This paper describes the process of sketching and observation that led to Edmund Bacon’s expressively reductive diagrams in Design of Cities (1967). Bacon’s serial sketches were part of his commitment to finding a way of
understanding the experience of moving through cities. Yet arguably just as important is the way his sketching at multiple sites helped him forge a novel graphic language. In this sense, sketching is a form of telling, a narrative method that reaches beyond the geographical facts to address issues of experience. On the surface, his finished images betray surprisingly little of the method he employed in the field. Yet behind his hand lay a rich array of sources, including Camillo Sitte’s Fig. ground diagrams, Kevin Lynch and Philip Thiel’s work of urban sequence, and R.D. Martienssen’s study of movement in Greek Architecture, as well as guidebooks and the notebooks of Paul Klee. In the end, his method aimed to extract formal elements from historical sites in order to guide urban designers in their quest to deliver certain kinds of aesthetic experience in the city. His images, spare as they are, nevertheless overflow with elements that he drew from other times and places, and that he assembled only to erase. This essay attempts to reconstruct this invisible network of overflowing elements that lies beneath Bacon’s graphic innovation. At the same time, it shows how Bacon’s work came at the crux of a narrative collapse, when the interest in representing movement and sequence became absorbed by or at least deflected by a systems approach to thinking about and representing cities.