March 25, 2010
dress ringroad
Silk with Fly Fringe Cage Crinoline Dress, Mantua, 1760-70 (source)


Perimeter is the boundary of controlled ownership. In fashion it is a negotiable boundary. Victorian dresses of the 19th century functioned as a personal architecture, defining the space and status of the wearer, while simultaneously attracting the attention of the viewer (both parties are necessary for perimeter to have any meaning). By putting on the dress, the wearer amplified their narcissistic claim to personal space, beyond what everyday attire of the time allowed. This artificial perimeter obscured the body while expanding it in space.


The practice of oversized Victorian costume began with the layering of petticoats and starched fabrics to communicate social standing. Over time, the multilayered status-imbuing fabrics became too unwieldy to perform as clothing. To overcome the practical limitations of textiles, in 1856, W.S. Thompson patented the cage crinoline, a hollow metal cage that replaced the solid, stratified petticoat volume. As the cage crinoline evolved, it grew in scale and ornamentation, forcing its form to shift to accommodate its surroundings. In order to allow passage through the narrow door frames and hallways, typical of the time, the cage crinolines were flattened in profile, resulting in a silhouette that only revealed its full spatial dominance when viewed from the front. These points in the evolution of the Victorian dress depict a negotiation in the definition of perimeter from a personal volume to an objectified form.


Jonathan Stitelman


Ring Roads of the World, Thumb (source)


‘…the city in its circular fever repeats and repeats’.


—Octavio Paz, A Draft of Shadows



A city’s edges are in a state of perpetual redefinition. Roman walls give way to medieval walls, which ultimately give way to un-walled urban expansion. Fortified perimeters that once defined and protected entire settlements become porous thresholds between the older and newer districts of a single city. Cities themselves become nodes within greater metropolitan regions—networked conurbations with limits that are often difficult to plot. Even at the scale of the continent, the clear definition of an edge becomes tenuous, as transcontinental cities stitch nearly distinct land masses together.


The ring roads that surround contemporary cities are perhaps the clearest perimeter form at our disposal today, but a ring road is not a wall. Rather than containing place and bluntly delineating the extents of a city, ring roads invite horizontal expansion (as the growing number of cities with several concentric ring roads will testify). To save itself from itself, the contemporary city may need to reinvent the wall.


Pamphlet Architecture 13: Edge of a City showcases six projects by Steven Holl, three of which are explicit proposals for defining the urban/rural edge of existing North American cities. In Dallas Forth Worth, Spiroid Sectors delineate the boundary between a sprawling metropolis and the prairie land it hasn’t yet overtaken. In Phoenix, Spatial Retaining Bars create a distinct threshold between the city and the desert. With Stitch Plan, Holl defines a boundary for Cleveland’s urban growth, and fixes it to a series of points. Each of these points—the intersection of the X-shaped stitches—collects and concentrates the conditions of the urban and the rural, focusing them toward a clear moment of exchange.



…’if the discipline of architecture is not to become even more marginalized than it is at present, it must rise to the challenge of this space at the edge‘.


—Stan Allen, America: Realism and Utopia (review of Edge of a City exhibition, May 1991)


Aaron Plewke



Edited by E. Sean Bailey


2 Responses to “PERIMETER”

  • John-David Carling says:


    Aaron…. interesting write up….
    I have been reading your stuff for like 7 years… somehow… it just makes sense to me.
    Thanks for keeping up the mental processes of design growing.

  • John-David Carling says:


    Nice BI variations at the top LOL.



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