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The History of C.I.A.M.

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Formation and Membership

The history of modern architecture is incomplete without the history of CIAM. However, there is much irony in the in the fate C.I.A.M in the hands of history of Modern Architecture. C.I.A.M is the acronym for Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderme, with English translation of International Congresses of  Modern Architecture. The above claim is justified by the fact that, despite the contributions of C.I.A.M in modern Architecture, the organization has received relatively low popularity among historian. CIAM is a self named organization with a goal of sustaining a drive for modern Architecture. The there major founders of C.I.A.M are Sigfried Giedon, Le Corbusier, and, Helene de Mandrot., while several member later joined the team. The name C.I.A.M. serves a dual purpose, being the name given to the organization itself and yet the congresses held by the organization.

Without mincing words, this organization can be referred to as one of the pioneers of futuristic ideas in town planning and modern architecture. It brought in radical ideas that generated a lot of arguments in its early days. Between in 1930 to early 1955, CIAM embraced unique style of strict and practical zoning, choosing a single pattern of urban housing, a view contrary to some other architectural organization, such as the ‚Äėinternational Style‚Äô. It is believed that the reason for the neglect experienced by C.I.A.M was simply because of its inability to establish itself in shores of America during Post War (World War II). CIAM was not alone in this neglect, International Style too can be said to have shared same fate. In actual fact, ‚ÄúCIAM was a part of the approach to architectural and urbanism of Le Corbusier (1887-1965 ), which gave birth to ‚ÄúThe International Style ¬†after the Museum of¬† Modern Art¬† exhibition¬† of 1932‚ÄĚ.( Eric Paul,1928-1960)

Founded in June 1928, at the Chateau de la Sarraz in Switzerland, by a peer of 28 European architects, CIAM¬† has the following founding members; Le Corbusier, H√©l√®ne de Mandrot, who owned ¬†the Chateau and Sigfried¬† Giedion , its first secretary-general. The sole goal of the organization was to advance the cause of “architecture as a social art” in the 20th century. Other founder members are Karl Moser, who was its first president, Victor Bourgeois, Pierre Chareau, Josef Frank, Gabriel Guevrekian, Max Ernst Haefeli, Hugo H√§ring, Arnold H√∂chel, Huib Hoste, Pierre Jeanneret ( Le Corbusier‚Äô cousin), Andr√© Lur√ßat, Ernst May, Fernando Garc√≠a Mercadal, Hannes Meyer, Werner Max Moser, Carlo Enrico Rava, Gerrit Rietveld, Alberto Sartoris, Hans Schmidt, Mart Stam, Rudolf Steiger, Henri-Robert Von der M√ľhll, and Juan de Zavala.

The representatives of Soviet Union include; El Lissitzky, Nikolai Kolli and Moisei Ginzburg, Even though at the Sarraz conference, these delegates were unable to attend due to their  inability obtain visas.

Other later members included Alvar Aalto, Louis Herman De Koninck (1929) and Hendrik Petrus Berlage.

The organization had great influence on deciding the principles of the Modern Movement, it also had the view that architecture is an economic and political instrument that could be employed to improve the world, using the design of buildings and town planning.


In 1928, the inaugural congress of CIAM was attended almost 25 architects from European countries, although some famous architects were conspicuously absent, namely Ludwig Mies Vander Rohe, Walter Gropius and Erich mendelson. Their absence gave room for radical ideas that the future of modern architecture depends on architects focus not on craftsmanship but on the espousal of more modern method of production. CIAM maintained that there should be a standardized method of production and an equal distribution of wealth, mass housing, whereby every individual would live an average standard of life. CIAM was once described as the most distinguished organization of¬†¬† ‘Modern Movement’ in architecture.¬† It had the goal of developing unparalleled urban doctrines among the rising anti-traditionalist of the twelfth century. It made several efforts to reform the society using architecture. The birth of CIAM is not unconnected to an attack on the aristocracy of some arts institution such as the ‚ÄúEcole des Beaux-Arts‚ÄĚ that earlier dominated the world of arts. One of the achievements of C.I.A.M. was its ability to unravel the earlier vague origin of modern architecture.

Its most successful manifesto in 1933, drafted by Le Corbusier, CIAM’s most prominent member, was published in 1973 titled the Athens Charter, an article which describes the conflicting conception held within the organization of the Ideal practice of architecture. CIAM investigated over thirty major cities and developed a strict principle of zoning and large-scale destruction of existing urban fabric which generated a lot of controversy, invariably leading to destruction of civilized living.

CIAM experienced an exodus in the 1930, due to the economic depression and the increasing aggression from the opposing political parties from Germany the Soviet Union. The war eventually divided the organization but a reunion was achieved after the war which brought about CIAM 6, held in September 1947 in England. The Organization still maintained the radical trait demonstrated in the past. CIAM 7 came as well as 8, which tried to deal with the predicament of the post war. All efforts of CIAM towards this direction were futile and this sensitized the younger generation and they became more restless.  The organization tore in CIAM 9, that was held in Aix-en-Province in 1953, when some members raised yet more radical ideas of how an ideal urban society should be like, analyzing  the difference in work, dwelling and recreation  place.

Final death came to CIAM at CIAM10, held at Henry Van de velde‚Äôs Museum at Otterlo. The earlier founder came together. Le Corbusier wrote a wonderful piece claiming it was time for the youth to take over for they ‚Äúfind themselves in the heart of matter of the present period‚ÄĚ (Mumford, 1928-1960) and such find themselves in the best position to resolve such problems. It must be noted that before the death of CIAM, the issue of arriving at consensus was not in the least easy. There were series of tensed argument which enable a weakened structure in the organization especially during its post war years.

Le Corbusier and Giedion played the most prominent roles in both the birth and death of CIAM. Literarily, Le Corbusier drafted the letter that brought about the death of CIAM.(The one quoted above) The Organization held eleven congresses in all during its life span and held a total of 43 meetings altogether held at various places across the globe. These meetings were filled with rich debate on Politics, arts, architecture and aesthetics. The most popular among its congresses was CIAM 4, which was originally intended for Moscow, but eventually held aboard the SS Patris II in the Aegean Sea in the summer of 1933. Its agenda was focused on housing and recreation. Before this congress, no particular consensus had been reached by the organization. Nevertheless, these arguments were what generated issues that enlivened the organization and also brought the drive towards a modern architecture. CIAM 7, on its on part, held two years after, CIAM 6 was the first congress to include a new generation of architects, which included many British students creating a phenomenal seven-point resolution that was arrived at when the congress ended.

Problems and Criticism.

Several years after the CIAM was dissolved, different criticism were made against it. Different writers held different view about CIAM. Among the most famous critics was Giorgio Ciucci, who attacked the idea that CIAM was the Pioneer of Modern movement in architecture. He claimed that the whole idea of modern movement is an ‚Äúhistoric fiction‚ÄĚ fashion to give modern architecture a solid foundation. He claimed that the discusses of CIAM‚Äôs congresses were insubstantial.

Not long after Giorgio‚Äôs publication., 1983 precisely,¬† Auke Van der, a Dutch architect came up with¬† yet another critism on¬† CIAM., he narrated history of CIAM after 1947 like it was ever done before, including for the first time the narration of the formation of a group called ‚Äúyouth member‚ÄĚ which later metamorphosized into team 10. His essay lingered on the topic he called postmodernism. He refuted CIAM‚Äôs claim that its primary function is to create an unprecedented urbanistic doctrines for the world to copy. He claimed that instead, CIAM‚Äôs main preoccupation was satisfying the emotional needs of its members. He again questioned the originality of its claims, listing many of its doctrines long existing before the advent of birth of CIAM. Furthermore, another publication in 1992 supported these claims. Altogether, these materials imply that CIAM exaggerated its claim of representing modern architecture.

Impact of CIAM on Modern Architecture

Subsequently, after much criticism directed at CIAM, an Anthropologist called James Holton commended the model of the master planned city designed by CIAM, he maintained that this is a practical example of a futuristic approach to architecture, which many Countries eventually adapted to suit their purpose. Holton suggested that even America borrowed from this model but adapted it into her system independently of CIAM influence. Despite the worldwide spread of CIAM idea, an issue revolving around it, is that there had been no singular book that stated its view elaborately, which made its views ambiguous to many historians. All  the available books on the ideas of CIAM were written by its member. Le Corbusier was one of those wrote on its ideas.

Another member who wrote on these ideas was Piere Andre Emery, who stated that simply because there had not been any written elaborate historical facts of CIAM ideas, it became a difficulty in establishing its intellectual contribution to the 20th century architecture and town planning. However, a detailed analysis of it ideas shows how CIAM attempted to combine utopian future oriented designs with politics in order to transform the society into an architectural bride. To a great extent, it has tackled the task of urban development with a classified approach, going through several travails and obstacles. CIAM can be referred to as the vanguard party to modern architecture. It affected both political and cultural parts of the 20th century.

Even till present, whenever the issue of architectural design is mentioned, there is always a reference to CIAM. The recent past attack on the America’s world trade towers on September 11 was a typical example, the future of sky-scrapper was brought to open. It became a subject in the public forums and museum exhibitions. The urbanistic discourse became an intellectual issue for both students of both history and urban planning. The views of CIAM can readily come to play here. In particular, an inclination to portray CIAM’s  proposals in rebuilding New York city readily brought to minds of lovers of history the views of CIAM, before, during and after the world war II. The stakes and the effects of the transformation on the socio-economy of the state of America were some of the issues addressed.

From earlier ¬†issues discoursed, it has been said that consensus were hard to arrive at CIAM, same was the fate of modern architectural designs, most especially in places that require massive construction, such¬† place include ¬†where shortages of houses are predominant. A resemblance of the CIAM doctrine was the America Housing Act of 1949, that American needed a standardized and modern architectural structures for her citizens fast becoming homeless. Structure of considerable number and size were involved. There was a need for a landmark, expansion of the federal role in mortgage insurance and issuance and the construction of public housing. There was shortage of houses and the few available were slums. The need to clear out the slum and transform it into a modern architectural beauty therefore became paramount if America was to maintain her architectural sanity. Professional were called in, Over ‚ÄúFive million families were still living in slums and firetraps‚ÄĚ while. ‚Äúthree million families share their homes with others.” The experiences were a political issue just like the earlier experiences of CIAM.

In Modern Architecture, CIAM had created a springboard where modern architect could take a dive. Architects have explored this to the fullest. Many architectural designs and doctrines have some their designs or doctrines derive from the past designs of CIAM. The radical postulations by the organization in the 20th centuries ended up generating ideas that developed the political and economic development in the twentieth century. During the existence of CIAM, the structures of modern architecture were laid. This is a fact that even the critics of the organization have not been able to deny.

Even so, the re- construction of the post World War II, Europe revolved round the doctrines of CIAM organization despite that fact that played a passive role in the rebuilding. The architectures that were members of CIAM were the most prominent architects, whose ideas counted much in the society. However many have claimed that the organization was more of an individual than an organization, for there was a freedom of entry and exist to members. There were no strict rules as regards to membership to the organization.

Later as political, economical cultural change took place in 20th century, CIAM was there with its  radical doctrine of  collective social transformation. Its earlier goal was destroyed by  developing capitalist in the fast changing  world. In as much as CIAM ideas were attacked by these new people who had earlier shared in the dream of the organization, there were little to be done but to let the organization experience a natural death.


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Gail Sansbury . “Review of Eric Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960,” H-Urban, H-Net Reviews, November, 2001.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Eric Mumford. “The ‘tower in the park’ in America: theory and practice, 1920-1960.” Planning Perspectives 10 (1995): 17-41.

            Joan Ockman, with Edward Eigen. Architecture Culture 1943-1968, A Documentary Anthology. (New York: Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, 1993).

            The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasilia. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

            The CIAM discourse on urbanism, 1928-1960 By Eric Paul Mumford, Eric Mumford



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