Following the Industrial Revolution, the countryside was emptied and the cities were filled; however until 1867, there was no discipline that dealt with the design and management of the city. The discipline of Urbanism was thus born.
“[…] the word urbs is a syncope of the word urbum, that is the plow, a tool used by the Romans to draw the limit of the space to be occupied, when a city was founded. Urbs denotes and defines everything that was contained within the furrow around the perimeter, dug with the help of a sacred ox. In this sense we can say that tracing the furrow urbanized the enclosure and the space enclosed by it. Tracing the furrow was true urbanization: an act that transformed an unoccupied space into an urbs.
With these words Ildefonso Cerdà explains the genesis of the neologism “urbanization.” In charge of the expansion plan for the city of Barcelona, he invented a discipline and wrapped the city center with a grid of squares, extendable to infinity.
The epigraph in the first edition of the Cerdà Plan read: “Ruralize the urban, urbanize the rural: Repletem Terram“. The double provocation was aimed at highlighting the desire to make the consolidated city more livable and at the same time to propose a series of techniques for the expansion of the city into rurality. The last sentence is related to this last will: repletem terram means “fill the earth”.
The choice of the word urbs as the etymological root of the nascent discipline, also relates to the legend of the foundation of the city of Rome: “While Romulus was digging a ditch to lay the foundations of the city walls, Remus ridiculed his work and obstructed its progress; at one point he stepped over the furrow outrageously and, some say, Romulus himself struck him. Some versions tell that he was struck by a companion of Romulus; by all means he fell dead…”
Cerdà’s solution is to all intents and purposes a re-proposition of the limit of the city walls, at the scale of the block, dryly cutting it on four fronts equidistant from the center of the resulting square. A grid that recurs indefinitely, that can conquer and extend to any geography. Cerdà also sets out to “scientifically” define the new object of study:
“Urbanization is a set of principles, doctrines and rules aimed at defining the order that groups of buildings should have in order to meet the needs of those who live in them: guaranteeing a comfortable life, ensuring the possibility of exchange of services between people and well-being in general.”
The word urbanization is understood here as a discipline, while later it will assume the connotation of a phenomenon, when the definition urbanism appears.
Cerdà is convinced that urbanization precedes civilization, taking for granted that the characteristics of the society in which he lived were also present in previous contexts.
This connection between civilization and enclosure, which for Cerdà appeared syllogistic and positive, had been understood a century earlier in exactly the opposite way, by Rousseau, who had sensed the problematic nature of the enclosure:
“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, had the idea of proclaiming this is mine, and found others so naive as to believe him, this man was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many miseries, how many horrors would the human race have been spared by the one who, tearing out the stakes or filling in the ditch, would have cried out to his fellow men, ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; if you forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one, you will be lost!”
A century after the words of Rousseau, Cerdà reverses the understanding of the enclosure to exalt urbanization over the “state of nature”.
In the book “General Theory of Urbanization” by Cerdà, there is a certain naivety about the analysis of the development of sedentariness and the analysis of urban contexts in the various ancient civilizations, bordering on a fairy tale narrative. In this narrative the colony of humans, who descended from the mountain and were attacked by ferocious beasts, managed to overcome the “horrible catastrophe” of the ruthless attack, deciding to build a wall.
Although in a context of ambiguity and imprecision both historical and anthropological, in the tale of the Cerdà colony emerges a duality of urbanism that persists today: the disorder and spontaneity of the assemblage of humans and the tendency to want to order this group of dwellings.
The order/disorder dichotomy also appears in the anthology “L’Urbanisme. Utopias and réalités”, side by side with the other fundamental dichotomy: city and countryside.
These two dichotomies, city-country and order-disorder, are the result of the contradictions of the new industrial society.
The solutions and hypotheses advanced at this stage – as attempts to resolve this pair of dichotomies, between hygiene and strategic control – will be consolidated in the discipline to this day.
The unprecedented concentration of people leads to the administrative need to control the population. This is how Haussmann, starting in the mid-nineteenth century, began to modify the city of Paris, in agreement with Napoleon III. In 1830 Paris had hosted the July Revolution and, in 1848, the riots that swept across Europe. In this context of civic restlessness, following the plebiscite that consecrated Napoleon III as emperor, Haussmann’s interventions took place:
“By straightening the streets, Haussmann made it more difficult to erect barricades. In the avenue now called Boulevard de Sébastopol, he required engineers to calculate the width and extent of the straights so that during insurrections, horse-drawn cannons could move in rows of two, firing over houses in adjacent streets. This was a turning point in the relationship between civil and military engineering. In antiquity, there was concern about fortifying the perimeter of the city. Medieval walls were as thick as possible to resist enemy incursions. Renaissance walls, like those of Palmanova, were designed to resist cannon fire as best as possible; they were walls designed to control the gates and perimeter of the city. Haussmann’s potential enemy, by contrast, was already inside the walls.”
Haussmann’s work, with the gutting aimed at ensuring better military circulation and riot control, also proposed another control device, already adopted at the beginning of the century in the United States, zoning. That is, segregation in the name of order. «In Haussmann’s remaking of Paris, between 1850 and 1860, the mixing of social classes was reduced in a planned manner».
The study, within a society, of the punishability and disposal of riots within the society itself, together with the separation of groups of individuals into classes, brings to mind the reflections of Foucault expressed in “Surveillance and Punishment”. The text traces the birth of the “disciplines”, which the author sees as coinciding with industrial development, when efficiency became an economic and political concept. Efficiency in factories, hospitals, schools and prisons, guarantees maximum results and at the same time maximum control.
«Disciplines, by organizing “cells”, “places”, “ranks” fabricate complex spaces: architectural, functional and hierarchical at the same time. They are spaces that ensure fixation and allow circulation; they carve out individual segments and establish operational links; they mark places and indicate values; they guarantee the obedience of individuals, but also a better economy of time and gestures. They are mixed spaces: real because they determine the arrangement of buildings, rooms, and furnishings, but ideal because characterizations, estimates, and hierarchies are projected onto these arrangements».
Discipline is also the much needed element of the army; it is a military characteristic. Foucault goes on to say that the combination of forces is secured by “tactics,” and that «tactics is undoubtedly the highest form of disciplinary practice».
Separating is a fundamental element of disciplines: it serves to study the parts and make them docile, it divides functions and makes them efficient. In this direction the principle of “seclusion” is elaborated: «[…] the specification of a place that is heterogeneous with respect to all the others and closed in on itself. A place protected from disciplinary monotony».
The second principle is that of elementary localization or quadrillage: «To each individual, his place; and in each place his individual. Avoiding group distributions, breaking down collective structures; analyzing confused, massive or elusive pluralities. Disciplinary space tends to divide itself into as many particles as there are bodies or elements to be distributed. It is necessary to annul the effects of indecisive repartitions, the uncontrolled disappearance of individuals, their widespread circulation, their unusable and dangerous coagulation; tactics against dissection, against wandering, against agglomeration».
It is uncertain whether Foucault was aware of Cerdà’s plan for Barcelona, but the coincidence of the principle of quadrillage with the checkered design of the city of Barcelona is puzzling.
If for Haussmann the choices on the management of the city were studied specifically by an elite for the control of the masses, then with manipulative intent, even in experiences not expressly manipulative one often falls back on ideology. As Choay writes:
«[…] the very idea of scientific urbanism constitutes one of the myths of industrial society. At the origin of every planning proposal, behind the rationalizations or knowledge that claim to pass it off as truth, lie tendencies and value systems».
Urban planning therefore becomes the science with which the urban and civil order is administered and designed, an instrument for the design of society/city, within which movements that want to subvert the order are born, and therefore must be controlled.
And here comes the third principle identified by Foucault that defines a disciplinary apparatus:
«The rule of functional locations, in disciplinary institutions, is going to codify, little by little, a space that architecture left generally available and ready for different uses. Certain places are defined to respond not only to the need for surveillance, for interrupting dangerous communications, but also to create new spaces.»
This rule consists of the practice of zoning, developed in the metropolises for the control of land rents and the masses. Naively adopted by the Modern Movement and in the Athens Charter, zoning is still a technique in vogue today. This technique developed in the name of the new oracle of machine architecture, progress and efficiency. The discipline of zoning has in fact been a disciplinary power since its inception:
«[…] the disciplinary power is a power that, instead of subtracting and prevailing, has as its main function to “train” or, rather, to train, to better, take and subtract more. It does not chain forces in order to reduce them, it tries to bind them so that, as a whole, they are multiplied and utilized». The implementation of a discipline requires first of all control, in order to know and refine its techniques. These control points, these “observers” refer to a diagram or a model, which is the military field, from whose initial square shape an infinite series of refinements develop, but always with power at the center. «The military field is the diagram of a power acting by means of general visibility.»
General visibility in Haussmann’s Paris serves no longer to defend against what lies outside the enclosure, but above all to protect against what lies within. «[…] an architecture that is no longer made simply to be seen (splendor of palaces), or to guard external space (geometry of fortresses), but to allow for an internal control, articulated and detailed-to make visible those who are there».
If in prisons «it is the stones that can make one docile and knowable», in urban renewal it is the design that can make one docile.
Limiting and confining cannot be dismissed as exclusively negative. Our individualities and our knowledge are produced by a number of devices and disciplines, which with their techniques of field restriction allow us to progress more effectively and with less risk. However, it is essential to understand in what proportion we produce devices and disciplines or the disciplines produce us.
We must analyze them to understand if we are defending ourselves with a wall or if we are isolating ourselves, to understand if we are reducing our main virtue as human beings, which is socialization. Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau’s concept of “constitutive exclusion” comes to mind:
«”The people” is not a given population. It, rather, is constituted by the lines of demarcation that we implicitly establish. […] In fact, when the struggle to decide who should belong to “the people” becomes more intense, a group pits its version of “the people” against those on the outside, those who are believed to threaten “the people” or oppose the proposed version of “the people”. Thus, we have:
A) those who attempt to define the people (a much smaller group than the people they attempt to define,
B) the people defined (and demarcated) in the course of this discursive wager,
C) a group of people who are not part of the “people,” andD) those who attempt to assert that the latter group is also part of the people.
And even when we say “all”, in the effort to hypothesize a fully inclusive group, we are in fact implicitly making assumptions about those who are included – and are thus heavily obliterating what Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau have aptly described as “the constitutive exclusion” through which any specific notion of inclusion is determined. […] Many forms of exclusion are enacted without full awareness, as exclusion is often naturalized, passed off as a “state of affairs” and not an explicit problem».
This tendency towards simplification and reduction, which in Cerdà’s account was constituted at the moment of the erection of the wall that could allow civilization, is risky due to the fact that it becomes normalized, that is, it assumes the new condition as the “state of things,” blocking an evolution that will necessarily take place, either developed by the individuals in question or suffered by them.
This normalization, both in the sense of action that renders normality and action produced by a norm, is experienced in times of pandemic, such as that of covid-19 or the plague. The city in a pandemic is guarded completely within its walls, isolating each individual in his or her home and recording his or her movements.
«This enclosed space, precisely cut, guarded at every point, in which individuals are placed in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are controlled and all events recorded, in which an uninterrupted work of writing connects the center to the periphery, in which power is exercised without interruption, according to a continuous hierarchical figure, in which every individual is constantly found, examined and distributed among the living, the sick, the dead – all this constitutes a compact model of disciplinary device. The plague is answered by order […]»
And it is precisely the city in a state of pandemic and emergency, completely under control in all its spaces and on all individuals, that is the utopia of the perfectly governed city.
This power of control, in order to function, is based on simplification, on the dichotomous division between a white and a black, a right and a wrong, an inside and an outside of the walls. Simplification is necessary to make a concept understandable and communicable as easily as possible. All disciplinary apparatuses are based on dichotomy, or as Foucault calls it “binary division,” and coercive allocation: «[…] differential allocation (who he is or must be; how to characterize him, how to recognize him; how to exercise over him, in an individual way, constant surveillance, etc.)»
This disciplinary dimension of urbanism is realized through various ideologies, or rather through needs that in order to be effectively carried out are transformed into ideologies, such as that of the defense of a territory, hygiene or urban beautification.
«It is interesting that urban planning today reveals its conceptual poverty in the face of these changes. It is incapable, much more than the human sciences, accustomed to reckoning with their own paradigms, of renewing itself, it is incapable because it has lost “epistemologically” the sense of reality. It barricades itself and defends itself behind statistics, maps, trends and flows and is incapable of entering into the physical life of people with respect to the physical places of the city. There is in this fall of tools, in this intellectual poverty, the end of a discipline that has entrenched itself behind a myopic technicality and that has never wanted to become a “human science”.»
But the extent of the problems of urban planning discipline do not occur only in times of pandemics or military disputes. Discipline also acts in peacetime, and can manipulate for commercial purposes as well.
To continue, it is necessary to expose the distinction that De Certeau proposes between “tactics” and “strategy”: «[…] strategy occurs when a subject with will and power, can be isolated or can isolate other subjects in an environment. Strategy manifests itself when relationships are generated with an environment external to the environment in which the strategy is produced. Tactics, on the other hand, do not rely on a defined source environment and do not manifest as a sharp distinction from the environment in which they operate. Tactics occurs within the “other”, it insinuates itself into the environment of others fragmentarily, without appropriating it entirely and without creating a distance. Tactics have no spatial basis on which to capitalize. Strategy is a victory of space over time. Tactics on the contrary, because it is not based on a place, depends on time; tactics is always alert for opportunities to be taken “on the fly”.»
The commercial dimension of urbanism develops from the post-war period, at the moment when the phenomena of globalization and mass media begin, entering the intimacy of our homes to the point of shaping them. Since this disciplinary diffusion is promoted mainly by governments and administrations, we will define it as strategic and not tactical. As Colomina Beatriz writes:
Images enter the production of architecture, the definition of society and the city. If World War I had been a fundamental element for the elaboration of the historical avant-garde, World War II was indispensable for the definition of American architecture, which through a complex communication system permeated Europe for the first time and not vice versa. Many of the solutions found for post-war American architecture derived from the change in the use of factories and the change in the target audience of businesses and professionals: from military to civilian, or from military to commercial.
Exemplary is the Case Study House Program, deeply intertwined with the military industry and its production systems. During the war, the Eameses created a company for the mass production of military plywood components. Their house in this program was designed by assembling steel profiles selected directly from an industry catalog, bringing the standardization of military production into architecture, fulfilling Le Corbusier’s dream:
«Houses must stand as a unique object, perhaps produced in factories by machinery… it is in airplane factories that the soldier-architect decided to build houses: they decided to build this house like an airplane, with the same methods of calculation, with the same light structures, the same metal joints and the same tubular supports.»
The military standardization in the civilian field, is manifested at its maximum in the realization of the suburbs, in particular with the first Levittown, built by the company of William Levitt in the state of New York from 1947 to 1951, for veterans returned home. The suburb was made up of houses that all looked the same, with all the same modern appliances and all the same finishes, and inhabited by people whose skin color was all the same: white. Levitt, in fact, did not sell his houses to black people, nevertheless, he was graced with a TIME Magazine cover: the subtitle of the cover is illuminating: For Sale: A new way of life.
«The Community has an almost antiseptic air about it. Levittown’s streets, which have great names like Satellite, Horizon, Haymaker, are essential and flat like hospital wards. Like a hospital, Levittown has its own rules. Fences are not allowed. The lawn around the house must be mowed at least once a week; when it’s not done Bill Levitt’s gardeners cut the grass and send the bill.
Clothes may not be hung on wires but on removable clotheslines only and in any case not on weekends or holidays.»
The new city, the suburb, is like the hospitals of which Foucault speaks: defined in its users and regulated by autonomous and precise norms. Built with military methods, perfected by Bill Levitt during his work in the Seabees, a homophonic anagram of CB, which indicated the Construction Batallion. The link between urban planning and military discipline is renewed and strengthened in the post-war period, masked by the democratizing dream of “a house,” not an apartment, for everyone. In Levittown for everyone except Negroes.
MOMA also did not fail to exert its influence in the war of image and ideology that was the Cold War, as Colomina Beatriz has extensively demonstrated. Exemplary is the model of the full-size “house for all”, cut in half to see inside, brought by MOMA to Moscow for the American National Exhibition, in whose kitchen took place the debate later called “Kitchen Debate” between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon. “The house that was produced by World War II was used as a weapon in the Cold War».
Urbanism as a form of control during the Cold War actually had its explosion. Architecture began to be industrialized and sold as an image, as a lifestyle, as an advertisement said: After total war comes total living. But not only that, the power of the division of empires and of the two major ideologies of the Cold War manifested itself with the Berlin Wall, which within the city conformed as two “uninhabited” walls inside which was the death strip. The openings were no longer sacred as with Romulus but Check Points.
The scale of the influence of the Cold War in urban planning assumed the scale of regional design:
«The fear of a nuclear war, which made dense metropolises a vulnerable target, was central to the thoughts of planners during the Cold War, both in the U.S. and abroad. The great de-urbanization of Maoist China was also a product of nuclear terror. The dispersal from the center to the suburbs, facilitated by the construction of major highways – such as the National Defense Highway – was more than simply a favor to General Motors: both automakers and the US were playing the same urban-strategic game».
Today, after the cultural and technological upheavals since World War II, the extent of urbanism’s power in the realm of control, of surveillance and punishment, are innumerable. «Nowhere is the political use of urbanism more blatant than in Jerusalem and the West Bank». Here, Israeli forces destroy houses when they carry out raids on densely urbanized areas in order to enter them with armed, armored vehicles; in Jerusalem, they build a ring of settlements as if it was a wall, to control the city and prevent potential divisions. But not only that. Today, the information that the disciplinary apparatuses, such as urban planning or the army, must collect in order to constitute themselves as disciplines, can make use of technologically advanced means such as satellites. Eyal Weizman, in his book Forensic Architecture, points out how the compartmentalization of the information gathered by satellites can lead to the emergence of problems in world geopolitics.
The resolution of publicly available satellite images collected by American satellites is lower in Israel than in other states of the world.
The lack of equivalence of the information granted to the public to that collected by any administration in this field allows the weaponization of this information. The public cannot access this classified information even in the event that war crimes are suspected.
As never before, «In contemporary conflicts both killings and investigations are image-based practices».
So we return to the need for protected observation, first from the privileged position of the city walls, then from the panopticon and now from satellite and cameras.
The city walls have become the city’s cameras.
In London, following the 2005 bombings, an extensive network of cameras was set up that could potentially track a citizen’s movements from the center with a radius of miles. Foucault wrote about the Panopticon:
“«[…] the principle of secrecy is overthrown: […]The full light and the gaze of the overseer pick up more than the shadow, which in the end, protected. Visibility is a trap. […] If the inmates are convicts, no danger of conspiracy, […] if they are sick, no danger of contagion; if they are insane, no risk of mutual violence; if they are children, no copying during exams, no noise, no chatter, no dissipation. If it is a matter of workers, no fights, thefts, coalitions, none of those distractions that delay work, making it less perfect or causing accidents. The crowd, a compact mass, a place of multiple exchanges, individualities that merge, a collective effect, is abolished in favor of a collection of separate individualities. […] Hence the main effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the prisoner a conscious state of visibility that ensures the automatic functioning of power. To make surveillance permanent in its effects, even if its action is discontinuous».
London, like many of the metropolises in which we live are Panopticities, in which «The perfect disciplinary apparatus would allow, with a single glance. To see everything, permanently».
We live in a world, the global north, that is extremely disciplined in so many aspects of our lives. The panoptic device underlying disciplinary apparatuses entirely envelops our lives in urban areas. We also accept this condition through a clever choice of words, in which the word “defense” has been replaced with the more comfortable word “security”:
«An index of the new and active constituent characteristic of war is the political choice to replace “defense” with “security.” A choice that the U.S. has promoted as an element of the war against terrorism since September 11th 2001. In the context of US foreign affairs, the shift from defense to security has meant the movement from a reactive and conservative stance towards an active and constructive attitude […]». To talk about the relationship of urbanism with the military apparatus would not be enough of a doctoral thesis, not to mention a single article.
This text was born in the form of a chapter of a doctorate that studies temporary interventions in urbanism and architecture as forms of collective production of space. It was born to bring out the antithesis of what we want to talk about, it talks about closed urbanism as an antithesis to open urbanism.
The same temporary interventions of architecture and urbanism that are proposed today as a result of a pandemic or an economic crisis, can become a form of control, especially economic in terms of land rent and urban renewal. This is why it is necessary to study the tools of urbanism and architecture while they still carry their innovative charge: before they are appropriated and regulated by institutions or companies. It is necessary to investigate, exactly as the components of Forensic Architecture do, in order to understand what and where are the limits of each approach and what are their potentials. Temporary interventions in urban planning and architecture are important to encounter solutions for the reappropriation of public space, both physical and conceptual, following the pandemic.
During this crisis, surveillance has been necessary.
But when this crisis is over, or at least normalized, the tools we will need will no longer be those of control, but of generation of ideas and new behaviors.
The tools we will need will have to be aimed at creating a new normality, we will need to re-imagine our urban habitat. Le Corbusier talked about soldier-architects, but today more than ever we need citizen-architects, good citizens but not docile, citizens who understand the importance of a varied urbanity that rewards and favors diversity and not homologation, social promiscuity and not segregation.
We need architects-citizens who do not want to build walls, but who find the imaginative tools to build a world in which they feel safe in contact with the “other” who lives next to us.
We need an architecture and an urban planning that does not aim at dividing people with walls but that unites them in public space.