thoughts on our urban future

Book Review – Popville

Popville by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud

When in Italy earlier this year, I came across this delightful book about urbanization, and I simply had to have it.  First published in 2009 and now in its first reprint, Popville is a 14 page pop-up book that shows the evolution of a city from an isolated church in green fields to a mini metropolis.

Of course I only just found out it was a church in reading the publisher’s page.  All this time I thought the red building at the focal point of the three dimensional story was a farmhouse.  A church might make a bit more sense as to why it remains as the city grows around it, surely a mere farmhouse would have been knocked down for higher density development at some point!

The book is appealing from many different perspectives.  As a pop-up book, it’s enjoyably clever.  In particular I enjoyed how certain elements, and primarily the church, come through the pages by deftly placed holes as they are turned.  This continuity and connection between the turning of the pages makes the story all the more poignant.

The bright colors and simple modern shapes are also appealing and well done, even though I clearly mistook the church for a farmhouse.  The final urban page with the extra fold out pages and the string power lines and high rise buildings is particularly impressive.  The trees, the cranes, the trains, the cars, the graphics, all delightfully articulated and enjoyable.

There is a story within the slim pages, of growth and development.  Even in the simple graphics you can call out with each turn of the page what the innovation or intervention is.  It’s fun to scrutinize the changes from page to page and consider each stage of development and it’s overall impact.

Of course the only thing that I can’t particularly comment on is the double page of text at the end of the book.  Fellow writer Ximena did manage to translate a good chunk of it to myself and fellow writer Scott, but I didn’t take notes and now it’s all gone from my memory.  But I should also add that there seems to be a passage at the end about people and places and their inspirations.  I would also guess that if you buy the book from an English-speaking source, you will get to read this passage for yourself.  Mine is in Italian, and I don’t at all speak Italian I’m afraid.  But lets be honest, the words are fairly minimal compared to the tactile experience of the thing.

So do you know an urban designer or an urbanist who needs a gift?  I’m pretty sure this would be a good one.  Pop up books aren’t just for children!

And no, I don’t get any commission.  I just really like this book.

Here’s a video of the full book in action:

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  1. It’s interesting how the only comment to the youtube video says it’s sad to see trees disappear to towns and cities… I can understand the sentiment, but it negates the needs we all have as humans. We need sustainable urbanism, and idealising the countryside does not help the problem!

  2. Show a picture of the pop ups, not the cover please!

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