Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM)
International architecture and urban planning congresses
Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) was a series of eleven architecture and urban planning congresses. Initiated by a group of European modernist architects, these conferences were held between 1928 and 1959. The ideas developed and exchanged within the context of CIAM influenced the development of architecture and urban planning worldwide.
The founding members of CIAM included architects Walter Gropius from Germany, Le Corbusier from France, Mart Stam from the Netherlands, and Sven Markelius from Sweden. The first congress took place in 1928 in La Sarraz, Switzerland, and the last in 1959 in Otterlo, the Netherlands. The meetings were designed to exchange ideas about modern architecture and city design within a European, and later, an international context. Each congress focused on a specific topic such as the Minimum Dwelling (CIAM II) or the Heart of the City (CIAM VIII). The members of CIAM elected a permanent executive body, the Comité international pour la résolution des problèmes de l’architecture contemporaine (CIRPAC), whose first secretary-general was the Swiss art and architecture critique Siegfried Giedion.
Initially, CIAM was a continental European endeavor, with much of its activity focused on Germany, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. This framework changed in 1933 when the Modern Architectural Research Group (MARS) was established in London, forming a link between modern architects from Great Britain and CIAM’s activities. Over the course of the 1930s, fascist politics and the prospect of war caused many of the key members of CIAM to leave their home countries. Several of them, like Walter Gropius and Serge Chermayeff, found a new home in the United States. These émigrés remained active within CIAM and thus contributed to the further internationalization of the organization and a stronger connection to the United States after 1945.
There are, however, very few actual built projects by CIAM members in North American cities and it is difficult to gauge the influence of CIAM ideas on architecture and urban planning in the USA. Eric Mumford has traced these aspects in Defining urban design. It is safe to say that what Mumford calls “CIAM-type urbanism” found a strong echo in the United States and that European immigrants played a major role in this complex process of transfer and exchange. One example of this is the book Can our cities survive? by Spanish city planner José Luis Sert, who came to New York as an exile in 1939. Can our cities survive? is the first comprehensive English account of CIAM’s principles published in the United States.
Increasing attacks on the radical functionalistic concepts of the founding members of CIAM by a younger generation of modern architects led to a schism within the group and the end of the organization in the late 1950s.