Image source: The Town Plan of Catalhoyuk.
This is a perspective drawing of the Turkish city Çatalhöyük, drawn by James Mellart, the archeologist who excavated the city in 1961. It’s about 8,500 years old and at its peak had a population of about 10,000 people.
The remarkable thing about Çatalhöyük is that there are no streets. All the houses back onto one another, with no space in-between. To get to your house, you have to climb up on the top of the city, and walk over the roofs to get to your house, and then drop down a chimney hole into it.
You would, as a resident, bury your dead under the floor of your house. Every 100 years or so, you would knock down your house and build it again on top of the rubble. And so, slowly, the city rose up and became a mound.
Çatalhöyük isn’t a fictional city, but I like it anyway because it’s a totally different model to the one we eventually went with.
But no streets! It reminds me of nothing so much as the Web, especially the Web before good search engines. A place where everything is equally accessible so long as you know where it is, all internally interlinked like a hive.
So one of the way I work, being not-a-designer, is to use a lot of metaphors. Metaphors are a great sort of idea scaffolding.
I start by saying, as the Web is to cities, so weblogs are to Çatalhöyük. Or, so this online social music website is to the London underground system. Or, so this repository of scientific papers is to Borges’ infinite library.
You know, so you make the analogy and then extend the metaphor. The consequence would be this, the consequence would be that. It’s a way to provoke creative thinking.
You see I mentioned Borges just there. Borges wrote about libraries and forking paths of narrative, and reading his stories, you almost believe you’re reading about the World Wide Web, that somehow he knew. He brings together the parallel lines of storytelling and architecture, so no wonder he’s very popular online.
I think one of the reasons Borges is popular is that his stories resonate with a very powerful bit of idea scaffolding that we’ve used for years to think about the Web, and that’s the idea of the Web as something not unlike an infinite library… physical objects in a physical space.
[I wrote more about Çatalhöyük in a 2006 presentation, Sci-fi I like. The city is mentioned on slide 34. Walking cities also come up.]