Talking Townscape

A walk to mark the life and influence of Gordon Cullen, architect, illustrator and visual urbanist, born in August 1914.

Writing in the Architectural Review, Gordon Cullen encapsulated the concept of visual coherence and organisation of our urban environment, under the theme of ‘townscape’.  He wrote a seminal book with the title ‘Townscape’ published in 1961. Some have argued that many of his ideas and observations were not sufficiently robust, others have seen him in better light, as a significant contributor to visual urbanism, architectural history, and urban design.

Along the route, we  stopped to discuss themes that Cullen described in ‘Townscape’, that encapsulated his arguments that visual coherence and organisation of buildings, streets and places contribute to on a human scale to the civility of our cities.

Historic figures like Gordon Cullen, are important in terms of the debate today on cities and towns, design and quality; and whether it can be won or influenced by reasoned argument, evidence and science; or by emotion and force of personality; or both. It comes at a time when there is a debate on density, on tall buildings;  on health and liveability, on the role of design in promoting friendships and genuine community, as well as the immense problems of overcrowding, public-health, water supplies, sanitation that beset many of the world’s developing cities. There was never more need for a strong voice.”  Robert Huxford, Director of the UK’s Urban Design Group.

The Cullen family were admirably represented on the walk by daughter Isabelle, niece Lucy and great nephew Tim.  Accompanied by more than 24 other enthusiasts, all braved a stormy Monday evening, with much to dscuss, observe, sketch and photograph. Not just to celebrate Gordon Cullen; the purpose of the walk was also to draw out ideas and suggestions for an annual 3-day ‘Talking Townscape Festival’ each August and an on-line platform to publicise walks and events to celebrate Cullen’s life and work.

Download slideshow of the walk: Part 1 (5.8MB) and Part 2 (5.8MB)

Both co-hosted by the Urban Design Group, in Manchester on the 8th October, there will be a Cullen Memorial event, while the  University of Westminster (where Cullen studied) will be running a Cullen symposium in November 2014.

Check out the tumblr site with images uploaded on the walk –

This article previously appeared on the Rethinking Cities website.