The Reconstruction of the European City


Published in: "Léon Krier: Drawings", Archives d'Architecture Moderne, Brussels, 1980, pages xxv-xxxi. Revised version in: Architectural Design, volume 54 (1984), Nov/Dec pages 16-22.


"If ever I was to head this Royal Institute of British Architects I would probably enter this building in the thick of the night and with my own hands I would plaster up that memorial wall which is covered in names [the list of Royal Gold Medallists inscribed in the entrance hall of the RIBA building in London], for most of these names have, more than any other names, contributed to the destruction of European cities and culture." -- (from an address to the RIBA on 4 May 1982).



A Charter for the Reconstruction of the City is the necessary complement to a charter for the Reconstruction of the Countryside. They can both only be built upon a long-term political and ecological CONSENSUS. They must transcend the limited interests of political, industrial and financial organizations and of cultural and religious groups. A charter is a global moral project which describes the rights and duties of the individual and of societies. It is the mirror image and necessary complement of a political constitution of a people.



The myth of unlimited technical progress and industrial development have brought the most "DEVELOPED" countries to the brink of physical, cultural, and ecological exhaustion. The fever of immediate profit and the empire of money have ravaged cities and countryside.

Industrial forms of production; that is, the extreme development of productive means and forces, have destroyed in less than two hundred years the cultures and traditions, cities and landscapes which had been the result of thousands of years of human labor and intelligence, of culture and inventiveness. They now erode the very resources and the fundamental human values without which mankind can neither live nor survive.

We now have to recognize the absolute value of the pre-industrial cities, of the cities of stone.

Not to stop the destruction of this enormous labor means to subject ourselves and the coming generations to the production and consumption of an environment of futile objects. The enormous work which awaits our generation in repairing the damage and destruction of the last thirty years, must be undertaken in a perspective of material PERMANENCE.



Industrial development is effected through the fragmentation of integrated and multifunctional rural and urban complexes (cities, villages, districts, quarters, parishes) into monofunctional suburban zones (residential neighborhoods, university campuses, shopping centers, industrial parks, etc.).

Monofunctional zoning (productive, commercial, administrative, educational, residential, recreational) is the technical instrument of this fragmentation.

Monofunctional programming and the privileged allocation of financial resources to such programs are its political and economic motor.

Against the organic integration of urban functions, industrial zoning posits their mechanical segregation.



The politics of industrial infrastructure has been based on the spatial (territorial) separation of functions.

All industrial states independently of their ideology have promoted and imposed the functional ZONING of the cities and countryside with equal brutality and pseudoscientific arguments against all resistance from urban or rural populations.

Functional Zoning is not an innocent or neutral planning instrument; it has been the most effective means in destroying the infinitely complex social and physical fabric of pre-industrial urban communities, of urban democracy and culture.

Functional Zoning of city and countryside has been an authoritarian project corresponding nowhere to a democratic demand.

Zoning is the ABSTRACTION of city and countryside. We now know, that an anti-urban philosophy ipso facto condemns the countryside.

One cannot destroy the cities without also destroying the countryside.

Zoning is the ABSTRACTION of communities; it reduces the proudest communities to mere statistical entities, expressed in exchangeable numbers and densities.

Zoning, dictated by big industry and their financial and administrative empires, can be fought only by democratic pressure that demands the reconstruction of urban communities where RESIDENCE, WORK and LEISURE are all within walking distance.

Industrial rationality is by nature amoral, asocial, and anti-ecological; it is both the instrument and the expression of moral, ecological and social irrationality and collapse.



Functional Zoning based on infinite territorial sprawl has resulted in maximum energy consumption. The most remarkable consequence of functional zoning is that it guarantees the maximum consumption of units of time, energy and hardware in the accomplishment of all major and minor urban functions.

The first imperative of zoning is to transform any part of the territory (city and countryside) in such a way that every citizen can only perform

  • one function
  • in one place
  • at one time

to the exclusion of all other functions.

The second imperative of zoning is the effective and daily mobilization of industrial society in its entirety (all classes, all ages, all species, all races; adults, old people, children, rich and poor, employers and employed, unemployed and misers) in order to perform even the simplest functions of life. The slavery of mobility to which every citizen has been condemned forces him to waste both time and energy in daily transports, while at the same time it has made him into a potential and involuntary agent of energy waste.

Circulation of people, hardware and information are the principal activities to be generated by the industrial metabolism of man and nature.

Roads, railways, canals, airstrips, cables, pipelines, etc., are the arterial system of an atomized society, its paradoxical common place.

Neither PRIVATE nor PUBLIC transport policies can effectively curtail the waste of material or social energy caused by functional zoning, by the industrial anti-city.

An intelligent energy consumption policy is possible only by integrating the main urban functions into urban quarters (DISTRICTS) of limited territorial size.

Whatever energy saving policy does not recognize this condition is doomed to lead to totalitarian measures of control and social coercion.



The city is not the necessary and unavoidable result of a society's activities. It can only be built and maintained when it represents the highest possible goal of individuals, of a society and of its institutions. A city is not a mere economic accident but a moral project.

CITY and COUNTRYSIDE are antithetical notions.

The reconstruction of the TERRITORY must be defined in a strict physical and legal separation of CITY and COUNTRYSIDE.

We have first of all to proceed to a drastic reduction of the built perimeters of the cities, and redefine with precision rural land in order to establish clearly what is city and what is countryside.

Any notion of legal zoning must be abolished.

All future intervention on the city must banish the construction of urban roads and motorways, monofunctional zones, residual green spaces.

There can be no industrial zones, pedestrian zones, shopping or housing zones -- there can only be urban quarters which integrate all the functions of urban life.

The notions of METROPOLITAN CENTER and PERIPHERY must be abolished.



Industrialization of building must be considered as a total failure. Its ulterior motive has never been the professed proletarization of material comfort, but instead the maximization of short-term profits and the consolidation of economic and political monopolies.

Industrialization has not brought any significant technical improvement in building.

It has not reduced the cost of construction.

It has not shortened the time of production.

It has not created more jobs.

It has not helped to improve the working conditions of the workers.

It has on the contrary destroyed a highly sophisticated craft that had lasted for millennia.

It has been incapable of finding solutions for the typological, social and morphological complexity of the historical centers and landscapes.

And although building is still organized today according to forms of artisanal production, craftsmanship as an autonomous culture has been destroyed by the industrial and social division of labor.

A culture of building and architecture must be based on a highly sophisticated manual tradition of construction, and not on the formation of "Specialist professional bodies".

Industrialization has in the end only facilitated centralization of capital and of political power, be it private or public.



There exists neither authoritarian nor democratic Architecture.

There exists only authoritarian and democratic ways of producing and using architecture.

A row of Doric columns is not more authoritarian than a tensile structure is democratic.

Architecture is not political; it can only be used politically.

As architecture exists, it always succeeds in transcending politics.

Buildings can appear inhuman not through their Architecture, but through their lack of Architecture.

Buildings become inhuman when abstracted of architecture or dressed in false architecture.

Kitsch is both abstraction and false appearance.

For the last two hundred years industrial states have disguised themselves in styles that have changed from generation to generation, nowadays from season to season. At first Neo-Classical then Neo-Gothic, then Modernist and now Kitsch triumphs from Las Vegas to Moscow and Peking.

Stylistic pluralism and its epitome in Kitsch is by no means the sign of cultural prosperity, happiness, democracy and wealth. It results from the confusion of artistic and industrial techniques. It is the disquieting anxiety of individuals gazing with despair and impotence at the brutal leveling of their individual and ethnic identity.



Cultural pluralism marks the moment in history where despair and PRIVATE obsessions replace collective culture.

Architecture is not the means of expressing social or individual contents of either client or architect.

Architecture can express neither individual nor collective ideas about progress, of beliefs or dreams, of time or place.

Zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) is no concern of Architecture. It is impossible not to express in some measure the spirit of one's own time, yet Zeitgeist is no guarantee of any kind of quality.

Zeitgeist communicates itself, despite ourselves. Artists and craftsmen naturally long to attain a timeless quality using those materials, subjects and techniques which best resist the test of time, accident and taste.

There is neither reactionary nor revolutionary Architecture.

There is only Architecture or its absence, that is its abstraction.

There has never been protest against Architecture.

There has only been protest against the lack of Architecture, against its absence through ABSTRACTION.

Architecture and Building are only concerned with creating a built environment which is beautiful and solid, agreeable, habitable and elegant.



Architecture can express nothing else but its own constructive logic; that is, its origin in the laws of building.

Building is the material culture of construction. As a craft, it is concerned with the construction or domestic structures, of workshops, of warehouses, of engineering works; it is generally concerned with the erection of the urban fabric, of building blocks which form the streets of the city, its retaining walls, bridges etc. Building culture is basically concerned with the repetition of a few building-types and the adaptation to local conditions of use, of materials and climate.

Architecture is the intellectual culture of building. As an art, it is concerned with the imitation and translation of the elements of building into symbolic language, expressing in a fixed system of symbols and analogies the very origin of Architecture in the laws of nature and in human intelligence and labor.

The very reason for Architecture to exist as a public Art is to attain to material and above all to intellectual permanence.

It can be no business of Architecture to express ever changing functions or Zeitgeist.

Certain building types merely become associated with certain functions and celebrations, and it is up to sculptural or pictorial iconography to help and sustain these associations.

Architecture is only concerned with the erection of public buildings and monuments, with the construction of public squares and sites.

For classical architecture the notions of progress and innovation no longer exist, because it has solved all technical and artistic problems in solidity, in beauty, in permanence and commodity.



It is only a dialogue of Architecture and Building, of Classical and Vernacular cultures, of monumental and domestic, of public and private that can endow human settlements with the dignity of a common culture.

Only a great functional complexity can lead to a readable, clear, permanently satisfying and beautiful articulation of the urban spaces and quarters, of the city as a whole.

Simplicity and legibility must be the goal of the very complexity of the urban plan and skyline silhouette.

A city is articulated into

  • public and domestic spaces
  • monuments and urban fabric
  • Architecture and building
  • squares and streets

and in that HIERARCHY.



The term classical denotes the best; it attains to the highest quality and belongs to artistic culture. Vernacular building denotes the manual, artisanal culture of building based on tectonic logic. Classical and Vernacular are cultures opposed to the production and consumption of futile objects.

Classical and Vernacular do not erect class distinctions but distinction between collective and individual, between monuments and urban fabric, public palace and domestic dwelling.

Classical and Vernacular cultures are based on the repetition of a few fundamental CONSTRUCTIVE and FUNCTIONAL TYPES which are the universal expression of human activities, of collective and individual work and pleasure -- the Public, the Private and the Sacred.

Architecture and Building as Classical and Vernacular cultures are based on imitative systems of production, on artisanal tradition, where intellectual and manual faculties are exercised in harmony and not in conflict with each other.

In an artisanal culture, material or intellectual innovations become accepted only for their technical or artistic improvement and not as a result of a freewheeling imagination. This process of slow and constant clarification and elaboration involving all the skills and intelligence of the individual artisan or artist is the source of true pleasure of authentic culture.

Classical Architecture as the symbolic elaboration of vernacular building does not know INNOVATION as a virtue. It knows but one Style which is fixed and immutable in its typological and morphological essence, but infinitely varied in its realization, as are all objects of nature.

Architecture and Building are not objects of consumption. They can only be reconstructed as objects of use in a perspective of material permanence.

Without such permanence, without architecture transcending the lifespan of its builders, no public space, no collective expression as craft or art is ever possible.

Classical architecture and modernist architecture are contradictory, antagonistic and incompatible propositions -- the former based on artisanal, artistic production; the latter on industrial modes of production.



To protest against the transformation and destruction of the cities serves no purpose if we do not have a global alternative plan of reconstruction in our hands. A critique which has no project is but another face of a totally fragmented society, of which the city is only a model.

A critique without a vision gazes as impotently at the future as the historian without a project gazes at the past.

Professional criticism has killed critique in the same way as historiography has killed history.

The project which our generation must elaborate has to fight the destruction of urban society on all levels; cultural, political, economical.

Only with this project of reconstruction can we redefine our role as Architects, can we define what budgets this society has to assign to start this gigantic work of reconstruction.

It can no longer be short-term budgets which should dictate the form of Architecture and of the City, rather Architecture and the City must dictate the form of long-term budgets.

This is the reason why we have to refuse to educate architects in how to comply with the deficiencies of existing legislation and budgeting.



An architectural culture must necessarily be based on a highly developed and professional manual culture.

The schools are the only places where the reconstruction of such a culture is possible, based on apprenticeship and temporarily freed from the contingencies of industrial production and the pressures of the building market.

However, schools and universities continue to live on the false prestige and supremacy of intellectual over manual culture, yet in advanced industrial societies intellectual work has become as alienating and degrading as manual work.

This false myth could be definitely buried by giving a new social dignity to manual work, by conferring university diplomas to highly developed artisanal professions on the same level as scientific research, engineering, medical professions, all of which are ultimately based on manual work.

I do not believe that it is possible to re-educate modernist architects and planners, artists and teachers. Progress can only be made by founding elite institutions and educating a new generation of highly skilled and competitive artisans and architects. Their superior science and competence will soon achieve the restoration of dignity and secular authority to our prestigious art.

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