Three Principles of Architecture as Revealed by Italo Calvino’s ’Invisible Cities’ | ArchDaily
Ah, Invisible Cities. For many of us, Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel reserves a dear place in our libraries, architectural or otherwise, for its vivid recollections of cities and their curiosities, courtesy of a certain Marco Polo as he narrates to Kublai Khan. And while the book doesn’t specifically fit the bill in terms of conventional architectural writing, it resists an overall categorisation at all, instead superseding the distillation of the cities it contains into distinct boundaries and purposes.
For though there is a certain kind of sensory appeal that is captured in the details of places, the real beauty of Invisible Cities lies in the masking of underlying notions of time, identity and language within these details – a feat that is skillfully accomplished by both Marco and Calvino. With this in mind, here are three of many such principles, as revealed by the layered narrative of Invisible Cities.
Much of Invisible Cities’ charm can be attributed to the specificity of its writing, and as a result, its narration. Throughout the narrative, 55 versions of city life are described with enthralling character, the first of which is Diomira, “a city with sixty silver domes, bronze statues of all the gods, streets paved with lead, a crystal theatre, a golden cock that crows each morning on the tower.” Details such as these constitute the overall visual communication between Marco Polo and us, as we assume the role of Kublai Khan, contributing to the successful creation of fictional cities through typologies and artifacts. This demonstrates our inherent reliance on specific imagery to create understanding; a facet that is an integral part of architecture.