Reconstructing or constructing cities? Stability and change in urban form in post-World War II France and Germany

Joseph Louis Nasr, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation studies the reconstruction of cities after the devastating loss of most of their building stock. It focusses on cases where, after the destruction, some real choices existed as to how to rebuild. If a tabula rasa approach--where the former context plays no role in the subsequent urban form--and a total and faithful re-creation of the former city fabric define the two extreme rebuilding types, the study seeks to place proposed, planned and (particularly) actual reconstructions along that continuum. The objective is to assess how much transformations in urban form were intended, and to gauge how in fact the urban patterns did or did not change. The first part of the study consists of a comparison of a number of post-World War II reconstructions in France, West Germany and eastern Germany, in order to identify morphological patterns and morphogenetic factors. Primarily, maps of city centers before the war and after the rebuilding are compared, complemented by maps showing the extent of destruction and selected proposed plans. Limited features of the urban fabric are considered: the street system and open spaces, the parcelling out of blocks, and the building imprints. These three 'element complexes' and the reasons for their particular postwar layouts are then analyzed in greater detail in a pair of French case studies, Beauvais and Blois. The dissertation examines the relative permanence of urban patterns and the continuity in planning ideas in modern cities, with all this implies regarding the ability to plan. It demonstrates that the degree of urban form stability in such cases of rupture in the urban evolutionary process was related above all to the closeness of decision-making controls to those impacted by the disaster, to the various preexisting priorities at both the local and higher levels, to the timing of implementation, and to the country where a city happened to be located. The perception and handling of destructions are shown to be decisive in framing the actions of rebuilders. The trio of street, lot and building patterns are confirmed as structuring elements for a number of other patterns.

Subject Area

Urban planning|Area planning & development|European history|Geography

Recommended Citation

Nasr, Joseph Louis, "Reconstructing or constructing cities? Stability and change in urban form in post-World War II France and Germany" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727266.