The Image of the City had set out to become the American urban planner, Kevin Lynch’s, most influential works in the twentieth century. A product of five endeavouring years of research and extensive study based at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S.A.

The book was published by the MIT Press in 1960, focusing on the evaluation and perception of a city’s form among its inhabitants, and their ability to formulate mental maps to orient themselves with ease. 

Furthermore, the author identifies five elements that contribute to the notion of imageability or legibility of a city, an important factor to enhance human experiences while interacting with the cityscape.

Kevin Lynch’s concepts discussed in the book proved to be essential guiding principles for urban planning and design across the world. And now, fifty years post its publication, The Image of the City continues to remain an important read for urban designers, architects and interested city dwellers alike and does not cease to provoke new thoughts and inspire aspirants of the current generation.

Book in Focus: Image of the City- Kevin Lynch - Sheet1
The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch ©

What The Book Entails: A Brief Summary | Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch writes that a vivid mental map contributes significantly to social life, security and heightened user experiences, and this environmental image comprises three components, namely: identity, structure and meaning. Thus, it is required for an object to first be recognized distinctly amongst others, include a spatial or pattern relation concerning the user as well as with other objects, and instil practical or emotional meaning.

To support this theory, Kevin Lynch studied three American cities—Boston, New Jersey and Los Angeles—through a set of interviews conducted on their respective citizens. The subjects each illustrated a sequential mapping of the areas of the city that was familiar to them and analysed their associations with the spaces. 

Henceforth, the author formulates five elements that help constitute an observer’s mental map- paths, edges, districts, nodes and edges. While the importance of each element and their roles are defined with examples from the three cities in focus, their interrelations and design ideas to create whole images based on their characteristic parts are also discussed. 

Additionally, the author also provides descriptions of the practical applications of the study and elaborate details about the methods used for research. Overall, through The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch successfully laid some fundamental outlines to the art of city building that are recognised and praised to this day.

“At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences.”

(Lynch, Kevin. “The Image of the City”. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960.)

Book in Focus: Image of the City- Kevin Lynch - Sheet2
Five elements to constitute mental maps ©
Book in Focus: Image of the City- Kevin Lynch - Sheet3
Mental maps ©

What the Book Evokes: Impressions

The Image of the city is undoubtedly a timeless piece of writing, the concepts of which remain valuable and eligible for the new age. While reading Kevin Lynch’s address of issues that were faced when encountering a city and its depths, one could easily forget the period at which it was written, due to the persistence of these problems in present-day urban settings as well.

At one instance, the author expresses his concern for the minimal engagement with one’s surroundings due to the expanse of automobiles on streets and the use of navigation systems that result in city explorations devoid of any attachment and memory imprints. This increasing worry with every passing decade continues to remain a challenge globally and, therefore, leaves architects and urban designers with a sincere resolve to tackle such issues and design better livelihoods to the best of their abilities.

For citizens residing in the cities discussed, there may be instilled a sense of belonging and better associations with the study and its findings. However, it does not stop the avid reader from other parts of the world to compare it to cities of their own and develop hypotheses for future improvement.

Besides, the readers are guaranteed a captivating and insightful experience with Kevin Lynch’s relatable examples and with detailed explanations that give room for contemplation. Illustrating the identification of spaces or a neighbourhood by comparing it to familiar everyday objects and providing cases of occurrences commonly known to all, prove that an inquisitive reader without prior knowledge in the field of architecture could also find appreciation for the book and its inspiring texts.

 “The observer himself should play an active role in perceiving the world and have a creative part in developing his image. He should have the power to change that image to fit changing needs. What we seek is not a final but an open-ended order, capable of continuous further development.”

(Lynch, Kevin. “The Image of the City”. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960.)


Sri Lalitha Yeleswarapu has recently graduated as an architect and is looking to find her place and role in the field. She sees architecture as a medium to cleverly and innovatively craft a narrative that is memorable, unbiased and promises a happy ending;storylines createdthrough writing, sketches or design.