ATLAS – geography, architecture & change | book review

Atlas | Artifice, 2012

Atlas – Geography, Architecture, and Change in an Interdependent World’ was published by Artifice in 2012. Edited by Renata Tyszczuk, Joe Smith, Nigel Clark and Melissa Butcher, the publication aims to test novel ways of looking at globale envrionmental and economic change and presents itself as a collection of exploratory sketches of worlds that are currently in the making. With 45 varying (in length and scope) contributions, the books presents itself both as a new inventory and introduction to the practice of rethinking the global territory. A review.

ATLAS – Geography, Architecture and Change

On the back of the book we read that ‘Atlas – Geography, Architecture, and Change in an Interdependent World’ draws upon the work of the Interdependence Day project which in itself is a research, communications and participation project centred on taking a fresh tone and approach to global issues. Although it relies upon partnerships with the ‘think and do tank’ new economics foundation (nef) and a range of others, the project’s thinking is rooted in research generated by the critical social science practiced within the Open University Geography Department.

Complementing this publication is the ATLAS – Making New Maps for an Island Planet-website which features the majority of contributions in the book. A short blurb from the publisher:

Atlas: Geography, Architecture and Change in an Interdependent World combines recent thinking on human geography and architecture on global environmental change issues, setting out to develop a reinterpretation of cartography and a reframing of sustainability. The aim is to find a “re-drawing of the earth” and the “making of new maps”. With a focus on the growth and remaking of cities it offers an innovative mix of essays and shorter texts, original artworks and distinctive re-mappings. The Atlas arises out of a unique collaboration between scholars and practitioners from architecture and human geography.

Atlas | Artifice, 2012

In their introduction essay to the book the editors position the similarities and differences between architecture and geography in following terms:

Critical and speculative thinking is a vital part of both architecture and geogrpahy, but it is not enough to critique the forms and structures that actually exist, or even to dream about shaping alternative futures. These are both field which are implicated in mundane demands to design, construct and maintain built environments. While architecture’s link with construction may be more obvious, geography, with its close ties with urban and environmental planning and management, also finds itself involved in the composition of the spaces it studies.

With this aim, the editors have brought together a set of interesting contributions to explore the field of contemporary geography. So do not expect any fance renderings, diagrams or images of architects that superfluously map the world, nor contributions by spatial managers writing their way through policy documents or inaccesible planning jargon. The 45 contributions are divided in three main chapters: Mobile Home, Staying Power and Plotting Change.

Acknowledging a certain complexity in their ambition, the editors feel that the contributions all share

a sense that we are faced with a body of problems that are urgent and important, but that some of the most prominent responses to date pay little respect to the complexity and unpredictability of the terrain and that the publication serves as a kind of catalogue for an unprecedented present and an unpredicatable future pre-empting desperate or survivalist measures by exploring creative, experimental and ethical responses that are attuned to rapidly changing terrestiral conditions.

See You Late by Steve Russel, 2009 | published in Atlas, 2012

With 45 contributions the publication presents a rather uneven topography of critical thinking and investigation into the subject. There are highs and lows – no peaks without valleys we would argue -, extensive and brief forms of writing, black-and-white and coloured images. One wide-ranging and interesting contribution is done by Daniel Howden – Africa Correspondent for The Independent – who in Mapping News gives insight in the instantaneuos life of a journalist on the move. Navigating, in search for news of the day, between Somalia, Sudan, Japan, Ivory Coast and Libya in six months time he creates a mental map that he describes as fueled by the importance of being there but one that is also disproportional and distorted.

In Moving and Shaking – Mobility on a Dynamic Planet Nigel Clark starts off with a family portrait of a father – dentist by day, he also made movies – and grandfather – who helped pioneering off-road motorcycling for despatch rides – in order to focus on New Zealand, the caravan and holiday homes. These last ones he refers to as a home that moves. In his essay he moves from Edmund – the original ark, earth, does not move – Husserl to Giorgio – the camp, the space of confinement – Agamben to conclude that “it may well be that over the coming decades it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish environmental mirgants or refugees from their economic or political counterparts, and to separate the disaster relief camps from the detention centres and other sites of internment.” Sketching a present state of flooding, vulcano’s and tornado’s all leading to potential disaster, and the increased necessity to rethink the mobile home, he identifies these spatial solutions as an attempt to set up infrastructures which extend hospitality over space and time.

Moving and Shaking - Mobility on a Dynamic Planet by Nigel Clark [image, 1949] | published in Atlas, 2012

The Carbon Map by Platform/Ultimate Holding Company | published in Atlas, 2012

In between the more lengthy essays, the editor have positioned a series of pages with contributions that focus on the visual quality of mapping. Examplary is The Carbon Map [download from here] based on Platform’s research and realised with the design group Ultimate Holding Company [UHC], a cross-disciplinary collective operating at the junction of contemporary visual art, engaged design practice and social activism. Renata Tyszcuk‘s “anthropocene unconformity” and “earth landing”-images are very interesting superimpositions of distant discoveries and routes, while Jean de Pomereu depicts the relation between the moon and the antartic region in a contribution called Antartic Moonscape [pictured below].

Antartic Moonscape by Jean de Pomereu | published in Atlas, 2012

Lost Souls by Ackroyd & Harvey | published in Atlas, 2012

Reading, scanning, investigating and flipping through the book, a set of questions start to emerge. As in the case of the three above mentioned visual contribution, the difficulty of this topic lays in exploring the intersection of the poetic, personal, pragmatic and political positions related to mapping, cartography and geography. As James Marriott and Mika Minia-Paluello state in their textual contribution to The Carbon Map:

Every map is a fiction, it hides as well as reveals, depending upon the lens through which the surveyor gazes upon the surveyed.

Atlas | Geography, Architecture, and Change in an Interdependent World is far from a fictional publication, but at the same time some contributions seem to have put their lens of out focus. For example, the contribution by Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée – a collective platform which conducts explorations, actions and research concerning urban mutations and cultural, social and political emerging practices in the contemporary city – investigate models of resilient cities, hammers on the intentions of R-Urban prototypes the collective developed, without showing their design or interaction in the real world. Which is a pity.

Although refreshing, Atlas | Geography, Architecture, and Change in an Interdependent World doesn’t cover all grounds [which as a collection of exploratory sketches of worlds that are currently in the making is normal] but in doing so, reveals a couple of interesting regional blindspots [the interdependent practices and new modes of mapping in Asia, Africa, Latin America to name a few]. As always Artifice [formerly known as black dog publishing] should be supported in being a refreshing publishing house and bringing these kind of architecture/urban/spatial books to the public.

Our advise: investigate and buy ATLAS | Making New Maps for an Island Planet but first explore its content on the ATLAS | Making New Maps for an Island Planet-website.

Pictures provided by Artifice


Atlas | Geography, Architecture, and Change in an Interdependent World
edited by Renata Tyszcuk, Joe Smith, Nigel Clark and Melissa Butcher
Artifice, 2012, 175pp, £19.95 / €23.95 / $29.95


ATLAS | Making New Maps for an Island Planet


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