Nigel Peake Is in the City

In a follow-up to his one-of-a-kind, drawn ode to the Irish countryside, In the Wilds, artist and architect Nigel Peake is back with In the City, a set of equally gorgeous watercolor-drawings on all things urban. This new book is a result of his ever-careful examination of ten cities — Shanghai, New York, Antwerp, London, Paris, Oslo, Lausanne, Budapest, Istanbul, and San Francisco, explored on foot. Peake sees cities, wherever they are, as an aggregation of units: the smallest materials and patterns give shape to the larger ones (apartments, stores, and parking lots), and then greater collections (neighborhoods and boroughs). Streets and bridges also fascinate him, as they separate and define the units that make up the city, but are also central to its patterns. He is awed by the sheer diversity of textures in a city — and how they fragment and change over time, creating a new city in the process.

In his introduction, he says exploring a city on foot is really critical to understanding a city’s patterns: “When visiting a new city or returning to one still unknown, I sense the unfamiliar, from the thinness of the fonts in the signs to the size of the milk cartons in the fridges – the feeling of almost knowing something but not quite. I prefer to walk through a city. The rhythm of one foot after the next allows one to look, pause, and listen. To observe.”

He first observes surfaces, “saturated, shiny, soggy, new, ragged, old, scratched, metallic, hot, broken, opaque, cracked, soft, and ripped.” He said all these surfaces can “occur sometimes by curation and other times by accident.” Regardless, “each is different and beautiful.” Here he sees a color palette for a street in November:

Peake sees what’s similar among all different types of places – from courtyards to bookstores to supermarkets and flea markets. He writes: “Each is a small variation on the others – composed of similar elements and structures, but with a different name.”

He also defines places based on their sound, arguing that “sounds have a shape.” For a courtyard, he says the rain hits all the surfaces, but “everything makes a different sound.”

page65In a park, which “can be quiet but sometimes loud,” he hears “bat hitting ball, sirens, horns, birds (two types), and bicycles as they go downhill.”

The diverse textures of surfaces and places are often fragmented. Peake writes that “everything can be adapted and used in different ways.” Introducing the element of change through fragmentation, Peake writes that “things are exchanged and transferred.”

page83Given the city is too big to be one thing, it must be divided into “areas, boroughs, districts, and zones.” The only way to access these different pieces is via paths “that move around, between, through, and along it.” Here are some path variations (again, just aggregations of the same forms), and a comparison of bridges:


And, finally, Peake tells us that the city, by nature, is in a constant state of change. “The city is a recording of our moves. It is designed and made – used, scruffed, broken, amended, and altered.” Here, a road’s surface is patched up, adding another layer of change.

He leaves us with the idea: “things will change again soon.”

Explore the book and read the review for his first book, In the Wilds.

Image credits: Nigel Peake / Princeton Architectural Press

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