Overarching Metaphors and the Configurations of the Western City

By Tom Darby.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Since the beginning of the West in 5th century Athens the type or design of the city has been an expression of the status of the relation of thought to action, and since this relation of wisdom to power is the essence of politics, one could say that the design of the city is both a cause and effect of politics. This was first expressed by Plato in his Republic and by Aristotle in his Politics and is bound up with the theme of both works: the just city.

There have been three major phases in the design of the city in the West and each phase has followed what I call the Overarching Metaphor. The Overarching Metaphor is an expression of the shared perceptions and practices of a people living in a particular age. An age constitutes the boundaries of the perceptions and practices which define the limits and possibilities of events identifiable as an ensemble or pattern. These ages both opened a vision provided by its Overarching Metaphor and each vision was bound by it. These ages are: 1) The Pagan Classical Age (500 BCE–500 CE) with its metaphor of Nature, i.e., astronomy and biology; 2) the Christian Classical Age (500 CE–1492 CE) with its metaphor of History, i.e., sacred and profane time, and 3) the Technological Age (1492 CE–200–) with its metaphor of the Machine, i.e., the clock, the engine and the computer.

Keywords: Overarching Metaphor, Thought and Action, City Design

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.211-234. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 11.265MB).

Prof. Tom Darby

Professor, Department of Political Science, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Although trained in ancient and modern philosophy and having worked for over three decades in departments of political science, Darby has had a long association with the Carleton University School of Architecture. What most interests him about architectural theory is how it intersects with political philosophy in the concepts of public space and the city and how this relates to philosophy, aesthetics and technology, subjects which are the focus of his teaching and writing.


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