City in Negotiations: an intro on ancient spatial language in modern order
Some Philosophical Underpinnings in City and Teleological Question
Architectural culture and its biological analogy to spatial logic of cities originated from the nineteenth century biology. Particularly the morphological observation of plant and animal structures constitutes the Excluded Middle[i] of ‘new science’ dichotomised from religion to confront teleological question. Gnosis within humans’ empirical encounters of natural history, focusing on nature and order are analogous to city’s developmental design and history of progression. Karl Kropf categorises difference between the developmental (‘ontogenetic’) and transformational (‘phylogenetic’) concepts of metaphysical change borrowed from modern biology[ii]. Implicit to the philosophical nature of cities’ change and context within cultural environment that he affirms to: “…however long [city’s] history, does not evolve, it develops…” (Kropf, 2001: 32-3, 36; emphasis added). Philip Steadman in The Evolution of Designs (2008) also traces the origin of biological ideas in design theory of modern architectural movement that led to modern scientific methods, such as spatial taxonomy and process typology. His critiques on direct biological analogy, though relate to western design theory, has pointed out a functional fallacy rooted in Darwinian misinterpretation on the teleology and developmental progression of cities.
The crux of theoretical debate is in the logical difference between human ‘cultural evolution’ and organic evolution argued for better understands humanity through metaphysical artefacts, such as city’s origin and configurational morphology. City’s teleological question in urban development or ‘urban evolution’ may be discerned that that mistaken proposition on the adaptation and progression of human cultures effecting on ‘unseen’ spatial structure of cities, described as mere ‘evolution’, is mechanically directly analogous to the evolution of organism in modern urbanism.
[i] Hiebert, P. G. (1982) The Flaw of the Excluded Middle in Missiology: An International Review, Vol.X, No.1, January, 1982. Pp.35-47
[ii] Kropf, K.S.(2001) Conceptions of change in the built environment. Urban Morphology,Vol.5(1) Pp.29-42
A Fallacy Equating Urban-Cultural ‘Evolution’ to Organic Evolution
‘Urban evolution’ as a key metaphor gained from study natural history and its interactive forces, biologically analogues to city’s development and transformation were observed by city morphology thinkers (Norberg-Schulz, 1976; Aldo Rossi, 1982; Hillier, 1996; Cataldi, 1998; Malfroy, 1998; Albert Levy, 1999; Karl Kropf, 2001; Oswald & Baccini, 2005). Theoretically, city configuration is seen as an evolutionary product of heredity. That is, ‘cultural evolution’ in the human hereditary material consists of mental concepts or information in records, books, artefacts, [and in spatial configuration of built environment], and passes through [instructive] channels such as [governmental] education, [oral tradition] and experience of individual life and [socialization] (Durham, 1990 emphasis added).
Arguably, the concept of progressive ‘cultural evolution’ critically looks at built environmental development that ‘are not objectively determined first but created by cultural heredity values and human purposes’ (Steadman, 2008: 188). Such that, human survivals in the instance of establishing a fortified city for protection of and against invading cultures and economic interests can be noted from
Graphic courtesy of Teh Wei Kian
However, the ‘unseen’ cultural and socialisation effects on the physical expansion of the city is a key to decode ‘cultural evolution’ in city restructuring. Reflecting on Sahlins’ ‘logic of culture’ (1985) that ancient oral narratives of the Potawatomis indigenous people, especially from the ‘Metis’ (hybrid of Potawatomis and French descents) passed on intangible beliefs on landscape story[i] and geography of the Chicago Portages (south-westwards ancient passages that lead to meet their divine Great River, connecting to present day St Louis Mississippi River of the mid-west United States of America) to the colonists since the 1600s, had conceived the physical development of Chicago as a regional city centre. Relevance may be drawn to re-evaluate how modernist city planning has or has not fallen into two types of evolutionary fallacy.
[i] Available texts and material evidences to-date, suggested the existence for the urban prehistory of
Graphic courtesy of Teh Wei Kian
(b) Ancient Portages
Having said this, it is to acknowledge any attempt to simplify the complexity of city planning and design is to be avoided, and as much as any inductive fallacy itself is to be precautious. The examples given in this essay, and within its scope, are to signify how modernist prioritises in defining functional aspects of city, ignoring culturally acquired characters that are heritable and cumulative before the derivation of city configuration. Case studied of Manhattan and Chicago is to analyse how modern planning of the City Beautiful Movement in the turn of the twentieth century, use spatial language of ‘Order, Dignity and Harmony’ is still influential to city design norm in prioritising physical (tangible) functions over inherited cultural meanings today.
Second type of logical fallacy deals with technicality of evolution analogy that undervalues conscious and deliberate contribution in human creation of urban configuration. That is, within organic evolutionary framework, the production of city designs in urban plans is achieved through ‘selection’, working on variations which are generated randomly. Thus, logically implied reducing the role of planners and associates to ‘copy’ from other cities’ planning and designs, detecting shortcomings by chance and making accidental changes to assist at the natural creation of city configuration (Steadman, 2008). Following this line of logic, the fallacy is in the absence of conscious cultural anticipation by human negotiations. Such that, ideas conceived through generational socialisation to produce a common “survival” language – the symbolic and functional city geometry co-exist with ancient urbanism in the creation of modern cities are ignored. This evolutionary fallacy illustrated in case studied in Taipei, is relevant to re-evaluate City Beautiful planning principles applied, and denote surviving urban-cultural signifiers in contested conjuncture sites, still carrying heritable acquired characters expressed for symbolic city configuration since antiquity.
Negotiations in City Grids: Manhattan Re-ordered
Human negotiates within and without the city for space and use of land for values. Multitudes in values of land that has been used, subduing, and to be assigned are comparable to rational complexity that negotiate cities and their grid formations. While grid geometry has been universally referred by ancient and modern cities in rationalising land use and space network, the incremental development rhythm of surviving ancient urbanism off-beat by rapid industrialisation based on another type of rationality in machine-economic efficiency. New sets of grid network superimposed to the old, creating a hybrid of grids that may have transformed the logic of city space and sense of religiosity during machine-age progress. Yet, underneath grid logic of modern cities, some regards ‘pseudo science’ whenever urbanism discourse is related to the structure of human-cosmic transcendence. Such that, human rationality of modern city living no longer depended on a combination of natural and metaphysical shape and forces that signify sense of space - landscape referents or landmarks, and sense of being in time – flux of schedule and spontaneity according to cosmic principles for ‘truthfulness’ and human creativity. Thus, ingenuity in legible city structure invented combining seen and unseen grid order is replaced by efficient web of spatial movement. Such as hard-surfaced paths, service lanes, marginalised streets, extended vehicular roads, mass transit and centralised