Philosophy of Traditional Village Planning

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The activity of planning a village or a town should not be concerned only with the physical environment, but also with other several essential factors that should be considered, including, demographic, climatic, socio-economic, cultural, aesthetic and spi

Each city, town or village is unique and that its cultural evolution depended largely on its unique qualities. However, to determine the best way of planning a village a general survey method and planning approach has to be found as well as should be applicable to all towns and villages. This planning approach was clearly expressed by the theorist Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), who argued that true planning is an attempt to clarify reality not to displace it, as well as “to grasp firmly all the elements necessary to bring the geographic and economic facts in harmony with human purposes”. He also believed that the “village remains the essential root from which fresh urban shoots from time to time thrust upward. Like Mumford, the British planner, Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), was a strong advocate of cultural tradition. Geddes was perhaps the first to undertake a detailed survey of town planning. He emphasised the importance of climatic conditions, historic heritage, geographic settings, economic processes, and social ideals and purposes.

When an architect or planner designs a building or a town, each line is determined by not only the application of complex mechanical laws, but also by the addition of other important sciences which concern humans, such as their environment and society and to which architects must add their own artistic views and creativity. However, the activity of planning a village or a town should not be concerned only with the physical environment, but also with other several essential factors that should be considered, including, demographic, climatic, socio-economic, cultural, aesthetic and spiritual factors.

Demographic factors

A human settlement made up of inhabitants of one kind of occupation only does not establish an organic and a unified community. Therefore, a diversity of occupational groups is required to ensure the provision of all the different services as well as to achieve a satisfactory standard of living. The demographic factor represents an essential tool, which would help in organising the villages’ neighbourhoods as well as integrating them as living organisms with respect to the professions of their inhabitants.

raditional village potter in India

Town planning and climate

Climate is also a dominant factor affecting town planning. Architects and planners should be concerned with the civility and the quality of people’s lives, which would help them to create a satisfying use of space including public, semi-public and private spaces. Consideration of these different types of spaces would add to the beauty of the place and bring it up to the scale of human. The layout of almost all traditional cities, such as Fez, Cairo and Jerusalem, was similar. It was characterised by large open courtyards and narrow, winding and appropriately orientated streets with a similar arrangement of housing plots and closed vistas to achieve shade as well as to avoid the hot winds of the desert. From an aerodynamic point of view, the secondary, narrow, winding streets with closed vistas work as a temperature regulator and reservoirs of cool and fresh air, essentially the same function as the courtyard in a house. The narrow streets are in the shade most of the time and establish areas of high pressure, while sunny areas in the intersections of the main roads create a low pressure. This difference in air pressure of the two areas would create an air flow by convection.

Windy streets in old town, Capital of Georgia

Socio-economic factors

A village should fit its inhabitants’ routine of work and recreation and grow to reflect the idiosyncrasy of its community. In designing a village or a town, one should express and support the social structures of its inhabitants, as well as maintain their sense of intimacy and the close relationship between them. However, the architect should be concerned with accommodating the social habits of the inhabitants and create opportunities for festivity and public life. They also should provide the villagers with all their communal needs, such as trade, work, education and amusement. Village society is still very different from that of urban society. Ceremonies and other forms of recreation are still part of folk art. Watching a game or a theatrical performance is more significant than the cinema or radio. Therefore, architects should include in their designs appropriate places, where people can present their favourite dances, songs and sports of everyday life as well as preserving them from extinction.

Market in traditional village, China

Cultural factors

If the demographic, climatic and socio-economic considerations play an important role in a village planning process, the relationship between them is a crucial part of the cultural considerations. According to Charles Jencks “A characteristic deficiency of modern city planning… was its inability to provide images of cultural continuity”. The late Hassan Fathy (1900-1989) believed that “culture is the result of the interaction between man’s intelligence and his environment in order to satisfy his physical and spiritual needs”. However, the architect should respect the tradition of the place and be aware that his/her work in the city is a completely different matter from that involving village. Paolo Portoghesi believes that “any work of architecture belongs to a place, and therefore first of all is ‘local’”. Therefore, housing people in relation to their local and regional history would sustain a successful dwelling.

Folklore dance, Santorini village, Greece

Aesthetic Factors

Aesthetics is an important factor for architects and planners to consider and that beauty in architecture is a visual quality or effect of form. Beauty is the by-product of many attempts to satisfy other factors, and that to seek intentionally for beauty is not the best way of realising it. However, the aesthetic dimension is not an end in itself, but it is the product of applying the principles of design to both buildings and town planning. Emphasis on the aesthetic element in planning is grounded in the belief that aesthetic choice in the individual and collective life is a significant and meaningful element because of its creative dimension. This explains the importance of aesthetic in making the built environment as well as in uncovering its repressed aspects, which would affect people psychologically because ugliness is rejected. Certainly, aesthetics is an important tool which helps architects to subordinate their planning approach to the human principles of tradition, human scale, natural environment and spirituality.

Pallawa traditional village (built hundreds of years ago), beautiful composition of roofed houses of bamboo structure, Indonesia

Spiritual factors

The study of village planning involves not only considerations of man both as an individual and in society, but also as a spiritual being. For example, the Arab saw the sky as a benign aspect of nature and that this gradually developed into a theological proposition in which the sky became the home of the deity. This metaphor was also extended from the courtyard to the dome, which they used extensively in roofing their mosques. Like the courtyard, the dome also symbolises the sky through its eight-sided base, which represent the eight angels who support the throne of God.However, architects and planners should pay careful attention to man’s religion and sacred value. Religious feeling first becomes perceptible as a social phenomenon and then plays an essential role in political life as well as in the shaping of cities and villages. However, to give a spiritual feeling of the holy, religious buildings such as mosques in a Muslim society make use of symbols, sacred geometry and absolute measure. For many centuries, every town or village is arranged around a temple, church or mosque in its centre, so that these became the focus of every sort of activity.

The preceding discussion revealed that town planning is a highly specialised activity that needs a conscious consideration of all the previous factors in the planning process. It also highlighted the importance of the social dimension in the sense that its purpose is the enhancement of human welfare. Certainly, architects and planners should be motivated by a social vision of considerable depth and an understanding of a synthesis of nature, art, climate and culture to create a vibrant and significant village planning.

In his seminal book, Architecture for the Poor, 1972, Hassan Fathy stated:

You must start right from the beginning, letting your new buildings grow from the daily lives of the people who will live in them, shaping the houses to the measure of the people’s songs, weaving the pattern of a village as if on the village looms, mindful of the trees and the crops that will grow there, respectful to the skyline and humble before the seasons. There must be neither faked tradition nor faked modernity, but an architecture that will be the visible and permanent expression of the character of a community”.

Bibliography

1. Hassan Fathy, Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt. Chicago, 1973.

2. Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities. London, 1944.

3. Charles Jencks, Current Architecture. London, 1982.

4. Attilio Petruccioli, Hassan Fathy: Inseguendo il Poeta dei Mattoni Crudi (Tracking Down the Poet of Raw Bricks). Spazio e Societa, no.17, March 1982, pp. 42-61.

5. Christian Norberg-Schulz, Architecture: Meaning and Place. New York, 1986

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