CIAM International Congresses of Modern Architecture
Founded in 1928, the International Congresses of Modern Architecture in French, Congres Internationaux dArchitecture ModerneCIAM was the chief propagandist of avant-garde notions of architecture and urbanismthe voice of the Modern Movementfrom 1930 to 1934 and again from 1950 to 1955. CIAM contended that architecture was inextricably linked with politics and economics and encouraged architects to turn from purely artistic endeavors to engage in social-engineering experiments with new urban and architectural formsespecially in housing. It was a principal milestone in the evolution of Western architectural thought.
The Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier unsuccessfully took part in a 1927 design competition for a new League of Nations center in Geneva and submitted a design that was not in a historical revivalist style. Rather, it responded to function and zeitgeistthe spirit of the age. Although his entry was rejected, ostensibly because it was not drawn in ink, it is most probable that conservative jury members conspired against the modernist proposal. The consequent scandal propelled Le Corbusier into the limelight, identifying him with avant-garde architecture. Some historians believe that an immediate outcome of the incident was the birth of CIAM. More positive impetus was given by the international acclaim for the Deutscher Werkbunds Weissenhofsiedlung 1927 in Stuttgart, Germany.
In Europe, the second half of the 1920s witnessed an interchange of the radical notions of contemporary architecture, largely effected by the modernist control of journals. Through publications and conferences and by their contributions to Weissenhof, many German, Russian, Dutch, and French architects showed themselves eager to meet thedemands of industrialization as great changes occurred in social structure. Acting together, architects could apply unified pressure to bring about the urbanistic and housing reforms they all believed to be urgently necessary.
In 1928 F. T. Gubler, secretary of the Swiss chapter of the Deutscher Werkbund, suggested to Madame Helene de Mandrot that she offer her chateau at La Sarraz, Switzerland, for a meeting of twenty-five of Europes leading architects. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland were represented. At a three-day gathering in June, facilitated by Le Corbusier and the Swiss critic Siegfried Giedion, CIAM was formed. The group was unanimous that rationalization and standardization must be priorities if the urbanistic and housing problems that each faced at home were to be humanely solved. The creation of CIAM, in an attempt to impose an international order on the varying aspects of thenew architecture, established Modernism as a unified movement, complete with a manifesto and statutes. It even had a committee and an official address in Zurichthat of Giedion, who was elected as the founding secretary. Another Swiss, the architect Karl Moser, was CIAMs first president.
The La Sarraz meeting, really a clearinghouse for ideas, was dominated by Le Corbusier. But the Dutchman Mart Stam and the Swiss Hannes Meyer composed the closing declaration, simply restating thebest aspirations andfashionable fetishes of the day and railing against academic conservatism. The second congress at Frankfurt 1929 dealt with more substantial issues, and discussion centered around Giedions notion of existenzenminimumlow-cost residential units. As its deliberations were focused on urbanism and housing policies, CIAM was obliged to enter the political lists. Giedion argued that, in the same way that the individual living unit leads to the organization of construction methods, those methods lead to the organization of the entire citya materialistic doctrine that ignored the complex social interactions, especially of the industrial city. City planning was therefore simplyarchitecture writ large. CIAM formed the Committee for Resolving the Problems of Contemporary Architecture French acronym CIRPAC.
At the Brussels congress of November 1930, the Dutch architect-planner Cornelis van Eesteren was elected president, an office he held until 1947. The appointment flagged CIAMs shift toward rationalist urban planning policies, and the theme for the 1933 congressthe first of a planned serieswasThe Functional City. After a conference planned for Moscow was canceled, members took aworking
cruise between Marseilles and Athens aboard Patris II. The outcome was the provocative Athens Charter, published anonymously in 1943, which reviewed earlier discussions, restated the capitalistic barriers to acceptable urban renewal or design, and identified the new problems of regional planning and urban contextuality. The charter was the closest CIAM ever came to a definitive credo. But it offered no specific solutions except the familiar generic one: modern technology. It called for balance between individual and community requirements for dominance of the landscape over buildings, including generous urban green areas for due consideration of physical environmental factors for the conservation of historic buildings and for separation of the main urban functions living, working, recreation, and a carefully designed transport infrastructure. Moreover, housing should take priority among the urban planning. Legislation should ensure the provision of all these qualities. In it can be seen a legacy that persists in present land-use planning and zoning. The Italian historians Manfredo Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co offer the following criticism:
To it probably belongs the credit for having founded a large measure of the predominant ideology of modern architecture, endowing architects with a model of action as flexible as it was already out of dale