Grids have become deeply ingrained in the approach and working practices of today’s web designers.
Some years back there was a reaction to the dead rigidity of tables in the form of the fluid layout, against which there has been another reaction that has lead on to a greater appreciation of the precision of pixels and the striving for aesthetic perfection and maximum user satisfaction.

As the grid has become a design necessity for the website, the website in turn is based within an internet grid. And all around us in the physical world there are examples of grids that are micro elements (windows and doors) within macro structures (the skyscraper).

But the grid is more than just a feature of urban modernity – they have played essential parts in human understanding for millenniums.

What is the explanation for the existence of the ubiquitous grid throughout the history of human civilisation? Why is it that whenever we strive for order – whether architecturally, cartographically or through the scribing of music through notation – humanity has used this repetitious geometric pattern?

Art historian Hannah B. Higgins, in her rich work The Grid Book, attempts to answer these questions through the study of ten examples. Starting with the brick constructs of ancient Mesopotamia, she wanders past the hot metal type of the Gutenberg press; the bankers’ ledgers of the merchant cities of Genoa and Florence; the artistic methodology of Leon Battista Alberti and the urban planning of Hippodamus of Miletus.

Not merely content with highlighting the physical world of the grid in symbols of modernity such as skyscrapers and sea freight containerisation, Higgins also finds it within the scientific theories of Newton, Einstein and Mandelbrot and that which is beyond the vision of the naked human eye.

The Grid Book is a dizzying rush through thousands of years of human endeavour and is quite a bracing read.
Although the author makes claim to appeal to an audience outside her own academic cache, the pace and sheer expanse of historical and intellective material in the book leaves one a little overwhelmed and perhaps a trifle unsatisfied come the end of the final page.

And where does this history leave us, dear web designer? Beyond, far beyond mere CSS techniques of the 21st century, and with an intellectual debt rooted in mankind’s taming of its habitat, grand construction and artistic expression.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants as The Grid Book details.

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