Urban Maps: Instruments of Narrative and Interpretation in the City is now available in paperback. Written by Richard Brook and Nick Dunn from Manchester School of Architecture, the book considers the city and the ‘devices’ that define the urban environment.
‘Urban Maps provides an interesting new way of “minding the gap” between the contemporary urban condition and architectural design. Calling on familiar and well-loved theoretical friends like Walter Benjamin, but also bringing in exciting new contenders such Thomas de Quincey, the narrators interrogate an interdisciplinary array of projects from graffiti to branded environments. The map is posited as a central element of design behaviour, and Brook and Dunn argue convincingly that to address today’s pressing urban issues architecture must move outside its normal frames of reference, and engage with a new vocabulary and conceptual framework comprising images, networks, films, marks and objects.’ Jane Rendell, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, UK, author of The Pursuit of Pleasure (2001), Art and Architecture (2006), Site-Writing (2010)
‘Fifty years ago, Kevin Lynch offered us a classical reading of “the image of the city” based on a waning ideal of clear built landmarks and distinct urban signs. Now, through inspired insights and an in-depth inquiry into a vast array of contemporary urban practices, the authors of Urban Maps reveal to us how the complex narratives currently converging in the appropriation and redefinition of an eroded urban space require a totally revamped cognitive mapping… From the readings of cinema to the interventions of street art, from the markings of graffiti to the identities of brandscapes, and from the wanderings of contemporary art to the fictional drives of theory, architecture is confronted with the need to review the cartography of its references when facing the ascendancy of the urban condition – and the prominence of new networked, information-augmented realities – as substituting for previous conceptions of the city.’ Pedro Gadanho, architect, curator and writer, Lisbon, Portugal
The texts within Urban Maps offer an interdisciplinary discourse and critique of the complex systems, artifacts, interventions and evidences that can inform our understanding of urban territories; on surfaces, in the margins or within voids. The diverse media of arts practices as well as commercial branding are used to explore narratives that reveal latent characteristics of urban situations that conventional architectural inquiry is unable to do.
Richard Brook and Nick Dunn write in the preface to the book:
We use the term ‘map’ loosely to describe any form of representation that reveals unseen space, latent conditions or narratives in and of the city. Maps, by their characteristics, show us interpretations of context and can be singularly focused to expose particular essences of space and place, whether experientially or thematically driven. As both the physical and social make-up of our cities is increasingly complex, the tools with which we view the urban environment too become diverse in media and application.
Maps can be made inside films and within networks; objects and marks yield their own discourse and narratives about space and brand has consumed, demarcated and achieved cognitive presence in our vision of the city. All of these entities are discussed in this book in respect of their meaning and interpretation in the context of urban critique, using case studies to explore particular practice or themes of each. Certain practitioners or practices cross the classifications formed here and the interrelationship of the chapters is inevitable, the collective texts describe a breadth of works, conditions and objects that have been explored in the studio teaching of architecture and urban design in our work at the Manchester School of Architecture.
The association between the arts and architecture is rarely called into question, the proximities are considered explicit and there persists an assumption that these relationships are easily read and ideologies transposed between disciplines. As the study of architecture moves steadily towards concerns of urban space and the life between buildings, there can be value ascribed to the repositioning of a critique of the practice of the arts associated with the urban environment.
Discourse around ‘the urban’ has superseded ‘the city’ as the generic ‘environment’ that crosses academic disciplines and the sheer proportion of the global population that live in urban conditions has made this territory essential to a contemporary critique of intervention. Intervention is a far-reaching term that has been used to describe any number of acts, marks, forms, dispositions, transformations and records that are constructed of more than their formal content to expose, examine and question the nature of space and environment. It is unsurprising that the act of intervention whether exploratory, on paper, or realized has become part of the mode of inquiry within contemporary architecture.
The evolution of practice concerned with the latent condition of the urban environment took place as critique of the city found a place in academia through the emergence of map-based models used in sociological analyses of city form, dispersal and zoning. The application of abstract ideas and geometries concerned with the manufacture of space grew from the postmodern tradition in architecture and gained notoriety in the critical cul-de-sac of the Deconstructivist movement. The leap made by Hadid and Koolhaas to depart this imposed stylistic affliction did not leave behind the techniques of map-based intervention as design code and generator, and these practices become paramount as we are forced to engage with a fast burgeoning datascape that is somehow connected to our physical landscape.