The fundamental, defining, characteristic of the grid – the placement of one geometrical form or figure arranged at a right angle to another – has multiple points of origin, but architectural historiography typically locates it in antiquity. In fifth-century BC Greece, for instance, the figure of the grid was institutionalised as a spatial articulation of a political vision, that is, public life was performed within unoccupied territories delineated by potentially limitless districts of private habitation. The substance of the polis is, therefore, emphatically differentiated from that of the oikos, consummated in the form of a grid.
It is impossible to deny the essential importance of the grid for the world’s first theory of urbanisation – Cerdà’s Teoría General de la Urbanización – or its central role in the redevelopment of cities all over the world in the 150 years since. While many historians emphasise the part played by the grid in defining the urban (or the ‘modern city’), what is often overlooked is the use of the grid as a metaphorical device for the depoliticisation and neutralisation of an otherwise overt spatio-political order, devised in the name of unlimited circulation and domesticity.