|Main Street looking West in 1865 [LOC] showing early nineteenth-|
century one-, two-, and three-story brick basic buildings in the
process of replacement by four-and five-story commercial
blocks and hotels during the period preceding the Civil War.
“All this is evident in colonial towns such as New York or Buenos Aires in which routes were not originally traced with different cross-sections or with complimentary roles, but as a chessboard of joint blocks. Time has produced in them a more or less exact hierarchy, yet partially compensating for the sequential nature of the plan, because it gives rise to routes with an insufficient cross-section to bear their hierarchical role. . .”
Gianfranco Caniggia, Understanding Basic Building, 185
As understood by this highly developed theory of urban morphology, cities grow in direct relation to generative “matrix routes.” The routes (and the building tissue along them) are “polarized,” not only by distant destinations, but by nodes that occur along their lengths, where two routes intersect or where a route branches off. This polarization affects the intensity of development along a route, a factor which changes both in relation to factors of time (diachronic diversification) and location (diatopic diversification).
|Richmond's Matrix Route during the eighteenth century (shown diagonally from lower right to upper left). The route corresponds to Main, Governor, and Broad streets.|
The Matrix Route
Each matrix route is lined with two “pertinent strips” (a series of “built lots" along a route that relate to it). In Richmond, the form of the pertinent strip was conditioned by surveying practices learned by colonial officials and an energetic cadre of surveyors during the seventeenth century, from experience in laying out towns in Virginia over a period from the platting of the new town at Jamestown in 1620 to 1680 when twenty new towns were ordered by the government [Hughes 70]. It was also affected by the lack of previous European settlement on the land, although the influence of Indian uses on the placement of routes, river crossings, landings, fields, and settlements on European adaptation of the Virginia landscape should not be underestimated.
|Detail from the c1865 Mickler Map of Richmond showing First, Second, and Third |
Streets crossing Main Street, showing how lots were subdivided and buildings
placed over time in a residential area
The uninflected nature of the blocks in the gridded town of the colonial period made it possible for the lot holder to orient the buildings toward one or the other of the two streets that edged each lot. This choice was directly related to which of the two streets was the more significant route within and through the town. Since all of the first lot owners in a town were involved in promoting or conducting commercial endeavors, lot orientation was entirely based on which street carried the larger volume of the traffic each business was trying to attract.
Lots were rapidly subdivided along the most intensely used routes. Development in new towns was limited to the sides of a main street or other route (including river landings or cross streets) linking the town to sources of trade or production. During this initial development period the majority grid may have been less than fully apparent. As the town progressively developed and expanded its range of functions, services, and civic activities, the grid was manifested in an ever-changing hierarchical relationship with the changing routes of the principal traffic.
The grid was undoubtedly placed so as to be as closely aligned with existing routes as possible, especially when, as at Richmond (and the corresponding town of Petersburg at the falls of the Appomattox River), there was an extant, less formal settlement already on the ground adjacent to the proposed town. In an all-encompassing grid plan like that extending over the several sections of Richmond, the same process of infilling was even slower, and the grid, although there from the start, was only manifested over a period of decades as development required it. Where geography intervened, the grid was circumvented or suppressed. In this way, the grid of planned streets and blocks can be seen as a matrix which conditions the form of the aggregations of buildings and of routes, but does not block the orientation or the position of the routes and aggregates themselves. Caniggia suggests in the quote at the head of the post that American gridded cities prevent a full expression of urban hierarchy.The city extended along the “matrix route,” which took the form of an armature that extended from the eastern end of Main Street at the port of Rocketts to its western boundary on Broad Street. The route climbed the steep side of Shockoe Hill by means of a curving “county road” that became Governor Street. All taverns, hotels, shops, and many houses were at first located directly along this matrix route, and all civic buildings were placed in relation to it, whether facing towards it or placed deliberately away from it.
Infill building, according to Gianfranco Caniggia, occurs where serial tissue (such as row houses) fills both sides of a matrix route. At this point the back yard (pertinent area) of the buildings occupying corner lots increase in value and is “changed into a buildable, albeit undersized lot from its previous role as unbuilt are annexed to a house.” This practice is apparent throughout Richmond, conforming to Caniggia observation that these infill lots tend to acquire variants of the adjoining basic building, but of later date and smaller scale [Caniggia and Cataldi. Interpreting Basic Building, 139]. See the Sanborn maps above for examples.
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