31 map

On Site review 31: mapping | photography

Spring 2014

 from the original call for articles:

On Site review has always had a phobia about architectural photography – those wide-angle shots that make buildings look impossibly dynamic, all thrust and soar, so we ask our contributors to take their own photos of whatever they are talking about, presenting the world as they find it as designers.      

Early Canadian Architect covers from the 1960s were graphic and inside pages mostly drawings and diagrams. Now, architectural magazines are largely photographic; drawing is a CAD file and the hand is absent. When Jack Diamond published a well-received book of pencil and watercolour travel sketches, implicit was a sense that photography is not as trusted as the drawing, yet there have never been more photographic images in circulation.

Now that everyone has a camera in their pocket, everything is potentially a photo-documentary. With issues about representation, about authenticity, about instrumentality, are photographers gatekeepers, interpreters or simply recording instruments? Is there such a thing as raw data; should there be such a thing?

2  Maps have always been particularly coded descriptions of the world: who owns it, who claims it, who names it, what is important to know about it. Peter Jackson’s Maps of Meaning, published in 1989, was a revelation: one cannot trust that maps have anything to do with ‘truth’ but instead are drawings of world views.  Since then, the term ‘mapping’ has come to describe almost any kind of information array.  

Because architects and urbanists have long used drawings as the texts of their trade, we would like to look at maps in a very wide sense: we can read a plan and section as we read a map: a diagram of a set of relationships, sometimes structural, sometimes geographic, sometimes social.  And city plans, although they bear a resemblance to maps, are often merely diagrams of intention, loosely laid onto a topography.  Should we give up the term drawing and replace it with mapping?  Are they the same?

what we got:

On the front cover is a collage, 'the recent history of history part 2' by Jacob Whibley, from his exhibition, Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?  at Narwhal Projects in Toronto.  Whibley is a Toronto-based artist whose practice focuses on the information and experiences embedded within objects by intuitively blending histories, architecture and ambiguous temporalities into formal structures.

On the back cover are three photographs by Jessica Craig, part of a series she has written about in this issue of On Site review, 'portraits of memory, je ne sais quoi'.  Craig is an architectural designer and researcher in Toronto, with forays into photography. Her work stems from an interest in the psychological tones of inhabited space, particularly regarding identity and culture in post-national societies.


some of the contents:


This is my favourite page about mapping, scale, travel, colonialism, navigation. Ben Schmidt’s work, plotting ship voyages from post-Independence United States, which was really the thirteen colonies, to 1860, just before the Civil War. There it is, the slave trade triangle: enslaved peoples from west Africa sent to the USA and the Caribbean where their labour produced sugar, cotton and tobacco sent to Britain and France. This influx of raw materials powered the British industrial revolution: the cotton mills of the midlands, ship-building in Belfast and Glasgow, sustained by colonial markets. The northern apex of the triangle was, specifically and locally, the City of London, whose capital accumulation made the British Empire. What were colonies anyway? They were the source of raw materials that could keep industry humming in Britain, France and Germany, and at the same time were the markets for these goods. And it persists: even today in a tiny mall in northeast Calgary is a shop selling Nigerian textiles, printed in the Netherlands.

Clearly there are new triangles, and global colonies based not as much on geography as on ethnicities displaced from land by migration, war, refuge. Populations are shifted and provide largely unskilled labour in their new homes; raw materials are produced and shipped away to be manufactured, and then return to be consumed. Canada produces oil, it is shipped to the USA to be refined, sent to China to run its burgeoning manufacturing sector, and shipped back to North America in vast container ships full of cheap stuff.

The lower map, above, I found in Lisbon in 1990; it was about $6 which I could barely afford, however, my father’s family came from Northumbria; family fortunes were based on his grandmother’s late-nineteenth century ownership of two ships. Britain and the Netherlands, Britain and Portugal, these were old, old alliances from before the colonial era. Scottish vocabulary is full of Dutch words; Lisbon was the safe harbour for Europeans fleeing the German advances of WWII – Walter Benjamin got through France as far as the Spanish border where he died. Spain wasn’t his destination, it was a German ally, the Spanish Civil War had been a proxy war between Fascist Germany and Communist USSR which the fascists won. No, he would have gone on to Portugal, boarded a ship in Lisbon for either England or the US. And Britain leaving the Common Market, to use the term of my childhood: it has been, literally, fed by the Baltic – North Sea triangle for generations.

Clearly maps are merely lenses that either provide an overview or a detail of very complex relationships between land and people, but they always provoke.


Ideological Cartography of America

Roland Barros,  Ideological Cartography of America, 2014   “The four cardinal points are three: South and North.” ― Vicente Huidobro,  Altazor .

Roland Barros, Ideological Cartography of America, 2014

“The four cardinal points are three: South and North.” ― Vicente Huidobro, Altazor.

Rodrigo Barros, an architect from Valparaíso, is developing a critical and emancipatory practice that thinks of architecture in terms of freejazz-punk-dub and the poetry of everyday life.  His essay, 'Ideological Cartography of America' inverts both the map and the culture of the South.  The essay is divided into two, Latitude and Longitude; the subtitle for Latitude is a quote from Vicente Huidobro's Altazor,  'The four cardinal point are three: South and North.'

Strangely enough, in the North, we only think North.  In the South, they too, sometimes, think North and when they do it is fairly shaming to see how locked into the values of the Mercator map we are.

You can read his essay here.


Attempts at Breaking into a Glass House

Nora Wendl's essay, 'Attempts at breaking into a glass house' discusses both the photographic history of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House and her own project which is the recovery of Dr Farnsworth's participation in the history of the house.  In her work, Wendl, an assistant professor of architecture at Portland State University, questions the composition of architecture to expand the perception of what the discipline’s built forms and histories are (and could be).

Not only does she photographically break into the Farnsworth House, walk on its terrace and stand in the kitchen, she breaks into the cast-iron architectural history narrative that is the Farnsworth House.

You can read her essay here.