Part 2. The origins of the Congress for the New Urbanism | Better! Cities & Towns Online

Toward the end of the 1990s, Andres Duany offered this retrospective on a conversation with Leon Krier that greatly influenced the format of the future CNU:

For years, I [had] been going to London to have my spine stiffened by Leon [Krier], since it degrades very quickly in the American circumstance. [Krier] once told me, “We must refound the Congres internationaux d’architecture moderne.” What he meant was that CIAM was the last organization that effectively and comprehensively changed the way we design the world.

I’ve always kept that in mind, particularly at certain junctures in the evolution of New Urbanism—for example, when it came time to establish the nomenclature for the organization itself. The fact that the Congress of the New Urbanism goes by the initials CNU … has something to do with the prior success of CIAM. Also the fact that our meetings are called “congresses,” and have been [until recently] numbered with Roman numerals as CNU I, II, III, IV, V. These rather conscious choices have something to do with inheriting the effectiveness of that earlier effort.

The idea of loosely positioning the first few congresses around topics like “The Neighborhood and The District,” “The Block, the Street and the Building,” and “The Region”—this structure, too, was adapted from CIAM’s “Charter of Athens.” The Charter of the New Urbanism itself—the fact that we developed a statement, both symbolic and functional, that lets everyone know where we stand—that also builds on the effectiveness of CIAM’s charter.


Probably the most important achievement of the Charleston congress was its ratification of the Charter of the New Urbanism. The document was introduced in the opening session of CNU IV and then read aloud, clause by clause, by members of the board of directors. It was then signed by the full membership in attendance during a formal ceremony. Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Leon Krier delivered addresses during the congress. Henry Cisneros, then secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), joined the meeting after a few days and spoke about his agency’s adoption of New Urbanism principles in the building and revitalization of public housing.

After attending the meeting, New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp wrote that the Congress for the New Urbanism was “the most important phenomenon to emerge in American architecture in the post-Cold War era.”

via The origins of the Congress for the New Urbanism | Better! Cities & Towns Online.


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