Foreword

by Felipe Correa

Associate Professor, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

 

An analogue to the spirit and function of the mapmaking endeavor, the title of this book, Applied Mapping, is as necessarily deceptive as its cartographic subject. Recalling the work of Mark Monmonier, this ambitious project to make mapping useful to designers of the built environment finds virtue in the way maps lie by omission. For Newman, this deception is productive in that it foregrounds matters of selection and judgment which should be at the heart of any design practice. Put another way, as the author suggests, a map that offers a perfect representation of its cultural or geographic territory would be functionally useless for the purposes of design, creative thought, and ultimately, world-making. As she writes, "the world is constantly revealing itself around us, but to see we must create a productive gap between lived experience and our representations, not as mirrors hide our biases, but as possible worlds we can knowingly choose to unfold." Newman's hypothesis here is an optimistic one, aimed at affecting the theoretical scaffolding through which design can assume greater agency in the production of alternative futures. The book is part manifesto and part historical survey, but resists being collapsed into either genre. It is an unapologetically operative document concerned as much with locating the structure that enables the formation of representational method as it is with the comparative intelligence and relative strength of the methods themselves. In short, it both is and performs like a map.

By Newman's estimation, we are all cartographic beings and we operate as mapmakers regardless of whether or not we are conscious of the process. Mapmaking is like the scientific method; it is like the act of thought itself. These metaphors are crucial to Newman's project, yet they are capable of being more fully instrumentalized, or put to work. Here, we see that the 'applied' of the book's title refers not to an abstract set of rules which designers can simply import to their work, but rather is a nod to the fact that maps are nothing if not applied; that there can be no analysis without interpretation, or for that matter, creation. Maps are never value-neutral or outside of the world of things which they work through and reshape. For Newman, the intellectual project of unmasking the logic of maps as subjective, conscious projections into the world is but the first step toward coming to terms with the ways in which our mapmaking facility can be used to produce a multitude of possible worlds, each ideally more beneficent than those we currently inhabit.

 

This utopian claim is by no means a modest objective, nor is it without certain dangers, and Newman, steeped by training in the cautionary tales of Foucault and Baudrillard, seeks a balanced approach throughout her text that suspends the question of privileging fact or fiction. And, though Newman's particular bias is to insist that we not lose sight of the 'there, there,' or the real purpose which underwrites our efforts, her methods do not preclude a journey into pure fantasy as a roundabout way to return to the factual world on radically different terms. It becomes up to the mapmaker and the designer to exercise judgment in that regard and to decide the most useful approach with respect to the situation. To take one example, she argues that Harold Fisk's 1944 map of the Mississippi River for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is powerful less for its accuracy than for its suggestiveness in conveying the dynamics of a fluvial system. Somewhat paradoxically, as a function of its symbolic power, the fuzzy imprecision of one map is often valuable for the precision of the subsequent observations, projects, and spin-offs it inspires; the local revisions, the specific political or ecological challenges to its authority, or its wholesale replacement by a more convincing, interesting, or usable alternative.

The perpetual testing of alternatives in the space between this world and the next one we might imagine: somewhere between the real and the virtual, the probable and possible is, for Newman, a fundamentally cartographic endeavor, and by extension, the very activity of life. This is the ethos of her pedagogical project as well and the book's structure is indicative of the approach she takes in the studio and the seminar room. Here, song lyrics, observant pop culture analysis and case studies drawn from the work of her students brush up against projects and insights gleaned from a litany of critical thinkers from both inside and surrounding the design disciplines. The book is an evocative hybrid offering readers a diverse array of points into and out of the text. Some fragments more directly appeal to design students, while others seek to supply design instructors with the frameworks and vocabularies through which to reconceive of their practices and modes of instruction.

Across it all however, Newman displays a method of investigation that quite literally makes 'use' of its subjects as a way of turning use into the book's primary subject. The spirit here, however, is less one of appropriation than conversation as sources appear as fellow interlocutors in a collective endeavor. At times channeling Colin Rowe's theorization of collage, Newman's project complements and revises that architectural point of departure. It updates the idea of collage in the twin sense of building upon and improving its capacity to relate to evolving social and material conditions that fall outside the purview of the figure-ground plan or the weight of place implied in the concept of genius loci. If the designer or architect is to remain, or perhaps even truly evolve into a bricoleur, he or she would need to develop the capacity to accommodate a staggering variety of historical precedents, cognitive inputs, conflicting data sets, and cues from environments both virtual and physical. For Newman, the conscious study of the processes and techniques of mapping allows us to confidently approach this uncharted territory with the knowledge that somehow we've done this before and can do so again in more interesting and humane ways. Newman's hypothesis, and the major contribution of this book, is its suggestion that how we go about doing so is always twofold. It involves developing a new set of analytical tools capable of bringing our maps into agreement with our intentions and desires, while also recognizing that we should be open to the refashioning of the premises of those desires that may come through our methodical engagement with the practices of mapmaking.