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VOL. 5, NO. 3 -- SUMMER 2003

First New Urban Council Held in Brussels; 15 Countries Represented

Assistant professor Victor Deupi (right), who is teaching in the Rome Studies Program for the University of Notre Dame's School of Architecture, translates for Italian architiect Pier Carlo Bontempi at the EuroCouncil in Brussels.


More that 20 years ago, a young architect wrote "The Reconstruction of the European City." He declared, "If ever I was to head this Royal Institute of British Architects I would probably enter this building, in the thick of the night, and with my own hands I would plaster up that memorial wall which is covered in names (the list of Royal Gold Medallists inscribed in the entrance hall of the RIBA building in London), for most of these names have, more than any other names, contributed to the destruction of European cities and culture."

Today, Léon Krier continues to adamantly pursue the physical health of the European city. He and about 75 other architects and urbanists recently convened at the first European Council, held early this spring in Brussels and Bruges.

Organized by Joanna Alimanestianu, an architect and urbanist practicing in Brussels, with assistance from Christian Lasserre and John Massengale, Lucien Steil, and Andrés Duany of the New Urban Council, the group of American new urbanists and their European counterparts met for five days and engaged in discussion. The group shared their techniques for placemaking, as well as their unique European or American perspectives on urbanism. This acknowledged their unique place in the global picture, both their differences and commonalities.

The group critiqued CIAM's post-war policies, which continue to erode European traditional cities by the segregation of uses through zoning, and of urbanism implemented as homogeneous public housing projects and freestanding object buildings symptomatic of an automobile culture.

"CIAM applied numbers to planning, which appealed to American sensibilities," said urbanist Andrés Duany, one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), convening the group. "Léon Krier said once, 'Let's reinvent CIAM,' and from that the foundation for CNU was established." Duany continued, "Our opponents are mired in relativism. They are uncertain about everything. New urbanism has filled that void because we can discern the good and the bad."

Léon Krier speaks to American and European urbanists about tradition.



In reaffirming his belief in traditional cities, Krier said, "True science is like rational tradition. No one needs to be told in a technical way that one should not eat by poking your fork into your ear. CNU is part of that tradition: Revive things because they work, while saving the technological traditions that work."

The Americans made presentations on techniques and tools that continue to be refined in the states. Galina Tahchieva discussed town-making techniques from the DPZ portfolio; Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Victor Dover spoke about the new urbanist public process; Peter Swift presented the traffic engineering reforms proposed as alternatives to the current street design standards; Chuck Bohl presented the recent developments in retail centers modeled after traditional Main Streets; RAMSA architect Paul Whalen described the design for Celebration, a prominent new town in Florida; and Duany discussed new urbanist publications, necessary for educating the general public.

Approximately 40 Europeans attended the new urbanism council from 14 different countries. Presenters included Gabriele Tagliaventi, who presented his projects in Italy; Paul Murrain, executive director of The Prince's Foundation in the UK, an organization that promotes a return of human values to architecture, the building arts, urban design and regeneration; Britain's Robert Adam, who presented a summary on European regionalism; Maurice Culot, from France, who spoke about urban work and counterprojects; Italy's Pier Carlo Botempi, who spoke on regionalist (Parmesan) influences; Duane Phillips, DPZ's director of planning in Berlin, who presented urban infill projects in central Berlin; and new urban theorist Leon Kriér, currently living in France, who spoke on tradition and its sustainability.

Miami-based town planner Victor Dover with architect Gabriele Tagliaventi (Italy) and Belgian Pierre Lacomte, president of the Foundation for the Urban Environment.


The five-day council culminated on the last day with the formation by the group of the Congress for European Urbanism. In American charrette mode, the group drafted a list of action items and scheduled follow-up conferences to take place within the following 18 months.

"We can already see the effects of the positive synergy that emerged from our first few days together. It has brought a gush of fresh energy into the stagnant, isolated and fragmented Old World but also a means to trans-Atlantic teamwork," said Alimanestianu, on location at a Las Vegas charrette.

The group identified 12 challenges, which included: degradation of public places; disposable buildings; destruction of villages through decay, abandonment or suburbanization; and car-dominated design standards.

It seems that new urbanists, regardless of which side of the pond we're from, have much in common.

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