Handout (PDF): Five sites of the machine model on a westward trajectory from the 3rd century BC to today.
The concept of the city as analogous to a machine has a long history: it occurs often when there is no long-term goal in mind but the settlement has to be created hurriedly and its future growth will be determined by still unforeseen forces. Its form requires a few simple rules in order to get on with the urbanizing task and the outcome is factual, functional and without any attachment to the mystery of the universe. Among its attributes are convenience, speed, flexibility, legibility, equality, and speculation.
These are explored in a set of cases from the 3rd century BC to contemporary times. The workers' dwellings built rapidly close to Egyptian mortuary sites are gridded in a per strigas form, "monotonously alike…, the very pattern of mechanically devised industrial dwelling." Unlike the form of their capital city, the Greek colonial trading cities of the 5th to 3rd centuries BC are made up of equalized rectangular blocks to allow a democracy of lots to its settlers and, according to Mumford, to provide the legibility necessary in a new climate of commercial trade. Despite Rykwert's assertions of the role of metaphysics in Roman city building, rules of castramentation (the cardo and decumanus alignments and equal lots) and centuriation (the fusing of urban and rural land geometries) dominate the creation of the 5,267 settlements built by the Romans. The 13th century colonial expansion of the 177 Bastide towns in south-western France follow an orthogonal order of a pair of double axes marking a center and surrounding equal-sized chequers. Perhaps the most complete and widely imposed practical handbook of city building instructions come from the colonization of the Americas by Spain according to the Laws of the Indies proclaimed in 1573. These laws govern site selection, street and block layout, orientation, central plaza, public buildings, walls, common lands, the distribution of lots, and even the style of buildings. The American land expansion, both religious and commercial, to the west is examined in the light of "grids of expediency", as is the 19th century expansion of the Manhattan grid as a system which "is the most cheap to build and the most convenient to live in." The assertions of Mumford and Sennett of the capitalist/grid relationship are challenged in this discussion. Finally, many of modern machine appropriations in city form, such as linearity, are explored as are many of the metaphorical attempts to link the form of cities, Archigram, for instance, to those of machines.
Castagnoli. Orthogonal Town Planning in Antiquity. pp. 2-7, 56-64.
Collins. "Linear Planning Throughout the World."
Doxiadis. Architectural Space in Ancient Greece. pp. 3-24.
Guidoni. "Street and Block from the Late Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century."
Miliutin. Sotsgorod. pp. 64-86.
Reps. Planning in Frontier America. pp. 24-47.
Sennett. The Conscience of the Eye. Chapter 2.