David Crane’s ‘Capital Web’: Crossings Between Architecture, Urban Design and Planning as Disciplines and Practices from the 1950s

Haarhoff, Errol

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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Architecture and planning have historically struggled to find agreement on defining urban design and a relevant body of theory. In the 1950s, Dean Josep Lluís Sert first used the term ‘urban design’ for proposed new programmes of study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). However, facing opposition to the move, urban design was introduced as extensions to established teaching programmes. At the same time, Dean George Holmes Perkins at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) took a different approach, embedding urban design into a joint Master’s programme. Louis Kahn and David Crane were appointed to lead the architecture and city planning studios respectively. Despite a relatively short tenure at Penn from 1958 to 1964 and publishing relatively little, it is argued that David Crane significantly influenced thinking about urban design at a time when Modernism was failing. Crucial was the revalidating of public spaces and amenities as a key to urban place making and social identity. Importantly he argued that the role of the urban designer was establishing the framework to guide future development: what he called a ‘capital web’. The paper traces Crane’s core ideas and how they intersected with other urban thinkers at that time. Also examined is the way Crane’s teaching shaped the career development of two graduates, Roelof Uytenbogaardt and Denise Scott Brown, and how this propelled their subsequent practices. The conclusions argue that Crane’s ‘capital web’ remains a potent conceptualisation finding new relevancy in the twenty-first century.