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Another Look at the Geometry of Paris


During the Geometry of Modern Paris event, the first lecture in the Quantification of Urban Space programme, Dr Min Kyung Lee presented one method of quantifying urban space by showing the relation between the process of mapping and the shape of the city.

Dr Min Kyung Lee’s first lecture of a series, entitled the Geometry of Modern Paris, started with the suggestion that the most significant features of Parisian architecture might not be the jewels such as the Opéra Garnier, but the grid and the processes of triangulation that produced the maps on which they stand out.

While our gaze tends instinctively towards landmarks as they sit framed by the regular aspect of the boulevards and avenues, the key to understanding the forces behind large scale urban change, such as marked Paris indelibly under the rule of Napoleon III, lies in looking at how the maps were made. Min demonstrated this beautifully with reference first to a series of royal portraits in which the monarch is shown alongside maps displayed for his subjects to observe as an extension of his rule. In the case of the Hippolyte Flandrin’s portrait of Napoleon III (1862), the plans placed within reach of his imperious hand show a mere suggestion of a city map, while the streets all around the Tuileries Palace were being torn up. This, Min argued, was because the drawing of the map was still underway, and it was this process that would dictate the shape of the city to come. In other words, the numbers and the geometric calculations that were being plotted from the uneven ground of the building sites were the key factors that gave rise to the future forms of urban experience. 

In this first lecture, Min used a ruler and scaled plans to demonstrate the consequences of geometric calculation on the shape of city life in Paris. The next events in this programme will turn to other tools of quantification and mapping. How are numbers shaping space today, and whose hands are pointing to the maps of our future city navigations?  

More information on this programme and Min Kyung Lee’s work is available here. Click on the video below to watch the recording of the seminar.