Evolving the Ancient City Wall
The ancient city wall is a powerful piece of urban form that originated out of functional defense strategies but also symbolized strong implications of power, wealth, social status, religious status, inclusion, and exclusion. It was a powerful boundary that distinguished what was inner city and what was outer city. The psychological effects of one being banished from the city wall or accepted through the massive gates can be very imposing on an individual. The city wall may not exist in modern times at the same degree of application but it still transcends through fencing around one’s property to establish what is considered in and out and what is commonly read as permissible or forbidden.
Nearly all ancient cities contained a perimeter wall to defend itself from invaders. It became an essential element to the success of the city and was a symbol of wealth and status. However, the city wall has evolved over time and is often forgotten as part of a city’s deeply seated history (Figure 1). What began as a means of defense soon became conquered or became too small for growing populations. If a city wall remained intact, it was very common for it to be later removed during the Industrial Revolution as a means to encourage trade and commerce. The question arrises, what does the city wall mean to a modern society and how is it relevant today? Although evidence of removed city walls is hardly discernible at the human eye level, etchings of the ancient city is easily seen from above (Figure 2). More obvious examples are cities which have preserved their ancient city wall and typically used as a tourist attraction. The ancient city wall is a great symbol of history and can be utilized as a reference point of time and place within our era. The recognition of significant historical landmarks such as the city wall is a means for people to reconnect with the past and place themselves along the history of human kind. This connection can often times generate a greater knowledge of the process of human evolution and alert the viewer to past, present, and future.
Figure 1: Evolution of the city wall (click to enlarge).
Figure 2: Aerial view of Florence, originally the Roman settlement of Florentia.
We can study how other cities have evolved their ancient city wall and decide what are some wise urban design developments. One example is the Ringstrasse in Vienna, Austria (Figure 3). Here, the old city wall of Vienna was removed and replaced with a ring of architecturally significant civic institutions. The movement was a experiment for late 19th and early 20th century architects like Otto Wagner and Gottfried Semper to express an eclectic liberal agenda. Here, the mass of the city wall is disregarded but its form resonates into architectural masses and the surrounding street. The idea is to remove the wall which represents enclosure, separation, and exclusion and replace it with an architectural expression of progression, acceptance, and forward thinking. I think it is a very good idea in theory because the tracings of the wall are still felt through the curved building arrangements and curved perimeter street. I do not necessarily agree with the architectural outcome of the project because the architecture represents a replication of historic styles such as renaissance, gothic, and baroque, rather than a direct evolution of civic architecture.
Figure 3: Aerial view of the Ringstrasse in Vienna, Austria.
10 Easy Ways to Reconnect with your Ancient City
1. In cities that have not already established a distinct high rise zone, there may be opportunity for creating a high rise zone along the location of the historic city wall. This idea has similarities to the Ringstrasse in that a new architectural zone is created in place of the city wall. The skyscraper becomes a symbolic reference of a modern day version of the monolithic defense architecture of the past. This idea would apply to cities that have had an ancient wall but it has ben fully disassembled over time. It would be most efficient to implement this idea if the cities infrastructure closely follows the shape of the ancient wall.
2.Reconstruct a portion of the city wall and lookout tower close to its original form and provide access for the public to use it as a viewing platform. Strategically placing a park or museum next to the structure would further aid in attracting people to the site. Users can grasp the idea of the scale, form, and construction methods of the ancient city wall and be able to interact with it. Also, it does not necessarily have to be located in its original place since it is only a portion of the wall, it will not give the sense of boundary or enclosure.
3. Create a sculpture that represents the location and scale of the ancient city wall. This sculpture can be interrupted by existing buildings, run beside them, or above them. The idea is to create a datum line that ties what is existing into what used to be there. It acts as a large scale urban artwork as well as an educational element.
4. Turn the boundary defined by the ancient city wall into a daily market place for people to buy and sell goods, congregate, and socialize. In this idea, the city wall remains as a definitive boundary and stopping point and there are opportunities such as what is in the sketch to subtly reference the height of the old city wall.
5. Similar to idea #3 but create a series of art walls along building facades that are located in place of the old city wall. This creates a massive urban artwork that can be implemented in numerous ways. One method this could be implemented is that an office building can auction off their facade to an artist for charity or for advertisement purposes. This idea gives a chance for people to express ideals and emotions through public artwork as well as reflect on the past.
6. Transform the old city wall into a linear garden path. Providing green space to an urban environment can be symbolic rather than inserting trees and parks in irrelevant places. Here, the boundary of the city wall is maintained and acting as a scenic path. Some previous ideas can also be integrated into this one such as #3, the sculptural mass of the wall.
The buildings along the location of the ancient city wall can be assigned a particular function or typology. For instance, all housing can occur in the form of town houses, hotels, apartment buildings, ect. Another example can be to use all commercial buildings which can create a linear path for shoppers to enjoy. The buildings could also be all government institutions, or all educational facilities. Any number of these options depends on the need and flexibility of that particular city. The buildings would ideally be shaped in a linear form to mimic the general shape of the original wall. If portions of the wall still exist, then they too can be preserved and a stronger datum line would be created.
Inverse the mass of the ancient wall as a means of creating interest and intrigue. People can easily relate to extruded masses in an urban environment, so in order to create a more powerful effect, the mass can be a voided out into the ground plane. This is not a means to evoke historic accuracy but to evoke the power one may have felt in ancient times standing next to a massive wall.
Recreate an ancient mote that acts as a public water feature. The example of recreating the Cheonggyecheon stream into a interactive public space can be applied here if it can be located in the location of the ancient mote and wall. This idea can also be integrated with #6 to create a linear park and mote which still acts as a boundary and stopping point for people.
Construct an elevated walkway at the same height and location of the ancient city wall. This idea works well in a city with many high rise buildings at the city core. Implementing this walkway can be functional as a means of safe pedestrian travel as well as symbolic to the city’s past. Co-operation with the building owners to provide access at the same elevation of the walkway would make this idea most successful.