10 Highlights from Guardian Cities' "History of Cities in 50 Buildings"

All good things must come to an end, and Guardian Cities' excellent "History of Cities in 50 Buildings" series is sadly no exception, with only a few more left to be published before they hit 50. The whole series is definitely worth the read, bringing in the best of academic and architectural writing from guest authors and the Guardian's own Cities team, but if you're strapped for time - and if you're an architect, it's fairly likely that's true - we've rounded up 10 highlights from the list to get you started.

10 Highlights from Guardian Cities' History of Cities in 50 Buildings - More Images+ 6

Amazon Theatre, Manaus, 1896

Amazonas Theatre, Manaus. Image © Wikimedia user Leaderfo

Manaus, founded in the late 17th century as a Portuguese defensive outpost, was never a likely candidate for future metropolis. The city, today holding more than 2 million inhabitants, is built in the very heart of the Amazon rainforest and only accessible from Brazil's urbanized coast by boats along the Amazon river. But the discovery of rubber trees and the spiraling industrial and commercial uses of them in the late 19th century made Manaus the boom town of the era, growing ludicrously wealthy as a kind of belle-époque Dubai. The theater, all imported marble and gaudy tiles, was part of a program of civic exuberance that sought to make the city the "Paris of the Amazon."

Hufeisensiedlung (Horseshoe Estate) Berlin, 1925-33

Hufeisensiedlung Estate, Berlin. Image © Flickr user Sludge G

Groß-Berlin arose following the first world war, combining the disparate suburbs of Berlin into one rapidly growing city. Huge swathes of the city were built in the Weimar years, and the warring cultural factions in Germany brought all their beliefs and disputes into suburban architecture. The Horseshoe estate was built out of the influence of GEHAG, a social democratic and blue collar trade union based building society, and attempted to bring the luxuries of modernism down to the prosperous working classes, replacing coloured glass with brightly painted bricks and flat roofs. Just opposite, the middle classes built their own estate based on traditional architecture with pointedly pointed roofs.

Narkomfin Building, Moscow, 1932

Narkomfin Building, Moscow. Image © Wikimedia user NVO

If Berlin was building modernist estates designed to bring a dignified petty-bourgeois existence to the working classes, the Narkomfim building was attempting to dissolve the classes into one collective proletariat culture and living quarters. Communal housing in Russia's two main cities were a practical response to a never ending housing crisis, but the cell like private dormitories and communal kitchens and space in Narkomfim were designed as a "social condenser" to foster collective spirit and break down ideas about private property. These grand experiments faded in the face of inhabitants who complained about the tight conditions and petty squabbles over communal spaces, and by the 1960s it was the promise of a private flat for every family that marked out Soviet socialism.

Fiat Tagliero Building, Asmara, 1938

Fiat Tagliero, Asmara. Image © Flickr user David Stanley

The Italian colonial empire was a late bloomer, but merging imperialism with fascism inspired a colonial rule that was determined to remake cities in the shape of modern Italy that was unmatched by 19th century commercial enterprises. Asmara, today the capital of Eritrea, had been under Italian rule since 1889, but the invasion of Ethopia in 1935 brought the town to the attention of Mussolini's Italy, which quickly found it wanting. Modernism, futurism and Italian rationalism found Asmara the perfect playground for experimental architecture; the wings of the Fiat Tagliero service station symbolized the modernism that swept over Italy's colonies - even while they resembled the bombers that launched chemical attacks on Ethopian villages to fulfill Italian ambition.

Levittown, New York, 1947-51

Levittown, New York. Image via Wikimedia user Shauni

There are actually four Levittowns in the United States; three in the northeast and one in Puerto Rico. The first, Long Island's 1947 planned community of more the 17,000 detached houses, completed one house every 16 minutes at the peak of construction. This was factory housing, mass production of homes on an incredible scale that informed the development of post-WWII America. Levitt declared that "we are manufacturers" but they built lifestyles as much as houses, becoming symbols of 1950s conformity and racial exclusion as much as prosperity.

Byker Wall, Newcastle, 1968-82

Byker Wall Estate, Newcastle. Image © Flickr user George Rex

As the US built new suburbs, the UK cleared slums. Byker was originally a Victorian community of around 17,000 in homes declared unfit for habitation in the early 1950s. The same story played out across the country, but Byker Wall has proved unusually well regarded, now listed for preservation as other estates are knocked down. Byker's radical design of low rise buildings, no concrete and bright colours was influenced by Swedish designs, and radically different from estates before and after it.

Ponte City, Johannesburg, 1975

Ponte Tower, Johannesburg. Image © Flickr user fiverlocker

Ponte City Tower has gone from being part of 1970s optimism about South Africa's future to "the tallest, grandest urban slum in the world" and then right back round to optimism again. Built as a trendy address for the high flyers of South Africa's white minority, Ponte City's 52 floors and inner core were part of a wave of development that transformed Johannesburg, but middle class flight in the 1980s and the turmoil of the 1990s made the tower an outpost of gangs and crime. The tower could have starred in J.G. Ballard's High Rise, but refurbishments and a new, young middle class has turned Ponte City into high security housing for the trendy.

Curitiba RIT System, Curitiba, 1991

RIT System, Curitiba. Image © Wikimedia user Morio

Futuristic visions of transportation always seem to involve glass tubes, and Curitiba's Bus Rapid Transport System is no exception. Devised as a way to bring rapid transit to the equally rapidly growing city without costing as much as conventional people moving systems did, the system ended up costing as much as 50 times less than rail. The original system, planned in 1971, was a radical departure from Brazil's modernistic city planning but ended up a local success. Rising ridership in the 80s and 90s, however, required streamlining. The streamlined tube stations did exactly that, allowing for fare payment before boarding and introducing transfer stations, bringing the whole network into one payment scheme and creating the world's first Bus Rapid Transit system, which has since been exported all over the world.

Palestinian Parliament Building, Abu Dis, 1996

Palestinian Parliament, Abu Dis. Image Courtesy of Notes from Palestine

Now walled off and abandoned, this imposing white building would have been the Parliament of the Palestinian State. The Oslo Peace Accords, signed in 1993, provided an agreement of the shape of the Palestinian state, and a state needs a Parliament - housed in a Capital symbolically on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The building was designed sensitively, incorporating Palestinian tradition into a modern building to provide the link to heritage that Palestinians desperately wanted from their proposed state, but was criticized from day one of construction by both sides. By the time conflict broke out again in 2000, the building was still unfinished and left abandoned.

Roppongi Hills, Tokyo, 2003

Roppongi Hills, Tokyo. Image © Flickr user Kirt Cathey

Tokyo has been a highly urbanized warren for centuries, and the Roppongi Hills development more than embraces this laissez-faire attitude toward urban reinvention for the 21st century. Initially a district for the increasingly dispossessed and impoverished Samurai class, the Roppongi neighbourhood became a military neighbourhood after WWII and correspondingly became known for nightlife. Too close to the booming commercial district to escape redevelopment, the Mori family gradually bought up the district and turned the area into part of Japan's fascination with self-contained communities: towers for Tokyo's elite set in a maze of streets and urban gardens that separated the complex from the rest of Tokyo.

Don't forget, you can read all of these ten in Guardian Cities' "History of Cities in 50 Buildings" by clicking the subtitles above - or access the full list of 50 here.

About this author
Cite: Dario Goodwin. "10 Highlights from Guardian Cities' "History of Cities in 50 Buildings"" 31 May 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/637387/10-highlights-from-guardian-cities-history-of-cities-in-50-buildings> ISSN 0719-8884

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