Dwelling in the metropolis: reformed urban blocks 1890-1940

Wolfgang Sonne

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The subject of this study is the reformed perimeter block in the metropolis of the early 20th century. Instead of overcoming the existing cities by Garden Cities or Siedlungen (well known in all histories of 20th century urban design), there was a broad international movement to reform them and to develop a metropolis having the advantages of a real city as well as improved conditions for housing (much less prominent in the usual history books). A central task was the arrangement of urban housing. The reformed perimeter block was seen as the appropriate model for the metropolis: an urban block, built up at its edges and thus fronting the street with an urban façade, but also delivering green spaces and light with a large planted inner courtyard. First attempts were undertaken in Berlin with the famous houses by Alfred Messel in the 1890's and in Paris with the competition of the Rothschild Foundation for a social housing block at the Rue de Prague in 1905. Soon the model spread out internationally: The Greater Berlin competition in 1910 developed several original solutions, Eliel Saarinen designed whole cities according to the new model (1910-18) and in 1917 Hendrik Petrus Berlage built his Amsterdam-South extension on this idea. Also in the 1920s and '30s the reformed urban block was a widespread and successful urbanistic means (perhaps more influental than Siedlungen with rows or skyscrapers): examples from Berlin (Gutkind), Hamburg (Schumacher), Copenhagen (Boumann, Fisker), Vienna (the Hoefe), Paris (the Boulevard Peripherique), Milan (Muzio, de Finetti) and even New York (Stein) may show the importance. The two main objectives are to deliver a valuable and successful model for sustainable housing in the metropolis today by presenting well tested examples, and to reconsider modern urban design history in the 20th century - emphasising less on avantgardist breaks than on continuous development.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGlasgow, United Kingdom
PublisherUniversity of Strathclyde
Number of pages90
Publication statusUnpublished - Oct 2005


  • urban design
  • architecture
  • city planning
  • housing
  • urban blocks


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