Friday fun: no jokes, but the City of Peace

by Stefan Fletcher May. 01, 2009 5442 views

As Emerson once said, “consistency is the bugbear of a little mind”, which is my standard excuse for inconsistency, so no jokes today. Instead, I want to tell you about a housing project.

If you’re not already riveted, let me tell you about idealism. In a small municipality which was once part of Paris, people set about solving the chronic housing shortage that resulted from the population boom after the First World War. Our species did its very best to exterminate as many of its fertile males as possible at least twice in the last century. Humanity as a whole is far more careful about its preservation than its so-called leaders and promptly restocked the catch. In the aftermath of WWI and then again after WWII, people bred. And needed homes to house their offspring.

This was the time of Bauhaus, of Frank Lloyd Wright, of futurism, of surrealism in its first innocent expression, of the Weimar Republic and a desperate sort of optimism that was overcome not by the World War II, but by the commercial cynicism we now take for granted.

Lloyd Wright catered to an elite. This project was the brainchild of city planners of proto-Keynesians, people who sincerely believed that government was there to better the lot of their fellow citizens. These buildings date from the New Deal, the FSA studies and that kind of civic commitment which seems hopelessly naïve in this day and age.

The Cité de la Paix was built in several stages. Extraordinary brickwork was the norm – mostly because the mayor of the town owned a brick works. Buildings after WWII were constructed by an impoverished state which had discovered the cost-effectiveness of concrete. I have shown you here some of the pre-war work.

One of its most endearing features for me is its comprehensiveness. The cité includes churches, schools, a theatre and homes for the elderly. Even the streets are named after Western civilization’s great social planners: Grotius, Rousseau, Hobbes and Weber. Another charming feature is its angularity on a very human scale. Despite its size, the project is approachable and inhabitable. Why later architects and city-planners failed to take this into account when they built their social follies in Milton Keynes, Sarcelles and the other monstrosities in the 60’s is a long and dark chapter in urban development.

I haven’t done it justice. This ‘estate’ or ‘project’ (depending on where you are) deserves a much more detailed treatment, even here. Right-wing local politicians took control of the town in the early 80’s and have been fighting with the predominantly socialist national housing authorities (which own the project) for nearly thirty years to privatise it. Gerrymandering is not an American preserve.

And today, as we look to our governments to bail us out of the excesses of our egotistical desires, there is more than one reason to consider a place called the “City of Peace”. Compare with the soaring office block in the previous post whose owners are facing bankruptcy…

I wish I could live in a place like this. It really exemplifies “organic architecture” for me.

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There are 14 comments , add yours!
Robert Moffat 10 years, 11 months ago

Fascinating, lovely and thought provoking! A bit like Hampstead Garden Suburb in a way - unreal!

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ivã¡N Islas 10 years, 11 months ago

Wow, I love this set!

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Nadoune 10 years, 11 months ago

Splendid series of gorgeous photos !!!!

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Eva 10 years, 11 months ago

Beautiful pics ... really really beautiful!!!!

I would like to live in some house like that ...

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ricardo 10 years, 11 months ago

wonderful set!
4# is really beautiful!

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Boszorka65 10 years, 11 months ago

Nice set!

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Thebronzebow 10 years, 11 months ago

Beautiful buildings. Thanks for the history and tour.

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Mikkal Noptek 10 years, 11 months ago

Beautiful buildings. Peaceful and desert..:))

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Piyali 10 years, 11 months ago

'Peace' is the word, so be it. The smaller versions don't to justice to certain shots, when I enlarged No#6 the details came out magnificiently. Its interesting to note that the socialist are sustaining the fight against privatisation for thirty years..

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Jarvo J 10 years, 11 months ago

Nice set. Love the "organic architecture". But where are the people - it looks strangely deserted.

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Rob Tulk 10 years, 11 months ago

Great shots of somewhere I've wanted to visit for a while and thank you for history of the place.

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Michael Sakowicz 10 years, 11 months ago

Dude, the cloudy sky in shot six is crazy good. Nice work.

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Lynda 10 years, 11 months ago

These are attractive buildings and a precious piece of architectural history.

10 years, 11 months ago Edited
Brian 10 years, 11 months ago

Great brick buildings and an interesting history. Thanks!

10 years, 11 months ago Edited