The Laws of Settlements: 54 Laws Underlying Settlements across Scale and Culture
Are there fundamental laws that govern all settlements—from the smallest village to the largest cities? The Laws of Settlements describes the principles underlying human settlements of all sizes and across all cultures: reviving, updating and refreshing the ’54 Laws of Settlements’ outlined in Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis’ Ekistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements. More
Are there fundamental laws that govern all settlements—from the smallest village to the largest cities? The Laws of Settlements ambitiously describes the principles underlying human settlements of all sizes and across all cultures. It revives, updates and refreshes the ’54 Laws of Settlements’ outlined in Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis’ seminal book Ekistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements, making them relevant to the problems we face in the 21st century.
Within this context, a “settlement” refers to the physical container created to house human activities, one that interacts with the natural environment and artificial constructs over time. Settlements also exist across scales, spanning the smallest group of buildings to the vast cities we see today. This is particularly relevant now, as written works focus on ‘urban’ landscapes, neglecting to recognize that cities are just one of the many possible stages of human settlements.
The underlying belief behind this book is that, in order to truly understand cities, one must understand the repetitive framework inherent to settlements across scales and developmental stages. Settlements are unique insofar that they can pass through different stages indefinitely. That is, their development is not linear from birth to death. Cities can transform into towns and villages as easily as villages and towns can change to cities. This, in theory, can occur in perpetuity and we would be negligent in focusing too much on any single phase of settlement development without recognizing their attributes as part of a larger continuum.
Given the breadth required to engage settlements as a whole, comprehensive studies on the subject are few and far between. This is where the work of Constantinos Doxiadis comes in. Best known for his planning of Islamabad, Pakistan, his life was sadly cut short in 1975 by Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 61. A prolific writer, Doxiadis dedicated most of his professional life to sharing his research findings on settlements: research based on cutting edge computer technologies of the time.
He was a pioneer; the first to propose a science of human settlements founded on his theory of “ekistics”. Curiously, however, despite his significant contributions to the understanding of settlements, his name and work faded into obscurity after his passing.
Of particular relevance here is Doxiadis’ 1968 book—Ekistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements—that was written in response to the increasing complexity and growth of settlements at that time. A colossal undertaking, the book required an interdisciplinary and scalar approach, drawing on knowledge from diverse but related fields—such as archeology, geography, ecology, and urban planning—and applying it to the understanding of not only cities but human settlements as a whole—from towns to megacities.
Ekistics was one of the first attempts at a rigorously integrated, comprehensive approach to settlements and their associated patterns. Hidden within this book are his “54 Ekistic Laws of Settlements”. Intentionally simple—explained by a handful of sentences—their complexity lay in the fact that they cross-referenced one another, creating an intricate, layered understanding of settlements: a very contemporary approach towards the built environment.
Having put these Laws to the test over a decade of practice and teaching, most have proven exceedingly resilient. Now, as we all grapple to find solutions to the creation of human settlements across the globe, it is the right time to revive and refresh Doxiadis’ “54 Laws”.
With this in mind, The Laws of Settlements outlines Doxiadis’ original 54 laws, explaining and updating them in light of the vast amount of accumulated knowledge gained since their original publication. With the addition of nuances when necessary, the underlying motivation is to translate them for the 21st century.
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