Archive for the ‘Mapping’ Category


Another connection was made over on the Comics Journal message board earlier this week, when Alex Buchet pointed me towards this short but very interesting article on Bernard Tschumi by the Canadian cartoonist and illustrator Stuart Immomen. Immomen provides a sound case for regarding some of Tschumi’s theoretical projects as out and out comics.

Probably conscious of the three figure asking price for a copy of Tschumi’s Manhattan Transcripts (1981), someone has snaffled the only copy of the book kept in the University of Sheffield library. I will attempt to hunt down another copy in the coming weeks to have a closer look.


The sun continues to shine convincingly on Strasbourg, and my days remain conveniently free of scheduled classes. During my last visit to Sheffield, Renata Tyszczuk recommended that I read Diana Periton’s essay The ‘Coupe Anatomique’: sections through the nineteenth century Parisian apartment block (in The Journal of Architecture, Autumn 2004 pp. 289 – 304). Finally with some time to focus on it, I topped and tailed today with two particularly bohemian reading sessions: with a coffee this morning, sitting outside my favourite Strasbourg café, watching the theatre of the city’s busy streets; and then again this afternoon, in the warm early evening sunshine pouring into the bar beneath my apartment. With the sun perfectly framed between the tall buildings on the other side of the street, I made some really interesting notes that are beginning to gel some of my earlier ideas. Periton introduces the essay:

In French popular literature of the later nineteenth century, such as illustrated newspapers, or the ubiquitous guides to and didactic histories of Paris, the section through the Parisian apartment block becomes a familiar image. These sections reveal the anatomy of Paris at a glance. They use our understanding of the domestic interior, particularly the way it regulates activities and flows, to present a summary of the city through the ordering of its constituent elements.

A hybrid of the technical drawing, that shows construction and infrastructure, and of an assemly of pictorial tableaux, they are seductively banal. Seductive, because they give us an overview of the normally hidden world of the interior, made miniature and caught between the pages of a book or magazine. Banal, because in doing so, its mysteries are laid bare. The systems that structure the city, from its social divisions to its networks of electricity conduits, are explicitly set out.

Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’
Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, p. 289

The journal is illustrated with copies of the sectional drawings that Periton explores, however you’ll have to find a copy of the journal yourself to see them, since I’m not able to reproduce them here (the article cites the shelfmarks of the original publications in the British Library in London). At the very first glance, however, these prints are to my eyes instantly interpretable as comic strips; sectional cuts and perspectives that present each room as an individual panel with – as Periton explains – varying degrees of animated occupancy. There must be something in the Parisian water that encourages the French to look in on their urban environment so closely: I was instantly reminded of the wonderful novel by Georges Perec, Life, A Users Manual, in which the dozens of separate yet intermingled stories and histories of the occupants of a Parisian apartment block are told.

Periton charts a short history of three published Parisian ‘coupes’, or illustrated sections. The first to be examined is of a single five story Parisian town house by the French writer, photographer, illustrator and caricaturist Bertall, first published in 1845. The second is from 1769, and is a slightly earlier but wider section through an (idealised) Parisian street by the architect Pierre Patte. Periton introduces the third as a ‘hybrid’ of the first two: it’s by the writer and history Baron Alfred-Auguste Ernouf and comes from his 1885 publication l’Art des Jardins.

Today’s ‘lightbulb’ moment of sudden realisation came this afternoon, as the sun slipped out of sight and the rapidly shifting shadows on the white tiled floor of the café moved over my green-topped table. Bertall is approaching his section of the Parisian town house as a characturist, presenting a series of stacked vignettes. Patte, however, is an architect, showing the houses, street and even the drains below the surface of the paved street as a complete urban system. His rooms are noticeably vacant of human occupation. In these two sections, we already have what would appear to be the first seeds of the seismic gap between the way that architects and cartoonists present buildings. Bertall embraces the variety of human activity in the building. Periton describes the building’s activities and quotes from the caption that appeared with the picture in its first publication, a weekly newspaper.

On the ground floor, we read, the caretaker, a little over-excited, is dancing a mazurka with his wife, while mademoiselle their daughter plays something more like a sonata or a nocturne on the piano, with the kind of talent that will allow her to marry an elderly genetleman who has fallen on hard times. ‘On the first floor, we are yawning over the velvets and silks. This is the old morale of marble halls. On the [next] …, we are less rich, and more awake’; but we are warned, teh viture and happiness of this floor, the ‘entente cordiale’, show but one not entirely dependable aspect of the race that occipies it, the ‘bon bourgeoisie’. In the mansard, a man has just beaten his wife, and ‘a philosopher, a poet, perhaps, shelters his genius under a [home-made] … dome in the ceiling…’

Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’
Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, pp. 289-291

These images are a French parallel to the earlier sequential prints of William Hogarth that I saw earlier this month in London. Like Hogarth in the previous century, Bertall is styling himself as a moralist, and using the readily accessible and affordable mass media to present a series of vignettes, acted out by recognisable characters. These actors are partly recognisable in the wider and fractured French society by the levels of the building that they occupy; from the grand first floor rooms to the low and angled ceilings of the cheaper and unornamented garrets. Periton explains how Bertall was using the ‘coupe’ to explore contemporary changes in French society.

In another of Walter Benjamin’s examples of ‘panoramic literature’, Les français peints par eux-mêmes, Jules Janin writes that ‘the Charter [of 1830, which brough in Louis-Philippe as a constitutional ‘bourgeois king’, and removed the aristocracy from government] has, as it were by enchantment, created among us an entirely new set of characters, of strange and incredible manners’. French society, he declares, has become ‘an infinity of small republics’, each with its own customs, faults, ambitions, etc., and ‘the more [it] … has divided, the more difficult has its analysis become’. It is the job of the ‘moralist’, whether illustrator or write, to attempt that analysis, to observe and describe, but also to deduce some kind of scheme of specification through which it might be ordered. For Bertall, that scheme is the framework of the Parisian apartment block.

Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’
Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, pp. 291-2

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Bertall used a Parisian apartment block to provide a framework to his anthropological and sociological observations. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Chris Ware has begun to the use a Chicago apartment building as a framework for a series of interdependent and interconnected stories. There is, it seems, an acknowledged value in architecture as a structural and social framework to sequential art.

The second ‘coupe’ (that of Pierre Patte) is, however, very different. It is, in effect, an architectural treatise, but one that considers the compilation of the entire city rather than just one building at a time.

Patte uses his drawing to decompose the street, a section of the city, into a series of elements that can then be arranged to generate a new and ideal territory. If we allow our eye to move around the drawing by following the labelling system .. it is in order to understand how each element of that territory functions with the next. Patte’s ideal city is a system of instruments, designed to regulate the fire, water, filth and people that come into contact with it.

Patte frequently assures his readers that the aim of conceiving the city in this way is to ensure ‘the happiness of the inhabitants’, to bring about a ‘genuine sense of well-being’. But as he shows it, the city is unpeopled.

Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’
Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, p. 293

Patte is, like many other architects before and after him, well meaning in his desire tocleanse, simplify and re-organise the city into a more ordered image. But in doing his, drawings reveal the city without character or human marks.

Patte asks:

which of us would not imagine that it must be an evil genie, an enemy of the human race, who has foced men to live together [in such a way]…?

His drawing sucks this devil in the underworld, to leave the way for his haunting vacuum of well being.

Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’
Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, p. 295

Periton draws the inevitable connection from Pierre Patte’s section to the subsequent renovation and re-organisation of Paris by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. Taking almost three decades, Haussmann’s plan for Paris sought to modernise, sanitise and redesign the entire structure of the medieval city centre. What is amusing to discover is that the massive building works undertaken to achieve this actually made real the previously imagined building sections of Patte and Bertall.

For witnesses such as Gautier, the incessant attempt to move from chaos to order meant glimpses of a ‘curious spectacle, these open houses, their floorboards suspended over the abyss, their colourful .. flowered wallpaper still marking the shape of the rooms’, houses whose ‘high walls, striped with the swarthy streaks of chimney flues, reveal, like an architectural section, the mystery of intimate distributions’.

Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’
Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, pp. 295-6

The third and final ‘coupe’ that Periton examines is that of Ernouf. The drawing shows the boulevard Saint Germain, in a part of Paris after Hausmann’s reconstruction. As such it is the only section that is in a specific place, but which remains essentially generic. It combines the characteristics of the first two ‘coupes’ to produce a new kind of image. Attempting to present both the narrative detail of Bertall’s house section and the technical sophistication of Patte’s street section, the image is a dazzling perspective view that cuts across a broad Haussmannian boulevard, into the soil, drains and cellars below, and up into a seven storey building.

The city that for Bertall was implicitly there, generating the fluid social hierarchies accommodated in its interiors, has become after Huassmann’s upheavals a metropolis consciously constructed through a complex interplay of networks, distributing ‘the people’, now anonymous, their provisions and their waste. In these image, it seems that the relationship of interior to street must be visibly articulated, to demonstrate that they are strongly differentiated, separately codified components of a continuous system of regulation. The city here is synthesised not by a notion of society, centred on the bourgeoisie, but by its elaborate infrastructure, which links and operates on all those who come within its remit.

Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’
Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, pp. 296-298


(a single page from Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware; click on the image to expand it)

Catching up on some articles on Chris Ware’s work that were referenced in other texts that I’m reading, I was particularly interested to read these analogies from Ware about the structure of the complex and non-liner nature of his graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan.

The book’s remarkable jacket, which unfolds to a 24″ x 16″ blueprint of the multiple Jimmy Corrigan storylines, was proofed five times. “It’s complex,” admitted Ware, who did the proofing himself. “It’s kind of like a Web page, smashed down.”

Nissen, Beth, A Not-So-Comic Book, 3 October 2000, retrieved 24 March 2007

“…I first drew Jimmy Corrigan in 1990 in Austin,” [where Ware produced weekly cartoon strips for a college paper] “but I started developing his story in 1993. It was like a tree, growing outwards.”

Nissen, Beth, Transcript: An interview with Chris Ware, 3 October 2000, retrieved 24 March 2007

Jimmy Corrigan is undoubtedly one of the most complex non-linear stories every published. This non-linear narrative is evidently not a construct; it is also how the graphic novel was drawn, like a tree that grows in three dimensions and many different directions at once.

Ware likens the fold-out book jacket to a web site. Complex web pages of different overlapping pages, sections and levels are frequently summarised in ‘site maps’. These attempt to ‘flatten’ an effectively three dimensional virtual space into a single flat atlas of interconnecting linked pages. It’s an old age solution to modern age technological problem: facilitating navigation in virtual spaces by applying a flat surface to explain and map it.

Many of Ware’s drawings are smaller than that: The characters and neat lettering in his panels are often eye-strainingly tiny. (This reader neaded a strong light and a magnifying flass to see all the details and read every last word.)

“I don’t actually draw them that small — the original drawings are about double the size you see in the book,” said Ware. “But I have them reduced a very small image. Smaller makes for a more compact world, a little magical world.”

Nissen, Beth, A Not-So-Comic Book, 3 October 2000, retrieved 24 March 2007

An architect is normally employed to produce drawings that will determine the construction of buildings, usually on paper or on a computer screen. The plan of a building drawn by an architect will be many times smaller than the finished building. But the original comic strips produced by a comic strip artist will frequently be reduced before appearing in their finished published form. It’s not just a difference of scale, it’s a different approach to the connection between the drawing and the finished product.






    "no words no action" was an experiment in academic blogging. The blog recorded the progress of reading, research and investigations that lead to a Masters in Architecture dissertation at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2007. You can find out more about the author's interest in blogging here.

    To find out more about the thesis, download the original dissertation proposal (pdf format) from February 2007 or the semi-formal first chapter (pdf format) from April 2007.

    Further research projects are in the works, and their dependence on human interaction and networking suggests more blogging will be inevitable when the time comes.


    At the time that this blog was created, James Benedict Brown was a fifth year Masters of Architecture student at the University of Sheffield. James' personal blog is here.

    James graduated in 2008 and now lives and works in Glasgow.


    This project was supervised by Renata Tyszczuk at the University of Sheffield


    If you want to correct me on something, offer an opinion on a particular artist or building, or if you'd like to recommend someone or something to find out about, please feel free to leave a comment. Just click on 'Comments' under the headline of the relevant post...


    Click here to browse James' bookshelf, and to purchase books being used in this project.


    I've managed to miss almost half a dozen compelling conferences around the world so far this year, simply because I have no (more) money to travel and no time to escape my studies in Strasbourg and Sheffield. However, if I had a magic plane ticket and plenty of time, here's my selection of essential conferences to attend. Hopefully I'll be there for more of them next year... click here for the diary (updated every time I miss another one).

  • NOTE

    All images are used for illustrative purposes only, and the copyright remains with the artist and/or creator. Please contact me if I have misappropriated an image or incorrectly credited it. Thanks... JBB


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    The content of this blog is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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