The Legible City is a pioneering interactive art installation where the visitor rides a stationary bicycle through a simulated representation of a city that is constituted by computer-generated, three-dimensional letters that form words and sentences along the sides of the streets. Using the ground plans of actual cities—Manhattan, Amsterdam and Karlsruhe—The Legible City completely replaces the existing architecture of these cities with text formations written and compiled by Dirk Groeneveld. Travelling through these cities of words is consequently a journey of reading; choosing the path one takes creates a recombination of these texts, and spontaneous conjunctions of meaning.
The handlebars and pedals of the bicycle interface give the viewer interactive control over direction and speed of travel. The physical effort of cycling in the real world is gratuitously transposed into the virtual environment, creating a kinesthetic conjunction of the active body in the virtual domain. A video projector projects the computer-generated image onto a large screen, and a small LCD monitor in front of the bicycle shows a simple ground plan of each city and the immediate position of the cyclist there.
The Manhattan (1989) version of this work comprises eight separate fictional storylines in the form of monologues by ex-Mayor Koch, Frank Lloyd Wright, Donald Trump, a tour guide, a confidence trickster, an ambassador and a taxi driver. Each storyline has a specific letter colour, so that if the bicyclist wishes, he or she can follow the paths of each narration. In the Amsterdam (1990) and Karlsruhe (1991) versions of The Legible City all the letters are scaled so that they have the same proportion and location as the actual buildings that they replace, resulting in a transformed but fairly exact reproduction of the actual architectural appearance of these cities. The texts for the Amsterdam and Karlsruhe versions are largely derived from archive documents, such as newspapers, which describe prosaic historical events that took place in these cities, and are often positioned in the events’ respective locations.