Aix-en-Provence (France) 19-26 July 1953
CIAM IX: discussing the charter of habitat
CIAM IX, held at Aix-en-Provence, France on 19-26 July 1953, was the first
congress where the so-called ‘younger’ CIAM members, some of whom
had been criticizing the institution of CIAM and its methods since the Second
World War, found themselves among others who were thinking similarly. Organized
by the CIAM old-guard, or ‘elders’, and convened under the title
‘La Charte de l’Habitat’, the discussions at the congress
revealed the desire by both generations to produce a document that would be
a corollary to La Charte d’Athènes (1943). The production of this
second document had been suggested by the founding members at CIAM VII in Bergamo
(1947), proposed again by the French group ASCORAL at CIAM VIII (1951), and
discussed exhaustively at the interim meeting at Sigtuna, Sweden (1952).
Although not considered to be a part of the official roster of congresses, the CIAM meeting held at Sigtuna, Sweden, 25-30 June 1952 was notable for the large number of young CIAM members present, and the absence of executive members such as Le Corbusier, José Lluís Sert, Walter Gropius, and Sigfried Giedion. This was the first CIAM gathering made up of predominantly younger members, many of whom who would later become core members of Team 10, including Jaap Bakema , Aldo van Eyck, and Georges Candilis. Also present, and making important contributions to the discussion surrounding the new agenda for town planning, were the Italian architect Ernesto Rogers, and young Swiss members Rolf Gutmann and Theo Manz.
The Sigtuna meeting was characterized by a high degree of theoretical discussion and increasing pressure within CIAM to formalize the participation of individual ‘younger’ members, and new junior and student groups. Among these new groups was ‘Paris-Jeune’, a group of young French architects established in Paris by Georges Candilis, who argued that what was new in their approach, was that it combined the use of the CIAM grids and the principles of CIAM with research into the social, economic, physical, and psychological conditions of the subject they were investigating. The Norwegian CIAM group ‘Pagon-Norway’ supported a young and active off-shoot group that had already sent Christian Norberg-Schulz, the editor of their newsletter TEAM, as their delegate to CIAM VIII at Hoddesdon. Although he had been designated as the official delegate of the student groups at CIAM VIII, his role was taken over at the Sigtuna meeting by the more outspoken Candilis.
The most important discussions at the Sigtuna meeting focused on formulating the notion of ‘habitat’, which was complicated by the fact that members brought to the word different associations, as they did to the related terms logis and dwelling. The members were unable to define precisely what they meant by habitat, however, they generally agreed that it referred to an environment that could accommodate the ‘total and harmonious spiritual, intellectual, and physical fulfillment’ of its inhabitants. The very use of the term habitat, according to Candilis, represented an important change in thinking within CIAM, which he was unable to express at the time but which would develop over the course of the next congresses to represent a set of values that the younger members associated with a ‘more humane approach’ to modern architecture. The meeting ended with a reiteration by Candilis that CIAM ought to create a ‘Charte de l’Habitat’ that would, as the Athens Charter had, guide the future development of modern urbanism.
The commonly held sentiment of those attending the Sigtuna meeting was that CIAM suffered from a lack of direction. Candilis felt that CIAM, ‘like any organism that wanted to remain alive . . . needed new blood’, adding that the institution always needed to be in contact with reality, implying that CIAM had failed to do both. He was also of the opinion that the first ‘revolutionary’ period of modern architecture would end with the next congress at which time the old-guard would disappear.
This issue of a Charter of Habitat was taken up again at CIAM IX, the largest and most diverse congress yet, with more than 3,000 delegates, members, and observers, and an unprecedented representation of new countries and member groups. Among those who attended were ‘younger’ veterans Aldo van Eyck, Jaap Bakema, Georges Candilis, Shadrach Woods, Theo Manz and Rolf Gutmann. Also attending their first CIAM meeting in an official capacity as members of the British MARS group were Alison and Peter Smithson. The old-guard were clearly unable to conceive of the city in terms of habitat as it had been discussed by the ‘youngers’ at the Sigtuna meeting, making it increasingly clear that there was a widening division within CIAM between the old and new ways of thinking about the modern city. This divide was further exacerbated by the ambivalence on the part of the ‘elders’ about including the ‘younger’ members in the decisions surrounding the future of CIAM.
The ‘younger’ members were active at CIAM IX, attending council meetings, writing commission reports, and presenting most of the grids. Their architectural solutions displayed a wide range of formal articulations and theoretical frameworks. These differences notwithstanding, they recognized a common desire to create environments which would encourage relations between inhabitants, between a building and its environment, and which would accommodate the cultural needs of people. Several projects, including those from Algiers, Chandigarh, Sardinia, and Jamaica, interested members for the manner in which they addressed local conditions and spiritual traditions. The Moroccan project, entitled ‘Habitat for the Greatest Number’ by ATBAT-Afrique and presented by Candilis and Michel Ecochard, captured the imagination of the ‘younger’ members more than any other for its attention to the sociological and cultural conditions of those for whom they were designing. Particularly impressed were the Smithsons, who regarded it as a new way of thinking and the greatest achievement since Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles.
The Smithsons presented their sociologically informed ‘Hierarchy of Association’ diagram which they prepared with their MARS colleagues Bill and Gill Howell and their ‘Urban Re-Identification Grid’. These contributions proposed replacing the ‘functional’ hierarchy of dwelling, work, transportation, and recreation of the Athens Charter with what they referred to as the scaled unities of house, street, district and city, which was in line with earlier proposals by MARS for the CIAM VIII conference that recommended the inclusion of a category of scaled settlements from village to metropolis. The Smithsons’ contribution has been accorded a great deal of importance subsequently in the accounts of Team 10 by Alison Smithson. However, reports of CIAM IX reveal that at the congress itself, their proposal received little attention by either generation.
Contrary to the perceptions fueled by publications surrounding Team 10, the project that generated the most interest was the proposal for a satellite town near Rotterdam presented by Bakema for the Dutch CIAM group Opbouw. Despite its formal orthogonal character, the Alexanderpolder project was, along with projects such as the MARS project for Richmond Park in London and Lamba and Drew’s project for Chandigarh, based on the idea of integrating functions, which countered the conception of functional zoning that in the opinion of the ‘younger’ members ‘brutally’ separated urban functions.
The congress was perceived by most as articulating a confusing diversity of opinion. However, some acknowledged that in spite of the wide range of approaches there were similarities in intent. Many were dissatisfied with the proceedings and results of the congress which had failed to produce even an outline for a Charter of Habitat, and the younger members in particular were left with a profound disappointment with CIAM as an institution.
Over 3000 delegates and observers present among others:
Aldo van Eyck
Sandy van Ginkel