Form

Aerial view of San Francisco
San Francisco, US. Image courtesy of Author.

 

40. The main force which shapes human settlements physically is centripetal—that is, the inward tendency towards a close interrelationship of all its parts.

According to Doxiadis, all parts of a settlement seek to be as close to one another as possible, tending to “…form a circle with a centre which exercises a centripetal force” (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 309). As new pieces are added, they tend to form around the perimeter, each seeking to be as close as possible to the centre.

A brief look at human settlements across history will serve to substantiate this law. From the Sumerian city-state of Ur in Ancient Mesopotamia to the contemporary ideal diagrams of transit-oriented development, Ebenezer Howard’s “Garden City” to Christopher Alexander’s “Eccentric Nucleus” pattern, it is clear that the circular, centripetal settlement is a dominant pattern. As such, many smaller settlements tend towards a tight and cohesive shape.

That said, as history also demonstrates, the circular form serves as more of an ideal model, deforming in response to outside forces (Law 11) and natural features (Law 27 and Law 43). Moreover, issues related to the dimensions of smaller components that make up the texture of a settlement (Laws 3839) necessarily influence the amount of concentration possible. Even in the era of vast suburban expansion, interstitial waste landscapes and ‘in-between dross’ we see this tendency, albeit at different scales than those of old settlements. Even a brief look at satellite images of the earth shows interconnected clusters of roughly circular settlements.

It is worth noting that the law implies a ‘centre’—that is, something to concentrate around and pull other aspects towards it. Interestingly, Doxiadis suggests that the tendency to form tightly around a nucleus is not as strong within very small settlements of “say, ten or 20” buildings (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 310). At such a scale, central functions have yet to develop.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Anthony E.J. MorrisHistory of Urban Form Before the Industrial Revolution
  • Spiro KostofThe City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History
  • Peter CalthorpeThe Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream
  • Hank Dittmar & Gloria OhlandThe New Transit Town: Best Practices In Transit-Oriented Development
  • Ebenezer HowardGarden Cities of To-morrow
  • Alan BergerDrosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America
  • NASAView of the World at Nighthttps://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NPP/news/earth-at-night.html

 

41. Although the centripetal force at play ideally appears as settlements of concentric circles, the ultimate forms of settlements are conditioned by curves of equal effort defined dominantly by physical exertion, time, and money. These, in turn are influenced by related factors such as geography, geology, topography, and technology.

Expanding on the idea put forth in Law 40, this law describes the means by which the ‘circular ideal’ is distorted, transformed and/or modified. He suggests that “effort”—physical exertion, time and money—conditions the development and growth pattern of a settlement. In keeping with the clarifications made in Law 27 and Laws 30-32, these are also greatly influenced by other issues such as geography, topography, geology and technology.

Through this, Doxiadis provides a number of relevant insights. In a small hillside settlement where the only means of transportation is walking, for example, he suggests that physical exertion is the dominant type of effort determining settlement form. In this case, its ideal circular form will be elongated laterally parallel to the terrain contours since movement is easiest horizontally, as opposed to going up or downhill.

Issues around physical exertion are particularly relevant in contemporary planning, given its focus on walkability. There are many examples of commercial streets that fail as ‘walkable’ corridors because they were designed perpendicular to the slope direction, instead of in keeping with the contours, for example. In such cases, other mechanical methods of transportation (cars, buses, trams, etc.) that minimize physical effort are required for their survival. Streets like North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Avenue in Canada, is an interesting case in point.

In circumstances where inhabitants are wealthy enough to own vehicles that travel at higher speeds (Law 15) with minimal effort, Doxiadis states that time becomes the dominant factor shaping a settlement. So, in a settlement where streets are of equal speed, its form will be roughly circular. However, the inclusion of roads that allows twice the speed of the typical street—such as a highway—will deform the shape of the settlement “corresponding to a combination of the time required for the movement both within the normal network and on the highway.” This is one of the many issues that account for the transformation of the traditional compact American city to the well known ‘sprawling’ metropolis of the present, in the wake of national highway networks.

Last, Doxiadis put forward the notion that money—in the form of transportation-related costs—takes a dominant role in the shape of settlements that offer a range of conveyance options (foot, car, public transportation, etc.). This, in turn, leads to more complex forms “since the movement of one part of the population may be determined on the basis of human effort required, another on the time required, and a third on the basis of money needed” (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 311).

Although to contemporary eyes this law oversimplifies the issue, the fact that physical exertion, time and money can and do directly affect the form of settlement (vis-a-vis transportation) is critically important to remember. Equally significant, and only implied in the above, is the fact that transportation, movement, and access—who can move where, over what amount of time, and how much does it cost—have larger social implications. This, in turn, has a strong relationship with the distribution of wealth across a settlement and one’s ability to travel through space. Steven Graham’s lucid account of the socio-political issues related to vertical systems in Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers (described briefly in Law 27) is an important resource around this subject. As is Christine Boyer’s The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Urban History.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Anthony E.J. Morris History of Urban Form Before the Industrial Revolution
  • Spiro KostofThe City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History
  • Stephen GrahamVertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers
  • Christine BoyerThe Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Urban History

 

42. Linear forces lead to the formation of linear parts of settlements; under certain conditions, this may lead to a linear form of the entire settlement for a certain length only, and after a certain period of time.

Although the main forces acting on a settlement tend towards a circular form (Law 40) and issues around effort (Law 41) distort and transform this ideal, other uses and functions promote the formation of other shapes of settlement. Of these, linear forces are among the most popular and are often driven by transportation—such as waterways, highways, and streetcar lines. Landscape constraints can also be strong linear forces (Law 43).

In East 40 Degrees: An Interpretive Atlas Jack Williams describes various linear settlements including the “Railroad Towns” of the 19th century, whose linear forms come from following “the geometry of the tracks. (Williams, 2006, p. 22). Even more common are the linear ‘streetcar suburbs’ of North America, whose history and development are well chronicled in Kenneth T. Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier.

This process is explicitly represented within Bruce McDonald’s Vancouver: A Visual History. Consisting of a sequential series of land-use diagrams of over a century of development, the book clearly captures the linear development of Vancouver’s early suburbs along the local interurban lines.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Hank Dittmar & Gloria OhlandThe New Transit Town: Best Practices In Transit-Oriented Development
  • Jack WilliamsEast 40 Degrees: An Interpretive Atlas
  • Kenneth T. JacksonCrabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States
  • Bruce McDonaldVancouver: A Visual History

 

43. Undetermined forces, usually caused by the form of the landscape, lead to the formation of settlements of undetermined form.

As mentioned briefly in Law 42, other factors, especially landscape constraints, play a large roll in shaping a settlement. Laws 30-32 describe the elements of landscape that affect settlements more explicitly—such as the interaction between geography, topography and geology—as well as other ‘softer’ variables, such as wind and sun.

Jack Williams highlights various settlements shaped by landscape in East 40 Degrees: An Interpretive Atlas, such as the “Alluvial Towns” along the Appalachians that “respond to the shape of stream valleys” and towns of Pennsylvania that “exhibit an order that arises out of the parallel folds or ridges of the Appalachians” (Williams, 2006, p. 222).

Similarly, Spiro Kostof describes a variety of settlement types largely influenced by landscape features, from the “riverine” settlements with streets that respond to riverbanks, to linear towns—such as Perugia, Italy—that form along the ridges of hills and mountains.

The effects of landscape cut across scale and time. As explained by Anthony Morris, the “linearity of the Forum Romanum was determined mainly by topography” (Morris,  1979, p. 47).  Other ‘softer’ influences, such as sun and wind, are seen in the form of the ancient Greek city of Priene (Behling) and Winchester, England (P. Kilby), respectively. More recent examples include many informal settlements, such as the favelas of Rio de Janeiro (Graham) that are intricately shaped by the ‘unbuildable’ slopes of the surrounding mountainside.

Ultimately, the forms of settlements shaped by landscape constraints are variable and ‘undetermined’. Still, it is important to recognize that their resulting forms are guided by an inherent logic described by the limitations of geography, topography, geology, sun, and wind.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Jack WilliamsEast 40 Degrees: An Interpretive Atlas
  • Spiro KostofThe City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History
  • Sophia Behling & Stefan BehlingSolar Power: The Evolution of Sustainable Architecture
  • P. Kilby, “Historical Influences Of Wind And Water In Selecting Settlement Sites” in Eco-architecture: Harmonisation Between Architecture and Nature (C. A. Brebbia)
  • Anthony E.J. MorrisHistory of Urban Form Before the Industrial Revolution
  • Stephen GrahamVertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers

 

44. The form of a settlement is determined by a combination of central, linear, and undetermined forces in adjustment to the landscape and in accordance with its positive and negative characteristics.

Laws 40-43 look individually at critical aspects that influence the form of settlements, as a means of focusing on their impacts separately. This law emphasizes their collective effects, and as such is the most realistic description of how settlement form is determined. Although certain determinants take priority under any given circumstance, the number of variables affecting settlement form are always numerous.

The degree to which the factors involved are considered ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ is subject to differences in cultural values and needs (Laws 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). This being the case, settlements come in all shapes and sizes, taking advantage of the often-challenging sites they tend to inhabit. Bernard Rudofsky does well to describe this variety in Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture—from the burrowed settlements within China’s loess land and Italian hill towns, to the cliff dwellings of the Dogon in Mali.

This early study has been greatly expanded by those such as Paul Oliver, whose many books offer an exhaustive account of vernacular dwelling types, their corresponding settlements, and the various factors that influenced their form.

It is interesting to note that this law not only speaks to how the form of a settlement develops—such as, the fact that elongated valleys will necessarily bias the creation of elongated settlement or that settlements form along locations where the water is easiest to cross—but also implies that it will occur in a particular sequence. For example, sites that are difficult to build on—such as swamps and deltas—will most likely develop last, with the easiest sites being built up at the outset.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Bernard RudofskyArchitecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture
  • Paul OliverDwellings: The Vernacular House World Wide and Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World
  • Paul Oliver, Marcel Vellinga, & Alexander BridgeEncyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World

 

45. A settlement grows in the areas of the greatest attraction and least resistance.

In this law, Doxiadis suggests that settlements develop in areas that are the most attractive to their creators—based in needs, values, etc. (Law 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)—and offer the path of least resistance to their development (Law 41). He also takes the opportunity to concisely summarize Laws 4344:

“….that settlements and their overall functions develop along their main lines of transportation, conditioned by other elements, such as Nature, the type of Society, special functions, the types of transportation used, the cost of movement, etc. These laws also lead to the statement that the growth of settlements take place on the basis of curves of equal effort, equal time, equal money, etc., or a combination of these, as adjusted to the actual landscape” (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 311).

Not addressed in this law, however, are broader ‘hidden,’ but equally powerful forces, that affect the location and development of human settlements. Keller Easterling’s research into the invisible rules that dictate the creation of built environments—such as ‘free zones” that exist ‘outside’ of the local customs authorities for the purposes of encouraging economic activities—are indicative of the complex contemporary mechanisms that dictate “areas of the greatest attraction and least resistance”.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Keller EasterlingEnduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades and Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space

 

46. A factor with a direct impact on the form of a settlement is the need for security which may, at times, be even more important than the main centripetal force.

Safety is one of the core physical needs of human beings (Law 4) and, by extension, one of the necessary requirements of a settlement. Therefore, according to Doxiadis, security can trump virtually any forces—including the powerful centripetal force (Law 4041)—that influence the form of a settlement. The use of settlements as a means of defense is ancient in origin, creating a wide variety of walled towns, defensive villages and cloaked cities of civilizations past. Authors such as Anthony Morris and Spiro Kostof discuss these at length.

In the past, centripetal forces and the need for security often coincided to create circular settlements. This form minimized wall length to be defended while maximizing the enclosed area. In contrast, the rise of the airplane as a military force fueled the argument for, and subsequent creation of, dispersed settlements that spread away from any central ‘core.’ This distributed a low-density population across a maximum area, in order to reduce potential casualties.

As such, many architects and planning professionals touted security in the promotion of creating radically decentralized settlement patterns during the mid-twentieth century. This being the case, it advanced the argument for the centrifugal pattern that inflated the distance between spaces so common today. The writing and work of Ludwig Hilberseimer were fundamental in promoting this pattern and his influence is well described by Albert Pope in Ladders and Charles Waldheim’s Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory.

At the smaller scale, the importance of safety and its impact on the built environment are captured well by Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space. The book proposes that certain physical attributes and configurations promoting ownership by inhabitants will ensure a safer environment.

At the end of the day, understanding settlements through the point of view of security is important. It forces critical reflection on a variety of issues—from new weaponry and technology (i.e drones) to natural phenomena (earthquakes, etc.)—and their relationship to settlement patterns (nodal vs. linear, compact vs. distributed, etc.).

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Anthony E.J. MorrisHistory of Urban Form Before the Industrial Revolution
  • Spiro KostofThe City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History
  • Ludwig HilberseimerThe New Regional Pattern. Industries and Gardens. Workshops and Farms
  • Albert PopeLadders
  • Charles WaldheimLandscape as Urbanism: A General Theory
  • Oscar NewmanDefensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design

 

47. Another force that exercises an influence on the form of a settlement is the tendency towards an orderly pattern.

The predisposition for order is fundamental to human nature. Although Doxiadis neglects to give a specific definition of order, in the context of the built environment, Francis Ching’s will certainly suffice. Within his book Architecture: Form, Space and Order, Ching establishes order as the “condition of logical, harmonious, or comprehensible arrangement in which each element of a group is properly disposed with reference to other elements and to its purpose” (Ching, 2007,  p. 415). He offers and describes a number of architectural ordering principles accordingly.

Order is also at the root of Christopher Alexander’s influential A Pattern Language, which cites cross-cultural patterns of settlement. In “The City is not a Tree”, however, Alexander importantly defines two different ways of thinking about the order of the city. On one hand, he describes what he believes is the reductionist model of the city as a branched, tree-like diagram that separates and isolates functions and activities. On the other, the complex order of the multilayered “semi-lattice” within which uses can interact in an infinite number of ways. In doing so, Alexander highlights the significance of distinguishing between different types of order when it comes to human settlements.

In light of the above, it is clear that all settlements are ‘ordered’ in some way. However, Doxiadis importantly points out that ordering becomes more difficult to manage—and perceive—as settlements increase in size. As highlighted in Kevin Lynch’s seminal Image of the City, humans have found ways to navigate large settlements and make them ‘legible.’ But it remains challenging and a matter of critical research, particularly as settlements continue to expand. In fact, one of the main charges against suburban sprawl is its seemingly ‘random’ pattern of buildings and spaces.

In keeping with his laws, Doxiadis positions the issue of order between two contradictory extremes: that of the circular ’wheel’ based on centripetal forces and that of the grid—the ideal of absolute order. Within this range, he posits, people attempt to make appropriate decisions about the distribution of people, buildings and open spaces. How this is achieved depends on specific circumstances.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Francis ChingArchitecture: Form, Space and Order
  • Christopher AlexanderA Pattern Language
  • Christopher Alexander“The City is Not A Tree” Architectural Forum (1965)
  • Kevin Lynch Image of the City
  • Nikos A. Salingaros Principles of Urban Structure

 

48. The final form of the settlement depends on the total sum of the forces already mentioned, as well as others such as tradition and cultural factors, which play a greater role in the smaller scales. The final form is a result of the interplay of these primary, secondary, and tertiary forces.

In Good City Form, Kevin Lynch states: “City forms, their actual function, and the ideas and values that people attach to them make up a single phenomenon”  (Lynch, 1981, p. 36). This not only applies to cities, but to settlements of all types. Unique cultural values and traditions shape the needs of people, as well as their perception of a place. This is elegantly described in “The Beholding Eye: Ten Versions of the Same Scene” within which D.W. Meinig describes the same landscape through the mind’s eye of different ‘people’.

Given the varied nature of socio-cultural values and traditions and how they interact with the many forces upon them (Laws 45 and Laws 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47), which ones take priority is difficult to predict. A ‘suitable’ location and/or size of a settlement, for example, differs according to one’s unique perception and value system. These variables are more clearly seen in smaller, newer settlements where fewer agents are involved in their shaping. Similarly, fewer physical layers caused by historical growth and development often leaves the initial conditions and solutions more comprehensible in these settlements.

With growth (Laws 1213), time (Law 14) and size (Laws 2829), however, settlements develop a thick skin of physical and cultural layers that are complex, plural and even conflicting. This is echoed in Henri Lefebvre’s thoughts around spaces interpenetrating and superimposing upon one another over time. Naturally, these are much more difficult to decipher.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Kevin LynchGood City Form
  • D. W. Meinig, “The Beholding Eye: Ten Versions of the Same Scene.” In The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays, edited by D. W. Meinig and John Brinckerhoff Jackson
  • Henri LefebvreThe Production of Space

 

49. The form of the settlement is satisfactory only if all the forces of varying importance within it, can be brought into balance physically.

The importance of the internal (dynamic) balance of settlements was discussed in Laws 22-24. According to this law, balance must be physically expressed, as the diverse forces acting on a settlement find (dynamic) equilibrium in its material form. As with all major aspects of a settlement, forces are distributed and balanced across different scales. For example, the design of a house is more directly influenced by the forces acting on it at the neighbourhood scale versus those acting at the regional level. This is particularly evident when neighbourhoods support or condemn certain types of housing within their respective areas.

Certain higher-level forces do act at smaller scales, however. Using housing as an example once again, municipal level rules and regulations—i.e. zoning, building by-laws—affect the type and distribution of houses in a city, as well as their massing and allowable floor space. These rules can even get into minute details, such as regulating plant choices. The history of regulations and their impacts are well outlined in Emily Talen’s City Rules.

As a counterpoint to the house, global forces—such as large-scale economic shifts—tend to find their physical scale of influence at a higher level, at least at the outset.

Extremes aside, there is often a limited range within which most forces act physically. In order to remain healthy and viable, they must maintain a certain degree of (dynamic) balance within the form of a settlement.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Emily TalenCity Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form
  • Eran Ben-JosephThe Code of the City: Standards and the Hidden Language of Place-Making
  • Donald L. ElliottA Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities

 

50. The right form for a human settlement is that which best expresses all the static positions and dynamic movements of humans, animals and machines within its space, while ensuring a healthy ecological setting.

The importance and influence of movement and transportation were touched upon in earlier laws (Laws 9, 15, 24, 4142, and Law 45), particularly in relation to certain machines and technologies (cars, airplanes, etc.). In early societies and those without modern technologies, accommodating the movement of animals was critical and was formalized in the shape and dimensions of streets (Hakim). This is seen in many settlements that have maintained their historic physical structure. Settlements with street widths of 7’-8’ are not uncommon, for example (Southworth/Ben-Joseph).

What is particularly noteworthy about this law is the reference to both “static positions” and active movements. Doxiadis recognizes that settlements require places of pause and rest, and that these need careful treatment relative to spaces of movement. He gives the example of a central square used for walking, standing and slow circulation, stating that “roads leading to it should not be open, since this will transmit the image of through movement, which is contrary to the function of stability in the square. The perspective leading to such a square should be closed, only then will it truly express the real needs of the square and those who use it” (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 314).

These sentiments are echoed in Jan Gehl’s promotion of the human scale (Law 25) and the need to account for different types of movement—moments of rest and motion—in his well-known book Life Between Buildings. Arguing that successful public spaces and public life require focusing on the creation of environments that foster “optional activities” (walking, standing, people-watching), his work has influenced the design and transformations of cities globally.

Although the significance of the interaction between settlement and ecology was only beginning to be recognized during Doxiadis’ time, its critical importance has come to the foreground quickly, particularly with the rise of climate change. As such, it would be negligent to omit ecological responsibilities when it comes to the “right” form of settlements. I have added this to the original law, accordingly.

The growing relevance and emergence of landscape and ecology in the design of settlements is well captured by Charles Waldheim in Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory and Randolph Hester’s Design for Ecological Democracy.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  •  Besim Selim HakimSidi Bou Sa’id, Tunisia: Structure and Form of a Mediterranean Village
  •  Michael Southworth & Eran Ben-JosephStreets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities
  •  Jan GehlLife Between Buildings and Cities for People
  •  Jeff SpeckThe Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
  •  Charles WaldheimLandscape as Urbanism: A General Theory
  •  Randolph Hester Design for Ecological Democracy

 

51. The right form is that which expresses the importance, class, and consequently, the relative scale of every scalar settlement unit and their subdivisions.

Connecting the structural ‘texture’ of a settlement (Law 3839) to those of physical form, this law speaks to the significance of ensuring that all scales and the elements from which they are composed are physically expressed in a settlement. For villages or small cities, for example, he states that the traditional block should be expressed as an important subdividing unit. In doing so, he emphasizes that the relationships are scalar (Law 0). Thus, a large city requires a subdivision of a higher order (larger than the traditional block, such as a superblock), while the smaller unit can, and should, remain expressed as its smaller subdivision.

In contrast to Doxiadis, Anne Vernez Moudon argues in Built for Change that the building/house is a basic cell of the city, while the lot is basic cell of neighbourhood. Similar to Doxiadis, however, she puts forth the argument that these should be expressed as units of subdivision.

As discussed in Laws 3435 and Laws 3839, many urbanists interested in complexity and hierarchy theory, such as Nikos Salingaros, N.J. Habraken and Serge Salat, have also pursued this claim. Each of which has described the importance of maintaining, and adding complexity to the existing physical scales of a settlement over time, without erasing earlier structural elements. According to Doxiadis, all of these would consequently find physical expression in a healthy settlement.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Anne Vernez MoudonBuilt for Change: Neighbourhood Architecture in San Francisco
  • Nikos A. SalingarosPrinciples of Urban Structure
  • N.J. Habraken Structure of The Ordinary
  • Serge SalatCities and Forms: On Sustainable Urbanism
  • Kevin LynchGood City Form

 

52. The densities in a settlement, or in any of its parts, depend on the forces which are exercised upon it.

Some will find it curious that Doxiadis refers to density in only the broadest terms. That is, he defines the term to include residential, population, commercial, building, traffic, recreational and institutional, to name a few. This makes sense given that his research cuts across settlements of all scales and that, although the term is most popularly used in contemporary discussions referring to residential uses, density as a topic is much more meaningful when discussed across all spectrums of use and function.

As with all aspects of human settlements, Doxiadis talks about density in the context of the dynamic forces being exerted on it (Laws 1, 2, 3, 4 and Law 22). In doing so, he argues that any discussions around densification in the broad sense, must be placed within a larger understanding of the instruments exerting these pressures across all scales. Too frequently, the ‘how’ of densification, or de-densification, is given with limited or minimal understanding of the ‘why’.

From a global perspective, density is much more nuanced and complex than often portrayed. Density responds to the vast array of forces described across all these laws (physical, geographic, cultural, economic, political, for example). The scalar nature of this is understood in reflecting on the ‘hidden’ infrastructures that concentrate commercial, industrial and residential densities globally towards economic development (described eloquently by Keller Easterling), as well as the small-scale concerns of local neighbourhood groups fighting against high-rise towers.

Making things more difficult, how a settlement responds to density pressures given its innate inertia (Law 18) is a constant challenge. Anthony E.J. Morris, for example, explicitly describes ancient Rome’s inability to comprehensively restructure itself due to all the layers of building accrued over time. This, in turn, affected the everyday functioning of the city. Foreshadowing the plight of many contemporary cities, Morris highlights that the density of pedestrian and vehicular traffic was so high by the time of Julius Caesar that he was “forced to ban transport carts from the city during the hours of daylight, with the exception of builders’ carts and a few categories of official chariots” (Morris, 1979, p. 45).

Strategies around limiting transportation densities are mirrored in contemporary cities where congestion charges have been implemented (i.e. London and Singapore) and/or car prohibitions required (such as Mexico’s Hoy No Circula program).

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Keller EasterlingEnduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades and Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space
  • Anthony E.J. Morris History of Urban Form Before the Industrial Revolution

 

53. In human settlements formed by a normal process, the pattern of densities changes in a rational and continuous way, according to the scale of the settlement and the functions it serves.

This unassuming law is powerful in its implications. It states that, under a ‘normal’ process of settlement evolution, density extremes are not possible. Doxiadis defines ‘normal’ as processes that are allowed to gradually take place over time and respect the natural structure of the settlement (its scale and subdivisions, etc.) with minimal, if any, artificial impositions and limitations.

In his words, it is impossible for any space “which has developed normally, especially at a normal speed, to have an area with a density of inhabitation, functions, investment, and settlement not adjusted to the whole. If, in the texture of the settlement, there is any wasted space, it will tend to be taken over by functions that will fill this area at a required density of people, functions, and investment. If this does not happen, it will usually be due to man-made conditions of legal, administrative or economic significance” (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 316).

The implications of this principle are far-reaching. It both critiques the contemporary motivations and forces behind settlement building practices that foster density extremes, while simultaneously putting a very heavy burden of responsibility on those who impose “man-made conditions” that curb the gradual processes of settlement evolution.

Sympathetic voices to this law are abundant—from Jane Jacobs’ call for gradual ‘organic’ self-governance and growth to Leon Krier’s decree of the skyscraper as built solely for “speculation, or short-term gain, or out of pretentiousness” (Krier, 2011, p. 178) and in response to the abundance of extremely low-density environments that cover the terrain.

Donald Elliot’s sharp critique of current zoning practices in A Better Way to Zone attempts to address this issue explicitly. His call for “responsiveness” and “predictable flexibility” raises questions around time (short-term vs. long-term interests) and the need to have a system that can adapt to the dynamically changing forces affecting settlements.

There are no easy answers to the challenges put forth by this law and the definition of what constitutes ’normal’ is ambiguous, at best. However, the recognition that any artificial imposition on the form of settlements has significant effects across scales and over time is important to keep in mind. As such, critically reflecting on the underlying motivations behind any transformations to “normal processes” must be continuous.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Jane JacobsThe Death and Life of Great American Cities
  • Leon KrierThe Architecture of Community
  • Donald L. ElliottA Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities
  • Emily Talen City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form

 

54. The satisfaction derived from the services provided by a settlement to its inhabitants depends greatly on the proper density of the settlement.

Referring specifically to the importance of cost-distance and time-distance factors outlined in Law 37, Doxiadis’ final law connects the latter to the issue of density. In many ways, this principle can be captured by the argument for transit-oriented development and Smart Growth, whereby the density of different uses—transportation types, living, working, recreation—are distributed spatially in sympathy with time and cost constraints.

Recognizing the interconnectedness of these three variables—density, time and cost—Doxiadis describes that a settlement might have a large number of inhabitants, but if they are distributed over a large area relative to themselves and central functions, the services will necessarily be very low.

Furthermore, he states that: “since time- and cost-distances increase with lower densities, the services provided at lower densities decrease in importance” (Doxiadis, 1968, p. 316) Although there are a variety of different density types (Law 52) affected by a diversity of variables, Doxiadis suggests that they all tend to increase and/or decrease at the same time.

 

FURTHER READING (full citations found in reference list):

  • Constantino DoxiadisEkistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements
  • Peter CalthorpeThe Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream
  • Hank Dittmar and Gloria OhlandThe New Transit Town: Best Practices In Transit-Oriented Development
  • Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, and Mike LydonThe Smart Growth Manual

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The Laws of Settlement by Erick Villagomez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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