Kevin Lynch – The Image of the City Analysis

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Every city portrays its own image, which is perceived by its inhabitants and the visitors passing through. This image is created with time, as each individual village, town or city develop, creating their own histories and building their own landmarks. This history gives an identity to the inhabitants of the village, and apart from the general history, each individual will create his or her own history, which will give a whole new meaning to the village.

Kevin Lynch discusses this theme in his book “The Image of the City”, and states how an image is perceived differently by each individual, and a meaning of a place varies from one person to another.[1] This is due to the fact that every individual experiences different aspects of every village, and a place will be perceived differently due to these individual experiences. Charles Jencks states that every settlement is capable of being motivated, and it is this meaning that gives life to a city.[2] Even though the planning of the city is very important in order for the city to be legible, it is the meaning that gives life to the city. Kevin Lynch further develops his studies and divides the city into five elements, which are; paths, landmarks, edges, nodes and districts, which are the main constituents of the image formed by the inhabitants, since it is within these spaces that activities take place.[3] On the same line of thought, Rob Krier argues that these elements will make the city easier to perceive and thus the image is easily created. He also states that the paths and nodes are the most important elements since it is where people mostly interact.[4] It is important for a city to have clear edges, paths which lead to landmarks in order to make navigation through the city easier, nodes where the people can interact and create history, and different districts, which all together make the city legible.

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Kevin Lynch also created a process of analysis which is called Mind Mapping, where residents who navigate through the city where they live, are asked to sketch what they remember of the space that they use on a daily basis. This sketch will represent their mental image of the city, which can then be analysed and interpreted to better understand the perceived image of a city by its inhabitants. In order to understand better this method, I carried out this test on three members of my family, and this is the analysis of what resulted from the sketches. I asked them to map out the route from one end of the Main street to the other end of Main street, on the way passing through the village piazza (figure 1)

Figure 1: Map showing street to be mind mapped

The first mind map was done by my twelve year old brother.

Figure 2: Mind map of 12 year old boy

It is interesting to see that in his perception of the village in figure 2, where the most important landmarks are the Church and the Band club of which he forms part of. These are mostly noted due to their enormous scale compared to other streets and buildings. Other landmarks mentioned are, the other band club, grocery stores, shops, and the parish hall. He mentioned both nodes which are the piazza and the playing field. His paths leading to these landmarks were also drawn however no street names were mentioned.

The second mind map belongs to my 47 year old mother, who was born and raised in Rabat, until the age of 25 when she moved to Hal Balzan.

From her sketch in figure 3 it is notable that the only landmark mentioned is the church, and no other elements are given importance, however every path drawn is correctly named. This might show the lack of childhood memories from the area, even though she has navigated through these streets daily for more than 20 years. Another reason could be that she does not do the shopping from any grocery stores within the village centre, and thus none of these shops are of great importance in her mental image of the village. Nodes are also not given a great importance with the only node mentioned is the village piazza, however the playing field area where people mostly interact is not even mentioned in her sketch.

The last mind map was sketched by my 54 year old father who was born and raised in Hal Balzan.

Figure 4: Mind map by 54 year old man

One can observe from the sketch in figure 4 that it is drawn to the least detail where all the paths are mentioned and named, and all the important landmarks are given importance, from the Parish Church, chapels, band clubs, political clubs, shops, grocery stores, niches and even the house of the Vice Mayor. The playing field is mentioned as a node in the centre of the village.

When comparing these sketches, we can observe the difference of perception by different persons of different age, with different childhood memories.

Even though planning in a city is of huge importance, having all the elements mentioned above is not the only important aspect. It is the inhabitants that give the character to the village, and together with the historic elements of the village, identity is created, according to Aldo Rossi in his studies.[5] If the village caters for all the needs of its users, it will become alive through its daily actions.[6] Thus, it is important that the city evolves according to the needs of its inhabitants rather than developing a city and introducing inhabitants. It is by the urban history that the quality of a space is determined rather than by the legibility of form.[7]

Every place is a reflection of the people who created it as time went by according to their needs and their traditions. Every building has its own story, and every path leading to it developed for a reason. In the past, buildings were built according to the needs of the inhabitants, and the paths leading to the buildings evolved according to the routes taken.[8] According to Kent C. Bloomer and Charles W. Moore, it is more important that a city forms around the human experience rather than being planned and the architecture of a building or city should relate to the human body.[9]

The Maltese typical villages developed along the years according to the human needs and according to activities which took place within the village. Starting from being little hamlets to the villages we know today, each village managed to develop its own identity, and characteristics which define each village from one another, which at that time depended mostly on the religious institutions. One element which distinguishes each village is the main landmark, the village church, which defines the skyline of every different village which makes it possible to point out one village from another, and also creates a legible image which helps navigation through each village. It is interesting to see how each village developed according to their traditions and needs.

Taking Hal Balzan as an example, it is interesting to see how the villagers chose where to build the new parish. Since the village had two main cores, one around the church of Santa Maria, and one around the church of the Annunciation, which at the time was the parish church, a central plot of land between the two cores was selected in order to reach a balance between the two cores, thus creating a new landmark and node for activities to take place which was accessible for all the inhabitants of the small village.[10]

Apart from the landmarks that give the identity to each village, it is also the activity which takes place within a village that gives the identity, as Aldo Rossi states. It is not only the monuments that create a village, thus the actions by the inhabitants are of great importance. Apart from distinguishing the villages by the architecture of the church, every village in Malta can be identified by the village feasts, where the individuality between villages stands out even more. Even simply by looking at the flag posts from a distance one can distinguish between villages and feasts just by looking at the colour of the bulbs used. In this case, Zurrieq is easily identified from as far as Rabat in the month of their village feasts. Other villages specialize in different aspects, for example Mqabba are well known for the fireworks, Birgu well known for street decorations, while Hamrun triumph in the band marches, while others have their own aspects which give identity to the village. Apart from the village feasts there are other elements which make each village individual and recently local councils started using these elements as attractions, such as Qormi and their connection with bread, the three villages and their connection with citrus fruits and Imgarr organising the Strawberry festival.

In my personal opinion, the perception I created on Hal Balzan has depended on many different aspects. First of all, the fact that I have been raised up in this village, already creates a connection. Memories are easily created and each street has its own different meaning. My memories of the village have been created in connection to the activities which I used to take part in when I was a child, such as attending the M.U.S.E.U.M or meeting my friends at the playing field. Later on as I started growing up and started contributing towards society, new memories and meanings were created. One of the most important activities for me is the feast, which gives a whole different meaning for me in terms of the village. I believe that the patron saint and the statue representing her already distinguishes our village from other villages, and the village feast shows the dedication of the villagers to create a memorable image of the village. Since I started contributing by creating decorations for the streets, my meaning of those streets changed, and the satisfaction I get when I see other villagers appreciating my work, and seeing their pride of our village is impeccable. This is why I believe that the meaning of the city of each individual depends on their contribution towards the village. A place does not become a home simply because one lives in it, but it is the choice of the individual whether to make it a home or not, by participating in the activities taking place in the village.

It is due to the fact that every individual perceives differently a place that most of our villages have lost their true character and evolved into larger cities. For investors, a place with no personal meaning might only be perceived as a way of income, and therefore without taking in consideration what other people perceive of the place, or what meanings they have of the place, they propose new developments which are only intended to make money. These new developments are not even constructed around the human needs, but are constructed in a manner to fit the maximum possible amount of units which can ensure a sustainable amount of income. Even though the development might be thoroughly planned, and might be aimed to improve the area, for the inhabitants of the area the project might be imposing, and intruding in their meaning of the city. For this reason, the newest part of each village can be easily distinguished from the old village core, since activity is lacking within the streets, and the neighbours rarely interact. The difference from the village square which evolved due to the activities taking place around it, and a square in the newest part of the village, which was developed as part of a recent project can be easily seen, because it is not that easy to introduce life into a newly developed space.

Hassan Fathy believes that in architecture one should never leave behind what our ancestors developed, since they have developed it through trial and error, and the results achieved were due to the adaptations in accordance to the local climate and situations. This means that within contemporary designs we should incorporate elements from traditional architecture. As a result of this, the craftsmanship of the locals will be continued and will not be lost with time. Modern techniques should be applied to modify the valid methods established by our ancestors, and then finding new solutions that satisfy modern needs.[11]

Therefore from the theories I have taken into consideration combined with personal experiences, I believe that planning a perfect city in terms of paths, landmarks, nodes, edges and districts will not always help create the perfect environment. Cities have been designed in that manner, such as the Maltese capital city of Valletta, and turned out to be succesful, however when implying such designs on an organically formed village, it will not turn out to be as much of a success. In order for a place to be succesful and be full of life, the inhabitants of the place have to relate to the place, and need to make the place their home by participating in the activities which take place. This is the only way how the culture and traditions of a place are kept alive, not only through architecture but also through our lifestyle, and from this argument one notices that it is important that these two go hand in hand with each other. Also from the mind maps analysed, it was shown that the more memories and experiences one has in a place, the more meanings he will create of the space, thus proving further more the argument that the main aim of architecture within a city is to enhance the personal experiences of the inhabitants, and therefore architecture should go around the needs of the inhabitants rather than inhabitants adapting to new evolving architecture.

Life without the evolution of architecture would not be interesting, and might not be the same as we know it today, however architecture wihout life will be totally useless since architecture is there to serve the people’s needs, and it is important that we keep this in mind in any project we intend to develop. A place might be special to some persons not because of its architecture only, but also due to the fact that personal experiences created memories, and unlike buildings memories cannot be relived or touched, and therefore a building becomes a monument of those memories, and if that building is destroyed to make place for another building which might be planned in a better way, the aspect of the memories will be lost forever, and as people die, the memories will too. If a building is preserved, the memories created in it will be preserved too and this might be the reason why the local churches and old houses in the old village cores are treasured so much by the local villagers, since they are remains from our ancestors, and it is in the past were we seek our identity.


Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf. Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture. Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997.

Kevin Lynch. The Image of the City. United States of America: Joint Centre for Urban Studies, 1960.

Carmel Bezzina. Hal Balzan u l-Lunzjata u kitbiet ohra. Malta: MIZZI DESIGN AND GRAPHIC SERVICES. 2011.

John Bancroft. The Arid Lands Newsletter. 1994. (2nd June 2012)

Nicholas Socrates. Urban design: Art and society. 2009 (11th June 2012)

[1] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.18.

[2] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.43

[3] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.18.

[4] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.59.

[5] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.36.

[6] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.30.

[7] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.36.

[8] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.71.

[9] Charles Jencks & Karl Kropf, Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, Great Britain: ACADEMY EDITIONS, 1997, p.71.

[10] Carmel Bezzina, Hal Balzan u l-Lunzjata u kitbiet ohra, Malta: MIZZI DESIGN AND GRAPHIC SERVICES, 2011, p.162.

[11] John Bancroft (1994), The Arid Lands Newsletter, Retrieved on 3rd June 2012 from

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