UrbanMachine is a new series on UrbanTick that explores the idea of the city as a machine. It is of course inspired by the topic of cycles and it might be in a sense a literal translation of a clockwork. But even so, there are elements that work in such a way like the public transport, others like water and electricity are just “available” anytime one plugs the plug or opens the tap. What about the waste management or cleaning, maybe public service in general? The aim is to investigate what makes the city tick on the level of very basic, everyday tasks done by regular women and men. It is a bout infrastructure but also the service that keeps this structure in shape, physically and socially.
To start this topic, what better way than to look at the modern city. The modern city has many different faces, but here we are looking at the “real” modern city in the modern sense of the movement of the early 20th century. Maybe modern city could be replaced with “The Functional City”. This term comes even closer to the idea of the urbanMachine, probably this is where the term is inspired from.
The machine was central to a lot of the modern ideas and admired as the ultimate thing and applicable to any task. Le Corbusier admired the ocean liners as complete entities and of course as functional triumph. Some if the liners formal features even play a role in his building designs.
This machinist fetish has lead to dramatic constructions in the modern movement. From buildings to urban theories the function was top of the list. Even today, the city would be compared to a machine by a lot of people, when asked.
In terms of urban design, the functional approach has a very long tradition. The formalization and rationalization of urban spaces has always been part of planning approaches. From early Chinese cities, to Roman layouts, to garden cities, to new towns, the city was compromised into a single perspective. This approach is tightly interwoven with subjects of power, representation and truth. These aspects are also inherent in the modern movement, although they where able to introduce a shift from a personal focus to a more institutionalized reign of the plan as the central holder of truth. Together with this the architect/planner as the creator of the plan slipped into a unique position.
Within this context the term functional city could have a slightly different meaning. It is a more scientific meaning that imposes a great deal of rationality and logic.