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Thomas Sieverts All Planned Out? - The Worldwide Impact of the British Town and Country Planning System
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All Planned Out?
The Worldwide Impact of the British Town and Country Planning System

18 and 19 May 2007

Thomas Sieverts

Thomas is a Partner in S.K.A.T., Architekten und Stadtplaner, Bonn, Köln, which began in 2000. He was the Professor of Urban Design at the Technical University Darmstadt from 1971 to 1999, and during that period worked in Britain as a Professor at the School of Town Planning, University of Nottingham, from 1984 to 1989.

Prior to S.K.A.T., Architekten und Stadtplaner Thomas ran a professional planning-office in Bonn from 1978, engaged in public consultation, urban-design, town planning, and housing.

He is the author of Zwischenstadt, (1997, and now in a third edition 2001) with a French edition, (2003) an English translation as Cities without Cities: An interpretation of the Zwischenstadt ,(2004) and a Japanese edition (2006). This book deals with the dissolution of the compact historical European city and with the treatment of a completely different and new form of the city, which is spreading across the world: the urbanised landscape or the landscaped city. Thomas calls this the Zwischenstadt, meaning the type of built-up area that is between the old historical city centres and the open countryside, between the place as a living space and the non-places of movement, between small local economic cycles and the dependency on the world market.

Thomas has also written more than 250 publications in professional magazines and books, in an extensive bibliography between 1960 and 2007:

clickThomas Sieverts Bibliography 1960 to 2007

He has won several awards:

  • Fritz Schumacher Reisestipendium (1962)
  • DEUBAU-Preis (1969)
  • Verdienstzeichen in Gold der Stadt Wien (1988)
  • Bauherrenpreis (1992) for the Project "Umbau eines Großwohnhauses in Ingolstadt"
  • Deutscher Städtebaupreis, Anerkennung (1992)
  • Deutscher Städtebaupreis (1999)
  • Vorbildliche Bauten in Nordrhein-Westfalen (1999)
  • Auszeichnung guter Bauten (2003) des BDA Bochum, Hattingen, Herne, Witten für das Gesamtprojekt des Bochumer Westparks

Thomas also became Scientific Director for the International Building Exhibition (IBA), Emscher Park, Gelsenkirchen from 1989 to 1994, and Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Berlin from 1995 to 1996. He went on to be the Director of a research project on the urbanised landscape, financed by the Gottlieb Daimler und Karl Benz Stiftung.

Thomas had studied architecture and urban design in Stuttgart, Liverpool, and Berlin between 1955 and 1962. He became an assistant lecturer at the institute of townplanning in the Technical University of Berlin. In 1965 he formed the "Freie Planungsgruppe Berlin" (FBP), becoming Professor of Urban Design at the Hochschule der bildenden Künste, Berlin, between 1967 and 1970. He was briefly a guest Professor on the Urban Design Program at the Graduate School of Design, Havard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.



click here for S.K.A.T., Architekten und Stadtplaner

16.00 to 17.30 on Saturday 19 May 2007

Cities without Cities - a challenge for planning


A plea for the qualification of the fragmented urban landscape

1. In my young days I felt a great fascination about the labour-politics in post-war England: The New-Town-Programs, the Royal Commissions, the progressive legislation. This led me to apply for a scholarship in England. So I studied in 1957 in Liverpool and wrote a thesis on Open Space in Bootle.

My fascination with Great Britain faded with Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War, which just had its thirtieth anniversary. In recent years my interest has been growing again, and I thank you for inviting me to this conference, which provide me with a condensed information about the present situation.

2. In Germany, we have experienced a sequence of changing, even contrasting ideas of town and country in the profession in the last 60 years: From the low-density, but well hierarchically ordered Town in the 1950s, a short period of "society by densification" in the 1960s, and a period of neo-historicism in the late 1970s and 1980s, up to the idealised concept of a dense European city in sharp contrast to the country-side from the 1990s up to the present. But reality was not very much influenced by these ideas: The suburbanisation and its sprawl developed continually, to the disgust of professional planning.

3. For some time I have thought that such a strong emancipation of real life in space must not be intellectually denied, but instead has to be taken seriously. It cries out for serious attention, and caring qualification.

In the last twelve years I have worked on this settlement-pattern: After having written a little book on the Zwischenstadt in my time as a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, I have organised a multidisciplinary research project, sponsored by the Gottfrie-Daimler-und-Karl-Benz-Stiftung. I shall sketch a few facts about "Zwischenstadt" in Germany.

4. Two new types of urban structure are emerging in Germany, as the old system of a well balanced hierarchical order of towns typical for West-Germany is disappearing:

On the one hand we have, especially in East-Germany a "thinning-out" of the settlement system to such low densities, that the usual services of distribution, schooling and medical care cannot be financed any more and have to be substituted by a system of mobile services in combination with "centres" and "satellites".

On the other hand we have, especially in the agglomerations, a transformation of the old System of "towns" and "suburbs" into a new "network-city", which becomes more or less independent of the "mother-city", developing forms of mutual co-operations. Here also the balanced hierarchy of services loses its meaning, and it is this new structure I want to talk about.

5. This new urban pattern has three dimensions: In its "youth" and dynamics it is in an unstable type of transition, in the fast process of urban transformation we presently observe. It is also of a general structural character, which also takes command in the old city and old village. And lastly it is a phenotype with typical concrete descriptive characteristics. It is especially this fast urban transformation, which makes it feasible to plan and organise it's qualification.

This urban structure has been emerging for about fifty years. It is by no way a result of coherent planning, but of myriad independent decisions by households and firms, rational in themselves, but in its cumulative results rather irrational. It is the result if the enormous increase of wealth and purchasing power which is being invested into space, automobility, and free time, as well as in education and individuality.

The characteristics of this urban structure are fractality, big system, and accessibility instead of proximity. They form new frontiers and show a new richness of species. But these fragmented urban landscapes do not yet belong to the realm of culture, which still is connected to the old city.

6. Conventional Planners, natural conservationists and academics alike do not like these structures: It is criticised for its high energy-consumption, its high costs of infrastructure, its destruction of landscape, its ecological deficits and its social problems.

However, if looked at without prejudices, the evaluation of this urban structure is ambiguous:

  • The destruction of old landscape is to be seen against the conservation of the old town
  • The destruction of old nature leads to a new patchwork - nature full of species
  • The destruction of the old urban economy emerges in a new productivity at the periphery.

Inhabitants, entrepreneurs and engineers are more or less happy with the status quo.

7. In this situation three questions are arising:

  • Is there a potential for planned transformation, if the network-city is more or less "finished" and built?
  • Is there a demand for qualification, if its inhabitants and users are more or less content?
  • What are the goals for a qualification, if there seems to be few obvious problems?

These three basic questions are to be discussed in the wider context of the global transformation of the European cities. In most parts of Europe the population is shrinking, and globalisation leads to less power of regulation in the frame of national states: Demand of new urban growth is diminishing: Zwischenstadt is on the way to being built and consolidated. The welfare-state loses its role of "regulating by the golden leash" and transforms itself to a kind of "enabling" and "activating" organisation. From Government to Governance: civil society takes command!

8. We start with the third question, concerning the goals for a qualification, if there seems to be few obvious problems. Points are:

  • Division of Labour according to the different talents and gifts of the region
  • Lowering of the infrastructural costs of building, unkeeping and running
  • Attraction of young and intelligent people and purchasing power
  • Creative milieus
  • Culture as a 'hard' factor of attraction and economics

9. We go on with the second question: Who could and would realise those goals, if the term "Region" is for most people rather abstract, and regional planning even more so? Politically most urban regions are still a battlefield of competing local authorities. There is nearly no "common opinion" concerning urban regions. Points are:

  • Region must be realised by its inhabitants as a lively, interesting and stimulating entity, through, for example, guided tours and cultural events
  • Regional co-operation must be fostered not so much by planning and plans, but by common projects
  • Civil society, organised on an regional level, could be of great importance, as the state loses in power

10. We finish with the first question: Is there still potential for a planned transformation as growth diminishes? Points are:

  • After 30 to 50 years we reach the first cycle of renewal in infrastructure, big institutions and agriculture
  • Housing-areas have to be adapted to new social needs formed by immigrants and old people
  • The European agricultural policies change from product-subsidies to the subsidy of the cultivation of territories

11. Comparison with the U.S.A could be stimulating: New reform-movements seem to be quite powerful with coalitions of people in initiatives, research, and businesses: Civil society is more advanced in America.

Our profession has to change, and must be transformed: From planning to space-monitoring, space-managing and the production of culture in space!

This transformation could be supported by new legislation, which is more realistic about the factual development, and by taking into account the qualities of the fragmented urban landscape, supporting it's transformation.

Cities without Cities - a challenge for planning

More to follow shortly...

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