Dismantling the Figure-Ground…

September 27, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

My little A found these online the other day…

A series of comparative layout drawings of some of the worlds most famous cities (and some less so, Taramac, Florida anyone?) by the French artist Armelle Caron.

Caron hit upon this idea back in 2005 when she started looking at these cities in what is known as a figure-ground plan. This is a common urban design tool in which all the buildings and built form are coloured in (the figure) and the open space, streets, footpaths etc. are left blank (the ground). It’s generally considered a useful way of looking for patterns in the fabric of a city, patterns that might denote how a place developed or indicate strong routes, or simply highlights natural obstacles (rivers, mountains etc) which become more obvious in this type of analysis.

As well as being very intriguing and rather beautiful, Caron’s images highlight a number of interesting things. Firstly they demonstrate the huge variety of built form that can be found in our cities, from huge city blocks to tiny sheds, and the unbelievably complex relationships that develop over time between the built and the unbuilt…

At the same time however, the sorting and arranging of these random pieces of city into very deliberate and ordered lines, clearly demonstrates that on the whole, all our cities are made up of pretty consistent sized chunks of built form (in plan anyway) regardless of the culture in which it is historically placed.

The one aspect that suffers the most through this process is of course the open, white space. Take New York (in turquoise below)… Where is The East River, The Williamsburg Bridge, most of Roosevelt Island, Central Park?… all fundamentally important to the development of the city and all gone without trace…

Or maybe I think about these things too much, and it’s not meant as an academic exercise at all, instead to be taken at face value as a novel approach to creating interesting pictures…

Either way the images are very striking and the only complaint I have is that Ms. Caron didn’t seem to do one of my home city of London.

I’d be sorely tempted to give it a go myself… If only I had a spare couple of months.

  1. October 11, 2012 at 01:34

    Highly descriptive post, I loved that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

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