Saturday, February 12, 2011

Great Streets by Allan Jacobs

Great Streets is a collection of essays that truly depict the poetic nature of streets. Jacobs’ examples of great streets span many continents and time periods. For example he explores the Roman via, medieval street, and grand boulevard. He identifies characteristics through a fluid dialogue, translating between the street and the reader. The literature is accompanied by many graphical representations of the street including figure ground, maps, small sketches, and large gray scale drawings. Also, he uses architectural plan and section drawings to display dimensions and qualities.

Jacobs really encompasses many different qualities of the street. As if telling a story about a place, he lets the details unravel naturally and the characteristics unfold. The details evolve organically as if one is walking or sitting along the street. How at first, one might notice the detail in a cobblestone, or when one witnesses the delicate design of a lamppost. Then, one might see the balconies and then the details in the building’s façade.

His writing captures the essence of streets, exemplifying their truly memorable qualities. Not only does he tell the story of street, he also shows how one can have a relationship with the street. For example, while examining cobblestones on Paseo de Gracia, he notes “the color is a soft blue-gray that shines and sparkles and looks blue-green when wet.” He welcomes the reader to the street, and offers them his vision. When reading Great Streets, the large format book opens into a portal where one can easily close their eyes, escape, and instantly walk or sit along that particular boulevard.