Otterlo (the Netherlands) 7-15 September 1959
CIAM ’59: the end of CIAM
Presentations at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo
The meeting held at Henry van de Velde’s Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo in September 1959 marked the announcement of the end of CIAM and the triumph of Team 10. And paradoxically, this apparent break of the ‘new CIAM’ from the established CIAM was characterized by a great deal of conceptual and procedural continuity. While Team 10 was committed to distancing themselves from CIAM methods and values, they still maintained the name CIAM in the title for the congress: ‘CIAM: Research Group for Social and Visual Relationships.’ The organizational hierarchy of CIAM was dissolved and replaced by individual representation in plenary sessions, which had a structure not dissimilar to the structure of the CIAM congresses held before the Second World War. However, this seemingly similar structure was permeated by a more democratic spirit that had entered CIAM through its young membership since there was no longer any Executive Council and projects were now discussed without the intervention of a chairman. Six days of the congress were devoted to the activity of presenting built and theoretical projects as had been the pattern of CIAM, and two days were given to summarizing and evaluating what had occurred during the meetings. However, the discussions at Otterlo reflected new values and approaches to modern town planning that had been gradually gaining momentum among the new and younger members of CIAM since the first post-war congress in Bridgwater, England in 1947, but which was subsequently characterized by Team 10 members and historians as a radical break that occurred, depending on the source, either at Sigtuna, Aix-en-Provence, La Sarraz, or Otterlo.
Forty-three participants from twenty countries were invited by the Committee of Coordination which comprised John Voelcker, André Wogenscky, Alfred Roth, Ernesto Rogers, Blanche Lemco, Sandy van Ginkel and those Alison Smithson would later label as ‘core’ Team 10 members which included herself and Peter, Jaap Bakema, Aldo van Eyck, Georges Candilis, Shadrach Woods and Giancarlo De Carlo. Some middle generation members attended including Ernesto Rogers, Ignazio Gardella and Vico Magistretti from Italy. The projects presented at the meeting provided solutions to problems of habitat in extreme contexts that ranged from the photographs of the Algerian Sahara by Dutch architect Herman Haan to the analysis and theoretical solution for a town in the sub-Arctic by Swedish architect Ralph Erskine. Projects were also presented by a better- and lesser-known community of international architects including José Coderch (Spain), Jerzy Soltan (Poland), Radovan Niksic (Jugoslavia), Wendell Lovett (USA), Viana de Lima (Portugal) and from Japan Kenzo Tange.
The publication produced to summarize the results of the meeting titled, CIAM ’59 in Otterlo (1961), compiled by Oscar Newman at the behest of Bakema, was deemed by some who attended the meeting to be an inaccurate reflection of the event. Nevertheless, as a record of a wide range of approaches in an equally wide range of conditions, the book documents a willingness to deal with their new awareness of the pluralism of post-war society and documents their new ideal that promoted the ideal of the presence of a cultural dimension in the ‘new architecture’.
One of the most charged theoretical debates occurred around Ernesto Rogers’ presentation of BBPR’s project for the Torre Velsaca in Milan, which elicited accusations of formalism and historical revivalism by Peter Smithson. This debate revealed the cultural divide between those two approaches towards the nature and the role of history in modern architecture. This position was supported more diplomatically by Bakema who thought that the building communicated past events and ‘resisted’ contemporary life. Rogers was unable to convince his critics that the project was not the result of subjective requirements, but was determined by social phenomenon, a ‘clarity and sincerity of the structure’ and an awareness of the many factors that had to be taken into account in erecting a building. Kenzo Tange’s proposal for the Tokyo City Hall and Kagawa Prefectural Office met with similar censure from Peter Smithson who took issue with the implication that architects should look back into their own national history of forms. Smithson similarly accused Giancarlo De Carlo of ‘accepting old forms’ instead of inventing a ‘genuine’ formal vocabulary for a ‘new architecture’ for his project for shops and apartments in Matera, Italy. Van Eyck emphasized the issue of morality in his talk, ‘Is Architecture Going to Reconcile Basic Values?’, arguing that the time had come ‘to gather the old into the new’ not along historicist lines, but by appealing to a rediscovery of ‘the archaic principles of human nature’.
Louis Kahn gave the key-note address, which along with his project for downtown Philadelphia, likely satisfied members on several fronts. The project proposed a viable solution for the long-standing issue within CIAM of what constituted a modern monumentality and made manifest the approach to modern town planning that had been developing within CIAM over the last thirty years among the ‘younger’ members, which had encouraged the integration of the functions of a city. The project appealed to the Smithsons due to Kahn’s interest in the issue of ‘mobility’ (which they had presented in their London Roads Study at this meeting); and to Van Eyck for Kahn’s philosophical approach that insisted upon addressing the ‘greater reality’ of a problem before addressing particularities.
The meeting at Otterlo was important in the history of CIAM because a decision was taken by a small number of members, apparently without much consultation and against the opinion of some who continued to believe in the relevance of CIAM, to cease using the name ‘CIAM’. This disassociation of the heirs of CIAM from the institution out of which they were born, marked the symbolic end of CIAM. The end of this important institution for the debate and promotion of modern architecture was declared at the congress, and declarations, which had begun to appear in architectural journals in 1956, continued unabated until 1961. The end of CIAM also marked the end of the formative phase of Team 10, a fecund period which resulted in establishing many of the theoretical foundations for the better-known projects of Team 10 in later years.
To maintain international contact, exchange information and develop a more intense working method to discuss the subject of habitat, Bakema set up a newsletter, ‘Boîte Postale pour le developpement de l’Habitat / Post Box for the Development of the Habitat’ (B.P.H.). Eighteen issues were to be circulated between September 1959 and July 1971.
Newman, O. (ed.), CIAM ’59 in Otterlo, Stuttgart
1961; with contributions by J. Bakema, G. Candilis, G. de Carlo, J. Coderch,
R. Erskine, A. van Eyck, B. and D. van Ginkel, G. Grung, H. Haan, O. and Z.
Hansen, A. Josic, C. Polonyi, E. Rogers, A. Roth, A. and P. Smithson, J. Soltan,
K. Tange, J. Voelcker and S. Woods