AN ITALIAN ARCHITECT REVISITS THE CITY HE LOVED

San Francisco: A Map of Perceptions, Andrea Ponsi, University of Virginia Press, $24.95

Review by Michael Webb

Few cities have a stronger sense of place than San Francisco and Andrea Ponsi has captured its magic in 41tL97qCMJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_poetic phrases and delicate images. It’s a love letter to the city where he lived for ten years, before returning to his native Florence to practice and teach architecture. Like many of his peers, he uses watercolors to record impressions and as as an escape from drafting plans. This new collection of words and pictures follows Florence: a Map of Perceptions, and both double as guide books and mementoes.

As an architect, Ponsi grasps the structure of the city—the way the grid overrides the hills until, around the heights of Twin Peaks, “the streets completely abandon the rules of the grid, their paths resembling a tangle of coiled hair.” Even as he describes the physical features and neighborhoods of San Francisco, he captures its shifting light and colors, and the varieties of fog that veil the sky or swallow up the towers. He has a fresh take on sights staled by familiarity, sketching the Golden Gate Bridge as though it were a Japanese idiogram, and describing it as “a Shinto red portal planted in the middle of the water.”

Returning to the city after 20 years, he revisits old haunts, searching for Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the City Lights bookstore: “a sanctuary of literature”, as William Stout’s bookstore, close by, is a shrine of architecture. Ferlinghetti, last of the Beat generation, is now 95 and living in Bronxville, NY; in the bookstore where he hosted readings of Kerouac and Ginsberg his rocking chair is empty. There’s a sense of melancholy in Ponsi’s memories and impressions as pervasive as the fog, as haunting as the sirens that echo from the Bay. This is a pocket book to treasure and re-read, and give to friends—especially those who are making a first visit, or who want to experience it anew.

Andrea Ponsi will sign copies of San Francisco at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 28th, at Hennessy + Ingalls, 214 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica.

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