The city as a body
During the 17th and 18th centuries, understanding of blood circulation and other bodily functions crystallised. This knowledge could be fed into an Enlightenment vision in which urban components mirrored the functions of different body parts.
The image to the right shows the urban vision of Italian military engineer Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501).
He believed cities should be planned with the centre of government located at the “head” – the most noble part of the body. From an elevated position – metaphorically and sometimes physically – governments could both be protected, and surveil the rest of the city-body.
According to di Giorgio Martini’s thinking, a temple should be located at the city’s “heart” to guide its spirit. And piazza should be located at the “stomach”, guiding the city’s instinct and mixing the populace.
Countless medieval and renaissance cities include a citadel on a hill. But this type of city thinking culminated in the 20th century when the French-Swiss urban planner known as Le Corbusier conceived of a city with a decision-making “head”, separate from the residential and the industrial “bowels”.
This inspired new capitals such as Brasilia (Brazil), and Chandigarh (a state capital in northern India).
Historically, planners have also been inspired by understanding of a single organ. As shown in the image below, architect Pierre Rousseau designed the French city of Nantes with a centre that functioned as a “heart” and pumped goods and individuals through it.
But such biological and scientific thinking could also reinforce social divides.
During the 17th-century plagues in Florence and Rome, for example, the poor were considered lowly organs that attracted and even bred disease. As a result, they were locked down in hospitals away from the city – a move medical experts at the time likened to surgical removal of a weak part of the body.