Just as architecture would contemporarily offer solutions to specific problems such the construction of workers’ housing, it also acted globally to shape the idea of the modern city with different approaches, some utopian, denoting a radical break-away from what had hitherto been established. The buildings erected in this modern city would undergo a transformation with the use of new materials such as iron and glass and the employment of new functionalist forms.
One of the first to theorise the modern city was Ildefonso Cerdá, who, aiming to fit a road network to methods of transportation and rethink types of infrastructures, put forward in Teoría General de Urbanización (The General Theory of Urban Planning) an orthogonal, homogenous grid, limited only by natural topography, he had already conceived for Barcelona. Cerdá’s proposal was joined by other radical alternatives to cities’ compact growth, for instance the proposal outlined by Arturo Soria y Mata, first presented in the newspaper El Progreso on 6 May 1882. To avoid the congestion of the traditional concentric city, Soria proposed a belt of limited width and unlimited length which, starting from one or more punctiform cities, would form a triangulated network among these population nuclei. The project would later impact the works of Soviet urban planners in the 1930s and Le Corbusier’s designs for a linear industrial city in the 1940s.
Ebenezer Howard, for his part, in his work Garden City of Tomorrow (originally published in 1898 as To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform), set forth a peaceful mediation between two ostensibly opposing fields: the city and the country. His proposal combined the hygienist advantages of the rural environment with the network of social exchanges in urban surroundings: the garden city.
Another of the great theoretical contributions at the time came from Tony Garnier with the industrial city based on a functionalist and hygienist vision of the city that would materialise through its zoning and acknowledgement of industry “as an inescapable achievement of our time and, therefore, as a project-based problem to be resolved rationally”.
The modern city objected to traditional concepts and had to be built with new materials such as iron and glass, both centrepieces of modern construction via designers like Bruno Taut, an advocate of “leaving the spaces in which we live divested of opaqueness”, to elevate architecture to a higher level. This urban-planning revolution, in style terms, engendered a clash between the designs of those nostalgic for tradition and those driving modernity. Testament to this tug of war were the different projects submitted in the era’s international tenders, in which the verdicts of the respective juries swung between functionalist proposals and historicism.