Theses Doctoral

Global Townscape: The Rediscovery of Urban Life in the Late Twentieth Century

Subramanian, Divya Sethi

This dissertation is a history of the Townscape movement, a town planning movement that emerged in 1940s Britain and that emphasized mixed-use planning, urban density, and vibrant street life. It follows Townscape’s key figure, the architect Gordon Cullen, through space and time: from the London offices of the Architectural Review to Delhi and Kolkata, where Cullen consulted for the Ford Foundation during the 1960s, and finally back to 1980s Glasgow and the London Docklands, where his ideas were recast in the context of urban regeneration under the Thatcher governments.

Accounts of the postwar return to the city often center the American urbanist Jane Jacobs and the rise of urban design in the United States. Yet this narrative obscures a broader global story of the fall and rise of cities in the postwar period—one that brings together histories of welfare, development, and decolonization. Reaching back to the movement’s roots in the eighteenth century colonial picturesque, “Global Townscape” argues for Townscape as a post-imperial cultural project. Drawing on insights from the newly opened Gordon Cullen archives at the University of Westminster, as well as extensive work in Indian archives, it shows not only how Townscape was refined through architects’ engagement with the postcolonial world, but also how it originally emerged from the complex aesthetic and political demands of representing empire. As such, it situates the movement within a longer history of liberal political thought, its contradictions and critiques, while looking ahead to Townscape’s influence on the texture of urban neighborhoods today.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2026-06-07.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Pedersen, Susan G.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 16, 2021