The mesmerizing drawings of Matteo Pericoli plunge you into another world right away. They are monumental and panoramic and composed from rare perspectives — the Manhattan skyline, all around the island, which he researched on Circle Line cruises, London from along the banks of the Thames — or individual and self-contained, like his Windows on the World series, in which he shows what writers and artists around the world see when they sit down to work. The series began in The New York Times and is now featured by the Paris Review's daily blog.
David Byrne told Pericoli his view is "pretty typical for a New Yorker. We look out our windows at other windows. That, in a way, mirrors our lives here – we are constantly looking at each other, millions of us, on the streets and elsewhere." Philip Glass likes the way his window frames a jumble of New York's guts and respiratory system: "Water tanks, air-conditioning, and exhaust pipes."
In Lagos, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote the acclaimed Biafra novel Half of a Yellow Sun, offered a gorgeous window on her own imagination:
When my writing is not going well, there are two things I do in the hope of luring the words back: I read some pages of books I love or I watch the world. This is my view when I am at home in Nigeria, in the port city of Lagos. An ordinary view, with houses close together, cars crammed in corners, each compound with its own gate, little kiosks dotting the street. But it is a view choked with stories, because it is full of people. I watch them and I imagine their lives and invent their dreams.
The stylish young woman who sells phone cards in a booth next door, the Hausa boys who sell water in plastic containers, stacked in wheelbarrows. The vendor with a pile of newspapers, pressing his horn, his hopeful eyes darting up to the verandas. The bean-hawker who prowls around in the mornings, calling out from time to time, a large pan on her head. The mechanics at the corner who buy from her, often jostling one another, often shirtless, and sometimes falling asleep under a shade in the afternoon.
I strain to listen to their conversations. Once I saw two of the mechanics in a raging but brief fight. Once I saw a couple walk past holding hands, not at all a common sight. Once, a young girl in a blue school uniform, hair neatly plaited, looked up and saw me, a complete stranger, and said, “Good morning, ma,” curtsying in the traditional Yoruba way, and it filled me with gladness. The metal bars on the window — burglary-proof, as we call it — sometimes give the street the air of a puzzle, jagged pieces waiting to be fit together and form a whole.
And from Mongolian poet G. Mend-Ooyo, this:
The rhythm of each morning of my life still moves to the beat of my lovely childhood. From the window of my home in the center of Ulaanbaatar, I grasp the pale light in the east. Just as I used to bring in the horses pastured on the wild steppe, I spend time recollecting in my mind many thoughts that have taken flight. The images of life, transected by the window, are a chiaroscuro.
Pericoli made the drawings for his Manhattan Unfurled, his first book, on a massive scroll, "10 to 15 centimetres at a time, never looking back at what I have completed, never worrying about, or erasing small mistakes," he told The Guardian in an interview. "It's all there, the cityscape and the voyage of discovery that I undertake when I put it on to the paper."
The book is a 22-foot gatefold printed on both sides, one for the east side of the island and one for the west, towers crowded in midtown, and two in particular hulking at its southernmost tip. He received his first bound copies of the book in September 2001. Two days later —
suddenly, there was New York before 9/11 and New York after 9/11, and I had portrayed a New York skyline that was past tense. It was a very strange time for me because I had such a relationship with the place. You spend so much time looking at these buildings and then drawing them that the lines enter your brain and are embedded there.
Those lines were historic, instantly. And the rest was gone.
The charming conceit in a children's book he published in 2008 is that little Massimo has lost a line from the drawing that is his favourite one, "the one he drew all by himself, the one he keeps in his pocket. Lines don’t just disappear, but Tommaso’s has — it’s simply gone. And so he sets out to look for it."
Pericoli, who trained as an architect, had spent the previous few years remaking the world via a monumental mural for Terminal 9 at JFK International Airport. For Skyline of the World, he told The New Yorker, he wanted to put "buildings from cities I liked from all over the world into a single skyline.”
Eventually, Pericoli came up with a composition that includes four hundred and fifteen buildings from seventy cities. He organized them by instinct, not geography. Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, is next to the Burj Al Arab hotel, in Abu Dhabi, which is beside an old building in Buenos Aires, which is not far from a building that Frank Gehry designed in Prague. Pericoli balanced tall buildings with short ones, which meant that the Foshay Tower, in Minneapolis, looms over buildings lining a Venetian canal, and the curving tower of the Toronto City Hall gets to play against the curving roof of the Sydne y Opera House. He also decided to add a building that never existed, an imaginary, Bauhaus-style structure by the artist Saul Steinberg. The one exception to the geographical mélange is a cluster of New York buildings at one end. Pericoli made this grouping to represent the notion that it is from New York that you fly off to see the rest of the world.
Windows on the World, of course, is a name rooted in memory. It was the name of the World Trade Centre's 107th-floor restaurant before Pericoli chose it for his window-drawings project. When you went there at night for a drink, you felt suspended between city and sky, in a black cityscape pearled with lights, and you had no sense of the floors and ceilings and people stacked beneath you for metres and metres. In fact, you might have had the unnerved feeling that sometimes comes upon swimmers in very deep water — I thought of this when I visited the World Trade Centre site at Christmas, and stared along with hundreds of strangers into the memorial pools' dark squares of rushing water — the sense that there is nothing, just nothing, below you.