04/30: Image of the City

One of the first reading assignments I had in architecture was Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City (PDF link to the intro and chapter 4). A few quotes from his introduction explain the focus of his studies. “This book will assert that legibility is crucial in the city setting.” How does the general public, or a group of citizens, absorb the city around them and create coherent mental images or structures, a diagram of the city. The book was published in 1960 and represents research conducted from the five years prior. It is hard to say on initial glance how broad a cross section of citizens were interviewed for the book. The quotes below show an interesting mix of searching for clues from the general public, and understanding how imagery can manipulate those same masses of people.

“Environmental images are the result of a two-way process between the observer and his environment. The environment suggests distinctions and relations, and the observer-with great adaptability and in the light of his own purposes-selects, organizes, and endows with meaning what he sees.”

“…the “public images,” the common mental pictures carried by large numbers of a city’s inhabitants: areas of agreement which might be expected to appear in the interaction of a single physical reality , a common culture, and a basic physiological nature.”

“Group images of meaning are less likely to be consistent at this level than are the perceptions of entity and relationship. Meaning, moreover, is not so easily influenced by physical manipulation as are these other two components [identity and structure]. If it is our purpose to build cities for the enjoyment of vast numbers of people of widely diverse background-and cities which will also be adaptable to future purposes-we may even be wise to concentrate on the physical clarity of the image and to allow meaning to develop without our direct guidance.”

“Since image development is a two-way process between observer and observed, it is possible to strengthen the image either by symbolic devices, by the retraining of the perceiver, or by reshaping one’s surroundings. You can provide the viewer with a symbolic diagram of how the world fits together: a map or a set of written instructions. As long as he can fit reality to the diagram, he has a clue to the relatedness of things.”

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