Map making is not just about creating visual representations of physical spaces, but can also be about documenting impressions and emotions. Paula Scher, a partner at Pentagram and one of the most influential graphic designers of her generation, has a new book, MAPS, that conveys the rich, complex feelings she has for the process of map making itself. As she writes in the introduction, “I began painting maps to invent my own complicated narrative about the way I see and feel about the world. I wanted to list what I know about a place from memory, from impressions, from media, and from general information overload. They are paintings of distortions.”
For Scher, there’s a deep connection with map-making: Her father, who became the coordinator of mapping for the U.S., invented stereo templates, which are now critical to removing the distortion of perspective in aerial photography. She says technologies her father helped develop were necessary for advances like Google Maps, which increase accuracy beyond any man-made attempts at map-making.
Still, Scher thinks “distortions always exist, and you can always find them in places you know well: the mistaken curve, and odd foreshortening, something disappearing in a shadow. Someone has decided what information should be put in or left out.” As her father said, “all maps are distorted, they are not literal fact.”
Graphic design, Scher says, is closely related to map making in that both involve organizing and laying-out information. Just as in map making, graphic designers inadvertantly distort: “Articles are cut to fit into specific formats, and sometimes the cuts alter meaning. Hierarchies are created to help readers navigate texts, sometime distorting the emphasis of specific content. Pull quotes (those sexy excerpts from an article that are blown out of scale to entice readers) can mislead by making the article appear to be about something different. Info graphics make an opionated article appear scientific, and are more and more appearing as unbiased stand-alone data, often disguising the dogmatic intent of an author. To make matters worse, the blogosphere completely democratizes such distortions. Anyone can make them, and they do.”
For Simon Winchester, who writes the foreward to the book, Scher’s “useless and essential” maps (some of which can span 20-feet) are both “detracted from reality and yet and the same time become an entirely new reality.” Obsessively made and “deliciously satiric,” Scher’s maps are the antithesis of the “cold blinking GPS.” These maps are a last effort to stave off the total transition to maps made up of “ones and zeroes, algorithms and screens, [...] with siren-like voices.”
For anyone into maps and map making, this book is worth exploring.
Also, see full (uncropped) versions of the four images above: 1, 2, 3, 4.
Image credit: Paula Scher / Princeton Architectural Press
As the smart phone market continues to grow, more and more people are using these devices to access social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The amount of location-based data (i.e. text, photos, video) being created everyday has created an unprecedented opportunity for landscape architects to learn more about how their projects, particularly major public spaces, are being used. In fact, the two-way communication of social networks coupled with GPS technology makes it possible for landscape architects to engage with users in real time. Social networks can also help facilitate a “community inventory” process as well as enable easier post-occupancy survey and analysis of built projects.
Throughout this year’s ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo in San Diego (October 30-November 2nd), a crowdsourcing event titled #LandarchSD will be held to demonstrate social media’s potential. However, in this case, we will use the Twitter hashtag, #LandarchSD, to harness the talent and expertise of the more than 6,000 landscape architecture professionals from across the United States and the world descending on San Diego. #LandarchSD will provide an opportunity for landscape architects themselves to collectively share their observations and discoveries about major public spaces in San Diego. In addition to creating a unique collection of information about the city’s public spaces and urban environment, sharing these insights from our perspective can raise the public’s awareness about how our profession enriches their use of public spaces and their lives.
Information will be captured through the use of mobile devices and shared by location-based posts on Twitter and the event’s Facebook page. Posts can contain text, photos, video, and more. Examples of content include statements, photos, or videos highlighting interesting design solutions or illustrating principles of good public space design in action, or comments on why users are using or not using a space and identifying opportunities for improvements.
If you are going to the ASLA Meeting or live in San Diego, we invite you to participate by using a social media application from your smartphone (whether it’s on a Android, Blackberry, or iOS browser) or your desktop computer. To participate or even just follow the event on Twitter, the hashtag #landarchSD will be used to compile the information. (For those unfamiliar with hashtags and their use, a hashtag is a word or string of words without spaces or symbols proceeded by the “#” symbol created by any Twitter user as a way to categorize messages. Hashtags facilitate finding related information or following conversation strings on Twitter. Learn more about what hashtags are. You can also just follow the hashtag.)
The event is being organized in conjunction with our education session “Social Media Strategies for Landscape Architects” held on Wednesday November 2, 1:30-3:00pm. At the education session, the panel will touch upon using social media for inventory and post-occupancy surveys and discuss the information collected through this initiative.
This guest post is by Brian Phelps, ASLA, Hawkins Partners, Inc.
Recently the groundbreaking occurred for Phase One of Mill River Park in Stamford, Connecticut. OLIN has developed the Mill River Park and Greenway Master Plan, a plan for a 28-acre park on both sides of Mill River, from Broad Street to Pulaski Street, which will serve as a new destination for Stamford residents and area employees. Phase One encompasses 12 acres of [...] → Continue Reading Groundbreaking occurs for Phase One of Mill River Park | OLIN
“Drawing is a privilege,” stated Michael Vergason, FASLA, principal of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, speaking at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture during the launch of Sketching + Drawing + Describing, an exhibition of his sketchbooks spanning over thirty years. During the talk, Vergason used sketching as a thread to weave together ideas about exploration, inquiry, comprehension, and memory, drawing stories from his life, including ones from when he was a student at University of Virginia pursuing his Masters of Landscape Architecture degree and through his professional career.
Vergason began by linking travel with drawing, stating “it was traveling that got me drawing…you travel to see; you draw to see better.” In 1975, funded by the sale of his beloved Austin-Healey, Vergason traveled to Vicenza, Italy, first as a student and later as a teaching assistant at University of Virginia. These excursions proved to be formative for him. Not knowing what to draw first, he eventually drew nearly everything. He recalls a process of sketching the facades of each building and pasting them to a 7 by 7-foot base map of Vicenza. From this, he developed a notational system sketched onto several layers of vellum, recording data including the material of façades, the type of businesses operating in each building, how people moved through the site, and where they congregated. Through this process of sketching and mapping, he developed a rich understanding of the city and used the map as a way “to keep in touch with the place when away from it.”
Describing the process of learning how to draw, Vergason spoke of the discipline he employed to hone his skills. He was influenced early on by architect Carlton Abbott’s pencil drawing techniques— shading, smudges, line weights— and later by the English illustrator Paul Hogarth, whose drawings taught him to “loosen up, relax a little, and draw quicker.” He pointed to the works of Leonardo da Vinci and John Ruskin, who used sketching as a tool for both inquiry and comprehension, as a way to peel back the superficial and understand the inner workings of things.
Vergason recounted the creation of a series of sketches of the Laurentian Library he completed while traveling in Florence. He produced an incredible series of drawings in 45 minutes (he often notes how long it takes him to sketch), but not wanting to “face another blank page,” he made a composite of these sketches on a single sheet that inform and relate to one another. The sketches jumped from body-level details to the broader urban context and included plans, sections, and perspectives. Vergason’s thought process was evident on the page yet he also emphasized the new relationships that revealed themselves through sketching.
Winning the Rome Prize in 1979 brought Vergason back to Italy, where he used Rome as a base for further travels into Germany, Istanbul, Greece, and northern Africa. In addition to expanded horizons, this period was marked by experimentation. He sought to incorporate pen and ink drawings and watercolors into his sketchbook, as well as a broader variety of styles — quick and rough sketches, composite sketches, studies of just the shadows cast, and more. He joked that the evolution of his drawings was the result of newly-afforded comforts: they took a slightly higher perspective as he was now seated sketching at the cafe with glass of wine, no longer relegated to street curbs. During this period, he also began to draw a range of subjects which encompassed friends, dinners, statues, and animals. What came out of this period is an evocative and unique slice of his travels, from soaring Baroque architecture to everyday meals, from colleagues to camels, whose sensual qualities were put to paper as a kind of souvenir, “what we take away.”
Following this heightened period of exploration, Vergason talked about re-working his sketch book as a tool for professional practice. There was an initial period of culture shock, joking there was a “lack of inspiration” to draw in professional practice and noting his notebook became an inconvenience, or “just another thing to carry around.” To ensure that his notebook wouldn’t be left behind, he bought a larger sketchbook and taped his calendar on the inside cover. Eventually he found himself drawing regularly again, on trains and planes and amusingly, during meetings for projects. His sketching became a way to comprehend particular aspects of a site, such as its geomorphology or stream hydrology. In his typical self-deprecating humor, Vergason remarked he only truly understands the seasonal movement of the sun as he is sketching it out, forgetting the details soon after his finishes. He also spoke of sketching as a way to articulate thoughts visually, elegantly, and most importantly, quickly, even during meetings.
When asked about how digital drawings affected his sketching, he said it hadn’t had much impact. Interestingly, in works on a touchscreen laptop, he combines digital sketches with renderings to mix the texture of a sketch with the sleekness of digital renderings. He’s not always happy with the results, but remarked that he would need to apply the same level of discipline to sketching on screen that he employed while first learning to draw.
Vergason emphasized sketching as a process of inquiry. It’s an exercise that “increases your ability to understand what makes a good composition. It’s about training your eye to see beautiful arrangements of parts.”