4.241J | Spring 2013 | Graduate

Theory of City Form

Lecture Notes

Lec 12: Transformations V: Panopticism, St. Petersburg and Berlin

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Lecture Summary

The transformation of the nineteenth-century city involved new forms of management and information, spatial specialization, and expressions of institutional control, aspects of which are the subject of this class. Prior to the first census of 1801 there was not the urgency to enumerate populations systematically as became necessary with the extended modern city. There was also less need to measure complex space, specify legal boundaries and produce the specialized plans that the new urban management required. (Recall Turgot and Verniquet’s maps as precedent for the first urban plan of Paris.) New architectural typologies emerged as the city began to change from the random form of medievalism to the rationalization of modernism. The house, previously inclusive and promiscuous, was subject to classification and division into parts. Haussmann’s boulevard house has levels of social class from basement to attic. The journey-to-work now deals with the new separation of domestic and labor. The response to the recognition of people as individuals is special types to suit their specialness: Ledoux’ project for the House for an Intellectual is an example. The architecture of loose agglomeration and addition is replaced by buildings with clearly articulated and apparently complete and similar forms for orphanages, asylums, schools, slaughterhouses and other institutions, as evident in the plans of the hospital near Notre Dame before and after the fire.

Institutional expression changes from the display of public violence, such as torture and the guillotine, to an expression of criminal reform. Prisons no longer need dark, hidden dungeons but can now be light and exposed, as fortresses are replaced by economic geometry. Bentham’s invention of the panoptic form in 1787 follows this principle: “the prisoner is seen, but he does not see: he is the object of information, never a subject in communication.” Hard control is replaced by soft control, an image that commentators such as Virilio extend to contemporary urban surveillance. The use of idealizing geometry, symbolic control and specialized types can be seen in the salt production facility built by Ledoux for Louis XV at Chaux, where the accommodation of the factory boss, the white-collar and the blue-collar workers are identifiable around a hemi-spherical space. For further insight into the expression of power at a larger scale, two avenues are compared: the Hitler/Speer proposal for the main axis for Berlin, and the Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg. In the Berlin case, the enshrinement of permanent power (the “theory of ruined value”), the design by comparison and analogy (“We must surpass Paris and Vienna”), and the devotion to a never-ending style (Empire and Neo-Empire) are posited against the St. Petersburg example. The 2.5-mile-long Nevsky Prospekt is axially focused on the Admiralty Building, the façades represent an apparently random mixture of palaces, churches, government buildings, department and book stores, and libraries (almost the whole city is represented on the road), the architecture of the street is strong but not exceptional, and the street displays its capacity to change and incorporate the memory of change over time (the Barricada cinema now at the site of the bridge revolutionaries in 1917).


Handout for Lecture 12 (PDF)

  • Page 1: Peter’s Nevsky Prospekt in modern-day St. Petersburg

Referenced Texts

Friedman, David. “Palaces and the Street in Late-Medieval and Renaissance Italy.” (PDF - 5.7MB) In Urban Landscapes: International Perspectives. Edited by J. W. R. Whitehand and P. J. Larkham. Routledge, 1992, p. 93. ISBN: 9780415070744.

Examples, Precedents, and Works

Panopticon (Jeremy Bentham); Fresnes prison, Hôtel-Dieu de Paris, and Arc de Triomphe (France); Ville de Chaux, Saline Royale at Arc-et-Senans and director’s house, and house for intellectual (Claude Nicolas Ledoux); Volkshalle (Albert Speer); Nevsky Prospekt in 1725 and 1850, Anichkov Palace, Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace, the Passage, Alexander Library, Kazan Cathedral, and Moika Crossing (Moscow, Russia)

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Spring 2013
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