Kevin Lynch. Individual Notables in Planning in the US and abroad

Essay, 2014

7 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Kevin Andrew Lynch

Kevin Lynch is one of the key figures in environmental design and behaviorism in the field of city planning and city design in the 20th century. He devoted his career to research, writing, teaching, as well as to consulting in human environmental design. He published seven books, approximately twenty-five journal articles and essays, including many sketches and drawings (Banerjee/Southworth, 1990). Studying city planning without coming across his empirical research on how individuals perceive and navigate the urban environment is almost impossible. Since my first day in University I learned and worked from his ideas and I was impressed by his theories and findings. I think the understanding of the look of urban environments and city planning would be a lot different today, if it had not been for Kevin Lynch, which is why I choose him for the paper on a notable individual.

Kevin Lynch was born in 1918 in Chicago Illinois as the youngest of three children. His family of Irish descent lived in an ethnically mixed and less wealthy area on the northern part of Chicago. After first being educated by a private teacher he then switched to a Catholic primary school and later on to a secular high school with a progressive curriculum that encouraged him to see the “big picture” especially about social topics. Later Lynch said that these school experiences made him sensitive in the field of philosophy and architecture as well as it encouraged his interest in human environments and social justice (Sundilson, 2011). His higher education started 1935 with a year’s architectural study of Yale and an eighteen-month Fellowship of trainee architects with the modern architect Frank Lloyd Wright, followed by the study of structural engineering and biology at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1939-1940). After serving in the US Army Corps of Engineers in World War II he returned to higher education in 1946 and reached a Bachelor of City planning (his only degree) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1947. In his first year he was employed as a town planner in Greensboro, North Carolina. Mostly due to his outstanding undergraduate dissertation on urban renewable with unique case-study material from Cambridge (Massachusetts) he was ask to return to the MIT as an instructor of town planning in 1948. In 1963 he became a Professor and remained at the MIT until retirement in 1978. Up to his unexpected death in 1984 he kept his teaching and research links with the University. In the meantime he dedicated most of his time as a consultancy at his firm Carr, Lynch and Associates that he had founded together with his colleague Stephan Carr (Hubbard/Kitchin, 2011).

During a one-year stay in Florence, founded by a Ford Foundation, he developed a great enthusiasm for the significance of place in a city and the nature of urban form. This appreciation led to another research project called the “The Perceptual Form of the City” under the direction of Lynch and Professor Gyorgy Kepes at the MIT Center for Urban and Regional Studies. The five-year program was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and concentrated on the individuals’ perception of the urban landscape and the image of the city as well as the use of signs and symbols in the cityscape (Banerjee/Southworth, 1990). The results of this research were published in his most famous bookThe Image of the City” (1960). With this work he gained national and international reputation inside and even outside the field. The book had lasting influence on his future work (Paddison, 2001).

This publication is a perceptual analysis and focuses on the importance of the look of a city and on the problem of how to give visual form to it. The most important innovation is the concept of “place legibility” or in other words urban spatial cognition (Carmona/Tiesdell, 2007). Lynch chose three American cities, Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles, as examples on how people take in information of a city and what about its built environment is important to the residents. He discovered that observers form mental maps while perceiving their surroundings constantly and predictably. These mental representations showed the layout of the urban environment how the individual perceives and experiences it (Freestone, 2000). The cognitive maps include five types of elements: 1. Paths: Channels along a user customarily moves e.g. streets, walkways, railroads etc. Mostly it is the predominant element in peoples city image. 2. Edges: Linear element not seen as paths by the observer e.g. shores, railroad cuts, walls etc. For many users edges are important organizing features. 3. Districts: Sections of the city with similar character. Most observers structure their city in this way, if a district has a more dominant role to the observer. 4. Nodes: Strategic spots within a city e.g. junctions, crossing, intersections etc. 5. Landmarks: Simply defined physical object such as a building, sign, store or mountain. In his book Lynch gives a method to deal with visual form of a city. He also offers some principals of urban design (Lynch, 1960).

His next book “Site Planning” (1962) developed the planning implications of the results in “The Image of the City” and gives practical information on all activities and concerns of arranging the urban physical environment. Thus it serves as an introduction to the art of site planning and the application of its principles (Lynch, 1962). His following writing “The View from the Road” (1962), together with Donald Appleyard and John Myer, was inspired by the enormous development of freeways in US cities. It deals with the experience of the visual environment of a city while in motion (Lynch, 1962). In 1972 Lynch published his third and favorite book: “What time is This Place”. This work is about the evidence of time and how it is embodied in our physical surrounding. He focuses on the fact that time changes the world around us and how planning can manage those alterations (Lynch, 1972). In his following publication “Managing the Sense of a Region” (1976) Lynch reflects on the sensory meaning of the environment (e.g. what people can see). He describes how those sensations affect the quality of a place and thus people’s behavior, well-being and understandings and how the area of a large city can be designed and controlled (Lynch, 1976). In “Growing up in Cities” (1977) Lynch deals with the perception children have of their own urban environment. Within a UNESCO-sponsored multinational program, children in different social settings, in various countries, were asked how they sense and feel about the various elements of their surroundings. Lynch than analyzed and summarized these reports in a comparative way in his book (Lynch, 1977). Before this study got published as an edited book it was released in two shortened journal articles: “Growing Up in Cities” (1976) and “On People and Places: A Comparative Study of the Spatial Environment of Adolescence” (1976) (Banerjee/Southworth, 1990).

Later on, in his work “Theory of Good City Form” (Lynch 1981), Lynch investigated the relationship between the city and the fundamental human values and how those could guide planning for a good physical and spatial urban design. Beyond he argues that there cannot be any normative form of goodness for the city (Grange, 1999). His last book “Wasting Away” deals with the process of decline, decay and renewable of the environment. Instead of only focusing on the topic “waste and environment” Lynch illuminates the subject from different point of views. The work was almost finished at the time of his death and was published posthumously (Lynch, 1984).


Excerpt out of 7 pages


Kevin Lynch. Individual Notables in Planning in the US and abroad
San Diego State University  (City Planning)
City Planning Process
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
397 KB
City Planning, environmental design, behaviorism, Kevin Lynch, human environments, Frank Lloyd Wright, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Site Planning, The Image of the City, The View from the Road, What time is This Place, Theory of Good City Form
Quote paper
Theresa Hayessen (Author), 2014, Kevin Lynch. Individual Notables in Planning in the US and abroad, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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