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Relentless magnificence: The American urban grid

Major, MD; (2015) Relentless magnificence: The American urban grid. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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This thesis is about the urban morphology of American cities. Many see American cities as a radical departure in town planning history due to their planned nature based on geometrical division of the land, but other cities in the world also began as planned towns with geometric layouts so the American city is not unique. Space syntax studies analyzing deformed grid layouts of organic cities show they also have an intrinsic geometry underlying their apparent disorder, and a well-defined spatial pattern governing powerful links between layout and urban function. Why did the regular grid come so pervasively to characterize American urbanism? Is the spatial pattern underlying the apparent order of American cities really so different? Using Marshall’s (2005) distinction between composition and configuration, the study reviews the literature about regular grid planning in the United States and elsewhere in the world and surveys formal composition in a historical record of American town plans. The study analyzes spatial configuration in historical and contemporary American settlements using space syntax, finding that formal composition and spatial configuration in the American city does represent a radical departure. Namely, configuration enables American cities to overcome their expansive metric scale in the horizontal dimension through widespread use of the regular grid. However, American cities are subject to the same processes linking layout and urban function during growth as in other types of cities around the world. The thesis concludes Americans were predisposed to regularity in town planning from the very beginning for practical, cultural, and socioeconomic reasons, making the regular grid a characteristic feature of American cities even as design preferences changed during the post-war period. Because of this, a distinctive spatial structure emerges from amalgamating towards and fragmenting from conceptual order during urban growth in American cities even as it converges on the ortho-radial grid.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Relentless magnificence: The American urban grid
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > The Bartlett School of Architecture
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1469275
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