seeing cities

WHY ARE WE GOING TO this city?

Today we shall go to this city to see something different. Something else: The power of your own frame of reference.

Project it onto everything you see; project faces onto houses and trees. Step into that framework of familiar references, Be imprisoned by your own familiar context.

The less you have seen the more cosy your frame of reference: the better it fits. The whole world must be the same as this little place.

Out there I have created fierce monsters of the imagination to inhabit your horizons.

Warning: Look for difference = Develop a perspective.

Why do we have to be able to analyse a city?

The architect analyses the city as a construct to his or her own purpose.

The city is a place where people come together to live the good life as Aristotle is purported to have said.

The good life is a supersystem, the idea of which affects every aspect of life in the city.

Every time the architect intervenes in the urban fabric he contributes to the construct of the city and his work becomes itself part of the context of the future.

The city is both a whole and a concatenation of parts

It is both:

· A product and a process

· A set of interlinked parts and a whole

· Obedient and incapable of categories

The analyst knows this. He knows that it is impossible to understand the whole without reference to the parts and it is similarly impossible to understand the parts without reference to the whole.


What to do?

The tension between those who divide and those who have an abhorrence for division is laughable and irrelevant.

Take the categories for what you decided they were.

Take them, if you like, as little black boxes of which the true content is all but certain.

Use them always with the knowledge that the truth will be more than that.

We are to analyse the urban context so that we may respond adequately to the place when we design the intervention.


What does responding mean?

It does not mean merely borrowing little visual references from the locality and incorporating them in your own design. That is the worst and most patronising form of tokenism.

Nor does it mean merely fitting in for the sake of bowing to the context.

Appropriate response is a sifting of priorities. A politcal act then...


Forging an adequate response to an urban fabric is to take into account why the urban fabric has taken the form it has and then making up your own mind whether the causes of that form are still relevant to you. Whether their memory should be preserved. Memory is precious. It is easily damaged by eradication and preservation. It succumbs quickly to wellwishers and offers no resistance to rape. The well meaning attempt to preserve memory never succeeds in the way you hoped it would succeed, its success will always be someone else's.


Analysing the urban context will tell you why a form is the way it is. · It will tell you about the many generators of that form, the scenario's of history, with their actors, agents, angels, gameboard rules and devillish plot · and it will tell you how and why the form changed over time. Both the plot of change has to be accounted for, has to be assessed for its purpose and made subject to discussion using simple questions:


What? Recreate what happened by describing it. Remember that description is an act of creation. So describing a history is to a certain extent recreating it in your image.

When? Pin the event in relations to other events

Where? Pin the events in relation to their place and the places relative to them.

By Whom? A universe is brought to bear on the event, by having been caused and acted out by someone.

How? This someone followed a way

Why? Who knows?


Then ask the question: have these generators and parameters retained their meaning? Do we have to remember everything? Remember Borges, the poor boy who remembered everything, what a prospect!. Should we not rather create more wonder? What do we mean by meaning? There are several sorts of meaning, all of which may be applicable to one artefact. Meaning is closely related to use and use, in turn can mean anything from contemplative to utilitarian, from prayer and enlightenment to sewage systems. There is


The practical meaning: What consequences does the form of the artefact have for the business of everyday life?


The technical meaning: What were the limits and opportunities of technology when the artefact was built?


The socio-cultural meaning: How does the artefact speak of the social structures, hierarchies, norms and habits of the people, both when it was made and now and what is the gap between them?


The economic meaning: How has the artefact participated in the economy of the city?


Symbolic meaning: Symbols retain the obsolete. Important ones (monuments) have had great influence in the determining of urban form. How?


Are there any other kinds of  meaning out there....?


Geographic/Topographic Meaning: How does the artefact respond to, take part in, the geographic, socio-geographic and topographic qualities of the region or locality?


How to analyse a city.

When we take away the interference of man we get to the conditions imposed on the city by nature_without_man. Analyse the conditions imposed by nature_without_man: · Topography: the shape of the land. · Geography: (which includes topography) also looks a the natural products and distribution of features within the land · Geology: treats of the structure and constitution of the ground. · Climate. A city has two main dimensions and a third, smaller one, pointing up. Above it is the sky and below it is the carrier of the city: the ground. The carrier of the city, the ground, provides resources, provides the relief of the city, unless it is artificially altered and to some extent determines the scale of the settlement. This in itself raises interesting questions as Tyndal noticed in The Architecture of the British Empire: A good place for a colonial city: often a machine for exploitation, is not necessarily a good place for a megalopolis to grow on. Why not?

Then man comes along. With the arrival of man a number of fundamental decisions have to be made. The placing of the city. The first fiat: Why there? Why not elsewhere? Where is the true starting point of the city? Where did the settler stand and say: “here”? Did the city builders ever change their mind about the placing of the city. Why? The road to the place. How was the first place accessed? The subdivision of the land and the road structure. The pattern of a city is always subject to models and socio-economic pressures. The relations between the subdivision of the land and the road structure are related like the photograph and its negative. Decisions about the scale of both these elements have important consequences for social life. How was the scale and form determined? Kostof made a useful division between the organically “grown” city and the “planned” city. Most cities have elements of both. Some started off as grown cities and later had patches planned, others started off as well planned cities but in their growth and for all sorts of possible factors like land ownership or the more immediate pressures of rural to urban migration lost the opportunity to respond adequately. What is the form of the city as a whole: why has it developed that form? How has it changed over time? Most cities are collages or patchworks of districts. These districts are rarely homogenous. The road dividing one district from another frequently forms a smaller district of its own and hinges the two districts around it. Then there is the arrangement of public space versus residential space Some interesting questions to ask are: how do these districts meet? What happens in between them? and how does the earlier patch respond to the new situation? How has the newer patch locked itself on to the old? Why have these changes occurred what have been the consequences of these changes?

We have now mentioned the word district and that, legitimately brings us down to the Lynchian “elements” of city form which concentrate on the city as a complex product: The elements of the city · Districts, Patches, Neighbourhoods, Communities: These are all areas with specific configurations of qualities. · Blocks: subdivision of land between streets. The block is consists of the building and land. One usually encloses the other. The form and relationship of the block to the land is often of great social significance: what happens inside, the burgage plots, what happens in the alleys and cul de sacs. · Edges & Boundaries, Connections (meta-districts or nodes, i.e. districts formed of the meeting of two districts) What are the edges like, are they hard or soft for instance? What about street frontage and can you read from the façade what happens behind it. Forms of defence and their effect on further growth. Walled edges, meeting the water, City gates and the transformation of arrival. The soft edges of suburbia. Forms of segregation · Paths: These need to be studied in relation to their appropriate scale: Roads are artefacts which concern the city as a whole and affect the city on every scale, streets are relevant to the districts they serve and can be seen on the scale of the city as a whole only in relation to the network the are part of. Sidewalks and the different forms of traffic, how do they rub? · The axis: A coming together of paths nodes and landmarks. · Nodes (see also above) Where doe people come together how do they come together, for what reason. Parks, squares, gaps in the fabric, criminal corners, markets. · Landmarks & Monuments. Not all monuments are landmarks not all landmarks are monuments. Monuments tend to have a very deep effect on the growth of the city. How do their presence affect the pattern of the city? Landmarks are points of orientation · Grain: The size of the buildings in relation to the amount of space around them: density and scale · Views, panoramas, and skyline · Relief of the city: How does the city sit on the land, how has that been used to good advantage? · The meeting between the ground and the building: the way the topography and the buildings interact. · Degrees of enclosure of the artefacts Public space is where the city extends into the building (Nolli’s plan of Rome) But this is only half of the story. There is also: the city as process · Growth: outward sprawl, inwards with further subdivision, layered renewal when earlier buildings are cleared for the new and upwards. · Time and place There is the lovely phrase, again from Lynch: what time is this place? Streets, like the sun, have a course to run everyday. The moment you enter a street you receive a snapshot of the street at that moment. · The movement of Crowds through the city · The effect of revolutions and wars and Natural upheavals or Disasters: Fires, hurricanes, earth-quakes. These great movements often cause a city · Gentrification and slummification: Neighbourhoods change through the metabolism of human settlement and according to socio-economic factors. How do they change? · The processes set in motion by ideologies: Ideologies frequently start off very optimistic about what can be achieved, later this is transformed into more realistic or even disappointed ambition. Politics may affect the patterns of human settlement. In your analysis of the city it is important to turn your observations to good use with regard to your purpose. What does your observation mean? How is it useful?

Well, all the events and phenomena you observe have (at least) three aspects to them. · You observe that a thing is the way it is and you describe it. · Then you inquire how it came to be that way.

Then you ask what the consequences are of this observation for your own purposes.

You can only observe through your senses, of which the eye furnishes you with the richest range of possible experiences but not necessarily with the most powerful. · What do I hear, what do I see, what do I smell, what do I feel, what do I taste? · What is my observation a sign of? How does this sign tie in with the behaviour of people, the city as construct, etc. · How will this affect my project? · A Number of Exercises Keep a logbook of the tour, record in it all your sketches, thoughts, your impressions. Compare your early impressions with your later ones. Walk through the city until you find a nice place. Then, systematically try to describe in words, diagrams and sketches what makes this a nice place. Read the facades of the street and try to decypher what is behind them.

Think of how you are reading these facades.