Monthly Archives: June 2007

Pattern Recognition in the Built Environment

On a long walk through Seattle with my friend Max Action, Max pointed out to me distinctive markers of tunnels, from purple glass sidewalk-windows to giant grates. To him, I couldn’t help but point out vestiges of long-dead businesses painted, carved, and built into buildings.

On my walk home, while listening to Evan Doorbell narrate a phone trip, I noticed curved lines in the sidewalk concrete, and changes in the material of the curb. As I looked, I could see that the business on this block had changed over time, and driveway/alley cutouts had been added and removed. This is a tiny, tiny thing, but as we walk over ground (literally or figuratively) hundreds and hundreds of times, we start to recognize patterns, whether it’s conscious or not.

Max has an excellent ability to recognize subterranean patterns from above; similarly, Evan Doorbell can hear the smallest click, thunk, or ka-chunk in the old analog phone system and know just what it is. For me, once I saw how these old urban commercial nodes mapped so directly to the Minneapolis streetcar system, I couldn’t stop seeing urban design patterns that persisted 50 years after the end of the streetcars.