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Gordon Cullen and the "Cut-and-Paste" Urban Landscape

  • Author(s): Engler, Miriam
  • Advisor(s): Lavin, Sylvia
  • et al.
Abstract

The new rules of the emerging consumer economy radically reconfigured both the discourse and practice of architecture during the postwar era. Architecture became a commodity whose products were sold through mass media to mass audiences, via images that performed as advertising. In this world, image makers, rather than theorists, stood at the forefront of the architectural production, performing as "visual marketers." Thomas Gordon Cullen (1914-1994), the subject of this dissertation and one of the best-known twentieth-century architectural draftsmen to emerge from Britain, flourished during this visual consumerist push. Cullen gained widespread acclaim in the 1960s and 1970s following the publication of his book Townscape (1961) and its abbreviated edition, The Concise Townscape (1971).

Cullen is therefore closely associated with the three decades-long Townscape campaign, initiated and promoted by the prestigious London-based magazine The Architectural Review, which espoused a visual modern-picturesque approach to city design. Though Cullen is well known, he is little studied and--owing specifically to the malleability of and contradictions in his legacy--even less understood. In examining his urban ideas, most scholars have placed him in the history of urban design. An in-depth study of Cullen's printed image and modus operandi, however, is conspicuously missing. This study fills this gap. It provides a structural understanding of Cullen's massive popularity and influence through his image-making trade--its professional status, income sources, clients, norms of success, production modes--and through his drawings. These influences work palpably beyond urban design and Townscape: they signal a major shift in the role of image makers and the status of the image in the production and consumption of popular architecture in the postwar era.

This study uses key samples of his published work; exemplary samples of original drawings, sketches, and journal notes from his personal archive housed at his residence in Wraysbury, England; and a range of academic references and citations, as well as formal interviews and informal conversations, to examine the ways in which Cullen (1) packaged and sold architecture as visual "merchandise" to manufacture consumer desire, (2) reinvented the landscape perspective as a tool to rethink the postmodern city, (3) reconfigured the design book as a new kind of literary architectural genre, and (4) constructed his audience. It shows that Cullen was precisely fitted to the requisites of a society of spectacle in a hyper-consumerist economy. Not only did he shape the postwar generation of architects and landscape architects educated between the 1970s and 1980s across the world, but he continues to exert his influence over both professionals and laypeople today. Knowingly and mostly unknowingly, many see the world through Cullen's eyes--as mobile, pedestrian, at eye level, and spectacular. And many draw or design the city through bricolage and montage--a cut-and-paste maneuver of a constant Cullenesque interplay in virtual and actual space.

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