Topology of a Terrace


Over the last couple of months I’ve found myself perambulating around Cardiff’s Cathays district. This area consists of innumerable rows of densely packed Victorian terraced houses, sub-divided by a medley of roads. To bring it back to the beginning, these roads may have once been ‘streets’, acculturation zones for the local populace – a brick clad milieu for community life.  Now the terraces have been atomised by the automobile, cleaved into plethora of terraced archipelagoes that ram up next to the busy roads.


You could become mawkish about this apparently uncongenial intrusion of four-wheeled traffic, and start pining for an Under Milk Wood fantasia that probably never existed. However, this sub-division and its subsequent results has created a myriad of intriguing new conditions.

Below are a series of basic observational studies that examine how the massing and topology of the terraces has engineered an array of different programmes, social activities and pragmatic uses.


These roads – to use a very archaic urban term – are the arteries of the Cathays. Buses brush past cyclists, who squeeze their way past cars, zooming perilously close to the rows of parked metal. The pavement resides on the periphery, where pedestrians slink past strategically placed dustbins that buffer the private properties against humans and vehicles.

terrace topo

Back Lanes

A series of narrow passageways wedged between the elongated back gardens of the terraced houses. This network of lanes creates a level of permeability to the various marooned terraced islands, whilst serving a variety of pragmatic uses such as the storage of rubbish and the provision of a convenient shortcut.

terrace topo2


These areas are frequently appropriated by commercial businesses that take advantage of the high visibility, and linkage between different streets. Due to these factors they also serve as social meeting spots for the community.

terrace topo4

Closed Streets

A tree-lined pedestrian area encloses the bottom of the street, thus limiting traffic movement. This provides a more intimate private space for the local residents who have claimed parts of the street as their own, through the placement of potted plants.

terrace topo5

Interstitial Spaces

Due to the skewed shape of these  terraced islands, a variety of enclosed interstitial spaces have been created. A number of non-public commercial outlets can be found embedded in theses spaces, usually functioning as warehouses or builder’s yards.

terrace topo3

For those that are curious, these studies were done for an architectural project for Cardiff University. I’m trying to avoid posting my architectural projects, as I think a personal website would be a superior setting for such content. That personal website is however non-existent, as I’m taking an inexcusably long time to set it up. I do however own the domain name – much to the future annoyance of any other internet savvy Gareth Cotters.

  1. suchoo said:

    Maybe this is a stupid question but I’m gonna ask it: what program or whatever do you use to make these sketches?:) Oh and by the way your posts about Le Corbusier really helped me during urban history!

    • That’s great, i’m glad my post was useful. Regarding the sketches, I drew them using a 0.25mm Rotring technical pen, then scanned them into the computer and added some colour ‘n’ overlays on photoshop.

  2. It is a nice combination of a naive way of looking at architecture (in a positive sense!) and creating atmosphere on a two-dimensional piece of paper.

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