Saturday19 August 2017

Politicians would do well to show more interest in urban design

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Leon Krier proposes a new European capital built on genuinely sustainable principles. It would make the EU more lovable, be a model for other city builders - and help end our dependence on oil, he argues

Leon Krier

In late 1987 I received a phone call inviting me to give a lecture on my architectural and urban theory to the prime minister at 10 Downing Street. From the start Mrs Thatcher interrupted the presentation with precise questions while her private secretary took minutes. After two hours of Q&A she wondered where the ideas applied. “Central Paris, of course.” She sighed. “Had I known about this 10 years ago, I might have been able to do something about it.”

I remain astonished by how few political and intellectual figureheads are actively interested in the final shape of our frantic development activities. Observing what happened to cities in the last half-century, there is no reason to be buoyant.

I remain astonished by how few political and intellectual figureheads are actively interested in the final shape of our frantic development activities

We are facing ever more suburban and urban sprawl of both the horizontal and vertical kind. That is what the industry, the designers and administrators are trained to deliver, what current practices and policies promote, what – short of alternatives – consumers buy into, for living, for working, for schooling, for worshipping, for retiring, for vacationing.


Illustration by Leon Krier

Illustration by Leon Krier


The skyscraper, the ground-scraper and suburban sprawl are with us. Colossal mono-functional cul-de-sacs ensure maximal territorial and network congestion. No policy or programme seems able to curb the centripetal movement towards the mega-attractors or to replace them. London, Berlin, Paris, Beijing, Rome, Athens, Moscow, New York were originally conceived for pedestrian and animal movement. Their traditional urban networks and building fabric, tailored to human- and animal-scale activities, are being replaced by mechanised mega-structural parasites without adequate network improvement.

All zero-carbon projects are swindles

The hyper-scale building typology is the product of cheap oil. The wars fought by mercenary armies in far locations will not secure forever the sources of the black gold. Without it the gargantuan structures are unusable: no nuclear, no aeolian, no alternative energies, no modern economy, no modern life are possible.

The system is un-reformable on the fringes. It can only be changed from the centres, by those who are responsible for its policies and ideology.

Overpopulation is a time bomb to which there is no known humane solution. That aporia however should not dictate the nature and form of cities or buildings. The specific nature of the individual human being and of its communities – not the mass of population – must again determine the scale, character and mode of production of buildings and settlements. 

Leon Krier - proposal for Eupolis, a European capital

Leon Krier - proposal for Eupolis, a European capital


Cities and mentalities have for too long been dictated by machine scale. They are profoundly unsustainable, however economic the tools and vehicles, whatever the LEED performance of buildings, however virtuous the citizens and politics. No amount and efficiency of public transport will make a long-term difference. The only way forward is to design integrated settlement policies on national and continental scale that promote “walkable cities” and “walkable buildings”.

Europe is missing a credible and lovable symbolic centre

Sustainability is a much-abused term. The “ecological” suburb, the “green”-skyscraper, -sprawl, -transport, -food, -fuel, green-everything. All zero-carbon projects are swindles. The most sustainable city is the mixed-use, -scale, -income, -race, -age traditional city, using local resources of materials, techniques and crafts for its construction, use and maintenance. The real ecological challenge resides in the territorial reorganisation of daily human activities within society.

A new urban agenda, at international level, is of the utmost urgency. Supranational institutions and national states must step in to overcome the current development practices.

The EU is, in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, housed in illiterate, deaf and dumb buildings.

Europe is missing a credible and lovable symbolic centre. A new capital of Europe, Eupolis, based on a millennial culture of human-scaled cities and architecture should be founded to serve as model for the rebirth of the European city.



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