Imagined and written by Carole Saturno, writer for young adult and children readers, and Perrine Belin, architect, La Ville Mode d’emploi, is a great non-fiction book aiming to help teenagers understand the urban society as it exists and evolves today: its history, the urbanity as it is generated as a way of life, its structure and future.
Architecture, as a major actor of this process, occupies a special position: privileged vector of the urban form beyond natural sites and cultures, it is subtly integrated throughout the book.
Each chapter opens with a fictional tale on a double page, told from a child more or less of the reader’s age, living in a city of the world (Bruxelles, Naples, Lisbon, Toronto, Praga, Moscow, London, Bombay…). The two following double pages, more didactic, run around a non fictional text, pictures and a single sketch page named Et toi dans ta ville ? (“and what about you, in your city?”) which prolongs learning through form. This last page, conceived by Perrine Belin, is a kind of “sign game”: at this site, to this need, corresponds this form or this use.
All the way through with lots of original illustrations and pictures, this book also dedicates special pages to seven metropolis’ (Paris, New York, Shanghai, Cairo, Lagos, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo) as many possibilities of form and uses which have fed our history and imagination.
The different forms (fictional tales, illustrations, pictures, sketches) are a means to leave the reader to travel through the book without the necessary help from adults.
Ambitious (too much?) and swarming with graphic icons, the book might have sinned of too much will of universality and transversality. It could maybe be improved trusting in some “less is more” attempt. Still, it represents an original way of combining learning requirements to curiosity, escape desire to the necessity of playing in understanding and discovering the world.