After World War 2, city planners in Amsterdam wanted to design the perfect “City of the Future.” They decided to build a new neighborhood, close to Amsterdam, that would be a perfect encapsulation of Modernist principles. It was called the Bijlmermeer, and it tested the lofty ideas of the International Congress of Modern Architecture on a grand scale. When it was over, no one would ever try it again.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars. In nineteen thirty, three, a group of architects boarded a ship called the Ss Patrice. Two and set sail from more say France toward Athens, Greece, on we're several of the world's most famous modernist architects and artists gold finger. Look Corbusier over Otto, dozens of others representing more than fifteen countries. There was a silent film made of the voyage that shows grainy shots of the architects on deck of the ship. In short, sleeved white, Kurtz and sunglasses singing. That's in their mouths, their hair blowing gently in the breeze as they listen to lectures. One of the architects wrote in his journal: we eat and drink copiously and we're all half naked. The architects were on the ship for the International Congress of Modern Architecture, commonly, by its french acronym CM. But seniority
Turkey, mingle and I'm gonna hand the story over to her. Now so yeah. The architects were on this boat trip, for a CN meeting, but more specifically They were there to talk about how to plan a better city. The members of CM thought that cities were to congested too noisy and polluted and chaotic, and they thought that some of these problems could be seen of by separating out the functions of the city into distinct zones so ass, separate every everything, housing, working, recreation traffic separate It's all kinds of traffic, so pedestrians, the cyclists cars trains able mean the end of congestion. That's that's him! I'm safe, Haymow planner, here
spend a bunch of years working for the city of Amsterdam as the head of the Urban Planning Department, and now he teaches at the University of Amsterdam, love Citys. The idea of separation of functions wasn't brand new, but here says the architects from CM wanted to take it really far below, spaces would be in high rise apartment so that the ground level was open for recreation and collective spaces to live, a sky play on the ground. In fact, cars would drive on elevated road, so that pedestrians could have the ground all to themselves. There would also be separate zones for industry and shopping where old, european cities for a winding, cluttered and polluted. These new cities would be linear, open and clean everything in its proper place. You kind of smooth Nice machine, where you're a very comfortable
Let also saw this new kind of city as more egalitarian. They wanted to get rich slums and create beautiful housing that everyone could afford. It was beautiful image, I knew it I knew I turn except for living in cities. That's the american city, planner Oscar Newman in a BBC documentary called the writing on the wall, but the people up gave him a view if you happen to be the other buildings, but getting of you, give em space down below, Frida grounds. It was a great image the nineteen thirty's. That's all it was a great image. Because the world was in an economic depression. There was not much to do in the third nineteen thirties because it was the crisis. There was no no building anymore, then got the second World war It sounds cynical, but in effect There were other lucky that so many Citys were destroyed in the Second World WAR
we even found documents that day day almost celebrated had destruction. So there was a lot of work to do in nineteen forty five and, if They were really excited, but it wasn't just that the text had a lot of work. It was an opportunity to start over to build cities. The right way from the ground up and that was there, was their idea from the start, So dear everything down, let's start again. The CM arc, accede to this opportunity, the famous swiss architect and see a member liquor booster published a book called the shot dead end or in English. The Athens charter, book outlined exactly how to build new cities in the way the architects from CM had talked about
the boat and became a bestseller look appreciate How will the world talking about these modern ideas for city building and governments liked what they saw, mostly because of the price tag work soon proposed, was effect very cheap building concrete. The modernist building material of choice was inexpensive and building ident we'll apartments in high rises was cheaper and required less land than building stand alone, homes was what order the government- Need it after the Second World WAR, because hall you, was poor and so after World war, two in cities all over Europe buildings housing, developments were rebuilt with CM principles in mind, almost everything here in Europe almost everything
We built a lot of modernist style apartment buildings here in the U S too, but these building projects Post WAR, Europe and the United States were usually pure encapsulation cm and look robustious plans, most pleasing. Took some ideas and left others, but the city plan of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, wanted to go further. They want To build a new area right outside of Amsterdam, there would be a cm blueprint, imperfect encapsulation, of these modernist principles. They would call this place from the Centre of Amsterdam. I think you could take a bike and from the Centre of Amsterdam, I think you could take a bite. And within a half hour, you are in the balance. That's dutch radio producer, Chris by he. Co reported this story with me and, like a proper Dutchman, he rode his bag. To do interviews many times at the Ballmer Mirror. I always take my boy
so you'll hear am asking questions and occasionally, speaking in dutch good of overriding love, another thing to the belgian. Your area covers about six square, kilometers or two point three square miles. I think you can walk around for a day is really big. The bill murmur, is also an extremely diverse area. There's something like a hundred Fifty nationalities represented there. The gun, the area, changed a lot from the original design and its had a bunch of different chapters over the years include. In some really tragic ones. So, let's start at the beginning,. Firstly, you introduce yourself what you are. My it must I'm an architect and Amsterdam. I've been along for awhile I've been educated in Delft University. It was very much indeed.
Functional list, modernist tradition. That means that you know big concrete by that was our paradise when he was a young man to Brown was hired to help plan the Ballmer Mere it would be a brain new area right outside of Amsterdam for a hundred thousand middle class residents, and it would technically be part of Amsterdam, but it would be built from scratch and designed to function almost as its own city, a city of the future. True to the tenants of Modernism Belmont Beer. It's the opportunities of all modernist thinking, Was it a dream? Come true for you? Definitely. Yes, I was not even thirty years old a bit more than twenty five we are going to prison. The world? with a new, far reaching idea that you topic
I started to understand this is going far, This is really unusual it like a fever. My every day, every moment in that direction I worked on a team with a bunch of other planners, and the head of the team was an architect named Siegfried Knesset areas secret does wasn't really idealistic personally believe that we built in deny fiend eighteenth century wasn't good enough wit. Let's do it all over again and new and bigger and better. This is Dan DEC I'm a writer and I wrote a book about development. The Bell is just a shorter way of seeing the bellman. Mere you hear me these it alot anyway, Dan as there was never any question that the Belma would be made up of tall, concrete housing towers, but the planners did. Choose to arrange them in a sort of unique shape, which was,
a buffer honing lab, I wouldn't you say, the words we have to search the where atoning honeycomb, honey, If the buildings were laid out in the hexagonal grid of a honeycomb, they would allow each apartment get a good amount of sun per day. The modernist were crazy about sunlight. That was a huge part of their doctrine. You were doing. Better than your predecessors if you could bring more son to all these dwellings, the apartments at the bellman were meant for the middle class and no apartment was designed to be better than another. The image of man behind this Bela meal was egalitarian de basic I do behind it was that Every man is to his neighbor, the modernist.
Idea to keep all of the functions of the city. Separate was also strictly followed at the Ballmer. The housing would up in the sky and towers, while the ground would be kept open for the people to congregate in green spaces and indoor collective areas, the aid you're being people, we discuss politics, their philosophy. Help. Each other growing life make better people at one point. Peter Brown proposed apartments be built on the ground level of the building and NASA completely horrified and appalled, saying the ground for everyone else should not be inhabited by private people. Debate has any suggestion to stray from the original principles of modernism was completely shut down by NASA. He would know we're not going. This direction will stay in the party line it like a religion and any any
subversive element was, was potentially a big danger to the house of cards get but, but you also were what we call in the Netherlands Ballmer Believer and you actually moved to a flat in sight. See nine I was so much. Involved in the modern movement and modernism advice, no doubt that I would like to live in the middle of it. The brown was not the only person who wanted to live in the middle of it. Advertisements depicted a paradise MA you're. An apartment towers, surrounded by lush, green grass and trees is comparable with wood living in central park. Even gonna, be better than central park of course, people wanted in each building. Was managed by a different housing association, and there were waiting lists and interviews to be accepted as a tenant to Brown. In his way.
Moved done in nineteen. Sixty nine. I lived on the ninth floor, three bedrooms living room and kitchen beautiful bathroom. I had a balcony of close to meet her white and twelve May long, it was a paradise of a balcony the Brown had always lived in small apartments and noisy cities. Now he was on the ninth floor up in the clouds tons of light and he loved it. He talks about his first year at You like it was a religious experience. This, and every day saints feeling you. There is You know all they're all this daily, stability of a shitty noise wasn't because there was a cool and silent.
A life that brought you deeper into yourself. Maybe, but there were also pretty immediate problems. Metro was supposed to connect Elmer with Amsterdam, but the construction was delayed for a while There was only one road out to the area and it was dirt the dust Andrews had also planned for shops to come to the Bulmer mere, but those come right away either. Was nowhere to buy groceries. If you didn't have a car or When I read your bike. Thirty minutes to Amsterdam, the dreamer this kind of drought having fun every by day or maybe twice in a week, to sell a bottle of milk. It was very, very primitive. Eventually, the instead come and true to the modernist idea of separation of functions. They were elevated above the ground. Sort of weaving in and out of the high rises. I remembered you could drive with your car.
And then have this spectacular view of the Ballmer. Seeing all those high rises around you driving seventy eighty kilometres an hour through this Sid escape There was amazing, that's that's haymow again, who you heard at the beginning and pieces. Guy was amazing, but it was also disorienting. It was problematic, to find your way where I am. Which building is this. Why am I going you? You could not find a centre find the centre because there was no city centre, no town square, just identical create buildings one after another. After another visitors work. Constantly getting lost and they couldn't just pull over and ask for directions. No one would walk under our level, so you would never encounter so
There was no way to ask: how can I get to decide this address and on the ground level, the promised green, based and come right away. Either green takes time to grow Brown says in the beginning. The landscape was like a desert below in the desert. You would also not anchored to to someone because who would walk through the desert, but I liked it my wife lighted because she was with me and we were all young, and that is a state of pioneering that many people like what we it isn't working and he would say this is you have to wait? This is because it's not finished yet and so demand waited it isn't working and he would say this is you have to wait? This is because it's not finished. Yet and Soda Brown waited otherwise and were not as patient? I remember this kind of old elderly couple.
Children left home TAT Day, suck okay, now be going this paradise that has been promised to us obtain where, after one year completely Disillusioned, the waiting lists disappeared, really fast, desperate people on the start screaming where's the subway, where the shops by the early nineteenth seventies as the Ballmer was being built. Much of the world was already turning against a massive, concrete apartment towers that modernists had pushed for in the thirties and Fortys. Nobody Brill's these kind of structure at a time anymore. In America, in a sea Louis day they were tearing them down today is demolition day at roulette. I go nor wrecking company will explode these supporting columns from an eleven story. Megan high rise in Saint Louis, had also been an experiment in the modernist principles of seeing it was different than the
Amr in that it was never meant to function as a city unto itself, but it was some our two made up of thirty three highrise tower, surrounded by lots of green space. The architect had envisioned rivers of trees, running between the buildings, How would I go was completed in nineteen fifty four and just fifteen years later it was so overrun with vacancies and drugs and violence. That is did. He chose to tear it down. Recurrence secretary of housing has decided that road. I wasn't back disastrous mistake: that's the city planner Oscar Newman! Again, he theorized It was all the common spaces approved. I go that lead to its downfall. Those rivers of trees architect had envisioned baby came sewers of glass garbage then rivers of trees span the building the interior spaces, where vandalized heating equipment torn apart garbage strewn everywhere. Light smashed windows broken Newman,
believe that if there was a lot of space in or around a building that residents couldn't literally see from their own windows and watch over that that space was vulnerable to crime. The net result of all this design was in fact the production, an environment of fear in anti seventy two Oscar Newman visited the Bellman Mere and he gave it a to leave the same diagnosis vacancies and empty common spaces would become breeding grounds for crime even more. Where's of c M were turning against the Ballmer, the famous dutch architect, and see a member. Although Van Ike went on national TV in the Netherlands and cried literal tears over what an awful concrete monstrosity the bellman was grown still, More buildings went up massive, concrete structures around four hundred apartments in each
First, there were a couple of buildings than there were four than five than six. There was no break most stop seven. Eight nine building you should have said, stop building more units because they'll be standing empty, on Sunday leaving me ten fifteen buildings, I'm gonna start counting and five, because there are too many twenty buildings. Twenty five thirty use contractors contracts for years and years of continuous building, and they just did that was like oil on the fire. Thirty one buildings in all thirteen thousand up men's arranged in hexagonal blocks so that from above
The bellman Mere looked like a massive concrete sigh, fi, honing, grat honing graft pornographic In addition, all the buildings there were also thirteen thousand storage spaces on the ground level. Thirty one parking garages. Hundreds of elevators and staircases and common spaces and a hundred and an kilometers or sixty eight miles of indoor ground level corridors. There was so much space and not enough people to fill it up or watch over it, but we're still people who needed housing in the Netherlands, in fact, there were thousands of newly arrived citizens were travelled across the Atlantic Ocean from it the land in South America and they needed
place to live the story of the Bellman Mere took so many twists and turns that we have to continue at next week will have approved. Of that episode right after this, we often don't think of winter, is a time of growth or creation. But if you think about it, it's the perfect time to greet your own website. Cooped up your thinking about being productive and now square space can help you do it with squares. Bates can take your cool ideas, you ve creative content, your services, goods, and you can turn them into a beautiful website in just a few clicks. Does it because there is to use templates created by
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when the idea of the Bomer Mere fails to live up to the reality, thousands of apartments and empty and new people take them over. We need houses, let's go get the house, but the Bellman Meares newcomers aren't welcomed with open arms by all the old residents. It was. It was I can infernal really The lifts didn't work they screwed refuse over. Over the balconies on either side of does blocks and was like a ghetto. We were never programme. We want a solution to the problem. And we made something from it and a tragic accident, strikes the bummer me you didn't let anybody go inside. I gave you lost everything you lost everything you lost everything we lost everything, The only thing we get is our life.
Ninety nine presentable was proves this week by our senior producer. Katy mingle increase by my special thanks to Frank, wasn't Bert Jonah we come in and Botox yellow mix and take production by Sharif use of music by Sean Sharia. Delaney hall is the senior editor coasted. Is the digital director restless? includes a breach of men. Emmett Fitzgerald Turn measure in the roman Mars a product of many one point. Seven k: L W in San Francisco introduced row in beautiful, downtown opened California, We are part of radio Tokyo from Pierre acts, a collective of the best most innovative shows in all upon casting we're supported, a coin carrying and sticker bastard listeners. Just like you
You find any nine percent of visible enjoying discussions about the show on Facebook. You can't win me out roman Mars in the show at nine p m or corn Instagram tumblr and read it to, but if you want to explore more of look or Bruces modernist vision for houses in cities, we have links to three articles come out this week and really really good. It's on our website. Ninety I dot org. Radio too.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.