UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Romantic motivation and North American urban design Oberti, Oberto Eugenio


This thesis is a study of contemporary urban design in North America. The physical aspects of the architecture of the city are examined in the light of the history of ideas and of urban design. While most studies show the development of modern architectural and urban design as a chronology of ever new trends and discoveries in a continuous line of progress, this work shows that many essential features of design are not new and have not been changing. On the contrary, ideas developed in the eighteenth century can be regarded as the essential source of inspiration of many aspects of contemporary design. The central theme of the thesis is that the body of thought developed in the late eighteenth century - defined as romantic thought - is still at the origin of the motivation of contemporary urban design. The study identifies the essential traits of the prevailing style of urban and architectural design and relates them to the main themes of the romantic tradition. The point made is that this tradition has become a very uncritical one and that the establishment of alternative and new traditions is thus made very difficult, if not impossible. The method followed in the thesis is to make hypotheses of influences between eighteenth century thought and contemporary notions affecting the physical design of cities. The hypotheses are supported by the evidence of the thoughts and projects of representative thinkers quoted and by the attitudes, the laws and the patterns of physical design found in our days. Among the sources used in this thesis the reader will find passages ranging from Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant to Jane Jacobs, Frank Lloyd Wright and Arthur Erickson. A large body of thoughts from famous and less famous people who spoke and worked in a representative way is used throughout the thesis. Illustrations of "prophetic" designs from the age of Boullee and Ledoux and of many existing projects are introduced to clarify the arguments. Many examples were chosen from Vancouver, British Columbia, but typical examples from the entire North American continent are included. Most of the aspects influencing design are considered. The reader will find an examination of established patterns of existing urban design in North America, an analysis of the attitudes toward the city and architecture observations on the by-laws and the economic system influencing design decisions. This material is used to show that there is a great inertia of old styles and ideals which prevent the establishment of alternative life styles and of truly new canons of design, despite a general consensus about the need for some truly new approach in the physical design of our cities.

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