The City—Terra Incognita
"The Kingdom of Curved Mirrors"
THE succint lucidity of the latin expression Terra incognita is specially significant; one repeats what the ancients once said—the earth is unknown and unfamiliar. It is romantic and mysterious and awaits its discoverers. It seems to me, the closer I observe the constantly changing city, that it is indeed a place full of secrets that throws up challenges to whoever chooses to explore it
What is meant by the unknown city ? My colleagues—the architect and town planner—might well protest in disbelief. It is we who, after all, create it at our will. Every year, according to our plans, new residential areas and entirely new towns are coming up. Models are expanded in to real life dimensions and targets are considered fulfilled.
How is it then that these real life towns begin to live by their own logic, beyond the comprehension of our professional expectations ? The assumptions of the town planner are refuted by life at every step. The city outgrows the framework of the planners' project. It behaves totally independently of its planned objectives. Almost out of spite, it grows where it should not be growing and shuffles about indecisively in those areas where growth has been planned. Jay Forrester, known for making dynamic models of cities, concludes that it is impossible to direct its development by using common sense. Such a conclusion implies that the town has a self-organising system inherent in it which is capable of upsetting the town planner's conception of the city as a built unit, a kind of superstructure or "a big complex house". Specialists of other disciplines will, however, hardly be surprised by this impression as they have a totally different outlook about the realities of a city.
The geographer, for instance, looking at the spatial aspects of the city concludes that densities of built-up space and movement diminish as one moves out to the periphery of the city. This characteristic does not change in time. Despite more and more buildings coming up in the periphery, the centre continues to be built in more densely. The gap between the city centre and its periphery only gets reduced but is not eliminated—rather like the curve of a graph that gets flattened without changing its character.
Journal of Arts and Ideas 65