The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities

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W. W. Norton & Company, Aug 17, 1992 - Political Science - 266 pages
2 Reviews
Richard Sennett is an articulate writer whose style reveals a fascinating mind and above all, a keen pair of eyes. In relating our visual organ to the conscience, he implores us to start seeing our lives as wholly related to and organically integrated with, the cities that we live in. In this thoroughly original and important book, Sennett successfully avoids the tendency of many writers on urbanism to proffer 'well meaning' solutions, but instead takes us on a historical and psychological journey. He convinces his readers to focus on impulses and 'spriritual' reasons behind the creation of cities, ranging from the Greek ideals of 'grace' and 'balance' that produced the 'Agora' to the dilemmas of the modern soul that creates walls made of sheer glass. In chapter after chapter of engrossing reading anyone deeply interested in the well-being of urban life will begin to share his insights on urban forms. He articulates his views using descriptions of ordianry people's lives through history.

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The conscience of the eye: the design and social life of cities

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Sennett's study of urban culture began with a discourse on public and private life, The Fall of Public Man ( LJ 12/15/76), and continued with the historical novel, Palais Royal ( LJ 12/86). This, the ... Read full review

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Sennett conveys through the medium of city planning and architecture compelling evidence of how our deepest attitudes are conditioned by patterns. In analytical psychology there is a parallel of this structure which is evidenced by patterns in mythology and stories. In history and art similarly, the patterns of golden age, bronze, iron and decay reveal fundamental patterns.
What this book has to offer is a keen insight into fundamental structures of cognition and perception that escape ordinary awareness. The take away is not a professional view of city planning only, but a source of reflection for anyone interested in how the creative process works, and how the environment is the quintessential container for collaborative creative work.
The exposition of Sennett throws light on urban problems and the fundamental non sustainable quality of our forms of occupation of space, whereby nature is simply rolled over (human nature included.) The larger implication is that whenever the inner organizing structure of a collaborative dwelling -- be it a company, an organization or city-- is not recognized, the ensuing growth will rapidly develop in a cancer, or undifferentiated growth with no possibility of holding the integrity (of the social body or personal identity)
Most apt reading for anyone interested in the challenges of the transition in culture that is shaping the century to come.

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About the author (1992)

Richard Sennett’s books include The Corrosion of Character, Flesh and Stone, and Respect. He was the founding director of the New York Institute for the Humanities and now teaches sociology at New York University and at the London School of Economics.

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