A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

U is for Urban

As Patrick Joyce has argued, the nineteenth century city became the centre of concern about how newly emergent societies and their rapid urbanisation might best be ordered and governed in such a way that the free movement of people and things could be ensured.

As the New York Tribune declared in 1910, ‘Costly street widenings, as Manhattan crowds increase, might be obviated by planning this kind of thoroughfare’. The newspaper’s front page featured a cross-section of a New York thoroughfare, with an underground train network beneath a road for automobile traffic, above which bridges and promenades allowed pedestrians to wander unhindered. Above them soared winged aircraft, which could land on platforms suspended next to high-rise buildings. In the year 2000, the skies above Salzburg would also be busy, with airship cafes, cable cars, and pedal-powered wings taking women and men soaring over the city below. More spectacularly, the Los Angeles Herald invited readers in 1906 to explore the ‘Imperial City of Philyorgo’, the ‘commercial capital of the universe’, extending from New York in the north to Washington in the south, and reaching sixteen thousand feet above sea level.

Ideal cities were also envisioned from above, such as Hendrik C. Andersen and Ernest M. Hebrard’s ‘International World Centre’ (1912), where the rational planning would combine with industry, science, fine arts, religion, commerce, and most importantly, peace. Likewise, the winning entry in the Federal Capital City Design Competition of 1911-12, drawn by US architect Marion Mahoney Griffin for her husband’s (Walter Burley Griffin) plan for the new Australian capital, Canberra. An earlier generation of urban visionaries had proposed the geometric order of new towns, such as in the settler colonies of the British Empire. Robert Pemberton, for instance, drew a plan in 1854 for the ‘happy colony’ that the ‘workmen of Great Britain’ would establish in Aotearoa New Zealand, in which education, recreation, and agriculture were organised within a series of radiating circles. At the century’s end, English planner Ebenezer Howard proposed the slumless and smokeless ‘garden city’ as the ideal urban form to attract ‘the people’, who would be drawn to its combination of the advantages of both town and country, such as ‘low prices’ and ‘pure air and water’.

New York Tribune, January 16, 1910, Library of Congress.