The Builder 95 (December 12, 1908)
Although town planning had been taught for some years in university-level German techanical schools, no equivalent program existed in an English-language institution until 1908. Through the generosity of Mr. (later Sir) William Lever, The University of Liverpool began its program in Civic Design. Lever was the head of a thriving concern manuracturing soap, and in 1885 he founded Port Sunlight, a planned industrial town not far from Liverpool. In this brief article one of Britain's leading architectural journals praises the creation of the new program and comments on what it hopes will be the beneficial effects of its teaching on British urban development. The reference to "the Bill at present before Parliament" refers to what became The Town and Country Planning Act of 1909, the country's first planning legislation.
The offer...that Mr. W. H. Lever has made, through Professor Reilly. to the School of Architecture of the University of Liverpool, to initiate a department or the systematic study of and instruction in Town Planning, is the first practical step which has been taken in this country to approach the architectural side of this important subject. Hitherto in England we have been in danger of falling between two stools-the practical sanitary considerations on the one hand, and the ultra-sentimental ideas which prompted the Garden City movement (itself largely the outcome of amateur enthusiasms) on the other; while the simple necessity or architectural treatment of the subject has been entirely neglected. The cottages which have been built at Letchworth may have been interesting as a study in cheap materials, but the result has been disastrous architecturally ; houses of every conceivable material and design jostling each other in complete confusion, showing that the promoters of the enterprise, though they had a fine enthusiasm and certain excellent ideas about the circulation of air round houses, were yet ignorant of the true basis of town design. And this ignorance is hardly to be wondered at seeing that in this country no architect has a chance of studying the ordered and conscious planning of a town, except perhaps in the case of Bath; and the buildings there, however fine in themselves are hardly suitable as a type or a growing manufacturing town. A careful study of what has been done and is now being done in Germany, France, and America is absolutely necessary before a general system and basis can be established on which to build a study of the subject adapted to the requirements of our own country. The Sociological aspect of the work which is being done at present in Germany has been carefully investigated by Mr. T. C. Horsall and others, and Mr. Horsall's compilation, "The Example of Germany," contains a mass of most valuable information; but although he continually mentions the importance of the "Building plans". adopted in various towns, not being, an architect, he does not explain them architecturally, and only gives reproductions of one or two plans. Again the excellent half-volume on Town-building [Städtebau] by J. Stübben in the Handbook of Architecture, is hardly accessible to the ordinary English architect. Obviously then the Liverpool School of Architecture has decided rightly that the first work of its new department should be to send architects to. these countries to collect 'all the information they can obtain on the subject. Such a course could only be possible with the financial support of so generous a donor as Mr. Lever. No English architectural society, or, committee however influential, could have undertaken such, an extensive piece of research. This gift, therefore, comes very opportunely in the face of the rebuff which the Institute recently received when emphasising the fact that the question is, in fact, a purely architectural one--architecture in the largest sense.

We all agree that in modern building the old craftsmanship theory is impossible-the theory which maintained that the right way, to obtain a really fine building, truthful to its epoch, was to collect a vast quantity of bricks, stone, lime, cement, iron and glass on a site, and direct a body of workmen to cover in a space of the required size as best they could. The need or the existence of the architect who has thought out and completely designed his building before a brick is on the site. or a builder is asked to. estimate) we may take' or granted. The absurdity, of doing without him nowadays or any but the simplest structure is too gross to need refutation; yet* the building of the. much. more complex structure-a. modern town-in which the separate houses may be looked upon in the light of the individual stones and bricks of the single building, is still undertaken without a, directing mind or guiding hand. A row of houses, a few streets are run up without any reference to what is to happen eventually in the district. Probably. some urban district council offices or post office will be wanted in the near future by the growing suburb, but no plot of land has been marked out or it, with suitable approaches and a setting which will justify the expense which the building will probably. entail. Any vacant plot which happens to have been spared by the jerry builder is taken by the community at large for their council offices, or by the Government for its post office, and the building accommodates itself as best it can to the awkward site or the mean approach.

This state of mind, as Professor Blomfield points out, is inconceivable to the logical intelligence of a Frenchman. He cannot understand why the best building in the district should not be placed on the best site and the whole town or suburb consciously modelled in advance to provide or this clearly foreseen growth. In Germany it is the regular practice or a town to have its building plan drawn out by some competent architect, so that all its growth must proceed along certain definite lines. Mannheim, a Manufacturing town, which has grown rapidly in the last few years, employed Professor Baumeister* "to prepare building plans or them which must be complied with by all persons who build in or Mannheim." "The description of the building plan . . . shows that the new part of the town will be provided with a remarkably complete system of narrow railways or passenger traffic, and with an equally complete system of railway lines of the ordinary width, leading rom goods stations in all directions, or goods traffic, which will enable every manufactory to load goods on to trucks on its own premises. Carriage, therefore, will be exceptionally cheap in the town. Yet the town council, who are thinking so much of economical working, recognise that even their poorest fellow citizens are men and women whose bodies and minds need wholesome recreation and an abundant supply of fresh air, of light, and of the influence of lowers and trees. The building plan, therefore, provides or the creation of avenue streets of widths varying rom 24 to 43 yds.," and Professor Baumeister adds: "of course, care has been taken to provide open spaces, decorative shrub- parks, and sites or public buildings."

Thus commercial advantages, commonsense hygiene, and architectural design (which is almost taken or granted) are all included in this plan. The Bill at present before Parliament and the Bill which we understand Liverpool is trying to obtain for itself, do not attempt in any way to ask or such comprehensive powers as German towns already possess ; they are the merest tentative beginnings, but they are important as showing that we are at last waking up to the necessity of doing something in the matter. Public interest needs to be aroused and opinion educated, and it will be a long time before our town councils obtain complete control over the growth of their respective towns ; but we eel that a properly organised school, such as is contemplated at Liverpool, is the, beat and soundest way of approaching the subject, especially when it is supported by so clear a financial mind as Mr. Lever's.

We must hope that under the influence of such teaching English towns will grow towards a sense of unity; and this unity may become conscious in a similar manner to the gradual emergence of the personality of the architect in the Renaissance. Thus the mediaeval buildings represented the general ideas and aspirations of whole peoples, almost unconsciously realised, and as this instinctive art waned, there arose the conscious and, considered work of the architect, already visible in late Gothic, attempting to free himself from journeymen carvers in Jacobean days, and at last emerging the master of his own design in Inigo Jones and his followers. So town architecture produced the delightful mediaeval picturesqueness which we admire in he old parts of Amiens or Salisbury which the Gothic revival attempted to resuscitate in our modern streets, with he disastrous results which may be seen in any town in England to-day. In the same way in which the buildings in existing streets have been allowed to take care of themselves, without any thought of their neighbours, the new streets have been allowed to wander in any direction they Please, with the vague idea (i any idea there were) that the result would be somehow picturesque. But the sooner we realise that accidental picturesqueness is not a quality which modern planning can consciously aim at, the better; and in place of it we must seek a conscious and orderly arrangement which will possess a beauty of its own. When the general public realise this, legislation will naturally follow in the direction of this trend.

The problem in England will be one of ordered growth of old towns rather than the planning of new ones. Therefore, no literal transcriptions from foreign towns should be attempted, but the character of each locality should be preserved at all costs. A mere system of Hausmannising would be hardly satisfactory, though or the moment we could in most of our towns stand a good deal of it. The method of study, therefore, we imagine will be to take different places and evolve treatments, or exercises suitable to special requirements, using all the information which has been obtained rom a first-hand study of existing examples.

We understand, also, that Mr. Lever's gift will include facilities or studying the necessary adjuncts to town planning; the laying out and design of parks and terraces, the study of the most suitable trees or town planting, and various treatments in the way of clipping and grating which form an important feature in this branch of civic design.

We have already pointed out that in several respects the Liverpool School of Architecture resembles in its course of study the Ecole des Beaux Arts at Paris, and we imagine that those magnificent "concours" of the latter school, involve the treatment of a whole " Place " with its surrounding buildings, will give Professor Reilly and his colleagues suggestions or exercises in design in the grand manner or the more advanced students, in addition to the more utilitarian aspects of the subject or such students as wish to become borough architects and surveyors, and may avail themselves of the school.

At all events the establishment of a first-class school in this country or the definite study of town planning is a most important step, and one that opens a great opportunity to the Liverpool School of Architecture.

*From T. C. Horsfall, "Example of Germany." Manchester

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:
To Top of Page
To Homepage