6.2.2 Brief History

Reasons for the first appearance of highly ordered geometric forms in cities were the previously mentioned rapid physical developments - e.g. worker camps in ancient Egypt, Greek colonial cities, Roman military camps[01] - and the demonstration of political, religious or economic power - e.g. Agora, temple complex, palace - see picture 65[02].

picture 65: Geometric plans

1) Kahun/Egypt - residential town with worker's quarters - about 1900 B.C./
2) Rebuilding of Milet - Hippodamian system - after 479 B.C./
3) Neuß/Rhine - roman military camp - about 30A.C./
4) Spalato near Split/Croatia - the "palace" of Diocletian;
5) part of the the Palatine Hill/Rome;

Later in the Middle Ages the concept of grid-based city plans - the "geometric principle" - was still used if fast development was necessary, such as for military purposes, but also for trade- and colonial-towns. Apart from this "planned" group, the forms of many cities of the Middle Ages were compact but nevertheless irregular, in them buildings were situated around the central market square and the church, following the form of the terrain - the "geomorphic principle". The manifold townscapes of that time period were mainly caused by the competition between different social groups, such as clergy, aristocracy, citizens and craftsmen, who lived in separate buildings, streets or even districts - "many different decisions on a small scale". This also led to different expressions of their representation-buildings, such as churches, chapels, city halls and corporation-buildings[03].

The end of the flourishing time of Middle-Age-type cities came with the strengthening of the thoughts of territory and by that with the process of re-feudalism, which rang in a new epoch - Renaissance and Baroque. Many cities had to defend their freedom and prosperity against this new power of absolute principality. One of the expressions of this new power can be found in the idealized city-plans - most of which were orientating themselves on the 10 books of Vitruv - see picture 66[04].

picture 66: Geometric plans

1) Ideal city - Vitruv, 1st century B.C./
2) 4 to 12-cornered forms of towns with orthogonal street-systems - Pietro Cataneo, 16th century/
3) Fortification of a sea-harbor with a citadel - Pietro Cataneo, 1554/
4) Palmanova - ideal Baroque city, 1593-95/
5) Ideal fortification city with a separate citadel - Anonymous, about 1600/
6) Mannheim, plan of 1622.

Beside the influence of the rediscovery of the Greek and Roman architecture, both, the developments in the architecture of fortification - compact space and fast maneuverability - and the discovery of perspective - focusing the description on the eye of the viewer, which can be interpreted by relating the world to man - led to radial focus in city plans and by that assisted the development of ideal town plans. But only a few of these theoretical plans were finally realized, because the phase of increase in population and the colonization of the European continent were mostly finished in the middle of the 14th century - so there was no need for new towns or an increase of existing ones. Beside that the governments of that time lacked political stability and the money necessary for such long-time projects[05].

Then during the period of Baroque the population increased, so that new towns were necessary to relieve the old ones, whose city-wall-enlargements could not catch all inhabitants any more. Because of their expression of absolute power, the sovereigns supported the realization of idealized city-plans. In consequence it was the time of Baroque in which the views of Renaissance were put into practice: the city as a functional, calculated, homogenous, comprehensive work of art that represents an object of prestige[06]. Idealized plans were also applied to existing cities by the construction of idealized fortifications, but also by cutting up the existing structure for installing radial streets and straight axes. The concept behind idealized city-plans - perspective, fortification, visualizing power - can today be interpreted, according to the phenomenon of fractals, as those "simple" underlying rules which produce complex forms - the whole and the parts following the same principles and thus forming a unity.

The function of self-defense and protection against the surroundings of the idealized city-plans of the Renaissance and Baroque could be improved by increasing the available - wall - space, replacing the straight running fortifications by regular triangular segments, which allowed shooting at and protecting every segment of the border. The increasing length - space filling phenomenon - and the roughness of the border, showing indentions and convexities, indicate formal similarities to the Koch Island. Such similarities are also found in the regularity of the symmetrical-polygonal plans of Vitruv - see picture 67.

picture 67: Fortification

1) Ideal city - Vitruv, 1st century B.C./
2) Modified Koch Curve/
3) Defense systems.

After the period of "circular" idealized cities, planners once more turned back to grid-based plans. E.g. from the late 18th century onwards the development of American - "new" world - cities has been dominated by rectangular patterns, though physical constraints and individual decisions have often changed such pure gridirons. But also in the "old" world of the early 19th century the fast growth of "western world" cities led to a higher extension of planning - on bigger scale - and by that in matter of speed and convenience to grid-based plans - also symbolizing a break with the past[07]. Then the geometry of the ideal town has been changed during the 20th century: it has become more curve linear - keeping still linear nevertheless -, organized around communication routes - large road systems - with more focus on land uses than on specific buildings.

6.2.2.a Modern Grid-Planned Cities

In the article "Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab" Helmut Borcherdt describes the "planned" city Chandigarh by Le Corbusier as an example of a car-influenced garden-city-grid, where the building-blocks are situated on like soldiers on the drill ground. Everything is ordered and separated: different living-quarters for different social classes and separate sections for hotels, banks and shops - see picture 68. "Something beautiful evokes emotions, order by its own leaves one cold"[08]. This is a cry for a mixture of order and surprise whose expression comes through fractal geometry and its degree is given by fractal dimension[09].

picture 68: Le Corbusier - Chandigarh

Another example of a newer grid-based city is Islamabad by Doxiadis - the new capital of Pakistan[10]. In this case the site-plan of the city is crossed by water. But instead of reacting to the environment - which would have meant to break the straight lines of the grid and modify them, leading to a more fractal, "naturally" grown city-model - a lot of expensive bridges were built to continue the grid across the water, see picture 69. One more example of rectangular plans that show the lack of harmony between the city and its environment represents San Francisco, which got its typical character of steep streets by the straight, continuing grid put on a mountainous site.

picture 69: Doxiadis - Islamabad

What are the differences between these newer examples of "planned" cities and older "naturally" grown ones? The experience of space in older cities was reserved to the resting and walking viewer: in such cities every step changes the interactions of buildings, standing close side by side; the pedestrian is able to perceive the spatial structure of the townscape, the sequences of streetscapes and squares - the main object of perception in older cities was space. Newer cities are observed as space-time sequences at high speed - the spatial structure of the townscape is hardly experienced anymore by man, driving through the city, see picture 70[11]. It seems that today's city planning proceeds from the fastest possibility for moving from point "A" to point "B" in large streets by the fastest vehicle. In Chandigarh the negative fact of modern-planning is even stronger than anywhere else, because proportions are not appropriate for human beings and natural behavior has been excluded: e.g. the square in front of the government-quarter is too large to stay there, it is too hot to cross it by foot, and cars are parked only in regions of shadow, which leads to an empty, endless-looking concrete surrounding[12].

picture 70: Older cities - Newer cities; Slow - High speed.

Feldkirch, Austria. Lindau, Germany. Vancouver, Canada.

6.2.2.b Natural Growth - Two Hostels of the Yale Colleges by Eero Saarinen

There also exist examples of "modern" ways of planning that produce the character of growing, as illustrated by two new student's hostels of the Yale Colleges by Eero Saarinen of the year 1958 - the Stiles and Morse Colleges[13]. In this case, a small footpath - that is lying between the two new hostels - leads to the tower of an existing strongly symmetric new-gothic building. Opposite this straight building, Eero Saarinen put a semicircle to define the free-space as a circus that is enclosed by houses. During the planning he pinned up some of the most popular squares of Italy on the walls, including the one of Siena, which may be the reason why the resulting oval place reminds us of this famous one. Beside that, with lots of irregular edges and angles and different heights the row of buildings takes up the structure of an "naturally" grown Italian city: in contrast to the new-gothic buildings of the college, the student's hostels got romantic ground plans that should "conjure up" the feelings of an Italian mountain-village like San Giminiano - see picture 71.

picture 71: Eero Saarinen, Morse and Stiles Colleges.

Yale College - 1958-62
above: site plan with the 3rd, not realized college and place of Siena./ right: model of the colleges.

Eero Saarinen pointed out that parts of a building should follow the strong, simple concept of the whole - each part has to be an active part of a certain overall theme, which is valid for the ground plan, construction-systems, colors inside the house and even door-handles. Following from that he noticed that modern buildings would not have fit into the historical environment of Yale-University. Thus Eero Saarinen adapted them to the environment by using the concept of an old romantic city planning - in consequence everything had to follow this leitmotif. He called the concept "romantic" in the sense that the emotional value of the building is higher than the logical morphology - the modern style was refused because it offers nothing personal and subjective[14].


[01] Müller Werner and Vogel Gunther, dtv-Atlas Baukunst, Bd.1 (12. edition 2000), Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co.KG München, ISBN 3-423-03020-8, p. 109; "Hippodamian System" p. 167; "Castrum romanum" p.215.
[02] Batty and Longley, Fractal Cities (1994), Academic Press Inc., ISBN 0-12-4555-70-5, p. 19.
[03] Müller Werner and Vogel Gunther, dtv-Atlas Baukunst, Bd.2 (11. edition 2000), Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co.KG München, ISBN 3-423-03021-6, p. 329.
[04] "De Architectura" 88-26 before Christ.
Koch Wilfried, Baustilkunde - Das große Standardwerk zur europäischen Baukunst von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, Mosaik Verlag, p.404.
[05] Benevolo Leonardo, Die Geschichte der Stadt (8. edition 2000), Campus verlag GmbH Frankfurt/New York, ISBN 3-593-36439-5, p. 577.
[06] Koch Wilfried, Baustilkunde - Das große Standardwerk zur europäischen Baukunst von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, Mosaik Verlag, p.404.
[07] Batty and Longley, Fractal Cities (1994), Academic Press Inc., ISBN 0-12-4555-70-5, p. 32.
[08] Borcherdt Helmut, Architekten - Begegnungen 1956-1986 (1988), Georg Müller Verlag GmbH, ISBN 3-78844-2181-4, p.208.
[09] Remember: Order alone is the lack of interesting turns, surprise, but in contrast only surprise cannot be understood, which means that there is no confirmation, a city therefore needs both.
[10] Borcherdt Helmut, Architekten - Begegnungen 1956-1986 (1988), Georg Müller Verlag GmbH, ISBN 3-78844-2181-4, p.214.
[11] Borcherdt Helmut, Architekten - Begegnungen 1956-1986 (1988), Georg Müller Verlag GmbH, ISBN 3-78844-2181-4, p.214.
[12] The grey-brown concrete buildings have been ageing in a bad way, which is due to the different behavior of material in a climate different from Europe.
Leaving the quarters of Le Corbusier means to return in the "normal" living confusion of city-life with streets full of people. Idealized city-plans based on grids have one important weak point, their lack of harmony with their surroundings.
Borcherdt Helmut, Architekten - Begegnungen 1956-1986 (1988), Georg Müller Verlag GmbH, ISBN 3-78844-2181-4, p.210.
[13] Borcherdt Helmut, Architekten - Begegnungen 1956-1986 (1988), Georg Müller Verlag GmbH, ISBN 3-78844-2181-4, p.101.
[14] Borcherdt Helmut, Architekten - Begegnungen 1956-1986 (1988), Georg Müller Verlag GmbH, ISBN 3-78844-2181-4, p.105.

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