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Cullen’s Theory of Conformity in Urban Planning

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Architecture
Wordcount: 1082 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Theoretical Concept: Cullen’s Conformity

Place: Ferry Road, Grangetown



Cullen’s theory of conformity tackles the reality of the way cities are shaped and seen from the perspective of the viewer. Enforcing the concept of the “kinesthetic” experience, he further explains the essential element of contrast in cities that allow people to react to the different environments present within an area as they move through it.

“There is an art of relationship just as there is an art of architecture. Its purpose is to take all elements that go to create the environment: buildings, trees, nature, water, traffic, advertisements and so on, and to weave them together in such a way that drama is released (Larice and Macdonald 2007).”

Here, the emphasis is on the term ‘drama’ where Cullen expresses the conflict or change in character assessment of the world and has applied it in what a city should always compose. He believed that cities that do not have a change of pace or state would never qualify as a city with a common artistic and expressive value. In the Concise Townscape (1973) when he states, “..The act of descending, implies going down into the known and the act of ascending implies going up to the unknown.” Cullen describes the levels subjected to a viewer can induce different reactions to what they see and how they see it. He describes the thought of being below a level can carry feelings of humbleness and mediocrity, whereas being above a level can allow someone to feel superior and inspired. Additionally, he claims that an urban environment goes beyond its architectural significance; it is for the users, the inhabitants are the essential factor for any city and how they connect with it.

When he looks at conformity, he describes it as “gives way to the agreement to differ within a recognised tolerance behaviour.” Whereas planners, he states, they tend to create synthetic alterations to the fabric in order to intentionally escape conformity.

The English Townscape Movement was known for its strong feelings against modern urban planning, and of course, Cullen was one of the pioneering candidates within this group; where he introduced the definitions of the Here and There and their contributions towards a more artistic city. However, as we move onto the concept of the Picturesque, we are introduced to Hubert de Cronin Hastings, chief editor of the Architectural Review platform, and his thoughts towards urban views as surrealist pictures and enable individuals to see practically incomprehensible items in persuading visual relations. Here, we look closely at de Wolfe’s Townscape (1949), where he states, “What matters to us is the principle underlying his distinction between beautiful and the picturesque, between, on the one hand, smoothness, and on the other irregularity.” He defines the picturesque as the thought of irregularity not being something imperfect, whereas he looks at it from a completely different view, irregularity as asymmetry, change or even contrast. Here, we notice the similarity of emphasis on the need for a change of scenery within a city to comply with the picturesque theory as proposed by Wolfe.

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“From such assortments, the radical planner has to produce his realistic surrealist picture. If it is good it will have what the good interior scene has, an overall character —conformity even—yet founded, not as with rational Liberal theory on the effort to achieve congruity through harmony but on the effort achieve a new kind of organisation through the cultivation of significant differences (Wolfe 1949).”

Wolfe then begins to evaluate further the need for planners to be aware of such artistic approach to achieve the expected conformity via the differences present and using them to their full potential, rather than the typical modern planners, and that is the harmony through the monotonic layout of the physical fabric of a city. He refers to such concept as the Radical theory, where in essence he urges that cities should not shame the significant differences and modernise to be up to standards. Wolfe then ends with, “Without exactly that — a visual philosophy — we shall continue to be the agents and the victims of the world of the upturned dustbin.”

When we look at the exotic area of Grangetown, diversity is faced and the gradual change in themes within the area. If we look closely at the roundabout within Ferry Road located right at the heart of Grangetown and start to move towards the Bay Area, the viewer is greeted on the right with the simple neighbourhood at either side of S Clive road. On the left, stores of mass sizes and what is more significant is the change of scenery as the viewer approach the Cardiff Bay Link Road, they are then overwhelmed with both the bay as well as the towering structures at the end of Ferry Road. This heterogeneity is what Cullen was referring to, the contrast between the quiet neighbourhood and the industry standard buildings, all segregated by the link bridge acting as the gateway to this experienced juxtaposition.

However, if we look back from the starting point at the roundabout on Ferry road, the monotony can be felt at the heart of Grangetown. There is no obvious contrast within the area, and the noticeable style remains constant being partly due to its development after the World War. On the opposite side of this area, we notice the substantial sizeable physical presence of factories and empty green lands and sites. This part of Grangetown present its complex being to any viewer, its character’s ability to change by the mere change of physical form can present what Grangetown is and the potential it can impose.


  • Cullen, G. 1973. The Concise Townscape. Oxford: The Architectural Press., pp. 21-57.
  • Larice, M. and Macdonald, E. 2007. The urban design reader. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge., pp. 118-124.
  • Wolfe, d. 1949. Townscape. The Architectural Review (Archive: 1896-2005) 106(636), pp. 354-362.


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