Monday, September 17, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-13: An interesting way to shake up the "figure-ground" view of cities

My friend and R&C colleague Dwight Merriam shot me the following link last week and I finally took a look this morning:

Odd things happen when you chop up cities and stack them sideways

It takes you to "Krulwich Wonders - an NPR Sciencey Blog," a weblog maintained by Robert Krulwich on NPR's website. Krulwich's post is a comment on the work of Armelle Caron, a French artist who has performed an act of desconstruction on a total of 6 major cities (the 2 not shown in Krulwich's post are Le Havre and Montpellier). 

The starting points here are known as "figure-ground" views of the described cities over a set area in which the buildings are solid, colored shapes and everything else is white space. I must confess that I have always enjoyed the immediate, intuitive information conveyed by figure-ground graphics, so much so that when my kids were younger and we found ourselves at the beach, I wouldn't build sand-castles but instead lay out rock and shell versions of figure-grounds (Roslindale Square was very often the subject). Figure-grounds convey, perhaps better than any other method, the way in which buildings and how they are arranged in relation to each other create or fail to create meaningful and satisfying places, and they're especially good for comparing cities:

New York Figure-Ground (Credit: Armelle Caron)

New York deconstructed (Credit: Armelle Caron) 

Istanbul Figure-Ground (Credit: Armelle Caron)

Istanbul deconstructed (Credit: Armelle Caron)
 The deconstructed version is also interesting, and the method of laying out the separated pieces is obviously an art, not a science. Interesntigly, Krulwich's vote for most interesting deconstruction goes to Istanbul, and he indicates almost-disappointment with New York. I must say I'm not entirely with Krulwich that the city of my birth comes off that badly, especially considering that if the area shown were dropped another half mile or so, it would show more variety since it would take in all of Lower Manhattan.

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