When I interviewed Dutch architect John Körmeling this spring on his design for the Dutch pavilion on the Shanghai Expo 2010, he told me he had been inspired by the idea of the linear city: an elongated city along a single infrastructural line. Le Corbusier once had proposed such a city for Algiers, Körmeling remembered. In the design by Körmeling for the Shanghai Expo 2010 the idea of the linear city took the form of a winding road lined with individual houses.
The idea of the linear city fascinated me. The city is generally associated with the grid, not with the line. But I suppose most cities started out as a set of houses along a road or waterway. The idea of the linear city therefore seems to touch the fundaments of architecture. At the time of the interview with Körmeling the idea however also seemed highly impractical to me. What if the infrastructural line is jammed? There wouldn’t be another way out of the city.
When I visited the city of Como a couple of weeks later I encountered that the linear city is actually far more common than I imagined. The first linear city I came across there is build along the ring road around Lake Como. As the mountains are pretty steep the ring road is mostly only able to service a single row of houses at one or each side of the road. The linear city that circles the lake only occasionally widens into a grid to form a village or town when the landscape allows it.
From Como there is another, even more dramatic linear city. One of the roads winding up into the mountains leads to the village of Brunate, situated on top of the first mountain west of Como. The center of Brunate is located on a sort of terrace and is therefore able to constitute some kind of grid. Most houses however seem to be situated along the single road that connects Brunate with Como. This is an amazingly steep and narrow road, that is incredibly long for all its winding, and which the Italians drive madly. The most peculiar thing about the road though is that is lined with houses.
Since the mountains are very steep the houses are build higher or lower than the street. Parking is solved on improvised terraces and garages right at the street. Along the road I visited a wonderful nineteenth century house that featured a ‘stacked’ garden: a steeply climbing garden with six terraces. One can imagine that the stairs were an important part of the design of this garden.
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