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The making of a megastructure: architectural modernism, town planning and Cumbernauld's Central Area, 1955–75

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The development of the Central Area at Cumbernauld New Town was a landmark in town centre design and an intriguing example of the convergence between architectural modernism and town planning in the 1950s and 1960s. This paper, which considers the genesis, development and subsequent reassessment of this extraordinary structure, comprises five main parts. The first supplies conceptual background, by seeing the Central Area as an expression of thinking about megastructures. The next section examines the background to the designation of Cumbernauld New Town and the challenges that its location posed for town centre design. The third part discusses the way that Cumbernauld's town centre, one of the few megastructures ever built, evolved as the chosen form for this site, looking at the progress from initial ideas through to the formal design. The fourth section reviews the various phases of implementation, concentrating on the two initial phases – the only ones that proceeded in line with the original megastructural schema. The final section reflects on the abandonment of the megastructural principle after Phase 2 and considers the wider significance of this episode. It highlights the design deficiencies and poor political decisions that blighted the megastructure before commenting on the implications of this episode for understanding the relationship between architectural modernism and town planning.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02665430600555255

Affiliations: Oxford Brookes University, Headington, Oxford, OX3 0BP, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2006

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