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Urban Compositions








605-561 BC


Nebuchadnezzars city (reign 605-561 BC). Total area about 90 acres, enclosed by a double wall. Gridiron based – divided into 2 parts by the Euphrates river. Rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar II (605-561 BC), earlier city was destroyed in 689 BC. It had an inner city and an outer city both fortified with a wall.


The inner city was roughly square and contained many of the important buildings. (businesses, temples, chapels and shrines).


Streets terminated in bronze gates with towers where they met the walls. The most important building sites lined the river and occupied the area between the river and a grand processional way, at the north end of which was the Ishtar Gate.


The Ishtar Gate was highly articulated with glazed bricks of yellow, white and blue and decoration in the form of reliefs, depicting bulls and dragons.


At the northern end of the city near the Ishtar Gate and adjacent to the Euphrates river was the palace complex of Nebuchadnezzar. Associated with the palace on the river were the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.


Hanging Gardens of Babylon


605 – 561 BC


Terraced gardens, irrigated with water from the Euphrates River. The terraces rose to a height of nearly 75 feet. Terraces were waterproof and held trees and the associated soil depth needed for growth. The hanging gardens of Babylon were purely a man made landscape. Water was lifted to the garden by chain pump (dolab).




540 BC


Great city as a demonstration of international power. Terracing and the massive podium express power over the surrounding landscape and symbolically over the people. The complex consisted of a number of palaces over time including at least one Private palace with an ornamental lake, trees, and flowers, particularly the rose. Royal town below the podium surrounded by walls and a moat. Palace of Persepolis (southwest corner/rel. small) (begun 518 by Darius I) was approached by a large flight of steps wide enough and shallow enough for horses to move on.


Most of the major stairways were lined with relief sculpture, representing guardsmen, nobility, and other subjects.


The tomb of Darius, 13 kilometers (8 miles) north of Persepolis appears to reproduce the southern entry to Darius’ palace at Persepolis. The symbology of the power suggested in the city was literally transferred to the grave site as representation.


Greek City States




Greek territorial organization – based on numerous, separate, city states rather than on one unified nation. Two main regions of Greek City States were the Ionian coastline of Asia Minor (Miletus and Priene), and Greece (Athens).


City States by definition were composed of an urban nucleus surrounded by countryside and agricultural village communities.


Small independent city states were determined by the topography – the topography is characterized as mountainous, containing only limited fertile areas occurring in the valleys, plains, and on plateaus.


The Greek city (the urban nucleus of the city state) – had clearly defined limits, a compact, dense urban form, and (in theory) an integrated social life.


The integration was possible primarily because of two things:

1. The relatively mild climate of Greece encouraged an open-air, communally oriented attitude to life.

2. The populations of the city states were fairly small- generally not exceeding 5000 people (rarely exceeding 20000 people, as at Athens)The small populations meant that all of the citizens could gather in one place at one time. Meetings took place in the open air theaters and other civic spaces. Large scale open air theatrical ceremonies were also performed in the theaters.


In theory all citizens had a voice in the affairs of their city – Giving rise to the notion of Greek democracy.


A characteristic of Greek cities is the dual focus, the acropolis, and the agora:


Acropolis- A high point for protection (outlook) and occasionally the retreat of the city during attack. Through time the Acropolis became Religious Center of the city. Important civic buildings were conceived of as three dimensional free standing sculptural ‘objets d ‘art’.


Agora – Multi purpose everyday heart. Social life, business and politics – daily.


The Greek city was is also characterized by the use of the gridiron pattern of organization by town planners as a systematic approach to the organization of cities. Community buildings and activities were the most important aspect of the Greek city – not individual homes – the Agora, the shrines, the theater, the gymnasiums, occupied the important sites.


Asia Minor (modern day Turkey)

479 BC – 100 AD


Master plan for reconstruction of an older city that had been sacked and was prepared by Hippodamus. Hippodamus is generally referred to as the inventor of the gridiron plan, and “father of town planning.”


Not true – the grid organization of city parts was applied to planned parts of cities 2000 years earlier. Hippodamus is better documented.


Hippodamus did organize the component parts of Miletus – the central area, the housing, the commerce, the cultural and leisure facilities and the defensive wall, creating an integrated urban entity.


Miletus is built on a rocky peninsula. The Acropolis was located in the southern region on high ground. The Agora was centrally located with the northern side leading to a harbor inlet. Main roads from the city were allowed to cross through the Agora unimpeded. Variable sized housing blocks in three groups according to the terrain surround the agora. Around another inlet are the theater and gymnasium and stadium.


Athens: the Acropolis and Agora


451 BC


Athens evolution due to the influence Pericles.


(referred to as the Periclean Age – named for the leader Pericles who dominated the assembly from 451 until his death in 429 BC).


Under the policy of the period Athens became the artistic center of Greece: the new buildings of the Acropolis were created: sculptors, painters and potters were unequaled in status and ability; and drama was growing more popular.


The agora area developed from a market and meeting place at the point where the Panathenaic Way began its ascent up the western slope of the Acropolis.


The Acropolis in Athens probably initially served as a natural fortress for its ancient village. The fortified cliffs rise about 300 feet above the level of the surrounding plain, with sheer rock faces on all sides but the west.


Acropolis was originally a late bronze age citadel (4000 – 3000 BC) – that was fortified with an entrance gate at the western side (much like the lion gate at Mycenae).


Acropolis – 4 world famous buildings built during the 5th century BC.


1. The Parthenon (447 – 432) – A temple of Athena Polias. (Image – northern frieze)


2. The Propylaea (437 – 432) –


3. The Temple of Nike Apteros (426) – (Image – The Goddess Nike)


4. The Erechtheum (420-393) with the famous caryatid porch-


Topography and a respect for traditional siting determined the location of the 4 buildings.



Asia Minor (modern day Turkey)

350 BC


(As review) the basic elements of a typical Greek city plan consisted of: the Acropolis, an enclosing city wall, an Agora, residential districts, leisure and cultural areas, harbor and port, and occasionally an industrial district. Priene is an example containing all but the harbor and industrial district.


Four broad terraces – dropping 320′ from Acropolis to the stadium. The grid is organized in relation to the contours. Streets are north-south, and east- west. The Agora area occupies the center of the city and is connected to the city gate on the western edge of the city by a main street. Streets, as at Miletus, ran through the Agora.


The agora space was completely surrounded by stoas, which is a portico or detached colonnade, creating space somewhere between indoors and out.



South of Rome, Italy

200 BC – 79 AD, Eruption of Mount Vesuvius


About 160 acres in size, enclosed with a double wall. Pompeii was organized within a freely interpreted grid pattern.


Hierarchy of streets – main streets were well paved and ranged from 32′ (the widest) to 26′. Minor streets only provided access to the houses and ranged from 18′ to 21 ‘ wide. The Forum was located roughly in the center – enclosing a civic space about 300′ x 160’. The forum was a colonnaded pedestrian space prohibiting the access of vehicles by gateways.


The Greek agora was open to road traffic, whereas in Pompeii the forum space was only pedestrian. The forum area was the main shopping and commercial area.


Pompeii had 2 theaters – one seating about 5000 people and one seating 1500, and an oval amphitheater able to seat about 20,000


Housing generally consisted rooms facing a central courtyard. Houses ranged in number of floors from 2 to as many as 5 or 6.


Anasazi People

Chaco Canyon – Mesa Verde, United States

900 AD – 1300 AD


Chaco canyon served as the center of the Anasazi civilization – the trade center. Chaco canyon may have supported 5000 people (residents). The architecture is typified by the Round kivas – ceremonial rooms.


A network of roads equaling about 500 miles connected nearly 100 outer settlements, like those at Mesa Verde.


To survive in the desert southwest – long winters, poor soil, little water – they built dams and canals for irrigation of crops – corn, beans, and squash. During 500-700 AD the earliest signs of the culture appear in the four corners region of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, with the basket makers of Mesa Verde. They experienced a progression of housing type – pit houses (ground was effective as insulation) to above ground structures. They also built large above ground storage rooms for squash and maize.


Machu Picchu


1500 AD


Machu Picchu is a Fortified city in the Andes. The residents (Incas) referred to themselves as Children of the Sun. Machu Picchu is Sited on the saddle between two mountain tops.


The buildings were constructed entirely of local stone. Stone terraces on the hillside were used for gardens and were accessed by stone stairways.


Machu Picchu was the only surviving portion of the Inca civilization after the destruction of the population at Cuzco by Francisco Pizarro. (Pizarro never found Machu Picchu).

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