Urban Formalism radically reimagines what it meant to “read” a brave new urban world during the transformative middle decades of the nineteenth century. At a time when contemporaries in the twin capitals of modernity in the West, New York and Paris, were learning to make sense of unfamiliar surroundings, city peoples increasingly looked to the experiential patterns, or forms, from their everyday lives in an attempt to translate urban experience into something they could more easily comprehend. Urban Formalism interrogates both the risks and rewards of an interpretive practice that depended on the mutual relation between urbanism and formalism, at a moment when the subjective experience of the city had reached unprecedented levels of complexity. What did it mean to read a city sidewalk as if it were a literary form, like a poem? On what basis might the material form of a burning block of buildings be received as a pleasurable spectacle? How closely aligned were the ideology and choreography of the political form of a revolutionary street protest? And what were the implications of conceiving of the city’s exciting dynamism in the static visual form of a photographic composition? These are the questions that Urban Formalism asks and begins to answer, with the aim of proposing a revisionist semantics of the city. This book not only provides an original cultural history of forms. It posits a new form of urban history, comprised of the representative rituals of interpretation that have helped give meaningful shape to metropolitan life.