The Architecture of the Ideal City
David Gobel, Professor of Architectural History at the Savannah College of Art and Design, gave a lecture on the Architecture of the Ideal City on Saturday, March 23rd at the ICAA's National Office. The course aimed to give participants a comprehensive history of the “ideal” city throughout the history of architecture, and explored how the elements of the ideal have been applied to cities both past and present.
This five-part lecture began with the idea of the city. Prof. Gobel opened with a discussion in which he encouraged the participants to provide their own interpretation of what an ideal city is. This conversation led into an explanation of how the realization of an ideal city is impossible. Prof. Gobel explained that the ideal city is a paradox, in which no city is ideal and yet every city is ideal. A city could only be ideal if there were no citizens, yet a city cannot exist without citizens. This discussion continued with a theological lens into cities in the Bible, examining the stories of Cain, Babel, and the Celestial City.
The second part of the lecture analyzed how the Ancient Greeks viewed the ideal city. Prof. Gobel presented on two separate models by Plato and Aristotle. In The Republic, Plato writes about an ideal society that is ruled by a philosopher king. Aristotle talks about his ideal state and community in The Politics. He outlines how the household should be run, the ideal political system, and who is deserving of citizenship. Both of these works provide a foundation for Western thought on the proper elements and structure for an ideal city. From the Greek polis, the history of the ideal continues into Rome and its empire. The story of the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus allows for the ideal city to hold eternal mythological value. However, the perfection of this city was questioned after its fall.
The third session of the course continued to explore the history of the ideal city by examining Augustine of Hippo’s The City of God and how the vision of an ideal city can change overtime. The criteria of the ideal city had shifted to a Christian ideology through the Middle Ages. The Renaissance signified another shift in beliefs toward humanism. However, this era did not produce any actual examples of the ideal city. Writers and architects such as Leon Battista Alberti and Francesco De Marchi put forth radical ideas about urban design that would influence how the ideal city is understood.
The fourth portion of the course examined the building of cities in Europe and the colonies with post-Renaissance ideologies. Throughout Europe and Colonial North America, “ideal” cities were built with a variety of intentions ranging from military prowess to religious freedom, such as Palmanova and Savannah. The end of the lecture approached the modernist understanding of “utopia” and how it has affected the building of cities in the 19th and 20th century in the face of industrialization. Prof. Gobel finished the lecture with a discussion of the merits of building an ideal city. Participants were encouraged to voice their opinions on the ideal city and its importance in contemporary architectural practice.