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  • Writer's pictureRicardo Escobar

The City Image and Its Elements

At the moment of exploring a city, According to Kevin Lynch, we usually create mental maps in our heads that help us locate ourselves, guide us and take decisions when we circulate the city.

Lynch explains in his book "The Image of the City", Chapter 3, that we usually create mental maps which are focused on these 5 elements:

  • Paths: Channels of movement.

  • Edges: Boundaries between two phases.

  • Districts: Areas that share the same characteristics.

  • Nodes: Primary junctions places that orient people (focus points).

  • Landmarks: External points of reference, could recognize without being inside the space.

Kevin Lynch’s city image elements. Picture by Lucas Lindsey.

If you want to get more deep in comprehension I am gonna try to explain each element in the easiest and graphic possible way.


Path: They are the conduits that the observer normally follows, occasionally or potentially.

Examples: Streets, sidewalks, hallways.


Edges: Are the linear elements that the observer does not use or consider paths. Is the

limit between two phases, linear breaks of continuity, such as railway tracks, edges of development, walls.

In this image you can identify the edge by the difference of heights and material, and this is the contrast of continuity that we are looking to identify in our mental map.


Districts: (Areas) The observer enters their matrix mentally and they are recognizable because they have a common character that identifies them.

Please do not get confuse with Edge and District, remember that the edge is when you recognize the limit, and the district is when you are aware of the area (squere feet, squere meters) and when you are in it you can still recognize that you are inside that district.

Example: When you are walking in New York you can easily define if you are in Manhattan or Brooklyn.


Nodes: These are the strategic points of a city, which an observer can enter. They can be mainly confluences, sites of an interruption in transport, a crossing or convergence of roads, moments of passage from one structure to another.

The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, so in this example is to show that here the arc is the node, because its a strategic space of circulation. Also the nodes can be simply concentrations whose importance is due to the fact that they are the condensation of a certain use or physical character, such as a corner where people meet or a closed square.


Landmarks: Reference point, but in this case the observer does not enter them, they are outside.

In general, it is a physical object defined simply for example a building. Some cairns are distant and the landmarks are used as a radial reference.

The Florence Cathedral Dome, its the perfect example of what a landmark is in the middle of the city. Even if you are standing far away from the cathedral, you can still see the dome an this would help you to locate in your mental map, and where you are in the city.


Doubts until the end...

I am sure that when you saw the example images you also doubted because you recognized that this image could also have another element that Lynch exposed.

Well, the answer is YES, when we make diagrams or mental maps, we need to have an open mind and the funny part of these elements is that they are connected and overlapping in must of the cities. Sometimes a Node can also be a Landmark, like the Florence dome. A Path can also be an Edge, and so on, we do not have to think with a square mind.

I hope you like it and learned something with me, leave your comments if you have any doubt or something to add. I hope that next time you are walking in the city you can easily identify this elements and feel proud that you are starting to think as an architect in every way.

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