The image of the North-American residential protective-presentational boundary is that of a facade with porch, front yard or garden, and picket fence.

Different cultures, uses and densities have of course produced quite different images of this part of the city.

Storefronts with their signs and display windows.

Large apartment or townhouse complexes like the Royal Crescent at Brighton (England).

Or the Royal Crescent at Bath.

Modest doorways and retail outlets for local products like these houses in Portugal with their pottery displayed on the street.

Even communities of cave-dwellings reflect this pattern of protective-presentational boundary as a territorial intermediary between the public and private domain.

(The street-side facade of Massafra, a cave town in southern Italy)

The grand facades of larger religious and secular institutions are important for presentation of the institution and for definition of the public network.

(Piazza dei Signori, Verona)

Milan Cathedral

The Piazza Navona in Rome, originally a Roman circus, was regularly flooded for celebrations. The surrounding protective-presentational boundary (facades) establishes not only the territorial relationship, but the space itself.


The Palazzo Farnese in Rome is an example of a building for a single “family” group constituting an entire city block - providing clear definition of public and private domain and a continually legible protective-presentational boundary.

This twentieth century “squatter” settlement in Peru (a portion shown earlier) demonstrates:

  1. the opposite of the Palazzo Farnese in scale, planning, and luxury;
  2. contemporary vernacular understanding of the city block’s importance; and
  3. that there is no need for city blocks to be rectangular.

A similar development in Peru. This larger scale plan gives an idea of the pattern of sub division and of the relationship between public and private domain.

City blocks in central Malaga.

The North End of Boston.

The fifth century B.C. Greek colonial town of Olynthus provides an early example of service lanes in the centre of city blocks. (Note in particular the constricted entry to the lane, signalling restricted access in comparison with the surrounding public network of streets.)

Cambridgeport (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

City blocks do not require a continuous building edge in order to retain territorial clarity. Free-standing buildings are fine as long as the protective-presentational boundary is the consistent intermediary between private and public domain.

The Grand’ Place at Termonde, Belgium.

Note in particular the solid block of building at the bottom of the photograph: Here we see a full city block, with no private open space, surrounded by a protective-presentational boundary, which functions beautifully both to define territory and to define a number of specific parts of the public network.

This is a roof plan of a cluster of houses in Hydra, Greece. It appears to be a helter-skelter agglomeration of buildings

But when we see the pattern of lot sub-division the structure of the city block is surprisingly clear.


The village of Burguete, Navarra (Spain) is representative of thousands of small single-street communities. The relationship between public network, protective-presentational boundary, private domain, and pastoral backdrop is simple and un-ambiguous.

Walhufen village in eastern Thuringia (Germany): The same pattern of division, with the introduction of a central place and one internal city block. A marvelously fluid pattern of roads and fields.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada Logoño (Spain) was, like Burguete, a single-street pilgrimage and agricultural town. As it became more important as a pilgrimage town it grew - and the new larger town was made up of city blocks and a network of public routes.

Village of Finkenstein, Silesia (Poland)

A marvellous example of the simplest kind of urban agglomeration.

Cave villages are no exception to this pattern. Massafra, whose facades were shown earlier, is a typical example; a dry riverbed is the street, the walls of the gully are the facades, and the private domain sits in isolation from the public. Needless to say, the private domain does not give on to an extensive pastoral backdrop.

(The floor plan of a cave-monastery)

Gullies are not only possible streets for cave villages. In Matmata, in southern Tunisia, a system of craters constitutes the public network. These craters, which vary from 20’ deep and 40’ across to 30’ deep and 200’ across, are surrounded by entries to the individual units.

Port towns generally treat their harbours as public network - with the harbour often being the main commercial and social square of the community.

As in Hydra, Greece.

Norfolk, Virginia in the l7th and 18th centuries was an interesting exception: There the water was a pastoral backdrop surrounding the town; fishing grounds were the agricultural hinterland the same as the farm fields around a typical single-street village. The public network was the street: surrounded by building facades and giving access to the surrounding countryside - again, exactly like the main street in the single-street village.

Though exceptionally large, the palace and grounds of Versailles sat in the same relation to its village as any other use which abutted the pastoral backdrop.

The palace was the domain of a restricted group. The building facade and entry court confronted the public network of the village. The private domain consisted of the palace itself and the extensive private open space of the garden behind. The gardens abutted the pastoral backdrop of surrounding farmland and forest.

The same relationship existed in many royal palaces.
(The Estremadura, Queluz, Portugal:)

The Tuilleries Paris, too, were originally the royal gardens, sitting behind the royal palace and outside the city proper. The city later grew around the garden. - which became normal city park. And the palace became a public building in the park.

As mentioned earlier, fortress towns reflect the same pattern as the single-street village. The only exception being that the pastoral backdrop of communal or private gardens or pasture were often within the walls. The distinction between public network and pastoral backdrop remains clear.

(Wimpfen in Tal (Germany) 1840)

Werbellin, Brandenburg (Germany) was a typical “ring-fence village” as developed by colonizing farmers in Germany. Instead of building along the street, the villages were developed around a cul-de-sac which gave on to a by-passing country road. With the circular form the central square gains a certain concentration; while the garden plots, because of the radial sub-division, are of maximum size within the surrounding protective wall. The pattern is extremely efficient and exhibits the same territorial signals as the typical single-street village.

(The pattern suffers because its perfect form does not permit easy expansion - a characteristic which led to set populations: growth was accomodated by exporting un-wanted population to similar colonizations rather than by actual expansion.)

Briigge, Brandenburg.

(Surrounding roads are isolated from private open space by the fortress wall.)

Coleraine (Northern Ireland) 1683.

Carlisle (England) during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

These patterns are not limited to western Europe since the time of Christ.

Two groups of houses in the Sumerian settlement of Ur.

Egyptian fortress towns in Nubia

(Summa, Kumma, Shalfak, and Uronarti)

Nor, of course, are they limited to the “accidental” circumstances of vernacular building.

An ideal town designated by Albrecht Dürer.

Palmanova (Italy), 17th century.

Aigues-Mortes (France), a 13th century town created by Saint Louis, the king of France.

And, again, the 5th century B.C. Greek colonial town of Olynthus.

Most of these examples have been of villages and small towns. This view of 17th century Stuttgart shows a larger town in which different periods of development are discernible. Each period reflects the simple territorial modeling we have been discussing.

The interested reader should look at the l7th century Plan Turgot of Paris (excerpt showing Place des Vosges above) to see the unerring consistency of the pattern in a still larger city.

Once we become accustomed to looking at cities as agglomerations of city blocks, public network, and pastoral backdrop, the territorial structuring of even the most helter-skelter becomes surprisingly clear.

Post-Mongol Tashkent (Russia), a fortress town without a pastoral backdrop.

parks & squares

In the same way, the structural relationship of even the most familiar squares is more legible.

St. Mark’s Square, Venice.

Place del Campo, Sienna (Italy)

Air view of the Grand’ Place at Saint Trond (Belgium).

Note in particular the free-standing town hall which forms a miniature city block - and creates four distinct squares out of one large space.

A street in Hydra.

Some famous European squares. There are no particular points to be made. I am showing them with the hope that they might be seen a little differently than before.


A number of these squares evolved, at least in part, from carving public network out of existing private domain. The 19th century re-construction of St. Isaac Square in Moscow provides a particularly graphic - and surprisingly modest - example.

Plaza Redonda in Valencia: A residential development diagrammatically similar to Place des Vosges.

As mentioned in the text, it is often necessary to obtain new commercial frontage in a thriving district. And it is common practice to cut new streets and places out of the existing fabric.

This is a city block in Stockholm’s Old Town as it appeared before redevelopment:

A need for more commercial frontage in the area prompted the development of the block centre as public network (and the corollary conversion of the former back walls to protective-presentational boundary:


Exceptional building agglomerations have existed before the twentieth century. However, these exceptions seem consistently to be agglomerations of 1) an extended family, 2) a tribal group, 3) a nomadic or semi-nomadic group, or 4) a utopian or religious commune. The social ties, mores, and territorial sensibility of any of these groups are quite different from those of normal urban man: whose family, religious, economic, and property ties are distinct from (though often subservient to) his ties to settlement and community.

One of the main characteristics of these extended-family-type groups is the continuity and familiarity of their populations. This continuity guarantees a certain territorial and personal equilibrium even when the environment does little to support it.

Many city planners propose that homogeneous social groups present the same continuity and can also live in territorially casual environments. However, the financial and physical mobility of urban man, and his resultant anonymity, have little to do with the stable relationships of the extended family.

The tribal village of Bari in the Sudan.

Two stages in the development of Wasserburg, Buchau (Germany) 1100 B.C. and 1000 B.C.

Two stages in the development of the utopian Icarian Community, Corning, Iowa. (1857 and 1871)