Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guest Speaker - Lewis Mumford

"As for the plan of the house, it varied with the region and the century; yet certain features remain common.  Viollet-le-Dcu has shown us the ground plan of a French house, with a shop on the ground floor connected by an open gallery with the kitchen in the rear.  The two formed a court, where the well occupied a corner.  There was a chimney in the kitchen and in the living room or grande salle above the shop: from the latter there is access to the dormitories above.  Heyne's plan of an old house in Nürnberg is not essentially different; but, as in the surviving houses from the seventeenth century, there are more interior rooms, a kitchen and a smaller room on the ground floor, a heatable room above the kitchen, and a number of chambers, with a toilet on the second floor directly above that on the first.

"The only form of modern hallway was the open gallery; this was a common feature in houses not built around a closed court.  It survived in the design of inns, where a means of circulation was specially necessary, and the internal hall, because of the absence of artificial light, was not an attractive solution.  The main outlines of this type of house lasted right down to through the seventeenth century, even later.  But as one went downward in economic scale, arrangements would be less differentiated and the space more constricted: the one room apartment, still common among the poor in many countries, possibly had its origin in the more industrialized cities of the late Middle Ages.

"The fact that the burgher house served as workshop, store and counting house prevented any zoning between these functions.  The competition for space between the domestic and the working quarters, as business grew and the scale of production expanded, was also perhaps responsible for encroachment over the original back gardens by sheds, storage bins, and special workshops ... the family pattern dominated industry, just as it dominated the organization of the Benedictine monastery.  Survivals of this regime lingered on in every European city: the habit of 'living in' long retained by London drapers, with the men and women divided into dormitories, was a typical holdover from the Middle Ages.

"To sum up the medieval dwelling house, one may say that it was characterized by lack of differentiated space and differentiated function.  In the cities, however, this lack of internal differentiation was offset by a completer development of domestic functions in public institutions.  Though the house might lack a private bake-oven, there was a public one in the baker's or the cook-shop.  Though it might lack a private bathroom, there was a municipal bath-house.  Though it might lack facilities for isolating and nursing a diseased member, there were numerous public hospitals.  And though lovers might lack a private bedroom, they could 'lie between the acres of the rye,' just outside the city walls.

"In the original towns, with the exception of a few that kept to original Roman foundations or were constricted by topographical obstacles, ample gardens spread in the rear of the houses.  The size of the medieval houseblock was not standardized; but in general a hundred-foot depth was common and a fifty-foot width was not unusual.  Since it was customary to build row houses, for cheapness, for compactness, and above all, perhaps, for maximum protection against cold, this would mean that in some cities houses originally would show their long side to the street, as they still do in Grantham, for example in England: a type of planning that did not come back till the development of modern workers' housing estates in England.  Gardens and orchards, sometimes fields and pastures, existed within the city, as well as in the 'suburb' outside: endless illustrations and plans as late as the seventeenth century prove how universal these open spaces were."

Protection and the Medieval Town, The Culture of Cities
by Lewis Mumford


Anonymous said...

I live in a german city (town?) that was built in the early 17th century (Glückstadt - designed by King Christian the IV. of Denmark) - The gardens are in between the blocks and you don't see them from the streets. In fact, I lived here quite a while until I realised how big the garden space is, because every garden nowadays is seperated by walls, sheds, and hedges. I have no idea if that is a more modern addition or if it was like that from the beginning.
This is the best map I could find: http://www.fortuna-verlag.de/bilder/glplan4.jpg

The Rubberduck said...

That's interesting. I wonder how far along you need to go before the gardens start filling up with houses.

The map section below is from Copenhagen

To the north you can see a couple of blocks with open centers. Southeast of those are blocks that have started to be filled up with housing. If you move the map a bit south, you can see some blocks that has been filled to an impressive degree.