Multimodal/Multifunctional Megastructures Reimagining Flows and Nodes in Post-war British New Towns
Irvine New Town Plan (Irvine: Irvine Development Corporation, January 1971), 244.
New Towns were sites of experiment. Conceived as tools for ‘reconstruction and resource extraction, for population resettlement and territorial dominion’, post-war New Towns, historian Rosemary Wakeman posits, all ‘shared a utopian rhetoric and conception’, and all sought to be at the forefront of urban and architectural development – to present ‘a marvellous glimpse of tomorrow’.1After the British Parliament passed the New Towns Act in 1946, more than thirty New Towns were built across England, Scotland and Wales.2 In line with their utopian pedigree, these British New Towns pursued fundamentally new approaches to architecture and urban design.
Their innovative attitude was facilitated by the formation of New Town Development Corporations. These independent, administrator-led governmental bodies relied on collaborations between planners, (landscape) architects, sociologists, engineers, etc. to oversee the building and management of British New Towns. Moreover, as their ‘non-municipal’ status freed Development Corporations from local political pressures and from the municipal ethos of all-encompassing council provision, they were able to quite easily embark on partnerships with the private sector. As a result, developers, private investors, industrialists, etc. also contributed significantly to reimagining what constituted a (new) ‘town’.
Model of Runcorn New Town. Cheshire Records Office, Chester, UK, folder NTW 155/1.
This paper focuses on one of the most prominent and experimental novel spaces that emerged in second- wave (or ‘Mark II’) British New Towns: their multimodal and multifunctional ‘heart’ or ‘central area’. These megastructures, which were designed to grow, reimagined the concept of the town centre. They brought together flows of people, infrastructure (e.g. public and private transport networks), services and goods, and functioned as social, cultural and commercial nodes that gathered the New Town community in a bid to foster interaction between New Town residents from different walks of life.
Model of early proposal for Irvine New Town Plan (Irvine: Irvine Development Corporation, January 1971), 231.
The paper will analyse three such multimodal/multifunctional megastructures in second-wave British New Towns; those of Cumbernauld, Runcorn and Irvine. It will first offer an insight into the make-up of the collaborative teams that underpinned their experimental designs, and subsequently demonstrate how these (interdisciplinary) teams, which consisted of both public and private actors, conceived of these expandable megastructures as multimodal and multifunctional organisms that would establish novel relationships between landscape, architecture and infrastructure on the one hand, and between people and services and goods on the other.
1 Rosemary Wakeman, Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 2.
2 Anthony Alexander, Britain’s New Towns: Garden Cities to Sustainable Communities (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 4.