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GeoJournal

, Volume 51, Issue 1–2, pp 3–13 | Cite as

Townscapes of power

  • Michiel Wagenaar
Article

Abstract

From the 1850s onward, the quest for an impressive capital city was answered by Haussmann's transformation of central Paris. His interventions combined the cutting of new arteries, slum clearance and embellishment.

His approach had a great visual impact on foreign visitors. The Prefect made use of the proven instruments of axiality and proportion to create an awe-inspiring townscape. One of the highlights was the new Opera. Its surroundings were razed to place it in a proper perspective.

The townscape of Paris soon found its emulators in Brussels, Budapest and Rome, which copied Haussmann's strategy. London and Amsterdam were tempted to follow. But most plans for new boulevards and slum clearance failed. In both cities, central areas fell prey to commercial land use, pockmarked with slums. Civic pride did provide the ingredients deemed necessary for a capital. But these lacked the scenography to place them in a proper perspective.

Such a scenography required political, financial and legal tools to intervene in the built environment that were available in nations with a centralist and authoritarian political system. They were absent in liberal laissez-faire and decentralist nations such as Great Britain and The Netherlands.

The lack of powerful intervention in central London and Amsterdam caused a flight to the city's fringes, where estate owners occasionally realised suburban design gems. In their colonies, however, both nations succeeded in creating impressive new capitals.

La beauté d'un monument public doit être une émanation éclatante et directe du génie vivant de tous, une profession de foi esthétique de la race. Aussi l'architecte n'est-il, par moments, que la trompette sonore dans laquelle passe le souffle puissant d'une nation; il résonne alors des vibrations qui sortent des poumons de tout un peuple César DALY, L' architecture privée au XIXe siècle (sous Napoléon III). Nouvelles maisons de Paris et ses Environs. Paris, 1864–1872. Pp. 11–12.

capital cities history of urban design and architecture political systems 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michiel Wagenaar
    • 1
  1. 1.Amsterdam Study Centre for the Metropolitan Environment (AME), Department of Geography and PlanningUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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