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Hanson, Julienne. “Order and Structure in Urban Design: The Plans for the Rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666.” Ekistics 56, no. 334/335 (1989): 22-42.

Dr Julien Hanson on Order & Structure

Page 22.

Whenever we design, whether it be a building, an urban area, or an entire town, we tend to use order concepts to organize the plan: order, in the sense of principles based on some generally accepted notion of sameness, repetition, geometry, grid, rhythm, symmetry, harmony and the like. These concepts speak to us directly without mediation, and can be apprehended at once, almost as a gestalt. Because order concepts are formal, they ap- pear logical. Order concepts are one of the principal means by which we recognize the architectural imagination at work. There is a tendency to assume that order yields structure in the experiential reality of the buildings and places we create through architectural means: structure, in the sense of making places intelligible through creating local differences which give both a sense of identity and a grasp of the relation between the parts and the whole, such that we are able reliably to infer the global form from any position within it. But order and structure are not the same thing at all. A plan or a bird’s eye view represents buildings and places with a conceptual unity which cannot be duplicated on the ground because we do not experience architecture this way. Moving about a building or place fragments our experience. We learn to read structure over time. Hence, an apparently disorderly layout may turn out to be well-structured and intelligible to its users, whereas a highly-ordered architectural composition may in fact be unstructured when we experience it as a built form. However much we may appreciate order concepts when criticizing architecture on the drawing board, well- structured realities seem to be what matter most on the ground, not least by generating and controlling patterns of everyday use and movement.

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Conclusion: Natural and artificial cities It is customary today to discuss the morphological pro- perties of organic, vernacular or “natural” cities as if they are a completely different, and therefore incommen- surable phenomenon from planned or “artificial”47 cities. It has even been argued48 that this is the case because the mind operating reflexively is incapable of concep- tualizing complex overlapping socio-spatial realities like cities and has therefore to clarify them by reducing them to simple organizing principles in order to design. If little headway appears to have been made in this debate, it is perhaps because it is predicated upon a fundamental confusion of order concepts with structure concepts. In the absence of tools to investigate structure in natural cities, there is no way to approach the framework of of major buildings both syntactically and visually. However, this view does not survive inspection of the built form of Restoration London and morphological con- tinuity is accompanied by a radical transformation in the appearance of the City both in public and in everyday buildings. Order concepts found a place not in plan but in elevation, and the City of Restoration London presented of urbanization which is given by the pattern of streets and urban blocks other than by addressing those features which are immediately available to visual inspection. For the most part this results in a negative discourse: one which identifies and focuses upon what is absent in organic cities – lack of order – rather than what might be present. This is no less true with visually well-or

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designs where the very transparency of the visual order renders geometrically designed, planned cities opaque in terms of how they actually structure space. Here, the struggle to appear profound all too often seems to state the obvious at the level of order in the plan, and yet to miss the point. This is becoming increasingly clear in the “post-modern” period where geometricity holds sway in urban design and yet many proposals appear curiously unrealistic. Discourse does not provide the tools to criticize, yet scepticism increases in the face of ar- chitectural striving for greater and more elaborate visual arrays. Cities like the City of London which grew up by accre- tion may look different because they have few readily identifiable ordering principles but they may be well- structured. Planned cities may be more obviously ordered but order does not guarantee structure any more than its absence is indicative of chaos. An understanding of both, looked at separately and together, is a necessary first step to unify the field of urban morphological studies. Looking at cities in this way may even make the ter- minology of the “natural/artificial” debate obsolete. Both order and structure are present to some degree in all urban configurations. The problem is not to classify them in terms of “either/or” but to capture the degree to which either or both are necessary to make a working, pleasing town. Because they are different dimensions of the morphological field, rather than opposite poles of a one-dimensional reality, order and structure can work hand in hand or in opposition, to create different kinds of town. Wren’s plan reproduced much of the structure of mediaeval London, but it was visually more order-rich. Newcourt’s plan, although highly visually ordered, con- centrated all structural differences between levels in the socio-spatial hierarchy thus leaving each layer relatively unstructured and homogeneous. Hooke’s design displayed a correspondence between structure and order in that the remnants of the naturally-evolved City and the more differentiated and individuated public buildings were both segregated in relation to the highly ordered, but internally homogenized grid. Knight’s design related visual order to spatial structure almost arbitrarily so that, had it been built, the working life of the town would have undoubtedly proved a puzzle to its residents. In Evelyn’s design the effects of the two were actually opposed, so that the very places where he envisaged that the public life of the town would be concentrated were the most inaccessi- ble to the natural pattern of use and movement. These reflections on the relative impact of structure and order in design are entirely consistent with an understanding of how organic cities both order and struc- ture public space to different degrees. The Restoration City gains in order at the global level, but loses it at the local level when set alongside its mediaeval counter- part. Its structure, however, is largely unaffected. It is feasible to set both alongside the proposals for rebuilding and compare them all in terms of structure, and to reflect on the source and nature of differences which lie below those surface appearances which are captured and represented in the plans. A more complex view which attempts to isolate the impact of order and structure in generating and control- ling the framework of a city leads not just to a more informed debate about the relationship between history and morphology, but also to a more liberating view of design. Architecture may not be doomed to a perpetual inadequacy resulting from an assumed inability to grasp complex overlapping realities. There is another way. Rais- ing structure to a level of conscious investigation alongside order may lead to a situation where claims made at the drawing board are capable of translation into well-structured and therefore liveable urban places.