Cartographic Architecture

Cartographic Architecture: cartography (mapping) as a process, medium and method in architectural design

Seda Arslan

Published Apr 14, 2021

The map (carta/xarita) is an object/medium to transfer spatial information where cartography/mapping (carta+o+graphein) refers to the production process of this tool and its utilization methods. Today the term of cartography which is actually the production method of maps as a visual communication tool has been transformed into a key concept that is used to define a system of thinking (or method of generating ideas).

The map provides spatial information, consists of varying layers (strata), describes and processes the relations among those information layers, and presents a complex network holistically. According to cartographer John B. Harley (1987, p.1), above all, themap is a medium of communication and way of storing spatial data visually. Communication of humankind via maps dates far more back than written communication.

Besides its technology, the concept of maps also has undergone significant changes since then. Humankind formed maps which transfer the natural and built environment, existing space into a surface, to understand space/place and to express observation on space and ideas of spatiality. In time, the human being who tries to explain and explore the physical features and limitations of the natural and built environment, also convey the spatial interaction on maps.

Following the technological developments, the limit of the information about the physical features of space is almost determined, and the exploration area of physical space has retreated. Space has become a notion that its physical form can be detected or scanned through various methods. However, the map is not merely an image or reflection of the form. Physical space can be depictured on maps and this depicturing represents selected features of the physical space. Nonetheless, today contemporary maps also narrate (translate/transfer) the information about interaction and relation among those represented or scanned physical space and issues such as social, economic, natural, etc.

Through cartography (mapping), some (data) layers are presented through the purpose- oriented selection and sifting, according to certain kind of perceptions and opinions. However, these layers may evolve, change, be changed, or reproduced so it becomes possible to reveal different connections. In other words, the map is a representation or a description of knowledge and relationships. However, this representation is not constant, it can be developing, changing, and is an organic structure since the data it transmits are variable or may vary (Figure 1).

If we rephrase the definition by excluding the space concept; map may be expressed as a tool (and mapping as the production method of this tool) which aims to transfer the relations and interaction among its (data) layers into a visual representation. Due to the above-mentioned context, map, and mapping terms confronts as key concepts in different fields/disciplines. This terminology is used to reveal, to demonstrate, and to decode the interactions, relations, dynamics, and elements of a system in order to make that system legible. As a paragon; cognitive map, concept, or mind map terms define a pattern/network which correlates knowledge, idea, and opinion. As John B. Harley (1987, p.1) mentions, probably mapping is an impulsive effect in human consciousness where maps are used as metaphors of analogical thinking for many centuries. There lies complexity, flexibility, interchangeability, and multidimensional nature of the map, behind the expression of links between knowledge, idea, and opinion with map concept.

Similarly, Deleuze and Guattari (1987) emphasize the context and process of cartography (mapping) while they convey the rhizome concept as a thinking system and knowledge processing. The concept of mapping as an open, connectable, detachable, reversible, adaptable structure is described as one of the principles of rhizome which defines a complex whole with layers, differentiated relations, connections, parts, and intersections. In this theory, way of processing spatial knowledge of cartography as a method, and composed features, generated figuration within the system of the map as a medium transformed into a concept that defines a process of knowledge analysis and system of thinking.

Following the transformation of the terminology (map and mapping) that define a medium and a method, into the field of social studies as a concept that describes a process and a system; terms (and underlying ideas) are borrowed by the architectural field and adapted to different stages of design. The short concept of cartography that pertains to the field of spatial studies is transcoded (defined by Jameson in Hays, 1998; p.) into a theory of social science where terminology repatriates to field of spatial studies and permits into architectural design paradigm.

Besides practical/objective relations of cartography with spatial disciplines, hereby bidirectional interaction occurs through its implicit connection to the design process of space. In other words, cartography and map are; as a process and medium utilized to read the existing space with the purpose of architectural design; as a concept practiced to readdress the design process as a cartographic process in order to construct the spatial design as a pattern; and as a method applied to figure an alternative to conventional architectural drawing methods for the representation of space.

In cartographic design, the architect process by defining layers of time, place, historical and social context and reveals the form and qualification of design as a result of matching, linking, related procedure, and coding. Space is designed as a network that is a representation of interaction and relations among spatial, social, historical context with function and form (Figure 2).

For the purpose of demonstrating that how to understand the framework of placement of an architectural object within its context; emphasizing new analytic techniques, tagging systems, and mapping methods to understand and analyze today's complex, dynamic urban environment, is the example of utilizing maps as a technique for architectural design (Figure 3).

Through series of maps that include versatile characteristics, stratified historic background, and quantifiable factors; utilization of maps as a medium of documentation on design projects, also defines another form of application/adaption of mapping in architecture (Figure 4).


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