Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Grid in the Ancient World

Along the banks of the Nile today

The urban grid has a history stretching to the first civilizations. In ancient Egypt, along the flat featureless banks of the Nile, the orthogonal subdivision of the fields came naturally. The river ran north to south; east to west was the direction of the rising and setting sun. After the floods, which replenished the soils each year, the farmers would rebuild the bunds parallel and perpendicular to the river. As population grew, people started building on the farmlands, and the pattern would follow the pre-existing boundaries.

Urban pattern following the pre-existing agricultural pattern

In ancient civilization, the setting out of straight line using a rope would have been followed by the measurement of distance using a rope with knots. After that ancient surveyors would have discovered how to use a piece of string divided into 12 equal lengths to set out a right angle triangle, with the length of the sides in the proportion of 3:4:5.

With these basic techniques, the grid was quite simple to mark out. Indeed, ‘geometer’ means ‘land measurement’, and among its first applications was to subdivide land.

The worker's settelment at ancient town of Kahun, near Giza

Source: Raymnd Unwin,"Town Planning in Practice"

The world’s first “workers’ housing” may be at the ancient town of Kahun built about 3000BC for the builder’s of the pyramids at Illahun near Giza. The town was laid out on a rectilinear grid, and comprised a few large houses and many smaller ones, the latter containing four or five rooms each. On higher ground was a small acropolis serving as a community centre, place of worship and seat of government. The roads were built with a drain in the middle.

Funny enough, the layout grid happens to be on the north-south axis!

References: Raymond Unwin,"Town Planning in Practice", 1909
Spiro Kostof,"the City Shaped", 1991

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Kyle and Svet Keeton said...

Does the drain in the middle of the road work sufficiently? I have seen that style before even in America but never thought that it would be efficient. Then again does the area get a lot of rain? great post I learn so much when I read these posts. My problem is that I never know which Blog I am on with you. You have so many I get lost. :)


Mazlin Ghazali said...

My guess is that it didn't rain much. The floods wold have been from the mountains further south. I'm glad you enjoy my posts. Actually my 'learning' often comes just a couple of hours before yours.

salah said...

hey thats great to find site relevant to my will be nice to exchange links..waiting ur reply..

Kate said...

U dun post nowadays???