Yannow references a history of persecution within the space of a city. Thomas Bugeaud, Baron Haussmann, Robert Moses, The Battle of Algiers, Foucault, and La Haine all lend their structure to the city she is sketching. Of course, they are not deeply examined—this is not that kind of book, and not that kind of space it is portraying. The squares of these pages are heavy in repetition, small sketches of stairways, of city blocks, of people in a crowd played over and over again. The same streets, the arrests, the criticism and theory that attempts to understand are also repeated, in reality and in our memories. This is the futility we come to understand through the book. The knowledge that despite all that one has seen, read, done, or made, the cycle will continue. Nothing is really changed. One feels like a set of mere marks, scribbles upon a page, surrounded by blank paper with no sign of what to do next. One turns the page, picks up another book or joins another march, but eventually returns to the desk, in the classroom or the office.
But the blank page is the foundation of architecture. In that space the potential for ideas is found, for designs upon the world that we could make, even if we don’t currently have the means to do so. I couldn’t help but think of the architect Yona Friedman while reading War of Streets and Houses. The architect is famous for his quick sketches, little manifestos of pen and paper to present a concept. They are the most basic of drawings, a comic book that “anyone could draw,” or so it feels. Through these sketches Friedman introduces the largest of ideas, taking on the way we might better use urban spaces, improve human communication, and refine our ideas of what utopia means. Each of Friedman’s stick figures in its own drawn box is a performance, a lecture, a prototype, or a protest. One wonders about the efficacy of portraying a human as a series of quick lines—two arms, two legs, a torso and a head. In one sense, it is alienating, imprecise. Every person looks the same. But in another it is a soft focus, a dream scene. The details are not yet filled in yet, because the sketch is not the building. It is up to us to make it real, to color in the warts and all.
The Drawing of the War on Streets and Houses