The Grid Cities: Between Tradition and Innovation

The Grid Cities: Between Tradition and Innovation

Francesco Rotondo (Polytechnic of Bari, Italy)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3613-0.ch007
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The pattern of the grid city now seems dated and far from the metropolisation phenomena that characterize contemporary cities. In fact, as already happened in the past, the grid cities manage to evolve favoring the needs of its contemporary inhabitants. In this chapter, the authors try to understand some phenomena that characterize the transformation of the urban form of the grid city, highlighting its own ability to evolve between tradition and innovation. During these 200 years, the grid city, its buildings, and its public spaces were created, lived, and processed in multiple ways: built, replaced, drawn, renovated, restored. Here, the authors do not want to describe these planning and building tools, but they want to discuss the possible implications of the different transformation modes used in the grid city can have on urban and architectural perception of the physical space, the quality of life, and viability of these central places for the city's identity. The city of Bari, on the Adriatic Coast, in the South of Italy, is used as a case of study to represent concepts developed in the chapter.
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In this study, in concentrating on the genesis and evolution o of the urban space’s shape of grid cities, which Lynch defines as a joint effect of the place and society that uses it (1981), we have focused on the first of the two Causes, the place, converging on the elements of descriptive taxonomy that characterized this particular and diffuse urban morphological structure.

In the case of the modern city the characterization of the urban system with its basic architectural unity, the block, automatically produced a sort of road “chessboard” with its block's perimeter continuous facade giving rise to an “introverted” system without apparent interactions with the historic city, in which functional centralities had an irrelevant morphological role.

In this case, it is difficult to talk about the structural power and the morphogenetic capacity of the strategic functions, as Petrignani and Porsia (1982) claim in the case of the city of Bari1, the lack of any monumental factor as a reference point for development, the absence of a relationship between infrastructures and houses capable of affecting its shape reduced the grid city to a physical homogeneity that could only be delimited from the outside.

The same feeling is declared by James Traub (2004), referring to the grid structure of New York City Manhattan when he clames “it has no center … If you asked a New Yorker for directions to ‘the center of town’, he would be bewildered.”

From a morphological point of view, overcoming the grid-like pattern of the city has brought the urban tissues of the premodern and modern city, decomposing in open forms thinned in less and less compact spaces whose shape is increasingly pointing inside rather than outside. These issues are intertwined with the most relevant ones related to the regeneration of urban neighborhoods that have grown in a hurry, requiring integration, formal formatting of spaces, fragment re-compositions, and reuse of existing areas.

The will expressed by scientists, scholars, political decision-makers to pursue sustainable development and the consequent attention to avoiding soil consumption have once again made it necessary to reuse, modify and make contemporary types of buildings and urban tissues built at other times.

Grid cities are among the most popular urban models in the world and therefore represent an indelible historical, architectural and settlement heritage to be refurbished and reused also with the aim of avoiding further soil consumption. Obviously, this will clash with the need to maintain the integrity of the values and the historical characteristics of urban grid tissues that need to be innovated and updated to the functions of contemporary living.

Therefore, after describing the state of the art of urban morphology studies, which are the foundation of this work, and the relevant relationships with sustainable development and soil consumption, it will be treated the multiple modes of intervention possible in an historic urban fabric as nowadays can be considered grid cities, outlining possible future directions for research and development, which can be summarized in some fundamental questions.

What challenges and possibilities face the city today and how might innovative solutions emerge out of (and in turn modify) the existing street grid?

What new infrastructures will the city require–or what existing infrastructures might be rethought–and what impact will they have on the grid? How might responsive technologies interact with the grid to imbue it with a radically new kind of adaptability, one that changes from morning to night, or day to day?

All the considerations in the work will refer to the city of Bari as a case study in which to represent the concepts illustrated in the text. A brief introduction to the “grid” of Bari will be inserted before the paragraph devoted to future research and development directions to allow for a better understanding of the images and examples used. The paper ends with some concluding remarks on the research results.

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