By Pat Bosch, Design Director of Perkins+Will’s Miami office
You would be amazed at how much you get to know about a city by looking down instead of looking up.
For quite some years I have found myself looking down and discovering that sidewalks, streets, and pavers of cities may tell more about a city than its buildings. As an architect I have always looked up and across cities. I have tried to understand them as diagrams or rather intellectual masterpieces of urban planning, but sometimes the secrets of their essence and ethos lie silently in the tiles, bricks, and pavers of their sidewalks, plazas, streets, and courts.
I have over 100 photos on my iPhone that document several years of this new-found passion, and my shoe is always clearly displayed for scale (and to document the fact that I was actually there).
Little did I know my curious way of “sightseeing” would catch on… My daughter, now a college student in New York City, has been texting me pictures of her shoes over varied “pavers” across the city. You would think she’d be sending pictures of her new dorm room or the Library or the Student Union, but instead we are “seeing” the city thru new eyes. These tiny pictures have become very insightful and sometimes beautiful works of art.
What will you see throughout your travels?
In Barcelona you will see tales of the sea, where creatures in the form of beautiful miniature pieces of art designed by master Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi take you on a journey thru miles of the city. Walk along Las Ramblas and see how the pages of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, a book that impacted Gaudi as a youngster, come to life and sweep you into that magical Mediterranean Sea that frames and defines Barcelona. His work there not only changed the course of design but left a legacy of wonder, magic, and art on the sidewalks of this beloved European city.
Walk the streets of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico and find history documented not only in museums but beneath your feet. Every single street paver, called “Adoquines,” is the exact replica in shape and weight of the gold bars the Spaniards brought in their galleons. The pavers, in essence, silently document the magnitude of wealth that was driven out of the New World, and their iridescent Blue appearance has only become more and more powerful over time as traffic has polished these small pieces of granite from the Old Empire.
So next time you find yourself in a new city, trust me, look down… You’ll be amazed at what you can discover.