Structuring Urban Experience: From the Athenian Acropolis to the Boston Common

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Structuring Urban Experience: From the Athenian Acropolis to the Boston Common

Christine Smith

GSD 4362

T, Th 11:30-1:00

Gund Hall, Gropius Room
This lecture course examines selected cities between the fifth century B.C. and the seventeenth century A.D., beginning with ancient Athens and ending with proposals for rebuilding London after the great fire in 1666. It is not, however, a survey. Rather, each of the lectures takes up one city at one golden moment of its development to exemplify a theme or themes. The course, therefore, is both chronologically and thematically structured.

The first half of the semester treats the ancient and late antique city, beginning with Athens and continuing with Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople and Antioch. This section concludes with a consideration of the effects of Christianization on urban form, the widespread decline of urban habitation in the early Middle Ages, and the rising importance of ideal or symbolic “cities of the mind.” The second half of the semester looks at selected instances of Renaissance and Baroque urban interventions, beginning with Florence, returning again to Rome, and then moving to Venice, Madrid, Paris and London. The last lecture, which will be on Boston from its founding in 1630 up to the Revolution, gives us the opportunity to reflect on to what extent new cities do or do not learn from historical patterns of settlement.

Each week is devoted to one city. In the first meeting I will give a lecture that covers urban layout and topography, infrastructure, patterns and types of housing, and typologies of the major monuments. I will also cover in more depth those features relating to the themes for the week – the relation of the city to countryside, for instance, or the city as center of cultural activity, the city and ideas about space, and so on. In the second meeting, students will report on assigned readings that deepen or amplify the themes for the week and the rest of the session will be given over to discussion.

Students are required to present assigned readings in class and to serve as facilitators of the discussions on a rotating basis. Each student will submit a final research paper of twelve pages (text) on a city of their choice. Some suggestions are: Amsterdam, Nuremberg, The Hague, Leiden, Antwerp, Turin, Genoa, Milan, St. Petersburg, Baghdad, Siena, Marseille, Bordeaux, Vienna, Prague, Geneva, Bruges, St. Petersburg, Lisbon, Seville, or Naples. However, the choice is yours.

Final Paper is due on December 14

Week 1: Introduction:


Pier Vittorio Aureli, The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, Cambridge (MA), 2011, ch.1, pp.1-46

J. Rykwert, The Idea of a Town.The Anthropoloy of Urban Form in Rome, Italy and the Ancient World, Cambridge (MA), 1988, Preface to the paper edition

D. Mayernik, Timeless Cities. An Architect’s Reflections on Renaissance Italy, Boulder, 2003, pp. 1-14 (pbk edition 2005)

Week 2. Athens: The Owl and the Olive


A. Waterhouse, Boundaries of the City. The Architecture of Western Urbanism, Toronto, 1993, pp. 95-101, 119-123

A. Giesecke, The Epic City. Urbanism, Utopia, and the Garden in Ancient Greece and Rome, Washington, 2007, ch. 1, pp. 11-34

Plato, Critias, 109d – 119b (ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton 1961, pp. 1215-1223)

Aristotle, Politics, Book 7,;;toc.depth=1;;brand=default

R. Osborne, Classical Landscape with Figures: The Ancient Greek City and its Countryside, ch.1, pp. 13-26

S. Martin-McAuliffe and J.Papadopoulos, “Framing Victory: Salamis, the Athenian Acropolis, and the Agora,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 71, 2012, pp. 332-361 (online)

S. Cuomo, Ancient Mathematics, London, 2001, ch.1, pp. 4-38

Week 3: Alexandria: The Lighthouse and the Library


Waterhouse, Boundaries, pp. 101-103

I. Nielsen, Hellenistic Palaces. Tradition and Renewal, Aarhus, 1994, ch. 1, pp.13-26

Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book 1, ch.1-2,;;toc.depth=1;;brand=default NOTE THAT THE LINK IS TO THE WHOLE OF BOOK I

P. Clayton and M. Price, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, London, 1988, Introduction, pp. 1-12

J. Pieper Leisure the Basis of Culture, South Bend, 1998, pp. 3-26

A. Schiavone, The End of the Past. Ancient Rome and the Modern West, Cambridge (MA), 2000, pp. 137-164

Week 4: Rome: Using the Past for the Present


Waterhouse, Boundaries, pp.124-140, 145-148

Mayernik, Timeless Cities, pp. 15-36

R. Krautheimer, Rome. Profile of a City, 312-1308, Princeton, 1980, ch. 1, pp.3-32
David Watkin, The Roman Forum, ch. 1, pp.11-29

K. Welch, The Roman Amphitheatre: From its Origins to the Colosseum, New York, 2007, pp.128- 162

M. Wilson Jones, Principles of Roman Architecture, New Haven, 2000, ch. 9, pp. 177-198

Week 5: Constantinople: New Rome


S. Bassett, The Urban Image of Late Antique Constantinople, New York, 2004, ch.1, pp.17-36 and pp.79-97

B. Croke, Justinian’s Constantinople,” in ed. M.Maas, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 60-86

A. Berger, “Streets and Public Spaces in Constantinople,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 2000, 54, pp. 161-172

M. Mango, “The Commercial Map of Constantinople, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 54, 2000, pp. 189-207

M. Mango, “The Porticoed Street at Constantinople,” in N. Necipoglu, Constantinople: Monuments, Topography, and Everyday Life, Leiden, 2001, pp. 29-52

Week 6: Antioch: Praise and Decline of the Ancient City


Menander Rhetor, treatises on Rhetoric, “How to Praise a City”

Libanius, the “Antiochikos” in A.F. Norman, Antioch as a Centre of Hellenic Culture as Observed by Libanius, Liverpool, 2000, pp 7-15 and 32-65.

W. Liebeschuetz, “The End of the Ancient City,” in ed. John Rich, The City in Late Antiquity, London, 1992, pp.1-49
B. Caseau, “Sacred Landscapes,” in eds. G.W.Bowersock, P.Brown and O.Grabar, Interpreting Late Antiquity, Cambridge (MA), 1999, pp. 21-59

G. Downey, “Polis and Civitas in Libanius and St. Augustine. A Contrast between East and West in the Late Roman Empire,” Academie Royale de Belgique. Bulletin de la Classe des Lettres et des Sciences Morales et Politique, 52, 1966, pp. 351-366

G.P. Brogiolo, “Ideas of the Town in Italy During the Transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages,” in in G.P. Brogiolo and B.Ward Perkins eds., The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, Leiden, 1999, pp. 99-126

Week 7: Jerusalem: Ideal City of the Middle Ages


The Apocalypse, 21-22,

St. Augustine, The City of God, Book 1.preface ; Book 2.20; Book 19.17; and Book 22, ch.30

Waterhouse, Boundaries, pp.149-164

L. Stookey, “The Gothic Cathedral as the Heavenly Jerusalem. Liturgical and Theological Sources,” Gesta 8/1, 1969, pp.35-41 (translation of the Latin portions is in a separate document on the course site)

K. Lilley, “Cities of God? Medieval Urban Forms and their Christian Symbolism,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 29/3, 2004, pp. 296-313

R. Ousterhout, “Meaning and Architecture: A Medieval View,” Reflections, 2/1, 1984, pp. 34-46

M. Casey, Strangers to the City. Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of St. Benedict, Brewster (MA), 2005, pp. 26-31

P. Meyvaert, “The Medieval Monastic Claustrum,” Gesta, 12, 1973, pp. 53-59

H. Kessler, Rome 1300. On the Path of the Pilgrim, New Haven, 2000, Intro. pp. 1-8, and ch. 4, pp. 90-125

Week 8. Florence: The Merchant and the Geometer


Mayernik, Timeless Cities, pp. 137-170

M.Trachtenberg, Dominion of the Eye: Urbanism, Art, and Power in Early Modern Florence, Cambridge, 1997, pp.149-165 and 223-232

C. Mack, “Beyond the Monumental: The Semiotics of Papal Authority in Renaissance Pienza,” Southeastern College Art Conference Review, 16/2, 2013, pp. 124-150

H. Saalman, “The Transformation of the City in the Renaissance: Florence as Model,” Annali di architettura, 2, 1990, pp. 73-82

Trachtenberg, Dominion of the Eye, pp. 1-25

R. Krautheimer, “The Panels in Urbino, Baltimore, and Berlin Reconsidered,” in H. Millon and V. Lampugnani eds., The Renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo. New York, 1994, pp. 233-257

Week 9: Venice: Land and Sea


Aureli, The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, ch.2, pp. 47-84

Mayernik, Timeless Cities, pp. 89-132

M. Tafuri, Venice and the Renaissance, Cambridge (MA), 1995, ch. 6, pp.139-158

D. Howard, Venice Disputed. Marc’Antonio Barbaro and Venetian Architecture 1550-1600, New Haven, 2011, ch. 4, pp.133-170 (skim 136-151)

E. Johnson, “Jacopo Sansovino, Giacomo Torelli, and the Theatricality of the Piazzetta in Venice,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 59/4, 2000, pp.436-453

Week 10: Rome: New Views of Street and Square


R. Krautheimer, The Rome of Alexander VII, 1655-1667, Princeton, 1985, ch. 10, pp. 131-147

Mayernik, Timeless Cities, pp. 63-88

R. Krautheimer, The Rome of Alexander VII, ch. 8, Piazza del Popolo: City Planning and Stage Design,” pp. 114-125

J. Pinto, The Trevi Fountain, New Haven, 1986, ch. 1 and 2

T. Marder, Bernini and the Art of Architecture, New York, 1998, ch. 6, pp. 123-168

Week 11: Madrid and the Escorial: Power and Order


J. Escobar, The Plaza Mayor and the Shaping of Baroque Madrid, Cambridge, 2003, ch.6 pp. 190-221.

J.A. Maravall, Culture of the Baroque, Minneapolis, 1986, ch.1, pp.19-53

Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book 2, ch. 1-3.;;toc.depth=1;;brand=default (Note the link is to the whole of Book 2)

R. Kagan, “Urbs and Civitas in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Spain,” in ed. D. Buisseret, Envisioning the City. Six Studies in Urban Cartography, Chicago, 1998, pp. 75-108 Escobar, The Plaza Mayor, ch. 3 pp. 84-114

C. Wilkinson Zerner, “Planning a Style for the Escorial: An Architectural Treatise for Philip II of Spain,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 44, 1985, pp.37-47

Week 12: Paris and Versailles: Court and Capital


H.Ballon, The Paris of Henri IV. Architecture and Urbanism, Cambridge (MA), 1991. Conclusion, pp. 250-255

O. Ranum, The Court and the Capital of Louis: Some Definitions and Reflections,” in John Rule ed. Louis XIV and the Craft of Kingship, 1969, pp. 265-285

R. Ziskin, “The Place de nos Conquetes and the Unravelling of the Myth of Louis XIV,” Art Bulletin, 76, 1994, pp. 147-162

R. Sennett, Flesh and Stone. The Body and the City in Western Civilization, New York, 1994, pp.186-204

R.Bentmann and M.Muller, The Villa as Hegemonic Architecture, ch.15, pp. 94-113

L. Marin, Portrait of the King, Minneapolis, 1988, “The King and his Geometer,” pp. 169-179

Week 13. London and Boston: Dystopia and Utopia


M. Jenner, “The Politics of London Air. John Evelyn’s Fumifugium and the Restoration,” The Historical Journal, 38, 1995, pp. 535-551

L. Hollis, The Phoenix. St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Men who Made Modern, London, 2008, ch. 5, pp. 125-131

Thomas More, Utopia, (1516): (skim)

John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630), Conclusion
Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis (1624):

Juan Vives, Assistance to the Poor,( ca. 1525), extracts at:

Tommaso Campanella, The City of the Sun, (1602-1623):

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