Town Planning Review

Figure-ground: history and practice of a planning technique

Town Planning Review (2016), 87, (6), 705–728.

Abstract

Figure-ground plans show the footprints of buildings and the pattern of unbuilt voids in urban space. Compared historically they reveal the erosion of the public realm over time and provide an analytical basis for tissue repair. The paper traces the communicative power of figure-ground technique to its roots in gestalt psychology, and follows its revival from Colin Rowe’s studio at Cornell through to controversies in post-reunification Berlin. The impact of computerisation is discussed and the paper ends with illustrations drawn from current practice in the representation of urban past, present and future.

This article was published open access under a CC BY license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Figure-ground: history and practice of a planning technique

Abstract

Figure-ground plans show the footprints of buildings and the pattern of unbuilt voids in urban space. Compared historically they reveal the erosion of the public realm over time and provide an analytical basis for tissue repair. The paper traces the communicative power of figure-ground technique to its roots in gestalt psychology, and follows its revival from Colin Rowe’s studio at Cornell through to controversies in post-reunification Berlin. The impact of computerisation is discussed and the paper ends with illustrations drawn from current practice in the representation of urban past, present and future.

This article was published open access under a CC BY license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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JACOBS, A. B., MACDONALD, E. and ROFÉ, Y. (2002), The Boulevard Book, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. The Boulevard Book Google Scholar

JEFFERY, J. K., JOVALEKIC, A., VERRIOTIS, A. and HAYMAN, R. (2013), ‘Navigating in a three-dimensional world’, Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 36, 523–87. Navigating in a three-dimensional world Behavioural and Brain Sciences 36 523 87 Google Scholar

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KAIN, R. (1981), ‘Conservation planning in France: policy and practice in The Marais, Paris’, in R. Kain (ed.), Planning for Conservation, London, Mansell, 199–233. Conservation planning in France: policy and practice in The Marais, Paris Planning for Conservation 199 233 Google Scholar

KICKERT, C. (2014), ‘Active centres – interactive edges’, PhD thesis, University of Michigan, http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/110405 (accessed 12 January 2016). Google Scholar

KICKERT, C. (2015), ‘The Rise and Fall of Downtown Detroit 1854–2011’, https://youtu.be/QyYQ9fdOQwk (accessed 12 January 2016). Google Scholar

KOETTER, F. and ROWE, C. (1980), ‘The crisis of the object, the predicament of texture’, Perspecta, 16, 108–41. The crisis of the object, the predicament of texture Perspecta 16 108 41 Google Scholar

KOSTOF, S. (1992a), The City Assembled, London, Thames & Hudson. The City Assembled Google Scholar

KOSTOF, S. (1992b), The City Shaped, London, Thames & Hudson. The City Shaped Google Scholar

KRIER, L. (2009), The Architecture of Community, Washington, DC, Island Press. The Architecture of Community Google Scholar

KÜNDIGER, B. (1997), ‘Berlin: urban planning between history and modernity’, in K. Bosma and A. H. Helling (eds), Mastering the City: North European City Planning 1900–2000, vol. 2, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam, 66–75. Berlin: urban planning between history and modernity Mastering the City: North European City Planning 1900–2000 66 75 Google Scholar

LACAN, J. (2004), ‘Généalogie du poché: de l’espace au vide’ Matières 7, 41–54. Généalogie du poché: de l Matières 7 41 54 Google Scholar

LADD, B. (1997), The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape Google Scholar

LE CORBUSIER (1977 [1924]), The City of Tomorrow, trans. F. Etchells, Chatham, W. & J. Mackay Ltd. The City of Tomorrow Google Scholar

MACEACHREN, A. M. (1995), How Maps Work – Representation Visualization and Design, New York, The Guilford Press. How Maps Work – Representation Visualization and Design Google Scholar

MCGRATH, B. (2008), Digital Modelling for Urban Design, Chichester, John Wiley. Digital Modelling for Urban Design Google Scholar

MCGRATH, B. and GARDNER, J. (2007), Cinemetrics – Architectural Drawing Today, Chichester, John Wiley. Cinemetrics – Architectural Drawing Today Google Scholar

MESECKE, A. and SCHEER, T. (1996), Josef Paul Kleihues, Gebr. Mann Verlag, Berlin. Josef Paul Kleihues Google Scholar

MILLEA, N. (2003), Street Mapping: An A to Z of Urban Cartography, Oxford, Bodleian Library. Street Mapping: An A to Z of Urban Cartography Google Scholar

MOUDON, A. V. (1994), ‘Getting to know the built environment: typomorphology’, in K. Franck and L. Schneekloth (eds), Ordering Space: Types in Architecture and Design, New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 289–314. Getting to know the built environment: typomorphology Ordering Space: Types in Architecture and Design 289 314 Google Scholar

MUMFORD, E. (2009), Defining Urban Design: CIAM Architects and the Formation of a Discipline, 1937–69, New Haven, CT and London, Yale University Press. Defining Urban Design: CIAM Architects and the Formation of a Discipline, 1937–69 Google Scholar

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PANERAI, P., CASTEX, J. DEPAULE, J. C. and SAMUELS, I. (2004), Urban Forms: The Death and Life of the Urban Block, Oxford, Architectural Press. Urban Forms: The Death and Life of the Urban Block Google Scholar

PINNOCK, W. (1834), The Guide to Knowledge, Volume 2, London, W. Edwards. The Guide to Knowledge, Volume 2 Google Scholar

POPPER, K. (1957), The Poverty of Historicism, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul. The Poverty of Historicism Google Scholar

POULIN, R. (2011), The Language of Graphic Design, Beverly, MA, Rockport Publishers. The Language of Graphic Design Google Scholar

RASMUSSEN, S. E. (1937), London, the Unique City, revised edition, London, Jonathan Cape. London, the Unique City Google Scholar

ROBINSON, A. H. (1995), Elements of Cartography, 6th edition, New York, Wiley & Sons. Elements of Cartography Google Scholar

ROSSI, A. (1982), The Architecture of the City Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. The Architecture of the City Google Scholar

ROWE, C. (1997), ‘Foreword’, in Koetter and Rowe. Foreword Google Scholar

ROWE, C. and HEJDUK J. (1957), ‘Lockhart, Texas’, Architectural Record, 121, 201–6. Lockhart, Texas Architectural Record 121 201 6 Google Scholar

ROWE, C. and KOETTER F. (1978), Collage City, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. Collage City Google Scholar

ROWE, P. (1997), Civic Realism, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. Civic Realism Google Scholar

SASAKI ASSOCIATES (2011), ‘University of Texas at Austin campus master plan’, http://www.sasaki.com/project/317/university-of-texas-at-austin-master-plan/ (accessed 1 October 2016). Google Scholar

SCHEER, T., KLEIHUES, J. P. and KAHLFELDT, P. (2000), City of Architecture/Architecture of the City: Berlin 1900–2000, Berlin, Nicolai. City of Architecture/Architecture of the City: Berlin 1900–2000 Google Scholar

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Hebbert, Michael