Friday, May 14, 2004

The City's City Planner

I used some of my birthday money to purchase a new book: Lisa Jardine's The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man who Measured London.

Robert Hooke was a "Renaissance man" of seventeenth century of London. He researched in a number of scientific fields, including architecture and urban planning. He socialized with all the great thinkers of his day (including Newton), but he has remained in their shadow. However, four books have been written about him in the last two years.

I chose this book after seeing a lecture from Jardine that was broadcasted on CSPAN. Hooke was involved in rebuilding London after the Great Fire. Christopher Wren is given credit as the king's city planner for designing the new London and for using new techniques of planning. John Barnett (in The Elusive City: Five Centuries of Design, Ambition and Miscalculation)credits Wren with planning on a grand scale. He used a top-down perspective, looking at the city as a whole but preferring aesthetic elements in design. The older methods of planning, one building at a time and based on traditions within the community, were displaced. He preferred large boulevards. What Wren tried to represent was the glory of the kingdom. The architecture-driven aesthetic that Wren developed created a vocabulary of scale that influence the design of almost all capitals that followed.

Hooke, who was Wren's friend, was the planner for the city of London. He was hired to press the city's interests in remaking London--interests that did not always agree with what the crown wanted. One issue about which Jardine spoke was the design of the cathedral: the crown wanted a dome to represent the spirit of the times and the power of monarchy, the city wanted spires that could be seen far away and represent the power of the city oligarchy. The result was a massive dome, one that Jardine says is quite unnatural for the size of the building.

I have a tall pile of books that I must read first. This one will have to wait. On a side note, I received an interesting novel that is an artifact of the American civil rights movement: Sutton Griggs' Imperium in Imperio. It looks really good.


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