Whispers of the City: A Love Letter to Street Architecture

By Janhavi Khandelwal

In the heart of bustling cities, where the rhythm of life harmonizes with the pulse of the streets, there exists a magical world often overlooked, a world where the symphony of architecture and the whispers of the everyday dance in an enchanting waltz. Edwin Heathcote, in his mesmerizing book, a collection of essays titled “On the Street: In-Between Architecture,” invites us into this ethereal dimension, where the mundane transforms into the extraordinary. The city, seen in a new light. Read more in Whispers of the City: A Love Letter to Street Architecture.

Main Image: Untitled, March 1954. Vivian Maier © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Heathcote, a maestro of words and the venerable architecture and design, crafts a love letter to the often unnoticed treasures adorning our urban landscapes the street furniture. It is a celebration of the dance between benches, bollards, streetlights, signs, barriers, postboxes, and phone booths, a dance that transcends the physical and becomes a manifestation of the city’s soul.

Image: A Peep at the Gas Lights in Pall-Mall, 1809. Thomas Rowlandson © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959

The journey unfolds through the cobblestone streets of London, the romantic boulevards of Paris, the electric avenues of New York, and the enchanting alleys of Budapest. Heathcote, with the finesse of a storyteller, stops to weave tales around the intricate designs that adorn these cityscapes. His words breathe life into the silent sentinels that watch over us, the guardians of our urban dreams. Maybe without his help we may well not have noticed these important fixtures.

Image on the left: Street Light, 1909. Giacomo Balla © Museum of Modern Art, New York_ DACS 2022. Photo SCALA, Florence

Image on the right: Page 373 of Outrage (a reprint of the June, 1955, Special Number of the Architectural Review). Illustration by Gordon Cullen

The pages of “On the Street” are an artful tapestry, woven with threads of history, personal reflections, and the arresting lens of visionary photographers like Vivian Maier, Brassaï, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. With his words, each essay is a brushstroke, painting a vivid picture of the changing cityscape and the metamorphosis of street furniture in response to new technologies, the ever-watchful eye of surveillance, and the ebb and flow of cultural tastes.

But this is more than a documentation of objects; it’s a magical incantation, a summoning of the spirit that resides in the everyday. Heathcote’s prose transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, inviting readers to see beyond the surface and embrace the language of street furniture reflected through the glaze of photography and contemporary culture.

Image on the left: Curve (Regent Street, Piccadilly), 1934. Harold Burdekin, courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute

Image on the right: Colonne Morris, 1933. Brassaï © ESTATE BRASSAÏ – RMN-Grand Palais. Photo SCALA, Florence

The book is a symphony of senses, a melody that resonates with the sounds of footsteps on cobblestones, the glow of streetlights casting a warm embrace, and the rustle of leaves by an ancient postbox. It’s an ode to the elements of the streetscape that, like old friends, exert an increasing impact on our interactions with the cities we call home.

Image on the left: Champs Elysèes (Chairs of Paris), Paris, 1929. Andre Kertesz @ Estate of Andre Kertesz

Image on the right: Bastard Chairs [6], 1995-2017. © Michael Wolf. Courtesy of Michael Wolf Estate

As you turn the pages of this enchanting collection, let the magic of Edwin Heathcote’s prose transport you to a world where every street corner tells a story, and every piece of furniture whispers secrets of the city. “On the Street” is a spellbinding journey into the heart of urban enchantment, a celebration of the love affair between the city and its silent companions, the guardians of our collective memories and dreams. And maybe we will take a little more time after reading it to appreciate the beauty they behold.

“On the Street: In-Between Architecture” is available to read everywhere but you can find it here; Heni Publishing.

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