In 1960, Kevin Lynch wrote of “…[the legibility of the cityscape, meaning] the ease with which its parts can be recognized and organized into a coherent pattern. Just as this printed page, if it is legible, can be visually grasped as a related pattern of recognizable symbols, so a legible city would be one whose districts or landmarks or pathways are easily identifiable and are easily grouped into an over-all pattern.” Identity patterns resulting from legibility stem disorientation (topological and existential) and play a social role as well by “furnishing the raw material for the symbols and collective memories of group communication (from, The Image of the City, MIT Press, 1960).” Through his five imaging elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks, users of urban environments find access and agency to complex systems functionally (within their environments) as well as symbolically (within society).

Today, the legibility of cities has become elusive for complex reasons which significantly center around spatial issues. The primacy of metropolitan ‘regions’ replaces ‘cities’ as material conditions are giving rise to ‘sprawl’. Concurrently, telecommunications technologies develop the possibility of an individual’s being simultaneously local and global. Socially, our relationships are characterized by a spectrum of individuation and communalism which is reinforced by the development of diverse physical and virtual/electronic infrastructures within our environment. Our involvement with diverse communities is directly affected by a cross-pollination of strategies and protocols found within physical and virtual communities. In other words, behavioral aspects that we learn within our physical communities may offer protocols that we can apply or use in our virtual communities. The physical and the virtual feed each other. This offers an extremely complex image of our urban spaces for users to process and understand as they navigate an environment where infrastructures contest, interconnect, and superimpose to create giant networks of production.

Lexicon is a photo-archive project comprising visual elements encountered in the landscape in the city of Seattle, county of King, region of the North Pacific America, that investigates connections among images determined by systems of metadata. Visual elements, chronology, things, and viewer perspective are some of the classes of tags found within the metadata. From these tags, one may order the photo-database and come up with a selection based on that specific criterion. Chronology, for instance:

This of course, immediately brings to mind questions of reading. How are conventions for reading addressed in the final forms of these constructions? How does one approach the previous form in ‘reading?’ What direction does the user follow, left to right, top to bottom? How does the user relate the meaning of individual images to the whole? Is this meaning related to the speed with which one reads?

Once the images are segregated by tag or class of tag, they can be pooled into structures of any variety. The criterion ‘edge’ might take this form:

‘Path’ might look like this:

Movement (another form of ‘reading’) within these structures can happen in multiple ways. For instance, in this version of ‘path,’ one’s eye might travel vertically downward following connections between images that cross columns.

The legibility of a city or region depends on connections that can be made between multiple sources of images. Keith Smith speaks of “Dependent Pictures” in the Structure of the Visual Book, where “one must find ways of getting from one picture to the next.” This can be accomplished through repetition, seriality, and motif (among others). And while a city is not a book, its legibility benefits greatly from a model that has extraordinary range in processing experience that is both physical (representational images) and virtual (topographical, textual). What the archive can achieve as it grows in image-mass and metadata, is a kind of connectivity that transcends a two-dimensional image map resting on axes of linear visual elements towards something three-dimensional or even holographic. Individual images may retain their physical moorings, but connections between images evincing super-imposition, interference, and cancellation might begin to represent user experience in the crossover areas of the physical and virtual.