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Last week I was a visiting lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, working with the first year undergrad Landscape Architecture students. They were a great bunch of students and really applied themselves to the challenge I set. It was a two day project, and the brief was titled “Hacking Maps: The map is not the territory.” The challenge was: How can we use easily available mapping tools to represent places as we know them on the ground?

This question is closely related to my own research interests in relationships between digital mapping, particularly google maps which has a very static, monolithic view point, and how we experience the world on the ground.

The work the students produced, having never made anything in google maps or google earth before was, in the most part, very thoughful and engaged. And while many worked with how they experienced the city on the ground (e.g. a map based on how far you can freewheel on a bicycle in the city), others immediately thought about their current location  in relation to other people and places, and there are two groups in particular I want to describe. The first made a project called ‘I am here, this is me’, basing their work on the idea that you may be on one location, but that where you have been previously and where you want to go in the future are as much part of your identity. They asked everyone in their class (quite an international group of students) to name a location that has shaped them, and where they picture themselves in the future, and to draw both locations. These images were attached to markers in google maps and linked to the current location of that person.

A second project asked where home is, and what image they associate with home.

Both these projects produced maps of ‘the ground’ and their experience of now, that is intrinsically linked with elsewhere.

(My introduction to the project included work by locative media artists such as jeremy woods, christian nold, esther polak, Jeff Knowlton & Naomi Spellman, Teri Reub, Glowlab, and google map projects such as Mr Beller’s Neighbourhood, uksnowtweets and meipi. I had framed the talk with Monika Buscher’s work with landscape architects and the problem of the view from nowhere within the view from somewhere, and talked very breifly about De Certeau’s reading and writing the city, Tim Ingold’s wayfairing and Nigel Thrift’s notion of qualculation.)

A few days later Doreen Massey is an invited speaker at Lancaster University, discussing the 1991 essay ‘A global sense of place’ in which she calls for a new way of thinking about place that is not reactionary, but allows for peoples feeling of fragmentation in a globalized world. This sense of place is about active social relations, not a static history, it is about links to elsewhere, rather than boundaries with and us and them, it is of the multiplicity in all places, rather than a notion of a singular local identity, and a uniqueness of place that is continually reproduced through wider social relations, the uneven-ness of experiences of globalization, and the multilayered past of a place that also has global linkages. In other work Massey links static ideas of the local to the shift of tectonic plates, so that even the ground we stand on has moved in from elsewhere.

It was striking to me that the combination of the challenge and using google maps as a tool, very quickly provoked a response from students that is in line with this notion of place, as outward looking, linked and multiple.

In thinking about landscape architecture, this also relates to Andrea Kahn’s  Keynote at the AHRA conference ‘Field/Work’, that there are three territories that an architectural site encompasses, an ‘Area of Control’ (the site to be built on), an ‘Area of Influence’ (the broader territory that influences the site) and the ‘Area of Effect’ (the territory that is effected by the design actions of the architect). She also talked about the site as a constellation as Massey does, site as a relational construct.

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