The Athens Charter: A Blueprint for Cities

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The Charter of Athens was a prominent policy largely written by an urban planner and Swiss architect – Corbusier Le and was mainly summarizing and highlighting the Fourth Congress of the International Congress of Modern Architects commonly identified as (CIAM) that occurred in the year 1932 (Rubin, 2009). At first, the Athens Charter was published in France attaining the support of both the Vichy government as well as the entire German population at large. The charter was mainly as a shortened form of the crucial concepts, principles, and ideas of the contemporary architecture as well as modern urban and city planning perspectives that generally advocated for a complete remaking of major cities that were located in the industrialised world so as to make them highly hygienic, rational, efficient, and able to cater for the rising demand of other developing sectors and people in general (Gold 1998). Simply put, the Charter of Athens was aimed at increasing the living standards of people by improving the conditions of the environment within cities. Even though Corbusier together with the CIAM were not the only individuals who had attempted to request such complete remaking of the entire urban setting, the Charter of Athens became highly popular and famous and circulated especially after the war among many European governments that were working tirelessly to rebuild their cities and homes of their citizens that had been destroyed during the World War II (Salingaros 2005).


With the demand of rebuilding whatever property that had been destroyed during this war, the Athens Charter attained an additional role whereby it became the blue print of sort for cities that were located in America that were coping with cases of urban poverty which had emerged as a result of the winding down of the economy of war and the massive loss of employments (Tummers and Zibell 2012). This was very common especially in the African American population that had largely migrated towards the northern cities in search for jobs that were also not available hence were forced to reside in urban slums and hence creating a deformity that undoubtedly needed to be rectified in the entire city. The charter turned into a blueprint for the entire communist world in the whole of the 1950s, part of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s which was the time especially during which the USSR and its allies from East Europe had an urge to develop and maintain an effective housing plan for its citizens who were homeless as a result of the world war (Corbusier and Eardley 1973). In addition to the historical fact that the Athens charter become a crucial blueprint for all sorts of American cities that were coping with cases of urban poverty, it finally became one of the blueprint documents for most developing countries that had an aim of promoting their industries especially after many countries had attained independence and did not wish to repeat the same mistake that happened during the European industrialization that occurred in the 19th century (Jacobs and Appleyard 1987). However, as the charter functioned as blueprint in numerous countries after the Second World War, it also became a problem to the development of some cities, especially due to the shortcomings that the charter had and a lack of foresight in particular matter that, in turn, led to systematic social problems that have not yet been fully solved till today. This Athens Charter document had as significant influence on the routine lives of all citizens in the world, just like many of the documents that existed in the twentieth century, and its failures and successes are contained just like the way seeds are embedded (Gehl 2007).

Even though architects have continued to provide contrasting and sometimes similar arguments, a key takeaway is that the charter bore crucial principles that were key to the foundation of development and establishment of cities across different countries. The very first basic principle was that that reflected on the essence of the natural environment to the “urbanist” (Zardini 2008). With the underlying fact being that most of the people demanded a standard that could be very collective, the sun as well as the natural environment, did appear to be one of the crucial universal factors for all cities, with the sun being repetitively quoted as a fundamental element and determinant in the city planning and urbanism. Another principle is categorical and reflective change brought between the emerging cities by the advent of automobiles. For both the CIAM and Corbusier, automobiles were just more than a faster means for transporting commodities than the conventional use of horses and walking, and considering that the whole spatial layout that existed on cities emerged over a couple of centuries and as well as millennia, automobiles would cause changes, necessitating effective city planning. Therefore automobiles offered and altered the time that was needed to travel between long distances, and hence the temporality of cities, to an extent that even the spatiality was forcefully made to change instead of altering it in ad hoc ways (Mumford 1992). Thus, separation of the street from places where people resided was a crucial precept of this charter, largely demanding each and every place to be set aside for its purpose such as roads for travelling not for parking, cruising, and picking.

Another principle that was evident and very instrumental was the one based on the perception that placing and aligning angles, buildings, windows, and streets, as well as other elements crucial for cities with the appropriate symmetry that was connected to the arc as well as the topography of the sun and landscape (Ward 2002). The charter was more protective on the notion that architecture was the only element that presided over the destiny of cities as it orders and controls the arrangement of the dwelling, an important cell that belonged to the urban matter whose gaiety, health, as well as harmony, are mainly subject to the choices it makes. Thus, architecture was a tool that was regarded as the key to everything as per the demands and descriptions of the principle based on the relationship that existed between the street and the dwelling which was more conceived with different alignments (Stouten 2012). Alignments along the transits and roads were therefore inauspicious with the reason being that it allowed for minimal exposure of the city dwellers to the sun – a factor that was crucial for their lives.

The Athens charter posed a great impact on planning across a wide variety of cities following World War II. This influence was important for most cities, although its influence had more complications since the CIAM 4 in the 1950s had attempted to replace the Functional city well described in the charter with a different charter referred to as the Charter of Habitat (Stouten 2012). The CIAM 4 meeting that was attended by architects from different parts of the world, especially from leading countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Yugoslavia, Brazil, and Canada, created a great impact on cities of these countries, as cities developed and were planned in one way or another using knowledge from this Charter (Ward 2002). After the Radiant City was published in 1935 in France, Le Corbusier persistently proceeded to the establishment of ideas on urban planning that fitted specific cities through a number of schemes such as Plans for Paris, Moscow, Morocco, and Algiers. In the Netherlands, the delegates made a visit at Van Nelle factory that was designed by Mart Stam meant to form a large part of the city. This was also the first Congress that was represented by the Mars Group that originated from England. Berthold Lubetkin using his practice Tecton Group in 1935 finished highpoint at High gate located in London (Mumford 1992). This was a project that constituted 56 dwellings that were grouped together as two crosses on the plan and each arm having eight dwellings. Each of these eight dwellings that were available on each arm is well linked to a core and central service and separated from its neighbour by a balcony, hence possible to eliminate the noise from each dwelling.

In England, the 1949 Housing Act affected all cities in England by paving way for local authorities to strike a balance of housing types for different communities as opposed to their earlier method of allocating housing to the working class (Zardini 2008). Between the year 1952 and 1958, there was an establishment of the Alton Estate by the London county council built in West Hugh rise blocks using the knowledge and ideas established from the Charter of Athens (Gehl 2007). The applicability of this knowledge in London by most architects in efforts to have a well-established and planned city led to architectural writer Richards J. M. to praise Le Corbusier for effectively establishing a healthy and clean housing in a Parkland setting. In America, the conception of the plan for Brasilia Lucio Costa saw the city being manifested as a functional city well eluded and described in the Athens Charter. Like the ideas and concepts illustrated by Le Corbusier, especially the Ville Radieuse, there was progress, order, and stability in Brazil’s new capital that had been initially been destroyed during the war. Just like what generally were the desires of Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer and Costa were greatly inspired and aspired to have a city that was based upon justice and equality (Mumford 1992).

In Japan, Tokyo, Kunio Maekawa was one of the instrumental architectural experts who copied and implemented similar ideas in the Charter of Athens; using the ideas presented in the charter, Kunio Maekawa designed a Harumi Apartments block (Ward 2002). This was mainly based on the idea of “unite” which is one of the basic concepts extracted and generated from the Athens Charter. In addition to that, in Tel Aviv one of the CIAM Member, Bakema Jacob, who also attended the CIAM 4 meeting designed a functional city that was based on the Le Corbusier Algiers schemes that was very instrumental in urban planning of many minor cities that have developed today to be among the major cities in the world. Finally, in St Louis in Missouri, Pruitt-Igoe is one evident established architectural work as a result of the Athens Charter. It was designed in accordance with the ideals of the CIAM based on the Functional city (Stouten 2012).


The Charter of Athens was an integral document that was established and published in France in the year 1933 immediately after the second world war, a war that left many cities devastated due to the negative effects that it had left on the people who occupied/ lived in the countries that were negatively affected by this war, especially France, which was a pioneer of the war. The Athens Charter was an agreement that specifically enforced urbanization and development of cities especially those that were negatively affected by the Second World War. After the war, it was evident that many countries had suffered massive destruction and economic turmoil, and hence needed more establishment of cities and other places that were previously an indication of high standards of living for the residents. Besides, with the changing technologies, it is evident that earlier cities could support such innovation like the use of automobiles. In this light, embracing urbanization so as to have effective economic units that would be ready to abide by the local and federal developments was integral in ensuring that all the cities were developing in line with the stated guidelines. What is notable is that the impact of the Charter of Athens spread across the world, in North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa, largely guiding the landscape of cities until the modern days. Even though many analysts will dispute the existence of the Charter of Athens, it is important to note that the destruction of urban slums and the establishment of green areas that all governments continue to aspire towards were initially proposed by the Charter of Athens.


Corbusier, L. and Eardley, A., 1973. The Athens Charter. New York: Grossman Publishers.

Gehl, J., 2007. Public spaces for a changing public life. In Open space: People space (pp. 23-30). Taylor & Francis.

Gold, J.R., 1998. Creating the Charter of Athens: CIAM and the functional city, 1933-43. Town Planning Review, 69(3), p.225.

Jacobs, A. and Appleyard, D., 1987. Toward an urban design manifesto. Journal of the American Planning Association, 53(1), pp.112-120.

Mumford, E., 1992. CIAM urbanism after the Athens Charter. Planning Perspective, 7(4), pp.391-417.

Rubin, E., 2009. The Athens Charter. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Dec. 2018]

Salingaros, N.A., 2005. Principles of urban structure (Vol. 4). Techne Press.

Stouten, P., 2012. New Charter if Athens: Towards sustainable neighborhoods. Built Environment, 38(4), pp.497-507.

Tummers, L. and Zibell, B., 2012. What can Spatial Planners do to create the'Connected City'? A Gendered Reading of the Charters of Athens. Built Environment, 38(4), pp.524-539.

Ward, S.V., 2002. Planning the twentieth-century city: The advanced capitalist world (p. 155). Chichester: Wiley.

Zardini, M., 2008. A new urban takeover. Actions: what you can do with the city, pp.12-17.

November 13, 2023

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