Steadman (1983) opens his book on block morphology with a quote from Sir Christopher Wren: ‘it seems very unaccountable that the generality of late architects dwell upon [the] ornamental, and so slightly pass over the geometrical, which is the most essential part of architecture’ (Wren, 1750). I am not entirely sure that architects today dwell so much on the ornamental as was the case during the 1700s and 1800s. Venturi (1972), writing on the Enlightenment, notes that ‘the stylistic eclecticism of the nineteenth century was essentially a symbolism of function’, something that is no longer the case in architecture today. The geometric arrangement of spaces remain a core issue in the creation of new buildings however.
My research this year is rooted in the creation of urban blocks – specifically rectangular urban blocks. It is completely conceivable that the urban block may take on other forms however the infrastructural context in many cities is rectangular grid and ‘unusual’ shaped blocks tend to be the exception to the rule as opposed to the norm. This does not mean that it is impossible to use a set of geometric rules in pursuit of a block that is not rectangular; as Steadman (1983) noted in the opening chapters of his book on block morphology, it is possible to distort a regular shape on a grid while retaining many of the properties of the initial shape.
My studies in dissection and density of the urban block, the relationship between structure and floorplate, speculations on a hyperrational urban block, and modularity in the urban block have all been influenced to some extent by Steadman’s research.
Steadman, P. Architectural Morphology: An Introduction to the Geometry of Building Plans. London, Pion Ltd, 1983.
Venturi, R. Scott Brown, D., and Izenour, S. Learning from Las Vegas, M.I.T Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1972.
Wren, C. Parentalia: or, Memoirs of the Family of the Wrens. London, 1750.