More on Gordon Cullen’s Townscape:
My 4 year old son has three modes of operation: drawing, climbing and watching TV.
That’s it. There are no others. The first two are easily explained by the science of genetics, the third less so, but I write that having spent the last 4 hours mesmerised by my PC monitor, so perhaps that one’s my fault too.
Of course, like any responsible parent I carefully police it and only allow a certain amount of viewing each day. Unless there’s a run of Looney Tunes animations on, at which point the parenting manual goes out the window and we sit mesmerised together.
So, a couple of weeks ago, there we were, wiping the tears of laughter from our eyes as the credits roll on another painful episode for Wile E.Coyote, when suddenly we find ourselves watching the cartoon version of Townscape…
The following words are by Gordon Cullen, the images are from Chuck Jones’ 1949 Oscar winning cartoon, For Scenti-mental Reasons.
The example … shows in a very simple way how the open countryside and the town centre are directly linked together by a footpath.
[This picture trys] to isolate the quality of Thereness which is lyrical in the sense that it is perpetually out of our reach, it is always There. Beyond [the wall] is the great emptiness. In the wild countryside … the distance is made personal to us by the extension outwards of the roadside wall as a thin white line which, because of its meaning (possible line of travel), projects us out into the widerness.
The pedestrian network links the town together in a viable pattern: it links place to place by steps, bridge and distinctive floor pattern, or by any means possible so long as continuity and access are maintained. The traffic routes sweep along impersonally but the tenacious and light-hearted pedestrian network creates the human town. Sometimes brash and extrovert, it may sychronize with the great traffic routes or with shops and offices, at other times it may be witdrawn and leafy; but it must be connected to the whole.
We now turn to those aspects of here and there in which the here is known but the beyond is unknown, is infinite, mysterious, or is hidden inside a black maw.
From the matter of fact pavement of the busy world we glimpse the unknown, the mystery of a city where anything could happen or exist, the noble or the sordid, genius or lunacy. This is not Withenshawe.
Black motionless and silent, like a great animal with infinite patience the maw observes nonchalant people passing to and fro in the sunlight. This is the unknown which utter blackness creates.
Coupled with enclosure (the hollow object) as an artifact of possession, is the focal point, the vertical symbol of congregation. In the fertile streets and market places of town and village it is the focal point (be it a column or cross) which crystallizes the situation, which confirms ‘this is the spot’, ‘Stop looking, it is here.’
the block house
Here the dynamic curves of movement are held in suspense by the rectangular building which blocks the exit and so draws a momentary balance between enclosure and pure fluidity. It does not impede the flow of traffic or people but acts as a mark of punctuation or closure.