Sunday, November 16, 2014

City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction

Picture Source:
City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction
Written and Illustrated by: David Macaulay
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin for Young Readers
Ages: 10-14

If you had ever wondered, what a Roman city might have looked like at its peak architectural height, wonder no more. Turn to page 110 of City:A Story of Roman Planning and Construction and be treated to a bird's eye view. You may find stunning resemblances to present day suburbia.

Perspective is the strength of this book. Author/Illustrator David Macaulay recreates 25 B.C. Rome for us by inviting us into the fictional city of Verbonia. We are shown sketches after sketches, detailing Verbonia's every little architectural accomplishment. We are strategically placed at different eye levels. In one sketch, we are at eye level with a resident, walking among the tall columns. In another, we are looking down at a busy market from a balcony. We see aerial plans for amphitheater that possibly only the designers had access to, and we see progressive stages of constructions of the city's walls and marvel at how much thought went behind its planning.

We see a slice of a block of the city, one wall dropped open so we can see inside the building. Apartments on top floors, busy stores at the ground level. With just a modification here and there, it could very well be present day Chennai or Cairo, the hustle and bustle, residence and business stacked on top of another, each humming at its own frequency, yet somehow managing to co-exist with the other.

City not only shows us these sights, but in equal meticulous detail explores the architectural precision and engineering detail that went into every step of the construction.

Every time this book lands in my 9 year old's hands, he pores over the illustrations. He is fascinated by the step-by-step details to build Rome and we both wonder aloud how the Romans managed this much sophistication with such little technology. The purpose of the book, to raise our curiosity about and respect for the Roman civilization, is accomplished.

The book is hefty in content, and is not to be consumed in one sitting. A more fruitful way to enjoy City would be to talk about it, to analyze the parallels to present cities and be amazed at human adaptability and creativity. Studying Roman civilization through City has the potential to make the learning both engaging and invigorating.


sandhya said...

Interesting. Reminds me of the books by Richard Platt.

sandhya said...

Also reminds me of a project we had done when at at school. This was 25+ years ago. Our school librarian was a British lady, who managed to source a book, from which we could cut out templates which we could then assemble to re-create a model of the Globe theatre. Nothing like a real street level view of a place to get one interested in the history of the period.

Choxbox said...

David Macaulay - the name is reco enough but review makes it sound even better :)

All civil / mech engg textbooks should be written by him!

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