Ford, Nehru, Hilberseimer: Village Industries and beyond
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
In 1955 Ludwig Hilberseimer published The Nature of Cities: Origin, Growth, and Decline where he proposed a transnational, systems approach to industrializing the revenant hinterlands of islands in the Pacific Ocean to the U.S. Midwest to the interior of India amongst others. In his before and after plan drawings of an anonymous Indian village, Hilberseimer suggests taking land from small farmers to make large farms. He cites Jawaharlal Nehru’s thesis that British rule progressively “ruralized” India’s industries, and the need to raise living standards by means of “rapid urbanization” and planning. One of the most curious observations made in the 286 page book is when Hilberseimer states, Nehru’s “proposals for decentralization of industry and its integration with agriculture are not unlike those made for the United States by Henry Ford.” One of Ford’s major preoccupations was decentralization coupled with the industrialization of farming to raise productivity and wages—a project he attempted to precipitate across the globe—and one that the Ford Foundation would take up in India in 1952.
To date, the design proposals put forward by Hilberseimer and others, has yet to be adequately situated with respect to larger systems of thought and institutional financing, particularly where geographical, infrastructural, and statistical dimensions are at stake.
Moving beyond the transhistorical discourse on the “Nature” of cities put forward by Hilberseimer, this paper will ask: how do we come to terms with the complex historical conditions in which modern statecraft and industrialization has alternately asserted or rejected its relation to an ostensibly productive countryside? And how might representational practices at the cross roads of architecture and urban design not only transform scale, quantification, computation, modeling, experiment, and so on, but also speak to design’s epistemological agency?