Can You Tell a City By Its Blocks?

What if blocks could be extracted, stripped of all but their essential form, and lined up for inspection? Would we know a place by the sum of its parts?

Image
Armelle Caron

What if city blocks could be extracted, isolated, stripped of all but their essential form, and lined up like soldiers for inspection? Would we know Paris or Berlin by the sum of their parts?

French artist Armelle Caron has satisfied this curiosity in "Tout bien rangé," an assembly of what Caron calls "graphic anagrams" of well-known cities. The series, whose title translates roughly as "All in order," is composed of digital images of cities printed on canvas -- cities whole and cities disassembled, catalogs of parts for some Borgesian Ikea project.

Here's Paris (original city above) after Caron has gotten through with it:

In some cases, such as the orthogonal symmetry of New York (blue) or the ancient routes of Istanbul (gray), the shape of blocks does seem to be a prime root -- an uncommon key to a city's character.

Oddly enough, the winding suburban blocks of Tamarac, Florida -- at least in my view -- have an uncanny resemblance to those of Istanbul:

In others cities, like Le Havre or Berlin, the lowest common denominator of urban design, the city block, seems more similar than different -- it's how they fit together that counts.

And then there's the French city of Montpelier, whose large and unwieldy blocks could be printed out and made into a puzzle:

Check out some of Caron's other street-related projects here.

All images courtesy of Armelle Caron.

HT Per Square Mile.

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.