ON THE LAYING OUT OF CITIES.
J. B. Waring
Papers Read at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Session 1872-73, London: The Institute, 1873: 141-155.John Burley Waring (1823-1875) studied in Bristol at a branch of University College, London before entering an architectural apprenticeship with Henry E. Kendall in 1840. Two years later he entered the Royal Academy, but 1843-44 found him in Italy where he studied painting. Although he worked in at least three English architectural offices for the next few years, he spent much of his time living abroad where he pursued his interests in drawing and painting. He had an ample private income, and whatever professional practice he had as an architect must have been extremely limited. Waring not only drew and painted, but he wrote extensively about art, architecture, and architectural sculpture, among other subjects. In 1857 he served as superintendent of ornamental art and sculpture featured at the Manchester Exhibition. In 1862 he occupied a similar position at the International Exhibition at Kensington. For an exhibition of art at Leeds in 1868 he was chief commissioner.When we turn our thoughts to the antique past, stimulated by the fact that from the earliest ages, various large cities have existed, we must expect to be disappointed in obtaining any complete idea of their formation and arrangement, because their remains are so small, and contemporary notices of them so vague; indeed, it is almost a waste of time to seek satisfactory information concerning them. That they were enclosed by walls, and possessed fine public buildings ranged principally around a large open space, a campus, agora, or forum, is about all that we can with certainty assert. Pompeii, which bore somewhat the same relation to Rome and Naples that Brighton does to London at present, remains in a partly perfect state, and affords us some idea of what a populous and fashionable sea-side town was under the earlier Roman emperors, and in the most civilized country of Europe, and certainly the impression is not a very favourable one. It is a very suggestive fact, and one that we should bear well in mind, that not a single city remains at the present day to give us the model of what a city was some two thousand years ago. Will the same remark hold good some two thousand years hence? We have every reason to think so; and the cities of the future will be as different to the cities of the present as the cities of the present day are to those of the past. Is that difference great? We can answer at once and with certainty, it is enormous, it is almost incredible! One great cause of that difference is, that there was in ancient times no middle class, but two only, viz.:--masters and slaves. Amongst the ancient Romans, even the liberal professions were held fit only to be practised by slaves. There was a grand priestly and aristocratic luxury: a mean, squalid, general poverty.
It was therefore as a cultured and sophisticated observer and critic of architecture and civic design--not as a practitioner--that Waring prepared and presented this paper at a meeting of the R.I.B.A. two years before his death. His numerous writings had won him attention abroad, for in 1871 the American Institute of Architects elected him an honorary member. It was perhaps at that time that he developed his concept of how Chicago might best be replanned after its destruction that year by fire. Waring describes this as an example of how his favored spiderweb model could be applied to an existing city, a concept that John Sulman also proposed in Australia in 1890. After Waring delivered his paper several of his fellow members offered their comments on it and included their own thoughts on how best to plan cities. A few of these have been edited to eliminate material not directly related to Waring's presentation.
With the advance of the later Roman empire came also an advance in the conveniences of life; but art itself declined, and with the fall of the empire, the art of building cities fell also; then the dark ages settled over Europe. Throughout this period, or from about the fifth to the eleventh century, many new cities and towns arose throughout Europe, of which the royal residence, the church, or the castle formed the nucleus, surrounded by walls, within which all was narrowness and filth: nor is this to be wondered at, when we remember that the greatest people of Europe during this period used their fingers to eat with, and thought it no mean accomplishment to be able to write their own names. Luxury, sanitary provisions, and even comfort were unknown, except amongst the great nobles and the higher clergy. But why did the dark age people build such close pent up towns? Land was not dear, as it is now; and they might have had spacious streets, tree-planted areas, parks, and so on. The reply is, that they had no idea that system and art ought to enter into the arrangement of a town: they probably did not think about it at all; they did what their fathers had done before them; they followed precedent, and the principal precedents of the West were derived from the East. The Mahomedans of the eighth and succeeding centuries were to the world, what the Christians became at a later period, the first in arts and arms. Europe was their pupil, and followed closely their example. Life with Orientals was, then, an incessant warfare against two enemies, the sun and their fellow creatures; so that when men congregated together, they sought to keep out both in the best way they could, raising strong walls against the one, and forming narrow streets against the other: thus they enjoyed the comfort of coolness, or at least of shade, and the comfort of a sense of security; beyond that they appear to have had no particular ideas. The plan of many such towns is preserved even to our own day, of which Albenga, on the Riviera, is an interesting example; a sort of large prison, intersected by narrow and tortuous passages, tending to keep out sunshine and fresh air. Life must have been very dreary within so dark and confined a space. So things went on in the same fashion, over and over again, into the semi-opaque or middle ages, and Mr. Hudson Turner in his most valuable work on the "Domestic Architecture of England," speaking of London in the thirteenth century, when its population was under twenty thousand, remarks that, "as to the appearance of the city, we shall not, perhaps, be far wrong in assuming that it presented the aspect of a mass of low whitewashed tenements; the plasterer's brush appears to have been unsparingly employed, to give a cleanly exterior to the dwellings of the Londoners;" but if the outsides were clean to the eye, the interiors of the cities must have been often filthy.
"In the principal thoroughfares," says Mr. Turner, "it is evident there was some kind of foot pavement, though the roadway appears to have been frequently left to its chance; and the streets leading down to the river, which offered the means of a natural drainage from the upper and more level parts of the city, had usually open drains flowing through them, the effect of which was to maintain them in a continual state of mud." Even in the great hall itself at Westminster, the refuse and dirty water flowed in an open kennel through it, until "the foul odours arising therefrom" led Henry II to order the construction of a "subterranean conduit "to convey the" offensive matters into the Thames;" and this, Mr. Turner thinks, is perhaps the earliest instance of underground drainage in this country. But to return to the more immediate subject in hand, we come at last to a glimpse of a better state of things in the reign of Edward I, who, from one cause or another, founded completely new towns, which were often called in France "Villeneuves" New Towns) or "Villefranches" (Free Towns). Mr. Turner informs us that "the inhabitants were all made free men, exempt from the power and jurisdiction of the neighbouring barons or bishops; their tenure was direct from the Crown, and they were granted the important privilege of free trade." Here, for the first time, so far as we know, in the history of cities(1) we come to a clear and definite system of arrangement; and it appears probable that this system is due to Englishmen, since Mr. Turner gives an extract from an original document in French, wherein Edward I, anno 1298, wrote from Bordeaux (then the capital of the English provinces in France) to London, "desiring the authorities there to send him out four persons competent to lay out the plans of towns, who best know how to divide, order, and arrange a new town in the manner that will be most beneficial to us and for the merchants." Alfonso, of Poitiers, coming to the Duchy of Guienne, about the same period, finding the nobles and higher clergy quite independent of him, also founded free towns, such as Rovergne and Agen, the last of which is still in a pretty perfect state. Edward founded Sauveterre, Monsegur, La Linde, Saint Foix, Libourne and Montpazier in France; and Kingston-upon-Hull and Winchelsea in England, all formed on a general plan, of which Montpazier will serve as a good example, as seen by the diagram exhibited, and fully described by Mr. Turner, from whose work the following extracts are quoted:--"These towns are more regular and symmetrical than most modern towns, and are built on an excellent and scientific plan.... There are always two parallel streets at a short distance from each other, and connected by short streets at frequent intervals; between these principal streets, and also in parallel lines, are narrow streets or lanes, corresponding to the modern mews, and employed for the same purpose. By this means each plot of ground for building on is of an uniform size and shape, a parallelogram, with one end facing a principal street and another a lane.... The principal streets were twenty-four feet wide, the lanes sixteen feet, and the passages only six feet.... Near the centre of the town was a large market place, at one corner of which was usually the church; and it should be observed that the principal streets do not cross each other in the centre of the market place, but run in a line with its four sides.... so that the traffic did not interfere with the central space." My own opinion is that this plan of rectangular divisions, which is also that adopted in the United States of America, is not a good one, for reasons which we shall presently state; nevertheless it is a great improvement on old customs, and has no doubt some special advantages.
The foundation of new towns seems to have ceased shortly after the thirteenth century, and the principal cities of Europe appear to have been built up from time to time in a haphazard manner, whilst their internal condition was of the worst description, of which an idea may be formed by reading the article "Paving of Streets," in Beckman's "History of Inventions," volume 1. In the seventeenth century, however, the great fire of London (1666) produced two plans for systematic arrangement of new streets, etc., which present some new and noticeable features. They were designed by Sir C. Wren and John Evelyn, and both are engraved in Strype.
The fire destroyed buildings estimated at about thirteen thousand two hundred houses, covering an area of four hundred and thirty-six acres, and both in form and extent very closely corresponded with the great fire of Chicago in 1871; besides dwelling houses, St. Paul's Cathedral, eighty-seven parish churches, the Exchange, and other public buildings were burnt, and an opportunity was afforded of designing, as it were, a new city. Sir C. Wren's is shown on the wall. Leaving out details, he proposed to form three kinds of streets, ninety feet, sixty feet, and thirty feet wide respectively; to form a canal of Fleet Ditch, to be one hundred and twenty feet wide; a quay along the river side forty feet wide; the principal public buildings to be massed together round the Royal Exchange, on a large area of octagonal form, from which radiated the main streets, and in which, at stated intervals, were to be placed the various churches, whilst all churchyards and "unnecessary vacuities, and all trades that use great fires or yield noisome smells" were to be outside the town. This plan of Wren's is a great advance on the old system or rather no-system, and indeed, in some respects, could scarcely be improved upon. I need hardly say, however, that neither his nor Evelyn's plan was adopted, much to our loss at this day.
When the great fire took place at Chicago, it occurred to me that an opportunity presented itself of laying out the new city on an entirely new plan. I had not at that time seen Wren's plan for re-building London; but it required only some consideration to be convinced that the rectangular plan common in the States was open to many objections, and that an entirely different principle should be adopted. That principle I found in the spider's web, especially in the web of the "geometrical spider," of which I present a diagram, taken from "The Museum of Animated Nature," volume II, page 329, in which the quickest way of reaching the centre from any given point is clearly obtained; and time is, we know, money, which all men now seek after so earnestly. My further ideas on the subject will perhaps be best understood by the papers I sent to the Mayor and municipality of Chicago on the subject, and from which I give the following extracts:-
The main plan is to be on concentric circles, or rather semi- circles, divided into sections by radiating streets and subdivided into wards, to be provided with means against fire, and sanitary arrangements complete in each section respectively, corresponding to our old system of wards or guards. In rebuilding the city advantage might be taken of a combination of squares, crescents, terraces, boulevards and streets, so as to produce the greatest pictorial effect. The houses might have colonnades on the lower story, as at Bologna, forming comfortable walks in summer or winter, whilst arcades, like those of Milan and Paris, should connect the principal points of interest. All buildings should be constructed as nearly fireproof as possible, and permanent sites for fire escapes should be established at stated distances throughout the city. To avoid the monotony which characterises the new portions of Paris, Lyons and other French cities (in which large blocks of new buildings have been lately erected, and one street so closely resembles another that sometimes you can hardly say in what street you are), I propose that various styles should be assigned to various blocks of buildings, so that all styles of architecture may be represented- -Greek, Italian, Gothic, Lombard, etc.--as may be found consistent with good taste. Moreover, we should thus avoid the unsightliness common in England, of buildings widely different in style, out of all harmony, and sometimes painfully incongruous, placed in juxtaposition and mutually destructive of each other's effect. I would suggest that all buildings wherein large masses of persons congregate, such as theatres, churches, assembly halls, &c., should be provided with numerous ways of speedy egress, not only for safety's sake in case of sudden panic, but for the ordinary convenience of the crowd; whilst the ways of ingress may still be few in number. Public baths and laundries, and public kitchens and bakeries for the poor, should be established in the poorer quarters of the town, as well as a regular system of public drinking fountains for men and cattle. There should be a large public park, gymnasium and baths, and a public garden with terraces and fountains, laid out on the model of the old Italian gardens, such as, for instance, that of the Pitti Palace at Florence; these should be connected with the boulevards, which might consist of a central paved promenade lined with trees, having a road and tramway on each side, furnished with a handsome paved way next to the houses for foot passengers. I have seen an example of this kind at Toulon, which produced an excellent effect, and might be carried out on a larger scale.
A few good canals, crossed by ornamental swing bridges, as in Holland, might serve to connect the traffic of Lake Michigan with the principal railway stations and the Illinois canal. Spacious markets should be erected in central positions; those for fish being furnished with troughs to each stall, filled with water, in which fish can be kept alive, as in the "Halles" at Paris. Abattoirs, cattle markets, and all offensive or dangerous manufactures should be kept outside the city precincts, and finally, not only should a system of sewerage be carefully prepared, for the purification of the city, but the sewage matter should be utilised as manure, which might prove of incalculable service on the cleared prairie land of the State; and in all cases, it should be borne in mind, that as Chicago has grown so rapidly in the past, there is every reason to believe that it will increase still further in the future; therefore, whatever is done, an eye should be kept to the requirements of an increased population.
It may appear fanciful, and yet in many respects, a large city appears to me to resemble a human being. It has arteries and veins, or large and small thoroughfares, through which the blood corpuscules, in the shape of men and women, continually circulate. It has a heart; its centre, where all meet, and where the great business of life is mainly carried on. Lungs, or parks and open spaces in which the air is purified: it requires water reservoirs and apparatuses for receiving and discharging solid and liquid secretions, by means of drainage and sewage, outside the body corporate; moreover, to complete the resemblance, the surface of the city, its skin, so to speak, requires constant cleansing by water and friction, to insure that cleanliness which is essential to health; whilst the municipality may be regarded as the brain, which brings experience and science to bear on the regulation of the entire body, having an equal regard to the convenience, health and external appearance of the whole city.
As regards the figures adaptable for the block plan of a city, with its thoroughfares, it will be seen that the choice lies almost entirely between a square, a parallelogram or a circle; and my own opinion is all in favour of the last named, both for beauty and convenience.
Space, air and trees should enter into all plans for new towns or new quarters, and I would propose that instead of the old system of gardens at the back of town houses,; the garden should be in front of the house, then the pavement and road for ordinary traffic, with a double tramway in the centre for the carriage of trains and cattle, not by steam but by horse power; for there seems to me no valid reason why railway trains should not be carried right through a city without changing. This of course would necessitate a much wider roadway than is common at present. All streets, terraces, etc., should be provided with back roadways for house service, coals, dust, and the carting away of refuse or sewage matter; and in a well arranged city a back road to each street will be as necessary as a back staircase in a well arranged house.
[Seventeen paragraphs omitted on principles of architectural design and the history of street paving and cleaning.]
The Chairman,--We shall be glad to hear observations from those present on this interesting paper; but I should first like to ask Mr. Waring if he can explain one thing which I missed, and probably others did. I did not understand how he would apply the principle of the spider's web to the rebuilding of that portion of Chicago which has been burnt down.
Mr. Waring, Fellow,--My plan is of course merely suggestive: there is no attempt to enter into detail; the general idea is, if you want to reach the centre of a large space, the easiest way of doing so is to follow the example of the spider, who has great interest in getting to any part of his web in the quickest manner. Laying it out in the form of a parallelogram involves a very great number of turnings, which in case of fires and engines going at great speed is objectionable and also dangerous.
Mr. C. BARRY, Fellow,--Of course we are indebted to Mr. Waring for bringing so important a subject before us. When I first saw the announcement of it I thought it was taking a very high flight indeed, and seemed to open up notions of grandeur and vastness with which few of us could hope to be conversant. The paper, I confess, has in some respects disappointed me, inasmuch as the author has not dwelt so largely as from my knowledge of him he might have done, on the principle suggested by the title of the paper. He has put before us the familiar plan--familiar, alas! only on paper--of Sir Christopher Wren for replacing our own City of London after the great fire, and also one which is less well known, that of Evelyn; and he has drawn a spider's web and applied that to Chicago. But Mr. Waring, we know, is a great traveller, and could have interested us by giving his experience of the great cities of the Continent, many of which have been undergoing a system not entirely of replanning, for that is, perhaps, too much to expect, but of great improvements, and new principles are being laid down in the direction of their thoroughfares and in the building of their edifices. Mr. Waring seems to have assumed one point on which I can hardly agree with him, viz., that the great object is to get to one central point in a city, and that all other arrangements should be made subservient to that. I think in large cities like London and those I have referred to abroad there must be many centres, each devoted to different objects, such as commerce, law, administration, markets, public meetings, popular recreation and others, and therefore it is hardly to be wished for or expected that all those various objects should be closely associated. The principle of the spider's web, which enables you to reach only one centre, therefore hardly meets the requirements of the case. Taking the great works in Paris as examples of what I mean, the object has been to organize certain centres, and approach each by certain main routes, and then to connect those centres by main streets. In the laying out of the streets of Paris there is one practice which we must have observed and admired--I mean the great care taken that where public buildings of importance are concerned, all the adjacent streets and approaches shall have reference to them, and enable them to be seen to the best advantage--a great contrast we must feel to what takes place in this country, where we try often successfully to make fine buildings and then as studiously try to hide them, or rather we do nothing to enable them to be seen as their importance deserves. Then again, in Paris and Vienna, and more recently in Florence, the important question of surrounding the city with a zone of boulevards outside has attracted a good deal of attention, and deserves to receive discussion amongst us, but Mr. Waring has not referred to it. To a certain extent the application of boulevards in connection with the city by radial lines does follow out more or less correctly the idea of the spider's web. Mr. Waring's appreciation of this has possibly had some effect on his mind when he referred to the web as the natural way of laying out cities; but it applies of course only to one surrounding line. I shall be happy at a later period of the evening, if permitted to do so, to propose a vote of thanks to Mr. Waring for the interesting paper he has given us.
Mr. C. Fowler, Fellow,--I beg personally to thank Mr. Waring for bringing this matter before us, though I regret that he has confined the scope of his observations within such narrow limits. It is not, however often that an architect is called upon to lay out a city, or even a portion of one; but a friend of mine told me, a day or two ago, that he is next month going to America to lay out a town for a client of his in that country. I can only hope he will do so successfully, and that we may on a future occasion have a description of it. One is glad to be reminded of the charming plan of Wren for laying out the City of London after the fire, and one an only regret more and more every day that his plan was not adopted. It has always seemed to me a most admirable plan for dealing with the space. The contrast with Evelyn's plan shows at once the superiority of the master mind of Wren. As an instance of the successful way of dealing with such an opportunity, I may mention what was done after the great fire at Hamburgh. It was (though with great difficulty) then decided to expropriate the whole of the site and lay out that portion of the town afresh, and eventually that was done, and on the whole effectually done, under a commission composed chiefly of architects and engineers, and, to the best of my recollection, the president of the commission was an architect. I confess that I think Mr. Waring's idea of the circular plan for a city is, to my mind, and from a practical point of view, about the worst that could be adopted. Milan is to a certain extent on that plan, and I remember the inconvenience one experiences in finding a particular street. You lose yourself, and after a considerable time you find yourself almost at the spot from which you started. To a stranger that kind of plan is excessively puzzling. The plan of Chicago, as it appears here, I think admits of great improvements, and I regret that such a large city should be so laid out. The only advantage seems to me to be that the plots are all rectangular. The great merit of Wren's plan I consider to be the difference that is maintained and kept in view throughout, between the importance of main thoroughfares and side streets. Wren laid out the important thoroughfares of great width, and divided the spaces between them, as nearly as possible, into rectangular plots, which is generally most convenient. Here and there you get an irregular plot to deal with, but if skilfully taken advantage of by the architect, it gives opportunity for a nice arrangement, which one would be sorry to miss....
Dr. Barlow, Visitor, said,--It is not always that the plan of a city or town which looks the most regular and symmetrical upon paper is in reality the most convenient and desirable. The capital of Baden, Carlsruhe, is an illustration of this. Carlsruhe upon paper looks most inviting. The streets all radiate, not from a centre like the spokes of a wheel (and the plan appears to be perfection), but it is in fact the very reverse, and when the wind blows, which it often does, Carlsruhe is a very purgatory, suggesting la bufera infernale of the Divina Commedia. The wind catches you and blows you about in all manner of ways, and there is no possibility of finding protection from it anywhere. I would also remark, that in cities of the olden time, the rich and the poor lived together in the same locality, without any distinction of an aristocratic from a more humble neighbourhood. This was the case probably in ancient Rome; it is so in the modern city, where the most sumptuous and costly palaces are often found in the poorest quarters. In Pompeii this was also the case. The noble mansions of the influential and the affluent are found side by side with the humble habitations of the poorest citizens. In our London the same thing occurred in early times. The palaces of the nobles and of great citizens did not disdain to stand along with the dwellings of the poorer classes. So in Edinburgh also, where the dwellings of- the great ones of former days (now become the dwellings of the poorest of the poor), are found not unfrequently in the lowest and most thickly populated parts of the old city. This intermingling of the houses or palaces of the rich and potent with the habitations of the poor, had, I think, a material influence in promoting the health of the district, as well as keeping it respectable and in good order; and I would suggest that, in laying out plans for cities and towns this principle should not be lost sight of, especially from a sanatory point of view.
Mr. A. Payne, Associate,... In modern times towns and houses grow up haphazard, and the reason seems to be that it is nobody's business to look after them. Supposing, for instance, such a Board or Committee as has been suggested had been appointed in Wren's time, who can conceive it possible that that magnificent plan of his would have been neglected, and that the City of London would have been reinstated with its present confused and tangled plan? Through the want of such supervision a rare opportunity of making splendid boulevards throughout London at a nominal expense is rapidly passing away. There are numerous broad roads, such as Kennington Lane, Euston and Pentonville Roads, consisting of houses which have been suburban, with gardens in front. As the town increases, these houses are being gradually adapted for business purposes, and shops are being built out to the line of the pavement, dispensing with the gardens: in the course of time the occupiers, one by one, build out their houses to the line of their shops, as is the case in Edgeware and Euston Roads. If the matter were now taken up by a competent authority, the shops might be made under the houses at the old frontage, the gardens replaced by wide pavements and roads of trees, and London would possess a magnificent system of boulevards at a small expense, the opportunity for which is year by year passing away.
Professor Kerr, Fellow,--I desire also to express my thanks to Mr. Waring for bringing this subject before us. It seems to me, with regard to his spider web theory, that he is right. Every town of any importance has its centre, which in one sense or another may be called the market place. In London the Bank of England or the Royal Exchange is the great centre of all business, and the neighbourhood around it is, on a grand scale, the market place of London. To that centre all the great thoroughfares converge; and in all schemes proposed for the improvement of London, as a general rule, unless the principle of general convergence be kept strictly in view, the line which is laid down may be abortive. This is one chief reasons why the proposed line of street from the Nelson Monument to the Thames Embankment is, in my opinion, a mistake. It leads nowhere, except from Trafalgar Square to the Embankment. But people do not want to go from the Embankment to the monument, nor from the monument to the Embankment; they want to go from the east end to the west, or from the Pall Mall quarter to the Bank quarter; and if you take the line of Pall Mall straight forward past the National Gallery and along Duncannon Street, and then continue it almost absolutely straight, you pass Charing Cross Hotel on the right and Adelphi Terrace on the left, and reach the Embankment at an angle which gives you a direct alternative line to the Bank. This is a route which possesses all the characteristics of a main line of thoroughfare converging systematically with others to the central market place of the town. Now, in Sir Christopher Wren's plan this principle is followed out universally. His lines converge upon what I presume is the Royal Exchange, excepting one great line which I cannot identify. [Mr. Waring.--That is Cannon Street.] At all events, the arrangement of Wren's plan, with the exception of that one line(2) makes all the great thoroughfares converge directly to the Royal Exchange; and that is not at all the case in Evelyn's plan. Looking, therefore, at Mr. Waring's diagram of the spider's web (which is a geometrical illustration of an abstract idea, and not a form on which he would actually propose to build a city) you will see the best possible proof of what I say. The lines all converge upon the centre, and the cross lines, which happen to be circular as regards the ensemble of the plan, are obviously rectangular with regard to their relation to the converging lines. In laying out a new city, I cannot conceive a worse plan than the American. It is curious enough that it was carried out in so many instances during the Middle Ages, and indeed it is to be remarked that mediaeval architects were more rectangular and symmetrical in their ideas than many people seem to suppose. My friend beside me, Mr. Seddon, will no doubt tell you presently not only that he prefers irregularity to symmetry of general effect, but that he prefers straggling streets to straight streets. The reason for that is his love of the picturesque. My friend will no doubt be of opinion that when the mind of the passenger is presented with agreeable alternations of spectacular prospects, he obtains by means of this irregularity of arrangement a succession of architectural tit-bits, which serve the purpose of charming his sense of the picturesque. This, however, does not in my opinion seem to be what mediaeval builders actually thought of; and I would ask Mr. Seddon to account for the circumstance that in the laying out of their cities they adopted the rectangular system, which I have no doubt he thinks so entirely at variance with his general conclusions with regard to mediaeval art. We shall all agree, at any rate, that the American system of rectangular streets is about the worst that can be devised. It is impossible to get from one end of the town to the other in a cross direction; and another thing is that it often happens the only means of informing yourself where you are in such a town is to reckon up the consecutive numbering of the streets as you go along; but for which you may be quite unable to find your way about. This is the case with the streets in such towns as Chicago (according to the plan on the wall) and New York, and Philadelphia none the less. The streets are numbered Thirtieth Street, Fortieth Street, and so on, and Fourth and Fifth Avenues crosswise, and thus it is that you know at the corners of the streets for certain exactly where you are even when you cannot otherwise, identify the streets; but the plan is an exceedingly bad one on other accounts, because there are no means of arriving directly at your destination by radiating routes to the centres of business. In the transactions of the Institute you will find papers on this subject, in which Mr. Haywood, of the City of London, takes a leading part, and you will find, I think, that he had a notion of his own with regard to the spider's web plan--not the same as Mr. Waring's, but very ingenious, as all Mr. Haywood's theories are.(3) I should recommend you to look up those papers: the discussion extended over two or more evenings, and a very interesting discussion it was. We have heard that one of our colleagues is about to go out to America to lay out a new town there; his name was not stated, and Mr. Fowler might as well tell us. [Mr. Fowler.--Mr. Edis.] Well, I hope he will not follow the plan of American towns generally; for if he does he will make a mistake. The laying out of new streets in London is a thing which ought to be properly studied. It has been handled in a particularly loose, hap-hazard way for some years past. Perhaps the only man of our generation who took real pains to study the subject was the late Sir James Pennethorne. He was a man of great skill, and of higher powers in many ways than most men were aware, and he made it his special business to understand thoroughly the general idea of what ought to be done; and it is to be remarked that many of the plans he proposed were prepared entirely at his own expense. The subject is one which should engage our very best attention; the more so because one sees at the present time a desire on the part of the public that London should be improved in a systematic manner.
Mr. John P. Seddon, Fellow,--I think there is a little misunderstanding on the part of my friend who has just addressed you, in thinking that my views and those of true Medievalists are in favour of irregularity in everything. Certainly the architects of the great works of olden days appreciated and sought after symmetry, but as a reasonable master, and not as a tyrant, whose rules wholesome in general, should be made to give way to other considerations of still greater importance. If we had the good fortune, or otherwise, of seeing half a town like Chicago burnt down every few years, we might exercise our ingenuity, and come to some good understanding on the best way of rebuilding it. But the truth is such chances are rare, and cities grow up by small degrees; and I imagine it is almost impossible for any one to lay it down as a fact that a large city will be required in a particular place, and therefore to start to plan it with full consideration of its future requirements. I was rather inclined to support Mr. Waring's spider's web plan with some conditions: that is, given a city already grown up irregularly: when it has become an ascertained fact that it will increase largely, you may then deal with it after this fashion in laying out its suburbs The worst part of such a plan is the centre, which is cut up into small and inconvenient wedges; in this portion it will be preferable to leave the primitive arrangement that was dictated by other circumstances and views. Thus in the case of a city like London, it might be possible to treat the suburbs somewhat in this manner, and it is a question whether it should not now be entertained. We have seen in our time London doubled in extent, and the grand boulevard spoken of might have been run with advantage as a girdle round London; and I am not sure that it cannot be done yet. We should then get villas with plenty of ground round them, and a beautiful spacious boulevard might be carried out, instead of the higgledy piggledy present style of accretion. I once had an opportunity, which I now look back upon as a dream; in fact I had a commission to lay out a town on the Coast of Wales. I gave my best attention to this subject under consideration, and to a certain extent I introduced into my design the web-like feature of the plan. I first laid out a wide road parallel with the sea-board, and then, to catch a grand mountain view at the back, I devised a quadrant arrangement; I also paid attention to what seemed to me is not often sufficiently thought of, viz:--the advantage when you come to the frontage of a river, the sea, or any grand open view, of getting a broken outline there, instead of adopting straight parallel blocks throughout. In the plan by Sir Christopher Wren, you have that idea partly carried out towards the Thames, were there is a fine crescent proposed. In order to secure as much frontage as possible, and at the same time to prevent the wind from driving directly into the houses, I laid them out in a varied succession of concave and convex crescents, more particularly the latter; which gave me a more pleasing outline than a straight line of buildings, with cross streets abutting upon it. At suitable parts in all towns, the sharp angles of streets might be broken by the introduction of fountains, monuments, or any similar embellishments, with excellent effect and good practical purpose as well.
Mr. Thomas Morris, Associate,--In reference to what has been said by Mr. Barry, I am inclined to agree with him entirely, as he has taken up this subject in the way in which I think it ought to be viewed. Otherwise, it strikes me very forcibly, that if a town were to be laid out, the authorities would say it should be done by an engineer. It has been somewhere suggested that we have much reason to thank Providence for having caused the greatest rivers to pass through the greatest cities. That is an idea we all ought to catch: but whether we assume it or the reverse to be the true order of events, there is always a close connection between the river and the city. I do not intend to enlarge upon the notion, but it shews that local circumstances have ever had and ought to have the first consideration in laying out a town. They are hardly sufficiently recognised in the paper. As far as London is concerned, we know perfectly well the great labour of the present generation of Londoners has been to obviate the effect of the old block of traffic at the Bank of England. If you wanted to go to London Bridge formerly, the first thing was to go to the Bank; but Cannon Street was made to relieve Cheapside, and now you can go to London Bridge without going to the Bank. They found they wanted yet more side ways, and that led to the Thames Embankment, as a relief to the Strand and the other ways into the city. Consider the block you would have if all these were to cross at one central point I would beg to impress therefore upon those who lay out cities, that they must attend to local circumstances.
Mr. Waring,--I wish to say I merely speak in a very general and abstract manner regarding principles. There has been no attempt on my part to enter into details, and I have only given my ideas in a general form.
Mr. C. Barry,--I asked permission at an earlier period of the evening, to propose in a more formal manner, a vote of thanks to Mr. Waring, but I will take the opportunity of mentioning a circumstance extremely interesting to the Institute, and illustrative of the remarks I made. There seems in this country to exist a kind of perversity which prevents us from laying out great works so that they may be well seen, and making the adjuncts subservient to the main object, as they ought to be. You will remember when the Thames Embankment and Mansion House Street were projected, the matter was considered by this Institute to be of such public interest, that a committee was appointed, of which I was a member, to take into consideration and report upon the plans then before Parliament. That committee drew up a report which I think is very valuable. Reference to it will show that it dealt in the beginning with almost all the questions which had arisen, in an architectural sense, and still will continue to arise before the Embankment will be the perfect work it will be no doubt one day. That report pointed out that the Embankment in itself was most admirable, but it needed approaches; that those approaches should have some reference to the existing monuments of the metropolis along its course; that for instance the arcaded lower story and terrace of Somerset House, should not be half blocked it up as is, but be connected with its new ground level, instead of its old water line, with a sort of sunk area or pit in front of it. It also suggests that the line of roadway at the Westminster end of the Embankment, instead of running as it now does in so extraordinary a way on to the haunches of the bridge, should have had the Clock Tower at the end of its vista. It suggested as a rule that existing or intended public buildings should be the objects towards which new communications should tend and old ones be adapted where possible; and in particular it suggested a communication with Trafalgar Square, very much superior to that which is now put before the public by the Metropolitan Board of Works; but so great is our national prejudice against allowing any one corporate body in this country to interfere with any other, even to their mutual advantage, that the Report of the Institute was disregarded, and has been entirely inoperative.... Apologizing for trespassing so long on your attention, I beg to propose a vote of thanks to Mr. Waring for the paper he has favoured us with.
Professor Kerr, Fellow.--I ask leave to mention that Mr. Haywood's theory which I alluded to before, was, as I now remember, this. His idea with regard to an ordinary town, was that a market was originally established in a certain suitable position; that in course of time there came to be certain routes or paths which converged to that spot in nearly straight lines, and that those come eventually to be the great thoroughfares of a town. With reference to works of this kind being handed over to engineers, as proposed by some one, I may also take leave to mention, that not long ago I delivered a lecture before an assembly of engineers on the application of architectural art to engineering, and that I took the greatest pains to explain to my audience--an extremely intelligent audience of young engineers-- how the principle of architectural design could, in my opinion, be applied in their works. To my surprise, I found by the subsequent discussion, that scarcely one of them had understood a word of what I said. I never was more surprised. I could not have believed it possible that a number of engineers could have had such a total vacuity of mind with regard to the primary idea of architecture as an art. They told me amongst other things, that I was much mistaken if I supposed engineers were not artistic designers, and that they bestowed a great deal of attention to the artistic part of their work: In support of which they quoted a bridge--a particularly unartistic one I am told--the Saltash Bridge, and they declared that work to be the very perfection of architectural beauty. Under such circumstances, therefore, I fear it is hopeless to expect good out of engineers with regard to the architectural embellishment of London.
1. This remark applies to Mediaeval cities in Europe. Marco Polo, writing in the 13th Century, describes Pekin as formed in a regular plan of squares, like a chess board, a plan of ancient adoption in China.
2. No doubt intended to be a special line of thoroughfare for the Docks.
3. See the Discussion which took place at the Institute, on "Metropolitan improvements, as affected by the Bills now before Parliament," March 7th, 1859
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