The first known representation of the concept of collective dwelling was the Egyptian hieroglyph nywt, showing a cross in a circle. Rykwert suggests that the same idea may have been at the foundation of the Summerian cuneiform er, or ur, meaning city, or town, (and from which the term “urban” is derived), as did later the Chinese Ya-hing sign, indicating that the “names of the most primitive towns …[were] associated with the idea of orientation and orthogonality.”
The cross in a circle has been powerful symbol that takes several meanings at different times and in different cultures. In Ancient times, the circle represented the sky, marked with a center, which was also the center of the cross, the mundus, where both sky and underworld met. The 90 degree angled cross was a spatial reference to the sun—or east and west as sunrise and sunset, and hither and beyond, or forward and backward, or later, the four cardinal points. A square is often fit in the circle, representing the earth or the city (UFL logo). This diagram is found repeatedly in different cultures. It is ordered in reference to cosmological (whether magical or divine) paradigms and relating human life on earth with that in the au-delà: Ziggurats, tower of Babel, wind-rose (with as many as 16 divisions), sundials, mandalas, as well as the surveyor’s instrument, the groma or gnomon, all combine circles and squares.
The Ancient city literally embodies the nywt symbol. The cross marks the intersection of main streets. This primary intersection in turn identifies four parts of the city (often termed quadripartite). The city walls, providing protection from unwanted and dangerous humans, animals, and spirits, are the circle.
The nywt sign was sometimes represented as a grid, suggesting a net (to catch animals) or a rope (to tie or to measure with). Grids, and by extension cities, have also been embedded into securing food production. They are found in elemental patterns of agricultural space and hence frame the intimate relationship between cities and food production systems.
|Per Castagnoli p.71||Per Rykwert p. 48||Per Vicari||Per Rykwert p. 48, 163-5, 192-3|