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Series 1. Perceptual Form of the City, 1951 - 1960

Identifier: 1

Scope and content note

This series complements Kevin Lynch’s 1960 book The Image of the City. The material contained in this series relates to Lynch’s study The Perceptual Form of the City, conducted at MIT with Gyorgy Kepes from 1954 to 1960. The research done in this study was the foundation of his theories on city planning discussed in the book.

The majority of the series can be categorized into two main groupings, records documenting the planning, preparation, and progress of the project (1951-1956), and those that document the research process and findings (1954-1959). These records include field notes, interview transcripts, collected data, correspondence regarding the progress of the project and hand drawn maps. The remainder of the series includes the original artwork and photographs published in The Image of the City.

The material in many of the folders in boxes 2 and 3 refer to an overlapping project Lynch conducted with Malcolm Rivkin. The results of the project were published as “A Walk Around the Block,” in Landscape, Spring 1959.

Research: The Perceptual Form of the City included field research in Boston, Massachusetts; Los Angeles, California; and Jersey City, New Jersey. The majority of this collection relates to the Boston phase of the project. Only three folders refer specifically to the Los Angeles and Jersey City portions of the project.

Before beginning interviews in Boston, Lynch had his assistants survey the city and pilot test the interview process. This initial survey served to map out the city being studied and to create the vocabulary that Lynch and his associates would use throughout the project. Materials related to this survey, and pilot tests completed by assistants David Crane and Richard Dober are located in the folder “Field Analysis – Whole City.”

Book: In the margins of The Image of the City, Lynch included small graphics that served to illustrate the concepts he was discussing in the accompanying paragraphs. This series contains these illustrations.

Also included in the series are the photographs and drawings printed in The Image of the City. Each object includes its “figure number,” as assigned in the book, and the page number on which it can be found.

This series contains “Reconsidering the Image of the City,” an essay written by Lynch for Cities of the Mind: Images and themes of the city in the social sciences, edited by Lloyd Rodwin and Robert Hollister. In this essay, Lynch reflects on research methodology used for the Perceptual Form of the City project and the impact of The Image of the City 20 years after its publication.


  • Creation: 1951 - 1960


Conditions Governing Access

Series is open.

Historical note

In 1954 Kevin Lynch began a research project called The Perceptual Form of the City, a five year project funded by The Rockefeller Foundation. The study was done under the direction of Lynch and Professor Gyorgy Kepes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Urban and Regional Studies. The research findings were published in 1960 in Lynch’s seminal work, The Image of the City.

The Perceptual Form of the City study addressed the legibility and imageability of the American city. The study focused on the cities of Boston, Massachusetts; Los Angeles, California; and Jersey City, New Jersey.

According to the 1955-1956 MIT Directory of Current Research, Perceptual Form of the City was an “investigation directed toward development of a theoretical concept of city form. An attempt is being made to supply the fundamental criteria and techniques for conceiving, expressing and controlling our perceptual environment.”

In 1958-1959 the project is described as “an investigation of the individual’s perception of the urban landscape. The inhabitant’s and the highway traveler’s image of the city, and the use of the signs and symbols in the cityscape are of interest. The objective of this work is the development of new design possibilities and principles for the city.”

In its final iteration the study comprised two main components. The first was a field trip made by a trained observer, who mapped out the various elements of the city, which Lynch describes as nodes, paths, edges, districts, and landmarks. The second component was office interviews with a sample of residents from each city. Thirty interviews were conducted in Boston and fifteen in both Los Angeles and Jersey City. The study was extended in Boston with sixteen of the original thirty interviewees participating in an additional interview and field trip.

A more detailed explanation of the research process can be found in Appendix B of The Image of the City.


From the Collection: 16.5 Cubic Feet (12 record cartons, 8 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box, 4 medium flat boxes, 1 large flat box, 3 small media boxes, 1 slide box and 2 loose drawings, 10 oversize folders)

Language of Materials


Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US