THE LANGUAGE OF THE CITY: URBAN SEMIOTICS

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Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.

For example, we know what the meaning of the “boy” and “girl” bathroom signs are in the same way that we know, or may be intrigued to know, what we will find if we continue down a certain path.

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Urban space always has a significance; there is an utilitarian purpose for an urban distribution based on functions and usages.

Urban space is made up of paths, enclosures, districts, intersections, and points of reference.

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Urban semiotics are about the consciousness of the symbols’ functions in urban space, rather than simply the structures themselves. There are marked (signs) and non-marked (spaces, feelings) elements.

There is often a difference between significance and the reality itself–occasionally even a conflict–when it comes to objective geography and the reality of maps. Ever experienced a city and then looked at a map of the same area afterwards? It’s usually shockingly different than what you thought it would have looked like.

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So the city has a language, speaking to us with its built form, and we reply with where we are, where we live, where we travel and where we look.

The city is a writing; whoever moves about in the city is a sort of reader who, according to his obligations and movements, samples fragments in order to experience them. You can change the whole poem by taking a different street.

All photos taken by author in Geneva or Paris.

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