Non-grids

Marrakesh, Morocco

Marrakech represents a unique blend of organic patterns influenced by Islamic social law and the changing realities of economics and geopolitics.  The ancient medina is built to serve basic familial and community functions prescribed by Islamic teachings, with the labyrinthine layout following a premodern focus on “neighborhood” and gradual expansion that contributed to the stability of the settlement.  Following colonization, the blueprint for future districts was created using many of the French’s non-grid principles that arose in the 1800s.  Amidst the city’s current shift towards tourism, developers have planned curvilinear roads to support leisure golf communities marketed towards affluent Westerners.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii, is not on a strict compass point grid system, but the city planners try to incorporate as much grid design as possible. The street system conforms to its large shorelines, valleys, and mountainous terrain that consists of many twists and turns. Someone unfamiliar with Honolulu may have difficulty getting around, but there are major arterial roads and the terminology people use is based on large landmarks that are easy to find. For instance, directions in Honolulu often use terms such as “mauka” and “makai” which mean toward the mountain and toward the sea, respectively. Honolulu is known for its bad traffic, so they developed more major highways to accommodate it; but, with its mountainous ranges, water’s edge, and lava bedrock, it is extremely difficult to achieve a grid system.

Le Mirail, Toulouse, France

Le Mirail is a suburb of the French city of Toulouse that was developed in the 1960s. The suburb’s development follows the principles of Team X, a group of young Modernists who emphasized the organic nature of cities. This focus on organic development is seen in the suburb’s hexagonal network and branching cul-de-sacs connected by a web of human pathways and greenery. The suburb’s layout is an explicit rejection of the grid in exchange for a more egalitarian and “natural” cityscape. However, Le Mirail faced significant funding shortages and was never fully completed, which ironically rendered the suburb isolated and disjointed. Although designed for a diverse socioeconomic populace, today, it is one of the poorest areas of Toulouse with a high unemployment rate and a large immigrant population.

Groznjan, Croatia

Groznjan is a small town on the top of a terraced hill in Croatia. It was established by Romans as a fort kastel due to its high vantage point. As even the town’s inside terrain is very leveled, the initial Roman plan had to adjust to local topography, sacrificing the usually strict grid pattern. Groznjan often changed its rulers and inhabitants, yet it is uniform in style: its medieval urban complex built by Venetians in the 13th century remained largely untouched, and as the town is so small, each renovation took on the scope of the whole city. Recently, the town started attracting more residents due to its contemporary jazz educational programs, and new houses and public spaces grew outside the original kastel walls in an organic pattern along the roads leading up to Groznjan.

Rovaniemi, Finland

Alvar Aalto’s plan for Rovaniemi, imposed on the natural topography, was designed to be in the shape of a reindeer, with the main roads mapping to its antlers and the stadium its eye. Although the zoning aspects of Aalto’s modernist plan for Rovaniemi were never fully realized, they were supposed to have been organized around the antler-inspired, irregular, non-gridded streets. This design decision might be critiqued on similar grounds to Krostof’s commentary on “organic” cities: its hierarchical treatment of city functions might be read as a rejection of continuous growth.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is car and oil-based, evident in the the layout of wide roads and highways that run semi-orthogonally throughout the city. The car is honored (to prove it, the city maintains an exotic supercar fleet for its police force). Dubai is attempting to position itself as the city of the future, but its car dependence (and traffic problems) are more reminiscent of the post World War II era.

Grammichele, Sicily

Grammichele is an Italian city of about 15,000 people located in Sicily. The highly rationalized hexagonal city plan is defined in six equal sections, one of which was left for the founder, Prince Carlo María Carafa – passionate about Astronomy and Mathematics – to build his palaces.

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