Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Complexity in strict Urban Grids

Street market in Mexico. Internet download from aerial pictures of Mexico

Fishermen Village in Manila. Internet download.
The general perception of the urban grid is to take it as a succession of square foundation established by law. For Buenos Aires, Las Leyes de Indias. However, the idea of strict geometry is negated by the very principle of the origins of Etruscan-Roman foundation, forming part of the rites of construction and military settlements, whose final form was under the constraints of the site. In the first part of the rite, the “augur” saw coordinates in the sky, the point where they crossed, was projected on the floor, and it became the "Center" of the city called “Templum "; his decision was the recognition of the "divine will". The templum was a diagram drawn on the ground, in a specific place, and was not a literal transposition of the guidelines advised by the scrutiny of the sky, but its character was completely analogical: it was an order in the complexity of the sky, transposed to the land through a drawing, gestures or words. The Templum could be drawn, said or gestured. The augur’s diagram was usually a circle which divided the territory into four parts by two main roads going from north to south and from west to east. The -urbs quadrata- square city, conflicted with the circle that contained it. The rest was a subdivision of the original division, which leads to the idea of recursion. For the reasons exposed above, I consider that the grid, despite being planned, can become, in some societies, a rigid idea embodied in complex form.

This happens not only in Buenos Aires, but in many complex cities which grid has been distorted by the real urban fabric. And what is more, some vernacular examples as the pictures shown, have the colorful tents and different precarious roof materials to increase the confusion. The original grid can only be understood if seen from the sky. And it is not an easy task.
To beautifully illustrate the concept, I copy here an excerpt of Italo Calvino’s“ Invisible Cities”, page 96, Cities and the Sky.

“In Eudoxia, which spreads both upward and down, with winding alleys, steps, dead ends, hovels, a carpet is preserved in which you can observe the city’s true form. At first sight nothing seems to resemble Eudoxia less than the design of that carpet, laid out in symmetrical motives whose patterns are repeated along straight and circular lines, interwoven with brilliantly colored spires, in a repetition that can be followed throughout the whole woof. But if you pause and examine it carefully, you become convinced that each place in the carpet corresponds to a place in the city and all the things contained in the city are included in the design, arranged according to their true relationship, which escapes your eye distracted by the bustle, the throngs, the shoving.(…) But the carpet proves that there is a point from which the city shows its true proportions, the geometrical scheme implicit in its every, tiniest detail.
It is easy to get lost in Eudoxia: but when you concentrate and stare at the carpet, you recognize the street you were seeking in a crimson or indigo or magenta thread which, in a wide loop, brings you to the purple enclosure that is your real destination”.

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