In the past two decades, discussions about ecological impact, sustainability and how to tackle the urgent environmental and demographic pressures of global urban developments have come to prominence in the fields of architecture and urban planning, but these anxieties are not new.
In the late 1950s the Greek architect-planner Constantinos Doxiadis and British planner Jaqueline Tyrwhitt sought solutions to similar problems by combining architecture, planning, technology and many other fields into a new science: ‘ekistics’. Their efforts came to international prominence through a series of twelve symposia, the ‘Delos Symposia’ (1963-1975), which involved dozens of the most influential intellectuals of the day in a campaign to solve the world’s problems by taking control of design at the global scale. Conceived as a continuation of the ground-breaking CIAM conference of 1933 (Congrès international d’architecture moderne)—the first orchestrated, international discussion about the globalized city, published as La Charte d’Athènes (1943)—the Delos Symposia was a wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary series of events that contributed to contemporary discourses on urban development and environmental design. The global economic recession precipitated by the oil crisis of 1973 marked an end to this utopian phase of architectural and planning ambition, and a groundswell of opinion shifted towards more modest small-scale approaches to design. The repercussions of the Delos Symposia, however, have been traced in subsequent discussions on sustainability in urbanism and on architecture as an instrument of social and political life and can be seen most recently in the rationale of the 2016 Architecture Biennale in Venice and the projects presented there.
Our network is motivated by the belief that the Delos Symposia are a crucial chapter in the story of how architecture and planning first developed their environmental conscience, but also by the belief that they have not been researched sufficiently and are now largely forgotten. Although they were very much of their time, an intellectual mapping out of the complex range of proposals, influences, philosophies and ambitions of the Symposia and their participants will throw light forward onto contemporary concerns about the relationship between the built and natural environments and allow them to be understood and enriched against this formative moment in architectural history.
Aims and Objectives
The Delos Network aims to bring together for the first time scholars who are currently looking into this fascinating period of intellectual history; with a view not only to better understand its significance but also to address how the Delos debates compare with and feed into contemporary concerns about demographic pressures and environmental sustainability and their relation to historical precedents by architects, planners and others. Furthermore, the network will connect researchers and practitioners in history, architecture and planning with key stakeholders from professional architecture, architectural education, built environment policy and grassroots organizations currently exploring the intersections of design, environmental concerns and historical continuity.
The objectives of this network are:
1) Map out the intellectual agenda of the Delos Symposia in relation to the dominant political and intellectual ‘geographies’ of the 1960s-70s, tracing the ways in which urban design solutions were sought in the classical past, for example the study of ancient Greek cities as prototypes, as well as in new construction and machine technologies.
2) Analyse how the conceptual underpinnings of the Delos Symposia were channelled into practical planning tools and subsequently applied in urban projects, exemplified in Doxiadis’ worldwide planning and consultancy business in the 1960s and 1970s and, for example, his masterplan for the new capital of Pakistan, Islamabad.
3) Address the ways in which the preoccupations, themes and environmental solutions explored at the Delos Symposia relate to current discourses and practices on sustainable urban design and landscape urbanism.
4) Explore the circumstances for the decline of faith in the massive, centrally-coordinated architectural and planning solutions in the 1970s and contextualize these vis-à-vis contemporary criticisms about the utopian character of urban planning initiatives today.
These objectives will be addressed in workshops that will be video-captured for edited broadcast on the network’s website. Work presented and conclusions reached in the workshops will provide the basis for an edited volume, the first comprehensively to lay out and analyse the intellectual agenda of the Delos Symposia and its repercussions in planning initiatives from the 1960s to today.
Image copyright: Constantinos A. Doxiadis Archives, Photographs, File 34172, no. 766. © Constantinos and Emma Doxiadis Foundation