Designing for use : marking social space in complicated urban architecture at imperial Ostia




Rap, Evan Michael

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This dissertation explores the issue of architectural design in the ancient Roman port city of Ostia Antica. Working within a poststructuralist framework drawn from geography, sociology, architecture and urbanism, I propose the concept of the design- marker—an aspect of the built environment that reflects a designer’s expectations for the way his building would be used. Ostia is particularly well-suited to this study because of its complexity. As the complexity of the surrounding architectural environment increases, there are more types of social space—more potential environments and user groups—which the designer must take into account in his plans. It therefore becomes increasingly likely that discernible patterns of design-markers will emerge. Ostia boasts acres of ancient architecture, and its blocks are both taller and more structurally complicated than those at Pompeii. I identify two design-markers at Ostia: staircases and windows. When the relationship of all the staircases within a block are considered as a group, patterns in their deployment emerge. Designers at Ostia manipulate stairs’ placement and their visual status (in view/out of view) according to the social value of the spaces they lead to. They also distinguish their entrances visually from other doorways. Although staircases have traditionally been classified as internal and external, my analysis proves that staircases exist along a much wider spectrum of possibilities. Windows have not received much attention in scholarship. Windows affect interior experience by making a room susceptible to light, smell, and sound penetration from the exterior. Sometimes, as in the case of the well-decorated rooms of the House of the Muses, a window might be deployed specifically to put the interior on display. As that example shows, windows also exerted some influence on the experience of the building exterior. Similarly, loophole windows sacrifice interior lighting for the sake of the fortress- like connotations such windows project to the world outside. Ostian bars also oriented their windows in the most likely direction of traffic in order to entice new customers with the sounds and scents that escaped the tavern’s interior.