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Order and structure in urban design: the plans for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666

Hanson, J.; (1989) Order and structure in urban design: the plans for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Ekistics , 56 (334-335) pp. 22-42. Green open access

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Abstract

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 appear 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 inter 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. This view is argued here by looking at an historical example from urban design: the proposals for the redesign of the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666. If order concepts have any place in the architecture of the cities of the future, it is to confirm structure and not to disguise its absence.

Type: Article
Title: Order and structure in urban design: the plans for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://www.ekistics.org/
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School > Bartlett School of Graduate Studies
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/18699
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