Grey Room

Liquid Crowds: Regulatory Discourse and the Architecture of People Flows in the Nineteenth Century

Moritz Gleich

John Nash. Plan of a Street Proposed from Charing Cross to Portland Place, 1814.


A spatial dispositive began to shape architecture and cityscapes in nineteenth-century Europe. In this era, in countless instances of urban planning or architectural design and, not least, in hosting major events such as the Great Exhibition, the question first arose of how best to control and organize the movement of large numbers of people. In response, as the present article endeavors to show, the motif of “flow” came to play a pivotal if not preeminent role in the resolution of the problem. For the numerous techniques and procedures developed for observing, controlling, and steering people in motion drew for their description—to varying degrees but almost without exception—on images and concepts of flux and fluidity. Urban planners, architects, and engineers thus contributed in equal measure to the nascent topos of flowing and liquid crowds.