Language, as Ludwig Wittgenstein famously wrote in 1953, “can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.” Over the past couple of decades, historians of architecture and urbanism have linked language and city in order to show that not only are both terms, as the philosopher commented, immensely complex and subject to constant change, but that the city's complexity and change depends on the state of the language, verbal and visual, by which we apprehend it. The experience of cities is mediated—by what we read, by what we see, and by how we see.

In The Urban Spectator, Eric Gordon recasts the history of the...

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