Maps and Meaning: Urban Cartography and Urban Design


Nichols, Julie


Ph.D University of Adelaide, School of Architecture, Author of NOMADIC URBANITIES: NEW BABYLON AND THE CONTEMPORARY CITY(2006)

In today’s practices of urban design, the map acts as a documentary and design tool as well as a legal document. Its usefulness hinges on its perceived truthfulness and objectivity in the representation of reality. Yet this has not always and everywhere been the case. There was a time in Western and non-Western societies where the nature of the map and the acts of mapping were very different. This study traces this difference in an attempt to understand the process of change and its impact on the nature and quality of human settlements.

To do this, Dr. Nichol's new monograph explores points of intersection between urban design and urban history. Focussing on Southeast Asia, it examines the transition from pre-modern to modern modes of mapping enabled through the mediation of Western intervention. The aim is to comparatively trace the map’s historical evolution in intertwining Western and non-Western contexts. Using archival materials, the study brings together Southeast Asian urban history, history of urban cartography, and urban design theories. It shows how different forms of mappings reveal culturally specific ways of seeing and understanding the world. Pre-modern maps typically prioritised sacred and profane space and the proliferation of religious knowledge over the need to satiate any geographical enquiries. As technological developments in Europe brought about new forms of cartography, Western ideas about space, previously dominated by socio-religious beliefs, were openly challenged by science and exploration. The Enlightenment period’s embrace of reasoned knowledge and rational thought filtered into mapping practices, which was eventually embraced globally to the demise of sacred space. Yet the past survived in urban history, and between the retrospective view of urban history and the projective view of urban design a new schism emerged.

By examining the role of the map at a conjunction of urban history and urban design, the study attempts to show how the Enlightenment’s rational mapping proliferated into the non-Western world, how the production of urban space shifted from a socio-culturally motivated style to a highly theorised framework, how the concept of the modern city was born alongside the emergence of modern urban planning, how the emergence of modern thinking about the city corresponded with new ways of designing, and how theorists reacted to the modernist urban design rationalism which was anchored in the authority of scientific mapping. Through this path of enquiry the study strives to uncover some of the lost meanings and functions of the map, and to examine new approaches to dealing with the loss of quality and identity in today’s urban environments.

Historical Cartography, Mapping, Urban Planning—Southeast Asia, Urbanistics, Design and Space Issues in Asia, Modernism, Design/City Planning in Contemporary Southeast Asia, Urban History
Release Date: 
Cloth: 978-1-936320-65-3
Trim Size: 
6 x 9
Yes - B/W photographs/graphs

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