random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

uneven internet

telegeography’s 2010 global internet map

2010 global internet map

telegeography’s global submarine cable map 2010:

click on the images to link to original site.

related: visualizing facebook


Filed under: ., maps,

maps and empires

En aquel Imperio, el Arte de la Cartografía logró tal Perfección que el Mapa de una sola Provincia ocupaba toda una Ciudad, y el Mapa del Imperio, toda una Provincia. Con el tiempo, estos Mapas Desmesurados no satisficieron y los Colegios de Cartógrafos levantaron un Mapa del Imperio, que tenía el Tamaño del Imperio y coincidía puntualmente con él. Menos Adictas al Estudio de la Cartografía, las Generaciones Siguientes entendieron que ese dilatado Mapa era Inútil y no sin Impiedad lo entregaron a las Inclemencias del Sol y los Inviernos. En los Desiertos del Oeste perduran despedazadas Ruinas del Mapa, habitadas por Animales y por Mendigos; en todo el País no hay otra reliquia de las Disciplinas Geográficas.
Suárez Miranda: Viajes de varones prudentes,
libro cuarto, cap. XLV, Lérida, 1658.

Jorge Luis Borges

[read it in english here]


“Chendge was located at a remote Inner Mongolian oasis with lakes, green hills, and a multitude of small rivers at the foot of the yanshan mountains. (…) Qianlong created about ten new temples in the surrounding areas (…).

These temples, dedicated to a range of Confusian and Buddhist deities drawn from various parts of the empire, formed a conceptual and religious-political arc around the palace. All these temples can be seen from the main hill north of the palace, so that they form a single scenographic whole. A self-conscious visual ensemble, Chengde was a spectacle. With the Han Chinese palace complex with its lake, gardens, and hills at its center and the Buddhist temples in an arc around it, Chengde was a veritable microcosm of the Qing empire, a map of the land.

But Chengde was more than a map of the empire. It was also an ordering of that map according to a Buddhist mandala.”

Jarzombek, Prakash, Ching, A Global History of Architecture (Hoboken: Wiley 2007), 587.

[googlemap Chengde!!]

Filed under: ., borges, jarzombek, maps,

maps links

this is just a set of links i thought i’d post—some of them are well known resources, a few have been flying under the radar, and some of them just came to my attention the last couple of weeks (warning: they are all over the place).

if you love architecture history and you love maps, this is an excellent resource: mmj and prakash’s global history of architecture’s wiley link. click to download a google earth file which contains most of the sites in the book. warning: some sites were located when satellite images were blurry, and have slightly moved. still, pretty awesome. for more historical maps, see here, and go here for a great resource on the history of maps.

what? you call yourself a map fan and don’t know about david rumsey’s historical map collection? shame on you! my favorite is this map of st. petersburg from 1753. the library of congress also a good map collections page. more maps? here’s mit’s recommendations (overlap).

open street map is an open source map that in many instances is more complete than google—although i have to admit i love google maps. for a cool twist, you can look at the names without the maps in damon zucconi’s fata morgana. more interactive goodness is coming by way of polymaps, which looks fantastic—although i need more web expertise to play with them.

i don’t necessarily agree with the whole list but here are ten maps that may or may not have changed the world all that much. if you’re feeling a bit postcolonialist, go ahead and look at some upside down maps. and for something completely different, here are frank jacobs’s strange maps.

maps for the fellow archinerd: openbuildings recently launched so it is on baby stage, but looks very promising. other existing architectural databases that have been geotagging their sites in hopes of offering something similar soon. there’s also mimoa, more europe-based, and the archi-tourist, which is a wiki and also has more links. 

if you want some reading, bruno latour likes maps… and kazys does too (both suffer from benjamitis, though, but who am i to judge?). if you want to go big picture, try nato thompson’s experimental geographies, although i should confess i haven’t read it yet. other recommendations i can actually back up:

louis marin, “the city in its map and portrait,” in on representation (stanford: stanford university press 2001)

j.b. harley, “maps, knowledge, and power,” in denis cosgrove, the iconography of landscape (cambridge: cambridge university press, 1988).

jorge luis borges on maps (you knew it was coming): del rigor en la ciencia

finally, if you’re tired of maps, go look at the earth itself—great nasa footage

ps. we make money not art’s book review on the map as art, contemporary artists explore cartography by katharine harmon

Filed under: ., maps,

lalibela solid void

…courtesy of mark “indiana jones” jarzombek. these churches are cut. into. the f’ing rock. i mean they are all one solid piece of rockness. and that is just the beginning, there is a crazy water tables story involved. the whole thing is insane. you can read about it here.

ps. people that would have enjoyed this way too much [other than me]: colin rowe, rudolf arnheim. which is odd, if you think of this [sorry—jstor link, login required—link goes to mmj’s article on wolfflin in assemblage 23].

also, reminds me of giambattista nolli. speaking of which, check out the interactive nolli map of rome from the university of oregon.

Filed under: ., jarzombek, maps, rocks, ruins,

mapping caracol & new york city

using laser to map ancient civilization, in a matter of dayswith flyovers, a solar map of new york

both articles from the nytimes have been up for a few days, but its nice to look at them side by side. also mapping nyc, van alen fellows han and mihalyo.

also, as long as we’re on the map subject, eric fischer’s maps out of geotagged pics are pretty awesome [via ja]

ps. some cool images from national geographic

Filed under: ., cities, maps, ruins,

borges & benjamin on maps & labyrinths

I have long, indeed for years, played with the idea of setting out the sphere of life—bios—graphically on a map. First i envisaged an ordinary map, but now I would incline to a general staff’s map of a city center, if such a thing existed. Doubtless it does not, because of ignorance of the theater of future wars. I have evolved a system of signs, and on the gray background of such maps they would make a colorful show if I clearly marked in the houses of my friends and girl friends, the assembly halls of various collectives, from the “debating chambers” of the Youth Movement to the gathering places of the Communist youth, the room and brothel rooms that I knew for one night, the decisive benches in the Tiergarten, the ways to different schools and the graves that I saw filled, the sites of prestigious cafés whose long-forgotten names daily crossed our lips, the tennis courts where empty apartment blocks stand today, and the halls emblazoned with gold and stucco that the terrors of dancing classes made almost the equal of gymnasiums. And even without this map, I still have the encouragement provided by an illustrious precursor, the Frenchman Léon Daudet, exemplary at least in the title of his work, which exactly encompasses the best that I might achieve here: Paris vécu. “Lived Berlin” does not sound so good but is as real.

Walter Benjamin[1]

Of Exactitude in Science

…In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1658) by J. A. Suarez Miranda

Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares [2]

[listen to borges]

Paris has taught me this art of straying; it fulfilled a dream that had shown its first traces in the labyrinths on the blotting pages of my school exercise books. Not is it to be denied that I penetrated to its innermost place, the Minotaur’s chamber, with the only difference being that this mythological monster had three heads: those of the occupants of the small brothel on rue de la Harpe, in which, summoning my last reserves of strength (and not entirely without an Ariadne’s thread), I set my foot.

Walter Benjamin[3]

ps. one of my favorite borges labyrinths, the house of asterion, available here in english and spanish.

pps. view my maps

ppps. another map fan

[1] Benjamin, Walter. “A Berlin Chronicle,” in Reflections : essays, aphorisms, autobiographical writings. 1st ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978, p. 5.

[2] En aquel Imperio, el Arte de la Cartografía logró tal Perfección que el Mapa de una sola Provincia ocupaba toda una Ciudad, y el Mapa del Imperio, toda una Provincia. Con el tiempo, estos Mapas Desmesurados no satisficieron y los Colegios de Cartógrafos levantaron un Mapa del Imperio, que tenía el Tamaño del Imperio y coincidía puntualmente con él. Menos Adictas al Estudio de la Cartografía, las Generaciones Siguientes entendieron que ese dilatado Mapa era Inútil y no sin Impiedad lo entregaron a las Inclemencias del Sol y los Inviernos. En los Desiertos del Oeste perduran despedazadas Ruinas del Mapa, habitadas por Animales y por Mendigos; en todo el País no hay otra reliquia de las Disciplinas Geográficas.

Suárez Miranda: Viajes de varones prudentes, libro cuarto, cap. XLV, Lérida, 1658.

First published under the name B. Lynch Davis, Los Anales de Buenos Aires, año 1, no. 3 (Marzo 1946) and later in Borges, Historia Universal de la Infamia (1946). English translation quoted from J. L. Borges, A Universal History of Infamy, Penguin Books, London, 1975.

[3] Benjamin, Walter. “A Berlin Chronicle,” in Reflections : essays, aphorisms, autobiographical writings. 1st ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978, p. 9.

Filed under: ., benjamin, borges, labyrinths, maps,

from cosmos to earth II: seeing

To classify, therefore, will no longer mean to refer the visible back to itself, while allotting one of its elements the task of representing the others; it will mean, in a movement that makes analysis pivot on its axis, to relate the visible to the invisible, to its deeper cause, as it were, then to rise upwards once more from that hidden architecture towards the more obvious signs displayed on the surfaces of bodies.

Michel Foucault[1]

The principal impulse by which I was directed was the earnest endeavor to comprehend the phenomena of physical objects in their general connection, and to represent nature as one great whole, moved and animated by internal forces.

Alexander von Humboldt[2]

Humboldt is subject to the vital impulse, he is directed by the same internal forces that animate the phenomena he studies. He can only look at the signs in the surface, can only measure the exteriority of things: He takes notes, measures temperatures, types of plants, populations. He likes charts, he compares numbers. He keeps track of locations, has maps drawn, “from Observations made on the Spot By Alexandre de Humboldt.” Humboldt knows no frontiers: his maps show no boundaries, political divisions are irrelevant, nature is bigger than man’s petty politics (Fig. 2). The names of countries float over rivers like spidery veins and mountain chains like violent scars. His plans are detailed, and aspire to be exact: they include latitudes and longitudes, they show regions, geographical systems: the course of a river, the delicate joining of Panama to South America. Humboldt likes sections: they join the delicate detail of his drawings and the scientific precision of his charts. He makes comparative sections of mountain peaks, lines up the Chimborazo, the Popocatepetl and Mont Blanc, and measures them with a ruler (Fig. 1).[3] His maps pinpoint “cities, villages, farms, settlements abandoned, astronomical observations made by M. de Humboldt.” Hence Humboldt himself in inside his maps, just as he is subject to the vital force of nature, he also wants to be tabulated and mapped along with nature. In the same way we will also find him in his drawings.

Humboldt draws. He sketches mountains, valleys, the ruins of ancient civilizations, volcanoes, waterfalls. He returns to Paris to have them engraved, but retains his authorship: “d’aprés une esquisse de M. de Humboldt.” He publishes his views of the Andes in two volumes, one of engravings and one of explanations. The engravings often show himself, or his teammates, peeking into a crater, admiring a volcano, or in conversation with people from the region. Hence he often draws himself looking at himself while drawing. Sometimes llamas look back (Fig. 5). He is in the text, in the maps, in the images, in the credit lines, part of the nature he is trying to map the surface of.

For dispossessed minds such as these, space seems to constitute a will to devour. Space chases, entraps, and digests them in a huge process of phagocytosis. Then, it ultimately takes their place. The body and mind thereupon become dissociated; the subject crosses the boundary of its own skin and stands outside of his senses. He tries to see himself, from some point in space. He feels that he is turning into space himself –dark space into which things cannot be put. He is similar; not similar to anything in particular, but simply similar. And he dreams up spaces that “spasmodically possess” him.

Roger Caillois[4]

Reclus wants to be alone. He is not present in his text, he disappears in the environment, floating lightly above. If Humboldt is in the foreground, Reclus hides obstinatedly in the background, mixed in with the statistics on populations and growth, stepping forward every now and then, to point out a colleague’s mistake. He wants to think it is against his will, but the pattern betrays him. From the Swiss Alps, his schizophrenic gaze knows no boundaries. He can see everything: the frontier disputes between Perú and Ecuador, the heights of the Andes, the depths of the Pacific, the economic conditions and mineral wealth of countries.

Reclus reproduces (not himself, although he does have children). He reproduces maps, sections, and drawings in his volumes. He selects them personally from other publications and has illustrators copy them. Views are redrawn from photographs, maps traced from topographic surveys. His books are always “illustrated by numerous engravings and maps.” He seamlessly mixes the confluence of rivers, geological formations, rainfall amounts, underwater depths, with populations, political divisions, frontiers in dispute. Photographs are used increasingly as the 20th century approaches, first traced into drawings or paintings, later cropped and inserted carefully into the text, specimens laid out for examination. It is still best to understand through diagrams, objective quantities do not lie, subjective points of view might lead us to distraction. The redrawn images and drawings look once removed, more like the illustrations in a story book or unreliable images in a high school geography textbook: they remain vague, limits too broadly defined, nuances erased, everything is one or the other, the complexity of the cosmos has been filtered and quantified into graphic data that seems to both claim and avoid scientific accuracy.

Thus while Humboldt inserts himself within ‘nature,’ but keeps his distance as the the actor in front of a backdrop, Reclus looks at man as part of nature, but situates both in the realm of the finite and remains himself, an observer.

[1] (Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences 1994, 227)

[2] Author’s Preface (Humboldt, Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe 1860, vii)

[3] See “Lower Limit of Perpetual Snow in different Latitudes,” in (A. d. Humboldt 1818-21)

[4] (Caillois 2003, 100)

Filed under: ., caillois, foucault, humboldt, maps, reclus,

from cosmos to earth

Alexander von Humboldt starts as a mine inspector. befriends the Romantics circle in Jena, wants to join Napoleon in Egypt, to circumnavegate the globe with Captain Baudin. He travels to Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia. He sees a meteor shower and an eclipse in Cumaná and the passage of Mercury over the Sun at Callao. Learns to live with earthquakes and volcanoes. Thinks about distances, regions, temperatures, longitudes, heights, hemispheres. Looks at plantains, valerians, arenarias, ranunculuses, medlars, oaks, pines. Compares rhododendrons. Eats some chocolate. Explores the course of the Orinoco River and finds the Casiquiare Canal, climbs 19,286 feet up the Chimborazo, sets a world record, runs out of breath. Stops. Sees the Pacific from atop the Andes. Turns around, goes down to the Amazon and looks at some guano. Thinks about fertilizers. Sees yellow eels biting horses in rivers, snakes chasing rats into houses, iguanas drying in the sun. He is not bitten by hairy bees, not attacked by a jaguar. Mosquitoes, zancudos, chigoes and aradores do feed on him. His partner Aimé Bonpland collects plants and insects, sends them over to Europe. Pirates steal them.

Alexander von Humboldt

Jean Jacques Elisée Reclus tries to be a farmer in Colombia (1854-57). The land is so fertile, the landowners are so few, the slaves make him so sad. He wants to learn how to farm, but no one will teach him. He tries to teach languages, but no one shows up. He wants to live with the Arawak Indians, “far from civilized society and have no other company than nature, my books and my projects.”[1] His mule dies. He gets malaria. His partner Jaime Chassaigne clears the field, plants bananas, coffee, sugar, vegetables, builds a town house, makes a fence. He gets tired and leaves. Reclus realizes he does not want to be alone. He goes back to France. He never goes back. [to be continued…]

[1] (Dunbar 1978, 35)

Filed under: ., humboldt, maps, reclus,

the new world as utopia

When we saw so many cities and villages built in the water and other great towns on dry land we were amazed and said that it was like the enchantments (…) on account of the great towers and cues and buildings rising from the water, and all built of masonry. And some of our soldiers even asked whether the things that we saw were not a dream? (…) I do not know how to describe it, seeing things as we did that had never been heard of or seen before, not even dreamed about.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo, “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico 1517 1521”

Map of Tenochtitlan, 1524. From the letter of Hernán Cortés, Praeclara Ferdinandi Cortéssi de Nova maris Oceani Hyspania Narratio. Unknown, frontispiece to Thomas More, Utopia, 1516 edition

thomas more constructs utopia through two books.  if the first one reflects the old world and its troubles, the second one is a wishful look at the new world and its possibilities.  more locates his utopia off the coast of brazil, tying the vision of the new world to the concept of no place.  his critique of european ills acts as a contrast to his imaginative view of america, a continent named after the very amerigo vespucci mentioned in the narrative.

when hernán cortés arrived at tenochtitlan, three years after more published utopia, the city was bigger than london and to any city in spain (compared to europe, only paris, venice and constantinople were larger).    the regular grids and monumental pyramids of the aztecs were an “enchantment” to europeans used to the broken, cumulative texture of medieval cities and buildings.  although the cities in south america were also built cummulatively, aztec and inca rulers had the power to build large scale developments in short amounts of time, laying out grids[1] according to solar orientations and agricultural platforms that merged landscape with buildings.

this is not to say that more’s utopia is a description of america, but rather a distorted mirror through which we can see the evils he lamented in europe inverted into projections for the new world.  for more, utopia is a land of equality (although hierarchical, most citizens participate in agriculture by taking turns), and efficiency (no wasting resources on clothes or excess of any type).  these virtues are prioritized over independence (better to rule all to be efficient than to allow them to squander resources) and individuality (unless it is the particular talent of a few learned scholars).

we can understand more’s utopia less as a proposal for the construction of a new society, and more as a reverse image or a denouncing of the ills of his own.  he fails to imagine the consequences of this reversal, or the possibility that the utopians might want a different world (in the book, they can always choose but always choose utopia’s way).  in this misunderstanding he showed himself to be as european as his own description: unwilling to accept that other solutions might be worth learning from.

[1] ancient cities such as cusco were laid out using grid patterns by their original builders.  the law of the indies, in these cases, influenced the location of public buildings but was not the origin of the urban texture.  the streets and stone foundations were laid out by the original planners, not by the spanish settlers.

Filed under: ., cities, maps, tenochtitlan, utopia,

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