CIAM VI Bridgwater (1947)

On Reconstruction of the Cities

It was the first conference of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) after World War II. The conference was held September 7-14, 1947 in Bridgwater, England. After the Second World War and the Holocaust, the conference had to deal, on one hand, with architectural reconstruction and, on the other, with “political, economic and social questions [that] have taken on a new significance for anyone.” (Mumford 2000: 172)
In a letter to Le Corbusier in 1945, the Swiss co-founder and secretary of CIAM, Sigfried Giedeon, pushed for the writing of a charter on world reconstruction comparable to the Charter of Athens from 1933. (Mumford 2000: 159)
Delegates also came from countries that had not been present at a CIAM conference before. Just one month before the beginning of the conference, India and Pakistan gained independence. Minnette de Silva, who was a student at the AA School in London at that time, became a new member and the delegate representing India and Ceylon. (De Silva 1998: 100)
The MARS group, led by J.M. Richards, hosted the event. The MARS group was an open group and brought young architects to participate in the event. The conference was divided into four different working groups:
I. Restatements of the Aims
II. Reorganization of CIAM
III.A. Urbanism
IV.B. Architectural Expression.
Many controversial discussions marked the conference. One issue was the position of Giedeon and Le Corbusier as CIAM leading figures advocating for the use of the Charter of Athens, which proposed the “Functional City” as a main CIAM goal. Younger architects opposed the Charter as too rigid and rationalistic. J.M. Richards emphasized the need for an “emotional base” that he found in “familiar forms and the use of traditional materials” and insisted on architecture which appeals the “common man” as a theme and goal for the CIAM conference, so that his (the common man’s) appreciation can be based on what already means something to him emotionally. He saw “Sweden as a place where functionalism was being ‘humanized’ on the ‘aesthetic side’ without becoming irrational.” (Mumford 2000) At the end of the 1930s younger architects demanded the absence of “coziness” in modern architecture, which brought Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, more into the CIAM picture. (Ekistics 1985) The MARS group tried to publicize a “softened modernism” through referring to the Swedish example using “pitched roofs and wood, brick, and stone” (Mumford 2000: 165) and by “stimulating relationships.” Swedish Modern became quite influential in the thinking of the MARS group, as Eric Mumford points out. (Mumford 2000: 166 et seq.) At the CIAM pre-conference in Zurich in May 1947, Backström pointed out, “that today we have reached the point where all the elusive psychological factors have again begun to engage our attention. Man and its habits, reactions, and needs are the focus of interest as never before.” (Ekistics 1985: 482) Jose Luis Sert, who became president in 1947, insisted in his talk at the conference “that the building of community centers connected to schools was more urgent in reconstruction than housing‚ for these centers represent a cultural breeding ground, which enables the individual to attain his full stature within the community.” (Mumford 2000: 177)
Other points of conflict were the differences between younger and older participants – while the new generation of architects questioned hierarchy, the older ones wanted to keep the CIAM exclusive – and the question of style and materials.
In the same year, Jacqueline Tyrwhitt published “Cities in Evolution” by Patrick Geddes. In the foreword she notes that the work “gives overwhelming evidence of the profound effects of the opportunities available in the immediate environment upon the physical and mental development of the individual.” (Ekistics 1985: 481-482) At the conference she gave Minnette de Silva a copy of “Patrick Geddes in India,” which Minnette de Silva described from then on as one of her greatest influences. Patrick Geddes, whose Section Valley was used by Team X for their Doorn Manifesto 10 years later, was already being debated at that time. (De Silva 1998:100)
Jos Bosman describes that in 1938 the post-rationalistic phase of CIAM started in response to demands from the MARS group and Siegfried Giedeon. (Ekistics 1985)

CIAM Archives / ETH Zurich: Folder: CIAM 9, AIX-EN-PROVENCE 1953
De Silva, Minnette (1998): The life & work of an Asian woman architect. Colombo: Smart Media Productions.
Ekistics: the problems and science of HUMAN SETTLEMENT. (1985): Mary Jaqueline Tyrwhitt in Memorian. Issue 52/314/315. 396-558.
Mumford, Eric (2000): The CIAM discourse on urbanism 1928-1960. Cambridge, London: MIT Press.
Moira Hille - 2013-09-26