Brain Pickings

Urville: An Autistic Savant’s Remarkable Imaginary City, 20 Years in the Making


A rare glimpse of the extreme frontiers of human ability and imagination.

With its population of 12 million, its formidable architecture, and its extensive infrastructure, Urville, the capital of a large island province, is one of Europe’s most important cities. If your geographic confidence is beginning to quiver and crumble, you can exhale — Urville is entirely imaginary.

For the past 20 years, French autistic savant Gilles Trehin has been devising and developing this fanciful megacity, from the remarkable architectural detail to the thoughtful cultural context rooted in real world history, including WWII’s impact on the city and how the forces of globalization are changing its fabric. For instance, on the French Revolution:

In 1789, during the French Revolution, Urville has 2.8 millions inhabitants, but the number of habitations became too limited to host the huge population growth due to the Industrial Revolution. In order to cope, the authorities of Urville call upon the famous town-planner Oscar Laballière (1803/ 1883) to start gigantic urban projects which are still outlining Urville even today.”

Urville gathers 300 of Trehin’s meticulous, obsessive drawings and sets the door ajar to this complex and intricately woven alternate reality, inviting you in. It’s part Stephen Wiltshire’s panoramas, part Gregory Blackstock’s lists, part Jerry’s Map — an utterly original.

At its heart, Urville offers a rare glimpse into the mind of a savant, the artistic equivalent of Daniel Tammet’s linguistic and mathematical prowess.

Thanks, Wy

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