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Yerevan: Tamanyan’s Garden City

By Vrej Haroutounian

Part I 

It is quite true that the pathway of experiment towards a better state of society is strewn with failures. But so is the pathway of experiment to any result that is worth achieving. Success is, for the most part, built on failure.

Ebenezer Howard, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, 1898 p.113

In its modern history, Yerevan has undergone numerous physical changes. Many of these changes have been motivated by popular credos at a given time, as well as by the presence of ever-changing technologies.

Alexander Tamanyan and his wife

The contemporary experience of Yerevan– its streets, buildings, and layout– is one based on the master plan of neoclassical Armenian architect Alexander Tamanyan. In this article we cover the Garden City movement, which revolutionized urban planning and had a large influence on Yerevan.

Ideals are the departure point for all arts, including urban design. In this article, the idealistic influences of Ebenezer Howard are presented in order to better understand his motivations in writing To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, a book that would come to influence urban planning in cities all around the world. There exists a connection between Howard’s ideals, the Garden City Movement, and the principles and forces operating in Yerevan at the same time. These same principles are evident in the design of the capital city.

The Garden City Movement is based on Ebenezer Howard’s 1898 publicationTo-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform,which was later republished with its current title, Garden Cities of Tomorrow. The book and its visions for the urban landscape had far-reaching effects, translating into the visual language of urban planning, economic, social, cultural, and political ideologies. The book presented the concept of creating a better city based on the well-being of its citizens, addressing the social, economic and governmental structures of the time.

Ebenezer Howard

Howard viewed the major modern cities of the time, such as Parisand Berlin, as examples for smaller cities to imitate. He saw a pervasive, illogical approach to urban planning that caused confusion and lack of community in the life of urban dwellers (Howard, 1960). He viewed the new industrial system as faulty, operating at a scale that was unsustainable. Wasteful metropolises were creating congestion in the city center while creating urban decay in the suburban areas. Inefficient planning in industrial areas and the location of key social elements had created a distance between industry and people that would require the unnecessary transportation of materials and workers. In his view, the city center still thrived as the cultural center, providing its citizens with more cultural offerings at a human scale. However, the surrounding countryside suffered from industrialization. Agriculture lost local markets and more entrepreneurial people moved to the metropolis. The country, with its beautiful scenery, quiet nights, open space, and slow-paced lifestyle, was to be envied by the urbanite looking to feel a sense of connection with nature. Howard believed that city life was not conducive to the well-being of people. The positive aspects of both the village and the metropolis had to be merged into a new urban landscape that would provide the inhabitant with abalanced lifestyle. This new city would be the Garden City of tomorrow (Howard, 1960).

Howard wrote at a time when the Western world was influenced by utopian ideals of beginning anew and constructing a better world. These ideas were materializing through colonization, social perfection, and experimentation inherited from the Age of Reason (Buder, 1990). Howard lived in the heavily-populated industrial district of London. The city streets were dirty with the refuse of industry and people lived in, what seemed to be, an extension of the industrial process. Howard was influenced by works such as Edward Bellamy's 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward, Henry George's economic treatise Progress and Poverty, and Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason. At a young age, he learned stenographic skills and developed a disciplined work ethic. After working in London for a few years, he moved to America to practice homestead farming. He made his home in Chicago at a time when the city was being rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire. Chicago was a hotbed for new types of innovative construction methods and social, religious, and economic ideals. Howard paid close attention to the cost-cutting building methods being used and the corresponding culture of Chicago at the time.He underwent an ideological transformation and became involved with a new faith called communitarianism, founded by Adin Ballou, a Universalist minister, and based on author Frank Podmore’s concept of socialism as a form of spiritualism (Buder, 1990).

Howard was introduced to communitarianism by Cora Richmond, who had grown up in the community of Hopedale, one of two-hundred recorded communitarian experiments that took place in America between 1840 and 1860. In order to be a member of the community, a person was to never take an oath, hold public office or participate in war. All property was to be held in common. Hopedale nurtured progressive ideas in spirituality, food reform, and water quality. The practice of communitarianism called for moral regeneration, equality among the sexes, and a communal utopia in the future (Buder, 1990). Cora Richmond believed that society had become materialistic and exploitative in nature and had swayed away from the principles of the American republic. She called for a return to the original principles of the republic and a society of higher consciousness,in which people lived in harmony with each other and with nature. Howard would later synthesize these ideas with his own in Garden Cities of Tomorrow (Buder, 1990).

The Three Magnets, and Grouping of Garden Cities

The Garden City envisioned by Howard was to be a place where the best qualities of the town merged with the best qualities of the country, producing a new town-country. The town-country would have the advantages of both, without the disadvantages of each individually. The new Garden City would offer a vision of social reform that would create a decentralized, but closely interrelated network of garden cities, collectively called the Social City. Development of the city would take place on the basis of cooperative action and the land would be owned collectively. The central city would have an intended population of around 58,000, with the surrounding Garden Cities,each with a population of 32,000 covering 1000 acres, and surrounded by 5000 acres of rural land. The cities were to be socially and economically viable and accommodate work and living space to all members of society (Ward, 1992).

The center of the city was to measure roughly five and a half acres and would include a central garden enclosed in glass to regulate temperatures throughout the year (Howard, 1960). The surrounding areas would offer housing with ample open space between the main buildings, conducive to civic and recreational activity. Public buildings were to includeconcert halls, lecture halls, theaters, museums and libraries. A “Grand Avenue,” 420-feet wide and three miles long, would create an additional 115 acres of green space accessible to most members of the city; this green ring would separate the residential from industrial areas (Howard, 1960). The Grand Avenue was to house public schools that are surrounded by gardens and parks, with sites reserved for churches and other community functions. Outside the Grand Avenue, the industrial area would be surrounded by rail lines that would transport products to other cities. Pollution would be well-managed by electricity-driven machinery.

Howard explains the financial and societal justifications for the project, and the location of infrastructure based on the expenses associated with distribution and transportation of goods to market. He addresses the need for individualistic and socialist ambitions in the city’s government system, arguing that while all men adhere to socialist principles, such as public schools and public services, they also choose to maintain a level of individuality and independence. In understanding man’s interconnection with his fellow man and the environment, Howard was able to see a purpose beyond wealth:

Wealth forms, then, in their very nature are fugitive, and they are besides liable to constant displacement by the better forms which in an advancing state of society are constantly arising. There is, however, one form of material wealth which is most permanent and abiding; from the value and utility of which our most wonderful inventions can never detract one jot, but will serve only to make more clear, and to render more universal. The planet on which we live has lasted for millions of years, and the race is just emerging from its savagery. Those of us who believe that there is a grand purpose behind nature cannot believe that the career of this planet is likely to be speedily cut short now that better hopes are rising in the hearts of men, and that having learned a few of its less obscure secrets, they are finding their way, through much toil and pain, to a more noble use of its infinite treasures. The earth for all practical purposes may be regarded as abiding forever (Howard, 1960, p.135).

The Garden City movement gained international acclaim and soon saw the creation of the Garden City Association and its international chapters in, among other countries, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, and Japan. Translated into many languages, Howard’s book was interpreted and implemented in different cities around the world, with adjustments to local needs and constraints (Ward, 1992).

Cascade 1970 and 2011

As the Garden City movement gained popularity throughout the world, its social reformist roots were quickly converted into environmental reformism, which was eventually formalized into the modern-day practice of urban planning (Ward, 1992). Howard’s book demonstrates the ability of an idea to quickly travel the world through globalization. Howard’sideological basis and life experiences are reflected in the Garden City movement, the result of his efforts to create the ideal city– one that provides the workingman with the benefits of both country and town.

The Garden City is the basis for the design of Yerevan, like many other cities of the Soviet Union at the height of the movement’s popularity. The Garden City movement had garnered international attention and had made its way to the major cities of the Soviet Union. In embracing elements of the Garden City movement, Tamanyan’s plan would provide the ideal transitional urban landscape for Yerevan’s new population—an agrarian society which would now have to convert to industrial city living. 

The Garden City movement is a pre-revolutionary idea that was the most widely influential in subsequent urban planning. Howard’s design principles had reached Russia before the revolution and had been translated into Russian. A Russian branch of the Garden City Society opened in St. Petersburg in 1913 (Scott, 2009). Alexander Tamanian moved to Yerevan from Russia in 1923.


Buder, S. (1990).Visionaries and planner: The garden city movement and the modern community.  New York, New York: Oxford University Press

Howard, E. (1945).Garden cities of tomorrow.London, England.  Faber and Faber Limited.

Scott, S. (2009). The ideal Soviet suburb. Panorama. Retrieved from www.design.upenn.edu/files/Panorama09_14_SovietSuburb_Scott.pdf.

Ward, S. (1992).  The garden city: Past, present, and future. London: E & FN Spon.

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