Letchworth Garden City commenced development in 1903 as an experiment, with the hope that this would lay the platform for the government to create a series of new settlements, using Ebenezer Howard’s social city model. Welwyn Garden City would follow, with development commencing in the early 1920s. These early garden city schemes have influenced new settlements across the world, from Hampstead Garden Suburb, to the New Deal towns in the America, post war UK new towns, a series of settlements across Europe and Australia and today in China, where these principles are valued. In the UK we are for the first time in a generation seeking new settlements based on garden city values and principles, which is also included in national planning policy.
Howard did not advocate a particular architectural approach, he sought beautiful places, where people would like to live and work, with high quality and decent homes. In his book, he described tree lined roads and excellently built homes. He also advocated embracing modernism, stating that that the garden city should be planned, ‘with a view to the very latest of modern requirements’.
Howard needed architects and designers who shared this vision and for Letchworth Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin were appointed, who were leading arts and crafts architects of their time, and Louis de Soissons who was responsible for the Welwyn Garden City master plan and its lead architect.
Today Letchworth Garden City is a town of over 33,000 people, with 15,000 jobs. It has a strong and vibrant local community and continues to apply the stewardship, governance and reinvestment models sought by Howard.
This is a question that is often asked of the Foundation and there is not a simple answer. There is not a single type of garden city architecture and it is not correct to assume that the beautiful designs produced by Parker and Unwin in Letchworth, Unwin and Lutyens in Hampstead Garden Suburb or De Soissons in Welwyn Garden City should necessarily be replicated. Garden cities across the world have taken various different approaches, such as modernist schemes in some UK new towns and examples such as Zlin in the Czech Republic, Le Corbusier’s Le Citie Jardin at Weissenhof, more traditional arts and crafts design between the First and Second World Wars in mainland Europe and today’s new urbanism settlements, more reflective of Unwin’s principles, in the United States.
The Town and Country Planning Association highlight as part of their current garden city principles with respect to design: Beautifully and imaginatively designed homes with gardens, combining the best of town and country to create healthy communities, and including opportunities to grow food.
For further details please visit TCPA Garden City Principles
The Foundation believes this to be an excellent starting point when investigating design approaches for new garden city development.
The Foundation is presently celebrating the work of Barry Parker, who was lead master planner with his partner Raymond Unwin for Letchworth, a fantastically talented architect and master planner in his own right, a Past President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, a founder of the Landscape Institute and Fellow of the RIBA. He designed the master plan for Wythenshawe, including the original parkway; Porto; and the suburbs of Sau Paulo in his own right. He worked on New Earswick and Hampstead Garden Suburb with Unwin. He was also responsible for countless individual schemes and smaller master plans.
Parker’s core values of simplicity and beauty, with functional and well thought out spaces, making effective use of land, are valid today, as are the core principles extolled by arts and crafts advocates. Parker’s approach is best summarised by his own words:
In building a man’s shell for him we certainly can influence very largely the life he will live within it …