The Man Who Loves Cities

Leon Krier, a European architectural theorist credited with inspiring the New Urbanist town planning movement, has been awarded the first Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture. Awarded by the Notre Dame architecture school and a panel of distinguished designers, the prize was conceived by Chicago businessman Richard H. Driehaus as a way to honor top architects working in traditional and vernacular styles.

The award stands as an alternative to the prestigious Pritzker Prize, which, according to New Urban News (April/ May 2003), “honor[s] designers of flashy, stand-alone modernist buildings. Never has the Pritzker honored . . . design that relates to how buildings fit together to form towns or cities.” Like the Pritzker Prize winners, Driehaus winners receive $100,000. Krier, 57, is one of the first and fiercest critics of modern urban planning. Since the 1960s he has meticulously detailed the failures of contemporary megaprojects, offering his own alternatives inspired by enduring architectural principles.

Modern zoning codes–which divide cities into sectors devoted exclusively to housing, shopping, offices, and so forth–have been particular targets in his lectures, writings, and witty polemics. In one cartoonlike sketch from the 1980s, he compared modern zoning to an experimental diet in which a person consumes only water on Monday, meat on Tuesday, fat on Wednesday, and so forth. By the following Monday, he scribbled, “Individual Deceased, Experiment Discontinued.” He implies that we are killing our cities in much the same way.

Krier’s greatest accomplishment has been to convince many young architects around the world that towns no longer have to be built according to the rigid dictates of modernist philosophy. Designer Andres Duany relates how, as a founding partner of the trendsetting Arquitectonica firm in Miami, he listened to Krier speak about the advantages of traditional urbanism. “After a couple of weeks of real agony and crisis,” Duany recalls, “I realized that I couldn’t go on designing these fashionable tall buildings. . . . Krier introduced me to the idea of looking at people first, and to the power of physical design to change the social life of a community.” Duany and his partner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk went on to design the town of Seaside, Florida, the pioneering New Urbanist development in America.

Krier was born in Luxembourg, worked in London for several decades, and now lives in France. Among his best-known projects are Poundbury, a new town commissioned by Prince Charles modeled on a traditional English village, and Alessandria, a new town in Italy designed in a classical style.
Jay Walljasper

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