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On Site review 31: mapping | photography 

Spring 2014

above: an undated nineteenth century Portuguese navigational chart of the harbour, the port, the docks and the canal system at Newcastle upon Tyne. There is nothing on this chart that does not bear directly on navigation and ships. Land is literally the paper, unmarked and unarticulated except for buildings seen from the water. After the macroscale of the voyage crossing the oceans, the microscale of the port must also be navigated.

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 all drawn and the inside pages were mostly drawings and diagrams.  Now, in architectural magazines, you mostly see photographs; drawing is a CAD file and the hand is absent.  When Jack Diamond published a book of his hand, pencil and watercolour travel sketches, inherent 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?

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.


the contents: 


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.


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.


how to find more:

We will add more material, from time to time, but we'd rather send you On Site review 31: mapping | photography.  You can purchase it as a stand-alone issue, subscribe for a year or three, or find it at a bookstore or news stand but be warned, that is the most haphazard way to find On Site.