Wednesday, March 20, 2013

City of Buildings (Persepolis)

Cambridge, March 20, 2013

When one thinks of cities, at least when I think of cities, I think of streets.  They can be the curving streets that follow the topography of Tuscan hill-tows or the orthogonal streets of gridded cities, the narrow passages of Muslim urbanism or the wide avenues of baroque capitals.  Streets seem to define the way in which urban settlements take shape.

Still, cities are put together in many different ways.  Take for example Parsa, the Persian city better known by its Greek name, Persepolis.  It's a city of buildings, almost unmediated by any other urban orders or spaces.  On top of a large constructed plinth 60 feet above its surrounding area, buildings sit next to each other, articulating open spaces and sequences of access and movement.  The architecture is defined by walls and columns, uninflected prismatic masses and regular arrangements of larger central spaces, ancillary rooms and perimeter loggias.  The dimensions of individual buildings seem to be independent from each other, responding more to their respective programmatic demands than to any overarching framework.  And I'm not sure that there are even compositional principles at work, as if the operative notion of urbanism in Persepolis were something like deployment.

Of course, one could argue that Persepolis is not so much a city as a collection of palaces, but I'm not sure if that's an important distinction.  Maybe a city of ritual?

Happy Nowruz!

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