtedly a pleasant idea to connect up various parks by means of boulevards or parkways--and these may suitably form a ring-- the parks themselves should certainly be placed radially.

The ring form probably owes its inception to the cases where a chain of parks and open spaces has taken the place of obsolete fortifications, as in the Ring Strasse at Vienna, but where these special circumstances have not determined the plan it is clear that a series of parks placed radially is the more reasonable method. For one thing, they do not define the city area and exercise a restrictive influence on the space within them; for another, they lead from the more densely populated areas out into the open country, thus encouraging a general exodus towards it, and they also adapt themselves to the gradual expansion of the city....

The diagrammatic park system shown in the accompanying plan...indicates the view here expressed, and with municipalities sufficiently far sighted to purchase somewhat ahead of their needs it represents a much more economical method of procedure than that of the ring. Instead of having to secure ground ripe or nearly ripe for building operations they would obtain it at a greater distance and furthest from railway facilities, through which, even before it was necessary for public recreation, pleasant ways could be made leading into the lanes and commons of the "unimproved country districts, and the land could in the meantime be leased for golf links, allotments, and other purposes.... 

A diagram such as is here given looks peculiarly interesting, being intentionally reduced to its simplest elements, and possessing nothing of the variety due to the natural features that will inevitably modify it; but if we apply this method to a city such as London we shall be able to realise much better its actual effect. Now London is, on the whole, fairly well off in the matter of public parks and open spaces, but anyone starting for a walk from one to another cannot avoid passing through long stretches of sordid suburb, and, the natural tendency being to go outwards into the country, the links most in demand would be those running radially. Though one can hardly resist the instinct to provide an inner collecting boulevard of a ring form connecting parks and commons, the outer ones should certainly be laid down on radial lines as far as the selection of suitable areas admits.... 

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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