The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton (co-editor of Take One Building) is now available for pre-order from Routledge, Amazon, and other online retailers. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group will release The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids in November 2017.
Many people see American cities as a radical departure in the history of town planning because of their planned nature based on the geometrical division of the land. However, other cities of the world also began as planned towns with geometric layouts so American cities are not unique. Why did the regular grid come to so pervasively characterize American urbanism? Are American cities really so different?
The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton (co-editor of Take One Building) answers these questions and much more by exploring the urban morphology of American cities. It argues American cities do represent a radical departure in the history of town planning while, simultaneously, still being subject to the same processes linking the urban network and function found in other types of cities around the world. A historical preference for regularity in town planning had a profound influence on American urbanism, which endures to this day.
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The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids is available for pre-order purchase with Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles in the UK as well as other online retailers around the world.
About the Author
Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is a graduate of Clemson University, University College London, and the University of London.
The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids
by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton
Hardcover, English, 260 pages
Routledge, First Edition (November 2017)
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“The present contribution is a nice and proper scientific excursion through the fits and misfits of an emblematic “failure” of modern urbanism – Pruitt-Igoe, overcoming superficial critiques and less interesting commentaries on the case. I recommend it to be accepted for presentation at the conference and published (in) its proceedings.” (Referee Comment about M.D. Major research on Pruitt-Igoe for SSS11)
During the closing reception of Space Syntax 10 at University College London in 2015, Dr. Mário Krüger asked me to “promise” to attend Space Syntax 11 in Lisbon, Portugal in 2017 after attending my first Space Syntax Symposium since 1999. I politely promised to “try” to attend. Two years is a long time and I hate to make promises without knowing beforehand whether it will be possible to fulfill them. Mário noticed my equivocation, so he again asked me to promise to attend. He asked again… and again… and again… and again. Upon Mário’s fifth request, I finally offered the unequivocal promise to attend SSS11 that he was seeking from me. This created two problems for me: one short-term and the other long-term. I could delay answering the long-term problem until the last minute; namely, would I have the personal and/or professional resources (i.e. time, money, etc.) to visit Lisbon, Portugal in two years time? The short-term problem required an answer much sooner since the SSS11 call for abstracts was only five months away; namely, what suitable research could I possibly write about for the blind referee process of Space Syntax Symposia? I did not know.
However, finding an answer was one of many issues I was dealing with in the latter part of 2015, including the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) hiring me as a part-time, adjunct Professor of Urban Design in November, my subsequent relocation to that city in December, and preparing the syllabus/materials for the URBA 739: Economics of Urban and Regional Planning course at SCAD, which I would begin teaching in January 2016. I decided one of the lectures for URBA 739 had to be about social housing. I had conducted some social housing research in Europe during the 90s and I had also read a great deal about the most infamous public housing project of them all, Pruitt-Igoe, because I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. That was when the ‘lightbulb went off over my head’ (always an Edison bulb in my imagination). Space syntax is famous for its research into European social housing and crime patterns (see the “Back to the Street” article in The Economist). However, as far as I knew, no one had ever researched Pruitt-Igoe using space syntax. It was easy to understand why. Pruitt-Igoe was demolished in 1972-76 and, as I state in the paper, “any researcher is willingly wading into a distinctive American cesspool of racism and ideology sufficient to scare most people away” (Major, 2017; pp. 5).
The paper you can now download for free (see above and below) represents about a year of research and only 5,000 words about this particular subject. My first full, unedited draft of the paper was about 15,000 words. Quite frankly, this was also insufficient for the scope and multitude of issues raised by the design, management, and history of Pruitt-Igoe. For example, there is some delicate nuance preferable for many of the issues crudely summarized in the paper as well as additional material by other researchers, which deserve to be more fully described than I have time for even in the 2.5-hour course about Pruitt-Igoe, now available on The Outlaw Urbanist course website. I fully intend to expand this research into a book at some point in the future. This because Pruitt-Igoe remains an important lesson for us; one that many people still misconstrue or fail to understand altogether, where the consequences of future mistakes can be just as costly as our past ones if we are not careful. We consign Pruitt-Igoe as something solely belonging to the past at our peril. As Albert Einstein pointed out, “only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
In the end, researching Pruitt-Igoe was an often frustrating but hugely rewarding experience for me as an architect, urban planner, and native St. Louisian. However, as fate would have it, I could not answer the long-term problem to keep my promise to Dr. Krüger about attending SSS11 in Lisbon, Portugal. I simply do not have the resources at my disposal that so many other people casually take for granted to attend conferences worldwide. For failing to keep my promise, I feel bad and I apologize to Dr. Krüger. Nonetheless, the end-product of this journey is far more important for our profession than a broken promise so I am making my paper “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Prutt-Igoe” freely available online for anyone to read. I welcome any comments or suggestions about the ideas discussed in the paper and, once again, I strongly recommend you watch the 2012 documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, especially after reading my paper if you have not before seen the documentary.
NOTE: This research was paid for and supported by me. There was no grant to pay for this research. I have not had any classes assigned to me to teach for over a year (due to “declining enrollment”) so the Savannah College of Art & Design did not financially support this research, either directly or indirectly, in any way. This research was not born of any privilege except the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Enjoy!
A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe investigates the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex in St. Louis, Missouri USA. A large literature implicates several factors in Pruitt-Igoe’s decline, which public authorities famously demolished in 1972. Often, this literature cites design and planning as contributory factors without specifying how or why in precise terms. Building on archival records and previous research, we analyze the ‘spatial archaeology’ of Pruitt-Igoe using space syntax. Our purpose is to better understand how design and planning contributed to its social malaise. It concludes: 1) provision of space (i.e. quantity) became a liability as declining occupancy generated a ‘broken interface’ between adults and children; and, 2) the pilotis of the residential towers mediated formal access and spatial distribution in a layout characterized by ‘intelligible dysfunction,’ which facilitated opportunity and escape for criminal activities. Both fed the perception and reality of social malaise at Pruitt-Igoe (2.5 hour course). Click here to purchase this course ($17.49).
Key concepts: design, Modernism, planning, public policy, and social housing.
Includes an two-hour video presentation and PDFs of the course supplementary material and slide handout.
Please note there may be a delay for a couple of hours before you are able to access the course because we have to confirm receipt of payment for each order before completing the purchase.
About the Instructor
Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is an architect and planner with extensive experience in urban planning and design, business management and real estate development, and academia. He is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Mark has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, Architectural Association in London, University of São Paulo in Brazil, and Politecnico di Milano in Italy.
Following the Crowd | Movement, Space Use, Risk Managementexamines movement, congregation and space use in crowd phenomenon based on two studies in London during the late 1990s. The first was New Years Eve celebrations in central London and the second is the ‘Diana phenomenon’ of crowd gatherings in public displays of mourning in Kensington Gardens. The course argues two points. First, clearly, there are crowd characteristics particular to specific events, i.e. number of people, time factors, and crowd management measures. Second, many crowd characteristics often represent only a dramatic, temporary intensification of everyday circumstances in urban conditions, which has implications for recent pedestrian-oriented design concepts such as shared space (2.0 hour course).
NOTE: This course makes selective use of space syntax. Even if you are not familiar with space syntax, the subject matter should not be considered a deterrent.
Cloak and Dagger Theory in Peter Eisenman Houses covers the apparent ‘rules’ of geometrical composition underlying the design of plan in early houses by architect Peter Eisenman. The effect of these compositional rules, tied to the design process of ‘decomposition’ as described by Eisenman, in the generation of layout in these houses is examined using some basic representational techniques in the space syntax toolkit. In particular, this includes the effect in structuring the relationships, if any, between public (e.g. everyday living) and private (e.g. bedrooms) functions as well as the household interface between inhabitants and visitors. The course offers a better understanding of the relationship between the architect’s stated aims in his own theoretical writings and the probable functioning of these houses as architectural objects (1.0 hour course).
NOTE: This course does make use of some basic space syntax analysis. However, even if you are not familiar with space syntax, it should not be considered a deterrent.